6:06 PM CDT, July 31, 2013
Can anybody out there hit?
That's the question that has been going around baseball all season and it was asked once again, this time loud and clear, as the non-waiver trading period ended with a thud Wednesday.
With Major League Baseball going to the mat to eliminate the use of performance enhancing drugs and amphetamines, there are not enough run-producing hitters to go around. Teams that were looking for hitters at the deadline, the Rangers in particular, would not pay the high price to acquire bats that could make a difference.
Contenders added mostly pitching, with guys like Jake Peavy (to the Red Sox) and Bud Norris (Orioles) moving in the last 24 hours after deals involving Matt Garza (Rangers) and Ricky Nolasco (Dodgers) earlier in July. Get ready for a lot of 3-2 and 2-1 games in October.
More than 60 players swapped organizations, including proven players and prospects, and other than Alfonso Soriano the only potentially difference-making hitters traded were Avisail Garcia (Tigers to White Sox in three-way Peavy deal), Mike Olt (Rangers to Cubs for Garza), Danry Vasquez (Tigers to Astros for Jose Veras) and Brandon Jacobs (Red Sox to White Sox for Matt Thornton).
"For a number of years, you've seen clubs hoard prospects,'' White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "That has become a little exacerbated in recent years, with so many good, young players locked up (in long-term contracts). The free agent market suffers so teams see their homegrown guys as more essential to success.''
Scouts who watch the minor leagues say you can find guys who throw hard at every level. The Cubs are intrigued with newcomer Jake Arrieta, whose first three pitches Tuesday night at Wrigley Field were 97 mph fastballs, and love the potential of C.J. Edwards, who came from the Rangers in the Garza trade. While Garcia was the headliner for the White Sox in the Peavy trade, they also added a kid (Francelis Montas) who can hit 100 on the radar gun. It's hitting that's hard to find.
The lack of hitters who handle good pitching is on display on a daily basis with Chicago teams. The White Sox team built around the aging Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios is averaging 3.7 runs per game (29th in the majors) with a .301 on-base percentage (27th). The Cubs average 4.0 runs per game with a .303 on-base percentage but those numbers could dip if Junior Lake doesn't prove himself to be a solid long-term replacement for Soriano.
No team reflects the epidemic that has struck baseball's pool of hitters more than the Rangers. The team that has been known for its sluggers is now pitching rich and struggling to score, like everybody else.
The situation could turn especially bleak later this week if Nelson Cruz, their leading power hitter, is lost to a suspension from the Biogenesis investigation. The team appears to be trying to pressure Cruz into appealing the suspension, which would keep him on the field while the process plays out, but did not add a hitter to replace him if he accepts his suspension. That's semi-stunning given that they already have a void at designated hitter, thanks to Lance Berkman's bad knees.
The Tigers did what they had to do in getting Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox in the Peavy deal to cover them if they lose shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a one of the Biogenesis suspensions that are expected to be announced Thursday or Friday.
Maybe the Rangers still will add a big bat in a move during the waiver period, which began at the 3 p.m. deadline Wednesday. Hahn talked about the White Sox as a team in "transition'' Wednesday, and you would think he would love to send Rios or even Dunn to the Rangers.
The good news in Chicago is that both the Cubs and White Sox have some potential impact hitters coming. Garcia and Jacobs were solid additions for the Sox, who brought catcher Josh Phegley to the big leagues earlier in July. The Cubs might have the best collection of young hitters in the minors, topped by 20-year-old shortstop Javier Baez, who hit four of his 27 home runs in the same game, and 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant, who could come quickly as a third baseman or outfielder.
There was a time when nothing was more fun than watching a young gun on the mound. But these days, if executives have to pick between Chris Sale and a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, they're going to take the hitter. There are fewer and fewer of them.
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