A look at what’s trending this week in Major League Baseball:
Mariners take on Leake: With one eye on September and another on 2018, the Seattle Mariners acquired Mike Leake from the St. Louis Cardinals. Leake, a durable but otherwise average pitcher, got five years at $16 million per year from the Cardinals in free agency two winters ago; the Mariners assumed three years at $13 million per year. Could Leake become as overpaid in Seattle as he was in St. Louis? As the Dodgers and other analytically oriented teams ask less out of their back-end starters — five innings, please, and we won’t let you take a third turn through the lineup — the market value of those starters might drop below $13 million annually.
Valley boys: By trading Leake, the Cardinals opened a spot for Jack Flaherty, who joined Lucas Giolito (Chicago White Sox) and Max Fried (Atlanta Braves) in the 2012 rotation at Harvard-Westlake High. When else did three pitchers from the same high school staff become first-round draft picks? Just once, as far as Baseball America can tell: Matt Drews, Doug Million and Bobby Seay from Sarasota (Fla.) High two decades ago. In 2012, the senior year for Giolito and Fried, Giolito suffered a season-ending elbow injury. Harvard-Westlake was eliminated from the playoffs when Flaherty, then a sophomore, lost to Placentia Valencia. Flaherty’s record for the rest of his Harvard-Westlake career: 23-0.
Play ball: When you hear about a big NFL contract, be sure to read the fine print. NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed. So, while the Detroit Lions signed quarterback Matthew Stafford this week to what was trumpeted as an NFL-record $135 million, the guarantee turned out to be $92 million. That’s nice, but it’s less than half the guarantee Stafford’s high school teammate, Clayton Kershaw, received from the Dodgers three years ago. As a bonus, Kershaw isn’t playing the sport that subjects participants to the risk that part of their brains might turn into mush later in life.
National crisis: When the Dodgers eliminated the Washington Nationals from the playoffs last October, the Nationals were left with the lingering image of the injured Stephen Strasburg throwing bullpen sessions in the hope he could pitch if the Nationals advanced. The Nats’ missing star this October could be Bryce Harper, who injured his knee and calf three weeks ago after slipping on a wet base. He has yet to resume workouts, let alone try to run. That puts his availability for the playoffs in jeopardy. Harper had four hits in 17 at-bats against the Dodgers in last year’s NLDS. His career numbers against the Dodgers: a .235 batting average and .712 OPS, both lows against any team against which he has 100 plate appearances.
Tech support: Instead of answering repetitive questions about the Giants’ dreary season, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy picked up his phone and, according to the San Jose Mercury News, asked a question of his own. “Siri,” he said. “How many three-run homers have we given up this season?” At that point, the answer was 19. The Giants had hit five. They rank last in the major leagues in home runs, a weakness Bochy cannot punch a couple buttons on his phone to auto-correct. The Giants have no power, a weak outfield and money to burn from developing the real estate around AT&T Park, so it’s little wonder they’re extremely interested if Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins dare to trade Giancarlo Stanton.
Royale flush: The Kansas City Royals did not score for 45 consecutive innings, the longest scoreless streak by a major league team in 49 years. They became the first American League team to be shut out in four consecutive games since the designated hitter rule was adopted in 1973. And the scoreless streak may not have been the worst part of Kansas City’s week. Pitcher Danny Duffy, whom the Royals signed to a $65-million contract extension eight months ago, was cited for driving under the influence when he reportedly fell asleep in the drive-thru lane at Burger King.
SERIES OF THE WEEK
YANKEES AT ORIOLES
Monday through Wednesday
In the American League wild-card race, what you think you know could turn into a hot mess within a few days. This time last week, the Yankees were sitting pretty atop the wild-card standings, and the Orioles were supposed to be all but done. Then the Orioles reeled off seven consecutive victories, climbing above .500 for the first time since June 11, clawing toward the top of the wild-card pack and closing in on the Yankees. No one much noticed when the Orioles traded for Tim Beckham at the July 31 trade deadline — they just needed a warm body at shortstop — but the first overall pick of the 2008 draft (a.k.a. “the guy the Tampa Bay Rays took instead of Buster Posey”) unexpectedly blossomed in Baltimore. In his first month there, he hit .394 with six home runs. Yankees rookie Aaron Judge, being fitted for the MVP robe at the All-Star game, is batting .181 since, with 68 strikeouts in 155 at-bats.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin