A look at who’s hot and who’s not in Major League Baseball:
Rising sun, rising star: The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani is listed as a designated hitter on the newly released All-Star ballots. He faces stiff competition at that spot from Nelson Cruz of the Mariners, J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox and Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees. Pitchers are not elected in the fan vote, but Ohtani could be selected as a pitcher. And, yes, fans in Japan can vote. If Ohtani is elected, he would become the fourth Japanese position player voted into an All-Star starting lineup, following the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki (2001-04, 2006-10), the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui (2003) and — holy international ballot-box stuffing — the Cubs’ Kosuke Fukudome (2008).
Rolling Meadows: The Pirates traded franchise icon Andrew McCutchen to the Giants in part to save money, in part because time would soon come for outfield prospect Austin Meadows. That time has come, and Meadows is hitting .404 with five home runs in his first 15 games. He became the fifth player in the last 50 years — and the first since the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig — to hit .400 with four home runs in his first 40 at-bats. The Pirates can boast of a nice outfield: Meadows (23), Starling Marte (29), Gregory Polanco (26) and Corey Dickerson (29). And what of the 31-year-old McCutchen? He has career lows in batting average (.243) and OPS (.730), with only three home runs in 55 games. The rebuilding Pirates are two games over .500, the win-now Giants two games under .500.
Big-name players: Ryan Rowland-Smith, an ordinary and generally anonymous left-handed reliever who played parts of five seasons in the majors, was the first player in major league history with a hyphenated last name. That club has expanded to three, and the other two play for the Rangers: right-hander Austin Bibens-Dirkx and infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa. All three were together this week in Seattle, where Rowland-Smith works as a broadcaster for the Mariners, so of course a picture was in order. Rowland-Smith posted the shot with this caption: “I was the first, I was the only … Until these two had to come along and rip away my only claim to fame. Great to meet these fellow hyphenators.”
Arms and wallets down: The Nationals’ Bryce Harper and the Orioles’ Manny Machado should be available in the long-hyped class of free agents this fall, but the marquee starting pitchers might not be. Clayton Kershaw’s third back injury in three years makes it increasingly unlikely that he can do better in free agency than the $65 million guaranteed him if he does not opt out of his Dodgers contract. Remember back when we thought Matt Harvey would be cashing in this fall? The best starters available could be the Astros’ Charlie Morton, who will open next season at 35, the Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez (33) and the Diamondbacks’ Patrick Corbin (29).
The king’s abdication? The Mariners won 10 of their first 13 games after losing second baseman Robinson Cano to an 80-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy. The front office responded by moving Dee Gordon from center field to second base and trading for Denard Span and Alex Colome to upgrade the outfield and bullpen, respectively. But, just as the Dodgers can’t be sure what they’ll get from Kershaw the rest of the season, the Mariners don’t know what to expect from their franchise pitcher, six-time All-Star Felix Hernandez. Kershaw is injured. Hernandez says he is not, but his 5.83 ERA is the worst of any starter in the AL West. In 2014, he led the AL with a 2.14 ERA; since then: 3.53, 3.82, 4.36 and now 5.83.
Rays of thrift: The Rays haven’t finished within 13 games of first place in five years, transforming their reputation from cost-effective overachievers to cost-cutters. They took on the salary of Span last winter to dump the larger salary of third baseman Evan Longoria on the Giants, then dumped Span and Colome on the Mariners last week for two minor leaguers. “I’m not here to be mediocre or just be competitive,” pitcher Chris Archer told the Tampa Bay Times. “I want to win.” He could be gone by July. The trade lowered the payroll for the Rays’ active roster to $42 million, higher only than the A’s ($37 million). Both teams are stuck in neutral amid never-ending searches for a new ballpark. Mitigating factor: The Rays won their first five games after the trade.
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