Three up, three down: Mike Trout wins the week
Face of baseball: Mike Trout is having such a superb season that he scored again on Wednesday — a day on which the Angels did not play. The All-Star Game was obscured by a focus on why Trout is not a bigger player in pop culture, triggering a bizarre punch from commissioner Rob Manfred (“Player marketing requires one thing for sure: the player”) and counterpunch from owner Arte Moreno and the Angels (“We applaud him for prioritizing his personal values over commercial self-promotion”). The pseudo-debate launched a million hot takes on Wednesday, with no games to divert attention, and in this instance the adult in the room was Trout himself. “Everything is cool between the Commissioner and myself. End of story,” he said. “I am ready to just play some baseball!”
Face of D.C.: Bryce Harper fought back tears Monday night, sitting next to his father as he tried to put joy into words after winning the home run derby. The Nationals drafted him eight years ago, when he was 17, and he talked about growing into a man in Washington, not just with fans and teammates but with security guards and parking lot attendants. “This wasn’t only for me and my family and everybody like that,” he said, “but this is for the cook, the guy that works the front, the people that work upstairs.” For years, whenever he was asked about where he might want to go in free agency, Harper has replied by speaking highly of Washington. If Harper lingers on the market this winter as other clients of agent Scott Boras did last winter — Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez — we wonder if Harper tells Boras to get a deal done in D.C.
Back in brown: The Padres boast the best ballpark in Southern California, and the swinging friar, but this month’s induction of Trevor Hoffman into the Hall of Fame is a painful reminder that fans have had little to cheer since he last pitched for them 10 years ago. As the Padres await the stream of what Boras called their “hot talent lava,” their owners might finally yield to popular demand for the team to reclaim something that would distinguish the team: the color brown on their uniforms. In focus groups, the combination of brown and yellow was the most popular, and the least disliked. “People who do like brown are far more passionate than the people who like blue,” Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler told the San Diego Union-Tribune. After all, Dodger fans already put the blue in Petco Park.
Rumors and misdirections: As the rumor mill kicks into overdrive toward the July 31 trade deadline, fans determined to track every whisper and tweet are advised to engage in a little critical thinking. If you cannot see how a potential deal makes sense for both teams, that is a good sign the rumor is bogus. This one got started last week: The fading Angels might trade starters Andrew Heaney and/or Tyler Skaggs to the New York Yankees. The Yankees need starters, and available ones are mediocre at best, so that would work for them. But this is a complete list of starters the Angels can pencil in for the 2019 season: Heaney, Skaggs and Jaime Barria. The Angels have enough of a challenge in persuading Trout that they can build a winner around him before he can leave in 2020. Best of luck selling him on a one-man rotation.
Storm clouds: Baseball’s labor agreement has three years to run, too soon for any serious forecast of a strike or lockout. But, when Manfred and union chief Tony Clark met separately with the Baseball Writers Assn. of America this week, the two men hardly agreed on anything. Clark said “free agency rights are under attack”; Manfred said team decisions on player values are “how markets operate.” Clark asked for dialogue with the league; Manfred suggested Clark ought to reply to a previously issued invitation and hinted the union’s announcement of a revenue-sharing grievance against the A’s, Marlins, Pirates and Rays was a publicity stunt because the union already had the right to the data necessary to investigate. Do Manfred’s searing comments unify players behind Clark, or further nudge them to consider another leader?
DH or no DH: After Clark said the concept of extending the designated hitter to the National League “is gaining momentum,” Manfred said the players have been receptive to that since 1987, but “the most likely outcome remains the status quo,” in the service of maintaining a distinction between the NL and AL. The players’ interest long had been in adding 15 high-salary NL jobs, since teams used to pay veteran sluggers well. No more, though. With teams prioritizing versatility among position players and shying away from one-dimensional hitters, only five teams use a regular DH. The union cannot be fooled again at the bargaining table, with some NL owners wanting a DH so their pitchers don’t get hurt at bat. The owners, not the players, should be the party yielding a concession in exchange for a universal DH.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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