A look at who’s hot and who’s not in MLB this week:
Throw-in of the year: The Dodgers got Matt Kemp back in a mutual salary dump, in which the money the Atlanta Braves owed Kemp was about the same as the money the Dodgers owed first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and pitchers Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy. The Dodgers threw in infielder Charlie Culberson, who made close to minimum wage but could back up shortstop Dansby Swanson. The Braves cut Gonzalez and Kazmir. McCarthy started 15 games, went on the disabled list in June and plans to retire after the season. And Culberson? The guy who hit one home run in two years with the Dodgers — the home run that clinched a division title in Vin Scully’s final home game — has hit 10 for the Braves. His .484 slugging percentage ranks third on the team, behind MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and rookie of the year candidate Ronald Acuna.
A new hope: When the San Diego Padres lavished $144 million upon first baseman Eric Hosmer during spring training, agent Scott Boras said Hosmer would be the lodestar for the Padres’ coming flow of “hot talent lava.” The Padres loved the quote, the players wore T-shirts emblazoned with it … and then the season started. The Padres are buried in last place and could lose 100 games for the first time in 25 years. Hosmer’s .709 OPS is the lowest of any National League first baseman. The Padres have four of Baseball America’s top 25 prospects, and eight of the top 100, but fans watching an eighth consecutive losing season want to see hope, not hype. On Thursday, in his first start with the Padres, catcher Francisco Mejia, 22, homered in each of his first two at-bats, on fastballs at 96-97 mph. Hope.
Performance art: In an era when every regal bat flip sparks another round of the tired debate between “respecting the game” and “celebrating the hit,” Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle offered a refreshing perspective. If you get the big hit off him, he said, go ahead and moonwalk around the bases. Doolittle put his money where his mouth is: If the celebration is so over-the-top as to merit a fine, he’ll match the fine and donate it to charity. “Any sort of celebration, really, but I have to think the celebration was actually good,” Doolittle told the Expanded Roster website. “Feel free to use the bat as the prop. An air guitar, a pony, some sort of situation where they’re flying around the bases.” Doolittle later tweeted he was joking, at least about the pay-the-fine part. Too bad.
On the Morrow: The Dodgers will play this weekend without their closer, Kenley Jansen, who stayed home rather than risk another altitude-induced episode of atrial fibrillation in Denver. But the Chicago Cubs could play the rest of the season without their closer, Brandon Morrow. After a stellar October in which Morrow pitched in all seven games of the World Series for the Dodgers, the Cubs signed him for two years and $21 million. The Dodgers haven’t found a setup man to replace him, but they let him go because they were not about to spend $21 million on a setup man, and last season was the first since 2010 that he had not been on the disabled list. He hasn’t pitched since July 15 because of what he called a bone bruise on his forearm. He’s running out of time to return, in a prominent role or otherwise.
Follow the money: Four young players who could play prominent roles next season and who should be getting experience now — outfielders Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins) and Eloy Jimenez (Chicago White Sox), first baseman Peter Alonso (New York Mets) and third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays) — were not called up for September. The decisions appear intended to delay each player’s free agency by a year. What could be less fan-friendly than teams trying to lose? How about keeping great players in your organization out of the majors? The tipping point could come soon, with the league on pace for its lowest attendance since 2003. Attendance is down for 17 of 30 teams, including a drop of more than 10,000 fans per game in Toronto — where Guerrero would have driven some September excitement.
Rocky raccoon: In 2020, when the Angels’ double-A affiliate moves to Madison, Ala., the team will have a new name: the Rocket City Trash Pandas. They’re raccoons, and frankly “Rocket City Raccoons” sounds more regal. Alas. The runners-up in the name-the-team contest: ThunderSharks, Moon Possums, Space Chimps and Comet Jockeys. Not to say the craze of goofy minor league team names is getting out of hand, but these are the finalists in the Colorado Springs name-the-team derby: Happy Campers, Lamb Chops, Punchy Pikas, Throttle Jockeys and Rocky Mountain Oysters. It’s all about merchandise sales, of course, and the weirder, the better. “Do we really want a team named after fried bull testicles?” asked the Denver Post. “Yes. Yes we do.”
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