As the hockey news slows to a trickle, and fans sift through the Free Agent signings, Major League Baseball is one week away from their All Star break. July 31st is the first of two trade deadlines in baseball, so teams and fans are watching the standings to see what players may become available. Teams can trade during the month of August, but players must clear waivers. So if any big names are to be traded, expect it this month.
When the Expos were still in Montreal, I couldn't wait for April to arrive. The long winter had ended and Dave Van Horne's voice was on my AM dial, telling me what to expect that season from super stars like Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Terry Francona and the rest of our boys. Now that the Expos are cellar dwellers in Washington, and the Blue Jays usually have a lock on third place in their division behind Boston and New York, I can't enjoy baseball until July. As the weather heats up, the races for first in each division will too. With only the Los Angeles Angels looking comfortable in the American League West, it should be a long, hot race to the playoffs.
Will this be the year the Chicago Cubs break their 100 year World Series drought? Manager Lou Piniella has his team on top in the NL Central, but their 20-26 road record needs to improve. The Chicago White Sox are leading the AL Central, so perhaps the World Series will be decided in Chicago. Will the Cubs road record matter if they're only travelling across town?
The Milwaukee Brewers sent a message to the Cubs and Cardinals today, picking up Cleveland's Ace, C.C. Sabathia in a trade. The Brew Crew now has a rotation with Sabathia and their own Ace, Ben Sheets. Both are Free Agents at the end of the season, it may be now or never for Milwaukee as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 1982. A name that will be on the move from the NL Central is Ken Griffey jr. in Cincinnati. Expect him to land in the American League as a DH. Tampa Bay might want to add a veteran bat, and the White Sox will have to fend off Minnesota and Detroit.
Speaking of Tampa, the Rays are the surprise leaders in the AL East, ahead of big spenders New York and Boston. The Rays have been quietly accumulating top draft picks as they struggled through the growing pains of an expansion franchise. Now that they are in first instead of last, how will they react when they see the Red Sox and the New York Yankees in the rear view mirror at the end of July? You can bet that if they can still find a trading partner, the Red Sox and the Yankees won't stand still this month.
The American League has beaten up the National League during Inter-League games and that may cost the teams in the NL East and West. Only the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves have winning records against the AL. That could be a deciding factor as each division is filled with under performing teams. If New York and Atlanta can get hot down the stretch, they should challenge the Phillies for the division lead. In the NL West, it's a question of who's the best of the worst? All five teams have losing records, but Joe Torre's Dodgers seem to be on the right track, going 7-3 in their last ten games.
Then there is Canada's lone team, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays waived the white flag when they brought back Cito Gaston. The team looked a little better for six to ten games, but they've been getting knocked around by the Angels and are back to their old ways. For years the Jays had a guaranteed third place finish behind New York and Boston waiting for them at the end of the season. With Tampa Bay's emergence, and Baltimore showing signs of life, the Jays are now in danger of being the new cellar dwellers.
If Toronto upper management don't have a plan to clear out the front office during the off-season, GM J.P. Ricciardi needs to spend this month working the phones trying to unload some big contracts. A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan have been a bust and need to move on. Does a team that is 14 games out of first need a 10 million dollar closer? How long until Roy Halladay says enough is enough and wants out? Would the Cardinals or Mets have an interest in Vernon Wells as they play catch-up in their divisions?
This month should be a busy one in baseball as General Managers evaluate their rosters and start making significant moves. The last All Star game to be played in Yankee Stadium happens July 15th. With seven members of the Boston Red Sox on the American League team, the Yankee clubhouse may prove to be just as interesting as the game. Have a great sports day everyone...