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Baseball Notes

Let’s see what comes up when teams do the waive

By Nick Cafardo
August 14, 2011

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A few baseball officials seem skeptical that there will be a lot of activity between now and Aug. 31, when waiver deals can be made by contenders to strengthen their potential playoff rosters.

“There seems to be a lot of blocking going on,’’ said a National League official. “The Red Sox and Yankees have made a lot of claims, mostly to block, but they also seem to have genuine interest in acquiring a starting pitcher or a reliever if they could get to one.’’

To review, players are placed on trade waivers, and teams can put claims on the players. The team with the worst record in the player’s league gets first dibs. If he is not claimed in his league, he goes through the other league. In the event of a claim, the team that has placed the player on waivers can let him go to the claiming team, try to work out a deal with that team, or pull him off waivers.

Padres closer Heath Bell hadn’t been placed on waivers as of Friday, but he could be a prize during this period. A couple of things have to take place, though. First of all, it’s unlikely that he’ll pass through waivers, so a straight deal is probably out of the question. So a claiming team would have to have the right pieces to offer San Diego. Possible? Sure. Let’s say the Cardinals claim him and have first chance to make a deal. They could wow Padres general manager Jed Hoyer, and a deal could be consummated.

The Astros’ Wandy Rodriguez is a lefthanded starter who makes a lot of money for his skill set ($23 million the next two years, plus a $14 million option with a $2.5 million buyout in 2014). One theory is that Rodriguez makes too much money to be claimed, therefore he would pass through waivers and a deal could be made for him.

But there has been speculation that the Astros would let him go in a claim; in other words, you claim him, you assume the contract. Astros officials don’t seem to think they’ll do that, and they would require major compensation in return for him.

“There was enough interest in him at the trade deadline where I think someone puts in a claim for him,’’ said an Astros official.

The Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals may be possibilities, though a better bet might be an offseason deal.

Pitchers seem to be getting the most waiver claims, but in most cases the teams are pulling them back.

“It’s been tough to get lefty relievers through,’’ said an NL official. “That seems to be a need for Boston, New York, and other contenders, but it’s going to be hard for either team to get their hands on a good one.’’

Oakland ran Brian Fuentes through waivers last week, but it wasn’t clear whether anyone put in a claim. The Rays recently put J.P. Howell on waivers, and he’s certainly a name to watch. The Marlins have yet to run Randy Choate through, but given his success against lefties this season, he could be another to watch.

When you think back to when the Red Sox acquired Billy Wagner in an August 2009 waiver deal, it proved to be pretty remarkable. The Sox claimed him not long after his return from major surgery, feeling they had seen enough from him, and Wagner wound up helping them.

Rich Harden is pitching really well after the Sox elected to pass on a deal for the A’s righty because of sketchy medicals and recent pain shots. He should get claimed by a few teams but may never get to Boston.

There should be plenty of bats available. Someone needing a power lefthanded bat could put in a claim for Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena, and it wouldn’t take much to land him. He is at the end of his one-year deal and will likely not be re-signed by the Cubs.

Rays DH Johnny Damon has passed through waivers and can be traded. He hasn’t had the best second half but is ideal for a contending team with the need for a lefthanded bat. The Rays have enjoyed Damon but may not bring him back because they’re in desperate need of power from the DH spot next season.

A’s DH Hideki Matsui is a great choice for a team needing a hitter because since the All-Star break he has raised his average from .209 to .268. Matsui is a clutch player in October and would actually be a good fit for the Yankees, who have benched Jorge Posada.

Another intriguing name is Jim Thome, the Twins’ veteran DH who can still flat-out hit. The Twins also have also run Delmon Young and Jason Kubel through waivers.

The Red Sox have been looking for a righthanded-hitting outfielder and had their eyes on the Cubs’ Reed Johnson. But Johnson was claimed by a couple of teams and pulled back. Oakland’s Conor Jackson remains a possibility.

Infielder Jamey Carroll of the Dodgers is also likely to draw a lot of interest.

HILL CLIMBING
Sox lefthander makes strides in rehab work Rich Hill is nine weeks into his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Hill, who had filled Boston’s lefty specialist role before blowing out his elbow, is trying to make the best of it and is buying into the team unity-building he has witnessed first-hand.

“We all go out to the bullpen at once when the game starts,’’ Hill said. “It promotes unity here. We are together as a group and it accomplishes a goal. It’s unique to anything I’ve seen on other teams. The idea you wait for each other, I think it’s great.’’

Hill has followed quite a regimented schedule. He works with light weights now, does a lot of tubing exercises and cardio, and is now doing two days of leg work. This is in addition to following trainer Mike Reinold’s throwing program, which changes things up every day.

Hill has graduated to running steps in the stadium from the bike work he was doing the first month. The brace he had to wear for the first few weeks after surgery is gone.

“I’ll throw on Sept. 28 for the first time, but it’s baby steps from there,’’ Hill said. “It is frustrating because as you start to feel better, you feel you can do more, but you have to follow the schedule. The graft is still healing and the tunnels they made in the bones are still healing. It’s just the waiting.’’

Hill doesn’t have the range-of-motion problems some pitchers experience after the surgery. Some pitchers have to deal with weakened shoulders, too, but testing on Hill came up with good numbers.

“It’s frustrating in the fact you’re not playing or contributing to the team,’’ said Hill, “so you’re trying to find some way to contribute and in some little way to be there for the team in some sense and continue to work hard.

“When you go through these things, you’re on the outside looking in, you see things you normally wouldn’t see. The timing, for example, of how much time you really have to get up, get warmed up, and get into a game. You have a lot more time than you think. It doesn’t have to be a rush. Sometimes it is. More often than not, you can take your time.’’

DOLLARS AND INTEREST
Reyes won’t be hurting for lucrative offers Did Jose Reyes hurt his free agent value by heading to the disabled list with a second hamstring injury?

“Probably didn’t help,’’ said a National League general manager. “The one thing he’s been labeled as is injury-prone, but he’s such a great talent that there’ll be a team willing to look past it and give him the money. It takes one team, and I think he’ll get it.’’

The Mets rolled the dice by not dealing Reyes at the All-Star break, but a team official said, “We’ve always felt we had a great chance to re-sign Jose. We feel he’d rather stay here than go someplace else, so we have to be aggressive and competitive with him.’’

A few weeks ago, it was suggested in this space that the Red Sox should make a play for Reyes. That could happen this offseason. They might be a little shy, given the $142 million they spent on Carl Crawford, but Reyes at least is used to the big-market atmosphere.

The Sox have Jose Iglesias, who stands to be a terrific defensive player, but they want their shortstops to hit, and right now there’s no sign that Iglesias will.

There’s speculation that the Yankees might be a player for Reyes, too, and kick Derek Jeter into the DH role.

The Giants could use some stability at shortstop. The Angels and Cardinals, too. If the Phillies lose Jimmy Rollins, they’re in it.

Reyes should have enough suitors to extract what he wants from the Mets, but if not, he’ll fly the coop and start anew elsewhere. Whether he’s injury-prone or not, he’s an electric player, at the plate and in the field.

ETC.
Apropos of nothing 1. The Cubs’ Koyie Hill and the Phillies’ Brian Schneider are winning backup catchers. The Phillies are 21-3 when Schneider starts for Carlos Ruiz; the Cubs are 18-10 when Hill spells Geovany Soto; 2. OK, not a huge Alfonso Soriano fan, but give him this: He has hit 20 homers in 10 consecutive seasons. The only other active players who have done that are Albert Pujols and David Ortiz; 3. Braves rookie Jose “Georgie’’ Constanza licks his bat after a foul tip. He apparently likes to taste the hot spot. OK; 4. I just believe Jorge Posada is going to do something dramatic before his Yankee career ends; 5. Better lately, yes, but what has happened to Carl Crawford this season?

Updates on nine 1. Kevin Millwood, RHP, Rockies - The Red Sox were quite surprised that Millwood was able to go seven innings at Cincinnati, allowing three runs, in his first start since asking for his release. Millwood’s 87-m.p.h. fastball didn’t give the Sox any confidence in him, and Coors Field doesn’t seem like a good match. But the first start worked out well.

2. Kevin Long, hitting coach, Yankees - He continues to be one of the best in baseball. Consider what he’s done for Curtis Granderson, who is an MVP candidate. Long rebuilt Granderson’s swing a year ago, and since then, Granderson has hit 46 home runs and driven in 127 runs. Long basically eliminated the early movement so Granderson is ready to pull the trigger faster. It’s not unlike what Jose Bautista did.

3. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Indians - Cleveland gave up a small bounty to acquire Jimenez from Colorado at the non-waiver trading deadline, but it appears to be worth it. Jimenez allowed no earned runs in eight innings in his last outing. “You don’t need a No. 1 to win your division, but to go far in the playoffs, to go all the way, you need a true No. 1 and a solid No. 2,’’ said manager Manny Acta. The Indians now believe they have that in Jimenez and Justin Masterson.

4. Kevin Towers, GM, Diamondbacks - His tenure in Arizona started with him offering Justin Upton at the GM meetings in Orlando last November. Upton stayed put, as Towers was unable to spin a deal for Clay Buchholz with the Red Sox. And Upton has hit his stride, having a great season. In addition, the bullpen has been rebuilt, Yankees castoff Ian Kennedy has 15 wins, and the D-Backs are in first place in the NL West.

5. Joe Nathan, closer, Twins - For a while, some thought the Twins would part company with their longtime closer, who is headed for free agency. But Nathan has gotten stronger in his return from Tommy John surgery, and there seems to be mutual interest in working something out. Ditto on Michael Cuddyer. Despite a lot of interest in the first baseman/outfielder, the Twins didn’t trade him. They are speaking to him and Jason Kubel about extensions.

6. Andy Pettitte, LHP, retired - Is it surprising that he didn’t return for a half-season? Not to him, apparently. “He wanted to take the year off, and when he puts his mind to it, he does it,’’ said a Pettitte friend. “He hasn’t said anything about retiring forever, but I doubt he would come back next year.’’

7. Jim Thome, DH, Twins - Always a guy you root for. One of the most down-to-Earth people in the game. Those who say he isn’t a Hall of Famer might want to reconsider. If you like homers, he’s going to have more than 600. If you like RBIs, he has more than 1,600. His career on-base percentage is .403, and his OPS isn’t too shabby at .961. Hall of Famer? You bet. A contemporary of his with the Indians was Manny Ramirez, and while both have Hall of Fame stats, only one is a Hall of Fame person - Thome.

8. Ron Mahay, LHP, free agent - A former replacement player as an outfielder for the Red Sox, he forged himself a nice career as a lefty relief specialist. Mahay spent 14 years in the big leagues, but his career may be over at 40 now that he has been released by the Cardinals’ Triple A affiliate in Memphis. Mahay lost some velocity and became more and more hittable. When you have a 5.01 ERA in Triple A, it may be the end of the road.

9. Chris Johnson, 3B, Astros - His father, Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson, had to show him some tough love last month to get him out of a funk. Once he did, the young third baseman stopped moping about every bad at-bat. The Astros are still high on the 26-year-old, who hasn’t had the best of years (.245, 6 HRs, 36 RBIs) and is back at Triple A. They feel he should be able to take off next season.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “In the 20 games that Chicago’s Adam Dunn has struck out at least three times this season, he has gone 3 for 81 (.037).’’ Also, “According to Travelmath.com, the A’s traveled 6,544 miles on their road trip to Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Toronto. After losing the first three in Seattle, they took four of the next six.’’ And, “Victor Martinez is batting .404 with runners in scoring position for the Tigers, .517 since July 17.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Clay Buchholz (27) and Mark Loretta (40).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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