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10 Degrees: Ryan Dempster's travel travails are among obstacles faced by the upwardly mobile

Steve Henson
Yahoo Sports

One day a guy's gurgling seawater on a sinking ship, the next he's sipping bubbly in a penthouse suite. That might apply to me taking the reins of 10 Degrees while my estimable colleague Jeff Passan attends yet another wedding of yet another friend, but I'm referring to players traded from a loser to a contender at midseason.

A ballplayer's overnight journey from the wretched to the wonderful sounds like bliss, but it can be jarring. Expectations rise, pressure mounts and unfamiliarity can make performing well a challenge. A guy can become so distracted, for example, that he has passport issues and is unable to accompany his team to Canada to play the Blue Jays.

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Things haven't gone as planned for former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster in Texas. (AP)

 

Even when said player, Texas Rangers pitcher Ryan Dempster, grew up in Canada.

Dempster's travel problem, reported via tweet by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, is especially odd because he lived in Gibsons, British Columbia, until graduating from high school in 1995.

Could Dempster have immigration or other concerns that make it difficult or unwise for him to return to Canada? He last pitched there in 2002. He didn't shed light on it after his start Monday, an eight-inning stint in a victory over the Orioles that went much better than his first three outings with the Rangers. And neither did team president Nolan Ryan, who said during a radio interview that Dempster "was a victim, and we were a victim of circumstances. … I'm not at liberty to talk about it."

Dempster went from the awful Chicago Cubs to Texas on July 31, the last day teams could make trades without first putting a player through waivers. With the Cubs he was having the best season of his 15-year career, posting a 2.25 ERA in 16 starts including a string of 33 consecutive scoreless innings. With the Rangers he gave up an unsightly eight earned runs twice in his first three starts. But after getting extra rest because he couldn't make his scheduled start in Toronto, Dempster gave up only four hits and one run Monday. His ERA with Texas is now 6.04, hardly glowing but perhaps headed in the right direction.

And he's one of several highly sought players at the deadline who have flopped early on with their new clubs. Pitchers have been especially dreadful, none more so than …

1. Ryan Dempster, who wasn't pleased at going to the Rangers because he'd lobbied hard to be dealt to the Dodgers, where his longtime pal Ted Lilly is a pitcher. Dempster even turned down a trade to the wild-card contending Atlanta Braves that would have kept him in the National League.

The Cubs and Dodgers couldn't reach an agreement, so when the Rangers emerged as the only landing spot as the deadline approached, Dempster consented. Maybe his poor pitching is an inevitable regression to the mean – his career ERA is 4.34. Maybe it's the Texas heat. Maybe it's disappointment at not being able to bully the Cubs into trading him to L.A.

The Rangers, of course, reached the last two World Series only to lose. Winning it all is the only acceptable outcome this year. Their weakness is the lack of a No. 1 starter. Dempster isn't the entire answer, although it would help if he gave Texas outings down the stretch and into October like he did Monday, the same reasonable expectations the Detroit Tigers have for …

2. Anibal Sanchez, who since being acquired from the Miami Marlins at the deadline is 1-3 with a 7.97 ERA. The Tigers are in the thick of the AL Central and wild-card races, and Sanchez should fit neatly into the back of a rotation that also includes Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Doug Fister.

Sanchez posted a 3.68 ERA in his last 100 starts with the Marlins, so his getting shelled in three of his first four starts as a Tiger was a shock. His next start was pushed back three days to Wednesday and he's working on mechanics in bullpen sessions with pitching coach Jeff Jones.

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Unless Sanchez straightens out, the trade could be doubly dubious if Jacob Turner ascends to the Marlins' rotation and is effective. Turner, the Tigers' first-round draft pick in 2009, has pitched so well at the Marlins' Triple-A New Orleans team since the trade that he could be promoted this week.

The deal's saving grace for the Tigers has been Omar Infante, who also came from Miami. He immediately solidified second base and the No. 2 spot in the batting order, providing a spark similar to what ...

3. Shane Victorino is expected to do for the Dodgers, the team that drafted him out of Maui Wailuku High 13 years ago. The Dodgers didn't think much of him as a minor leaguer, twice making him available in the Rule 5 draft, losing him for good to the Phillies in 2005.

Victorino established himself as a top-of-the-lineup option and a superior outfielder with the Phillies, prompting L.A. to give up solid reliever Josh Lindblom and former first-round pick Ethan Martin for him at the deadline. Victorino will be a free agent at season's end and he is only incrementally better than the players he replaced (Tony Gwynn Jr. and Bobby Abreu), so this move will be rued unless the Dodgers make a playoff run.

The affable Victorino quickly made himself at home in L.A., turning his locker into a shrine to Bob Marley, walking to the plate to "Buffalo Soldier" and chattering in the dugout throughout games.

"It took me a lot of years to wear this [Dodger] uniform," he said. "I'm enjoying it."

As is …

4. Hanley Ramirez, who is batting .313 with four home runs and 27 RBIs in 24 games with the Dodgers. The rap on Ramirez in seven seasons with the Marlins was nonchalance, but his play in L.A. has been marked by hustle and enthusiasm. He has shuttled between shortstop and third base without complaint, while batting fifth and providing protection behind Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.

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The Dodgers gave up nearly nothing for Ramirez, and he's signed through 2014. The only caveat is that another Ramirez the Dodgers acquired at the trade deadline four years ago – Manny – arrived with similar baggage and appeared to shed it early on, only to devolve into a massive headache the next two seasons.

Han-Ram supposedly was distracted in Miami by the constant cameras around the Marlins filming Showtime's "The Franchise." He's not exactly out of the limelight in Tinseltown, and only 30 miles down the freeway, near Disneyland, is …

5. Zack Greinke, another player uncomfortable with attention and thrust into a pennant race. He hasn't been quite as bad as Dempster or Sanchez, but Greinke hasn't helped the Angels solve their vexing lack of consistent pitching.

The most sought-after starter at the deadline has been hit hard since being acquired from the Brewers, including taking the loss Sunday against the Rays. His ERA in five starts as an Angel is 6.19 and one game he said was "as bad as I've thrown in my life."

Greinke will be a free agent in November and the Angels gave up three high-end prospects for him, so only a deep playoff run would justify this acquisition, much the way the Giants felt about acquiring …

6. Hunter Pence from the Phillies for top catching prospect Tommy Joseph and two other players. Losing Melky Cabrera to a 50-game PEDs suspension last week made it crucial that Pence gets hot and stays hot for the Giants to have a chance in the NL West. It's been slow going so far: He has a measly .624 OPS with one home run.

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The Giants' other deadline acquisition, infielder Marco Scutaro, is batting .318 since coming over from Denver, even while enduring boos from San Francisco fans who didn't appreciate him gamely filling in for the injured Pablo Sandoval at third base, a position where Scutaro is not proficient. He's invaluable up the middle and could prove more important than Pence.

Pence at least is acquainted with the process. He went through the same drill a year ago when the Phillies acquired him from the last-place Astros, and the right fielder batted .324 down the stretch, helping the Phillies to the playoffs. "It's exciting when you are traded to a team in a race," he said a few days ago. "You come over and do what you can to help contribute. I bring energy and hope it will help."

He's already heard the inevitable comparisons to Cody Ross, an outfielder acquired by the Giants late in the 2010 season, who became a playoff and World Series hero. "What Cody did, people here will remember for a long time," Pence said. "Our story has yet to be told. It's going to be our story."

Pence is comparable to Ross in another respect: He has another arbitration season and could cost the Giants about $13 million in 2013. Ross was arbitration-eligible in 2011, and after his postseason exploits the team had little choice but to give him a 40 percent raise to $6.3 million.

Taking on a sizable chunk of salary is often the case for a contender acquiring a player at the deadline, and the Yankees didn't hesitate at the chance to bring in …

7. Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners despite his advanced age of 38 and declining slash line of .261/.288/.363 at the time of the deal. Paying $2.25 million of his $17 million salary was a sensible move given the season-ending elbow injury to speedy outfielder Brett Gardner. Ichiro's addition was similar to the Orioles bringing in Jim Thome to DH down the stretch: Future Hall-of-Fame veterans add gravitas as well as end-of-career production. They know this might be their last shot at an October run, so they care deeply. Hopefully, it rubs off.

As for Ichiro's batting-practice power some thought would translate into Johnny Damon-like homers into the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium? Well, he belted two into the right-field stands Sunday. Ichiro is warming up in pinstripes, batting over .300 and hitting in 18 of 23 games since the July 23 deal.

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Ichiro's bat is starting to heat up for the Yankees. (Reuters)

 

Hitting at the bottom of the batting order and filling in at all three outfield positions, Ichiro has a real shot at his first World Series since coming to the U.S. from Japan in 2001. And he's not the only Suzuki motivated by a change of scenery: …

8. Kurt Suzuki went from the surprising A's to the even more surprising Nationals, who sought a veteran catcher with Wilson Ramos on the disabled list. Changing teams midseason is perhaps toughest for a catcher because he has to take a crash course in the nuances of every pitcher on his new staff. The learning curve was compounded for Suzuki, who changed leagues as well.

"You can do all the studying you want but you have to go out there and catch a guy to really understand him," he said. "I'm learning the opposing hitters as well. Every day you're learning. It's all crammed into each day and there's not enough time. It's a mental challenge."

Suzuki is batting .189 in 10 games with the Nationals but defense is his first priority. Suzuki is a stable influence and is under contact for 2013. And he loves being on the team with the best record in baseball.

"It's exciting, that's for sure," he said. "The A's were doing well but this is another level."

That's a plus for any player acquired by a contender, but who'd have thought coming to the Pittsburgh Pirates would mean moving up in the standings like it did for …

9. Wandy Rodriguez and Gaby Sanchez. Like other starters moved at the deadline, Rodriguez hasn't pitched well. He is 0-3 with a 5.47 ERA in four starts with the Pirates. Sanchez, who seemingly lost his ability to hit overnight in Miami, might slowly be regaining it. He's batting .262 and platooning at first base with Garrett Jones.

They are now part of an effort to become the first Pirates' team since 1992 to finish with a winning record and first since the World Series champion 1979 "We Are Family" Bucs to win a playoff series. It'll take more grind-it-out games like Sunday's 19-inning victory over the Cardinals in which Rodriguez came on in relief in the 18th and got the win with two scoreless innings.

"It was good to contribute," he said.

That's precisely what …

10. Ryan Dempster wanted to say after the Rangers returned to the good 'ol USA and he made the start against the Orioles. And he did. Sliding Dempster back into the rotation rather than holding him back until his next turn enables other Rangers starters to get an extra day's rest, not a small thing because they've embarked on a stretch of 20 games in 20 days.

It's all about his effectiveness. Dempster's games are meaningful now. He gained instant upward mobility when he changed uniforms. With time he'll make friends with new teammates. He'll learn how to pitch to AL batters. He's almost certain to be pitching well into October.

And if the Rangers finally win it all, Dempster could feel more at home after only three months deep in the heart of Texas than he ever did in Chicago. Or Canada.

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