As the baseball landscape quaked around them, the two titans of the sport stood still – maybe a little too still, knowing the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox and their capability of tectonic rumblings.
One final day of maneuvering remains before the non-waiver trade deadline Sunday at 4 p.m. ET, and the Yankees and Red Sox remain bystanders as their greatest threats gird themselves for October. Time does remain, of course, for either team, or maybe both, to do what they do best, which is throw around their weight in money, prospects or both and add a bazooka to a well-hewed artillery.
In other words: The Yankees and Red Sox both need a starting pitcher. And if either can finagle Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) from the Colorado Rockies, that team instantaneously becomes the favorite in a muddled American League race.
Ubaldo Jimenez is 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA in 20 starts for the Rockies in 2011.
That's how it works this year: The elite find their internal weakness, fill it and goad others into keeping up with the Joneses.
Philadelphia coveted right-handed power? Here's a roast pork hoagie, Hunter Pence(notes). If the price is Jarred Cosart and his 98-mph fastball, Jonathan Singleton and his potential 30-homer bat, and two more prospects, well, that's what championships cost.
Texas desired an upgrade in its bullpen? It's gone deep into negotiations with the San Diego Padres about Heath Bell(notes), according to multiple sources, and both sides are optimistic they can strike a deal. So if the Rangers need to lop a few names off their prospect list, hey, they can take the extra money from the playoffs and develop some new ones to power their future.
[Related: MLB trade deadline tracker]
Now that Beltran and Pence found their landing spots, Jimenez reassumes the title of Baseball Brangelina. He was hot early, went through a mid-deadline crisis and has returned to headlines in recent days as the Rockies explore just how much they can extract for a pitcher with a great contract ($9.95 million for the next two years) and a big fastball (though at 93.4 mph, 2.7 mph smaller than it was last year) in a fairly bereft market.
One Rockies source pegged the likelihood of a trade at less than 50 percent Friday night. He did name the Yankees and Red Sox the favorites in obtaining the 27-year-old right-hander, though neither has met Colorado's demands of a significantly bigger haul than what Pence – who also is under team control for two more years, though at more than twice the money through arbitration – brought Houston.
The biggest issue for the beasts of the East is more if Jimenez is worth the bounty than if they need him. They do.
"Who are the Yankees gonna go with? [Bartolo] Colon or [A.J.] Burnett as a second starter?" one scout said. "They're going to make the playoffs. It's just a matter of trying to win."
Scouts across the game remain dubious about Colon's smoke-and-stem cell show, and Burnett's wild inconsistency still concerns the Yankees. He's better than last year. That doesn't make him good. Jimenez slots in as an undisputed No. 2, a pitcher with playoff experience and whose power stuff would play against loaded lineups from Boston and Texas better than other Yankee options such as Hiroki Kuroda(notes) or Erik Bedard(notes), whose allergy to New York could make Ed Whitson and Kenny Rogers look like Derek Jeter(notes).
Boston's need isn't as acute, though Clay Buchholz's(notes) lingering back issue casts enough uncertainty on a rotation replete with it that pursuing Jimenez is equally worthwhile. The loss of Buchholz – who Monday sees Robert Watkins, back specialist to the stars – leaves the Red Sox with Josh Beckett(notes), Jon Lester(notes) and … John Lackey(notes)? Tim Wakefield(notes)? Alfredo Aceves(notes)? Teams can survive with two starters, yes, especially two of Beckett and Lester's ilk, but waiting on Buchholz's diagnosis isn't Red Sox GM Theo Epstein's style.
Boston did gut its farm system for Adrian Gonzalez(notes), though the emergence of Will Middlebrooks, Kyle Weiland(notes), Ryan Lavarnway, Xander Bogaerts and others gives them plenty from which to deal. New York can offer Jesus Montero(notes), Manny Banuelos(notes), Dellin Betances, Ivan Nova(notes), Gary Sanchez and plenty more. Isn't that the point of being a big-market bully: The Red Sox and Yankees should be the teams hoping to pan gold with expensive international prospects and picking high-ceiling high school players late in the draft to buy them out of their college scholarships for these very sorts of trades.
The pressure is on for general managers Brian Cashman (left) and Theo Epstein, pictured here in 2008 at Fenway Park in Boston.
Yes, there are stragglers on the Jimenez fringe. Detroit, never hesitant in dealing minor leaguers, is willing to move top prospect Jacob Turner(notes), according to Fox Sports, and Cincinnati remains interested and has the prospects to close such a deal. At the same time, this is not the sort of situation where Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd will settle. He's content to hold onto Jimenez, let him start opening day 2012, rebuild his value and, depending on where Colorado stands, possibly shop him again. If Jimenez is the same pitcher next year that he is now, he would fetch the exact packages teams currently are offering.
It's why the Yankees and Red Sox are considering other starters: Kuroda (if he'll waive his no-trade), Bedard (who threw a stinker Friday), even Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie(notes). Because the Yankees and Red Sox enter every year as a contender by dint of their payroll, they don't dream of the postseason with the hungry eyes of a San Francisco, with its amazing pitching staff's limited window, or Texas, wanting to get back to the World Series, or even Philadelphia, where GM Ruben Amaro Jr. continues to give away prospects like penny candy, well aware that their increased commoditization actually can leave them overvalued.
One of Yankees GM Brian Cashman's tenets since before the 2008 season was to hold onto his top prospects. To this point, the Yankees haven't developed a single star. Outfielder Brett Gardner(notes) is the closest thing to it, and not once did Baseball America rank him higher than eighth among Yankees prospects. Phil Hughes(notes) is lost, Joba Chamberlain(notes) hurt, Ian Kennedy(notes) succeeding in Arizona. Cashman's reticence has lost the Yankees the chance to do what San Francisco and Philadelphia did, what Texas should do, what Atlanta wants to do with a center fielder. Whether it's B.J. Upton(notes), who they worry about after an ugly 2010 with another center fielder whose incoming reputation wasn't stellar, Melky Cabrera(notes), or Michael Bourn(notes), another piece of Houston's sell-off who actually fits great if Atlanta will yield Mike Minor(notes) or Randall Delgado(notes), depends on how the market affects asking prices.
Ultimately, any move will look small potatoes if the Yankees or Red Sox pay Colorado's bounty for Jimenez. Between what the Rockies want in return and the questions about Jimenez's velocity decline, it's a risk, a big one – and one that you'd think one of the clubs, the one that wants to take control of the AL East, would be willing to take.
These are the Yankees and Red Sox, for crying out loud.
It's time for them to act like it.
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