The shopping of Mark Teixeira now an annual mid-summer’s event, the Atlanta Braves into Tuesday afternoon offered up the switch-hitting first baseman to division races east and west, concentrating briefly on a perceived better match in Arizona to the exclusion of some other interested clubs, primarily the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Braves could barely catch a break in what has become a three-team NL East, down Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann on a roster that already lost John Smoltz for the season, Tom Glavine for significant time and, as a result, could have used a massive year from fourth-year man Jeff Francoeur. They didn’t get it.
Instead, it appears someone else – the Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels and Rays make the most sense, the New York Yankees never quit on these things and who knows how the Boston Red Sox are going to wriggle out of this Manny Ramirez headache – will be Teixeira’s second-half ballclub, his third in a calendar year.
Teixeira, who turned 28 in April, is about three months from free agency and what general managers assume will be a $120-million take. He was a worthy addition to the Braves a year ago when he had a 10-homer, 32-RBI August, and in his career has been a consistently more productive second-half hitter. Still, in parts of two seasons with Teixeira as their regular first baseman, and having paid a significant cost in prospects for him a year ago, the Braves appear resigned to a third consecutive playoff-less season.
Teixeira could alter divisional outcomes in the NL West, where the Diamondbacks’ offense deserted them after a 28-16 start, and the AL East, where the Rays’ hitters have taken much of July off. Both appear to be in a Teixeira-or-nothing mode, but are willing to go it without Teixeira if the price in big league-ready prospects doesn’t come down.
The Rays are more optimistic that Rocco Baldelli has regained the energy and game to help punch up their offense, and that left-hander David Price, who went eight innings for his fifth consecutive Southern League win Monday night, is close to big-league ready. In that case, the Rays would put Price in their rotation and move a starter to the bullpen, filling two needs. They would have loved to make a run at Colorado Rockies left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes, a prospective free agent who was available until the Rockies got hot and advanced to within six games of Arizona.
In light of the Yankees’ acquisition of outfielder Xavier Nady and reliever Damaso Marte (two players the Rays had hoped to be in on) and the Red Sox getting back slugger David Ortiz, a significant upgrade somewhere – and Teixeira qualifies – would serve the Rays both for lineup and morale purposes. They’ve mostly forgotten the seven-game losing streak that chased them into the second half, but for a club that’s never before seen a contending second half (or first, for that matter), some front-office aggressiveness would go a long way toward stimulating stretch-drive confidence.
The Diamondbacks, meantime, have scored 42 runs in a week and are within reach of their first winning month since April. Justin Upton is expected back sometime in August and, even better, Randy Johnson looks a little more like Randy Johnson again. The news got even better for them when ever-fragile Nomar Garciaparra suffered a knee sprain, killing a bit of a Dodgers offense that needed all hands on deck.
Garciaparra will never be the player he once was, but he did hit .309 for a month and was killing left-handed pitching. The shortstop market is thin, and the Dodgers, as of Tuesday, seemed more likely to hold their breath until Rafael Furcal heals, assuming he does. They are not – or were not so far – of the mind to trade for Manny Ramirez, for many of the same reasons the Red Sox now find it necessary to shop him.
The Angels, who stress defense and a unified clubhouse, would not have much use for Ramirez. But general manager Tony Reagins has welcomed exploratory conversations with Braves counterpart Frank Wren regarding Teixeira. Under Bill Stoneman, the organization generally refrained from the rent-a-player strategy that can thin a farm system and start a cycle of emergency trades and free-agent spending. But, Reagins – who traded Orlando Cabrera for Jon Garland and signed Torii Hunter last winter – has shown more of a gambling spirit. An Angels source called a trade for Teixeira, “unlikely, but not impossible.”
That said, the Angels are now in a postseason rut, primarily because they haven’t hit in October since 2002. Vladimir Guerrero, around whom the offense turns, has been particularly vulnerable, in part because there has not been a ferocious presence behind him. Teixeira would be that presence, but at a cost of Casey Kotchman, a good hitter with developing power and a glove at least equal to Teixeira’s, all at a fraction of the cost.
The Angels are having their best offensive month, during which they extended their AL West lead by eight games, so the urgency of a bat is diminished somewhat. At least until October.