First, some niceness: Shelby Miller was pretty awesome last night. In fact, last night's performance from Shelby may be one of my very favourites we've seen from the kid all season. Not because of the results, although those were pretty impressive too; six shutout innings on just three hits is nothing to sneeze at. It certainly looked like the extra time off helped Miller out, though maybe that's just me building a narrative where I want one.
Actually, the reason I liked that outing last night so much was because of one pitch in particular; a swinging third strike (foul tip, to be exact), to Laynce Nix leading off the sixth inning. The pitch was a changeup, and it may have been the best one I can remember seeing Shelby throw all season. The location was outstanding, down at the shoetops and catching just the absolute barest sliver of the black east/west. The movement was excellent, with a bit of tailing action and hard downward bite that almost looked splitterish. The arm speed sold the pitch. It wasn't just a changeup; it was a really good changeup.
In fact, the whole sequence to Nix was a thing of beauty. Shelby threw four straight four-seam fastballs, popping 93, 93, 93, and 95 on the gun, garnering one called strike, one swinging strike, and two balls for his trouble. Then boom, 86 down and away, and Nix could only flail. It felt like the sort of plate appearance we've been waiting to see from Shelby; a confrontation he wins by deploying just the right weapon at just the right moment, and the sort of at-bat that plenty of other times this season we've watched go to seven or eight pitches as the hitter fouls off fastball after fastball and the pitch count climbs ever higher.
For much of the year, we've marveled at what Shelby Miller has been able to do while throwing basically two pitches. And two has been occasionally generous; there have been plenty of games he seemed to just kind of forget about the curveball for pretty decent periods of time. We've also discussed, time and time again, how he needs to develop that third pitch, how he needs to become more efficient, how he needs to learn to incorporate all his weapons into the game in order to take that next step forward, and wondered aloud how brilliant he might be if all those things lined up for him. Does striking out a pinch hitter leading off the sixth inning of a game in mid-July mean Shelby Miller has taken that next step forward? No, probably not. But if you want to see what a Shelby Miller with that final piece of the puzzle in place looks like, well, we got a little taste of it right there.
Okay, now for the not so nice stuff.
If this is true
, and there really was a Carlos Martinez for Alexei Ramirez offer on the table, then...I just don't know what to say. Dear god, how stupid would you have to be to actually consider dealing a player like Martinez for a 31 year old (and that's Cuban years, which means he could very well be a couple years older), shortstop who has seen his wRC+ fall from 95 and 96 in 2010 and '11 to 71 in 2012 and 75 this season, largely due to an almost impossibly low walk rate of 3.2(!) percent?
Don't get me wrong; I would still like to have Alexei Ramirez. I would. He's a very good defender, and he's still outhitting Pete Kozma. (Talk about damning with faint praise, eh?) But giving up a top-50 prospect in all of baseball? Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, say it ain't so, Mo.
Honestly, I'm kind of choosing to believe at this point that the whole thing is some sort of elaborate smokescreen being thrown up by the White Sox to drive up their asking price, or else some bizarre bit of miscommunication. Not because I can't believe the Cardinals would be so insane as to make the offer, nor because I can't believe the White Sox would be so ridiculously stupid as to turn it down. But I simply can't imagine a world in which both of those things are true. So I'm hoping we'll hear soon that the whole thing is just some sort of wacky zany wackiness. Or something to that effect.
Here's the thing, though: as much as I can't quite wrap my head around the concept of this offer actually being on the table, I also can't bring myself to completely discount the possibility. After all, when you look at the value some of the sellers have gotten for their veteran pieces here lately, it's entirely possible the entire baseball world has just gone completely insane. The Cubs received an enormous return for twelve Matt Garza starts, beginning with Mike Olt, who has lost a bit of lustre this season but is still a plus defender at third and has shown marked improvement with the bat since dealing with an eye issue that has been troubling him for, well, no one is really sure exactly how long. I'm not hugely impressed with Justin Grimm, the more polished of the pitching prospects the Cubs picked up, but C.J. Edwards I have a feeling about. Kind of a...Trevor Rosenthal kind of feeling. I think he could be something impressive. Oh, and there's one of those infamous players to be named later, too. The Cubbies made out like bandits by selling off a pitcher with a lifetime FIP right around 4.00.
Or how about the return the Brewers got for Francisco Rodriguez? One of my favourite prospects in the minors (and shadow draftee
), Nick Delmonico is now a member of the Milwaukee farm system, and I fully expect him to bash the Cardinals' brains in on a regular basis playing third base for the Brew Crew for the next decade. Meanwhile, the Orioles give up six years of the kid for a reliever whose admittedly impressive 1.09 ERA is being propped up by a 99.1%
strand rate. That's probably -- I said probably --
not sustainable. I'm not saying K-Rod isn't still a solid pitcher. He is. But to give up a very good prospect for two months of a reliever seems like a terrible deal to me. I understand there's value to a team in a pennant race of gaining even a shot at an extra win or two. Still.
It just seems to me that the new format of extra playoff teams in baseball has significantly shrunk the pool of sellers. So many teams believe they're still in the race that very few clubs are actively looking to move assets before July has come to an end. Rightly or wrongly, any team just hanging around .500 seems to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs nowadays, and it's decimated the trade market. (The newer usage of decimated; if the loss was only one tenth, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation.) As a result, what few assets do find their way onto the market are almost prohibitively expensive to acquire.
I'm really tired of saying the Cardinals should just stand pat at the deadline every year. But, beyond a minor move here or there, I just don't know that the cost of doing business in this brave new trading world is going to be justified any time soon.