Peter Gammons: Eight thoughts as we turn the Labor Day pole for the final run for October

dodgers hanley ramirez

Hanley Ramirez

September is a critical month for Hanley Ramirez, not only because of what he can bring the Dodgers in their run for the post-season now that he’s back from his oblique strain, but in determining what will happen to him when he enters the free agent market at the end of the season.

Hanley is still an impact offensive player. His .801 OPS is the highest of any qualified major league shortstop, and he showed last season that he can be a mid-lineup force, until he was knocked out of action when he was hit by a pitch and broke his hand.

But at this point there seems to be considerable doubt about whether or not the Dodgers will get into any longterm deal with the 30-year old. They worry about whether or not he can stay at short; his range isn’t what it used to be, his defensive runs saved numbers put him in the bottom 20% of regular shortstops, and his time at third base with the Marlins was not a big success. There are concerns about his durability; he has played 120 games once in four years.

So, barring a big finish and post-season performance, it may be that Hanley moves on, either to a team willing to play him at third, or an American League club where he could occasionally DH.

If Ramirez leaves, it makes Matt Kemp’s return to LA in 2015 all the more certain. The Dodgers are already heavily lefthanded—yes, when Joc Pederson comes up this next week they will have one more lefthanded-hitting outfielder—and Kemp’s .553 slugging and .921 OPS numbers since the All-Star Break have re-enforced his importance to the lineup.

Angels, Burnett, Colon

The one starter the Angels are interested in acquiring to replace the injured Garrett Richards before Sunday’s waiver deadline is the Phillies’ A.J. Burnett. But the only way a deal will be worked out is if Burnett waives his player option for 2015.

Despite the speculation about Bartolo Colon, the Dodgers, Angels and Royals have not expressed serious interest. His age worries those teams, especially with him signed for next season. They worry about his breaking down, about further biogenesis revelations this off-season. As of this morning, it appears likely that of the three available veteran starters—Burnett, Colon and Scott Feldman—the only one that could still get moved and be eligible for the post-season is Burnett.

Rusney Castillo

Now that Rusney Castillo has been given clearance to begin play, the Red Sox will have him break in with their Gulf Coast League team this weekend, then play for one of their minor league affiliates—likely Portland of the Eastern League or Salem in the Carolina League—in the playoffs, then assess where he stands. He could finish the season with the Red Sox, then they will decide his next stop—either the Arizona Fall League or winter ball in either Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic.

Pedro Alvarez

This has been a frustrating season for Pedro Alvarez, hitting only .232, encountering throwing problems that has him leading third basemen with 25 errors and prompted a move to first base for the stretch drive, and now, just as he got hot at first, more injury problems. But Alvarez has been a model Pirate and has told club officials he wants to remain at third base in the future, willing to do whatever it takes to get his throwing back to normal.

Cubs Pitching

The Cubs got Jake Arrieta in the Scott Feldman deal last summer, and despite last night’s track meet loss to the Reds, has established himself as a front end starter. Kyle Hendricks—acquired for Ryan Dempster, and a Dartmouth math whiz whose childhood pitching mentor was former Angels 20 game winner Clyde Wright—has pitched his way into their longterm rotation plans. Scouts who saw C.J. Edwards, acquired last summer for Matt Garza, think he’ll be in their rotation by next June.

So the question has been: since this next draft will likely be the last time their pick is protected, will the Cubs spring for a big free agent starter? Right now, the answer seems to be no, on Jon Lester, James Shields or Max Scherzer. Instead, they are more likely to spend 2015 developing all their young position players, then after the season, enter the market for David Price, the return of Jeff Samardzija, or Rick Porcello.

Houston Draft

Several teams expressed displeasure with Bud Selig’s admission that he is trying to find a way to allow the Astros to sign Brady Aiken, the first pick in the June draft whose deal with Houston fell apart over a physical. The deadline for Houston completing their deal with Aiken was mid-July, and other teams do not understand the potential exemption.

Complicating all this is the grievance filed claiming the Astros reneged on a $1.5M deal with 5th round pick Jacob Nix. If the Players Association wins the Nix grievance and Aiken’s $6.5M deal isn’t completed, then Houston would lose its first round picks each of the next two Junes for exceeding their allotment. If they sign Aiken, then they retain their picks, whether the Nix grievance is won, or lost.

Jered Weaver

Much is made of Jered Weaver’s fading velocity. But Dustin Pedroia talks about how Weaver and James Shields “are baseball players who don’t pitch by scouting report scripts, pitch off what they see and what they do rather than what hitters don’t do. That’s why they’re so good.”

According to Brooks Baseball, Weaver’s October, 2009 velocity averaged 91.55. His August, 2014 velo averages 87.18.

Then check the peripherals:

jered weaver 09-14

Jered simply knows how to pitch, how to hide the ball, how to study hitters,” says Angels GM Jerry DiPoto. “He’s always working on his game.”

“He’s a baseball junkie,” says Pedroia. Oh yes. Pedroia and Weaver were roommates and close friends when they played for Team USA in their college days.

Lefthanded Bats

In the past week, five different general managers bemoaned the lack of productive lefthanded hitters. Doing some research, they have a point.

Going into Friday’s games, there were seven lefthanded batters with 20 homers: David Ortiz and Anthony Rizzo, 30; Lucas Duda, 26; Brandon Moss and Chris Davis, 23; Kyle Seager and Corey Dickerson, 20.

There were six lefthanded batters with OPS numbers over .855: Rizzo, .889; Ortiz, .887; Seth Smith, .867; Freddie Freeman, .864; Robinson Cano, .862; Michael Brantley, .858.

WAR leaders among lefthanded batters: Jason Heyward, 6.5; Alex Gordon, 5.6; Cano, 5.3; Brantley, 4.; Adam Eaton, 4.2.

Marc Adelberg of MLB Network Research found that even in a season in which power is down, righthanded batters have homered every 37.3 at-bats, down from 35.3 in 2010, 35.2 in 2011, 32.5 in 2012 and 35.7 in 2013.

However, lefthanders have a steeper drop-off, to a homer every 41.4 at-bats this season after 36.6 in 2010, 38.1 in 2011, 34.9 in 2012 and 35.5 in 2013.

If you had Seth Smith playing in Petco Park, having the third higher OPS of any lefthanded batter in baseball, you probably thought Josh Byrnes got a three year extension. Or, you wonder why the Indians are bringing Russell Branyan back from the Mexican League?