Oh, the drama! Oh, the suspense!
Here we are at the start of the final month of the season. As with the end of July, it’s a time of some significance, but not one that equates well to a holiday.
There are two things that officially happen at the end of August or beginning of September.
- Postseason eligibility list deadline – I mentioned this in the previous discussion of waivers. Any player traded after this deadline (which was 11:59 pm Eastern time Saturday) cannot play in the post-season. This is the ultimate form of a “rental player”*, given that the team is making the trade for no more than a month’s worth of the player’s skills.
- Rosters expand – For most of the season, each team has a 25-man roster, known as the “active roster”. These are the players who are with the major league team, playing in the games. There is also the 40-man roster (aka “expanded roster”), which consists of everyone on the active roster and 15 additional players, who are generally in the highest level of the minor leagues. Only players on the 40-man roster can be moved to the 25-man roster, so the additional 15 players are generally the ones the major league team expects to bring up to the majors, either to replace an injured player or because they’re prospects who are close to being ready to hit the big time. That’s a lot of background for one sentence: When rosters expand, any player on the 40-man roster can play in the major league team’s games, even if they’re not on the 25-man roster. Generally in September, teams with big leads in the playoff race will bring people up from the minors to let the regulars get some rest before the playoffs. Teams still fighting for a playoff spot will bring up players who may be able to add that last little “push” to get them into the playoffs. And then there are the unhappy teams who are totally out of contention; they bring up players who seem likely to be big-league ready next year, so that they can get some major league experience and so the manager and coaches can see how they perform against major league quality opponents.
* Typically, players traded after the All-Star break are “rental players”, meaning that they’re in the last year of their contract and will become free agents at the end of the season, free to negotiate a new contract with any team; thus, the team trading for them is seen as “renting” their services for the last few months of the season.
So those are the official happenings at the end of August. Unofficially, this is when teams start admitting that they’re not going to make the playoffs. As of today, two teams have been mathematically eliminated from winning their divisions: Houston and Miami. Several other teams are on the edge of elimination, including Toronto, Chicago (both teams), San Diego, and Philadelphia. They don’t have a realistic shot at their divisions, and even a wild card slot would take a miracle. More teams will join them in the “wait until next year” brigade over the next week or so.
Where does “Our Team”, the Mariners, sit? In all probability, they’ll be joining the ranks of the mathematically-eliminated in the next week or so, doomed by inconsistent play. You may recall that two weeks ago they beat the As, wrapping up a tough road trip with a positive 5-4 record. They came home and got murdered, losing all six games, including three against Texas, who they had just beaten twice. Now they’re back on the road again. They took 3 of 4 from worst-record-in-baseball Houston, but struggled to score in three of the games. They move on to Kansas City today; the Royals still have an outside shot at the playoffs. Most likely, the Mariners will finish someplace south of last year’s 75-87 record. They do only need one more win in their last 26 games to avoid the embarrassment of losing 100 games, so there’s that.
Mike Morse, brought in to provide a “big bat”, mostly didn’t, mostly because of injuries. He was traded to Baltimore for a sack of beans. (I exaggerate slightly. Xavier Avery was a second round pick in 2008, but hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. He’s played 33 games in the majors without doing anything spectacularly good or bad. On the up side, his career .629 OPS in those 33 games compares reasonably well to the .693 Morse has posted this year, his defense almost has to be better, and he’s significantly cheaper. Besides, how can you not like a Xavier? He’s only the sixth Xavier in MLB history.)
Rauuuuuuuul, brought in to provide some senior leadership and mentoring, mostly did. He also brought the excitement of a record chase. He probably won’t break the over-40 home run record, given that much of his playing time over the last month will likely go to those 40-man roster call-ups*, but if he gets hot, the team might give him a shot at it in an attempt to drag fans into the stadium.
* Abraham Almonte was called up Friday and played right field, then moved to left for Saturday’s game. He went a combined 2 for 9 at the plate with two RBIs, showed impressive speed, and a strong arm. (See how this optimism thing works?)
So what do we do now? We sit back and watch the September call-ups and get excited about what they could do for the team next year. Get into fist fights over what the team’s biggest needs are in free-agent signings and trades over the winter. (Hint: “everything” is not an acceptable answer.) Watch the playoff races and enjoy playing “spoiler”.
Oh, and the Giants? They’re on the brink of mathematical elimination and they still have Barry Zito for another year–but they have moved him to the bullpen. One way or another, don’t expect him back in a Giants uniform next year.