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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 2, 2022 3:00 pm PDT
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BY KEVIN KERNAN

The best thing about the trade deadline is that serious teams, teams who actually care about trying to win, separate themselves from so many pretenders.

The pretenders are those teams promising a future even if the present stinks.

Don’t whiz on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

As Pirates pitcher Vernon Law once said: “If you don’t play to win, why keep score?’’

A lot of teams now aren’t trying and aren’t pretending to try. They are not playing to win. They are playing for long rebuilds.  The other side of the coin is that sometimes teams try too hard. That’s okay though. Give me a team that tries too hard over a team that doesn’t try at all. That’s why, no matter how this turns out, the Padres are the winners of this trade deadline.

You can gauge the deadline by what team is left standing at the end, the World Series winner. That’s one way to measure success.

I contend so much goes into winning a World Series you usually can’t just point to a single trade that made the difference but if a single trade lifts a team and its fan base, that’s a winner, no matter how it turns out because you took your best shot.

There is a trade-off. There are always trade-offs.

“All fans want, and I have been saying this for decades, is to have their team ownership be in the fight and spending money. It’s not that hard, owners.’’

A team has to stay healthy; a team has to make and create breaks. Newcomers have to succeed as well as players who have been there all season. The emotional lift a trade gives a team is what it is really all about because the players in the clubhouse can look around the room and say, management is behind us. Management is doing the best it can, now it is up to us.

A good trade creates accountability.

With the acquisition of Juan Soto that is what is going on in the Padres clubhouse right now. Now it is up to Manny Machado, Yu Darvish and so many others to excel. Now it’s up to Fernando Tatis Jr. to finally put his team first and not his lifestyle, you know, no more free-wheeling motorcycle rides.

As for Darvish, his postseason record over a seven-game span is 2-5 with a 5.18 ERA. He needs to finally get it together in October.

A.J. Preller is on the clock, too.

Those are the factors that will make or break the Padres. Juan Soto gives them the emotional edge and now it is up to the players to play as a team, kind of the way the Dodgers play as they are running away from the rest of the NL West under Dave Roberts’ steady hand. Adding Josh Bell, Brandon Drury and Josh Hader helps as well. The Padres fans are pumped and that is a win.

The Clayton Kershaw back strain is another strain on the Dodgers, but the Dodgers seem to find a way. In much the way the Astros seem to find a way in the American League under the steady hand of Dusty Baker. Bob Melvin is similar to those managers, so you really are seeing a shift to “it matters who the manager is’’ again.

Juan Soto #22 of the San Diego Padres reacts to his foul in front of Austin Barnes #15 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on August 06, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

At this point Buck Showalter is the poster child for a veteran manager making a difference and that is a great thing for baseball. My only question to Buck is what exactly are you writing in that notebook that is always in front of you in the dugout?

The National League will be bonkers come the postseason. With teams like the Mets, World Champion Braves, Dodgers, Padres and whoever emerges from the NL Central and even if the Phillies get to October – that will be a great story as well.

But let’s get back to the Padres. Juan Soto is only 23, younger than some players in the Futures Game. When he was with the Nationals, I would enjoy our conversations in West Palm Beach during spring training. He was a wise young man.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being too much of a fan of the Padres, a team I covered for a decade way back when, so I checked in with a Padres expert (that’s as far as I’m going to go with his background) and asked about the deals and this was his response.

“Absolutely love what they did. Machado still in prime having productive season. Tatis is on cusp of rehab assignment. They played well enough to be in the mix and they had to go for it while pitching is there.

“The lineup is incredible now — when Tatis comes back he can mix time at SS/CF. (Jurickson) Profar having his best offensive year. Drury reinforces lineup too. Shored up back end of pen with Hader.

“Look, A.J. has had his mix of trades and trying to make action happen. He would’ve done this last year had it been (Trea) Turner/(Max) Scherzer, but lost to Dodgers and Adam Frazier, Jake Marisnick weren’t much of a consolation prize. They’re legitimate World Series contenders now, albeit without a farm system and a ton of debt, but I don’t think anyone has qualms over that.’’

That is perfectly said.

No one has qualms over that. All fans want, and I have been saying this for decades, is to have their team ownership be in the fight and spending money. It’s not that hard, owners.

It’s not that hard, GMs.

Don’t make this into a never-ending science project and don’t keep putting off the future. Go for it when you can go for it – and I commend the Padres for that even if they lose in the Wild Card.

The Padres have to find a way to have their pitching hold up.

Trey Mancini #26 of the Houston Astros hits a two run home run in the second inning against the Boston Red Soxat Minute Maid Park on August 03, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Life is about taking your best shot. You are not in charge of the moment when you take that shot but when that shot arrives, you have to go for it and live with the consequences. That is GM-ing 101. Preller needs success to survive at this juncture of his long tenure.

Now the other side of that coin are the Baltimore Orioles. Again, even though I am an expert, I will defer to another expert who has been close to the Baltimore scene for decades (that’s as far as I’m going to go with his background). I thought it was ridiculous what the Orioles did to their fans by sending away Trey Mancini to the Astros for whatever.

“They are three games over .500, what are you doing trading Mancini,’’ one super talented talent evaluator told BallNine. “What a terrible thing to do for your fan base. That is one of the best fan bases in baseball over the years – who you have given nothing but garbage for four years now – and now this group of guys are playing for your manager. They are competitive and you become sellers in a market where you have a chance to get in the playoffs. You owe it to your fans.’’

Instead, it was all about “sticking to the plan.’’

“You can stick to your plan and you are still going to be behind the Yankees, the Blue Jays and the Rays,’’ the scout said. “And that’s if everything falls into place for you.’’

That’s the non-competitive mindset of the Nerds.

Mancini only hit home runs for his first three hits with the Astros, including a grand slam. Good for him. The Astros went the veteran route at catcher too – adding Christian Vazquez from the Red Sox – and if their plan works, they will have a better record than the Yankees heading into October and a most certain repeat showdown with the Yankees. Having homefield advantage makes all the difference in that battle.

Again, the Astros took their shot.

This trade deadline and the moves made also showed the Red Sox are a franchise going backwards under Chaim Bloom and the same on the West Coast for the Giants, who were the darlings of baseball last year, but not for me, when everything went their way and they had the leadership of Buster Posey on the field as they won 107 games – but this year have fallen hard.

Jordan Montgomery #48 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the New York Yankees in the third inning at Busch Stadium on August 6, 2022 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Joe Puetz/Getty Images)

As for all the other teams in the hunt that made trades, I commend them.

You did well by your fans. I think the Yankees got better and made their bullpen, which was weakening, better with the additions of Scott Effross and Lou Trivino, and I think they strengthened the rotation, which was beginning to weaken because Gerrit Cole tries to get too tricky and often forgets he has an electric fastball which needs to be thrown with conviction. The addition of Frankie Montas, who was laboring in the Alcatraz of MLB (an island everyone but Billy Beane wants to escape) with the A’s, will help but there are warning signs as well. Montas’ ERA in Oakland was 2.36. On the road it was 5.01.

“The Yankees are a better team this week than they were before the deadline,’’ one scout surmised. “Effross is a low angle guy, and he doesn’t have the dominance to his fastball that Clay Holmes has, but it’s another good look to add to their bullpen of power arms. Trivino gives them depth in the middle. Adding Montas really did help them because Jameson Taillon is starting to get roughed up a bit, (Luis) Severino is down, (Domingo) German is back but you didn’t want to leave all your hopes in German. And the wild card is (Nestor) Cortes who is throwing this big load of innings for the first time ever.’’

Nestor Cortes, Jr. is at a career-high 112 innings pitched in the majors this season. The most he has ever pitched in the majors in one season before was 93 innings.

Fans were critical of trading lefty Jordan Montgomery, but he was not in the Yankees’ picture when it came to starting postseason games. It’s that simple. Harrison Bader will give them a younger version of Brett Gardner, he has to bounce back from plantar fasciitis.

Bader was always a fun conversation as well in spring training and for what it’s worth, he would be the last Cardinal signing autographs every time I was in Jupiter. Bader also was college teammates at the University of Florida with Pete Alonso and has some classic Alonso stories, including the time Alonso broke his nose fouling off a pitch in the batting cage but Alonso still tried to do everything he could that day to play in the game.

Noah Syndergaard #43 of the Philadelphia Phillies in action against the Washington Nationals during a game at Citizens Bank Park on August 4, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

This also is another example of the Yankees moving away from Aaron Hicks, who never developed into the player Brian Cashman thought Hicks was going to be. Adding Andrew Benintendi and Bader certainly sends that message. Hicks is on the clock, too. Bader gives the Yankees centerfield depth as well and there was a fear that Aaron Judge was spending too much time in centerfield. Outfield depth is always needed when Giancarlo Stanton is going through physical issues as well. It all adds up.

The Yankees are also in the middle of the most difficult part of their schedule and August will be a big test for them.

No need to pounce on Joey Gallo anymore but every scout in the organization had doubts about Gallo and those doubts were over-ridden by the high-level Nerds in the organization who look only at numbers. They added a decent arm in Clayton Beeter trading Gallo to the Dodgers.

Our scout offered this warning about Bader, saying, “Bader is a really good centerfielder, but he comes into my category he is just good enough to make himself a bad hitter.’’

Bader owns a lifetime .246/.320/.409 slash line. If Bader tries to do less and focus on making contact, he will have more success in that power-laden lineup.

I’m not going over every deal in MLB, I’ll leave that to others, but here are some points of interest.

The Blue Jays helped themselves as well, improving their bullpen with Anthony Bass and Zach Pop, and Mitch White gives some starting depth while Whit Merrifield adds athleticism and speed to the lineup as well as versatility. These were not huge moves but they were solid moves. The Rays bettered themselves with speedy outfielder Jose Siri and David Peralta.

The Mariners are trying to break a forever playoff drought and got the starter they needed in Luis Castillo, who has beaten the Yankees twice at Yankee Stadium over the last three weeks.

Same goes for the Mets – they made some nice simple moves adding Daniel Vogelbach, Darin Ruf, Tyler Naquin and reliever Mychal Givens. Don’t forget they are adding Jacob deGrom too. Another team worth mentioning is the Phillies who got bullpen help in David Robertson, a much-needed centerfielder in Brandon Marsh and a starter in Noah Syndergaard who will be entertaining in battles with the Mets.

Again, the Phillies and Dave Dombrowski took a shot and that is all fans ask for these days.

Take your best shot and see where the chips fall come October.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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