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What if we started the playoffs early? Like … now? Well, the Rangers and Mariners are basically doing that over the next 10 days. Also: notes on Gerrit Cole, the Rays are calling up Junior Caminero, and the Tigers have a new GM. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to the Windup!
Playoffs at stake for Mariners, Rangers
“It’s me against you, there’s only one way to work it out“
World Series: seven games.
League Championship Series: seven games.
Divisional Series: five games.
Wild Card Series: three games.
This year, you can add one more — Rangers/Mariners: seven games.
Here’s why: The Astros currently lead the AL West by a half-game over both teams (who both also trail the Blue Jays by a half-game in the wild-card race). That’s four teams vying for three playoff spots.
Here are the remaining games for each team:
- Houston: vs. Royals (3), @ Mariners (3), @ Diamondbacks (3)
- Toronto: @ Rays (3), vs. Yankees (3), vs. Rays (3)
- Seattle: @ Rangers (3), vs. Astros (3), vs. Rangers (4)
- Texas: vs. Mariners (3), @ Angels (3), @ Mariners (4)
The Astros or Blue Jays could falter hard down the stretch, allowing both the Rangers and Mariners into the postseason. Failing that, Texas or Seattle winning seven or six against the other would ensure them a spot, and almost certainly bounce the other from the playoffs.
Five would probably do the trick too (unless they were swept in their other series).
But a 4-3 margin one way or the other would have its own implications. It would basically mean that both teams were keeping each other as close as possible to .500, while the Astros and Blue Jays controlled their destinies.
One of the two will move on. The other (likely) won’t. It’s not technically the playoffs, but it sure does feel like it.
Ken’s Notebook: Cole is performing, but the Yankees aren’t
Gerrit Cole is a throwback, the major-league leader in innings pitched since 2017 and only the second pitcher to reach 200 this season, after Logan Webb. As if that’s not impressive enough, Cole is the rare free-agent starting pitcher who is proving worth the money.
Prior to the 2020 season, Cole signed a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees, the largest total value for a pitcher by a whopping $79 million. Four years into that deal, Cole is on the verge of winning his first Cy Young Award, leading the American League with a 2.75 ERA. His first three seasons in New York, starting with the shortened 2020 campaign, weren’t shabby, either.
FanGraphs’ dollars metric converts Wins Above Replacement to a dollar scale based on what a player would earn in free agency. The website estimates 1 fWAR to be worth $8 million. Some analysts, however, believe the number is closer to $9 million and maybe even $10 million.
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s set the value for 1 fWAR at $9 million. By that measure — and pro-rating Cole’s efforts during the 60-game 2020 season — he already has given the Yankees about $150 million of value, or about $37.5 million per season. The average annual value of Cole’s contract is $36 million.
Cole turned 33 on Sept. 8. There is no guarantee he will continue this level of performance, though Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are among the recent starting pitchers who excelled through at least their late 30s. Regardless, when teams award long-term, free-agent deals, they recognize most of the value will be in the player’s early years.
Cole is providing that value, in ways that the two pitchers with the next two largest free-agent contracts, Stephen Strasburg ($245 million) and David Price ($217 million), did not. Scherzer ($210 million) proved a better investment, giving the Nationals an even greater surplus in his six-plus years with the club than Cole is giving the Yankees.
The Nationals won a World Series with Scherzer. The Yankees have failed to reach one with Cole, and this season will miss the playoffs entirely for the first time since 2016. If anything, their failure to take advantage of Cole’s Cy Young effort should only increase their urgency this offseason. They are risking blowing Cole’s prime years, and for that matter, Aaron Judge’s, too.
For insight on how Cole views the importance of durability for a starting pitcher, check out the column The Athletic’s Tyler Kepner wrote on him earlier this week.
Rays call up Junior Caminero
“We could use a little help; we could use a little spark”
While the Rays are playing the role of primary antagonist in the Blue Jays’ quest for October, they’re also the protagonist in their own tale of playoff intrigue. They currently trail the Orioles by 1 1/2 games in the AL East.
With a chance to improve their postseason position, they’ve called up top infielder Junior Caminero, who will skip Triple A to join the big-league club at home against the Blue Jays tonight.
Keith Law ranked Caminero as the No. 5 prospect in the sport in his mid-season rankings and listed him as the runner-up for his Prospect of the Year this week.
Caminero, still just 20 years old, hit .324/.384/.591 (.975 OPS) with 31 home runs and 94 RBI between High A (36 games) and Double A (81 games).
He played 29 games at shortstop in the minor leagues this year and 91 at third base (there were games he played both positions, for anyone who’s cross-checking numbers).
Since Wander Franco was placed on administrative leave, shortstop has been manned primarily by Osleivis Basabe (who is hitting .213 with a .600 OPS this season) and Taylor Walls (.204, .656). Third base has mostly been the domain of Isaac Paredes (.251, .844) so it would seem that shortstop would be the most logical place for Caminero.
That said, first baseman Luke Raley could be headed to the IL with a neck issue, and second baseman Brandon Lowe fouled a ball off his knee last night, so who knows how the infield shuffle might settle?
Tigers hire Jeff Greenberg as GM
“Back, back from sweet Chicago“
If all you know about the Tigers’ new GM is that he was previously the associate general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks, you might be wondering how the transition between sports is going to pan out.
Spoiler: It lasted about a year and a half.
The Blackhawks, you see, weren’t Jeff Greenberg’s first job in Chicago. Before shifting to hockey in April 2022, Greenberg worked for the Cubs for 11 years. When he left, he was an assistant GM.
The hire in Detroit was a long time coming — president of baseball operations Scott Harris was hired away from the Giants over a year ago. There’s a bit of symmetry there, Cody Stavenhagen tells us, since the GM role Harris filled with the Giants before going to Detroit was also unfilled for a year before Farhan Zaidi hired Harris.
Greenberg’s area of expertise with the Cubs was in the pro scouting department — an area that has largely been left alone in the year-plus after Harris’ hire.
The Tigers are currently in the middle of a rebuild, a process that they hope will end with Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, among others, serving as the core when prospects like Max Clark, Jackson Jobe and Jace Jung hit the big leagues in coming years.
Handshakes and High Fives
In the first half, the Twins were in contention more because of a lack of competition than from any overwhelmingly good play. They’ve been better in the second half — here are three adjustments that have helped.
The Cubs are still in a playoff spot, but it’s the last one, and they’re tied with the Marlins (and just a half-game up on the Reds) as their September slide continues.
One more complication for the Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is battling a sore knee.
Eno Sarris has passed along the question-asking gene to his 11-year-old kid. Find out which pitches pitchers love the most (and hitters hate the most), and which animal is a clubhouse favorite.
I feel like we’re not talking enough about Emmet Sheehan’s role on the Dodgers’ postseason rotation. Or, we weren’t. Fabian Ardaya talks a lot about it here.
José Alvarado appears to be back to his postseason form from last year, and it’s not just Matt Gelb who has noticed.
The Windup Weekly Playlist
Here’s this week’s list of songs from which I swiped lyrics for our subheads. You can hear all of our September subhead songs on our monthly playlist, updated each week. Have a nice weekend!
- “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad” — Brand New
- “You and Me” — Carina Round
- “Legends Never Die” — Orville Peck, Shania Twain
- “Home” — Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
- “Anna Sun” — Walk The Moon
- “The Greatest Show” — Hugh Jackman, cast of The Greatest Showman
- “Blood Bank” — Bon Iver
- “Stellar” — Incubus
- “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” — Whitney Houston
- “Don’t You (Forget About Me) — Simple Minds
- “Should Have Known Better” — Ministry
- “Circles” — Post Malone
- “Me Against You” — WYATT
- “Rabble” — Abandoned Pools
- “Pages Written On a Wall” — Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s
(Top photo: Brad Penner / USA Today)