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Division leaders can't stand pat
A week ago Chipper Jones, the foundation of the Atlanta Braves’ roster, saw his season, and quite possibly his career, brought to an abrupt halt when he tore the ACL in his left knee. He had surgery on Saturday.
So what happens?
On Tuesday, All-Star second baseman Martin Prado came off the disabled list, which allowed All-Star utility infielder Omar Infante to move to third base, which arguably makes the Braves even stronger defensively than they were a week ago.
Then on Wednesday general manager Frank Wren, who had made two window-dressing moves at the July 31 deadline, filled the lineup void created by the loss of Jones by working out a trade with the Chicago Cubs for Derrek Lee, which first required persuading Lee, who a month earlier rejected a move to Anaheim, to give the deal his approval.
And so the Braves, who a week ago were being asked how they could hold off the two-time defending NL champion Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East without Jones, wake up today 2 1/2 games in front, just like they were the day Jones was hurt.
That’s the key.
The Braves are in first place. The rest of the NL East is chasing Atlanta. The Braves don’t need help from anybody else.
When a void develops, a first-place team, such as Atlanta, has to be proactive to make sure it doesn’t let its hold on a playoff spot slip away. For a team atop the standings, it’s easier to ignore the future and pay the price to be successful today.
It’s why San Diego, even though it has limited resources in its farm system, can’t worry about draining its long-term talent base when it gets the opportunity to acquire Miguel Tejada and Ryan Ludwick. It’s why Texas is willing to give up a chunk of quality prospects to bring in Benjie Molina, Cliff Lee, Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman (who has landed on the disabled list).
These teams not only want to maintain control of their divisions, they also want to address areas of concern to improve their chances to advance in the postseason.
They aren’t gambling. They're making short-term investments.
For gambles, look at teams such as San Francisco.
The Giants woke up Thursday morning six games back of San Diego in the NL West, and, having lost hold of the NL wild-card lead, they are stuck with Jose Guillen over in the corner of the clubhouse now, having provided Kansas City with a place to unload the sullen veteran.
Or, consider the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who have been an afterthought in the AL West, giving up quality prospects to acquire Dan Haren. They attempted to do the same to bring in Derrek Lee, but he didn’t see any reason to leave the Cubs to play for a team without a realistic chance to make the postseason..
The perception of the Angels' futility in their bid to catch Texas was underscored by Lee approving his trade to Atlanta, where future Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox is looking for a 16th shot at the postseason as a retirement present. The man who guided Toronto to its first postseason appearance in that franchise’s history in 1985, then oversaw a professional-record 14 consecutive first-place finishes in Atlanta, has been left out of the October party the past three years.
This year, though, he has a legitimate shot at a final fling, and Atlanta’s ownership and management is intent on providing him whatever pieces he needs to finish off the 2010 pennant-race puzzle.
While Cox is in line to go out a winner in Atlanta, Joe Torre, in the final year of his contract with the Dodgers, is managing a team likely to miss the postseason for the first time since he returned to managing with the Yankees in 1996.
The Yankees advanced to the postseason in all 12 years Torre managed, including claiming world championships in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. He has taken the Dodgers to the postseason in each of the past two years, advancing both times to the NLCS. The Dodgers hadn't made the NLCS since their world-championship season of 1988. In fact, they had been swept in three of their four Division Series appearances between the 1988 championship and their return to the NLCS in 2008, and managed just one victory in four games the other time.
Mattingly heir apparent?
Is history about to repeat itself in Los Angeles? Three times between 1996 and 2000, the Dodgers ignored Mike Scioscia when they hired a manager. Scioscia finally left after the 2000 season, tentatively agreed to either manage Colorado’s Triple-A affiliate or become the Rockies' roving minor-league instructor, and instead wound up becoming manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Dodgers are facing a major managerial decision again this offseason, and there is the suspicion that Torre will have the power to swing the job to his hitting coach and ally from the Yankees, Don Mattingly, instead of Tim Wallach, the organizational choice who has received rave reviews for his managerial efforts in the Dodgers farm system.
He must really like football
Outfielder Kyle Parker made a major financial sacrifice to continue his career as a quarterback for Clemson. Parker, the Colorado Rockies' first-round draft choice, received $1.4 million in a deal that allows him to continue to play college football. Prior to returning to school, Parker was offered $2.4 million to give up football.
Last season Parker became the first player in NCAA Division I history to throw 20 touchdown passes and hit 20 home runs in the same academic year.
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