The trade deadline is one of the most exciting times of the baseball season. It forces teams to make decisions and trades, and it outlines the future for many teams. The Cubs and Phillies are both dealing some of their best players, looking to rebuild. The Giants are acquiring players for the now. Whatever the strategy may be, it is the climax of the season for many teams. Are they going to look to rebuild and be content with losing for a few years in order to build for the future? Or are they going to go all out this year, looking for the one and done? The trades are sometimes minor, other times shocking. If you ask a 10 casual baseball fans to name 5 players on the Mariners, almost every list would start with Ichiro. He has been their stalwart, the cornerstone of the franchise for 11 years. A perennial All-Star, he was traded like extra baggage. Most fans would probably throw in Felix Hernandez, and a few baseball nuts like me could probably name Mike Carp, Justin Smoak, Franklin Guitierrez. But this is Ichiro we’re talking about. And he’s not the only one. Hanley Ramirez, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino. Big names are being dealt this deadline. Some teams decide to play it safe, shopping a relief pitcher for a couple of average minor leaguers. No risk, no reward. At the same time, the Giants shopped their best pitching prospect for a 2 month rental of Carlos Beltran, and they didn’t even make the playoffs. In late July, teams have their needs clearly established, and that’s the smartest move. Don’t go for the gold, don’t tiptoe around, just get players you need. The Giants did that, and it’s working out alright. A 35 year old middle infielder who was at best average in his prime for your top second base prospect doesn’t look all that great up front, but it fills a need, as Pablo Sandoval is hurt again and Ryan Theriot can manage for the next couple of years. The Pence trade could turn out to be dynamite for them if Angel Pagan rediscovers his stroke. He was hitting over .300 at one point and although it has dipped to .275, he is very streaky. An outfield of a red-hot Pagan, Melky, and Pence looks very promising for the Giants. Hanley could work out well for the Dodgers, if Dee Gordon proves he’s not ready for the big show yet. Gordon’s fielding needs serious work, putting it mildly. The Yankees need speed and the top of the order and if old Ichiro shows up, the first 6 batters of their lineup is the 2008 All-Star team. So who knows? These trades will have a big impact, whether it’s now or 5 years down the road.
Baseball has migrated from the days of McGwire and Bonds, with players swinging for the fences and trading 10 homers for 30 batting average points. Now, you see more teams playing small ball, advancing runners, sac flies, bunts. (Shhh. Don’t tell Adam Dunn or Mark Reynolds.) With contact hitting emerging as the way to win ballgames in 2012, I figured I’d put together a list of the best contact hitters in the game today
Going out on a limb here, but I would say he is the best contact hitter ever. Better than Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Willie Wee Keeler. (Yes, that’s his real name.) Ichiro’s entire game is based on contact hitting. Naturally right handed, he taugh himself to bat lefty to be able to get out the box quicker. His stride takes him towards first base, leading him to beat out more infield hits than anyone else. He has faded recently, but let’s not forget this is a guy who batted .372 one year and owns the MLB record for most hits in a season, with 272. If he hadn’t started his career in Japan he would certainly have 3,000 hits with ease, and if he could play for as long as Rose, there’s no telling the numbers he would rack up.
2. Melky Cabrera.
Melky certainly doesn’t have the consistency Ichiro has, only emerging as one of the leagues best contact guys last year, and really turning up the heat this year. Plain and simple, nobody in 2012 puts the barrel on the ball like the Giants left fielder. He’s hitting .364 this year and has 119 hits by the midpoint of the season. That means he’s on pace for 238 hits. Insane. I don’t think anyone saw this coming in his years in New York. At 27, he has plenty of time to contiue his dominance of pitchers for the next 10 years or so. That’s the beauty of a contact hitter. Most guys can’t put the same oomph into the ball at 40 as they did at 25. But when you are a contact hitter, you don’t have to kill the ball. Because it’s more of an art and not a talent, people can ressurect their careers with this style of hitting. I’m not saying it’s easy, only that it can be learned, unlike power hitting, where the raw potential has to be there to start.
3. Derek Jeter.
For years, the AL would open the All-Star game with Ichiro and Jeter batting first and second. Ichiro’s last AS season was in 2010, but Jeter just keeps on hitting. He has 3,000 hits and is a lock for the Hall of Fame with a lifetime batting average of over .300 and a knack for clutch hitting. Jeter’s specialty-taking inside pitches to right field by inside-outing the ball- has won him a lifetime of bloop singles. That’s not all he does though. Jeter has perhaps the best bat control we’ve seen in 20 years. I read a stat the other day that said Jeter has more hits than Rose did at his age. Jeter probably won’t play until he’s 45 as Rose did, and another 1,000 hits at 38 is a tall order. But if you need a hit, Jeter’s your guy. Any situation, he’s more clutch than Kobe Bryant. (Not saying Kobe chokes-just saying Jeter’s better.) He delievers from Opening Day to Game 7 of the World Series.
4. David Wright.
David Wright is a guy who has been able to consistently hit .330 with his batting average throughout his career. He sprinkles in a little power and speed too, but as 3rd basemen go, he is the one who, when healthy, performs the best. People are going to say Miguel Cabrera, A-Rod, Adrian Beltre. But I like Wright over all of them. Cabrera’s overweight and actually switched to first base. A-Rod has had a rash of injuries lately and has really been a .280 hitter for his career. Plus, Alex Rodriguez was on steroids for the best years of his career. Adrian Beltre (And this is true for all of them) hits with a ton of protection in the lineup with Hamilton, Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Elvis Andrus. People have to pitch to him. Wright has no help in New York. People could pitch around him all the time, but he consistently gets base hits. Wright is also the best doubles hitter of the first 4, hitting with some power too, without swinging for the fences. Melky and his AT&T Park gappers could probably give him a run for his money, though.
5. Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler.
I spent a long time thinking about this, and I just couldn’t give one of them the edge. They are both 2nd basemen with .300 plus batting averages and with similar doubles power, so I couldn’t give an edge there. They both hit in star-studded lineups, so they both have maximum protection in the lineup. The biggest difference? Cano bats lefty, while Kinsler is right handed. Really, both of them are the best 2nd basemen in the game right now. They are both table setters, getting on base for the big guns, Texiera and A-Rod for Cano, Halimton and Beltre for Kinsler, and they can both bring people home and salvage a 2-out ralley with a base hit. They can both take something out of their swing, as all these guys can, and just try to make contact and get it out of the infield rather than trying to jack one over the 400 sign in center. 2 star second basemen, similar in every way, and rivals.