Money isn’t everything

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The electric horseman: Manager Torey Lovullo (left) welcomes Madison Bumgarner home.

Arizona the region and not necessarily the baseball team said something to Madison Bumgarner for long before he became a Diamondback at last. Enough to compel him to sign a new contract paying him less than he probably could have earned, even though he’s in the re-invention stage of his career. Sometimes there’s no place like a second home, too.

And more often than you think, money isn’t everything.

Time was when you couldn’t have pictured Bumgarner in anything other than the black-and-orange Giants hat and cream fatigues. When you saw the tenacity on the mound that turned him into a postseason myth in those fatigues and assumed, no matter what else came into play around him, that a Giant he was and a Giant he’d stay.

Madison Bumgarner and the Giants? Married even in the free agency era like Hall of Famers George Brett and the Royals, Tony Gwynn and the Padres, Chipper Jones and the Braves, Mariano Rivera and the Yankees, and Mike Schmidt and the Phillies. Not to mention future Hall of Famers Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers (so far) and Mike Trout and the Angels, plus Yadier Molina and the Cardinals, and David Wright—whom injuries obstructed from consummating a Hall of Fame career—and the Mets. Right?

But maybe you didn’t catch onto Bumgarner and his wife falling in love with something aside when the Giants hit spring training every year in Scottsdale, Arizona. Something like Arizona itself. The place means almost as much to Bumgarner as the heat of baseball competition and the chance for winning that, right now, the Diamondbacks present better than the Giants do.

“First and foremost, winning,” he said when the Diamondbacks introduced him as their newest Snake Tuesday. “That’s what the whole decision is based on, and being with a team that’s my brand of baseball. They play the way I like to play. They just play hard. They’ve got a bunch of grinders on this team, guys that don’t take any pitch off. They’re just a hard-nosed group of guys.”

That’s a terrific reason for a pitcher who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit” to think about a new team, of course. But the lure of Phoenix and the surrounding ambience of Arizona itself was just as powerful, maybe the only presence that could hit Bumgarner for distance and get away with it.

The long-enough-time Giants horse becomes the Diamondbacks’ own Electric Horseman. The Bumgarners imported a few of their horses from Bumgarner’s native North Carolina to Arizona every spring. The Giants training there was so seductive to him that, once he knew the Diamondbacks were more than interested when he finally became a free agent, he was even willing to trade a fan base he came to love as deeply as he loves to compete to surrender.

“It’s tough,” he admitted about leaving them behind. “The fans in that city mean so much to me. I mean, shoot, it’s been ten years there and we won three world championships and have been through a lot together. They’ve always been as good as they could possibly be to me, and I’ll never forget that. I’ll always be thankful for it. That part of it was tough, but coming here, so far, this place has exceeded all my expectations, and like I said, I’m really excited about it.”

The fact that he still gets to have a few skirmishes a year with the Dodgers now that he’s staying in the National League West couldn’t possibly have eluded MadBum, either.

Stephen Strasburg re-signing with the Nationals, like Trout extending for life with the Angels last spring, said essentially that there’s no place like home, even an adopted home. (Strasburg is a native southern Californian; Trout is native to a region near the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border.) Bumgarner signing with the Snakes says there can be no place like the home you long for.

The Giants could have offered him everything including ownership of McCovey Cove, his own private cable car, free feed for the rest of his life at the Fisherman’s Wharf eatery of his choice, and an on-the-house lease to any piece he chose at Hearst Castle down Highway 1 in San Simeon. Once the Diamondbacks indicated they wanted him, you couldn’t pay him enough not to swap the Bay for the desert.

If you think that’s even just a slight exaggeration, be advised that assorted published reports say the lefthander with the Dreamliner wing span in the split second before he throws to the plate had nine-figure offers to ponder from elsewhere, but he instructed his agent, VC Sports’ Ed Cerulo, that Arizona was “the number one place for me.” And money wasn’t everything.

“We definitely left some money on the table,” the newest Diamondback said when the team introduced him formally Tuesday. “You can say that.” If the published speculation is true and Bumgarner looked at $100 million or better for five years in other offers, he’s left at least $15 million behind overall while agreeing to pitch—according to The Athletic‘s Zach Buchanan—for $6 million in 2020 before hitting $14 million for 2021, $18 million a year in 2022-23, and back to $14 million in 2024.

Essentially, Bumgarner gave the Diamondbacks a new-home discount. No, make it actually: Buchanan reported that $5 million a year is deferred from the 2021-23 annual salaries until the deal is finished. And general manager Mike Hazen—who traded a somewhat more expensive desert lover named Zack Grienke to the Astros in 2019’s marquee trade deadline swap—“plans to use that [2020 payroll] flexibility” to shore up the Diamondbacks for contention.

Buchanan thinks Bumgarner all but willed the new Diamondbacks deal into existence, sort of, but don’t dismiss Hazen—who once said that on the one hand he wasn’t exactly starving for starting pitching but, on the other hand, he wasn’t exactly going to say no to the chance for more—being just a little bit shrewd in his own right, either:

Hazen admitted that adding to his rotation wasn’t his top priority, or really any sort of priority, entering the offseason, but that Bumgarner made it plain early on that he preferred to end up in Arizona. Though Hazen stopped short of saying that affinity for Phoenix prodded him into engaging on the longtime Giants starter, the structure and overall value of Bumgarner’s deal—and Arizona’s lack of rotation holes before offering it—suggest the Diamondbacks were able to capitalize on a specific advantage they had over the 29 other major-league teams.

It also looked like the early speculation that made the Bumgarner deal a possible to-come trade scenario for incumbent starting pitcher Robbie Ray isn’t necessarily so. Bumgarner’s deal flexibility lets the Snakes shore up without having to invent payroll room. They’d rather save the invention for the field if they can help it.

And, more important, Hazen’s willing to gamble that Bumgarner continues re-inventing himself on the mound to the point where he’ll deliver better goods than he could with the Giants since 2017. “We just watched a guy leave here in the middle of last season who reinvented himself every year he was here,” Hazen told the Tuesday presser, referring to Greinke. “We feel like [Bumgarner] has that ability.”

The entertainment possibilities can’t be resisted, either. Assuming the Diamondbacks have a better sense of humour now than they had when the late Kevin Towers was their general manager, don’t be shocked to discover a hitching post outside the players’ entrance at Chase Field. Or, to see Bumgarner galloping up to the park aboard one of his horses, maybe hollering, “Hi yo, Tumbleweed! Away!”

Or (sorry, it’s impossible to resist), to see a staredown and bawl-out with an enemy batter (preferably a Dodger?) who’s just hit one over the right field fence in Chase Field turn into a cheerfully snarky “Go get it out of the pool!” T-shirt.

Life and baseball with Bumgarner could be mad fun for the Diamondbacks, even if Bumgarner isn’t yet ready to resign his Fun Police commission. Almost as much fun and soul embracing as life in Arizona for Lieutenant and Mrs. MadBum themselves.

MadBum hitches his horses to the Snakes

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Postseason legend Madison Bumgarner takes flight and gallops in Arizona now.

Picture the next time Madison Bumgarner surrenders a hefty home run in his home park and snarks over the bomber having fun with the blast. The bomber’s mates will be inspired to produce T-shirts saying not, “Get it out of the ocean” but, rather, “Get it out of the pool.”

Bumgarner has signed for five years and $85 million with the Diamondbacks, and the nearest body of water into which the opposition can hit is the pool behind Chase Field’s right field fence. Until Bumgarner gets to face the team for whom he served so well, mostly, for the first eleven years of his career, in his former playpen, that is.

A few years ago, Bumgarner’s asking price wouldn’t have been as low as $85 million for five years or more. A few injuries and, more important, a heavy workload have taken their toll, though at 30 years old Bumgarner isn’t exactly ready for Retirement Row. But yes, it does feel a little strange that you’ll see him for the next five in something other than Giants’ fatigues.

And, yes, Bumgarner really did prefer going to Arizona if the Giants weren’t going to be that interested in keeping the greatest postseason pitcher in their history. The Diamondbacks, admirably, have continued remaking/remodeling themselves without even thinking about tanking, and Bumgarner is nothing if not a competitor no matter how much his left arm doesn’t always obey his orders lately.

But The Athletic‘s Bay Area scribe, Andrew Baggarly, says it was personal as well: “Bumgarner told me in July that he and his wife, Ali, loved Arizona and he’d be interested in playing for the Diamondbacks. He gets his preferred destination from a life perspective, he’ll play for a team with way more near-term upside than the Giants, he still gets to hit (in a lively ballpark where he loves to take BP) and he still gets to stare down the Dodgers five or six times a year. What’s not to love?”

Thus does it make a little more sense that, yes, the Giants “were interested and engaged in retaining” the lefthander whose arm span as he’s about to deliver a pitch makes him resemble a Boeing Dreamliner with a bearded cockpit on takeoff; but, no, they weren’t exactly rolling the old red carpet for his landing, either.

Baggarly caught the drift at last week’s winter meetings. When he asked the Giants’ new manager, Gabe Kapler, how he was selling both himself and re-selling the Giants to their franchise World Series hero. When Kapler said he hadn’t talked to Bumgarner and (Baggarly’s words) “wanted to give him his space,” but would still reach out “if others thought it was a good idea.”

“And that was it,” Baggarly continued. “That was all I needed to know. There was no way that Bumgarner would continue his career with the Giants.” Because, of course, if the Giants wanted him to stay and thought they had a shot even at $85 million for five more years (they’re said to have offered four and $70 million), “you can bet that calls and meetings would’ve been set up. Kapler would have begun the back-channeling before he even got the job. The Giants would have tried to assuage Bumgarner’s every concern and dispel every bit of unease.”

Bumgarner isn’t the only one now shouldering into a Diamondbacks jersey who’s a bounceback candidate. The incumbent Snakes ace, Robbie Ray, is looking to make a comparable comeback from a somewhat dismal 2019, and much analysis has suggested the team hoped for enough of a comeback to make him attractive at next summer’s trade deadline. Bumgarner’s signing may have made Ray look positively glittering as a trade topic and positively assured of bringing back a haul of delicious enough prospects sooner.

MadBum is almost as renowned for the pleasures he takes in hitting as he is for that lifetime 2.11 postseason ERA, including a transdimensional 0.25 lifetime World Series ERA. He’ll fume at or bawl out enemy hitter taking a little too much pleasure in a monster mash on his dollar, but he enjoys hitting one for distance as much as the next man. Even if he admits he just can’t bring himself to let the kids play, or play with the kids, when he’s the bomb victim.

A shame, too. Two Opening Days ago I had a little mad fun with MadBum’s hitting a pair out, against the Diamondbacks of all people, one a leadoff blast against Zack Greinke in the top of the fifth, the other a one-out shot against reliever Andrew Chafin in the top of the seventh.(In between, then-Diamondback/now-Dodger A.J. Pollock hit one out off Bumgarner in the bottom of the sixth.)

I wrote a puckish column pondering the dialogue between the then Cy Ruth Award candidate and the Giants’ then-manager Bruce Bochy, leaning a little heavily off the day Bumgarner and then-Dodger Yasiel Puig tangled verbally after a ground out, with Bumgarner—who loves Puig about as much as a small child loves liver (after Puig joined the Reds and took Bumgarner deep, Bumgarner cracked, “He’s a quick study. It only took him seven years to learn how to hit that pitch”)—hollering, “Don’t look at me!”

Forgive me, MadBum, but I couldn’t resist looking at you on that Opening Day:

Bochy: Bum, it’s not that we don’t need the runs, but would you kindly remember that your job with this team is not to do your impersonation of Henry Aaron every other time up?

Bumgarner: Skip, don’t look at me!

Bochy: Bum, I know you were p.o.ed about losing the perfect game in the sixth. But you’re not getting paid the gigabucks to beat baseballs into earth orbit. You’re getting paid the gigabucks to throw them, preferably down the throats of enemy batters. Think you can remember that while you’re bucking for the Cy Ruth Award?

Bumgarner: Skip, just don’t look at me!

Bochy: Bum, you’re embarrassing our hitters. Hitting one 410 feet over the left center field fence on 1-2. You realize how many guys around here can’t hit on 1-2? You bucking to get our hitting coach fired?

Bumgarner: Skip, just don’t look at me!

Bochy: Okay, I’ll give you this one, Bum. That shot you hit in the seventh with one out. 2-0. Now, that’s a more reasonable count to swing on. And you did bust a three-all tie while you were at it. But c’mon, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Even if you’re the one who let them tie it up at three-all in the first place. Well, okay, it was A.J. Pollack, and even you can’t keep him from hitting one out now and then, you’re only human, after all.

Bumgarner: I’m only what?!?

Bochy: I knew that’d get your attention, Bum! Now, about those eleven strikeouts … that’s why you’re getting paid the gigabucks. Wait a minute — hey, Denard! Not a great way to open, getting yourself arrested for attempted grand theft second!

Bumgarner: Don’t look at him, Skip!

Bochy: Anyway, you’re getting paid to strike those emereffers out, not hit them into the Cove, buddy. There’s no Sandy Mays Award in baseball. I need you to start and when necessary close your own games, so far, depending on how much of an improvement this bullpen’s gonna be over last year’s bullpen. Christ, last year we couldn’t get save a thing if we’d had the Red Cross coming out of the pen.

Bumgarner: Rowrowrowrowwwrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Bochy: What’s eating you, Bum?

Bumgarner: What’s with this Hoover? Who does he think he’s fooling with that slop? Why doesn’t he go back and make his vacuum cleaners where he belongs?

Bochy: He just struck Pence out after Hunter fought him back to 2-2.

Bumgarner: That ain’t exactly beating as you sweep as you clean, Skip.

Bochy: Where’d you learn your history?

Bumgarner: I play Trivial Pursuit just like any normal guy.

Bochy: Normal! Normal! Any normal guy who gets paid the gigabucks to pitch and strike out the other guys but who gets up to the plate and thinks he’s Mike Schmidt. You call that normal?

Bumgarner: Do I look like Mike Schmidt, Skip?

Bochy: Only when you hit.

Bumgarner: When did he ever strike out eleven guys in a game? Hey! We got first and second. Buster walked and Craw singled him to second. Who says I’m the one who has to do it all?

Bochy: Nunez just lined out to right, in case you weren’t looking.

Bumgarner: Looks like Hoover needs to change his beater bar brushes.

Bochy: Come on, Bum, give the guy a break, you had to squirm a couple of times too, you know.

Bumgarner: I twist and shout, I do not squirm.

Bochy: Have it your way, buddy. Look at him. Throws two balls to Hernandez, then strikes his ass out on three straight pitches. Looked like he took a couple of lessons from you.

Bumgarner: OK, give you that one. Poor Gork, forget the breeze, I could feel the hurricane.

Bochy: C’mon, Bum, you did more than your share today. Take the rest of the day off. Law can handle these guys.

Bumgarner: Okay, Skip, but remember who would have hit second in the ninth. For all you know I had another home run in me.

Bochy: Bum, let’s not get into that again, shall we? Can’t you settle for being the only pitcher in baseball history ever to hit two bombs on Opening Day and let it go at that?

Bumgarner: Well, look at poor Law, Skip. Two hitters, two singles, and Goldschmidt coming up. Whoa! Two straight strikes he throws on Goldschmidt. Now balls one and two.

Bochy: Gimme a break, Bum, I didn’t want Pollock to pounce on you again.

Bumgarner: You’re all heart, Skip.

Bochy: Damn! The bastard tied it up with a single.

Bumgarner: He fought the Law and won.

Bochy: Forget it. Jerry Seinfeld you ain’t. Hold on, I gotta get Law out of there.

Bumgarner: Good call, Skip. Blach got the double play. And Strickland got the strikeout. Now I know you’re gonna miss me hitting in the ninth!

Bochy: You gonna start that again?

Bumgarner: Who’s the genius who decided I could take the rest of the day off when I might have had another home run in me?

Bochy: I dunno.

Bumgarner: Well, don’t look at me, Skip!

Bochy: Hey, look who’s pitching the ninth.

Bumgarner: It’s old man Rodney! And Panik triples off him to open! C’mon, Skip, I could have gotten him home without hitting one out.

Bochy: See? Gillaspie got him home! Sacrifice fly. So it’s not like you hitting your third homer of the game, just shoot me.

Bumgarner: Don’t start with me, Skip!

Bochy: Now I got to get Melancon in there. The season isn’t even three hours old for us and already we’ve got a blown save. Thirty last year wasn’t enough, we gotta buck for forty already? Damn, how could we load up the pads on old man Rodney and not cash those guys in? How could we get Span thrown out at the plate to end that inning? Coulda had a two or more run lead.

Bumgarner: Well, Melancon isn’t getting paid the big gigabucks to go up to the plate and hit grand slams, Skip. Damn, Skip! Two outs, he gives up a double to Mathis and an RBI single to Daniel Freaking Descalso!! And Owings sends home the winning run! Why are we paying Melancon the big gigabucks? I told you you should have had me available to hit in the ninth! You ever heard of an insurance run?

Bochy: Don’t look at me, Bum!

The word is that the man who’s been a horse for the Giants even when he wasn’t pitching at his peak performance level owns horses in the Phoenix area and, with his wife, loves the horses as much as the area and as much as baseball. The man who doesn’t want you looking at him when you recover from a knockdown pitch or take him out of your shared baseball real estate isn’t averse to a little horsing around.

But wouldn’t it be something if baseball could give him dispensation for Opening Day, lets him keep a horse adjacent to the batter’s box, then—if he hits one out—lets him mount and gallop around the bases?

All the Diamondbacks have to do otherwise now remind Bumgarner the only body of water into which the other guys can hit is small, behind the fence, and features a hot tub off to one corner. And, keep him away from dirt bikes.

Defiance yields dividends

2019-09-13 Mets911Shoes

You can do anything but lay off the Mets’ 9/11 commemorative shoes . . .

Baseball’s unwritten rules are ridiculous enough. Some of the written or at least known-to-be rules are even more ridiculous. Which is why Mets rookie star Pete Alonso’s 9/11 defiance ennobles and should elevate him and shame baseball’s government.

When the Mets played their first home game following the original 9/11 atrocity, they wore hats brandishing NYPD, NYFD, and other first responders with their uniforms. They defied baseball government then, too. And ever since, baseball government has shot down subsequent similar bids to honour the rescuers and the fallen. And others.

As the Mets pondered violating the edict on 9/11’s tenth anniversary (they ended up obeying baseball government orders for nothing more than an American flag on their caps), the Nationals had ideas about wearing Navy SEALs caps during a game around the same time, honouring those SEALs killed in Afghanistan that August. Baseball government said sure—pre-game only. During the game, don’t even think about it.

Alonso—a first grade Florida kid when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11—wasn’t having any of that nonsense.

If baseball was going to shoot down his original idea for custom hats featuring New York police, fire, and assorted first responders* and others, Alonso was going to shoot his own weapon—he got his teammates’ shoe sizes and footed the bill himself for Adidas, New Balance, and other top athletic shoemakers to make special 9/11 commemorative game cleats.

“I’ve just been thankful and gracious for this opportunity,” Alonso said to Yahoo! Sports‘s Mike Mazzeo, referring apparently to both his surrealistic rookie season and his chance to do honour to 9/11’s victims and responders.

“For me, this season has been an absolute fantasy. I just want to give back. I want to help. I don’t just want to be known as a good baseball player, I want to be known as a good person, too. And I just want to really recognize what this day is about. I don’t want it to be a holiday. I want it to be a day of remembrance of everything that happened. It was an awful day.”

Baseball government at least had the Mets, the Diamondbacks, and other teams wear patches on their caps showing MLB’s official logo converted to an American flag backdrop, a red-white-blue ribbon behind the logo, and “We shall not forget” embroidered into one side of the surrounding blue circle. Royalties from replica sales will go to three national 9/11 memorial groups.

That’s something commendable, but the idea that Alonso—who gave ten percent of his Home Run Derby prize money to two 9/11-related charities, the Wounded Warriors Project and the Stephen Stiller Tunnel to Towers Foundation (Stiller was a New York firefighter killed during 9/11 rescue efforts)—should have had to defy his game’s governors to honour those killed in America’s arguably worst single-attack atrocity, is grotesque.

Maybe the Mets being one and all on board with Alonso’s footwear helped keep the Manfred regime from slapping the team with a fine or other disciplinary measures. Or maybe the sense that fining or otherwise disciplining Alonso and the Mets for it would bring the regime more negative publicity kept it on its better behaviour.

And maybe the Mets’ defiance delivered them a little favour from the Elysian Fields gods.

First, they flattened the visiting Diamondbacks Wednesday, 9-0—nine runs on eleven hits including a five-run first. Then, as if to prove that some good deeds go unpunished, the Mets finished a four-sweep of the Snakes Thursday with an 11-1 battering.

Again, the Mets used eleven hits, including a single-game team record six clearing the fences, including center fielder Juan Lagares doing it twice, while Marcus Stroman nailed his first genuinely quality start on the mound since becoming a Met shortly before this year’s new single trade deadline.

Lagares’s first blast was only the biggest blow. Todd Frazier’s second-inning leadoff blast against Diamondbacks starter Alex Young and J.D. Davis’s two-out RBI single in the third off Young opened the game 2-0 Mets. A base hit and a walk loaded the pads for Lagares in the third when he wrestled Young to a full count.

Then Young threw a fastball arriving under the floor of the strike zone, and Lagares picked the perfect moment for his first career salami, hitting the equivalent of a five-iron shot into the left field seats.

The center fielder joined the long ball party in the bottom of the fifth, too. Aging second baseman Robinson Cano opened the inning with a line drive into the right field bullpen at Snakes reliever Robby Scott’s expense. Michael Conforto drew a one-out walk and, a strikeout later, exit Scott, enter Jimmie Sherfy, and exit another Lagares launch, this one landing in the seats near the right field foul pole.

Mets catcher Tomas Nido—the backup to Wilson Ramos, and the receiver half the Mets’ starting rotation seems to prefer throwing to (the Mets’ team ERA with Nido behind the plate: 3.68; with Ramos: 4.46), but who doesn’t hit enough to enable them to cement that preference—batted next. He didn’t give Sherfy a chance to breathe after Lagares’s second blast, lining one off the back left field wall above the thick orange line marker that denotes a home run.

Two innings later, and after pinch-hitter Ildemaro Vargas doubled home the only Arizona run in the top of the frame, Conforto punished reliever Kevin Ginkel for a third straight four-seam fastball, driving the down-and-in service into the upper deck in right.

Nothing, however, made even half the impression Alonso’s defiance in tribute to 9/11’s fallen and heroes made. The rook plotted the subterfuge for weeks and, by all known accounts, got the Mets’ team leaders including defending Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom on board with the plot.

Threats of fines or other disciplinary measures against Alonso or the Mets have proven unfulfilled, so far.

The fact that such a threat was made or implied and even had to be taken seriously tells you plenty of what you need to know about why baseball’s government has such a rotten public image while the game itself and most of those who play it have one of simple beauty.

Thus does baseball remain very much like its country—our government has a rotten image that’s very well deserved, but our country and most of those who call it our own have one of simple beauty.


* In my college years, briefly, I dated a Long Island nursing student named Kathy Mazza. It never became serious between us, but we had a few pleasant dates including a couple that ended with an all-night hunt for bialys—they differ from bagels in being smaller and based in flour, not malt—which I remember were a particular favourite snack of hers at the time.

Kathy eventually became an operating room nurse turned Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police officer whom, her eventual police officer husband once swore, became a cop to show him how policing was really done. In due course, she became the second woman to earn captain’s bars on the PAPD and the first to command its police academy.

Her achievements there included convincing the Port Authority to install portable heart defibrillators in the airports it oversaw and training the 600 PAPD officers posted to those airports on how to use them. She also taught emergency medical procedures at the PAPD academy.

And, she died in the 9/11 atrocity.

Joining PAPD responders at the North Tower, she shot out the glass walls of the North Tower’s mezzanine enabling hundreds to escape; the tower ultimately collapsed while she and fellow PAPD officers tried leading more out of the tower. Her body was found a month later, I believe.

Kathy Mazza was one of 37 PAPD officers including its then-chief killed on 9/11. She’s still the only woman ever killed in the line of duty on the PAPD, which suffered the largest single-event loss of life of any single law enforcement agency in history on 9/11.

This column is dedicated to her and their memory.

Greinke makes the ‘Stros trade winners

2019-08-01 ZackGreinke

Zack the Knife makes the Astros the big trade winners. Will he help make them World Series winners?

No questions asked. The Astros slipped in at the eleventh minute, practically, and not only stole the new single trade deadline show but they did the absolute most to fortify themselves for the postseason run nobody doubts is theirs this season. Barring unforeseen disaster, of course.

With Gerrit Cole looking at free agency after the season it made sense for the Astros to seek a top-of-the-line starting pitcher with at least another full season of team control to line up with (don’t doubt it) future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, so far the new ageless wonder of baseball.

So it came forth after the deadline passed that the Astros sent a quartet of prospects—good, promising, but not quite platinum-rated prospects—to the Diamondbacks for Zack Greinke, who isn’t exactly a slouch on the mound and who’s having a solid season in his own right so far.

They’ll get the rest of this season plus the final two seasons on the gigadeal Greinke signed with the Diamondbacks. The Snakes also sent the Astros a reported $24 million to help cover the rest of Greinke’s contract, on which the Astros will be responsible for the other $53 million. They’re not exactly complaining.

General manager Jeff Luhnow knew only two things about Greinke before he pulled the trigger on the big deal of the day: Zack the Knife has been a consistent pitcher who’s on the borderline of a Hall of Fame case; and, the righthander isn’t exactly one of the most combustible personalities in baseball.

“I don’t know him personally,” Luhnow told reporters, “but I think he’s not a guy that seeks the limelight, and that actually works well for us here in Houston. And slotting in with Verlander and Cole, he’s gonna not have to be the guy that’s in front of the camera the whole time.”

The Astros weren’t exactly over-occupied on doing the Greinke deal. Before that deal hit the news running Wednesday, they did a little bullpen fortification, getting Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini from the Blue Jays. The Jays also sent the Astros minor league outfielder Cal Stevenson. The Astros sent the Jays outfielder Derek Fisher.

Greinke was last seen striking out seven Yankees in five innings Wednesday. He left the park without talking to reporters, which may or may not have been an indication that he suspected or was told it was time to re-pack his bags.

On the same day, the Astros got flattened by the Indians, 10-4, in Cleveland; they finish with the Tribe Thursday before a weekend hosting the Mariners, but Greinke may not have his first Astros start until the Rockies hit town starting Monday.

“I know he’s really good. I don’t know him personally, but I’m going to get to know him,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “We acquired him because of how good he is. Certainly we expect him to be a big part of our push to win the division and keep winning into October. He’s an incredible pitcher.”

He has been, and he still is when all is said and done. His new teammates won’t disagree. “What a pickup!” Cole himself crowed. Referring to the front office, he added, “They nailed it. They did a fantastic job.”

Landing Greinke shot the Astros into being World Series co-favourites with the Dodgers at Caesar’s Palace Sports Book. But the Astros are smart enough to know Berra’s Law is immutable. Zack the Knife increases their odds of a return to the Series, but so is Andujar’s Law, as uttered by a long-ago Astro, the late Joaquin Andujar: “In baseball, there’s just one word—you never know.”

What we do know, though, is who were really the big winners and the big losers of major league baseball’s first single mid-season trading deadline.

THE WINNERS

Braves—Another starting pitcher wouldn’t have hurt them, necessarily, but what the National League East leaders really needed was a back-of-the-bullpen retooling. And, they got it, in an almost rapid fire series of deals.

They landed Shane Greene from the Tigers. They landed Chris Martin from the Rangers. They landed Mark Melancon from the Giants. As CBS Sports’s Matt Snyder observes, if the prices were too high for such reported availables as Edwin Diaz (Mets) and Felipe Vasquez (Pirates), the Braves did well enough shopping the sale aisle.

None of the new pen trio are anything near the most glittering names in the relief world, but neither are they slouches or pushovers. Changes of scenery from nowhere land to pennant contention do wonders for such pitchers, and it would be absolute gravy if the Braves get something out of Melancon resembling his final years in Pittsburgh and his only spell in Washington.

Greene, of course, was an All-Star this year and was wasted on a Tigers team in the middle of a rebuild. When the Braves can turn to him near the end of a game, either as the sure ninth-inning option or if things get a little dicey in the eighth, the sight of Greene warming up with his 1.18 ERA should be enough to make their division and the rest of the league quake.

Throw in Martin’s 10+ strikeout-to-walk ratio and 10.2 K/9 rate, and all of a sudden the Braves’ bullpen doesn’t look like it’s full of bull anymore.

Indians—So Trevor Bauer turned out to be a bigger pain in the you-know-where than his otherwise solid pitching was worth. Doesn’t mean the Indians dealt from weakness. Not with Corey Kluber on the threshold of returning from the injured list.

And the Tribe managed to address their biggest weakness in the deal: their corner outfielders weren’t hitting anywhere near the same area code as their new toys Yasiel Puig (from the Reds) and Franmil Reyes (from the Padres) put together. Add Puig’s mostly plus throwing arm in right field, and all of a sudden the Indians outfield isn’t just going to roll over and play dead.

The Indians also landed lefthanded pitching youth Logan Allen (also from the Padres), and when you consider how well they develop or re-tool starting pitching this is an upside acquisition for them, too.

But the real key was the impact bats. Puig secures them in right field for the rest of the season, and perhaps if he continues doing well enough the Indians would think of pursuing him when he hits free agency in the fall. Reyes, though, secures a DH spot for them for the foreseeable future while giving them an outfield platoon option in the bargain.

Suddenly it’s not to laugh about the Tribe’s outfield anymore.

Mets—Don’t laugh. Not only are they on a six game winning streak at this writing, the formerly left for dead Mets—and even I thought they were just awaiting the nails to be hammered into their coffin after that terrible weekend in San Francisco—are 12-7 since the All-Star break.

And maybe it’s an illusion since, aside from the Giants, they faced only real contender during the string. But they did take both games against the Twins in Minnesota, including a 14-4 blowout. All of a sudden, these Mets can play as well as they can pitch.

And while the world seemed to be sure only that either Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler would have a change of address after Wednesday’s deadline, it took the Astros landing Greinke to knock the Mets’ landing Marcus Stroman well enough before the deadline out of the park.

Maybe Stroman wasn’t thrilled at first to go to what he thought was a non-contender. And maybe someone ramped up for kicks a rumour that the Mets had ideas about flipping Stroman to the Yankees post haste for some of the Yankees’ top farm produce. But the Mets wasted no time ridding themselves of Jason Vargas—who should have been cashiered over a month earlier—sending him to the Phillies almost as soon as Stroman’s acquisition was a done deal.

The Mets rotation now looks like Jacob deGrom (who pitched brilliantly against the White Sox Wednesday night only to get his almost-usual no-decision, the poor guy), Stroman, Syndergaard, Wheeler, and Steven Matz. And with Matz putting on a deadly off-speed clinic shutting out the Pirates last Saturday night, looking as though he’s finally found the secret to pitching without the power of a deGrom or a more disciplined Syndergaard, it gives the Mets a rotation with two number-ones, a two, and a pair of threes.

Nationals—Like the Mets, the Nats were left for dead a few times before the All-Star break. Like the Mets, too, the Nats are riding resurgent, sort of: 10-9 since the break. And the Nats needed a bullpen remake in the worst way possible.

Not at the absolute rear end, where closer Sean Doolittle remains effective when he has something to save. It’s getting the games to Doolittle that caused one after another National migraine. But then the Nats landed Jays reliever Daniel Hudson and Mariners reliever Roenis Elias.

All of a sudden, the Nats seemed to find relief in the best way possible for that beleaguered bunch of bulls. And then they got really surreal—it turned out that they also got an old buddy (ho ho ho) from the Mariners, Hunter Strickland.

Strickland—who carried an almost three-year grudge over then-Nat Bryce Harper taking him deep twice in a division series, the second time awaiting whether his fresh blast straight over the foul line would leave the yard fair but misinterpreted as admiring the shot. (It flew fair into McCovey Cove.)

Strickland—then a Giant, who somehow hadn’t gotten the chance to face Harper until 2017, then entered a game with Harper leading off an inning and threw the first pitch right into Harper’s hip. Triggering Harper’s charge to the mound and the very delayed Giants pouring out of their dugout, during which pour former Nat Michael Morse’s career ended up being sealed when he collided with Jeff Samardzija and suffered a concussion.

Harper, of course, now wears the Phillies’ silks. But it would have been intriguing if Harper was still a Nat with Strickland coming aboard. Strickland’s coming back from a lat strain that disabled him for almost three months. And the Nats don’t see hide nor hair of the Phillies again until a four-game home set beginning 23 September.

By which time, the Nats may or may not be in the thick of the NL East race (the Braves suddenly started looking human enough the past couple of weeks), securing a wild card berth, or hoping they’ve got a leg up on 2020. A lot rides on the new bulls. But for now, the Nats took their number one need and addressed it respectably enough.

THE LOSERS

Red Sox—Like the Braves and the Nats, the Red Sox needed bullpen help badly. Unlike the Braves and the Nats, the Red Sox landed nothing. Not even a calf, never mind Diaz, whom the Mets were making available and who probably could have been had for a little less than they were said to have demanded for Syndergaard and Wheeler.

The Red Sox bullpen ERA in June: 4.92. The Red Sox bullpen ERA in July: 5.18. Letting some reasonably effective pieces make their ways to Atlanta and Washington instead does not portend well for the Olde Towne Team.

Dodgers—I know, it sounds funny to apply “losers” in any context to the National League’s 2019 threshing machine. But the threshing machine has one monkey wrench looming: the Dodger bullpen isn’t as formidable as it used to be.

Kenley Jansen isn’t really pitching like the Kenley Jansen of old this year. What’s behind him in the pen depends on whose description you read: mess, disaster, toxic waste dump, landfill, take your pick.

If the Mets and the Pirates were asking the moon for Diaz and Vasquez, the Dodgers if anyone had the moon to give in return. They’re loaded with prospects on the farm, and money in the vault, enough to have dealt a package of them for either reliever and still have a bountiful harvest to come.

Good luck holding leads against postseason lineups with that kind of pen. And the Dodgers won’t be able to hit themselves beyond their pen’s capability eternally. They won’t lose the NL West, necessarily, not with a fifteen-game lead at this writing, but their chances at a third consecutive World Series appearance and just one Series ring since 1988 just got a lot more thin.

Brewers—The pre-season favourites to defend their NL Central title aren’t exactly that good anymore. Losing Brandon Woodruff and Jhoulys Chacin to the injured list has left their rotation in tatters, and with the Giants yanking themselves back into the wild card play there went their ideas of maybe adding Madison Bumgarner for a stretch drive.

But they also needed some pen help, and what they brought aboard (Ray Black, Jake Faria, Drew Pomeranz) is serviceable but not quite as serviceable as what the Braves and the Nats brought aboard. The Brew Crew is liable to spend the rest of the season watching the Cardinals’ and the Cubs’ rear ends, but then with the NL Central as it’s been this year there could be a surprise in store. Could. Remotely.

Because the Brewers can’t live by Christian Yelich alone.

Twins—The AL Central leaders have gone from a double-digit division lead to looking only human at three games up on deadline day. They needed a little rotation help and a little bullpen help.

And they got only a little in the pen. Sam Dyson (from the Giants) and Sergio Romo (from the Marlins) are solid but not overwhelming. Maybe not for lack of trying, but the Indians’ blockbuster suddenly puts the Twins close enough to the Tribe’s mercy to make for a too-interesting stretch drive for them when they once looked like the division’s runaway train.

They can hit all the home runs they want, but if their pitching is compromised the Twins have a big problem coming. Like the Yankees, the Twins should have been more aggressive trade deadline players. Like the Yankees, they weren’t, for whatever reasons. And it could come back to haunt them down the stretch.

Yankees—Even Yankee haters won’t understand this one. The number one need for the injury-battered Bombers was rotation help. Especially after they’d just been flattened by the Twins and the otherwise-troubled Red Sox. And they did nothing to fix it.

The question may be why, or why not. If Bumgarner was off the market, they could have played for Stroman or for Mike Minor, even allowing for Minor’s rough July after a sterling June. They didn’t seem to play for any of the above. They didn’t even seem to be a topic if the Diamondbacks—knowing their own chances were still none and none-er—were looking to move Greinke to a contender.

And since their number one American League competition overall did land Greinke, the Yankees may ride a weakening AL East into October but they’re not liable to get past round one again, even if it may not be the Red Sox shoving them to one side this time.