The Friars management, shockingly, had found a taker for the injured first baseman and his $11-million contract, and for the third time this year the Friars had added a superstar to their roster in mid-season, albeit one with a limited shelf life.
The price? A farmhand, a player to be named, and a significant amount of unease in St. Francis's clubhouse. For, if a respected and highly-compensated veteran like Mark Teixeira could be dealt, then anything was possible. The Summer of Second Guessing has begun. Who was the buyer? Answer: the Soho Werewolves, who at twenty games out of the wild card and in the "Division of Death" (the East) essentially made their concession speech official. In order to pick up touted lefty prospect Sean Manaea, GM Anthony Guerra had to agree to take Teixeira's salary.
Observers who followed the Werewolves closely regarded this aspect of the deal with scorn: with Prince Fielder a franchise player making over $18 million a year, the idea that Soho had any long-term interest in Teixeira was laughable. "At best, they'd peddle the rights to some other club before the draft," one scout remarked. "At worst, they'd release him outright." Yet there "Tex" was, packing his bags. Along with Manaea, the Werewolves were guaranteed another player to be named from St. Francis's minor-league system and also received some future concessions based on the contract status of.....
....the GREAT ONE, Mariano Rivera.
Yes, St. Francis had needed Teixeira's salary in order to obtain the legendary closer, who will turn 43 in just a few months and by all indications will retire, the greatest closer in BARB history. Ironically, both Rivera and Teixeira had been let go in the off-season by the Worcester club which is running away with the Eastern Division this year, just a few years removed from a world championship for the Eliminators. With one foot in the rocking chair, Rivera's value was never going to go up, and so St. Francis found the price amenable. In addition to Rivera, St. Francis acquired injured reliever Jesse Crain and the nearly 40-year-old Ichiro Suzuki. The combined haul of these three veteran contracts, $14 million, was more than enough to offset the players the Friars were sending to Soho.
"This is a strange deal," admitted Friars owner Scott Hatfield. "But there is a certain logic to it. None of the players I received are likely to be playing much past this season for any team, anywhere. Crain's injuries are serious and he might never pitch for us. I hope Ichiro's pride won't be hurt too much when I say we have no intention of picking up a $6.5 million option for a fourth flychaser. But Suzuki can help us now. Ryan Sweeney, our backup CF...still on the DL. Quentin's hurt, like always. We're lucky that Shin Soo-Choo hasn't gotten hurt, having to patrol center. He's really a natural right fielder...but of course, unless HE gets hurt, we have Jose Bautista. So another veteran outfielder, especially a guy who knows how to win? It makes sense. And, of course, Mariano Rivera is still the same old Sandman. He can still deal. He will move into a closing role immediately. Soriano and Rodney will slot down into setup. We'll try to make the game shorter for our starters, and see if we can make up some ground on Casselton. One thing's for sure, if we don't make the playoffs, it won't be for lack of effort."
Indeed. This follows on the heel of acquiring R.A. Dickey from New England, and 1B Chris Davis from Brownsville. As in those deals, the Friars had shipped out salaried veterans to offset monies received, and sweetened the deal with minor-leaguers. St. Francis's farm system has shrunk dramatically in the past two months. Yet, with a first-rate closer added to the mix, an MVP candidate in Davis and a durable starter just a year removed from a Cy Young Award, the Friars are positioned to make a push in September, and (they hope) beyond. "We're running out of healthy phenoms," admitted Hatfield. "We lean toward keeping some of our young infielders, and we think (prospect Michael) Wacha will be able to help us next month. So, if we have any deals left, they probably will be small. But we will listen to all offers. We've come this far, we want to go farther."
Despite all the moves by the Friars, they have made little headway in chasing a strong Casselton club that leads the Central Division. After being eight games back in the final week of July, all of owner Hatfield's scrambling had amounted to picking up just two-and-a-half games. New players, shuffled rotations, spot starts by the likes of Jordan Lyles and Tyson Ross have done little to change the fact that the slugging lineup is underperforming, and the touted young pitchers inconsistent.
If a race is going to develop in the Central, it will have to happen soon. Meanwhile, after many years of exciting (and surprising) pennant chases, there is little suspense in 2013. Worcester still owns a seven-game lead over wild-card favorite Frostbite Falls, and Yuma is taking a victory lap in the West despite a game second half from the Yankee Stompers. So, will there be a pennant race at all this year? Stay tuned!