With Bruce out, it's time for Reds to sell

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The situation hardly seemed rosy a week ago. While the standings said
the NL Central title was still very much in reach, the Reds mostly
sported a lineup with just two above average regulars and a rotation
that seemed to be fading quickly after such a promising start. Trades
for outfielders or a third baseman were considered, but nothing ever
materialized. It looked like the only way the offense was going to
become formidable was if Jay Bruce started fulfilling his potential and
Edwin Encarnacion returned to previous form after coming back from the
DL.

Well, Encarnacion is back now, but Bruce is done for 6-8 weeks after
fracturing his wrist in the outfield. Odds are that he’ll return for
the final month and maybe a little more, but as poorly as he had been
playing with a healthy wrist, it’s doubtful that he’ll emerge as a
force prior to 2010.

The Reds might be able to survive if the pitching were still coming
through in a big way, but there are few encouraging signs. Aaron Harang
was 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA in May 25. He’s 5-9 with a 4.18 ERA now. Johnny
Cueto, one of the NL’s top three or four pitchers for the first three
months, has struggled in four of his last five appearances, taking his
ERA from 2.17 to 3.62. Bronson Arroyo was lit up in three straight
outings before shutting out Triple-A Norfolk last time out. There’s
still no telling when Edinson Volquez will return from his elbow
problems, and Micah Owings is probably the team’s best option to play
right field in place of Bruce.

Selling is the best answer. None of the team’s veterans are going to
be bargains in upcoming seasons, and there are no stars that would be
impossible to replace in free agency. If the Reds have the chance to
dump Arroyo’s contract, they should take it. He’ll make $11 million in
2010 and $11 million-$13 million if his 2011 option is picked up ($2
million if not). David Weathers, Arthur Rhodes, Ramon Hernandez and
Jonny Gomes could bring in prospects. Perhaps Jerry Hairston Jr. as
well, if teams particularly value his versatility.

Harang is probably the best trade chip, even if the midst of a
second disappointing season. His K/BB ratio remains quite strong, and
while he’s always going to give up homers, his .294 average against
this year seems pretty fluky. He’s not cheap, as he’s guaranteed $12.5
million in 2010 and has a $12.75 million club option for 2011 with a $2
million buyout. However, that is the going rate for above average
innings-eaters. Ideally, the Reds could get a young shortstop for him.
The Angels seem like a pretty good match with Brandon Wood.

The Reds may well hurt their chances in 2010 by moving Harang and
others, but they could potentially have as much money to spend in free
agency as any club in the NL. Cueto and Volquez still look like
potential top-of-the rotation starters, and those two combine with
Bruce and Joey Votto to form one of the game’s most talented cores. If
Harang and Arroyo were moved, Francisco Cordero, who has a no-trade
clause through the end of the year, would be the team’s only player
making more than $7 million. They’ll have a ton of flexibility, leaving
them with little need to settle for more Hairstons, Taverases and
Lincolns when they go shopping this winter. The future still looks
pretty bright.

Mike Trout has a torn thumb ligament, could require surgery

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Yesterday Mike Trout left the Marlins-Angels game after hurting his thumb while sliding head first into second base. After the game the Angels talked about it as if it were just a sprain. Trout had an MRI today, however, and the diagnosis is far worse: he has a torn thumb ligament.

While a treatment option has not yet been chosen, surgery is a possibility. A certainty is that he’ll miss, at the very least, several weeks of play. He has been placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Trout, the reigning AL MVP and, without question, the best player in baseball, is batting .337/.461/.742 with 16 home runs, 36 RBI, 36 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in 206 plate appearances this season. Even with the one of the weaker supporting casts in baseball, Trout had the Angels near .500 and in at least arguable contention in the AL West.

Without him, they are likely sunk. Without him, baseball is worse off.

Basebrawl! Harper, Strickland punch away, Nats-Giants fight

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SAN FRANCISCO — Nationals slugger Bryce Harper and San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland both landed punches to the head during a wild brawl that erupted Monday after a hit by pitch.

Harper was hit in the right hip by Strickland’s 98 mph fastball in the eighth inning with Washington ahead 2-0.

Harper pointed the bat toward Strickland, charged the mound and fired his batting helmet wide of the pitcher. They started to swing away and they each connected as the benches and bullpens emptied.

At least two Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the brawl all the way into the dugout. Harper and Strickland were both ejected.

In the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland. After the star’s second shot, in Game 4, he stared at Strickland as he rounded the bases.