Arms race in NL West: Dodgers add Thome, Garland; Rockies get Contreras

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The Brad Penny pickup set off a chain reaction in the NL West, as the two remaining contenders also picked up pieces before the Monday night deadline to have new acquisitions qualify for postseason play.
The Dodgers landed a potential Hall of Famer in Jim Thome, but right-hander Jon Garland may well prove to be the bigger pickup. That’s because even if the Dodgers were willing to sacrifice defense at first base, Thome just isn’t much more than an emergency option in the field at this point of his career. He’ll be used strictly off the bench for his fourth major league team, at least until the World Series. He’s hit .206/.354/.365 in 63 at-bats as a pinch-hitter in his career. Over the last two years, he’s 1-for-15.
Garland is the second addition to the Dodger rotation in as many weeks, joining Vicente Padilla. He struggled in his first two months in the NL, but he’s amassed a 3.56 ERA in 16 starts since the beginning of June. Also encouraging is his 50/15 K/BB ratio in 78 1/3 innings over the last two months. He figures to replace Charlie Haeger for now, putting him in the rotation alongside Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf. If Hiroki Kuroda can return in a week or two as hoped, then Padilla would likely head to the pen.
The Rockies also wanted Garland, but settled for Jose Contreras, who was 5-13 with a 5.42 ERA in 114 2/3 innings for the White Sox. Surprisingly, they’re sending back a decent prospect in Brandon Hynick, who was thought to be a possibility to take over as their new fifth starter. Hynick has a below average fastball, but his splitter is a nice pitch and he displays very good command. He might take over the fifth spot in the White Sox rotation. Contreras will try to help replace the injured Aaron Cook in Colorado. He seems to be on his last legs, but the league switch might do him some good.
Along with acquiring Hynick, the White Sox picked up infielder Justin Fuller for Thome. A 2006 11th-round pick, Fuller has hit .254/.340/.418 in 177 at-bats for high-A Inland Empire this year. He has a quality glove and he bats left-handed, so if he starts to show some offensive ability, he’ll get looks as a utilityman. He’s a long shot, though. With Thome gone, they’ll likely give Josh Fields significant time at DH in September. It could be his last chance with the club.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.