PHOENIX -- It was an interesting first half. Two managers quit. None were fired. Two managers were hired. The average age of them was 74. The heavily-favored Phillies did what they were supposed to do, and the Red Sox pretty much did, too. But surprises abounded, led by none other than the usually pathetic Pirates, who are capturing a city and threatening to post a winning record for the first time since Barry Bonds left town. The Indians are right in the thick of things, too, to nearly everyone's surprise. And the Nationals would be, if they weren't in the same division as the Phillies and Braves.
Here's a rundown of what we witnessed, and some of what's to come...
• The White Sox are fielding calls on Edwin Jackson. In this market he may be the best out there as far as starting pitchers.
• Some teams are waiting and hoping that there's a surprise starter or two on the market. Right now, it's pretty bleak. "There's nothing but No. 4 starters,'' one AL executive noted.
• The relief market looks very strong, with a glut of viable relievers available. One team that is rarely mentioned as having chips, but should actually be a big bullpen seller, is the Blue Jays. They have Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor and Octavio Dotel.
• The Marlins aren't expected to seriously considering trading Ricky Nolasco or Anibal Sanchez -- though they can expect calls. The Marlins want to head into their new stadium next year a viable contender, and couldn't do so without those pitchers.
• Some are wondering whether the Dodgers will trade even if they fall completely out of it. There's speculation that they might not want to hurt the team's sale price with trades. But that seems to be a silly argument. Sure, they should keep Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw. But a trade of anyone else shouldn't reasonably affect the team's valuation. So they should become sellers eventually -- assuming they don't play their way back into it.
• Indians prospects impressed in Sunday's Futures Game. Infielder Jason Kipnis homered and left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz continued to throw well. Rays lefty Matt Moore also looked superb. Bryce Harper, the marquee name, had no hits in four at-bats but demonstrated an über arm, throwing the ball from the warning track to the plate on one hop. Though the throw missed the cutoff man and didn't nail the runner at the plate, it was still something to behold.
• It should come as no surprise that Steve Garvey was fired by the Dodgers. He was taking a paycheck from McCourt (presuming it didn't bounce) while also campaigning to get the team from McCourt one day. Garvey is a pleasant man but ultimately has too much baggage for MLB to seriously consider him. Some have speculated that Mark Attanasio, the Brewers' excellent owner, may jump to own the Dodgers, but sources say that he is happy in Milwaukee. While he lives in Los Angeles, he has family connections in Milwaukee. Ex-super agent Dennis Gilbert is a logical candidate to become Dodgers owner. He is a lifelong Los Angeleno who loves his city, has worked as an executive and agent in baseball, and attends every Dodgers game (you can see him in the front row just to the left of home plate).
• This year's All-Star Game could be subtitled, "The Replacements.'' I half expect Keanu Reeves to show up. Why not? Everyone else is. Many of the game's biggest stars aren't here due to injury, timing, rest or lack of interest. Which puts a bit of a hole in the marketing plan trumpeting the fact that the game counts. We are now up to 84 All-Stars between those originally named and their replacements. Which makes it hard to believe that Tommy Hanson and Dan Haren still haven't made the team. If anyone deserves to be offended, it's them. The real shame is no CC Sabathia, King Felix, Justin Verlander, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Ryan Braun, David Price, Jose Reyes and so many other big stars. The rule allowing Sunday starters to skip the game needs to be reconsidered; there's no reason why Sabathia, Verlander and King Felix couldn't pitch an inning. Top MLB people have tried to lure Jeter to come, if only to take a bow and celebrate his 3,000th hit. But it didn't appear that he would. His agent Casey Close said, "I don't think he has any plans to go to AZ,'' by text. That's baseball's loss.