NEW YORK -- We can all agree that Cliff Lee is the biggest impact pitcher any team could add this month.
But who's second?
It just might be Edinson Volquez.
|Edinson Volquez, a former 17-game winner, should provide a boost for the Reds in his return. (Getty Images)|
Without making a trade, they can add a 17-game winner, because Volquez has already made five minor-league rehabilitation starts and should join the Reds immediately after the All-Star break. He's ahead of schedule in his return from Tommy John surgery, and by all reports he's looked healthy in his minor-league tune-ups.
"I talked to him," closer Francisco Cordero said. "He sounds happy."
So do the Reds, who believe they're the best team in the National League Central, and believe that adding Volquez could be enough to keep them ahead of the Cardinals.
"I know we're going to win," Phillips said.
The Reds have a good feel to them right now, and part of that feel is what any contending team gets when adding a significant player in July. And while the Reds haven't ruled out making a trade -- like many teams, they've shown some interest in Cliff Lee -- it could be that their only major addition won't cost them anything in return.
It's a little bit like what the Mets hope for with Carlos Beltran, the All-Star center fielder they expect to add to their roster immediately after the break.
"The best way I can tell it is that I don't think anybody at the trading deadline is going to pick up as good a position player as Carlos Beltran," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "He's our big trade."
Or, at least, he's their big trade for a position player.
The Mets understand that to catch the Braves and stay ahead of the Phillies in the National League East (or even to win the wild card), they're going to need to give their starting rotation a boost, too. R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi have saved them after Oliver Perez and John Maine proved next-to-useless, but it's too much to expect that the current rotation will be enough the rest of the way.
One Mets person said he thought they were in "with a puncher's chance" for Lee, but the general feeling has been that they just don't have enough top prospects that they're willing to part with to get the big prize on the market. There will be other pitchers available (perhaps Ted Lilly), and Mets people say they'll try hard to get one.
They also say that Beltran, who had knee surgery in January, has looked healthy in his first 10 rehab games at Class A Port St. Lucie. Mets people say Beltran has been telling them every day that he's ready to return, but they insist they're firm in their decision to wait for the All-Star break.
In any case, they're expecting to get a big boost when he does come back, similar to what they got when Jose Reyes returned earlier this season.
In fact, a year after their season was basically a series of injuries that devastated them both talent-wise and emotionally, the Mets' 2010 season could be more a story of returns that provide a lift.
"He's a game-changer, a five-tool player," third baseman David Wright said. "I'm looking forward to it."
As an everyday player, Beltran would figure to have a bigger impact than Volquez, who will pitch every five days and would join a Reds rotation that has already been solid.
But Reds players say that overlooks what Volquez means to their clubhouse, and Reds front-office people point out that their rotation figures to need a boost as the season goes on.
"He's always making people laugh," Cordero said. "He's always funny. He'll make an impact in every kind of way with this team."
For now, the Reds rotation includes a pair of veterans (Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang), along with 24-year-old Johnny Cueto and two rookies, Mike Leake and Travis Wood. Leake has been outstanding (6-1, 3.38), but the Reds are already backing off his innings and can't guess how he'll react down the stretch of his first professional season. Wood looks promising, but has made only two major-league starts.
This spring, the Reds knew they'd be adding Volquez sometime in the middle of the season (they thought it would be later than this), and they also expected that at some point Aroldis Chapman would be ready to help.
But Chapman's adjustment to American life and American baseball has gone slower than anticipated. The Reds moved him to the bullpen at Triple-A Louisville, hoping that would speed his trip to the big leagues, but his command has remained inconsistent.
"We don't know yet," manager Dusty Baker said, when asked whether he can expect Chapman to help anytime soon. "He'll be fine. He signed a six-year contract. He didn't sign a one-[year]."
True, but the Reds are competing for a division title now.
Maybe you didn't expect them to be there. If you didn't, they say you're excused.
"Who would have, because we lost the last seven seasons," Phillips said.
Now the All-Star break is nearly upon us, and they're in first place. And while everyone else jockeys in the trade market for a midseason boost, the Reds already know they're going to add a 17-game winner.
"He can't wait to come back," Cordero said. "And I can't wait to have him around."