1. Will Ugueth Urbina keep the Phillies in the race?
Philadelphia General Manager Ed Wade openly admitted that he was afraid if the Phillies didn't make the trade for Urbina that someone else in the National League East, probably Florida or New York, was going to make a move on the reliever. So, in part, as a defensive strategy, Wade traded infielder Placido Polanco to get him.
While defensive moves can backfire -- who could ever forget the sight of a bemused Jose Canseco in a Yankees uniform after the team picked him up fearful he would wind up elsewhere in the American League -- this was probably a good trade. Philadelphia has relied heavily on the very end of its bullpen this year, throwing Ryan Madson, Rheal Cormier and Billy Wagner in almost half their games. They clearly needed another arm.
And Urbina is tough. As a closer in Detroit he often turned routine saves into wild adventures, but it is hard to argue with his success. He was 29-for-32 in save opportunities over the past 1 1/2 seasons with the Tigers. He became expendable when Detroit's regular closer, Troy Percival, came off the disabled list Suddenly the Phillies, who are getting hot, might just have the best bullpen in the division. This will matter come August and September.
2. Is it a good idea for teams to not draft Scott Boras clients?
Once again an amateur draft passed with several teams passing on players that are represented by agent Scott Boras. Last year two of Boras's clients went unsigned after being picked in the first round. Finally last week, a year after their selections, pitcher Jared Weaver signed with the Angels and shortstop Stephen Drew reached a deal with the Diamondbacks. But the price was heavy for all involved. Most importantly, both players missed 1 1/2 critical years of professional baseball.
Perhaps because of fears of Boras and his desire to drive hard bargains, several teams backed off of Weaver, whose numbers at Long Beach State rivaled those of Mark Prior a few years back at USC. He dropped to 12th where the Angels grabbed him.
The risk is losing out on a good prospect, but the reward of staying away from Boras is a peace of mind that the summer might not be ruined.
The San Diego Union reported that Padres chairman John Moores said in February "the bet is that some of the money on Boras' kind of clients is very poorly spent. It turns out you spend a lot of money without certainty of a big league player coming up."
And while the Padres General Manager Kevin Towers has insisted his team does not duck Boras clients, the Padres have only one in their system. So far the risk is working out as San Diego is in first place in the National League West. But as bold a stance as some of these teams take, what happens if Weaver comes to the Angels in two years and wins 15 games his rookie season?
3. Has Felipe Alou buried his team's chances?
A few days ago the Giants manager seemed to confirm the obvious: His team probably isn't gong anywhere without Barry Bonds, Armando Benitez or a sore Jason Schmidt.
"If anyone expects this team to win a pennant like this, I don't know if that's being honest," he told the San Francisco Chronicle before the team lost its 11th game in 12 outings.
While it's not uncommon for managers to downplay expectations, Alou essentially said his team is through for this season. That is unique. "I want to work in the framework of being honest," he told the Chronicle. The reaction in the clubhouse was mixed. Reliever Scott Eyre believed the team could still climb back in the race, outfielder Marquis Grissom figured his manager was simply being realistic.
Schmidt is coming off the disabled list and there are indications that Bonds may be able to play at some point. But the real damage will be if the players take Alou's words as a cue to roll over. Apparently this hasn't hurt his standing with the club, which extended the 70-year-old manager's contract through 2006 with an option for 2007.
4. Is this the year the Braves finally don't win the division?
They looked very average in losing three of four games to the Nationals last week. And one has to wonder if the Atlanta lineup is good enough to carry it through the summer. In the past, someone always came through for the Braves, but the best candidate is ailing.
Chipper Jones went on the disabled list and could miss as much as a month with a partial tear of the lateral collateral ligament that supports the second toe of his left foot. This might not sound like much but consider that he was clearly not the same player on Atlanta's last road trip. He probably didn't take a single good swing in the Washington series. He is seriously considering surgery, which could leave him out much longer than a month.
Perhaps they could survive the long-term loss of Jones if not for the fact that Mike Hampton -- one of their most dependable starting pitchers -- just went on the disabled list for the second time this season, each time for forearms stiffness. The Braves would like to wait two weeks to see how he responds. This is a problem for Atlanta as Hampton has a 1.83 ERA. Added with the loss of starter John Thompson (out two months with a finger injury) and the Braves are thin in their strongest spot.
The lone hope is prospect Kyle Davies who has been brilliant in his first few starts filling in for Thompson.
Still, it will be tough for the Braves to match past greatness without Hampton or Jones.
5. Is Limatime over?
Last year, Jose Lima was one of the best stories in baseball. Left for done, he revived his career first in Kansas City and then last season in Los Angeles where he became one of the Dodgers' best starting pitchers down the stretch. Then in one memorable finger-pointing, shouting, leaping start, he won the team's first playoff game since 1988 in Game 3 of the division series with St. Louis.
But the Dodgers gambled on the fact that Lima had nothing left, and the right-hander returned to the Royals as a free agent. And it's a pretty good bet that one of the best shows in the game should probably be turned off.
Lima has been horrendous this season with an 0-5 record, 76 hits in 59 innings pitched, 17 home runs and an ERA of 8.39.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever been through," Lima told the Kansas City Star. "There are times when I want to give up but I can't give up. There are still four months left in the season."
Lima is considered a wonderful clubhouse presence, but on a team going nowhere what good is clubhouse chemistry? He is making $2 million and for the Royals that's a lot to eat. He will be given every opportunity to prove he should stay.
Comments or questions? E-mail Les at Carpenterl@washpost.com.