The industry is buzzing about who is going to replace fired Jim Hendry as general manager of the Cubs.
Though the team is a mess, it's still a plum job. The payroll is always high, the fan base is passionate, and a lifetime of worship awaits the GM who finally gets the Cubs that elusive World Series victory.
Pat Gillick was the hot candidate early, but he's holding firm to his statement that he's not interested in being a GM again.
There are a lot of people who think that Rick Hahn, the highly regarded assistant GM of the White Sox, is now the front-runner. But owner Tom Ricketts is sure to at least explore the availability of such big names as Brian Cashman (Yankees), Andrew Friedman (Rays), Theo Epstein (Red Sox) and Ned Colletti (Dodgers). Two former GMs, Dan Evans and Josh Byrnes, are possible candidates, as is Kim Ng, who one day will become the first female GM.
Here's another name to tuck away: Oakland GM Billy Beane, who was nearly lured away by the Red Sox in 2002 before deciding to stay with the Athletics.
With the A's efforts to get a new stadium stalled, Beane may once again be willing to listen to offers. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote this week that some people who know Beane well believe he would consider a Cubs offer if approached.
Beane is signed through 2014 and even has an ownership stake in the A's. But managing partner Lew Wolff told the Chronicle he wouldn't stand in Beane's way if he wants to pursue another job. That could include the Yankees if Cashman goes to Chicago, or the Dodgers if Colletti moves on.
"I would never inhibit anybody from bettering themselves because of a contract," Wolff told the Chronicle.
Thome goes home
I wrote last week about the possibility of Jim Thome finishing the season with the Phillies. It turns out he'll go instead to another former team, the Indians, who claimed him on waivers and then worked out a deal with Minnesota for a player to be named.
The trade brings Thome back to the team he began his career with and hit 334 home runs for over 12 seasons.
But it doesn't necessarily thrust him into a pennant race. Thome joined an Indians team that had fallen to 63-64 and was 6 1/2 games behind Detroit in the AL Central.
"It's a bittersweet deal," Twins general manager Bill Smith told reporters, "but there's no question that this is the right thing to do for Jim Thome. It sends him back home, where he started his career in Cleveland."
The Indians have a need for Thome that goes beyond nostalgia. With Travis Hafner's season perhaps over because of a strained tendon in his right foot, Thome figures to become the regular designated hitter.
San Diego's Jake Peavy in 2007 was the last pitcher to win the "Triple Crown" by leading the league in wins, strikeouts and earned-run average.
Detroit's Justin Verlander has a chance to do it this year. He entered the weekend leading the American League in wins (19) and strikeouts (212), and was second in ERA to the Angels' Jered Weaver. Weaver was at 2.03, Verlander at 2.28.
Only one Tigers pitcher has ever won the triple crown: Hal Newhouser in 1945. In 1968, when Denny McLain became the last pitcher to win 30 games, he was second in strikeouts and fourth in ERA.
Don't bury the Giants quite yet. Last year at this time they were 6 1/2 games behind the Padres and went on to win the World Series. This year they're just three behind the Diamondbacks.
One big difference is that last year at the same point, reliever Guillermo Mota was the only key player injured. Giants on the disabled list currently include Pat Burrell, Buster Posey, Sergio Romo, Freddy Sanchez, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Brian Wilson and Barry Zito.
"It's a major factor," general manager Brian Sabean told the San Francisco Chronicle. "None of us have been in print making any excuses, but each week we've had a major challenge, it seems, to plug a hole or tinker with the roster."
Florida's Javier Vazquez, who has more strikeouts than any active pitcher (2,494), is sounding increasingly like he'll retire after the season.
"I'll make the final decision after the season," Vazquez told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.