Late deal shuffles deadline winners, losers
Ken Griffey Jr.’s move from the Reds to the White Sox served as a promising appetizer to open the day of the trade deadline, but as a main course there was nothing quite as satisfying as the three-team blockbuster that sent Manny Ramirez and his traveling circus to the Dodgers.
The Red Sox brought in a blessedly boring replacement with a booming bat in Jason Bay. The Pirates got a fading pitching prospect in Craig Hansen and an outfielder with decent potential in Brandon Moss from the Red Sox, and a sputtering third baseman with power potential and a brother already in a Pittsburgh uniform in Andy LaRoche from the Dodgers. Oh, and one more player, right-handed pitcher Bryan Morris from the Dodgers, a sandwich pick in the 2006 draft who is battling back from arm problems.
All in all, the deal made trade-deadline winners of all three teams. Manny’s many machinations are no longer Boston’s problem. The Dodgers acquired the bat they sorely needed while giving up next to nothing, and, who knows, maybe Manny takes the focus off of strikeout machine Andruw Jones long enough for Jones to make some contact. Although it’s altogether possible Jones never sees the field. How, exactly, outfielders Juan Pierre, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will get sufficient at-bats is a mystery that will be unraveled as the calendar turns.
The Pirates grabbed a handful of young players they can ride on the cheap for a few years, and maybe one of them will even blossom, a la Bay. For months they could say they had the top-producing outfield in the majors, with Bay, Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth. Two of the three are gone.
Otherwise, the trading deadline came and went with a lot of teams stuck with themselves. A boatload of Mariners remain stranded. The Mets, Rays, Marlins, Twins and Cardinals must forge into August with the same familiar faces, in contention yet status quo. So with the deadline behind us, let’s pick through winners and losers, keeping in mind that often the best trades are the ones never made.
New York Yankees: If this indeed is Brian Cashman’s swan song as Yankees’ general manager, he certainly enhanced his résumé for his next job. He replaced injured left fielder Hideki Matsui with the hot-hitting Nady, replaced injured catcher Jorge Posada with veteran Ivan Rodriguez and shored up a depleted bullpen with left-hander Damaso Marte. Better yet, the only established major leaguer he dealt away was inconsistent reliever Kyle Farnsworth and the only top prospect to go was 19-year-old outfielder Jose Tabata. The Yankees still have question marks at the back end of their starting rotation and may not be any better overall than they were Opening Day, but the acquisitions minimized the impact of two catastrophic injuries.
Los Angeles Angels: The Angels had one hole to fill, a big bat to complement Vladimir Guerrero, and to the astonishment of anyone who has followed this team for years, they filled it. The addition of Mark Teixeira makes the Angels the odds-on World Series favorite. Yes, they gave up a solid first baseman with three years of arbitration ahead of him in Casey Kotchman, and this won’t look so great if the Angels stumble again in October and open 2009 with a Robb Quinlan/Kendry Morales platoon at first base, the club waiting on Anaheim-born Mark Trumbo (7 for 9, two home runs this week in his first two Double-A games) to arrive. But the trade is proof that from owner Arte Moreno to first-year GM Tony Reagins to manager Mike Scioscia, the Angels are not content simply to make the playoffs.
Milwaukee Brewers: The acquisition of CC Sabathia from the Indians more than two weeks before the trading deadline lifted the Brewers overnight from precocious pretenders bound to fade in September to a serious threat to make the playoffs for the first time in 26 years and keep the Cubs from ending their 100-year World Series title drought. Getting the least offensive production out of second base in baseball, acquiring Ray Durham was pretty slick, too. The Brewers were unable to improve their bullpen, however, leaving Salomon Torres as closer and Eric Gagne as $10 million mop-up guy.
Chicago Cubs: The Cubs answered the Brewers’ pickup of Sabathia by dealing for Rich Harden a day later from the Oakland Athletics. Harden is not Sabathia in terms of finishing games, but he has been sensational in four Cubs starts, allowing 14 hits and three earned runs while striking out 39 in 24 1/3 innings. If he remains healthy and improves on his insipid career August and September numbers, the Cubs will have a formidable playoff rotation that also includes Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly.
Los Angeles Dodgers: A team struggling to reach .500 normally doesn’t trade prospects for not one but two rent-a-bats, but normally there isn’t a division as weak as the NL West. In addition to Ramirez, the Dodgers picked up third baseman Casey Blake (and paid none of his salary) because prospect Blake DeWitt’s bat wilted after a strong May and LaRoche hadn’t figured out how to hit major league pitching. GM Ned Colletti was unable to shore up a bullpen depleted by the injury to closer Takashi Saito or find a decent shortstop in case of another injury to Nomar Garciaparra, so, like their win-loss record, the Dodgers qualify as winners here by a whisker.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The jury will be out on dealing Nady and Marte for four Yankees minor leaguers, but they did if Pirates infielder Doug Mientkiewicz is to be believed. He knows the Yankees prospects from his time in New York, and said 6-4 pitcher Ross Ohlendorf has great potential and that Tabata is a “mini-Manny Ramirez.” We’ll see. The haul from the Bay deal might be better. Hansen was once extremely highly regarded. Moss has everyday potential. So does LaRoche.
Boston Red Sox: Dumping Ramirez and getting back Bay to the Back Bay in the same deal could not have worked out more wonderfully. Yes, Boston won’t be quite the same without the grinning guy with the flowing locks, but everybody thought the same thing when Johnny Damon left, and the Red Sox won without him. The last-minute trade did obscure the fact that they did not strengthen a porous bullpen.
Cleveland Indians: Matt LaPorta, the key acquisition in the Sabathia deal, could develop into an outstanding major league hitter. And the two players acquired from the Dodgers could become solid big leaguers as well. Carlos Santana, who had 96 RBIs in 99 Class-A games this year, could become an every-day major league catcher by 2011. Right-hander Jonathan Meloan has a live fastball, a devastating secondary pitch and a bulldog mentality. He had 19 saves in Double-A in 2007 but struggled as a starter this year in Triple-A. The Indians, who lack a closer in the worst way, might want to convert Meloan back to the bullpen and get him to the big leagues next season.
Seattle Mariners: How is Raul Ibanez still in left field? Jarrod Washburn still in the rotation? Why were teams calling about J.J. Putz told the closer was unavailable? Adrian Beltre couldn’t fetch a prospect or two? The transition in Seattle that began with the firing of GM Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren apparently hasn’t trickled down to the playing field.
New York Mets: Ibanez appeared to be an ideal fit for the Mets, but they refused to trade left-hander Jon Niese, who is close to big-league ready, or Double-A outfielder Fernando Martinez. Maybe the Mariners were asking for too much, but the Mets’ inability to make the deal puts them in the losers category. The only consolation is that their NL East competition didn’t do much, either. The Florida Marlins were unable to upgrade at catcher or land Manny Ramirez, and the Philadelphia Phillies added only so-so starter Joe Blanton.
Florida Marlins: The Marlins, the surprise contenders in the NL East, were in on Ramirez until the final hours, but balked at trading outfielder Jeremy Hermida. The Red Sox quickly moved on to the Dodgers, and the Marlins must compete against the Mets and Phillies without an additional bat. They also couldn’t land a decent catcher, their top priority.
Tampa Bay Rays: The best story in baseball this year just lost a little luster because while the Yankees and Red Sox made moves, the Rays stood pat. In fact, the swing vote of the deadline might have been Bay going to Boston instead of to Tampa Bay, which refused to give up premium prospects.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The acquisition of reliever Jon Rauch from the Washington Nationals was essential for a bullpen that was melting down by the day. Yet the Diamondbacks sorely need a bat, and they finished second in the Teixeira sweepstakes, the Braves rightly choosing Kotchman over Chad Tracy, and the Diamondbacks unwilling to sweeten the deal with a premier pitching prospect. Justin Upton’s return will help, but unless Mark Reynolds regains his April heat, Arizona won’t have the offense to get past the Cubs or Brewers in the playoffs.
Houston Astros: Randy Wolf is one of the most congenial and decent human beings in baseball, so maybe his curious acquisition by a team going absolutely nowhere was GM Ed Wade’s way of improving the clubhouse atmosphere after the ugly Shawn Chacon incident. Maybe Wolf, who knows Wade from their time together with the Phillies, was brought in to convince the rest of the Astros that Wade isn’t the problem. Then again, if Chad Reineke, the minor league pitcher sent to the Padres to acquire Wolf, becomes a major league contributor, more convincing will be necessary. As for trading for LaTroy Hawkins, there is no rational explanation.
Atlanta Braves: So, basically, after acquiring Teixeira a year ago and unloading him two days ago, the Braves get Kotchman and minor league pitcher Steve Marek for the harvest of prospects they shipped to the Texas Rangers: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Beau Jones. They’ll be happy with Kotchman, a solid player. Marek, a hard thrower with a power curveball, has potential. But they paid a big price for Teixeira a year ago and won’t go to the playoffs again.