Let's take a look at the deals that were made, and their fantasy implications.
Nomar Garciaparra joins the Chicago Cubs, looking to try his luck in the National League. This trade is clearly a huge win for managers in NL-only leagues. There will be a tremendous flurry of activity on the waiver wire with all managers vying for his services.
Garciaparra replaces a pathetic combination of Cubs shortstops, who combined to hit .222 with five measly home runs. Nomar brings a career .370 on-base percentage with him to Chicago, which means big RBI opportunities ahead for Derrek Lee and Sammy Sosa.
Psychologically, the move also rids Nomar of some of his demons of. He'll only need to worry about the Yankees if the Cubs make the World Series.
They've made the big move at the deadline and didn't have to surrender top prospect Angel Guzman. No goat boys or foul balls can be blamed for falling short this year.
The chemistry of the Red Sox seemingly suffered with the return of Garciaparra to the lineup following his long stay on the DL to start the season. Does his departure clear the air?
Nomar's replacement, Orlando Cabrera, made it clear that he wasn't going to re-sign with Montreal, which granted him his wish by dealing him to potent Boston. He's immediately on the fantasy radar in AL-only leagues, adding another option at the SS and middle infield positions.
Cabrera has 12 steals on the season, so he'll team with Johnny Damon to get the line moving ahead of the big boys. He'll score a lot of runs in this lineup.
Dave Roberts brings another speed option to the Red Sox off the bench. He won't be an everyday player in this lineup, but he'll still collect some thefts down the stretch. Roberts becomes a spot starter for your team when your regulars are taking a day off.
Doug Mientkiewicz is added as a defensive specialist to allow David Ortiz to do what he does best – mash. Mientkiewicz's best offensive days are behind him, but he'll see regular time. He's clearly a backup. His Minnesota exit was inevitable with Justin Morneau's power production (10 extra-base hits in 21 games).
The Expos continue to purge top young talent. In return for Cabrera, they yield the trio of Alex Gonzalez (from Chicago), Francis Beltran and Brendan Harris. None of these three stand as difference-makers in a fantasy league, but let's take a quick peek anyway.
Gonzalez continues to underwhelm, carrying a .222 average with three HRs and eight RBIs. He's only a fantasy play in an act of sheer desperation.
Beltran has a live arm, but never found a home in the crowded Cubs staff. He strikes out better than a hitter per inning, and will likely compete with Chad Cordero for the closer position in the future.
Brendan Harris is a 23-year-old third base prospect who was shuffled back to the minors with the Cubs' acquisition of Aramis Ramirez. He'll see some time down the stretch with the Expos and will vie for a starting job in 2005.
Chicago White Sox
Jose Contreras joins the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Esteban Loaiza and a mountain of cash. Contreras escapes the pressure cooker that is the Bronx and heads to the White Sox, who are mired in five-game losing streak. He's been either dominant (eight starts of three earned runs or less) or pathetic, with two miserable outings in a row (15 ER in 12 IP) prompting the deal.
Since the White Sox will score nearly as many runs as the Yanks, he'll pick up some wins and stands as a good spot starter.
Esteban Loaiza, an All-Star selection in both 2003 and 2004, helps bolster an ailing Yankees starting rotation. Javier Vazquez has 12 wins, and Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown are on the mend. Loaiza (9-5 with a 4.86 ERA in 2004) was unhittable against the AL East in 2003, so it would appear that Brian Cashman is hoping for that scenario to be recreated down the stretch. Prior to the 2003 season, he was an iffy proposition, so it will be interesting to see how he stands up to the pressure of Yankee Stadium.
New York Mets
A former No. 1 overall draft pick, Kris Benson has finally pitched up to his advance billing. The soon-to-be 30-year-old brings his right arm and his wife, actress/model Anna, to the Big Apple.
If you look at Benson's 2004 season in full, the 4.22 ERA and 1.37 WHIP aren't blowing you away. But let's take a closer look. Benson scuffled mightily in May, posting a 1-3 mark with an 8.10 ERA. If you look outside of those starts, he's posted a 7-5 mark with an impressive 3.08 ERA. He's posted a career 8-2 mark against his NL East rivals and gets to toss in the more pitcher-friendly confines of Shea Stadium.
Based on his physical tools, I like the possibility of him posting big numbers in New York. I will be curious as to how he responds to pitching in a pressure situation for the first time in years however.
He's still available in a number of fantasy leagues (roughly 20 percent) and makes for a great value play for owners looking for pitching help. Pitching alongside Tom Glavine and Al Leiter, effectively two coaches who trot out every fifth day, can only make him a better hurler
Victor Zambrano jumps from the upstart Tampa Bay Devil Rays to the resurgent New York Mets. This part of the trading game stands out most because of Zambrano's entry to NL-only leagues. Managers in need of pitching help who can withstand his assault on the team WHIP need to hit the waiver wire to claim Zambrano.
He's striking out near one hitter per inning pitched and, like Benson, will benefit from the deep power alleys of Shea.
Pitching coach Rick Peterson is licking his chops to get his hands on Zambrano's live arm. Allegedly, he's already discovered the flaw in Zambrano's motion that will cut down on his propensity to walk a boatload of hitters. That'll be a longer-term project, but the fact that super prospect Scott Kazmir was dealt in the process speaks volumes about the Mets' expectations for Zambrano.
Kazmir is a guy to watch for a fast ticket to the big leagues. He's got an overpowering fastball and will challenge for a spot in the rotation next season.
In Tampa Bay, Jorge Sosa will step into the rotation. He strikes out better than a hitter per inning but walks about the same. He's a project for next season.
Mets closer Braden Looper is dancing over these two acquisitions, as his number of save opportunities stands to rise (he's 21-24 in save opportunities). Recent callup David Wright also solidifies his starting position with the departure of Ty Wigginton. Those managers looking for help at 3B can be encouraged that four of Wright's first eight hits were for extra bases and he's putting the ball into play.
Wigginton was unhappy about the Mets' decision to promote David Wright and has to be pleased about the move, save his destination, as the Mets chase the pennant. With that said, he'll play every day in Pittsburgh and doesn't have to worry about Wright or Mike Piazza any longer. Wigginton will be penciled into the lineup behind Craig Wilson and Skinny favorite Jason Bay. RBI potential abounds for Wigginton in this scenario.
Ryan Vogelsong, he of the 2-7 record and 6.69 ERA, will take Benson's place in the rotation. Next!
Fantasy owners who had stored Guillermo Mota in their pen to utilize his tremendous ERA and WHIP numbers may reap the biggest rewards in this deal. Armando Benitez is struggling with tendinitis in the elbow, which opens the door for Mota to snare some save opportunities.
Juan Encarnacion returns to Florida, a team that utilizes aggressive baserunning to manufacture runs. He stole 19 bases for the Marlins in 2003, so perhaps his return to the Marlins will allow him to add another component to his fantasy value.
Paul Lo Duca's average has dipped slightly since the All-Star break, but he remains valuable in the catcher position. With only 27 strikeouts in 349 at-bats, Jack McKeon will undoubtedly utilize Lo Duca in hit-and-run situations, leading to more RBI opportunities.
Randy Johnson wouldn't leave Arizona, but Steve Finley accepted a deal to the Dodgers late Saturday. His home run power (23 HRs) and slick glove (four Gold Glove awards) will be welcome additions to the Dodgers lineup. He'll offer protection to Adrian Beltre and vice versa, meaning that both will see their share of fastballs to mash.
Since Dodger Stadium and Pro Player Stadium both are pitchers' parks, Hee-Seop Choi's numbers will not change tremendously upon arriving in Los Angeles. He'll provide extra power surges throughout the valley with his mighty swings and misses and the occasional moon shot. The big move here is that Shawn Green can return to his comfort zone in the outfield.
Brad Penny solidifies the starting rotation and pitching in Dodger Stadium, one shouldn't see tremendous spikes or valleys to his output. He generally goes six to seven innings in his starts, so one can't help but wonder about the impact that Mota's departure will have on the Dodgers. There will be tremendous pressure on former fantasy favorite Darren Dreifort to protect leads and pave the way for Eric Gagne.
The Phillies added much needed help to an ailing bullpen with the addition of Felix Rodriguez and veteran Todd Jones. Billy Wagner has gone back to the DL, leaving Tim Worrell to assume the closer role. He's been successful in that role in the past, so he makes for a solid addition. Rodriguez figures to become the regular setup man, with Jones adding insurance.
San Francisco Giants
Ricky Ledee has been relegated to predominantly a pinch-hitting role with the Phillies in 2004. He's now in the mix with Marquis Grissom and Michael Tucker and should see more regular at-bats in right and center field for the Giants. He's launched seven bombs and driven in 26 runs in just 123 at-bats. With regular playing time on the horizon, he's a solid addition in deeper leagues.
Of course, the trading deadline doesn't rule out possible movement in the month of August. It just gets more complicated with the waiver process.
There are other moves still in the works, perhaps involving veterans such as Charles Johnson (Dodgers?). I'll be keeping a close eye on the action.