Something about July turns baseball executives into spring breakers. They forget about consequences, about long-term plans, about everything rational, and they go hog wild. They give up the game's most valuable commodity – cheap prospects – with impunity. They smell the playoffs, and goodness is the scent intoxicating.
Baseball's trade deadline beats the NFL's, NBA's and NHL's combined because teams are willing to throw caution – and, this year, dollars – to the wind in pursuit of greater things. The trade deadline on Saturday, fat with rumors and innuendo, brings a level of intrigue to the dog days that simply hasn't existed in the past.
Part of the ritual, of course, is the snap-judgment assessment of who won, lost and fell somewhere in between. The real answers will come in October and beyond. For now, however, this must suffice:
Texas Rangers. Such a lofty ranking is based on the strength of one trade, and that deal, of course, was for Bengie Molina(notes). Um? Maybe Jorge Cantu(notes) then. Really? Gotta be Cristian Guzman(notes). No?
OK, OK. Never mind those three acquisitions that don't amount to much for the Rangers. The bold poaching of Cliff Lee(notes) three weeks ago earns the Rangers the most enthusiastic thumbs up of midseason maneuvering. To add the American League Cy Young favorite for the season's final three months turned the Rangers from AL West favorites into legitimate pennant contenders.
While Cantu and Guzman add depth, the Rangers' fortunes come down to their rotation. One led by Colby Lewis(notes) loses in the Division Series. One featuring Lee at the top, with Lewis at No. 2 and C.J. Wilson(notes) at No. 3, can compete with the Yankees and Rays.
Los Angeles Angels. At this time next year, even if the Angels make no moves, they'll still look back at the trade that landed them Dan Haren(notes) with fondness. To land a pitcher of his caliber for a middling starter (Joe Saunders(notes)) and a couple of shoot-the-moon left-handed prospects (Tyler Skaggs and Pat Corbin) was a move for 2011, and what a move it was.
To start Haren, Jered Weaver(notes) and Ervin Santana(notes) in three-fifths of their games makes the Angels co-favorite in the AL West next year, especially with Mike Trout, the best prospect in the minor leagues, charging fast and Kendry Morales(notes) returning. Part of Texas general manager Jon Daniels' urgency stems from the expiring contracts of Lee and Vladimir Guerrero(notes), and no matter how good the Rangers’ farm system – and it's excellent – they must compete with the deeper resources of the Angels.
Stealthily, they moved in and snatched Haren. The rest of baseball wondered where they came from. Same place they always do: lurking in the shadows, always thinking ahead.
New York Yankees. Whichever of his nicknames Lance Berkman(notes) embodies in New York – the sweet-swinging, switch-hitting Big Puma of old or this season's incarnation, the past-his-prime Fat Elvis – the price the Yankees paid illustrates two things.
1. They can, by and large, do what they please.
2. Their long-term frivolity quotient gets smaller by the year.
The Yankees could have paid a hefty price for Adam Dunn(notes). They chose not to. Past Yankees teams may have panicked after whiffing on Lee and Haren and tried to make a splash. This one had more self-control. For a drop-in-the-bucket $3 million, Berkman – and his near .400 on-base percentage from the left side – provides just what the Yankees need: No more Colin Curtis(notes) as DH.
To add Kerry Wood(notes), too, at little cost, along with Austin Kearns(notes) for some bench help, illustrates just how seriously the Yankees take the Rangers and Rays – and how desperately they want to win championship No. 28.
Philadelphia Phillies. For those who regard Roy Oswalt(notes) as a consolation prize – a makeup for the ill-fated Cliff Lee purge this offseason – well, it's perfectly acceptable. Oswalt is a bootleg Lee. Pretty much all pitchers are.
Taken in its current context, though, GM Ruben Amaro Jr.'s acquisition of Oswalt strengthens a team that, despite its struggles, is as likely as any in the NL to win the World Series. The top three in the Phillies' rotation – the inimitable Roy Halladay(notes), former World Series MVP Cole Hamels(notes) and Oswalt – matches any in the game. Now, they just need to get some hitters back to health (Chase Utley(notes), Shane Victorino(notes)) and producing (Jimmy Rollins(notes), Raul Ibanez(notes)).
Toronto Blue Jays. Not quite sure why GM Alex Anthopoulos is taking so much grief for not dealing Jose Bautista(notes) and for acquiring Anthony Gose in a trade for Brett Wallace(notes). In a market starved for power, Bautista leads the major leagues with 31 home runs, is slugging nearly .600 and won't cost much more than $5 million next year. He is like the Padres: succeeding for a year, still can't get any respect.
As for Gose, there are plenty of red flags: He's only in High-A, he doesn't have much pop, he strikes out too much and his baserunning skills need refining. If he is a legitimate plus center fielder, however, his fielding ability alone will get him to the major leagues and make him a worthwhile player. According to FanGraphs, San Diego's Tony Gwynn(notes) Jr. is a negative-value hitter, and yet because he's been baseball's most effective defensive center fielder this year, he has provided nearly two wins of value. While Wallace has proven himself a middling-at-best first-base bat, the risk on Gose is a worthwhile one.
Also worth noting: Anthopoulos' price on relievers Scott Downs(notes) and Jason Frasor(notes) never dropped, and it was only so high because both players could be Type A free agents this winter and carry two draft picks if offered arbitration. Even in a relief-poor market, Anthopoulos wasn't going to settle for under-market offers, and he stuck to that principle.
New York Mets. For not doing anything, the Mets get a thumbs up. Sure, it would've been nice to dump Oliver Perez(notes),Luis Castillo(notes) or Jeff Francouer. Such a market simply didn't exist. And rather than delude themselves into believing they had a chance to contend – five teams stand between the Mets and the wild card – they held on to Wilmer Flores, Jenrry Mejia(notes) and the rest of their top-notch kids. Patience in Flushing does exist, after all.
Los Angeles Dodgers. Nice work by GM Ned Colletti landing the best remaining pitcher on the market (Ted Lilly(notes)), a speed-and-defense guy who has flashed on-base skills in the past (Ryan Theriot(notes)) and worthwhile complementary pieces (Octavio Dotel(notes) and Scott Podsednik(notes)).Blake DeWitt(notes), who's heading to Chicago, never found his niche with the Dodgers and needed to be moved. By all indications, Kyle Smit and Brett Wallach aren't Carlos Santana(notes) – the Santana-for-Casey Blake(notes) deal was every bit as bad, if not worse, than the Victor Zambrano-Scott Kazmir(notes) classic – so all the better for the Dodgers. They desperately needed someone to fill the rotation alongside Clayton Kershaw(notes) and Hiroki Kuroda(notes) – even with Vicente Padilla(notes) pitching better – and they got it.
San Diego Padres. On one hand, Ryan Ludwick(notes) is an athletic outfielder who should be able to patrol Petco Park well and provide Adrian Gonzalez(notes) with protection. On the other, Miguel Tejada(notes) is now playing shortstop, a position at which he was minus-24 runs from 2006 to 2009, according to Baseball Info Solutions. For a team that induces the fourth-most ground balls in the major leagues, he could end up a detriment.
All the leverage shifted away from the Nationals at 4:01 p.m. ET. Surely a team would claim him on waivers in August, scuttling any chance of teams bidding up Dunn's price. Dunn said he wanted to sign with the Nationals, wasn't offered a deal to his liking and has no incentive now to avoid free agency. And because an arbitration raise might take Dunn into the $15 million range, the Nationals might balk at offering it to him and thus miss out on the two first-round draft picks attached to him if he signs elsewhere.
It took a lot to dampen the good vibes of the Ramos deal. Keeping Dunn did it.
Kansas City Royals. They could've sulked after David DeJesus'(notes) injury kept them from flipping one of the most sought-after players this month. Instead, GM Dayton Moore plumbed an old pipeline and sent reliever Kyle Farnsworth(notes) and outfielder Rick Ankiel(notes) to Atlanta, shedding his team of two players with zero future in Kansas City. While the Royals didn't get rid of Jose Guillen(notes), that's still possible via a waiver claim in August – and should Moore pull off that feat, it would thrust the habitually losing Royals into the winners' category.
Chicago White Sox. Much as he tried – and he always tries – Chicago GM Kenny Williams couldn't avoid the big L stamp on his forehead after a deadline of misfires. No Adam Dunn. No Prince Fielder(notes). Lance Berkman explicitly said he didn't want to play with the White Sox. And for the time being, they're stuck with Edwin Jackson(notes), a pitcher in such demand that he has been traded three times in the last 19 months.
If the White Sox really did believe Jackson was the key to making a Dunn deal a done deal, it's very simple: They should've consummated a three-way trade instead of banking on the Nationals to pull the trigger once Jackson was theirs. Now, Don Cooper is one of the best pitching coaches around, and perhaps he can tame Jackson in a way neither the Dodgers, Rays, Tigers nor Diamondbacks could.
This much is certain: The White Sox hold a tenuous lead on first place in the AL Central and back that up with an offense that ranks in the bottom half of the league. Their bullpen is tremendous. The top of their rotation is dynamite. Those bats, though – well, those bats needed help, and Williams didn't provide it.
San Francisco Giants. Blockbuster alert! Javier Lopez(notes) goes to San Francisco from Pittsburgh! Same with Ramon Ramirez(notes)! The good one, too! Gavin Newsom to pass proclamation naming July 31 the city's official Javier Lopez Day! Then comes the renaming of the Embarcadero as the Ramonramirezo! Hip-hip hooray!
(Now, really: This is a Giants team with the sort of starting pitching depth that begged for a deal. Whether it was Jose Bautista or Corey Hart or any other big bat, the Giants needed to wave goodbye to Jonathan Sanchez(notes). The emergence of Madison Bumgarner(notes) has allowed them to make such a trade, and yet here the Giants are, in the same place they've been the last few years: lots of pitching, not enough hitting and the weight of their world resting on Tim Lincecum(notes) and his diminished velocity, plus Matt Cain(notes). Another missed opportunity for GM Brian Sabean. )
(Hey. Look on the bright side. At least he got, uh, a couple middle relievers.)
Minnesota Twins. Not only did the Twins give up one of their biggest trade chips in Ramos, they got a pitcher in Matt Capps whose cost will be prohibitive with Joe Nathan(notes) returning at $11.25 million next year. A non-tender is almost certain, with Capps due upward of $6 million, which means they gave up six years of a potential power-hitting catcher for a reliever who will throw 35 innings max.
It doesn't matter if you're getting Mariano Rivera(notes) in his prime: Unless a relief pitcher pulls off some remarkable escapes from trouble and his team wins the World Series, he simply will not be worth six years of a prospect, the first three of which cost only $400,000 a season.
Surely Ramos could have fetched a starting pitcher, a far greater position of need than bullpen for the Twins. They've got Francisco Liriano(notes), Carl Pavano(notes) and … well, there's plenty of room on the Kevin Slowey(notes)/Scott Baker/Brian Duensing(notes) bandwagon.
St. Louis Cardinals. For a team that ranks in the bottom half of baseball in runs scored, the Cardinals certainly had no problems letting go of Ludwick, their fourth-best hitter. Because … rookie Jon Jay (and his .446 batting average on balls in play) is hitting well? As nice a pitcher as Jake Westbrook(notes) can be – and he suits the Cardinals and their groundball-gobbling tendencies – it's curious that St. Louis focused on a starter when Kyle Lohse's(notes) return is imminent and Adam Wainwright(notes),Chris Carpenter(notes) and Jaime Garcia(notes) form the core of the Cardinals' success. Should St. Louis maintain its lead on Cincinnati – which sat by idly at the deadline – Westbrook will be nothing more than a long man come playoff time, while the hole Ludwick leaves will remain unfilled.
Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are good enough to make the World Series as currently constituted. Imagine just how dangerous they would be with Dunn in their lineup. It was a pipe dream from the get-go, because if the Nationals are scared to offer Dunn arbitration there's no way the Rays would. Which would make Dunn strictly a two-month rental. Which isn't how GM Andrew Friedman does business.
Still, a look at Texas illustrates how some teams are willing to forget their principles and chase a championship. Carl Crawford(notes) is gone after this year. The Rays are going to have to retool their entire bullpen. Going for Dunn would've taken moxie, and it would've been the perfect fit for a team that could use another piece to counteract the Yankees' three additions.