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They are going for it all across baseball, from the Pacific to the desert to the heartland to the rust belt. Everybody understands something about a game in which one-third of the teams make the postseason: Teams don't have to be great to win a ring. All it takes is a ticket to the dance, and even the goofus can end up prom king.
The new rules begot an old-school trade Tuesday night, a three-team, nine-player, win-now, damn-the-consequences wheeler-dealer of a hot stove treat. The Cincinnati Reds acquired Shin-Soo Choo to play center field, which was amusing seeing as both the Reds' left and right fielders have played more games in center than him. The Arizona Diamondbacks got their long-lusted-after shortstop, a 22-year-old named Didi Gregorius about whom one D-backs official said: "I don't know if he can hit." And the Cleveland Indians, whose bungling of big deals has left them reeling in recent seasons, made out best of all, landing Trevor Bauer, the young right-hander whose personality clashes in the Arizona clubhouse paved the Indians' larcenous path.
The whole of the trade went like this: Cleveland sent Choo and infielder Jason Donald to the Reds for Gregorius and center fielder Drew Stubbs, one of the game's best defensive center fielders whose power-and-speed combination can't make up for his excessive strikeouts. The Indians then flipped Gregorius, along with reliever Tony Sipp and one-time prospect Lars Anderson, to Arizona for Bauer and relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers.
For weeks, the Diamondbacks and Indians had engaged in multi-team talks, usually with the Texas Rangers as a third team and with a rotating passel as a fourth. The Rangers wanted Justin Upton, whom the Diamondbacks now plan on keeping, which could set in motion a free agent market that is primed to thaw. Between the Dodgers securing Zack Greinke for $147 million and the Royals throwing their hat in the contenders' derby with the James Shields trade, they are forcing the Rangers back to Josh Hamilton – perhaps at more money and years than Texas would have liked.
If that is the price of the ticket, so be it. Look at the Reds. They had a boot on the San Francisco Giants' throat, saw the NLCS and let up, and the Giants swept them in Cincinnati and won the World Series. So of course they're in, and getting Choo to play center field is a move that's alternately brilliant and head-scratching.
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He is the perfect piece to place atop their lineup. Left-handed (check), on-base abilities (check), speed (check), power (check). He is not the perfect piece to stick in center field, no matter how small Great American Ball Park is. Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce both have played more games than Choo's 10 – and one since 2006. The Reds can only hope this is the 2013 equivalent of Miguel Cabrera moving to third base: It's bound to be ugly, but the bat will be pretty enough to mask it.
The bat matters even more in Arizona, where GM Kevin Towers more than earned his Gunslinger nickname. The unpredictability of Towers scares other executives, who wonder if he's really as crazy as he seems or if he actually knows more than everyone else and is fleecing people with a smile on his face. Some of Towers' moves are brilliant. Some are bombs. This trade is likelier to fall into such a binary existence than the gray that defines most deals.
Gregorius is the latest in a golden generation of young Curacaoan shortstops. He is not as highly touted as Jurickson Profar, not as defensively adept as Andrelton Simmons, not as powerful as Xander Bogaerts. He was expendable enough by the Reds that they were fine dealing him and Stubbs for a year of Choo and the first-round draft pick that will accompany him when Scott Boras takes him to the highest bidder next offseason.
Towers loved him, though, loved the idea of having the most important positions on his team – Adam Eaton in center, Gregorius at shortstop and Miguel Montero at catcher – under control for the next half-decade. Gregorius will catch the ball just fine and should develop into one of the National League's better fielding shortstops. The Diamondbacks are banking on some power to offset the low on-base percentages he posted throughout the minor leagues.
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How soon that comes – how soon Gregorius comes, frankly – is what makes this deal so curious for the Diamondbacks, particularly considering Asdrubal Cabrera's name surfacing throughout the majority of the discussions. When Indians GM Chris Antonetti rekindled the talks, he did so knowing that his affection for Bauer was usurped only by Towers' 10 Commandment-breaking coveting of Gregorius.
And so Antonetti conceived a deal around Bauer, the former UCLA star who stormed through the minor leagues, arrived in Arizona to great fanfare and found himself alienated by teammates and management because of what some would call quirkiness and others stubbornness. Certainly Bauer is unique, from his mega-long toss to his crow-hop warm-up pitches. He is also a pitching savant, eager to learn everything about the game's mechanics and perfect his craft while doing so. Bauer pitched hurt last year, was mediocre in the big leagues, beefed with Montero and soon landed in the Diamondbacks' doghouse, which, admittedly, has included Upton, no slouch himself.
Antonetti swooped in and traded one year of Choo and some spare parts for six years of Bauer. Now, Bauer may never pan out. His arm may give. With young pitching, anything is possible. But after dealing CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee for futile returns, to get a pitcher with the potential of Bauer, not to mention three years of Stubbs and a pair of effective relievers in Shaw and Albers, all while not giving up Asdrubal Cabrera, warrants some time in one of Sheriff Joe's tents come spring training.
Preying on desperation is an art, and we're seeing more and more of it. It's how Andrew Friedman poached minor league player of the year Wil Myers in the Shields trade. It's how Antonetti coaxed Bauer out of the Gunslinger. The Diamondbacks are ready to win, and so are the Reds and Royals and Dodgers. The crown shines bright, drawing eyes and hearts before the brain can react. Resist it? Ha. All it takes is a ticket that looks so within reach.
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