Despite the ugly Biogenesis-induced cloud that lingers over Major League Baseball like the wilted rug on Bud Selig’s head, dedicated fans, writers and analysts are doing their best to focus on one of the most exciting days of the year: The Trade Deadline! With the addition of a second wild card slot last season, a good majority of teams still have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, meaning there are a lot of teams buying or staying pat. This is a good thing. Mostly. The one negative effect is that it severely dilutes the available talent pool. But, thankfully it also makes for a hella-awesome pennant chase down the stretch.
Before we break down the winners and losers of the trading mad dash, here are my quick thoughts on which teams are in, out and on the fringe of the postseason.
Legit Contenders for a Title:
Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Oakland A’s, Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers
Fringe Contenders, Improvements & Breaks Needed:
New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Arizona Diamondbacks, Washington Nationals
Flickering Chance of a Playoff Spot:
Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, Colorado Rockies, Philadelphia Phillies
See You Next April:
Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins
We can revisit those in a few weeks as we near the waiver deadline. With that information in mind, here are my trade deadline winners and losers:
Boston Red Sox: No-brainer here. The Sox committed some serious robbery on Detroit and Chicago when they pilfered Jake Peavy from the Pale Hose by selling high on a smoke-and-mirrors shortstop playing way above his head. Jose Iglesias had a great first half, but any fan that watched and followed him knew that his high batting average was fueled by an out of control BABIP and bucketfuls of infield hits. I am not saying Iglesias is worthless, because his defense is spectacular, but Boston already has quality young talent on the left side of the infield, all of which are better overall players than the man they shipped out of Beantown. In return, they received a potential ace that at worst will be the third best pitcher on the team. Peavy has a checkered injury past, but he has been solid the past two seasons, posting great peripheral stats in a big time hitter’s park. Now, he is leaving one hitter paradise for a glorified wiffleball field, yes, but at the sole cost of Iglesias and spare parts? Well worth the risk, even if he posts the exact numbers he has been putting up on the South Side. With Clay Buccholz battling never-ending injuries, Jon Lester up and down, and Ryan Demspter looking cooked, the Sox could only rely on a resurgent John Lackey for so long without making a move to shore things up. This trade did just that.
Tampa Bay Rays: Minor win here, but faced with a shaky bullpen, the Rays nabbed Jesse Crain, who should immediately give them a boost in later inning stability. They could have used a bat, so it surprised me that they stood pat in that area instead of making a play for Mike Morse, but maybe we see them take a chance on a reunion with the recently released Carlos Pena.
Chicago Cubs: The Cubbies are slowly but surely rebuilding the shredded husk of a franchise that was left in the wake of their 2003 NLCS collapse. Theo Epstein has shrewdly collected assets that he knew he could spin off for building blocks while alternately locking up his young stalwarts and international signings. While the Cubs did trade off some impact players in Matt Garza, Scott Feldman and Alfonso Soriano, those guys were not going to be around long enough to play a role in the team’s renaissance. They were more valuable as chips than players to Theo and GM Jed Hoyer. So, off they went and in came a wave of younger talent that can aid in the rebuilding: Mike Olt, Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop and Corey Black all have the ability to be solid contributors for the Cubs. They were also able to actually turn the Carlos Marmol Disaster into a servicable arm in Matt Guerrier. Things are looking up in Wrigley as long as the faithful continue to believe in the process.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers nabbed arguably the best starting pitcher on the market in Matt Garza. After years of rumors surrounding hyped prospect Mike Olt, they finally pulled the trigger to bring Garza on board to solidify an already solid rotation. Slotting Garza behind the great Yu Darvish gives Texas a very good one-two punch heading down the stretch. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to add the bat they were seeking, especially as word is breaking that Nelson Cruz will most likely be suspended for the rest of the season. They sniffed around Toronto for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnarcion, but there was nothing doing. With Lance Berkman ailing, Elvis Andrus slumping and Nelson Cruz heading into an early offseason, the Rangers may be looking to pitch their way through October for the first time in a while.
Houston Astros: I hate to credit this team at all considering their highest paid player earns just $1.15M. I truly hope the Astros are being forthright and will use this newfound roster and payroll flexibility to build a winning team, but time will tell. As for this deadline, they brought in a pretty nice haul for a middle of the road pitcher like Bud Norris. They nabbed LJ Hoes, who projects to be an everyday LF if he continues to develop properly and a pitcher in Josh Hader that was slowly rising through Baltimore’s prospect ranks. Even if only one pans out, it was a trade worth making because there was no sense keeping Norris around on such a bad team that is going nowhere slowly.
San Diego Padres: The Padres have quickly started to fade from contention, but after the Red Sox, they may have hauled in the biggest steal of the trade deadline. Below, I discuss my lack of understanding for Arizona’s organizational direction, but the Padres swooped in and took advantage, importing Ian Kennedy to PETCO Park. Kennedy is just two years removed from a season where he finished fourth in Cy Young voting. He is coming up on arbitration, but he is under team control for two more seasons and is just 28, so the Friars will see him through his prime seasons. San Diego didn’t give up much to land IPK and with their pedigree of churning out good pitchers combined with a spacious home field, this seems like a layup of a deal. And even if the Padres don’t contend next year, if Kennedy bounces back, he could always be swapped out to a contender next July.
St. Louis Cardinals: Always a powerhouse and truly the model MLB franchise, the Cardinals are quickly trending in the wrong direction in 2013. They looked like division favorites through most of the season, but injuries and slumps are taking their toll and the Pirates are not slowing down as they look to pull away. With MVP candidate Yadier Molina possibly done for the season, the Cardinals really needed another bat, especially at SS. They also needed another pitcher. This is why I was surprised they didn’t push the chips in and pull off a huge trade with the Phillies for Cliff Lee, Michael Young and Carlos Ruiz. They were also rumored to be heavily in on Jake Peavy and Erick Aybar, but nothing came of it. On the flip side, St. Louis is just two years removed from their latest World Series title and have been a consistently stable franchise, so maybe they downshift and realize this isn’t their year to go all in on. Or maybe they have the rest of the league just where they want them, because as we all know, this team tends to thrive when all hope looks lost.
New York Mets: Another silent trade deadline in Queens in the midst of another lost summer. My main beef here is that they didn’t sell off Marlon Byrd. It makes no sense to keep him around, especially when teams out there are so desperate for offense. Byrd helps the Mets more by being exchanged for a prospect, not by helping guide the team to another sub-.500 campaign.
Philadelphia Phillies: I have to lump them in with the Mets. Philly is a team that aged very quickly and is overflowing with bloated contracts and is suffering from an indecisive strategy. They are close enough to striking distance that buckling down, adding a piece and forging ahead as-is could pay off. They did not add a piece. They also did not subtract any. Michael Young was a prime candidate to go, with at least Boston and New York desperate for a 3B bat. He was blocking prospect Cody Asche and making a tidy sum of money. Dumping him not only opens up a slot for Asche but also brings some financial relief for a team that could use it. It seems they got a bit greedy and decided they didn’t like any offers, so Young stayed home. Cliff Lee was also rumored to go, but it is hard to fault them for not settling for a pu pu platter of spare parts for someone of his caliber. There are also rumors that they are inking Chase Utley to an extension, something that seemed unimaginable a year ago. The Phillies have the talent to quickly turn this ship around if things break right, but some movement one way or another could have helped expedite the process.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona makes some weird decisions. I normally trust Kevin Towers, but not so sure any more. Last offseason, they sent Justin Upton packing because super grit-monster manager Kirk Gibson didn’t like the cut of his jib. Now, instead of adding a couple pieces and making a charge at the Dodgers or a Wild Card spot, they trade off a young cost-controlled starter in Ian Kennedy for two relievers and a compensation pick. Kennedy has had a bit of a down year, but he is under control through 2015 and should be quite good in spacious PETCO park for the Padres. Not saying Arizona should have kept IPK, but I thought they could have brought back a stronger return for him. The Snakes are quickly losing their charm.
New York Yankees: This is a tough one for me, natch. I really dug the trade that brought back Alfonso Soriano as they didn’t give up much (fringe reliever) and the Cubs ate the majority of the money. In most years, this move would have been enough to reinforce the lineup and keep the Bombers chugging along into October. Not in 2013. GM Brian Cashman is reminiscent of Clark Griswold patching holes in Hoover Dam at this point, as injuries continue to ravage the team at a pace faster than he can fill them in. Things have looked a bit better lately, with Soriano in the fold, Derek Jeter back off the DL and Curtis Granderson finally getting back to the team this weekend. However, with Alex Rodriguez facing a lengthy suspension (or lifetime ban), that still leaves a gaping hole at 3B. After hemming and hawing, Michael Young finally caved and told the Phillies that he would waive his no trade clause for New York late on Wednesday, leaving the two teams just about an hour to reach a deal. Cashman made his pitch for both Young and Carlos Ruiz but couldn’t seal the deal, leaving the Yankees empty handed when it came to reinforcing the lineup. However, due to their current position in the standings, the Yankees will have a prime waiver spot come mid-August, so there is still a shot at landing Young. The team just better hope they can hang around long enough to make it matter.
Baltimore Orioles: I don’t get it. The Orioles have been moribund, pathetic and sad for over a decade. Last year, they turn the ship around and see their first playoff action since 1997. Baseball is reborn in the Inner Harbor, the stadium is full and the O’s seem to be slowly wresting the town away. Here we sit on July 31, the O’s are again right the middle of the playoff hunt, armed with a great lineup and solid bullpen. Their Achilles’ heel is clearly the rotation, an area of the team desperate for a star, an ace. And what do you know, there sat Cliff Lee on the block, waiting to be scooped up by a contender. The Orioles may not have the deepest farm system, but they have some talent. They also play in a major market and are owned by a millionaire with deep pockets. Unfortunately for fans of the team, he also has the shortest arms in baseball. Some time in the mid 90s, Peter Angelos decided he wasn’t going shopping for the big fish anymore. That strategy bit him and his team in the ass this year. Instead of taking advantage of a soft American League and a really soft AL East (a rarity) and going all in, the O’s tip toed around the deep end and made minor moves in which they probably overpaid. They ended up shipping out some of their top ten prospects for Francisco Rodriguez and Bud Norris. The former is solid enough (although I am not positive the O’s needed him per se) and the latter is an unproven back end starter that has never pitched well outside of Minute Maid Park. Instead of slapping a rear naked choke on the opposition, they opted for a backrake instead. Cliff Lee could have put this team over the top, but they didn’t want to commit the dollars or part with prospects. Prospects are fantastic and so is planning for the future. But sometimes you have to spend to earn and sometimes you have to act in the moment, because that future may never come. Ask the Nationals.
So there are my contenders, pretenders, winners and losers. Share your feedback and choices over at our Facebook page!