Trade deadline champs and chumps
Understand at the outset that this is a fool’s errand, best undertaken by those not afraid to admit that today’s instant analysis may well prove a punch line down the road. But let’s plunge ahead, undaunted, in assessing the biggest winners and losers of baseball’s late-summer swap shop, but with the following disclaimer:
What seems so obvious now – bravo to the Phillies for acquiring a Cy Young award winner in Cliff Lee(notes) and to the Los Angeles Dodgers for picking up accomplished left-handed reliever George Sherrill(notes) – will be seen through a much more unforgiving prism if Jason Knapp becomes the next John Smoltz(notes) or Josh Bell develops into the next Jeff Bagwell(notes). Smoltz and Bagwell, you may recall, were trading-deadline unknowns who became considerably more accomplished than the veterans for whom they were exchanged, Doyle Alexander and Larry Andersen. And let us apologize to the descendants of Ernie Broglio for invoking Lou Brock’s name one more time.
Let the general managers of today not be haunted by such ghosts tomorrow.
Winners: Philadelphia Phillies. Of course they are. First-year GM Ruben Amaro Jr. upgraded a struggling rotation by landing Lee from the Cleveland Indians without giving up the prospects he valued most, and also may get lucky with free-agent signee Pedro Martinez(notes), who was making a Triple-A rehab start Friday. Roy Halladay(notes) would have made the Phillies nigh unbeatable; Lee makes them merely more formidable, and both the Braves and Marlins still believe they have starting pitching that matches up favorably.
Loser: J.P. Ricciardi. There are plenty of people in baseball who smell blood in the water after Ricciardi’s very public auction of Halladay ended with him eating the gavel. Never mind that the decision not to trade Halladay belonged as much to interim president Paul Beeston as it did Ricciardi; the predictions are already flying that J.P. may not last the season, and almost certainly will not be back in 2010. Already, the names of possible successors (Tony La Cava, Tim Wilken) are making the rounds. Ricciardi is telling people that he will try to win with Halladay next season; the Jays may indeed do so, but without the current GM.
Winners: Boston Red Sox. GM Theo Epstein had at least as many trading chips to play as Amaro, and used them just as judiciously in wooing the same trading partner, the Indians, to acquire switch-hitting catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez(notes), who finally ends Boston’s quest for a successor to captain Jason Varitek(notes) behind the plate in 2010. They also flipped first baseman Adam LaRoche(notes), a pending free agent who played a week in Boston, to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman(notes), a slick-fielding cheaper alternative who will be under Boston’s control next season. Epstein has enough pieces left that he can resume his pursuit of San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez(notes) this winter if he so chooses.
Losers: Cleveland Indians. In 2007, the Indians were a game away from advancing to their first World Series since 1997. The wheels have come off since, and GM Mark Shapiro has now traded Cy Young Award winners (CC Sabathia(notes) and Lee) in back-to-back Julys. Shapiro has traded away big pieces before for great returns, but this is just another reason why LeBron James owns that town.
Winner: Kenny Williams. If GMs had nicknames (and who since Trader Jack McKeon has), Williams should be known as the Stealth Bomber. The Chicago White Sox wheeler-dealer somehow traded twice for the same star pitcher, Jake Peavy(notes), without anyone spilling his secret either time. And this time Peavy accepted. The deal will look even better if Peavy, who is out with a bad knee, will be pitching again in the big leagues by September, as Williams expects. Even if he doesn’t, the White Sox have control over him for four more years, which might be enough to persuade Mr. Perfecto, Mark Buehrle(notes), to put off retirement plans.
Loser: Peavy. No one likes to be rejected, and White Sox fans are liable to take it even more personally that Peavy pined for the Cubs in the winter before shooting down Williams’ first trade bid. If Peavy struggles, which frequently happens for pitchers migrating to the AL, White Sox fans, a boisterous lot by definition, will not be easily mollified.
Winners: St. Louis Cardinals. The nights when the Cardinals’ lineup requires just a table for one are over. GM John Mozeliak’s pickups of first Mark DeRosa(notes) and then the bigger prize, Matt Holliday(notes), should lighten the load on Albert Pujols(notes), the game’s best hitter. With Ryan Ludwick(notes) regaining his stroke, rookie Colby Rasmus(notes) living up to the hype and Rick Ankiel(notes) one day getting healthy again, the Cardinals are primed for a red October. The Holliday trade loses some of its luster if he doesn’t re-sign after the season, but the Cards were willing to give up top prospect Brett Wallace(notes) to take that chance.
Loser: Jim Hendry. The Chicago Cubs GM’s biggest move of the winter, signing outfielder Milton Bradley(notes), so far has been a bust, and there have been many nights spent wishing he’d never let DeRosa go. Now, with the sale of the Cubs on hold for two years, Hendry came into the trading deadline with his hands tied financially. Cubs picked up lefty John Grabow(notes) for the bullpen and some depth in lefty Tom Gorzelanny(notes), who instantly gets thrust into the rotation Tuesday after pitching well in Triple-A.
Winners: Pittsburgh Pirates. The annual selloff of any Pirates player with a pulse is numbing to the fans, but GM Neal Huntington is doing the necessary restocking of the system, especially with pitching, and could hit it big with one of the young arms he has acquired. The one arriving with the most buzz is 20-year-old Tim Alderson, a former No. 1 who comes from the Giants in the Freddy Sanchez(notes) deal.
Losers: Milwaukee Brewers. Last year, GM Doug Melvin electrified baseball with his bold rental of CC Sabathia, which catapulted Milwaukee into the postseason for the first time since ’82. This time, with both starters and relievers at the top of his list, the best Melvin could do was Claudio Vargas(notes), a spare part in the Dodgers’ bullpen.
Winners: New York Yankees. Why do they get a “W” when all they did was pick up utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr.(notes)? Because their big moves in the offseason have left them in a position where they didn’t have to do more than that.
Losers: Los Angeles Angels. There is still the August waiver period, so GM Tony Reagins still has a limited opportunity to upgrade. But as well as the Angels are playing, does anyone really think they can beat the Yankees or Red Sox in October?
Winners: Detroit Tigers. GM Dave Dombrowski would have liked to have added another left-handed bat (Luke Scott(notes) of the Orioles), but outmaneuvered a host of other suitors for Mariners veteran lefty Jarrod Washburn(notes), a fly ball pitcher who should fare nicely in Comerica Park. Jim Leyland now has a top three of Justin Verlander(notes), Edwin Jackson(notes) and Washburn, while easing the load on rookie Rick Porcello(notes).
Losers: New York Mets. They sat this one out, figuring that anyone they traded for would probably blow a hammy packing his bags. Can you blame them?