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August 1, 2007

Prospectus Today

Deadline Wrapup

by Joe Sheehan

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I want to be more original than this, but really, it's just so easy to work in this format. So for one day, forgive me my lapse into cliché as I present the winners and losers at the trade deadline.

Winners

Atlanta Braves: It wasn't all that close. The Braves replaced a group of first basemen with a sub-600 OPS with Mark Teixeira and his .310/.390/.520 bat. Teixeira also represents a big defensive upgrade. The combination is worth two to three wins over the course of the rest of the season, and it's a near certainty that the gap between in and out of the postseason will be less than that. The Braves did pay a steep price-five players, including three top prospects-but they now have a fantastic offense that may be the best in the league.

The bullpen upgrades won't hurt, either. Guys like Peter Moylan and Oscar Villareal have been effective for the Braves, bridging the gap from a rotation that doesn't work deep to a good back end. However, those pitchers have been worked hard. Adding Octavio Dotel, Ron Mahay, and Royce Ring-the latter the Braves' third attempt to replace Mike Gonzalez-will bolster the pen and give Bobby Cox the depth to survive those stretches where he needs his relievers to get 10 or 11 outs on back-to-back nights.

The Braves may not catch the Mets, but the moves they made over the past few days make them a favorite to hold off the Brewers (yes, the Brewers), Diamondbacks, and Dodgers (yes, the Dodgers) for the NL wild card slot.

Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox made just one move of note, but it was a doozy, adding Eric Gagne for three players they won't ever miss in Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and Elgin Beltre. Gagne joins Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima to form a late-inning trio that challenges the Angels' corps as the best in the game. The Red Sox are going to be extremely difficult to beat late in games, and with the expanded playoff calendar, they will be able to ride those three arms even harder in the postseason. The Gagne trade was the best one any contender made at the deadline.

Texas Rangers: Jon Daniels had to get maximum value for Teixeira, and he had to get something for Eric Gagne. He did both, adding eight players to the Rangers' system and shaving millions from the payroll. The price he extracted for Gagne was a bit lighter than was expected-none of the three players are top prospects-but better this package than having Gagne on the roster this morning. Add in Max Ramirez for two months of Kenny Lofton, and Daniels did a good job of turning lemons into lemonade.

San Diego Padres: Their presence here is a combination of what they actually did the last few days-mostly adding bench strength and stealing Morgan Ensberg-along with the inactivity of their main competition and some extra credit for moves that happened earlier in the month. Trevor Hoffman is more than welcome to his opinion, but Kevin Towers has made the Padres' incrementally better with each transaction, and he hasn't given up anything of value in doing so. That's some terrific GM work, and deserves to be noted, even if not a single move was worthy of 36-point type. The gap between the Padres and the rest of the NL West has grown.

Cleveland Indians: Adding Lofton gives them the #2 hitter they'd been lacking and created as Lofton/Jason Michaels platoon in left field that should be very, very productive. Even better for the Tribe is that the Tigers failed to address their bullpen woes, missing out on the power arms of Gagne and Dotel, and failing to add even a second-tier guy. With each passing day, the Tigers' inability to hold leads late in games looms as the deciding factor in the AL Central and AL wild-card races.

Losers

Pittsburgh Pirates: "Huh?" That was the unanimous reaction to the news that the Pirates had traded for Matt Morris and all $13.5 million remaining on his contract. The Pirates, who have penny-pinched their way into lousy draft picks the last two years, have committed eight figures to a pitcher who, removed from a good defense in St. Louis and a big ballyard in San Francisco, is likely to be revealed, and quickly, as a 5.00 ERA guy. There is no sensible rationale for this trade, and any explanation of it should be met with hoots of derision. The Pirates spent $13.5 million on a slight upgrade to their #5 starter slot, a move that should take them from 65 wins to, maybe, 66.

By the way, Matt Morris thinks he's moving to a team with a better defense. Setting aside the stats for a moment-the Giants have a top-ten DER, the Pirates are in the bottom five-has he watched the Pirates at all this year? Their outfield defense is atrocious. Morris is going to give up 30 doubles between now and the end of the season. Exhibit #14,762 in the case that baseball players are lousy baseball analysts.

New York Yankees: They made a good trade in swapping Scott Proctor and the scotch tape holding his arm together for Wilson Betemit. Less impressive is the notion that Betemit will be part of the first base mix, rather than replacing Miguel Cairo as the fifth infielder. Still, dealing the #3 right-handed reliever for a good player is a fine trade.

The deal not made kills them, though. Given the price the Red Sox paid for Eric Gagne, it seems clear that the Yankees could have had the Rangers' reliever. I completely agree with Brian Cashman's two-year approach of building the farm system with an eye towards having a homegrown core in 2008 and beyond. However, the Yankees are incredibly deep, and the team's second tier of prospects-Ian Kennedy (yes, I think he's second tier), Alan Horne, et al-should have been used to pick up Gagne. The marginal benefit of Gagne in this bullpen would have been significant, and it's worth mentioning that the 2008 Yankees may be much worse given the aging of the untradable players and the possible losses of the team's superstar and MVP-candidate catcher. That Gagne ended up in Boston just makes it that much worse.

Washington Nationals: For the second year in a row, Jim Bowden held on to his veterans at the trade deadline. For the second year in a row, doing so was a mistake. The Nationals aren't good, and they're not going to be good in 2008, or 2009, or maybe even 2010. It's time to accept that and commit to a complete rebuilding process, one that entails importing as much talent as possible into the minor-league system and targeting '10 as a successful season.

That's a hard message to send heading into a new ballpark. However, not executing a rebuilding plan and meandering along with a 74-win upside is a path to Piratesville, where even a great place to watch a game is 2/3 empty every night because who wants to watch bad baseball for premium prices? Then you end up trading for Barry Zito in 2011 because he's a veteran guy with mound presence, and you want to show the fans-all 3,000 of them-that you're serious. This time.

Milwaukee Brewers: They don't have three decent prospects, and they don't have a good bullpen, and they have OBP issues. They do have Scott Linebrink, however, so that's…no, that doesn't mean much at all. The comeback win against the Mets last night just staves off the inevitable. They needed to add a reliever or two and they didn't, and the lack of bullpen help is probably going to be the difference for them.

With that said, I think the 2008 Brewers will be the best team in the NL, maybe the best in baseball. If not making a bad trade-OK, a second bad trade-protects that, it's not such a bad thing. Now, if they can just get the Pirates to bite on Jeff Suppan

Field: Lots of candidates for this last slot. The Tigers didn't add any relief help, but they also didn't add Jack Wilson, so that's something. The Dodgers gave away Betemit for a middle reliever who isn't an impact guy and who has been worked to death for a year and a half. The Reds didn't make any trades, despite being lousy with players who are never going to contribute to a good Reds team. The Angels didn't do anything, which isn't a surprise, but they could have used a bat. The Twins' Terry Ryan annoyed his players, and frankly, splitting the baby by trading Castillo for nothing and then not following up by making other deals was silly.

The trade deadline exposed the current crop of GMs as, by and large, unwilling to assume any risk. Like field managers, who have reduced the running of baseball games to a set of stringent rules that don't really optimize the chance of success, GMs have become so fearful of making a bad deal that they won't give themselves a chance to make a good one. There are individual exceptions, but for the most part, what you saw at the trade deadline was the industry at work: no one wants to roll the dice.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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