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August 1, 2009

Prospectus Today

Deadline Day Recap

by Joe Sheehan

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More than any individual transaction, the story of the 2009 trade deadline was just how much activity there was. After years of the deadline falling short of outsized expectations, major league GMs gave us plenty to chew on this season. Of the 19 teams playing for this season, 13 made moves to strengthen their roster in the past few days, as did the noncontending Reds. Of the 11 teams playing for future seasons, all but those Reds, the Royals, and Diamondbacks made a deadline deal to acquire younger, less expensive players. It was the most active trade deadline in memory, and one of the more entertaining baseball days we've had in some time.

Considering just trades that happened since my last column-basically, the stuff from Thursday and Friday-here are some opinions about the deadline activity.

Best Move

Trading for a pitcher on the disabled list would hardly seem to qualify, but Kenny Williams finally got his man, trading Aaron Poreda and three other pitchers for Jake Peavy. It's a huge gamble with both short-term upside-Peavy should be back from his ankle injury for September-and long-term payoff-he's signed through 2012 at a reasonable $16 million average annual value (AAV), with a big 2013 option. The elbow injury that curtailed his 2008 season is a concern, of course, as is the possibility that Peavy's ankle won't let him pitch or pitch effectively during the Sox' pennant push. Nevertheless, for what amounts to Poreda and filler (I'm not a Clayton Richard fan, although he'll love Petco), it's a strong move that, at worst, positions the Sox as co-favorites in the AL Central.

Honorable mention goes to the Tigers, who opened Friday's action by picking up 12 starts of Jarrod Washburn for next to nothing. The 70 or so innings will enable them to stay in the race in the Central, something that was looking unlikely as Rick Porcello fell apart slowly and the team tapped pitchers like Luke French-traded in the deal-to fill out the fifth slot. Even normal Jarrod Washburn, a league-average starter, is a source of help for the Tigers' push.

Worst Move

The Braves continued rotating through first baseman, swapping out the current model, Casey Kotchman, for the 2006 version in Adam LaRoche. Even though they didn't spend more money in the deal-the Red Sox picked up the cost difference between the two players-the Braves at best made a lateral move, and may have made themselves worse. Kotchman is matching LaRoche this season with a .272 EqA (to the travelin' man's .271) and has a superior glove. He's also outplayed LaRoche as measured by WARP1 in both of the last two seasons. It appears that the Braves, led by GM Frank Wren, evaluated the two players solely by their home runs and RBI; you can't explain the deal any other way.

Biggest Head-Scratcher

The Reds had slipped nine games behind the Cardinals heading into last night's game, and with one of the game's worst offenses backing a disappointing rotation, seemed like a seller. Then they completed a deal with the Blue Jays to acquire 34-year-old Scott Rolen and the last $15 million (less some undisclosed amount that the Jays are paying) left on an eight-year deal he signed before his body broke down. Rolen is having his best season in some time, and brings a strong glove; however the Reds can't leverage his talent this year and are unlikely to in 2010, because they simply won't be good enough. As I put it in chat, it's as if Walt Jocketty thought, "Hey, the last time I traded for Scott Rolen, my team won the World Series a few years later." It's a bad deal for a team that seems to not understand where it is in the success cycle.

Best Under-the-Radar Move

It is hard to describe just how much better Nick Johnson makes the Marlins. He essentially turns them from an afterthought in the wild-card race to a contender, by being that much better than Emilio Bonifacio, who he will likely replace in the lineup. It is rare for a team to make a 100-point gain in OBP in a single lineup spot in one deal, but that's what the Fish have done here, and they've likely done it in a defense-neutral way. Bonifacio's been a sub-replacement-level bat while batting leadoff and second all year, has crippled a Marlins' offense that has plenty of power. Johnson can slide into Bonifacio's second slot and be worth about two wins to the Marlins in a vaccum; I suspect the value of replacing a .290 OBP with a .400 one in front of Hanley Ramirez will be worth a little more than that in real life.

Overrated Move

Nothing against Victor Martinez, a very good player having a strong season after a lost 2008 campaign, but the idea that he changes the story for the Red Sox is overblown. A year ago, when Jason Varitek was one of the worst players in the league, this would have been a monster deal. Now, Varitek is playing well, and given his status with the team, he's going to keep his job. That means Martinez will play a lot of first base and DH, and his .294 EqA bat isn't anything special in those roles. It's a small upgrade on Adam LaRoche once you consider defense. The gap between Martinez-as-catcher and Martinez-as-other is huge, a reminder that the ability to play catcher and hit well is a special combination of skills.

Where this deal should help the Sox is by giving them an out to cut ties with Varitek next year, installing Martinez as their #1 catcher and reaping the benefits of that decision. For the rest of this season, however, the trade amounts to a depth play, giving Terry Francona flexibility in assembling his lineup and batting order each day.

Wallflowers

The Texas teams did nothing and liked it? The Astros, playing for now, didn't have much to trade, so it's not terribly surprising that they completed no deals. Look for Ed Wade to try and bolster his bullpen and bench by acquiring players who clear waivers, nabbing minor improvements here and there, as he did in 2008 by snagging LaTroy Hawkins. The Astros simply don't have the prospects to make major moves, a real problem in their "play for now" strategy.

On the other hand, the Rangers have enough prospects for the entire state, and they retained all of them. There's no question that the Rangers could have traded for Roy Halladay, and the Blue Jays' righty might not have pushed them into the playoffs, but he would have helped close the gap on the Angels in 2009 while fronting the division-winning rotation in 2010. A deal was available if Jon Daniels and J.P. Ricciardi had wanted to make one, because the Jays could have taken a lesson from the Indians and worried less about where the returning players ranked in the Rangers' system and more about where they would rank in their own. An apparent insistence on two players from Column A-Derek Holland and Justin Smoak-as well as Halladay's objections to going to Arlington scuttled any hope of a deal. It's not the worst outcome for the Rangers, as they face short-term financial difficulties in addition to their lineup's OBP issues, but this is certainly the type of deal, swapping some potential for certainty, that they can look to make over the next 12 months.

Staying

Halladay, obviously, was the dominant story of the past three weeks, and he ended up right where he started. The Blue Jays shouldn't re-sign him, so we'll go through this again in December, and for the Jays' sake, let's hope J.P. Ricciardi threads the needle that the no-trade clause creates and makes a deal just as good as his one that shipped Rolen to the Reds.

I have no idea why Adam Dunn is still in Washington, but there he is. The Nationals did do the right thing by sending Nick Johnson and Joe Beimel to contenders, but retaining Dunn, the highest-valued player of the group, does little for them other than push them from 65 to 70 wins next season. Yay.

Both Heath Bell and Adrian Gonzalez are still Padres. With the team having traded Jake Peavy, however, all illusion of winning for the next few seasons is gone, and you have to figure that both players will be the topic of heavy bidding at the winter meetings. I would be shocked, just floored, if either was a Padre on April 1, 2010.

The trade deadline was a lot of fun this year, and it sets up what should be a ridiculously exciting last few months of the season, with races in five of six divisions, some involving up to four teams, and an NL wild-card race that will once again be a barn-burner with, as of this morning, eight teams within 6˝ games of the lead. The focus that has been on front offices for the last few weeks goes back to the field today.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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