In over a decade of writing professionally about baseball, I have never stooped so low as to write a “trade deadline winners and losers” piece. Normally, I run from a cliché like the Wehrmacht withdrew from a battle, attacking even as I back away. This is probably why I have never been invited to many parties. Normally, the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline is such a violent anticlimax that there isn’t much to say, making it acceptable to dismiss it as if it were a guest-star on Downton Abbey, issuing no more than a single word, a hostile glance, and a pregnant pause. The 2011 trading deadline was so active it demands a more thorough going-over. Today winners, tomorrow losers, and Wednesday I will be invited to the King’s Charity Ball (but no one will tell me it isn't a costume party).
Between injuries and disappointing performances, the Braves were being strangled by their outfield. The unit as a whole has done less hitting than that of any team in the league except the Padres. Center field was a particularly sore point, as it has been for a number of years—in 2008, Braves center fielders ranked eighth in the NL in True Average, then dropped to 13th in 2009, 15th last year and again this year. Bourn isn’t Ty Cobb, but should represent a serious upgrade for the Braves in the center-field line, as he ranks fourth among all NL center fielders in TAv (250 PA and up department). Braves leadoff hitters have also been among the worst in the league, having hit .254/.306/.365 overall. Weird stat alert: In 57 plate appearances at Turner Field, Bourn has never drawn a walk. Having hit only .218/.289/.348 against southpaws to date, the Braves needed a right-handed bat and didn’t get one, but Bourn’s value should hardly be dismissed in light of that. They gave up two solid pitching prospects, a third that should be rated a throw-in, as well as an outfielder that has proved he can’t play in the majors, at least for them. That’s not a bad deal for a part they needed so badly and who also remains under contract.
Unlike some rebuilders who pretended they had no need to sell (hellooooo, Cubs!), the Orioles got something, moving the underrated Koji Uehera and the superannuated Derrek Lee in separate deals. The returns aren’t particularly special. Chris Davis will give the lineup the left-handed power it has been missing all year, but potentially nothing else—he’s arbitration-eligible after the season and has a strike zone wider than a rhino’s buttocks. Tommy Hunter pitches to contact and thus will be undermined by the league’s worst defense. Aaron Baker is a 23-year-old first baseman in High-A ball, which likely means we will never hear his name again. Nevertheless, a roll of the dice is better than standing pat with decayed assets.
Boston Red Sox
Theo Epstein got off to a shaky start, giving up future Generic Second Baseman Yamico Navarro and a Standard Model Reliever for Mike Aviles, which seems like a high price to pay for a 30-year-old defense-second infielder who has hit .222/.261/.395 this year. Given Jed Lowrie’s shoulder injury, Kevin Youkilis’ frequent day-to-dayness, and Marco Scutaro being, well, Marco Scutaro, it’s understandable that they felt they needed more depth, having already been forced to resort to Drew Sutton and an ahead-of-schedule Jose Iglesias. Still, Aviles is a sneeze away from being out of the league altogether, whereas Navarro has some long-term value.
Things got better with the trade for Erik Bedard, who, if he remains ambulatory for more than two starts in a row, should provide some desperately-needed insurance to a rotation that looked to have to batter its way through any playoff series after Game Two. With the second-best offense since 1950, perhaps they could have done it, but better not to try, especially since the deal cost them four prospects they are highly unlikely to miss.
To be honest, I’m not sure if the Indians should be listed under winners or losers. They added Kosuke Fukudome to a depleted outfield and Ubaldo Jimenez to a short rotation while also getting more than a hamster for Orlando Cabrera. This is all probably too little too late, but Ubaldo is just 27 and is signed through 2014. Even if he can’t help the Indians find the handle on the division again, this is the starter with ace stuff that they have been missing since CC Sabathia blew town. No insult to Cliff Lee or Justin Masterson intended, but Jimenez struck out 214 batters last year and 198 the year before and has averaged 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings over the last three seasons. The last Indians pitcher to strike out 200 batters in a season was Sabathia back in 2007, and to find the previous example you have to go back to Bartolo Colon in 2000 and 2001—Colon also whiffed 10.1 per nine in 188 innings in the former season, a long, long time ago.
That said, they sure spent a whole lot of the future to get him, and there isn’t much left on the shelf. Since getting something of even meager value for players who are the equivalent of spoiled milk, all credit to the Tribe for getting an outfielder for Orlando Cabrera, which is (a) one body more than one might have expected them to get and (b) something they desperately need even with the addition of Fukudome. Thomas Neal’s .295/.351/.409 at Fresno doesn’t translate into anything special, and the decay in his walk rate is troubling, but at least he’s breathing and owns the correct glove.
Ed Wade is a much-derided GM about to preside over a 110-loss season, something that only 13 other modern-era team architects have done before (there have been 15 teams that had 110 or more losses, but George Weiss got to preside over three of them—Weiss is in the Hall of Fame, so there’s still hope for Wade); no doubt he intended to build a historic club, but this probably wasn’t what he had in mind. Despite this, when you take an organization’s top two prospects for a player as basically decent as Hunter Pence is, you deserve credit. Wade also deserves kudos for long being a believer in Michael Bourn, who was drafted on his watch in Philadelphia, acquired by him for Houston, and patiently nurtured through a .229/.288/.300 season in his first year as a regular. Bourn rewarded Wade over the last three years, and now he rewards the Astros by returning four players. Perhaps Wade could have extracted more from the Braves and held out for one of their best prospects. Even if he had been able to do that, it would have cost the Astros desperately-needed volume. Just because the players coming in weren’t the Braves’ top prospects doesn’t mean they aren’t among the Astros’ top prospects. No one player can cure the Astros; competence at multiple positions will bring them back to respectability faster than having one Superman on the team.
St. Louis Cardinals
Bitch about what Colby Rasmus could have been to the Cardinals all you want, say that they gave up a great talent to satisfy a manager’s vanity. Forget it: Rasmus wasn’t going to be that guy with this team, so the point is moot. However Rasmus became disgruntled with the Cardinals and vice-versa, the fixing-it ship had sailed, and who was in the right or wrong is totally irrelevant at this stage. Further, as even as good as Rasmus was last year, he went through great hot streaks and deep slumps, and if the Cardinals felt the aggregate wasn't worth putting up with, we own that opinion at least cursory respect given that they have to live with the guy and his old man and we don't. In trading him, St. Louis picked up the additional starting pitcher it needed and manufactured what should be an effective bullpen out of thin air. Jon Jay gives them the depth to survive the move, and if he isn’t Tris Speaker in center field, neither was Rasmus. As an encore, they spent a very minor prospect on Rafael Furcal, who doesn’t have to be Furcal-the-two-time-All-Star, but Furcal-who-is-just-a-little-better-than-Ryan-Theriot. Jon Mozeliak made absolutely the right moves at the deadline, moves that give the Cardinals a far better chance of making the playoffs than they had before. Anyone who downplays that in favor of mourning Rasmus is shedding tears over something wholly imaginary.
San Francisco Giants
We haven’t seen a repeat World Series winner since the 1998-2000 Yankees, and Brian Sabean’s bid to join them is worthy of overspending on a rental—and it’s not clear that he did overspend. Sure, he gave up a very good pitching prospect, but a lot can happen between High-A and the majors. He also chose to pin his meager hopes of improved production at shortstop on the husk of Orlando Cabrera, which would normally be another example of Sabean’s fetish for vets, but in this case sort-of makes sense given that Giants shortstops have hit .208/.273/.304 to date and all Cabrera has to do is hit better than that while not passing out during routine fielding chances. Value is relative, and in this very limited instance, Cabrera is an upgrade.
Doug Fister fit Safeco Field, but you can say that about a lot of pitchers. In his short career he has an ERA of 3.42 at home, 4.40 on the road. He had good control and pitched to contact. The M’s turned him into four players. Casper Wells is limited in that his conception of the strike zone is about as egalitarian as a Woody Guthrie song, but he has slugged .505 at Triple-A and .490 in the majors. The M’s can use some of that. Charlie Forbush not only reminds us old-timers of one of Stan Lee’s in-jokes, he could prove to be the greatest player born in Maine since George Gore (okay, Bob Stanley) if his good control and deceptive delivery play up in the Emerald City’s pitcher’s paradise. Seattle is up a bit even if prospective third baseman Francisco Martinez doesn’t pan out and the player to be named actually is Irving Forbush.
Even with Neftali Feliz looking a bit on the shaky side of late, Texas now has one of the deepest bullpens in the game with Koji Uehara and Mike Adams in the fold. This year’s team video may be titled, “While the Angels Slept,” because the Halos did nothing to close the gap with the defending pennant-winners, while the Rangers likely made up for any shortcomings they had in the starting rotation vs. their division rivals by creating a relief corps so impregnable it could be called “Fort Apache: The Lead.” Actually, even if they hadn’t, the difference between Mike Napoli and Jeff “Bill Bergen” Mathis was probably enough to send the Rangers into October for another year. Irony is such a bitch.
Toronto Blue Jays
In the final analysis, they dealt a pile of fungible players—Corey Patterson’s picture is in the dictionary next to “fungible”—and just one prospect, Zach Stewart, to get Colby Rasmus, who at 24 is still young enough to be a prospect himself and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2015. Although he had fallen out of favor with Tony La Russa (he was seemingly never in favor), if Rasmus can find the stroke he displayed last year, the Jays will have added an all-star. In exchange for bullpen parts that, with the exception of Mark Rzepcynski, were all on the wrong side of 30 (Jason Frasor, Octavio Dotel). Alex Anthopoulos, take one giant step backward and miss a turn for having to choke down a year and change of Mark Teahen in the process, but on the whole, still a very good series of moves.
Washington got depth in Zach Walters and Erik Komatsu. These are hardly top-level prospects, but the Nationals weren’t dealing Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig either. Jason Marquis and Jerry Hairston were just passing through. If being a general manager is an art, then it is the art of turning today’s dross into tomorrow’s hope—however thin. As for their failure to acquire Denard Span or B.J. Upton, (a) it's not clear why that was a priority anyway, and (b) there will be plenty of time for that over the winter.