Saturday, July 31, 2010
Updated: August 1, 9:16 AM ET
Deadline winners and losers
By Jayson Stark
As the rubble settles after a Richter Scale kind of Deadline Day, it's time to sort through the winners and losers of the Trading Deadline, 2010 Edition:
Boy, it's amazing what you can get done on your way out of bankruptcy court. The Rangers were somehow allowed by MLB and the Chapter 11 police to add more than $6 million in payroll. So they came away with the best player on the market (Cliff Lee), a run-the-staff-and-hit-for-the-cycle starting catcher (Bengie Molina), an RBI bat (Jorge Cantu) and a useful utility guy (Cristian Guzman), for nothing that figures to haunt them. Heck, Lee alone gives them a shot to win the World Series. And as one baseball man quipped, they did it all by "living the American dream: If you can't afford it, charge it."
They've been shocking the world all season, so why not in the last week of July, too? They needed offense. They got it -- in Ryan Ludwick, a guy with a better OPS this year (.827) than A-Rod (.825), and Miguel Tejada, a fellow they're hoping is still a winning player who just got swallowed up by the nightmare that engulfed him in Baltimore.
Obviously, Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood and Austin Kearns ain't what they used to be. But what exactly did the Yankees have to lose? They added less payroll ($4.8 million) than the Rangers -- and just gave up a bunch of second-tier prospects to fill potentially big holes. It's possible none of these guys will make an impact. But it's also possible the smell of October glory will revive them. And it was another display of the Yankees behemoth doing what the Yankees behemoth does best -- taking full advantage of its never-ending ability to absorb other people's dead money.
Quick now. Name the player who has been with the Astros longer than anyone else on the roster now that Roy Oswalt and Berkman have hit the highway? Would you believe it's Wandy Rodriguez (in his sixth season), a guy who would barely know a Killer B if he saw one in his living room? Incredible, huh? But we look at that as a positive symbol of what's transpired here: Finally, this team has let itself turn the page. Finally, owner Drayton McLane has signed off on allowing his franchise to "quit holding onto what was and what was not going to be," said one NL executive. The Astros saved themselves $15 million. They got an underrated starter (J.A. Happ) to replace Oswalt, got a big league-ready bopper (Brett Wallace) to replace Berkman, did OK in their prospect haul and started looking at tomorrow. Finally. And it's about time. There's also some speculation this set the stage for McLane to sell the team, but that's another story.
Next to Lee, whose name kind of rings a bell in Philly, Oswalt was widely viewed -- though not by everybody -- as the biggest difference-maker on the pitching market. And the Phillies grabbed him without giving up any of their elite prospects (Domonic Brown, Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart). And they somehow persuaded the Astros to hand them $11 million to help them pay for this guy. Now the flip side is that some people have questions about how dominant Oswalt still is. And the Phillies could regret moving Happ -- described by one scout as potentially a "Cliff Lee Lite." But it was important for this franchise to remind its fan base and clubhouse of its willingness to reach for the sky. And the Phillies sure did that.
There will be those who look at the Nationals' "inability" to move Adam Dunn as some kind of major black mark. But we'll withhold judgment on that front because the Nationals could still move him in August or sign him to an extension. In the meantime, they wind up in our winners column for turning Matt Capps, a man who was nontendered by the Pirates just last winter, into one of the best catching prospects in baseball, Wilson Ramos. "That was a big, big piece to add," said one executive. "They needed a catcher to grow with a very good young pitching staff, and they got him. That team's going in the right direction."
It's not going to be pretty in the desert for a long time, we're guessing, now that this team has launched into full-bore dump-everybody mode. But if you're going to dump, this was the way to dump. Out went Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Chad Qualls and Chris Snyder, with more undoubtedly on the way next month. And while the D-backs' young-player haul wasn't spectacular, they lopped at least $25 million off the payroll (depending on what Joe Saunders earns in arbitration). And for a team with big financial challenges, that was huge -- for now. But now comes the hard part: This team faces many more critical decisions in the months ahead.
We didn't love the idea of moving Ryan Ludwick. But Jake Westbrook is the Cardinals' kind of pitcher. And he gives them not just one of the deepest rotations in the league but, more importantly, a rotation deep enough to match up with the Reds. "I think the Reds made them play this the way they played it," said one NL exec. "This was about winning the division they play in. They had to try to match up with the Reds. And now, I think they do."
While the Giants let the bat market pass them by, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti was able to do what he always does this time of year -- get teams to pay him to take their players at the deadline. This year, Colletti targeted pitching and a second-base upgrade and got what he was chasing. Ted Lilly figures to be a great fit for the ballpark. Ryan Theriot will be a much-needed energizer for a team that sometimes plays as if it's hooked on Tylenol PM. And while there are no Octavio Dotel Fan Club members typing away on this block, at least he's a power bullpen arm -- and you can never have enough in the NL West. Oh, and the Cubs and Pirates contributed about $3 million to the McCourt Divorce Court funds. What a country.
They set out to deal for a marquee bat -- and wound up with Edwin Jackson, a fellow who has a 7.24 ERA since his no-hitter. Meanwhile, they struck out swinging in three straight at-bats on the old Bat Hunt trail -- getting rejected by Berkman, losing out on Dunn and whiffing on a home run hack at Manny Ramirez. We're still not exactly sure how the White Sox and Nationals came to misunderstand each other so badly on what it was going to take to get Dunn. But that scene didn't end pretty. Oh, there's still time for the White Sox to find a bopper in August -- and maybe it will be one of the boppers they missed out on over the last 72 hours. But for now, for a team that lives to make the big deal this time of year, this was a clear Mission Not Accomplished.
This team didn't mislead anybody. We'll say that. GM Alex Anthopoulos slapped expensive price tags on his packages from the beginning and hung tough to the end. But other than swapping Alex Gonzalez for Yunel Escobar, the Blue Jays otherwise frustrated a bunch of potential buyers by never moving Jose Bautista or the most attractive arms in a brutal bullpen market -- Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg and Jason Frasor. "They had a chance to really sell high," said an official of one club that got shut out. "I think they could have gotten huge value for Scott Downs, and they could have sold high on Bautista. I think they missed a real opportunity." If they're going to let those three relievers walk off into free agency for draft picks, "they'd better make some damned good picks," said another exec. "And they'd better hope none of them take arbitration if they offer it."
We did like the Orioles' Will Ohman-for-Rick VandenHurk deal. We'll get that out of the way fast. But how could a team that's on pace to finish 30 games out of next-to-last hang onto so much dead weight? Kevin Millwood destroyed all his value. And Jeremy Guthrie didn't help market himself, either. But how Ty Wigginton and Luke Scott could still be working there, we have no idea. "Everyone wanted Ty Wigginton," grumbled an official of one club. "I know they could have moved Luke Scott. And I think they could have moved Guthrie in a bad pitching market. They might be the biggest losers of all."
At least they tweaked their bullpen, getting Ramon Ramirez and Javy Lopez. But where's that bat the Giants had to have, needed to find and obviously pursued? This team seemed to be linked to every bat in Rumor Central, from Jose Bautista to Adam Dunn. But not dealing for any of them could turn into one of those critical missed opportunities to go deep into October. "They should have found a bat, no doubt about it," said one NL executive. "They've got the best pitching in the league. Give that team a little more offense, and look out."
We always have great faith in the decisions the Twins make. And we understand why they needed Matt Capps. But what other clubs couldn't understand was why Minnesota balked at giving up Wilson Ramos for Cliff Lee -- but then was willing to trade him for a reliever who will help but never be mistaken for Mariano Rivera. "I hate to say this about them, because they're so good at what they do," said one baseball man. "But on this one, they panicked."
It wouldn't surprise us if this team addresses all its bat and bullpen needs in August, and probably at a much more reasonable cost than it was staring at over the last week. It's a franchise run by some of the brightest people we know. And when the bat market collapsed around them, the Rays' fearless leaders were determined not to overpay for guys like Dunn who they believed didn't really fit. But on the other hand, this is a column about July. And this is a big, big year for this franchise -- the year before Carl Crawford departs and the payroll plummets. So given the circumstances, it's tough to applaud the acquisition of only Chad Qualls as any kind of solution. For one thing, they took on all $1.5 million of his salary. For another, he's about the least dependable "quality" bullpen arm alive. "What can I say?" said an official of one rival team. "I'm just not a fan of that guy. He's Mr. Low Pressure. I just can't imagine walking into that Tampa Bay clubhouse and telling those guys, 'Hey, we got you Chad Qualls and his 8.50 ERA (OK, so it's actually 8.27). Now go get 'em.'"
On one hand, they're not heading for October. And by sitting out the deadline madness, they essentially acknowledged that. So maybe they're just accepting reality. But there were moves that could have helped them incrementally -- Jake Westbrook, for instance. And the Mets badly needed to do something -- to satisfy the fan base if nothing else. The one thing they can least afford, especially playing in the same town as those always-active Yankees, is another disastrous second half that leads to more paying customers sprinting in the other direction. So not making a move could be a very dangerous gamble for a franchise that was already in a danger zone. "They play in the wrong city," said an official of one team, "to do nothing."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.