We have parsed the defeated. Now, it is time to delve into those clubs that covered themselves with glory, fleecing lesser teams, clawing their way up in the standings, and generally acting like a boss. In case you missed Part 1, you can find it right here.
15. St. Louis Cardinals
The good news first: Like Bedard, Rafael Furcal comes with significant injury risk — he’s played in just 135 games since the start of last season. Also like Bedard, Furcal is a risk well worth taking. Though he’s struggled this season, hitting a buck 96 with little power and few walks, Furcal owns a solid career wOBA of .337. That’s well above incumbent shortstop Ryan Theriot’s career .315 mark, not to mention his 2011 wOBA of .293. Credit the Cardinals for recognizing that shortstop was their biggest need; for finding a quality option in a dismal market for shortstop talent; and for giving up a second-tier minor leaguer in Alex Castellanos to make the trade happen.
Now, the Rasmus trade. It’s horribly short-sighted, and it’s a stinging indictment of Tony La Russa’s my-way-or-the-highway approach. But La Russa might not be around much longer (he’s made noise about leaving), and the Cardinals do have a good chance to win the NL Central. Edwin Jackson has been excellent this year, his 3.21 FIP ranking 21st among all qualified starting pitchers. The Cards also swapped some terrible relievers for some decent ones in Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski. Call this a nasty consequence of the La Russa system and too narrow a focus on short-term results. But don’t say the Cardinals got nothing for Colby Rasmus. They did better than that.
14. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers’ trade deadline happened this offseason, when they changed the face of the team by dealing for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, thus growing into something more than Harvey’s Wallbangers II. They’ve now won six in a row and lead the NL Central by 2.5 games. Deduct a point for not upgrading Yuniesky Betancourt, a player who was a clear, terrible weakness back in January — a problem that’s only gotten worse in the thick of the pennant race.
13. Philadelphia Phillies
Here’s the thing about trades: It’s not a zero-sum game — both sides can win. The next two teams apply. Pence might be a less valuable player than Michael Bourn this year, but that doesn’t mean he’s worthless. The Phillies wanted a right-handed bat to balance their lineup, and he should fill the job ably. Still, there’s a very real chance that the Phillies and the rest of the National League will be seeing Jarred Cosart’s curveball of death in their nightmares in the not-too-distant future — and that Jon Singleton could be launching homers at Minute Maid Park through 2020. Also, continuing to play the terrible Raul Ibanez while demoting Domonic Brown makes me a sad panda.
12. San Francisco Giants
Another case of a team helping itself, even if it gave up a lot to do it. The Giants may have overpaid for Carlos Beltran, but it’s still Carlos Beltran, he of the .381 wOBA (seventh-best in the NL). The Giants addressed their biggest need, a thumper to replace Buster Posey and supplement an offense that’s so bad it’s made San Francisco just plus-3 in run differential, despite an electric starting rotation and deep bullpen. Here’s hoping Bruce Bochy turns the first-base job into a meritocracy the rest of the year, with Brandon Belt getting a chance to wrest the job from a sub-replacement-level Aubrey Huff. That might give the Giants as big a lift as adding Beltran did.
11. Pittsburgh Pirates
Sure, it’s only Derrek Lee (.246/.302/.404) and Ryan Ludwick (.238/.301/.373, albeit at Petco). But the Pirates made moves at the trade deadline! And they weren’t sellers! Plus the upgrades cost them next to nothing — and almost anyone would be an upgrade over the likes of Lyle Overbay. (Lee slugged .510 in July, showing signs of life for the first time all year.)
10. San Diego Padres
Getting 21-year-old Joe Wieland (peep those strikeout-to-walk rates the past two years) and 20-year-old Robert Erlin (ditto) for a year and change of Mike Adams was a great move. Adams may have had the best numbers of any relief pitcher in baseball (or damn close). But he also benefited from Petco Park, is 33 years old, and boasts a career that was flecked with injuries and the Padres need to be thinking long-term. Yes, they predictably failed to get much for slumping Ryan Ludwick; and yes, it’s disappointing that they’ll settle for two comp picks instead of landing premium prospects for Heath Bell. But the upside of the Adams deal still makes this a good showing for the Pads.
9. Oakland A’s
The A’s could have and maybe should have done more, trading only one arm from their deep bullpen and failing to convert Josh Willingham into future talent. But Brandon Allen! He’s been freed! Allen is Chris Davis, but with much better on-base ability, weaker defense, and a few more years of team control. We statheads have a soft spot for players of this ilk; see also: Free Erubiel Durazo!
8. Arizona Diamondbacks
For all the attention the Giants have received on the Beltran trade, the Diamondbacks quietly continue to hang in there, sitting just two games off the pace in the NL West. They’ve remade their Brandon Webb/Dan Haren-led rotation of the mid-to-late aughts into a staff led by Dan Hudson and Ian Kennedy, who have talent, youth, and a low price tag on their side. Still, GM Kevin Towers recognized the lack of ability at the back of the rotation, and addressed the problem by acquiring Jason Marquis from the Nationals for minor league shortstop Zach Walters, the 29th-best prospect in the organization per Baseball America. Marquis has bounced back impressively from last year’s disaster season to post a solid 3.75 FIP, thanks to career lows in walk rate (2.9/9 IP) and home run rate (0.6/9 IP). He’s exactly the kind of innings eater who fits well on a young staff trying to make it to the finish line.
The D-backs also picked up side-arming right-hander Brad Ziegler from the A’s. If deployed correctly, Ziegler can be an elite reliever, his submarine delivery yielding a microscopic 2.02 FIP vs. right-handers; keep him away from lefties, though (4.10 FIP against). We’re deducting points for giving up power-hitting first baseman Brandon Allen (more on him shortly). We’re then adding points back for Arizona’s ability to make solid upgrades. The Snake have a shot this year. But with Stephen Drew’s absence hurting their chances in 2011, and a good foundation in place for the next few years, there was no reason to give up key pieces from the team’s core.
7. Washington Nationals
The Nats got some mildly interesting prospects for Jason Marquis and Jerry Hairston Jr. But if you’re a fan, get more excited about the process than the results. GM Mike Rizzo found a willing patsy last year in the Twins, who generously offered a young, team-controlled starting catcher in Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps at the deadline. When the Nats went looking for a center fielder this time, they shied away from B.J. Upton and the king’s ransom that Rays GM Andrew Friedman might have demanded for him, and instead went back to the Twins. Turns out Minnesota GM Bill Smith hadn’t filled his reliever quota and wanted Drew Storen, a live, right-handed arm — but a reliever, the most easily obtained commodity in baseball. The trade didn’t pan out, but Rizzo has learned the lesson every fantasy leaguer finds on Day 1: Identify the fish at the draft table, then strafe his inbox until he gives up half his team for a box of Triscuits.1
6. Boston Red Sox
Remember what we said about trades being win-win? It helps when you can convince Ned Colletti to generously give up his best hitting prospects with 10 seconds to spare before the deadline. The Sox gave up Chih-Hsien Chiang, Tim Federowicz, a good-glove/no-bat catcher, plus two half-decent relief prospects, Stephen Fife and Juan Rodriguez. In return they get Erik Bedard, who’s a lottery ticket. As Red Sox blogger Patrick Sullivan notes, Bedard has the fourth-highest strikeout rate among all starters with 600 or more innings pitched since 2006. The problem is, he’s been a no-show for much of that time, including just 30 combined starts from 2008 through 2010, and a DL stint that recently ended with Bedard making a pre-deadline start against the Rays and getting hammered for five runs in an inning and a third.
Still, the Sox have mediocrity to burn with John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, Alfredo Aceves, and other humans of modest repute filling their rotation. What they need, especially with Clay Buchholz likely lost for the year, is a potential third starter with real upside — and that certainly describes Bedard, with his career 3.66 FIP and strikeout rate of 8.8 K/9 IP. If he can stay upright the rest of the season and enter the postseason as Boston’s no. 3 playoff starter, this will be an enormous steal. If not, it was the right gamble to take in a wafer-thin market for starting pitching. Major bonus points for getting the deal in under the wire. Major irony points for nabbing Bedard only after a deal for fellow Canadian Rich Harden fell through because he was deemed too much of an injury risk.
5. Seattle Mariners
You can only besmirch Mike Adams to a point — he’s got real swing-and-miss stuff that makes him more than just a product of Petco. Can we really say the same about Doug Fister and David Pauley? The two Mariners right-handers also benefited from a pitcher-friendly ballpark, plus some excellent defense behind them. Will they fare as well in Detroit, where Comerica Park only slightly favors run prevention and where Fister’s anemic 6.3 percent swinging strike rate in particular could make him a disappointment to his new team?
That’s not Jack Zduriencik’s problem, at least not after the Mariners GM flipped the two pitchers to Detroit for some promising young talent, including minor league third baseman Francisco Martinez, four-pitch lefty and All-Name Team MVP Charlie Furbush, and either the Tigers’ second or third pick from last year’s draft. The M’s may have trumped that deal just before Sunday’s deadline, flipping injury-prone walk-year starter Erik Bedard and busted closer prospect Josh Fields for an exciting outfield prospect in Trayvon Robinson (toolsy Dodger farmhand with 26 homers in Albuquerque’s launching pad this year) and a potential fourth outfielder in Chih-Hsien Chiang (hitting .339/.401/.652 at Double-A in the Red Sox system, but scouts don’t think that production will come close to translating in the majors). For a team so starved for offense and young position player talent, this might turn out to be a big score. Maybe two big scores.
4. Texas Rangers
Yet again, we have a case of overrating certain stats and misunderstanding true value. While much of the baseball world fawned over Heath Bell’s save totals and proclaimed him the shiniest gem on the reliever market, the Rangers saw a 36-year-old no-name with a gigantic 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate (down from last year’s impossible 11-to-1) — dominating the AL East no less — and opted to pursue Koji Uehara. The names sent to the Orioles look more impressive to casual fans, because Tommy Hunter is already a 13-game winner in the big leagues, and Chris Davis has a 21-homer season with the Rangers under his belt. But Hunter’s track record suggests a back-end starter at best, and Davis pairs his impressive power with the on-base skills of a drunken Gheorghe Muresan. In the end, Texas got a lights-out reliever to shore up its leaky bullpen for next to nothing.
Still, the Rangers get docked a point for then turning around and trading two promising pitching prospects (Joe Wieland and Robert Erlin) for Mike Adams, a 33-year-old right-handed reliever with a history of health problems who found Shangri-La at Petco Park. Adams has been terrific for the past few years, but moving from a paradise in San Diego to a nightmare in Arlington does carry some risk. On the plus side, adding two quality arms might prevent noted bullpen-disaster advocate Ron Washington from turning the last three innings of playoff games into chaos. Bottom line: The defending AL champs shored up their biggest weakness, paved the way for Neftali Feliz to join the rotation (where he belongs) next year, and look even more intriguing now that Clay Buchholz is likely done for the year. A repeat is a real possibility.
3. New York Mets
The most compelling deal in sports is the challenge trade. Or at least it would be, if two teams had the balls to try it. Imagine the Tigers trading Justin Verlander straight-up for Felix Hernandez. Or the Pirates swapping Andrew McCutchen for Justin Upton. You can understand the reluctance to make that kind of move; you’re putting your job on the line the second you send your carrier pigeon to MLB offices to confirm the move. Most of the time, teams are even reluctant to make a one-on-one trade of prospect-for-veteran. The memories of Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell and Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz remind GMs of the risk they take by attempting this kind of deal.
Credit Sandy Alderson for identifying the Giants’ quasi desperation (a first-place club but also the second-worst offense in baseball and a team still trying to fill the hole left by Buster Posey’s injury and defend a title) and getting the one guy he wanted for Carlos Beltran. Pitching prospects are inherently risky, and Zack Wheeler’s fancy strikeout rates and dazzling repertoire could go the way of Todd Van Poppel. But you take one A prospect over a grab bag of B-minuses any day. That Alderson got Wheeler despite Beltran being a free agent at year’s end who won’t bring any compensation picks qualifies as a huge coup by today’s prospect-overprotecting standards.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
The Internet has already written hundreds of love songs in Alex Anthopoulos’ honour,2 and rightfully so. The Jays GM turned a decent prospect, an outfield utility man, two relief pitchers, and a low-upside swingman into a 24-year-old center fielder brimming with talent who’s three-plus years from free agency and needed a fresh start more than a chained-up Todd Marinovich. Unlike other trade deadline sellers, the Jays aren’t far from fielding a winning team either. Next year’s Jays team will likely include Jose Bautista in right, Rasmus in center, Travis Snider in left, top prospect Brett Lawrie at third, Adam Lind at first base or DH, power-hitting J.P. Arencibia at catcher, and the highly underrated Yunel Escobar at short, with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, and Brett Cecil fronting the rotation and plenty of cash at Alex Anthopoulos’ disposal to make further upgrades. If Major League Baseball follows through on its desire to add another wild-card team next year, do you really want to bet against the Jays playing into October?
1. Atlanta Braves
When you’ve got an army of indefatigable news hounds filing 86 blog posts and 400 tweets a day, you can control the narrative. That’s not to say that Buster Olney, Ken Rosenthal, and other hard-working baseball reporters are easily duped. They know what can happen as the deadline approaches, so they double-check and triple-check every rumor to verify its veracity. But even with those safeguards, a team can still game the system. Place a call to an anonymous front office exec with loose lips. Talk up the value of a player you might not actually want. Maybe make a semi-legitimate phone call or two to create the illusion of interest.
Whatever tactics the Braves deployed, they sure as hell worked. For all the talk about advanced statistics catching on, there are plenty of teams who overvalue some players and undervalue others for the wrong reasons. Likewise, some members of the working press are still easily seduced by, say, Triple Crown stats. Thus, we get the illusion that Hunter Pence is the most valuable available position player at the trade deadline. Never mind that Pence is striking out a career-high level, owes his .306 batting average (career .290) to a sky-high .365 batting average on balls in play (career .326), and that he’s roughly an average defender at a corner outfield spot (-3.1 UZR this year, though Pence has been a plus guy in the past, so we might split the difference here).
The Braves wisely drove up the price on Pence, and Carlos Beltran, so their NL rivals will be forced to give up top prospects to get them. Then just as nearly every contender with an outfield need had shot their wad, Atlanta swooped in and nabbed Michael Bourn, a lightning-fast center fielder who’s benefited from some good luck himself (.383 BABIP) but still gets enough of a boost from his on-base skills, blazing speed, and superior defense at a premium position to rank eighth among National League outfielders in Wins Above Replacement. Better yet, the Braves got their man for four young players whose projections range from meh to feh.
In case you missed part 1, you can find it here.
Jonah Keri’s new book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First, is a national best-seller. Check out the Jonah Keri Podcast at JonahKeri.com and on iTunes, and follow him on Twitter @JonahKeri.
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