With postseason deadline looming, contenders scramble for final upgrades
Saturday is the deadline for teams to add players to their 25-man rosters in order for those players to be eligible for the postseason. With the July 31 non-wavier trading deadline having been such a dud, the trade market could see some real action in the next 24 hours despite the added obstacle of waivers. Already this month the Rangers acquired Alex Rios from the White Sox while the Pirates landed Marlon Byrd from the Mets -- two deals which were expected at the non-waiver deadline, and which could directly impact the races for the AL West and NL Central titles, if not the wild-card races in both leagues.
On Thursday the Indians, who are just four games behind the A's for the second AL wild-card spot, acquired Jason Kubel from the Diamondbacks, hoping that a return to the designated-hitter league can help the injury-plagued outfielder rediscover his 30-homer form from 2012. On Friday morning, the Cardinals added erstwhile Brewers closer John Axford to reinforce their rookie-heavy bullpen. And later on Friday, the Mariners traded outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse to the Orioles in exchange for minor league outfielder Xavier Avery. Baltimore had claimed Morse on waivers on Thursday, and the teams had two days to work out a deal. Morse has struggled since returning from a quad injury at the end of July, but he hit .296/.345/.516 over the last three seasons combined, has big-time power and will fill the O's rather large hole at DH while also being able to platoon in left field. It's reasonable to expect at least one more significant deal to happen.
The best way to look at Saturday's deadline is as an opportunity for teams to make the deals they failed to make by July 31. Rios and Byrd fit that description, as does Morse. The Twins' Justin Morneau has cleared waivers and can thus be freely traded to any team. There's not a lot of buzz about him on the rumor wire, but as was the case a month ago, the Yankees, Pirates and Orioles (again looking for that elusive DH) have reportedly shown at least some interest.
Two players who won't be traded are Morse's Mariners teammate Kendrys Morales and Padres third baseman Chase Headley. Both were claimed on waivers and pulled back by their current teams, thus taking them off the market for the remainder of the regular season.
Impact trades this late in the season are not uncommon. Just last year, Baltimore acquired Joe Saunders on Aug. 26. Saunders posted a 2.75 ERA in six September starts for the O's, started and won the first Wild Card Game in AL history, and turned in another strong start in a win over New York in the Division Series. In 2011, the Diamondbacks added a struggling Aaron Hill on Aug. 23 and watched him hit .315/.386/.492 the rest of the way to help Arizona ice the NL West, which they had led by just two games at the time of the trade. After he was acquired on Aug. 28, 2009, reliever Jon Rauch was a key part of the Twins' comeback, and Marlon Anderson hit .375/.431/.813 with seven home runs for the wild-card-winning Dodgers after going to L.A. on Aug. 31, 2006.
Of course, not every team needs to make a trade to experience a stretch-run upgrade. The Red Sox (Clay Buchholz), Dodgers (Matt Kemp), Pirates (Jason Grilli) and Rangers (Neftali Feliz) are among the contenders who could be getting star players back from the disabled list -- and as of August 31, those players' presence on the DL makes each one of them (or a replacement) eligible for the postseason. There's no hard deadline for the return of those players, of course, but if a team wants to add a piece from outside of the organization, it has until midnight on Saturday to do it.