The Dodgers' deadline-day acquisition of slugger Jim Thome wasn't as startling or nearly as significant as their pickup a year earlier of Thome's ex-Indians teammate Manny Ramirez, of course. But those who suggest that it is meaningless are misguided. Thome enhances the Dodgers' bench, their psyche and their chances. Optimistically speaking, he also provides a DH option should L.A. reach the World Series.
In all their dealings this trading season, the Dodgers haven't acted like they are comfortably in front in a surprisingly impressive NL West. They imported solid innings-eater Jon Garland almost simultaneously with Thome, whom GM Ned Colletti on Tuesday correctly called "one of the great home run hitters of all time and one of the great leaders of all time,'' bringing their summer total to five worthwhile acquisitions. Colletti said in an interview on Tuesday that their two main deadline goals were to strengthen their rotation and bench. He has done exactly that with two bold, yet inexpensive strikes.
According to people familiar with the last two deals, Colletti got the trading teams to send over seven-figure inducements in both trades, and though Colletti characterized L.A.'s increase in payroll as being not insignificant (the rise is also in the seven figures), it does appear that a decent amount of the paying will be done by the trading teams. This is the second straight trading season in which the Dodgers have managed to improve their team sharply while keeping to owner Frank McCourt's annual goal to not vastly increase the payroll in-season. The Dodgers' overall payroll of about $100 million still seems unusually low for a major-market team with huge revenue. But the team remains a lot better than its players' collective salaries.
Colletti's knack for negotiation was honed as Giants GM Brian Sabean's first lieutenant for more than a decade, and Colletti's greatest attribute in recent years has been the patience to wait for the right deal. He did the same this winter, waiting for the bottom to fall out of the market before pouncing and picking up solid starter Randy Wolf for $5 million and multitalented second baseman Orlando Hudson for $3.38 million guaranteed, deals that seem so low that they are potential exhibits in the players union's collusion investigation.
Colletti took advantage of surprisingly thin markets for Thome and especially Garland, who was 3-1 with a 3.89 ERA in August (the Rockies and Yankees showed some interest in him), reworking 20 percent of his first-place team's roster this trading season. On their side of the ledger, in addition to Thome and Garland, are also starter Vicente Padilla, infielder Ronnie Belliard and reliever George Sherrill, plus cash amounting to at least two million bucks. Leaving L.A. were prospects Josh Bell, Steven Johnson, Luis Garcia and Justin Fuller, plus two players to be named later. Padilla has already contributed, and while there were questions about his ability to get along with others in Texas, his talent was never in question. Since Heath Bell stayed put in San Diego, Sherrill turned out to be maybe the best reliever to change teams.
The White Sox's last-minute decision to attempt to unload a few veterans with hefty salaries altered deadline day for the entire NL West, as the Rockies and Giants are locked below the Dodgers in the best race of the year and more desperate for immediate help. (Like the Dodgers, the Rockies took advantage of White Sox GM Ken Williams' offer, but the Giants did not.) Williams e-mailed notice of his intention to wheel and deal on Monday afternoon to "selected'' clubs (no, not the Royals or Mets), and found a taker for struggling veteran pitcher Jose Contreras as well as all-time good guy Thome.
When he saw Thome's name on the list of available ChiSox, Colletti acted immediately. The two men were soon speaking about the veteran's stomach to become mostly a bench player, and while Thome told Colletti he wasn't confident in his first-base play, he anxiously waived his no-trades rights to go to a bona fide contender, reinforcing Colletti's belief in Thome's persona and obvious will to win.
The Dodgers also have done a pretty nice job of protecting the jewels of an ultra-productive farm system in their dealings, and the only regrettable inclusion to date in the dozens of deals that Colletti has made in Los Angeles was pitcher Edwin Jackson, who developed late and was later traded by the Rays for spare outfielder Matt Joyce (top catching prospect Carlos Santana, who went to Cleveland for Casey Blake, may also develop into something special). Colletti's main charge, though, has been to improve his roster at mid-year without taking on significant financial obligations, and last year's deals for Ramirez and Blake that cost the Dodgers nothing in terms of dollars are a classic example of L.A. importing significant talent without paying. On a somewhat lesser scale, he's done it again this summer.
The NL West was where all the action was at the Aug. 31 trade deadline, and here's a summary of what the other contenders in that division did ...
GIANTS:Brad Penny made sense to fill their No. 5 starters' slot and round out one of the better rotations in the league. He was mostly solid in the even tougher AL East and might be aided by the bigger ballparks and thinner lineups in this division. Penny explained why he chose the Giants over a return to the Marlins, where he starred on the 2003 World Series title team, saying, "I want to play in front of some fans.'' The Giants do have fans, but their lineup remains a question, and they failed to significantly upgrade an offense that's only better than the pathetic Reds in the National League. Ryan Garko and Freddy Sanchez helped (though Sanchez is currently on the DL), but they needed to score an outfielder, which explains why they were the claiming team on the Mets' Gary Sheffield. The White Sox gave them a chance, too, as Jermaine Dye would have fit them perfectly. But the Giants, despite having about the least productive outfield in baseball, made no overtures toward Dye, according to sources. He's the big right-handed bat they need, and they did nothing.
ROCKIES: After talking to the Diamondbacks about Garland, they made it three for three in the division in finding rotation help from the AL. Contreras was so bad lately with the White Sox that he was upsetting longtime supporter Ozzie Guillen, but he may fare better pitching to National Leaguers who haven't seen him much. Judging by GM Dan O'Dowd's other deals this year (Jason Marquis, Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt), it has a chance to work.
• Competing execs believe that the Mariners are going to try hard to lock up Felix Hernandez this winter. Only if a long-term deal looks completely hopeless are they expected to entertain trade offers -- though one exec said they're "sure to get hits'' on King Felix.
• The Rays did well to get the Angels to pay the $22.5 million remaining on Scott Kazmir's contract and get three prospects for Kazmir, who had passed through waivers. This was a significant money-saver for the small-market team. But it's not as if any of those players is going to outperform Kazmir the rest of this year, not even infielder Sean Rodriguez, who remains a "decent prospect'' but isn't considered a future star.
• Three teams showed interest in Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron. With Cameron a free agent at season's end, there was really no great reason for the Brewers to keep him, but they did.
• The timing of the extension for Royals GM Dayton Moore was somewhat surprising. He's well respected, but four more years after a horrific season did raise a few eyebrows.
• Meanwhile, Colletti and Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, who is also doing a terrific job, still haven't had their contracts extended with mere weeks to go before they can become free agents. Colletti suggested in the interview on Tuesday that he likes working for the Dodgers and hopes to continue to do so.
• Grant Balfour gets the lame excuse of the week award. Balfour claimed that when Rays manager Joe Maddon instructed him to pitch around a batter it took him out of his "aggressive mode,'' leading to a gopher ball to the next hitter. Weak, very weak.
• Jimmy Rollins is the best defensive shortstop in baseball. There, I said it.
• The first round of bids are in for the Texas Rangers and someone with some knowledge of the bids said, "the wining bid hasn't been submitted yet.'' In other words, the bids aren't exactly big. Here's my suggestion for a fair price: double the $252-million A-Rod contract, which would be $504 million.
• Congrats to great guy Aaron Boone, who made it back to the bigs with the Astros only five months after open heart surgery.
• The tweeting never ends. Follow me at: http://twitter.com/SI_JonHeyman.