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Padres striking right balance between aggression and reality

No team in the National League has won more games than the San Diego Padres this year, or outscored other teams by more runs. Just one team has a lower payroll. Credit them for trying to improve at the trade deadline, and credit them more for doing it.

Today's move is a three way deal with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians, in which the Padres acquired 32-year-old outfielder Ryan Ludwick. One of the less appreciated players in baseball, he slots in as the second-best hitter in his new team's lineup. That says more about their lame attack than it does about his quality -- he's hit .280/.349/.507 over the last four years, unspectacular for a corner outfielder -- but he makes the team meaningfully better.

So, likely, does once-relevant Miguel Tejada, who was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday. Sad as it is, a 36-year-old shortstop who struggles to get on base 30 percent of the time and may as well strap a pork chop onto his left hand for all the good his glove is is better than what they had. (More than a dozen major leaguers have a slugging average higher than incumbent shortstop Everth Cabrera's OPS.) Tejada is pretty dire, but improvement from quite wretched to somewhat less wretched still counts as improvement.

Starters Corey Kluber, Nick Greenwood and Wynn Pelzer, the pitching prospects the Padres surrendered, aren't considered elite talents. Trading anything of any value for Tejada strikes one as unnecessary, but so it goes. Note as well that if any team can toss off live arms in a quest for a division title, it's a team that plays in a park forgiving enough to turn more or less anyone who can keep the ball above 85 mph into a viable no. 3 starter.

There was a balance to be struck here between aggression and a sense of realism about the likely fate of a team that has one really good hitter and one really good starting pitcher, and the Padres managed it. The new players might be worth little more than a win or two, but if the Padres bleed out the rest of the way they'll at least do so with bandages attached to the wound. Kudos to them.

The other interesting part of that three-way trade was that the Cardinals got 32-year-old sinkerball pitcher Jake Westbrook. St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan can teach seemingly any pitcher with a bit of drop on his ball to go out and throw 200 innings with a 3.50 ERA, and under his tutelage, Westbrook might well become a Cy Young contender. Ignore Westbrook's lousy results this year (6-7 with a 4.65 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP); there has rarely ever been so perfect a match between a player and a coach. If Duncan can impart his wisdom soon enough he could have the best front four in baseball on his hands within weeks. The Cards won't much miss Ludwick due to rookie outfielder John Jay, who's done a credible Albert Pujols impression in his first 50 games and will more than likely hit just fine the rest of the way. In all, a good move.

Cleveland got Kluber, possibly the most interesting pitcher the Padres traded, and saved some money. It's not nothing.

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