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Giants and Cardinals loading up for a postseason push

The 2011 trading deadline went from zero to sixty on Wednesday with a pair of blockbuster deals. The Giants and Cardinals loaded up for the stretch run, and the Mets and Blue Jays capitalized on the desperation of those two contenders by acquiring a pair of young players with star potential.

First came a three-team trade involving the Cardinals, Blue Jays and White Sox that could involve as many as 13 players, the most significant of which are right-handed starter Edwin Jackson, whom the Jays acquired from the White Sox and sent to St. Louis to reinforce the Cardinals rotation, and Colby Rasmus, the soon-to-be 25-year-old centerfielder whom the Jays hope will realize his start potential in Toronto. Not to be out-done, the Giants almost immediately trumped that deal by landing one of this year's top deadline targets. Though the trade is not yet official, SI.com's Jon Heyman is reporting that the Giants have a deal in place to send top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the Mets in exchange for star rightfielder Carlos Beltran and $4 million to help pay the approximately $6 million Beltran is owed over the remainder of the season. Beltran has 24 hours to accept the deal but he is expected to do so.

As I wrote Wednesday morning, Beltran is exactly the player the Giants need to help goose one of baseball's worst lineups. San Francisco had scored just 3.60 runs per game this season entering Wednesday's action; only the San Diego and Seattle had scored less often. Despite that, the Giants didn't have a single gaping hole in their lineup that could have been filled by a readily available player who lacked Beltran's star power. In Beltran, however, they have landed one of this season's most potent bats and the best hitter available in this year's mid-season trade market.

The 34-year-old, switch-hitting Beltran, who will be a free agent after the season, has returned from two years scuttled by knee surgery to hit .289/.391/.513 with 15 home runs, 66 RBIs, and a league-leading 30 doubles despite playing his home games in pitcher-friendly Citi Field. His resulting .325 True Average (a total-offense rate statistic scaled similarly to batting average and adjusted for park and league scoring environments) ranks as the second-best of his outstanding career and 11th among major leaguers with 300 or more plate appearances this season.

Leaving out his play in the field for a moment, which has indeed been diminished by his knee problems, Beltran has been worth 33 runs more than a replacement-level player this season according to the position-adjusted VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which ranks him 17th in the majors despite holding him to the very high offensive standards of rightfield. By comparison, the Giants' parade of corner outfielders -- primarily Nate Schierholtz, Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand -- have been worth 32.7 VORP combined this season in two and a half times as many plate appearances.

There is some difference of opinion about Beltran's play in the field this season. Baseball Prospectus's Fielding Runs rate him as nearly a win below average in right, while Ultimate Zone Rating and TotalZone have him around average, though perhaps a tick below. All three metrics agree that Beltran was once an outstanding centerfielder, and they all generally show him to have lost significant range in the wake of his knee surgeries (for further proof note that he has only attempted three stolen bases all season, though, true to form, he has been safe all three times). As a result, Beltran could be exposed by AT&T's spacious and irregular rightfield, which juts out to 421 feet in the gap.

The player most likely to lose playing time to Beltran is Ross, who has a similar mix of average-to-far-below ratings from those three systems. As a result, the Giants' outfield defense is unlikely to be diminished by the addition of Beltran, making his bat pure upgrade.

For their part, the Mets made the right choice by sending cash with Beltran in order to maximize the quality of the prospect they received in return. Wheeler, a 21-year-old righty, was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft and the Giants' top pitching prospect. San Francisco could afford to deal Wheeler for a two month rental because of its already loaded major league rotation and high likelihood of a postseason appearance, but that makes him no less valuable to the Mets. New York now gets all six of his team-controlled major league seasons, the first of which could be as soon as 2013. Wheeler's fastball gets into the high-90s with sinking action, and he compliments that with a hard curve that has helped him strike out more than 10 men per nine innings in his young professional career, matching that mark exactly for High-A San Jose thus far this season. Like many top prospects in A-ball, he can be wild and needs to improve his secondary pitches, but he has front-of-the-rotation potential, which makes him well worth the money the cash-strapped Mets sent to the Giants.

Before breaking down this complicated trade, here's a look at all the moving parts:

Blue Jays

Get: CF Colby Rasmus, UT Mark Teahen, LHP Trever Miller, LHP Brian Tallet, RHP P.J. Walters

Give Up: RHP Zach Stewart, RHP Jason Frasor, LHP Marc Rzepczynski, RHP Octavio Dotel, OF Corey Patterson

Cardinals

Get: Jackson, Rzepczynski, Dotel, Patterson and 3 players to be named later or cash

Give Up: Rasmus, Miller, Tallet, Walters

White Sox

Get: Stewart, Frasor

Give Up: Jackson, Teahen

This entire trade hinges on Rasmus, who was the Cardinals's first-round pick in 2005 and was listed as the third-best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America heading into his rookie season of 2009. Nagging injuries and personality conflicts, most notably with his Hall of Fame manager in St. Louis, Tony La Russa, caused the Cardinals and Rasmus to sour on one another, and inhibited his maturation.

Now in his third big-league season, Rasmus will turn 25 in two weeks and will be arbitration eligible after this season, but he remains something of an enigma. He still has the tools to become a star -- a power-hitting centerfielder with a rocket arm, patience at the plate and speed on the bases -- but he hasn't done much on the bases in the majors (20 steals in three seasons at a 65 percent success rate), his fielding has been sub-par the last two years according to most range-based stats (though he does seem to have improved significantly from his abysmal performance in center last year) and his bat went cold after a hot start to this season. All of that ultimately cost him a share of his starting job.

If Rasmus can become the player everyone expected him to be two years ago, the Blue Jays will have won this deal going away. Nothing short of a 2011 world championship, and arguably not even that, could validate trading away three team-controlled seasons of a championship caliber centerfielder, not to mention the opportunity to extend that player at below market value.

The Cardinals are gambling on Rasmus continuing to founder, as well as on their current team making a big push to win this year in anticipation of a difficult negotiation with superstar first baseman Albert Pujols upon his declaring free agency this fall. Jackson, who has posted a 3.66 ERA and 3.05 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 starts for Chicago since being dealt there at last year's deadline, could indeed represent a significant upgrade on Adam Wainwright's injury replacement Kyle McClellan, who has gone 1-4 with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.61 K/BB since returning from the disabled list in mid-June.

The Cardinals also upgraded their bullpen by swapping veteran lefties Trever Miller and Brian Tallet and righty long man P.J. Walters for 25-year-old lefty Marc Rzepczynski and veteran righty Octavio Dotel, not to mention by returning McClellan to his rightful place in the 'pen. However, of the three pitchers acquired by St. Louis, only Rzepczynski will remain under their control beyond this season, and fourth outfielder Corey Patterson and the option for either three players to be named later or cash seem like mere filler that add calories to the Cardinals' end of the deal without any actual nutrition.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, added the talented Rasmus for a small financial burden and five replaceable players, including marginal 24-year-old rookie starter Zach Stewart and righty reliever Jason Frasor, a pending free agent, who went to the White Sox for Jackson and utility man Mark Teahen, who is owed $5.5 million next year. As for why the White Sox, who are in desperate need of centerfield help, didn't trade for Rasmus directly, only GM Kenny Williams knows for sure, but the inclusion of the punchless Teahen suggests that the White Sox were more concerned with dumping salary than adding value on the field, as Chicago surely could have gotten more for the coveted Jackson had they not demanded that Teahen accompany him in the deal. If so, the white flag may just have gone up in Chicago once again.