Trade deadline week more about what didn't happen than what did
Five thoughts recapping a surprising and sometimes wild trade deadline week:
In the last few days before the 2008 trade deadline the Angels and Dodgers acquired Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez, respectively, deals that came just a couple weeks after the Brewers had landed CC Sabathia. All three of those players provided gigantic production to help their clubs reach the postseason. In fact, the Brewers and Dodgers may have only reached the playoffs because of the trades they made. Most years at least one such transaction takes place. In 2009, the Cardinals got Matt Holliday, the Phillies landed Cliff Lee and the Red Sox acquired Victor Martinez; 2010 had Lee to the Rangers, Roy Oswalt to the Phillies and Dan Haren to the Angels.
With the possible exception of the Indians acquiring Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez, this year's deadline lacked that type of difference-making star power. Jimenez has struggled so far this year (6-9, 4.46 ERA) but, if he has a hot stretch in which he benefits from a boost in facing American League hitters who have either rarely or never faced him before, then he could potentially pitch Cleveland to an AL Central title.
Otherwise, the next two best players moved are joining stacked clubs likely headed to the postseason anyway. The Mets sent Carlos Beltran to the Giants, who presumably have the pitching to stave off the upstart Diamondbacks in the NL West. The Astros traded Hunter Pence to the Phillies, who improved a team that had a five-game lead in the NL East and was already the class of the league.
The Astros' trade of a two-time Gold Glove centerfielder Michael Bourn to the Braves may be one of the most impactful deals of the week. It fills Atlanta's need for a leadoff hitter -- Bourn, a former All-Star, is batting .303 with a .363 on-base percentage and a major-league leading 39 steals -- and is a timely move for Atlanta, which recently lost catcher Brian McCann to the disabled list with an oblique injury.
Fewer star players seemed to even be available this year, and several reported to be on the block weren't traded. It was a trade deadline more defined by filling needs than selling the farm on a star (again, Cleveland not withstanding). Two impact players -- Padres closer Heath Bell and Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton -- unexpectedly remained with their current clubs.
Several other possible contributors stayed put against heavy odds: Astros starters Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez, A's outfielders Coco Crisp, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham, several Cubs and a heavily reported Drew Storen-for-Denard Span deal between the Nationals and Twins, among others. No-trade clauses did in a few other moves, as Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez and Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda exercised their contractual rights to stay put.
That the Red Sox and Yankees were relatively quiet (by their standards) contributed to the slow pace of the deadline, as they weren't making big offers and driving up market prices. Boston acquired injury-prone starter Erik Bedard from Seattle and reserve infielder Mike Aviles from Kansas City; the Yankees were idle.
The greater importance teams are placing on draft picks seemed to play a role in the slower market. The draft picks associated with Type-A and -B free agents set high prices on players. For example, the Padres didn't trade Bell, projected as a Type-A free agent, but can feel comfortable receiving two high draft picks. The Blue Jays had five relievers who project as Type-B free agents but only dealt two, as there'd be no reason to have traded the other three if the return wasn't the equivalent of a top-75 pick.
No team went for broke at this trade deadline, but six teams made significant moves:
• Philadelphia had one need -- a righthanded hitting corner outfielder -- and got the best one available. The Phillies gave up two top-50 prospects for Pence but managed to hold onto future star Domonic Brown so as not to mortgage too much of their immediate future.
• The Rangers traded pitcher Tommy Hunter, first baseman Chris Davis and two minor league pitchers of promise in order to get relievers Mike Adams and Koji Uehara but retained the elite prospects of what is arguably the game's deepest farm system.
• The Giants made three moves for Beltran and infielders Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera but did so while trading only one premium prospect, pitcher Zack Wheeler, who was sent to the Mets.
• The Indians traded their top two pitching prospects in Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, as well as another of the club's top 10 prospects in Joe Gardner, to get Jimenez, but they obtained an ace who won't be just a rental. Jimenez has an affordable contract that will pay him $4.2 million in 2012 and $5.75 million in 2013 with a player option for 2014 that Jimenez can void now that he's been dealt. Cleveland's trade for Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome did not include one of the team's preseason top-10 prospects.
• The Cardinals made a flurry of moves, most notably Wednesday's trade of centerfielder Colby Rasmus, who at 24 has shown the potential to not only be a future star but also seemingly would have been a key contributor to the club's second-half postseason chances. But St. Louis dealt Rasmus, whom manager Tony La Russa had harshly criticized, and didn't seem to receive a sufficiently corresponding haul that included starter Edwin Jackson and relievers Octavio Dotel (free-agents-to-be and likely draft-pick-bearing Type B players) and Marc Rzepczynski.
• The Brewers had already traded the bulk of their system in the offseason to get starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum but still added reliever Francisco Rodriguez, utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. and infielder Felipe Lopez.
At the start of play on Sunday morning eight of the AL's 16 teams were within 6 ½ games of a playoff spot and three of them -- the Angels, Twins and Yankees -- did not make a trade.
While New York is in the driver's seat for the wild card, the other three teams are outside the playoff picture. The Twins were the full 6 ½ games out in the AL Central, suggesting a significant uphill climb toward October baseball, so they weren't about to make a potentially futile sell-the-house move. Standing pat, however, was in itself gutsy. Minnesota has three teams ahead of it in the division standings and has four notable players who will be free agents after the season in Michael Cuddyer, Matt Capps, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome.
That the Angels, who were slow to make any moves in the offseason, remained idle might have been the most surprising development. They are only two games behind Texas in the AL West and watched as their chief competitor made a couple moves to bolster its bullpen. Surely the Angels could have found someone of value to trade for.
Another club, the White Sox, made only one, non-earth-shattering move, dealing a surplus free-agent-to-be starter (Edwin Jackson) for a good but not great free-agent-to-be reliever (Jason Frasor). Chicago was reported to be fielding calls on any number of its players, such as starter John Danks, reliever Matt Thornton and outfielder Carlos Quentin.
The Rangers were a clear deadline winner with Adams and Uehara, and the Indians and Tigers (who acquired starter Doug Fister and third baseman Wilson Betemit) both made moves that improved their 2011 chances. The Red Sox, who have the league's best record despite several injuries to their rotation, may have made a significant trade in receiving Bedard, but only if he remains healthy for the rest of the year.
• To trade a player like Rasmus, one would assume the Cardinals should have received either a veteran star rental for the rest of this season or a fellow building-block player for the future.
• The Pirates, for the first time in nearly two decades, were trade-deadline buyers, getting veteran hitters Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick in separate moves.
• The Yankees, annual July buyers, made no moves.
• The Dodgers oddly traded for outfielder Juan Rivera and subsequently cut Marcus Thames, a very similar player.
• The Nationals traded two minor leaguers for Reds outfielder Jonny Gomes, a platoon hitter and free-agent-to-be. Washington, meanwhile, is currently in last place in the NL East and 11 games behind the wild-card-leading Braves.