Every summer August 1 is something like New Year’s Day in baseball. General managers around the league work frantically through July 31 to reshape their teams into contenders or sell off spare parts in order to rebuild for the future. It marks the beginning of the pennant drive, with a different look to many lineups.
Many teams’ destinies are defined by decisions made at the annual trade deadline. There was no better example than in 2011. Both the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals rebuilt their pitching staffs, most notably their bullpens, at the deadline, and those key moves proved instrumental in both teams’ pennants.
Every trade deadline presents winners and losers. Here are this year's best and worst.
It’s clear that the Astros are going nowhere this season. Painfully clear. However, they are moving to the American League West next season, and the building process is well underway to compete with the likes of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels over the next five years. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has done a magnificent job stockpiling talented young pitchers. The 10-player deal with Toronto brought Houston two former first-round draft picks with big upsides in Joe Musgrove and Asher Wojciechowski. The Astros also grabbed a couple of corner outfield types from Arizona in Marc Krauss and Bobby Borchering. The two big swingers strike out too often for Arizona GM Kevin Towers’ liking, but their power should play well at Minute Maid Park.
The Tigers are built to win now. The signing of Prince Fielder over the winter and the subsequent move of Miguel Cabrera to third gave the Tigers a powerful lineup but exposed the team defensively. With a gaping hole at second base, the Tigers were able to bring Omar Infante back to Detroit, and with him came starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who has a no-hitter on his resume. That should be enough to win the AL Central.
New York Yankees
These aren’t the Yankees of the free-spending, wheeling and dealing era, but these are shrewd Yankees who know how to build a winner. New York welcomed former Mariner Ichiro Suzuki to New York at very little cost. Casey McGehee should be a productive right-handed bat off the bench and a solid option at third while Alex Rodriguez is recovering from a hand injury. The pieces are in place for the favorite in the American League.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Witness baseball’s next version of the Evil Empire. The Dodgers are determined to win. They are determined to win back the fans in Los Angeles who were lost during the McCourt regime and prevent the Angels from getting all the headlines. Hanley Ramirez had lost his edge in Miami, but a change of scenery should be just what the doctor ordered. Shane Victorino provides Gold Glove defense in the outfield and can be the leadoff hitter the Dodgers have sorely needed in front of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier this season. The offense, which hit just six home runs in June, has suddenly become a force.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants added Carlos Beltran at this point last season and it wasn't enough to get the team over the hump. In dire need of offense, the team was without Buster Posey in 2011, so the hole was much deeper. Now with Posey in the lineup and Pablo Sandoval expected back soon, adding Hunter Pence is a huge boost for the Giants as they battle the Dodgers and for one of the wild card spots. In his career, Pence has a career .329 average at AT&T Park, not a friendly place for most hitters.
Chicago White Sox
The surprise team in the AL, the White Sox see the opportunity in the AL Central, and the addition of the second wild card certainly made the decision to go for it this season easier. Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano bring depth to a young pitching staff. Myers, especially, should be a welcome presence to a staff that has had as many as seven rookies at one time this season.
It’s not so much what the Pirates did that makes them winners, it’s just that they did more than their NL Central rivals St. Louis and Cincinnati. Wandy Rodriguez can be a huge lift to an already promising rotation. Gaby Sanchez, an All-Star in 2011 has been horrible with Miami this season and was demoted to the minors. He has a chance to revive his season and give manager Clint Hurdle some options at first base.
Toronto Blue Jays
It’s difficult to see exactly what the Blue Jays are up to. They gutted their farm system for very little in return, especially with such little impact this season. Adding Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter, Brad Lincoln, J.A. Happ and Steve Delabar deepens the bullpen for sure, but it’s not like those were the final pieces for a championship run.
St. Louis Cardinals
Last season the Cardinals added lefthander Marc Rzepczynski and righty Octavio Dotel and completely changed their bullpen. This season the additions of lefty Brian Fuentes and righthander Edward Mujica should serve the same purpose. But the key that is missing this season is that Edwin Jackson, also acquired last year, made 12 starts and threw 89 innings, allowing Kyle McClellan to move to the bullpen and complete the puzzle. Missing out on another starting pitcher this season will leave the Cardinals short of the postseason.
While the Reds seemed to have forgotten how to lose, even without superstar Joey Votto, the absence of a true leadoff hitter and big bat behind Votto will haunt the NL Central leaders. The Reds, with the best bullpen in the National League, improved themselves there by adding former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton from the Kansas City Royals. Now Broxton and Sean Marshall in front of closer Aroldis Chapman really shortens games. But Reds fans are hoping the offense will do enough to get leads after six innings.
I don’t blame the Marlins for aggressively selling at the deadline. It makes sense. What’s tough to swallow for fans is that they were such aggressive buyers in the offseason, and even traded for Carlos Lee earlier in the season. Getting 21-year-old righthander Jacob Turner from Detroit should pay nice dividends for the future, but this season has turned into a debacle in South Florida.
Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox
I can understand throwing in the towel and watching the Yankees cruise to the AL East title. But with two wild cards, these teams are competing against the each other, the Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s. It doesn’t take much to separate from that pack. But these teams didn’t pull the trigger on any opportunities for improvement.
Caught in Between
The Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland A’s were caught in that precarious position on the verge of contending, but reluctant to forsake their futures for this season. All three have players attractive to contenders, but they are in position to contend next season and beyond. With teams ahead of them in their divisions getting stronger, it’s understandable why these three will play out the season standing pat.
Charlie Miller (@AthlonSports)