So now that we are well past the deadline and the majority of the dust has settled, I thought it’d be good to take a look at the winners and losers of the 2012-trade season. Let’s start with the winners.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have the best second half record in baseball. They made only one major move, and that was to acquire Jonathan Broxton from the Royals. He’ll be the 8th inning guy, preceding Aroldis Chapman’s 9th inning dominance, and upgrades a bullpen that was already among the best in baseball. When you consider how good Sean Marshall and Alfredo Simon have been, you really only need 5-6 innings from your starters before you can turn it over into the capable hands of your bullpen in Cincinnati. That makes games a lot shorter and a lot more winnable. Some don’t think they’ve done enough as they feel the Reds lack a leadoff hitter. I disagree, though I do think Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs are not getting the job done. I believe they have a great hitter in Brandon Phillips who can hit in any number of places in the lineup. When Joey Votto returns, I’d let him leadoff, have Votto hit third (where Phillips currently is) and let Bruce and Ludwick be the number 4 and 5 guys. I don’t think you are wasting his power at the top (solo homers to start the game are always fun) and you’ve got plenty of pop behind him. I’m not saying they’ll do that, but I don’t think they needed to trade for a leadoff guy. The Reds are playing great baseball right now, and I think we will definitely be seeing them in playoffs.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Possibly the biggest winners of the deadline. They have the distinction of being one of a few teams that made moves that helped them in the present, and helped them in the future. They went out and added a veteran starter in Wandy Rodriguez. He joins James McDonald and A.J. Burnett to give this team a formidable starting 3, which is incredibly important in 5 game playoff series; much like the ones the Pirates think they can finally be a part of. And while they gave up a lot for Rodriguez, they also swung moves for Gaby Sanchez and Traivs Snider. Both are young players with a ton of upside. Sanchez is a former All Star and Snider has had periods of red-hot hitting in Toronto. They got them fairly cheap and both help now and in the future. Sanchez was mashing the ball in Triple A, and still hits major league lefties well. Snider has struggled recently, but he’s so talented that something has to give. Maybe it’s a change of scenery. If it is, then this is a huge snag by GM Neal Huntington. If he still craters, then they didn’t give up much. The Pirates have struggled for so long, but they look like legitimate playoff contenders this season. They are right behind the Reds in the NL Central race and have one of the wildcard spots if the season ended today. They were able to improve themselves in the present without mortgaging the future. This is an exciting team to watch this season.
Houston Astros: They certainly aren’t winning much recently, but they did a nice job at the deadline. It takes guts to completely gut a team. It takes skill to then sell off the few shiny pieces of that gutted team and some pieces that used to shine, and some pieces that perhaps could use a good cleaning to not be considered dull. The Astros are bad. Really bad. And somehow, they were able to get teams to bite not only on decent players like Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez, but struggling youngsters like J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon. And don’t forget they dumped Carlos Lee on the Marlins in that twenty minute period when Miami thought they could contend. That’s just impressive. And for dumping all those guys (only 2 of which had any real value…maybe 2.5) they got back 16 players who will stock their farm system and cost the Astros next to nothing. They move to the AL West next season. And while those other teams are licking their chops at the opportunity to beat up on one of the worst teams in the majors, the fact is the Astros have no money tied up in contracts starting in 2015. And the guys they are paying now and until then, aren’t making that much. That enables the Astros to completely rebuild, a scary thing, but easier to do when there is absolutely nothing to look forward to in reference to your team’s immediate future. The Astros won’t win this year, or likely next year. But as they move to a new league they have a blank slate and will save lots of money for the future as they try to build a playoff contender.
Milwaukee Brewers: This one was easy. The Brewers had the best player available. They weren’t going anywhere this season. And they got back a great haul for him. They received Jean Segura, who is expected to be the future shortstop and was the Angels number one prospect, and Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg, both stud starters in Double A that were ranked in the top 10 prospects in the Angels system. Grenike was going to be a free agent. They knew they couldn’t afford him. So they sent him to a contender for the last few months of his contract and got back some great young players. That’s how struggling teams should comport themselves. Take assets that can’t help you, and turn them into prospects that possibly could. Take note, New York Mets. You should have done it last year with Reyes. That’s not just my opinion, but also the opinion of everyone NOT living in the tri-state area.
Chicago Cubs: They are winners not only for the deals they did make, but also for the one they didn’t. After working out a deal to send Ryan Dempster to the Braves, they looked like they were in trouble. Dempster vetoed the trade and publicly said he wanted to be a Los Angles Dodger. That gave the Dodgers all the power in the negotiations. Instead of caving to LA’s demands and panicking about getting nothing back for Dempster, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer waited the market out. They were patient in their negotiations with the Dodgers and announced them dead the day of the deadline. They then fielded offers from the Yankees, Rangers and more ovations from the Dodgers before making a deal with about 5 minutes left. That deal sent Dempster to the Texas Rangers while the Cubs received Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks from the Rangers’ High A affiliate in Myrtle Beach. They then sold high on Paul Maholm to a team that desperately needed a starter in the Atlanta Braves. This time the Cubs had some negotiating power, and sent them a veteran southpaw who has possibly had the best month of his career recently. They got a variety of names back, the best amongst them being a flame throwing reliever named Arodys Vizcaino. Vizcaino has had some experience as a bullpen guy at the major league level, but some peg him as a future starter. Despite all his talent, they were only able to get him because he’s been shut down for the rest of the year (and part of next year) with Tommy John surgery. But if he comes back healthy, this could be a great pick up. The other major thing they did correctly was to fight the urge to sell low on Matt Garza. Garza is a good pitcher, not a great one. He’s struggled with command and injuries this year. But they recognized his value, and expect him to get better. So the Cubs held on to him, believing he could help next season, and hopefully be good enough that they could sell him off for a lot more than they would have gotten this season. And they will still shop his name around in the offseason to see what deals are available. As he’ll be healthy then, the return on him should be much higher. The Cubs are going nowhere fast, but a few more rounds of good trading like this one will help them start to get somewhere. If they had been able to unload Alfonso Soriano somewhere, they would have been the biggest winners of the year. Alas, they are still winners and looking good to re-build in the nearer-than-expected future.
San Francisco Giants: The Giants made some big splashes that immediately improved the club in time for this season’s playoffs. In reality, they only made two moves. But both were very important for a club who’s sterile offense has been unable to produce a playoff baby in the two years since they won the World Series, admittedly a short amount of time. But even before that, the Giants had strong pitching and weak hitters. The year they won it all, Buster Posey injected enough life into this offense to make them almost average. With their pitching staff, that was enough. Though you can’t count on those masterful outings in the playoffs again (especially considering the way Tim Lincecum has played) the theory is sound. So with Buster Posey healthy, Pablo Sandoval hitting and this off season’s acquisition of Melky Cabrera paying major dividends, they had as good, if not a better chance to win it all this year before the deadline. But add Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro to that club, and this team is scary. Scutaro is an upgrade, though a modest one, at short while Hunter Pence is a huge upgrade over Nate Schierholtz. Now the Giants have strong hitters in Cabrera, Pence, Posey and Sandoval to support an incredible pitching staff. The NL West is winnable, and now the Giants have a team that has a great chance to win it.
Los Angeles Dodgers: And what makes the West so exciting is that the Dodgers matched every move that the Giants made in what is looking like the beginnings of an incredible race towards the division crown. The Dodgers were off to an incredible start, but stumbled after losing Matt Kemp. However, they were still able to play good enough baseball to stay in the hunt. Now this new ownership group is here to prove that they are serious about winning. And they allowed GM Ned Coletti to chase down any player he wanted, no matter the cost. A lot of people believe that the Dodgers haven’t had the success this season to warrant such a flurry of trade deadline activity, me included. But the Dodgers decided they wanted to win now. They think they have the talent to win now. And they’ve added enough pieces to make them truly formidable now. Matt Kemp is a superstar, but had limited protection in Andre Ethier and no one else backing him up. Now, they’ve added Hanley Ramirez to play third and bring his power, speed and unmatched ability to the table. Dee Gordon is talented and incredibly fast. But he hasn’t been the leadoff hitter that they need this season. So they added Shane Victorino, who has experience leading off and also brings great speed and defense to the outfield. They added an All Star in the outfield, an All Star at third and depth to their bullpen in Brandon League, who closed successfully in Seattle and can set up dependably in LA. And after the deadline, they traded for a veteran starter in Joe Blanton, who also brings playoff experience. This team is built for the playoffs. And they never would have been, if not for their aggressive stance designed to win now, starting this October.
Chicago White Sox: Sometimes a team swings a big move for a major piece that immediately makes them playoff contenders (Dodgers & Giants). Sometimes a team has had surprising success, but can’t afford to mortgage their future for immediate success in a season that could be a flash in the pan (Orioles & Athletics). Rarely do teams have this sort of surprise success, and still find a way to trade for impact talent that won’t hurt them in the future. The White Sox did it this year, and could be among the biggest winners of the trade season. The names they brought don’t really frighten many people. But Kevin Youkilis was a major upgrade at third base, and seems to have found his lost power and patience at the plate in his new home. His success and the relatively low price the White Sox paid for it are enough to make the team winners alone. But when you consider that they added a veteran bullpen arm in Brett Myers and a veteran starter in Francisco Liriano, you see a team that has truly committed to winning now without sacrificing future success. The White Sox brought in players who haven’t been great this season, but by giving up next to nothing for them, it’s a low risk/high reward maneuver. Few people could have pulled this move off, but hats off the GM Kenny Williams.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers were a tremendous disappointment in the first half. But this team is too talented, and the AL Central too winnable for them to have called it a season and try again next year. And their team came around. They have the best pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander, one of the best young hitters in the game in Miguel Cabrera and an extremely consistent and dependable power hitter in Prince Fielder. Add to that a strong starting rotation and good young outfielders and you have almost everything you need. The Tigers felt their only holes were at second base and at the back of their rotation. And they addressed those needs with the mega-trade that sent highly touted prospects Jacob Turner and Rob Brantley to Miami for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez. Infante is a former All Star who hits in high 200s, can play second, short, third and left field and will swipe bases when given the opportunity. He doesn’t have a lot of pop, but that’s not what this team needs. They need a second baseman who isn’t a succubus at the plate. In addition to being a better hitter than the guys they previously had at second, he upgrades the defense as well. And Anibal Sanchez has been plenty streaky in his career. But he’s got experience, can eat innings and get the timely strikeout when necessary. He’s not an ace, but is a great 4th or 5th starter. Not everyone would classify the Tigers as winners due to the short sidedness of this trade. But the Tigers are built to win now. They have a tremendous payroll with designs on winning now while they can afford it. They can’t keep this team together forever. And while Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder are in their prime, I think they made a strong move in a weak division to win now, and they have a great chance to do so.
Kansas City Royals: Another simple one built on the strength of one move. For the second year in a row, the Royals bought low on players who others have written off. Last year it was Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francouer. Cabrera was traded to the Giants for a young starter in Jonathan Sanchez and Francouer has struggled this season. But both were playing for below market deals, and provided great value for the club. This past offseason, they signed Jonathan Broxton, a former shut down closer with the Dodgers, for a one-hear $8 million dollar deal. It was a low risk move that paid serious dividends. Despite the fact that the Royals are still struggling, it was not because of Broxton. He’s pitched well enough to remind other teams that he used to be an All Star, and made them bite. The Royals turned that one-year, low cost free agent signing into two pitching prospects who came over from the Reds. One is likely going to be a reliever, though not a future All Star, and the other has a much higher ceiling, but needs more seasoning. Both are worth considerably more than the $8 million they were paying Broxton. The Royals trusted that he had something left in the tank. And sure enough he had enough to make other teams take notice despite the fact that the Royals aren’t doing much this season. The Royals need pitchers. They earned 2 good ones for just about nothing.
Los Angeles Angels: The Angels went out and got the best player available on the market. This move makes them legitimate contenders today, and possibly playoff favorites. That easily classifies them as winners. The starting rotation they present is arguably the best in baseball. This is a team that was highly touted in the preseason, and recovered from a slow start to be legitimate playoff contenders. They’ve closed the gap on the Rangers for the AL West crown and are in the wildcard hunt. I can’t imagine them losing a 5 game playoff series. And now they have the best arms available to bring them there. They have a lot of money invested in winning now. There was no single move made all year that improved any team to the degree that the Angels have improved with Greinke. They are all in. I’m not betting against them.
Texas Rangers: While they don’t get as high a grade as their chief rivals, they made the move they needed to make to get better. They got the best player left on the market at the last minute and he improves a starting rotation with question marks. This offense is fantastic, though some of the stars certainly go through rough patches. The difference is, they started winning the past few years when they had solid pitching. But with Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis out for the rest of the year, they needed help. After missing out on Greinke and not being able to afford to take on Cliff Lee’s contract, they went out and got the best player left, Ryan Dempster. In addition to bringing on the quality veteran, they were able to keep the majority of their highly touted young talent. This isn’t a cure-all type move, but it was the best move they could make and it keeps them in contention for the playoffs, as they are currently the AL West leaders.