Monday, August 27, 2012

Dodgers Re-Create 2007 All Star Team

Dodgers Re-Create 2007 All Star Team

Well the Dodgers and Red Sox have made some headlines (though I personally think mine is the cleverest).  They’ve easily claimed the title for most exciting post deadline trade ever, and possibly most exciting regular trade ever.  There have been some big deals in the past, but generally the names passed over from one team are relative unknowns at the time and blossom into stars.  That’s what makes them noteworthy.  This trade has that, but also the elements of a fire sale and a slew of huge names changing jerseys.  In addition, it involves the most money changing hands in the history of the game as the Dodgers help the Red Sox relieve themselves of $262.5 million dollars.  Let’s take a look at the trade from the perspective of both teams. 

Los Angeles Dodgers

They get:                        Adrian Gonzalez 1B
                                    Josh Beckett  SP
                                    Carl Crawford LF
                                    Nick Punto UTIL

They lose:                        James Loney 1B
                                    Rubby De La Rosa SP
                                    Jerry Sands 1B
                                    Ivan DeJesus INF
                                    Allen Webster SP

This is a big trade for the Dodgers.  They get players who are expected to provide an immediate impact.  It’s amazing to look at this team now, especially when you consider that a year ago they were bankrupt.   But a new ownership group brought a new attitude.  And these owners are doing their best Steinbrenner impressions, over-spending for players who may or may not be worth it.  The difference is that it seems to be working out for them so far.  Hanley Ramirez, acquired before the first trade deadline, is a perfect example.  However the most impressive part of this team has to be the endless pile of money they seem to be sitting on.  After spending $2 billion just to BUY the team, these owners still have the financial capability to bring on $262.5 million in salary from this trade alone (not to mention the money owed to stars Kershaw, Kemp Ethier and new Dodgers Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino).  I guess that’s what comes with purchasing a keystone franchise with a tremendous television deal set to go through.  The Dodgers are apparent practitioners of the “you have to spend money to make money” approach to baseball, and there’s something to be said for that.  But there is also a ton of risk.  What if people don’t come see the team?  What if injuries wreck seasons?  What if these guys aren’t as good as they are getting paid?  That last question is the stickiest, because a lot of these guys were considered overpaid when they were performing at their peaks.  And it’s not like this club is bringing over a bunch of All Stars from this year.  The players they have brought in have struggled recently.  That’s how they were able to land them.  Hanley has played well, and Gonzalez had a great debut, but seeing these players go south isn’t completely out of the question.  And if Crawford continues to struggle, Beckett is done and Gonzalez doesn’t find his inner Padre but rather plays like his former Red Sox self, then this will be an un-mitigated disaster.  However rarely are things that black and white.  If a World Series comes to Hollywoodland, then this will be considered a success.  But we will likely be debating the result of this trade for years. 

The initial trade breakdown is positive for Los Angeles.  Adrian Gonzalez was the player they wanted in this swap, and he immediately upgrades first base.  Loney didn’t protect Kemp and Ethier nearly enough and the lack of power coming from first base has been a conversation starter in LA for the past few years.  In Gonzalez, they have someone capable of 320-35-120-100.  He also brings Gold Glove caliber defense.  Speaking of Gold Glove defense, that’s one of the few things, you can expect Carl Crawford to deliver.  His defense will be stellar in left field.  Here’s the kicker, he won’t be a Dodger until next season.  His Tommy John surgery keeps him out of the 2012 season and possibly part of 2013.  He will take the place of Shane Victorino who will be a free agent after this year.  But after Crawford’s defense, things get murky.  His offensive production took a nosedive last season, his first in Boston.  After being a perennial stud in Tampa, injuries and ineffectiveness crippled him.  His contract was considered excessive with the expectation for him to play the way he used to.  But with his struggles, he was really pressing.  Perhaps a change of scenery will do him some good.  The Dodgers hope so, because otherwise his contract will be the albatross that shall spell the doom of this trade.  And impending doom also comes to mind when you consider the Josh Beckett portion of this deal.  Beckett is a former All Star, but has really struggled the last few years.  His personal demeanor has long been considered pompous and unpleasant, but it was okay when he was winning.  However Boston didn’t want him to continue poisoning their young pitchers while failing to deliver on the field.  He was the second pill the Dodgers had to swallow (after Crawford’s contract) in order to earn Adrian Gonzalez.  If Beckett has some gas left in the tank, then he can be a valuable piece of this rotation.  If he returns to All Star form, then this club has to be considered NL West title favorites next year, and this year.  But even if he’s just okay, he will be a boon to the back of this rotation.  That’s a very real possibility.  But is he worth the money they will pay him, and the potential headaches he brings?  Perhaps moving to LA will help him mellow out and find his former success.  The Dodgers sure hope so.  There are a lot of pieces to this trade.  Gonzalez will likely be good.  MVP good?  Who knows?  He’s got the potential.  Beckett will be better than he was in Boston, even if it’s just for a short while.  Moving from the best hitting division in baseball to the worst will have that effect.  I don’t see him returning to the Cy Young discussion, but a trip to the mid-summer classic is the high end of expectations.  A dependable innings eater is likely what we will see.  Crawford is a total wildcard.  Neither Crawford nor Beckett is worth the money they will earn.  However Gonzalez is a bargain.  The second best player in this deal is possibly the overlooked Nick Punto, who takes over for the injured Jerry Hairston Jr. as the dependable bench bat who can play a lot of positions.  He’s going to help manager Don Mattingly a lot.  For the time being, the Dodgers have a potent lineup and a plan for next season’s outfield in place.  That’s worth something, just not $262.5 million.  They win the World Series, we have a good trade.  They miss the playoffs the next two years, we have a disaster.  I’m expecting something in the middle, and that still leaves plenty of room for success…and failure.   

Boston Red Sox

They get:                        James Loney 1B
                                    Rubby De La Rosa SP
                                    Jerry Sands 1B
                                    Ivan DeJesus INF
                                    Allen Webster SP

They lose:                        Adrian Gonzalez 1B
                                    Carl Crawford LF
                                    Josh Beckett SP
                                    Nick Punto UTIL

As much as the Dodgers are taking a risk in this trade, the risk factor for Boston is also pretty high.  After spending a bunch of money in 2010 to build a team that they thought would help them CONTINUE to contend, they are now letting that idea go and instead are hoping to build around a new team that they hope will help them contend IN THE FUTURE.  2 years and over $200 million later, this team has done a complete 180.  You don’t imagine a team with the second highest payroll in the game to be a candidate for a re-building project.  But with the toxic nature this team had created in Boston, and the equally toxic nature of Boston’s baseball media and fan base the past two years, something had to be done.  This team cost too much money to play in the fashion that they did.  Part of the reason this team hasn’t been meshing is because of the poorly chosen offseason managerial hire, Bobby Valentine.  Valentine certainly had some success in his days as the New York Mets skipper.  But his big mouth and antics ended up earning him an invitation to manage in Japan when no other big league clubs were interested.  5 years of managing in Japan and 2 years at ESPN followed before the Red Sox decided to take a chance on the big name manager to help take the focus off the firing of much beloved former manager, Terry Francona.  Valentine has experience, but he’s no threat to make the Hall of Fame as a manger.  He is a headline maker, and that’s what he’s done this season.  The headlines haven’t been positive however, as he took over one of the most talented teams in baseball and led them to a 500 season thus far.  The locker room still belongs to Francona, and a much-publicized meeting between the Red Sox ownership and players took place about their lack of faith in Bobby V.  In addition to that, public clashes between Bobby and Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia dominated early season headlines.  They have since traded Youkilis to the White Sox.  With Adrian Gonzalez apparently being the head of the group of players complaining to ownership about the manager, Josh Beckett bumping heads with the manager on more than one occasion, and Carl Crawford griping about playing time, the Red Sox brass seems to be trading away Bobby’s enemies one at a time.  If that’s their intention, this trade has to be viewed as a complete mistake.  Not only is Gonzalez’s immense talent alone worth more than Valentine’s, frankly, mediocre managing capabilities, but toss in Crawford’s potential and Punto’s value off the bench, and this is one of the worst moves ever.  No one can prove that the intention is to help Valentine take back his clubhouse, but it seems like a lot of coincidence to overlook.  However, the support of Bobby Valentine isn’t the only part of this trade.  There were players coming and going and a lot of money headed out the door.  That’s the bigger part of what has to be considered in this trade.  And that’s what we’ll look at now.

For the Red Sox, the main part of this trade isn’t about the players they received.  It’s about the money they saved.  As I’ve mentioned, the $262.5 million dollars in salary that the Dodgers took on from Boston is the highest for any trade ever.  In that sense alone, this trade can be considered a success for Boston.  They had a bloated payroll that hamstrung them in their attempts to make the club better.  In addition, a large sum of the money was going to players that weren’t performing to expectations (Dice K, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford).  They lost two of those bloated contracts in this trade.  In addition, they lost 3 players who have been outspoken in their distaste for Bobby, whether it be because of playing time (Crawford) or the way he manages the game overall (Gonzalez and Beckett).  When you include Youkilis among those who were sent off after expressing their dislike for Bobby, you really only have 3 players left who are publicly butting heads with the manager.  One of those players, Dustin Pedroia, has recently shown support for Bobby.  As the de facto clubhouse leader that means a lot.  Now the only have to worry about Ellsbury and Lester falling into line.  Speaking of Lester, they are hoping that he will improve with Beckett and his self-important, juvenile attitude in Los Angeles.  Lester can be the new mentor for the young pitchers and hopefully they will all be better teammates.  So from a monetary and clubhouse perspective, this trade couldn’t be better.  So now let’s look at the players the Sox received from LA.  Four of them are prospects.  The one who isn’t, James Loney, has struggled this season.  After a hot start to his career, he’s started to slide the past few years.  He’s never developed the 25 HR power that the Dodgers were hoping.  He would consistently hit in the 275 region, but his AVG has slipped too in recent years.  His RBI totals have dropped the most, and he has not been able to protect the heavy hitters in LA.  Maybe a change of scenery will help, but at best Loney looks like a 270, 15, 70 player.  That’s good if you can get your power elsewhere and that’s something the Red Sox will have to consider as they go forward.  The other players they got back are all still looking to prove themselves on a major league level.  De La Rosa has spent some time in the majors and was the number 2 pitching prospect in the Dodgers organization.  Allen Webster is also a highly touted pitcher with a live fastball, good control and a good future projected.  Sands and DeJesus are mid level hitting prospects.  As far as the return, it doesn’t initially make up for what they sent away.  And even if De La Rosa and Webster turn out to be great and Sands and DeJesus make it as major league starters, we’d then be looking at something that’s close to equal at best.  But the talent of Gonzalez and potential of Crawford will be hard to make up with these prospects.  So from a player aspect, the Dodgers come out ahead, especially in the present.

So how do we finally come to a consensus on how the Red Sox did in this trade?  This was a huge monetary success.  A coup even.  They got some talented young players back, but not tremendous haul for them to base an entire re-build around.   And if you consider the idea that the Red Sox are whittling down Valentine’s enemies, then you have to think this trade is a success.  But if that is their goal, then I have to consider that a mistake personally, as I’d rather build a team around solid players, not an overrated manager who tends to run his mouth too much.  The fact is, we won’t know how this trade went for the Sox for a while.  They dumped a ton of money, which frees them up financially.  That’s a success.  They helped put their clubhouse back together.  Another success.  However they may be supporting the wrong side in this player vs. manger war.  We won’t know which is the winning side, though I’ve made my opinion clear.  In the end, we have to see how the players they got back play and how the players they sent away play.  It doesn’t have to necessarily equal out, as the salary dump makes them winners almost on it’s own.

The fact is this is the biggest trade in the MLB in years.  We will be talking about it for a long time.  The future holds the final assessment of this trade, but both sides feel like they are winners today.  And while I don’t know about that yet, I know that both sides did something they needed to do and it will help them tremendously.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Trade Deadline Losers

After taking a look at the winner’s of this seasons’ trade deadline, I thought we’d take a look at the teams that didn’t do as well in the trade market this season.


New York Mets:                        For a second straight season the Mets take on the awesome mantle of trade deadline losers.  While their loss didn’t come at the same level as last season’s ineptitude, it was equally head scratching.  Last season, the Mets were easily the biggest losers of the deadline by choosing to hang on to Jose Reyes.  Everyone thought they should trade him.  He was the hottest commodity on the market, and everyone wanted him.  He would have been an invaluable upgrade to any number teams who were playoff bound in 2011.  Instead the Mets held on to him, hoping he would take a discount to stick around.  He did not.  Instead of trading him away and getting a bounty of prospects on a team that is re-building, they held on to the guy to watch him win the batting title when he was healthy and sit out after his first at bat in the last game of the season.  There was no reason to hang on to him.  It was possibly the biggest trade deadline mistake of the past decade.  If he chooses to come back to the Mets, you can still trade him away for prospects.  If he goes to a new team (like he ended up doing) you can still trade him away from prospects.  It was incredibly frustrating to watch.  I’m not even a Mets fan!  And then the worst part was listening to the New York sports radio support the decision in the season, and then tear it apart in the offseason after he signed with the Marlins.  It was going to happen!  The Mets have no money!  And even if he chose to come back to the Mets, he still should have been traded away for the last few months of the season!  He was the best player on the market!  You could over-charge like crazy for two months of his services and then possibly get him back in the offseason!  The dumbest move in years.  Well this season, they made an equally dumb, though not as crippling a move.  Scott Hairston is a talented veteran reserve who a lot of teams wanted on their benches for the playoff run.  There is no reason the Mets, who were 3 games under 500 at the deadline, need the luxury of a veteran bench player.  He is not a part of their future.  Other teams were interested in him.  And they could once again cash in on a player who won’t help them this season.  Mets fans want to believe.  And they had a very impressive first half.  But it was clear this was not their season.  And giving away a utility guy who has probably past his prime doesn’t really hurt them now, and could only help them in the future.  But they once again failed to do so, and that is what makes them losers for the second year in a row.

St. Louis Cardinals:                        This loss isn’t of the epic proportions of the Mets last year, but it’s another one that makes you wonder.  The Cardinals needed pitching, specifically in the bullpen.  There was a lot of bullpen help available.  They only got one pitcher, Edward Mujica, who is so-so.  Their bullpen doesn’t look much better than it did before the deadline, there is just another arm out there.  They have money and prospects available, and plenty to make a move.  And they have mid-level prospects, the kind necessary to trade for a good bullpen arm that doesn’t break the bank.  The Phillies, Marlins, Cubs, Astros, Brewers, Rockies, Padres, Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Royals, Twins, Indians and Mariners all had bullpen guys available for a decent price.  And while other teams got some of those guys, the point is there was plenty to get.  And the Cardinals just couldn’t make a move.  Maybe they didn’t want to overpay.  But they are falling behind in the NL Central and needed help to catch up.  That help didn’t come, and most people now have them finishing outside of the playoffs the year after winning it all.

Colorado Rockies:                        Reality is often tough for teams to face.  And in Denver, the Rockies couldn’t see that not only will they not be in the playoffs this season, they are arguably the worst team in baseball.  They spent a lot on the offense this offseason, bringing in veterans Marco Scutaro and Michael Cuddyer.  They hoped this offense would have enough oomph to beat the better pitching teams in their division.  It wouldn’t have mattered with the woeful pitching the Rockies send out there every 4th day.  And when your pitching is that bad, why not go to a 4 guy rotation.  At least you’ll be noteworthy for something.  The Rockies should have been selling hardcore this season.  They sent off Scutaro, but held on to Cuddyer.  Cuddyer can play first, second, third, right and left field.  He is 33 and making over $20 million dollars the next two years.  There are teams who would have loved his bat and defensive adaptability.  The market for him was fairly robust.  But the Rockies wanted to hold on to him.  They will never have a chance to sell so high on such an old guy again.  In addition, they hung on to Rafael Betancourt, who intrigued plenty of teams, and traded FOR Jonathan Sanchez.  Sanchez is a lefty who struggled in San Francisco.  Why does anyone think he’ll succeed at Coors Field?  The Rockies are out of it this season, and likely will be out of it for a while.  They have two stars signed to long-term deals.  But instead of trading away 3 veterans at their peak of value for a slew of prospects who could grow into major leaguers to support those guys, they held on to almost everyone and traded for more.  Now they can spend more money than any other team that is fighting Houston for the worst record in the league.  They have an ineffective four man rotation and the highest payroll among last place teams this season.  I guess they’re borrowing a page from the Miami Marlins, New York Jets and Kardashians this season.  Bad press is better than no press. 

New York Yankees:                        This one just doesn’t make sense.  At the time of the trade deadline, the Yankees starting rotation consisted of C.C. Sabathia (good), Hiroki Kuroda (decent), Ivan Nova (struggling), Phil Hughes (inconsistent) and Freddy Garcia (yikes).  They are hoping to get Andy Petite back for the postseason, but that still would leave them with two question marks in the rotation in Nova and Hughes.  Now that Sabathia is on the DL, that starting rotation is even thinner with youngster David Phelps brought up to start and struggling veteran Derek Lowe joining the team after being cut by Cleveland.  This is not what the Yanks needed.  They have the best offense money can buy, so they may get by in the regular season.  But some recent struggles and a surge by Tampa Bay have seen their lead shrunk from uncatchable to decent sized.  They make it to the playoffs every year, but unless they improve their pitching they will continue to exit in the early rounds.  They claim that they hit just fine against King Felix (he of the perfect game) and Justin Verlander when they faced them in the regular season.  But Oakland’s talented youngsters were able to keep this offense in check for 4 straight games, and they aren’t Verlander.  They will face better pitching in the playoffs, and that pitching will be amped up to win.  The Yankees needed another starting pitcher.  Cliff Lee was available, but they likely blanched at the price tag (though to imagine the Yankees claiming anything is too expensive is laughable).  Ryan Dempster was available at the last minute, and they had a chance to get him.  But they couldn’t pull the trigger.  They are desperate to decrease payroll, but the decrease they have in mind still has them as the highest spending team in the game by a wide margin.  You are what you are Yankees.  And the fact that they ignored that and didn’t acquire a pitcher that they desperately needed makes them losers in the biggest way.

Baltimore Orioles:                        Man, this was tough.  The Orioles have had some surprising success this season.  They didn’t want to overreact and trade away important pieces of their future for a present that may not hold up.  But they needed to do something to take advantage of their hot start.  They’ve had a lot of luck, which points to the idea that they may not be built to do this again in the immediate future.  For that reason, they needed to take advantage of the present.  Unlike the Rays or Blue Jays, they aren’t a few years or pieces away from contending.  They have holes.  And this season was an incredible stroke of luck (as their abysmal run differential shows).  They needed to take advantage.  Instead they brought in 41-year old DH Jim Thome to provide a little extra pop.  They needed a little extra power, but Thome doesn’t have enough in the tank to provide it all.  And he does nothing to address their pitching shortcomings.  The Orioles didn’t want to overpay in a season where they think they are a flash in the pan.  It’s understandable.  But their future success is much less assured than other teams, and the White Sox proved that it’s possible to make short-term moves that won’t hurt you in the future.  I’m not saying it’s easy, but it still needed to be done.

Cleveland Indians:                        This is the prime example of a team that was done in by it’s surprise success this season.  The Indians are playing better than anyone expected.  But let’s not kid ourselves they aren’t a good team.  The Indians are built for the future.  And while that future showed a little of itself this season, they aren’t going to be in the playoffs this year.  They have a great closer who is due a lot of money in arbitration this offseason.  The Indians can’t afford to give him a lot of money.  So instead of sending him to a contender for some good young prospects, they held on to him and got nothing.  The Indians don’t want to think they are out of it, but it’s time to face facts.  They aren’t going anywhere this season, and instead of shopping the best reliever on the market, they held on to him and will have a great closer for the rest of a season that ends just shy of the wildcard.  That's not a winning formula, and it's why they made this list.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Trade Deadline Winners

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.