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Key trades reboot the pennant races
As the clock struck four on Sunday afternoon, the rumors stopped. The keyboard clacking became a little less frantic. The telecommunications fog lifted from each clubhouse in the major leagues.
And we were left with the best part of any baseball season: the pennant race.
I love trade news as much as anyone else. But I’m quite pleased to point out that the games take precedence from now until October. With that in mind, this week’s Behind the Seams is devoted to how the deadline dealings affected each divisional race.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
No deals in the Bronx? Really? Did Brian Cashman lose his cell phone?
I picked the Yankees to win the American League, in part because I expected Cashman to upgrade the pitching staff at precisely this point in the season. It’s shocking that he didn’t. Whatever it would have taken to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez, Wandy Rodriguez or Doug Fister, he wasn’t willing to pay it.
Clearly, Cashman thinks highly of the organization’s top prospects: pitchers Ivan Nova, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, along with catcher Jesus Montero. Nova has shown that he has the goods to compete in the AL East. We’ll see about the others.
Cashman has his reasons for not making a deal. Since he’s won multiple World Series, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. But right now, the Yankees’ postseason rotation seems destined to include CC Sabathia and others who are either unreliable (A.J. Burnett/Phil Hughes) or injury risks (Bartolo Colon/Freddy Garcia).
In other words: On Opening Day 2012, Joe Girardi still will wear No. 28.
Of course, the Red Sox didn’t exactly have a Trade Deadline Laser Show. They acquired the oft-injured starter Erik Bedard from the Mariners and added utility man Mike Aviles in a deal with Kansas City.
With Clay Buchholz on the disabled list and Bobby Jenks a non-factor, I thought the Sox needed to do more with their rotation and bullpen. But if Buchholz returns at full strength in August, then Boston is well-positioned to win this division.
That means two things: 1) They still have a negligible chance to win the division; and 2) there will be no shortage of Upton and Shields trade rumors in November and December.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Detroit traded for Fister. Cleveland traded for Jimenez. The division race may be decided by which of them performs better during the season’s final two months.
While Jimenez has the bigger name, Fister actually has been more effective this season. He has an ERA+ of 111, compared to 101 for Jimenez. We know that Jimenez has better stuff than Fister. But Fister is having the better year — so far.
Jimenez has been (and can be) a true No. 1 starter, which the Indians have lacked. In fact, Cleveland has the worst rotation ERA of any AL contender. If the Indians wanted to make a serious run at the division title, it was imperative that first-year GM Chris Antonetti acquire a top-end starter.
He did, albeit at a high cost, and now Cleveland has a chance against a more talented Detroit team.
The White Sox, meanwhile, traded away Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen in the name of saving money. That’s a perfectly legitimate reason, but it won’t help them win the division. If Phil Humber continues his second-half fade, it’s doubtful that Chicago will be able to keep up with the Tigers and Indians.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
For Texas, the additions of Mike Adams (from San Diego) and Koji Uehara (from Baltimore) certainly improve the team’s chances of winning a race that is too close to call. An erratic bullpen kept the Rangers from running away with the division during the first 100 games. Now they’re locked in a fight with the Angels that won’t end until late September.
Angels general manager Tony Reagins had a bumpy offseason — remember Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford? — but he deserves a pass here. His team has the best record in the AL since the middle of June. There’s something to be said for not disrupting a roster that has excelled for six weeks.
The Angels have the AL’s best rotation ERA. That counts for something. But the task of coming back against the Rangers — in games and in the season overall — just got tougher.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Each team added an outfield bat — first Philadelphia (Hunter Pence), then Atlanta (Michael Bourn). Pence gives the Phillies the right-handed power bat they’ve lacked since Jayson Werth departed as a free agent. Bourn is the Braves’ first true leadoff man in years.
We could nitpick and say that that Braves preferred a right-handed hitter, and Bourn bats from the left side. But the fact remains that Atlanta general manager Frank Wren procured the outfield upgrade that his team badly needed, and he did so without surrendering an arm from the quartet of Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino and Mike Minor.
More than ever, an intra-division National League Championship Series looks possible.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
As with their play this season, the defending champion Reds were quieter than expected at the trade deadline.
Not so with the surprising Pirates, who landed a pair of valuable veteran bats: Derrek Lee from the Orioles and Ryan Ludwick from the Padres. I’m not sure if Pittsburgh’s pitching will hold up long enough for the team to reach the playoffs. But at the very least, the franchise’s first winning season in nearly two decades looks more realistic than a few days ago.
Of equal importance, the deals sent an important message to the fan base about ownership’s commitment to winning.
I still expect the division champion to be Milwaukee or St. Louis, with the Brewers having won six straight through Sunday. What was true in March is true in August: If Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum pitch like top-of-the-rotation starters, the Brewers should have more than enough offense to make the playoffs.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Breaking news: Brian Sabean likes to add veteran players down the stretch.
The Giants’ biggest splash was acquiring Carlos Beltran from the Mets — a trade that, superficially, was a perfect fit: The best available power hitter went to the NL contender with the most glaring need for outfield sock.
Not content to stop with the 34-year-old Beltran, Sabean dealt for 36-year-old infielder Orlando Cabrera on Saturday night. Cabrera can’t move like he once did, but he is known for annual October appearances. Along with Jeff Keppinger — obtained from Houston earlier in July — Cabrera should help the Giants’ injury-riddled infield.
It’s hard to say that Arizona has an excellent chance to catch San Francisco in the division, particularly without shortstop Stephen Drew, who's on the DL. But the Diamondbacks, much like the Pirates, are demonstrating that postseason appearances, not winning records, are the ultimate goal.
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