Saturday, August 1, 2009

MLB trade deadline passes, biggest name available goes nowhere

From the moment Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi put ace pitcher Roy Halladay on the trading block, he represented by far the best player available to contenders looking to upgrade their rotations. And with a year left on his deal after this season, the time was now for the Blue Jays to trade Halladay. Any team who acquired the Cy Young-caliber pitcher would pick up a front-line starter who could essentially affect two pennant races, and would hopefully pay a hefty price for a year and a half of his services.

The Phillies were the first team to become heavily invested in the Halladay sweepstakes, but when the Blue Jays demanded top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, outfield prospect Dominic Brown and 26-year-old pitcher J.A. Happ, who has allowed just 29 earned runs in 84.1 innings since moving into the starting rotation in May (3.09 ERA), the Phillies said thanks, but no thanks. Instead, Philadelphia traded four lower-level prospects, keeping both Drabek and Brown, to the Indians for starter Cliff Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco.

Lee was great in his first start for the Phillies, going the distance and allowing just one earned run on four hits. Despite a 7-9 record in Cleveland (thanks to some of the worst run support in baseball), Lee had a 3.14 ERA and an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 107:33. Winning the American League Cy Young award last season was no fluke for Lee, who has proven this season to be one of the more dependable starting pitchers in the league.

In other National League moves, the Cardinals traded three prospects for Matt Holliday (not Halladay) to give Albert Pujols some protection in the lineup. All Holliday has done in his eight games with the Cards is go 17-for-29 with a home run and eight RBI. One of the only knocks I had on the Cardinals entering the second half was a lack of protection for Pujols, and with this trade I think they have entrenched themselves as the favorites in the wide-open NL Central race.

The Brewers could not acquire another starting pitcher behind Yovani Gallardo before the deadline and Felipe Lopez won't have half the impact Holliday will in St. Louis. The Cubs were also unable to make a big splash and despite a hot start to the second half, could fizzle out as the dog days of summer wear on, especially if the aging Alfonso Soriano hits another terrible slump.

The Dodgers still control the NL West and the trade for Orioles closer George Sherrill will only strengthen the back of their bullpen alongside Jonathan Broxton and Ramon Troncoso. The Rockies and Giants have shifted their sights to the Wild Card race, with Colorado acquiring reliever Joe Beimel from the Nationals and the Giants picking up second baseman Freddy Sanchez from the Pirates to improve their middle infield. San Francisco's pitching will keep them in the race until the end, but the Rockies have been playing great baseball in all facets of the game and look to be the favorites to pick up a Wild Card berth.

Turning to the American League, the biggest splash was made by the Red Sox, who were also amidst the Halladay talks for a short period of time before they also decided Toronto's asking price was just too high. Like Philadelphia, they turned to the Indians, who were the biggest sellers at this year's deadline. Boston acquired All-Star Victor Martinez, giving up pitcher Justin Masterson and two prospects. Martinez has split time between catcher and first base this season and should be in the lineup every day, with the only question being at what position. He was hitting .284 with 15 home runs and 67 RBI and will be a welcome addition to a Boston squad that has scored just 61 runs in 14 games since the break, going 6-8 in that span.

The Martinez acquisition makes the AL East even more interesting, as the Yankees made a few moves of their own, but none of the Martinez/Holliday impact. Eric Hinske was acquired from the Pirates at the beginning of July and has had a big impact in a part-time role, slugging five home runs with eight RBI in just 21 at-bats. Hinske has been relieving Nick Swisher in right field, but has the versatility to play both corner infield positions as well.

Jerry Hairston Jr. was also acquired by the Yankees hours before the deadline for catching prospect Chase Weems. Hairston is your typical jack-of-all-trades utility man who can spell A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and any of the New York outfielders on a given day. Hairston is hitting .254 with eight homers and seven steals in 307 at-bats and will allow Joe Girardi to keep his starters fresh heading into the playoffs. With just a 1.5-game lead over Boston in the division, this should be an extremely fun race to watch.

All three AL Central contenders make moves at the deadline, with the Tigers trading for Mariners pitcher Jarrod Washburn, the White Sox getting pitcher Jake Peavy from the Padres, and the Twins acquiring shortstop Orlando Cabrera from Oakland. The Tigers currently lead the division but both Chicago and Minnesota are within two games of first place. I will stick to my pick of the White Sox to win the division, especially if Peavy can return from the disabled list in August like he hopes. Washburn has been a revelation this season for the Mariners, and if he can continue that success in Detroit he gives them a scary rotation along with Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson, while Peavy would join Mark Buehrle and John Danks at the top of the White Sox rotation and make for another great race down the stretch.

The only AL West contender to make a move were the Mariners, who took advantage of the Pittsburgh fire sale to acquire defensive-minded shortstop Jack Wilson and unhappy starting pitcher Ian Snell. Seattle is eight games out of the Wild Card and 9.5 games back of the division-leading Angels, so this seems like more of a value trade than a move to push for the playoffs. Both the Angels and Rangers were quiet at the deadline, and I expect Texas to fall out of contention soon, leaving the Angels alone at the top of the division.

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