Deadline deals reshape division races (cont.)
Has anyone seen the Mets around here? After all the talk, the Mets are left to rely on the same group of mokes that gathered in Port St. Lucie in spring training. They may be good enough to win the division. They're definitely good enough to stay in the race until, say, the last 17 games of the season. The top of the East, after all, is not anywhere near as good as the top of the Central.
Can they get past the Phillies? A trade for former Oakland pitcher Joe Blanton was a step up for the Phils, but not a big one. Again, the Phillies will have to rely on what won them the division last year; big hitting from the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell (who survived a lot of rumors and will stay) and Jimmy Rollins.
The Marlins made a lot of noise in the hours leading up to Thursday's deadline. They were major players in the Ramirez Sweepstakes and were evidently very close to getting him at one point. In the end, though, they only managed to get a lefty reliever, Arthur Rhodes, from Seattle. In the end, they probably won't have enough to stick with the Mets and Phillies in maybe the least-affected division in the game.
The biggest players in the East, strangely enough, were the ones who gave up. The Braves, sellers for the first time in way more than a decade, sent first baseman Mark Teixeira to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and a prospect, Stephen Marek. In the process, the Braves found a first baseman for the next few years, identified what they need next year and cemented a third straight non-playoff season.
Before all the trade hysteria set in, the Angels had all that they needed to cruise through the regular season. What they needed was a power bat for the postseason, and in Teixeira, they have it. With a middle of the lineup that includes Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Garret Anderson and Teixeira, this figures to be one tough team after September. The Angels are now, if they weren't before, the clear class of the American League.
The other big shaker in the West was Oakland. The A's decided to stir their present to build their future, trading away Blanton (to the Phillies) and Harden (to the Cubs) and stocking up with players who -- if Billy Beane's track record means anything -- will play an integral part in bringing Oakland back to the top of the West sooner, rather than later.
The Rangers, surprising in their spunkiness this season (they're above .500), didn't make any trades in July, but they have been stockpiling talent and if they ever find some decent pitching, will be a team that can at least make the Angels look back once in a while.
The disappointment of the division -- not surprisingly -- was Seattle, a team that badly needs a makeover but was stymied because of an interim general manager who may have had his hands tied at the trading deadline. The Mariners talked about moving pitcher Jarrod Washburn (to the Yankees), third baseman Adrian Beltre (to the Twins), pitcher Erik Bedard (no takers) and outfielder Raul Ibanez (to several places). All they did in July was release the disappointing Richie Sexson, who was then picked up by the Yankees, and send reliever Rhodes to the Marlins. Nobody in a right mind would pick the Mariners to compete in '09 without a blockbuster winter.
It was a strange move, the White Sox trading for Griffey. But the cost was ridiculously low (right-hander Nick Masset, infielder Danny Richar and the few million that the Reds don't pick up in the remainder of Griffey's contract). And with no production from first baseman Paul Konerko, any added power in the lineup will help.
Griffey, evidently, will play center field, which should be an adventure with his balky hamstrings and aging bones. Nick Swisher will vacate that spot and probably take Konerko's spot at first.
All in all, that move shouldn't scare the Twins too much. But the Twins didn't make any deadline moves at all, so there's probably not much of a power shift in the division. That may not happen until, and unless, the Twins finally bring up lefty Francisco Liriano and stick him in the rotation. Now there's a difference-maker.
The Tigers, playing catch-up all season, talked a lot but made only one move: Trading their catcher, Pudge Rodriguez, to the Yankees for reliever Kyle Farnsworth. The trade made sense. The Tigers needed a reliever to set up Fernando Rodney. They can live with Brandon Inge at catcher. Rodriguez was soon to be a free agent.
But losing Pudge, a true professional, may hurt this team in some intangible ways. Certainly, the move won't propel the Tigers over the top. Only a much-improved bullpen -- Detroit's 4.26 bullpen ERA in the first half was better only than Cleveland and Texas -- is going to do that. And getting Farnsworth doesn't constitute getting much better.
The East outlook only turned murkier in the last few days. Boston ridded itself of the Bad Manny headache. But it also lost his production, which Bay alone can't replace. (Though, in that park, the very capable Bay will do all right.)
The Yankees added all sorts of important pieces, including Nady and Marte and Pudge. And they added a less-important piece in Sexson. But they whiffed in trying to pull Washburn, a much-needed pitcher, away from the Mariners.
Are they better? Probably. Enough to get over the top? Well, let's not go that far just yet.
And then there's poor Tampa Bay. The Rays tried to get Bay. They tried to get all sorts of help. And in the franchise's first meaningful chance at adding instead of subtracting at the deadline, the Rays ended up with bupkus. Or nothing more, anyway.
So far, the Rays have managed to build a three-game lead in the division with the talent they have on hand. But will that be enough in a division with the slightly improving Yankees and the now Manny-less Red Sox?
We'll get to those answers in August and September.