July trades reshape division races
Ned Colletti has made a lot of -- to put it more kindly than many people in Southern California do -- questionable decisions during his tenure as the Dodgers general manager. And maybe someday, Thursday's deadline-pushing trade for Manny Ramirez will get lumped into that category.
But for right now, Colletti has pulled off the coup of his GMing career, a trade for a future Hall of Fame slugger that immediately, and perhaps irrevocably, changes the look and feel of the heretofore gutless National League West. With Ramirez in Tinsletown, the Dodgers go from contenders to favorites, from clueless to clued-in. The kicker: It cost them next to nothing to get there.
Ramirez to L.A. is all upside for the Dodgers. Even if Manny reverts to being the Bad Manny -- the one that so clearly wanted out of Boston in the last few weeks that he ripped management, pushed aside an elderly Red Sox employee, alienated teammates, sat out a game with phantom injuries, dogged it in the field (while yukking it up in front of the fans) and slow-poked it down the line -- all the Dodgers have to do is bench the guy. Or release him. They're not paying him a dime. (The Red Sox, in their haste to wash their hands of Bad Manny, are picking up the $7 million remaining on his 2008 salary.)
In fact, there is every reason to believe that we'll see nothing but the Good Manny in Chavez Ravine. Ramirez will use these last two months of the regular season -- and any postseason that the Dodgers can muster up -- to show that he not only is still a formidable offensive force (his career OPS is .999, and if he's slowed down any lately, it's only slightly) but a fan-friendly, teammate-loving, loyal L.A. employee. His free-agency goal -- said to be at least a four-year deal worth at least $20 million a year -- rides on it.
Manny being Manny? In these next couple of months, Manny will be practically angelic.
With Ramirez in the lineup, the Dodgers don't have to worry about handing out playing time to Andruw Jones or Juan Pierre, two of Colletti's more expensive and most noticeable flops. With Ramirez clobbering home runs, even in spacious Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers -- 15th in the 16-team NL in homers -- now have a legitimate bat to go with emerging sluggers Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier and still-capable veteran second baseman Jeff Kent.
Does this single move make the Dodgers world beaters, or even World Series material? Probably not. But it gives them more oomph and more chance to get there than the Diamondbacks, their main competition in the West. And it gives Colletti a little more time to make up for the things he didn't get right.
Here's a look at how the July trades have reshaped the division races:
All the Dodgers gave up for Ramirez was infielder Andy LaRoche and minor league pitcher Bryan Morris, both of whom landed in Pittsburgh in the three-team swap with Boston. It was a brilliant trade by Colletti, made possible by the sheer desperation of Boston in ridding itself of Bad Manny.
Ramirez will join the other July acquisition, former Cleveland third baseman Casey Blake, in a beefier L.A. lineup. Blake is no bomber, but he had 11 home runs with the Indians. That would have ranked him second in the Dodgers' lineup.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks, in refusing to deal youngsters away for hitting help (notably, they held onto Conor Jackson when Atlanta offered Mark Teixeira), are left with virtually the same team that they had two months ago (though now with part-time first baseman Tony Clark). That team, by the way, is 27-36 since May 18.
The other slacker in this so-called division race is Colorado. The Rockies, fooled into thinking in the last week or so that they could win the West, held onto both highly sought-after lefty reliever Brian Fuentes and slugger Matt Holliday, neither of whom will be with the team for much after this year, if at all. Memo to the Rockies: You weren't in the race this week. You sure aren't in it now.
The Brewers tightened things up earlier in July with the trade for former Cleveland ace CC Sabathia. The Cubs answered with a deal for former Oakland righty Rich Harden (and underrated bullpen arm Chad Gaudin). And then the Cubs really fired back with a four-game sweep of the Brewers this week, opening up a five-game cushion over Milwaukee.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, talked with a lot of teams about deals that would have made them better, but they'll ride with what they have, making only one, hardly notable trade before the deadline. They are hoping that Chris Carpenter, who pitched Wednesday for the first time in more than a year, will be a boost to their rotation, along with Adam Wainwright, who's due to return soon. It's a lot of hoping while the rest of the contenders are actually doing something.
Next to the Cardinals, the Pirates looked like Macy's on Christmas Eve. The Bucs got prospects from the Yankees for reliever Damaso Marte and outfielder Xavier Nady. Their big haul, though, came from trading outfielder Jason Bay, who ended up replacing Manny in Boston. Pittsburgh landed four legit young players -- LaRoche and Morris from L.A., Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss from Boston -- in dealing Bay. The folks in Pittsburgh should be ecstatic. It'll take time to rebuild, but the Pirates now finally look committed to doing it.
The other big trade in the division was a hummer, too; Cincinnati sending Ken Griffey Jr. to the White Sox on Thursday. This was a mercy release and nothing else, a chance to give Griffey -- who has had a rough time in his hometown, made rougher recently by run-ins with a fan and Reds' analyst Jeff Brantley -- another chance at a postseason. He hasn't been there since 1997.
Finally, the Astros made some moves, too, including prying pitcher Randy Wolf from the Padres. Why? The hopelessly out-of-it Astros are a mystery.