Colletti, Dodgers took best advantage of White Sox fire sale
Slugger Jim Thome enhances the Dodgers' bench, their psyche and their chances
Brad Penny made sense for the Giants, but Jermaine Dye would have, too
The Rockies took a flyer on struggling White Sox starter Jose Contreras
The Dodgers' deadline-day acquisition of slugger Jim Thome wasn't as startling or nearly as significant as their pickup a year earlier of Thome's ex-Indians teammate Manny Ramirez, of course. But those who suggest that it is meaningless are misguided. Thome enhances the Dodgers' bench, their psyche and their chances. Optimistically speaking, he also provides a DH option should L.A. reach the World Series.
In all their dealings this trading season, the Dodgers haven't acted like they are comfortably in front in a surprisingly impressive NL West. They imported solid innings-eater Jon Garland almost simultaneously with Thome, whom GM Ned Colletti on Tuesday correctly called "one of the great home run hitters of all time and one of the great leaders of all time,'' bringing their summer total to five worthwhile acquisitions. Colletti said in an interview on Tuesday that their two main deadline goals were to strengthen their rotation and bench. He has done exactly that with two bold, yet inexpensive strikes.
According to people familiar with the last two deals, Colletti got the trading teams to send over seven-figure inducements in both trades, and though Colletti characterized L.A.'s increase in payroll as being not insignificant (the rise is also in the seven figures), it does appear that a decent amount of the paying will be done by the trading teams. This is the second straight trading season in which the Dodgers have managed to improve their team sharply while keeping to owner Frank McCourt's annual goal to not vastly increase the payroll in-season. The Dodgers' overall payroll of about $100 million still seems unusually low for a major-market team with huge revenue. But the team remains a lot better than its players' collective salaries.
Colletti's knack for negotiation was honed as Giants GM Brian Sabean's first lieutenant for more than a decade, and Colletti's greatest attribute in recent years has been the patience to wait for the right deal. He did the same this winter, waiting for the bottom to fall out of the market before pouncing and picking up solid starter Randy Wolf for $5 million and multitalented second baseman Orlando Hudson for $3.38 million guaranteed, deals that seem so low that they are potential exhibits in the players union's collusion investigation.
Colletti took advantage of surprisingly thin markets for Thome and especially Garland, who was 3-1 with a 3.89 ERA in August (the Rockies and Yankees showed some interest in him), reworking 20 percent of his first-place team's roster this trading season. On their side of the ledger, in addition to Thome and Garland, are also starter Vicente Padilla, infielder Ronnie Belliard and reliever George Sherrill, plus cash amounting to at least two million bucks. Leaving L.A. were prospects Josh Bell, Steven Johnson, Luis Garcia and Justin Fuller, plus two players to be named later. Padilla has already contributed, and while there were questions about his ability to get along with others in Texas, his talent was never in question. Since Heath Bell stayed put in San Diego, Sherrill turned out to be maybe the best reliever to change teams.
The White Sox's last-minute decision to attempt to unload a few veterans with hefty salaries altered deadline day for the entire NL West, as the Rockies and Giants are locked below the Dodgers in the best race of the year and more desperate for immediate help. (Like the Dodgers, the Rockies took advantage of White Sox GM Ken Williams' offer, but the Giants did not.) Williams e-mailed notice of his intention to wheel and deal on Monday afternoon to "selected'' clubs (no, not the Royals or Mets), and found a taker for struggling veteran pitcher Jose Contreras as well as all-time good guy Thome.
When he saw Thome's name on the list of available ChiSox, Colletti acted immediately. The two men were soon speaking about the veteran's stomach to become mostly a bench player, and while Thome told Colletti he wasn't confident in his first-base play, he anxiously waived his no-trades rights to go to a bona fide contender, reinforcing Colletti's belief in Thome's persona and obvious will to win.
The Dodgers also have done a pretty nice job of protecting the jewels of an ultra-productive farm system in their dealings, and the only regrettable inclusion to date in the dozens of deals that Colletti has made in Los Angeles was pitcher Edwin Jackson, who developed late and was later traded by the Rays for spare outfielder Matt Joyce (top catching prospect Carlos Santana, who went to Cleveland for Casey Blake, may also develop into something special). Colletti's main charge, though, has been to improve his roster at mid-year without taking on significant financial obligations, and last year's deals for Ramirez and Blake that cost the Dodgers nothing in terms of dollars are a classic example of L.A. importing significant talent without paying. On a somewhat lesser scale, he's done it again this summer.
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