AL trade market more like a bear market
Bottom-dwellers, not division leaders, make noise at deadline
Around the American League, there were few trade deadline celebrations and many sell-a-thons.The dynamics of the league's division races were altered only slightly, as trading action was bottom heavy. While the Boston Red Sox scored a brilliant replacement for ailing eighth-inning reliever Mike Timlin in Eric Gagne and the Yankees acquired an experienced bat for their bench in Wilson Betemit, most of the trade activity was by also-rans shedding their veterans. This was a case of future impact, best illustrated by the Texas Rangers, who exchanged two established players for eight youngsters who could establish them as an AL West force by the turn of the decade. And, for contenders, there's always the near future. One of the most popular lines emanating from clubhouses that remained unchanged went, "This doesn't mean that we won't do something yet." For playoff-hopeful teams, a harder deadline may be Aug. 31, the last day to add postseason-eligible players. Although deals henceforth will require the involved to first pass through waivers, that usually is not a problem with high-end talent: Teams simply won't step up to inherit a fat contract for the sake of keeping someone away from other teams. However, D-Day belonged to the sellers. In the last week leading up to the deadline, AL teams swung 12 trades; nine of them were by clubs with losing records. And 10 of the transactions were with National League teams, the exceptions being Texas' deal of Kenny Lofton to Cleveland and Gagne to Boston. Two All-Stars, the Twins' Luis Castillo to the Mets and the Rangers' Mark Teixeira to the Braves, were dealt out of the league. And that doesn't even include a pair of A's, who were idle at the deadline but earlier had already shed Milton Bradley and All-Star Jason Kendall, also sent to the NL, to the Padres and the Cubs, respectively. Characteristically, although in a far lower key than usual, the Red Sox and the Yankees exchanged strikes. While the Bombers dealt away bullpen help -- Scott Proctor for Betemit -- the Red Sox added an arm. Gagne had been adamant about wanting to remain a closer for his next team, but willingly waived his no-trade rights for the opportunity to set up on a front-runner. And the Rangers happily converted one of their key offseason gambles into a trio of prospects. Just as, earlier, they grudgingly turned Teixeira (and left-hander Ron Mahay) into five of the Braves' brightest youngsters.
So for Teixeira and Gagne, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels virtually picked up an entire team."It's an exciting day," Daniels summed up after it ended. "We had a decision to make on which way we go. Do we effectively retool the team and keep it together and give it a shot next year again, which is what we did this past season? Or do we take a broader view of the whole thing? Where are we going, and what is the best method for us to get there?" Time is the sole judge and jury on such transactions, but Daniels appears to have taken a couple of good steps toward fixing his big-deal reputation. In less than two years on the job, Daniels had previously traded away Alfonso Soriano, Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka, Billy Killian, Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and Armando Galarraga; only Wilkerson is on the current roster, although, with Gagne's departure, Otsuka could reclaim his closer's role once he comes off the disabled list (elbow inflammation). In the Bronx, Betemit will be able to reprise the all-around reserve role which had made him so valuable in Atlanta and prompted the Yankees to pitch for him at the 2006 trade deadline. The Dodgers prevailed then, but Betemit flopped as their regular third baseman. The Red Sox were able to land Gagne, who has made a convincing return from various injuries that limited him to 16 appearances in 2005-06, because GM Theo Epstein was willing to violate his prior reluctance to buy insurance with high-end prospects. He paid dearly with Kason Gabbard, who was 4-0 as Boston's only left-handed starter until Jon Lester's inspiring return, in addition to Minor League outfielders David Murphy and Engel Beltre. Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro was one of Gagne's suitors who lost out to that package. "That's quite a bit to give up," Shapiro said, "for a guy who's going to pitch in a setup role for them." The battlers in the league's other two divisions kept pace with each other only in their inertia. In the AL Central, neither the Indians nor the Tigers could get an answer for their bullpen needs; although earlier, Shapiro had already added a perennial playoff guy in Kenny Lofton. Western boys Los Angeles and Seattle also maintained the status quo. The Angels were in the scrum for Teixeira, but GM Bill Stoneman knew he would have to overpay Texas to do business with a division rival, and he simply was not willing to do it. "The now is No. 1," Stoneman said. "We're not going to destroy our ability to compete for [a championship] next year or future years just for a shot at now." The Angels couldn't get Teixeira, but just getting him out of the AL enhanced their chances of holding on for the division's title. The Angels have six games remaining with the Rangers, who now will be without a bat that feasts on Halos pitching. In this rivalry, Teixeira had been Texas' answer to Vladimir Guerrero. In 10 earlier games this season between the teams, the first baseman had six extra-base hits, including two homers and six RBIs. Last season, Teixeira lit up Angels pitching for five home runs and 15 RBIs. He's been a chief power source against the Angels throughout his 4 1/2 seasons in Texas with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs. Although this was a day for acting with foresight, some newcomers will take an immediate role with their new clubs. Kyle Davies, acquired by Kansas City from Atlanta for the much-sought Octavio Dotel, will move into the Royals rotation. A considerably experienced big leaguer at 23, who broke into the Majors as part of Atlanta's rookie influx in 2005, the right-hander had 14 wins in 52 appearances for the Braves. General manager J.P. Ricciardi of the Blue Jays, who have been the subject of some of the most prevalent trade rumors and are on the periphery of the AL Wild Card race, reflected the attitude of his brethren. "I'm not going to dismantle this group," Ricciardi said of the club he assembled. "We could bring this club back totally healthy next year, and we could be the guys in first place. "It's a good group and I like our group. I want to go to battle with this group." Ricciardi had spent the previous weeks listening to pitches for Troy Glaus, Alex Rios and some of his younger pitchers. None came close to being moved. Just another reminder that when it comes to trade deadline buzz, shopped and shipped clearly are two different things.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.