Blockbuster trades not likely this season
With so many clubs in contention, deals currently on hold
In a daring move a year ago, the Milwaukee Brewers, trying desperately to end their 26-year postseason drought, landed left-hander CC Sabathia in a trade with Cleveland.
The results couldn't have been better. Sabathia won 11 of his 17 starts, compiled an uncanny 1.65 ERA and took the Brewers to the playoffs.
Across the country the Los Angeles Dodgers, also needing a lift, orchestrated a three-team deal with Boston and Pittsburgh that brought disgruntled Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez to Hollywood and, yes, the postseason. In 53 games, Manny batted .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs.
Major League Baseball's July 31 Trade Deadline without waivers is five weeks away, but general managers already are laying groundwork for what they hope will be a blockbuster to rival the monumental deals of 2008.
It probably won't happen.
Seldom have deals had as much impact as Sabathia and Ramirez. The Brewers and Dodgers would not have made the postseason without them.
"I don't see anything like those deals being made this year," says New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya. "They both impacted the races. There's no way Milwaukee goes to the playoffs without Sabathia."
Prior to the deadline last year, the Phillies landed Oakland right-hander Joe Blanton, who was 4-0 down the stretch, eating up 70 2/3 innings along the way.
The Phillies, of course, went on to win their second World Series championship and did it primarily because their underrated pitching staff performed better than anyone expected in September. Brad Lidge converted 41 of 41 save opportunities.
I mention this because, as the July 31 Trade Deadline draws closer, the Phillies, out of necessity, are almost desperate for pitching help.
As they completed a three-game series with October's World Series foe, the Tampa Bay Rays, on Thursday night with a jarring 10-4 setback, the Phillies are still atop the National League East by just a half-game and only because their division rivals have also been struggling.
As they head to Toronto for a three-game weekend series, the Phillies have lost eight of their past nine games, including six in a row during a 1-8 homestand.
They need pitching.
Starter Brett Myers is probably out for the season after undergoing hip surgery. Lidge came off the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, while fellow relievers Scott Eyre and Clay Condrey are on the shelf. Left fielder Raul Ibanez is on the DL and last weekend slugger Ryan Howard was twice hospitalized because of acute sinusitis.
Adding to the Phillies' misery, rookie left-hander Antonio Bastardo suffered a strained left shoulder that forced him to leave Thursday night's game against the Rays in the fourth inning.
Their starting rotation consists of Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Blanton and two rookies -- J.A. Happ and Bastardo, who is unlikely to make his next start.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel refuses to play down his need for pitching.
"We need to acquire a horse before the deadline," Manuel said.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has been tirelessly attempting to secure a frontline pitcher -- with little success.
"Right now, there are only four or five teams that legitimately can say they're out of their races," said Amaro. "With the supply and demand at this particular time, I don't see much action happening, particularly with pitching, which is a priority for us."
The Phillies have had interest in Colorado right-hander Jason Marquis, but since the Rockies have gotten back in the National League West race, he probably isn't available. Ditto Boston's Brad Penny. He became valuable to the Red Sox when Daisuke Matsuzaka went on the disable list.
"The number of buyers and the number of sellers isn't even close to equaling each other right now," said Amaro.
And do the Phillies have the young players it will take to land a quality pitcher?
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti agrees that deadline deals this summer will be difficult and that the economy will come into play.
"It's going to be a tough call for a lot of clubs because so many have a chance to win," Colletti said. "They all know their financial wherewithal and their structure. Another factor is what the commitments are going forward -- what has already been guaranteed 2010, 2011, etc."
Colletti likes to point out that, last year, because the Red Sox paid the remainder of Ramirez's 2008 salary, "we ended up getting Manny, Casey Blake, Angel Berroa and Greg Maddux for $500,000."
In addition to Ramirez and Sabathia, Ken Griffey Jr. was traded to the Chicago White Sox, Pudge Rodriguez to the Yankees, Kyle Farnsworth to Detroit and Arthur Rhodes to the Florida Marlins. Getting Jason Bay from Pittsburgh in the Ramriez deal has turned out big for Boston.
The Toronto Blue Jays have lost what manager Cito Gaston calls an entire five-man rotation to injuries since they were leading the AL East. Ten-game winner Roy Halladay tops that list which has forced the Blue Jays to an accelerated youth movement.
Blue Jays GM J. P. Ricciardi doesn't expect help to come from trades.
"I believe people will go down to the last minute on July 31," he says. "You probably won't see a lot of teams outside of the bigger ones -- Yankees, Red Sox -- making any kind of a move early.
"It's difficult now because everybody wants young players. The only thing we have in this game is young players. You have to consider cost effectiveness, and from our point of view, the young players are too valuable to give up. We want to hold on to them.
"Right now, we're on the sidelines looking in. We want to see how we get through June and see where that takes us."
Brewers GM Doug Melvin says it can change overnight, "But I don't sense a lot of activity this year. Too many teams are in the hunt. The Colorado Rockies were out of it, then won 11 in a row. Every club likes to think it can do that and get back in the race."
Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski believes serious discussion seldom heats up until after the All-Star Game.
"As close as teams are in the standings and as tough as the economy is it wouldn't surprise me if deals were made closer to the deadline than at any time ever," he says.
"It's a normal procedure if you're not in a position to win, you're looking at reducing salary, moving veteran players to create room for young players."
Adds Minaya: "I really think there will be some action at the deadline. Right now there are a lot of teams in it and they cannot make a move. With the economy being down there will be some teams wanting to get rid of guys. Other teams won't be able to afford to make a deal for a player because of the economy."
As baseball's ritual of the July 31 deadline approaches I truly wonder if one play can make a difference.
Ramirez and Sabathia were exceptions.
"A good point," says Melvin. "Does one player make a difference? Yes, Sabathia and Ramirez were difference-makers. The question I ask is, 'Will one player make a difference in the way the club is playing right now.'
"One player may not make a major difference, but you have to explore the possibility."
And that's what the deadline deals are all about.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.