Scene shifts from Deadline to real business
Trades came in a rush, with players moving in and players moving out. One day, it was the Dodgers creating buzz. Two days later, it was the Angels stealing the thunder.
The Braves and White Sox made important acquisitions. So did the Rangers, Tigers and Pirates.
The Dodgers punched. The Giants counter-punched. The Cardinals and Reds didn't stand still, either.
These weren't just teams rearranging the furniture in the days and hours leading up to Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Impact players moved the past three weeks. Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. Kevin Youkilis and Ryan Dempster.
When it ended, lineups were deeper, rotations better and bullpens more dependable. Even players who are lesser-known names could have a dramatic impact on the races.
No general manager filled his team's needs better than Atlanta's Frank Wren with the acquisitions of left-hander Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson. Or maybe it was Ken Williams of the White Sox, who was typically aggressive, typically shrewd in getting third baseman Kevin Youkilis, reliever Brett Myers and starter Francisco Liriano in separate deals with the Red Sox, Astros, and Twins, respectively.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels kept his eye on the big picture by holding onto his top prospects while trading for two short-term needs in catcher Geovany Soto and Dempster.
After being swept by the Dodgers last weekend, Giants general manager Brian Sabean made a solid pickup in outfielder Pence.
Some clubs made smaller deals. The Reds tweaked their bullpen with the addition of Jonathan Broxton. The Cardinals did the same by adding reliever Edward Mujica.
With 17 teams within five games of a playoff spot, clubs see these final eight weeks as an opportunity to do something great.
Last season's incredible finish surely had something to do with it, too. The 2011 Cardinals were nowhere around this time last year.
Tony La Russa fretted that his final season might be a losing one. And then his general manager, John Mozeliak, pulled off two splendid deals in the days before the Trade Deadline.
Suddenly, La Russa had a different hand to play with Rafael Furcal, Edwin Jackson and an overhauled bullpen.
La Russa's last rodeo became one of his most satisfying as the Cardinals rushed from 10 1/2 games back with five weeks remaining to capture a playoff berth in the final hours of the regular season.
The Rays did almost the same thing in the American League. Now with so many teams bunched together, general managers and owners see this strange season as an opportunity to do something spectacular.
At this point, your friendly columnist is supposed to lay out the winners and losers. That's easy enough to do, but we really won't know the winners and losers for about three more months.
If Greinke wins the final game of the World Series, it'll be easy to know who won. In the end, that's what all these moves are about.
Interestingly, baseball's hottest team stood pat. The A's have had a 19-4 month despite being near the bottom of the American League.
GM Billy Beane shopped for a bat to support the AL's best pitching staff.
He never found a deal he was comfortable with, so he stayed the course. Maybe he didn't want to tamper with a clubhouse chemistry that has been close to perfect.
It'll also be worth keeping an eye on teams trying to get some big-money players -- Cliff Lee? Alfonso Soriano? -- through waivers, thus allowing them to be traded. Lee and Soriano are two of the players making enough money that they might get through waivers.
With so much movement, it's amazing that the Red Sox and Yankees did so little. General manager Brian Cashman has steered the Yankees toward a more cautious approach, relying on his Minor League system more than free agency.
That philosophy was never on display better than these past few weeks. Even with injuries to Andy Pettitte, Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira, Cashman resisted doing anything earth-shaking.
The Red Sox are in a tough spot. If their big-money players don't perform (as they haven't), it would be difficult to trade them. If they do perform, there wouldn't be a desire to trade them since the Red Sox might be good enough to win a World Series.
Now it's back to business. A year after one of the greatest regular-season endings in history, at least 17 teams see themselves as one hot streak from a World Series. Here's to a great finish.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.