07/31/08 9:42 PM ET
Deadline swaps mirror playoff races
Jockeying contenders strike monumental deals to keep pace
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Let the races begin. Rather, let them accelerate, following a Trade Deadline episode that may not have been as crowded as many in the past, but certainly was more monumental than most.After all, it isn't every week that three potential Hall of Famers change uniforms in two days. In quick succession, Ivan Rodriguez went from Detroit to the Bronx, Ken Griffey Jr. from Cincinnati to Chicago's South Side, and Manny Ramirez from Beantown to Tinseltown. Whew. Places, everyone. When all the movers and shakers and rumormongers were done, the Majors' contenders were set to shift gears from pace to race. The expanded "trading season," including the weeks leading up to Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, impacted every contested division. That excuses the AL West. Barring a calamity, we will have to wait two months to evaluate one of the headlining moves. With the Angels propped on a sizable cushion atop the division, first baseman Mark Teixeira came wrapped in a package labeled "Deliver in October." Since winning the World Series in 2002, the Angels have been offensively shackled in going 4-12 in postseason games. They scored a total of 29 runs in those losses, while batting a cumulative .191 (74-for-387). Teixeira, sandwiched by Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter in the middle of the Angels' new order, could be the solution. The Angels appear to have already taken care of AL West business, again, with a double-digit lead before August.
Aware of his new team's in-season successes, Teixeira said, "A World Series, for me, would make this trade successful."Other teams were more concerned with reinforcements to help survive dogfights raging everywhere else. The Dodgers were the big winners in that regard. Ramirez's bat jolts a lineup that has been shut out eight times and held to one run 21 other times. Los Angeles' earlier deal for third baseman Casey Blake was nearly as important, fortifying the impression that, in a duel of evenly-matched teams, the Dodgers pulled rank on the D-backs, whose key offensive addition was Tony Clark. "He's one of the best [No. 4 or 5] hitters in baseball," Dodgers manager Joe Torre had said about Ramirez on Wednesday. "It doesn't make sense to me [that he would be available]." In their end of the three-way deal that also involved the Pirates, the Red Sox got their first option to fill Ramirez's left-field shoes. Jason Bay won't rake like Manny, but has hit 136 homers with 440 RBIs the past 4 1/2 years, and is nearly seven years younger than the 36-year-old he is replacing. Big as their one salvo was, this time, the Red Sox could not keep up with the Yankees, who added some serious octane to their revved-up charge. Rodriguez's bat, arm and smarts have already proven invaluable in Florida and Detroit. The Yankees now have arguably the league's two best arms behind the plate, and Jose Molina and Rodriguez are just the ones to rein the running Angels should the teams again meet in the postseason. However, to get Pudge, the Yankees had to sacrifice Kyle Farnsworth, and thus move on to their third eighth-inning setup man of the season, Joba Chamberlain having earlier been pried loose for the rotation. Yankees GM Brian Cashman knows it was risky, asking Joe Girardi to hand the eighth-inning ball either to impressive rookie Edwar Ramirez or Damaso Marte, who was acquired along with outfielder Xavier Nady from the Pirates last week. Even with most of their catching now entrusted to Brandon Inge, their former third baseman, the Tigers feel Farnsworth's impact on a leaky bullpen enhances their chances of leapfrogging the stay-pat Twins and running down the White Sox in the AL Central. On Chicago's South Side, Griffey joins a club set at his positions, with an outfield of Carlos Quentin, Nick Swisher and Jermaine Dye, and Jim Thome, also a left-handed hitter, as the primary DH. White Sox GM Ken Williams will let manager Ozzie Guillen sort it out on a day-to-day basis. "Ozzie has the opportunity to field his best team -- offensively and defensively -- over the next two months," Williams said, "and this gives us the chance to keep some of our middle-of-the-order hitters fresh and producing down the stretch." While unclear where Griffey will play, it is obvious when he hopes to play: Deep in October. He has his shot at avoiding being the Ernie Banks of his generation -- great but a World Series no-show. The White Sox, leading the AL Central with a record of 60-46, instantly become the best team of Griffey's 20-year career, previously split between Seattle and Cincinnati. All those seasons, Griffey has played on only six marginally winning teams and, up to the minute, has spent his career 144 games below .500. His only postseason exposures came with the 1995 and '97 Mariners, who split the two Division Series and were knocked out of the '95 ALCS by the Indians. The Marlins missed out on Ramirez, but acquired left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes from Seattle, which made more sense for them, anyway. Florida already leads the Majors in homers (151 through Wednesday's games), so another bat could have been window dressing. But a veteran reliever with pennant-race experience is an obvious upgrade. While missing out thus far on a left-hander for their bullpen, the Phillies did add an innings-eater, Oakland Opening Day starter Joe Blanton, to their rotation two weeks ago. Such high-profile midseason moves don't come with guarantees. History is the evidence of that, but so are current events. The Milwaukee Brewers had kicked trading season into high gear on July 7 with their costly (three prime prospects) acquisition of reigning AL Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia from the Indians. On that date, the Brewers were four games out of the NL Central lead. While Sabathia certainly has not disappointed (going 4-0), the Brewers are five games out after a sweep by the Cubs was finished off by their own trade-mart response, Rich Harden.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.