7/29/2013 5:32 P.M. ET
Seemingly minor deals can have postseason impact
Braves, Tigers traded for bullpen arms that may be difference-makers in fall
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
They weren't major trades, but then the Tigers and Braves weren't looking to do anything major. Two good teams got better on Monday. For Atlanta general manager Frank Wren and his longtime friend, Detroit's Dave Dombrowski, it was a good day at the ranch. That's the bottom line.
Beyond that, these are the types of trades that can look plenty significant in the postseason when managers Jim Leyland of the Tigers and Fredi Gonzalez of the Braves have an extra bullpen option.
Right-hander Jose Veras, acquired by the Tigers from the Astros for outfield prospect Danry Vasquez and a player to be named, can pitch the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. He was a capable closer for the Astros this season, but will likely be used to help get the ball into the hands of new Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit.
With Benoit having settled nicely into that role, Detroit's bullpen looks much better than it did a couple of weeks ago. Every area of concern is magnified on a club in which anything less than a championship is a disappointment, but the Tigers took a step in the right direction.
They've got baseball's highest-scoring offense and a solid rotation. The Tigers know how to win, too, having survived a close division race last season to get all the way to the World Series.
With the Braves' acquisition of left-hander Scott Downs from the Angels for Minors pitcher Cory Rasmus, Wren improved a bullpen that was already the best in baseball with a 2.62 ERA.
Atlanta's 'pen has survived season-ending injuries to Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, and Downs, along with southpaw Luis Avilan, allow Gonzalez to play the matchup game before sending Jordan Walden and closer Craig Kimbrel to the hill.
While these two trades aren't earth-shaking, let's revisit them after the playoffs to dissect their impact. Dozens of different things must fall into place for a team to win a championship, and these two general managers reminded us on Monday that every roster spot is important.
We may see similar trades leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. That's because even as the pennant races have gained some clarity in the last few days, there doesn't appear to be many big-name players available.
The White Sox are listening to offers for Jake Peavy, but the Phillies seem likely to hold onto Chase Utley and Cliff Lee. Likewise, the Royals are playing so well that they're unlikely to trade Ervin Santana.
The Mariners are in a similar situation. Even with Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales carrying some market value, the Mariners are leaning toward keeping their club intact, hoping to finish above .500 and build momentum for 2014.
Whether these choices are wise is a closing-time discussion. Those who insist that winning 85 games is no different than 75 haven't sat in the same position as Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore or his Seattle counterpart, Jack Zduriencik. A winning record matters.
Some of the most important moves in recent seasons didn't seem significant at the time in which they were made. The Giants added Cody Ross for their 2010 stretch run, and he ended up being a difference-maker.
Last season, San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean picked up Marco Scutaro, who made them better both defensively and strengthened the top of the lineup. In 2011, it was the Cardinals' acquisition of Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski that helped transform a struggling bullpen into an airtight unit.
The difference in talent among baseball's top 10 or 15 teams is so close that playoff berths -- and playoff series -- could come down to the a seemingly minor addition. The Braves and Tigers are already positioned nicely to make the playoffs. On Monday, they became a little more October-ready.
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.