Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone. What's different today? Not much, actually. In the American League the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers are still going to make the postseason, as will the Braves, Phillies and Giants (probably) in the National League. This we knew and still know. A few teams did nothing at the deadline. Some teams punted on 2011 and collected prospects, which is great but amounts to zero for the next two months. Some contenders picked up marginal pieces that will serve as mortar between established franchise bricks. Heath Bell, B.J. Upton and Hiroki Kuroda didn't go anywhere. So where do we find the biggest alterations as we scan the baseball landscape here on August 1?
THE AL WEST. The Rangers have won the division. Not only that, they made themselves a team that will be very difficult to beat in the postseason. While the Angels did nothing, Texas instantly turned every game into a six-inning affair with the acquisitions of Koji Uehara and Mike Adams. Uehara simply gets people out. He's been under the radar in Baltimore but his 7.75 K/BB ratio is best among all AL relievers and his 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings is fifth-best among AL relievers. In his 92 innings of work over the past two seasons, Uehara has struck out 119 and walked only 13. Adams was the eighth-inning piece of a Padres relief corps that fell just one win shy of carrying San Diego and its anemic offense into the playoffs last season. Now, a Rangers bullpen that had been weakened by Alexi Ogando's move to the rotation and was lagging near the bottom of the American League rankings, is instantly one of the best in baseball.
THE INDIANS. On May 23 Cleveland was 30-15. Injuries then shot holes in its offense but instead of saying, "Well, we gave it a shot" and promising a brighter future, GM Chris Antonetti dealt part of that future to the Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez. They're in it -- not for later, but for right now. That's the biggest change in Cleveland: the attitude and approach to THIS season. Yes, it's a gamble. Accuscore simulated 10,000 seasons and projected the Tribe's postseason chances as increasing from 16.9 percent to 22.7 percent with the Ubaldo acquisition. Yes, there are concerns. The Rockies have insisted Jimenez is healthy despite an average fastball velocity that dropped from 96 mph in 2009 and 2010 to 93.2 mph this season. In Colorado, Jimenez went from the ace who finished third in the NL Cy Young voting to the Ferrari that's always in the shop. His mechanics were a mess and he went 0-5, 5.86 in his first nine starts this season with a 1.52 WHIP. He's been inching closer to his previous form lately: 6-4, 3.48 combined in June and July with 71 hits and 73 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. With Ubaldo in the rotation and rookies Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis debuting in the infield there is juice again in Cleveland, which begins August only 1 game over .500 but just 2.5 games back in the AL Central.
THE CARDINALS' DEFENSE. It's been, to be kind, poor this season: a -25 Defensive Runs Saved mark that ranks 12th in the NL. Replacing Ryan Theriot at shortstop with Rafael Furcal is a start. At the time of his acquisition from the Dodgers, Furcal had a -2 Defensive Runs Saved rating in 304.1 innings. Theriot's DRS in 743 innings was a staggering -14, worst among shortstops in 2011. Furcal had a +7 mark over the previous three seasons combined. Yes, the trade of Colby Rasmus to Toronto actually does make St. Louis better defensively in center field as well. Rasmus' Defensive Runs Saved rating was -1, meaning his defense had cost the Cardinals one run compared to an average center fielder. Jon Jay, who now figures to get the bulk of the work in center, had 10 Defensive Runs Saved split between all three outfield spots, including +6 in centerfield. Jay's +10 DRS ranks tied for eighth-best among all major league outfielders.
HUNTER PENCE. He's gone from a virtual one-man show in Houston to an ensemble cast in Philadelphia where he got a standing ovation as he ran out to his new right field position at Citizens Bank Park Saturday and another one when he strolled up for his first at-bat in a Phillies uniform. Here, he'll simply blend into the team's personality and not be the face of the franchise on the media guide cover. Pence is the right-handed bat Philadelphia's lineup has been crying out for all season; the Phillies' OBP against left-handed pitching is just .308, tied for 24th in the majors. Their .356 slugging percentage against lefties ranks 25th. The Phillies' corner outfield defense has been horrific with Domonic Brown and Raul Ibanez combining for -18 Defensive Runs Saved. Since 2010, Pence ranks fifth among all right fielders with 12 Defensive Runs Saved. Pence's role on the team and his fit in the Phillies' lineup represents the biggest change in the NL East. Yes, Michael Bourn is a great addition to the Braves, but Atlanta's biggest question is arguably the health and production of Chipper Jones, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla. If those three aren't active contributors to the Braves' offense it marginalizes the trade for Bourn. There are no such concerns in Philadelphia.
THE ASTROS. Not only did Houston deal Pence, Bourn and Jeff Keppinger at the deadline, GM Ed Wade came up with a surprise last-minute punch line by sending the Astros' two young corner infielders, Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson, down to Triple-A. That makes five starters gone from the roster in less than two weeks. The Astros didn't take a step backward, they took a step back off the edge of the Grand Canyon. The only major league player they acquired at the deadline, Jordan Schafer from the Braves, is injured and won't be able to play for about 10 days. Still more Astros could be on the next bus out of Houston. Wandy Rodriguez is owed at least $25.5 million over the next two seasons and could still be moved through waivers. The same goes for Brett Myers, who's owed at least $14 million after this year. The Astros have picked up 10 players and prospects while trimming payroll to get ready for new ownership to come in and take over. From the very top of the organization to the very bottom, the Astros are essentially calling a do-over.
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