It isn't every year that the baseball trading deadline comes crashing down in the middle of the Summer Olympics. But as all you mad clicker aficionados are well aware, those two awesome sporting worlds did indeed collide this year, in the last week of July.
So after a thrilling sprint to the deadline finish in which Ryan Dempster, Hunter Pence and Jonathan Broxton all changed teams but Matt Garza, Abby Wambach and Misty May-Treanor never did, we're doing our annual Deadline Winners and Losers column Olympic style -- by handing out the gold, silver and bronze in each category.
Gold Medal: Los Angeles Dodgers
We knew this was coming. From the moment the Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten/Guggenheim triumvirate bailed this franchise out of bankruptcy court, we knew this would be the time when the whole sport would begin to feel the tremors of the Dodgers' newfound fortune.
Well, you don't need a Richter scale to feel them now, do you? True, the Dodgers never could find a way to finish off their week-and-a-half pursuit of Ryan Dempster. But GM Ned Colletti still was able to alter the landscape of the National League West -- by adding Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Randy Choate and Brandon League without giving up either of his two elite pitching prospects, Allen Webster and Zach Lee.
"I think the Dodgers did enough to win the West," one NL executive said. "I liked every move they made."
But for these ingenious moves to work the way they're supposed to, the key is the enigmatic Ramirez. He turned off everyone who tried to help or care about him in Miami. But now, said an executive of one club, "he gets to take off his mask" in L.A., start over and use the next two months to prove the greatness once predicted for him is still in there.
Silver Medal: Los Angeles Angels
You never know, at the time, which deadline deal will change the course of baseball events more than any other. So maybe it will turn out that Paul Maholm or Edward Mujica will make a bigger impact on the 2012 stretch drive than Zack Greinke.
But we can't assess that now. All we can assess is who was out there and what was at stake and which teams found a way to trade for what they needed. And it's this simple:
There wasn't any pitcher on this market who has better stuff or gives a team more hope that he can win a huge game pretty much by himself than Greinke. So new Angels GM Jerry Dipoto understood from the start that this was the deal he had to make -- then made it happen, in not much more than 24 hours.
There's a potential downside, obviously. Maybe the Angels won't get Greinke signed long term, although that's their goal. Maybe Southern California will turn out to be a bad fit, although we can't imagine why. And maybe this will turn out all wrong.
But as one GM pointed out Tuesday, what put this acquisition over the top is the context of which team the Angels outmaneuvered in order to trade for this man at all.
"It wasn't just that the Angels got better," he said. "It's that Texas got hurt."
Another factor to file away here: It's possible, this year only, that one of the five American League playoff teams will be forced to play five days in a row during the postseason, because of the way baseball had to jam the new playoff format into the calendar. Is there any team better built to capitalize on that schedule glitch than the Angels, with their formidable five-deep rotation? Of course not. So we officially rest our case.
Maybe you can separate these two teams. But we couldn't. So we're allowing them both to hang out on the medal stand.
The Tigers made only one deal -- but it was the kind of trade that cemented GM Dave Dombrowski's reputation as one of the best deal-makers around. He wasn't afraid to send a top-of-the-rotation talent, Jacob Turner, to Miami. But in return, he filled both of his team's two most vital needs: a swing-and-miss veteran starter (Anibal Sanchez) and a dependable, professional, second-base upgrade (Omar Infante). Brilliant.
The White Sox, meanwhile, did what they seem to do this time every year: They listen to everybody spout off about how they have no prospects to trade and no money to spend. Then they make some of the best deals out there to be made. Well, maverick GM Kenny Williams did it again -- reeling in Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano at shockingly low prices. Listen to how his peers talked about him:
"I think Kenny Williams was the star of the deadline," one AL executive said. "He gives up nothing. He's not eating money. And he's getting all these guys who can really help him."
"Kenny just keeps going," said an NL exec. "He's relentless at what he does. He keeps it moving. And he doesn't like taking no for an answer."
Nipped at the Tape: Giants, Reds and Braves.
Gold Medal: Philadelphia Phillies
We got an email late Tuesday afternoon from one of the most thoughtful people we know in baseball -- a guy who, by the way, doesn't live in or have any significant connection to Philadelphia. The entire contents of the email went like this: "What the [heck] are the Phillies doing?"
We understand that when "dynasties" fall, it's never pretty. We also understand that, at times such as this, hard decisions need to be made and wrecking balls need to be swung. So maybe the Phillies had no choice but to begin the difficult process of moving on, replenishing their prospect pool and dumping enough payroll to avoid the luxury tax. But ...
What the heck? When the rubble had settled from their stunning trades of Victorino and Hunter Pence, they'd left themselves with three outfield positions they'll need to fill by next season ... they hadn't brought back a single young outfielder or third baseman ... and while they did carve out a little payroll flexibility, they've left themselves with a monumental challenge if they think they can get younger and still assemble a contending nucleus around their rotation next year.
"If they all stay healthy and they put the right pieces in place, I'd say yes they can, because of the pitching," one NL executive said. "But if not, I don't see enough difference-making pieces."
Silver Medal: Miami Marlins
Here's another franchise that spent four months watching a team stumble its way to nowhere and felt it had no choice but to yank out the power cord. So on a baseball level, we completely understand why the Marlins did what they did -- as do many people in the game.
"It was a team that was built to win, and it failed," one exec said. "In the end, it wasn't the right formula. It's like 'The Colonel': If the recipe's not right and you're not selling enough chicken, you've got to change the recipe."
So out the door of this chicken shack went Ramirez, Infante, Anibal Sanchez, Mujica and Gaby Sanchez. And in return, the astute Marlins baseball operation got back some excellent young players -- especially Turner, former Dodgers pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and one-time Cardinals third-base prospect Zack Cox.
But here's our question: At what cost? We've said it 100 times. We'll now say it for the 101st: This was the most important season in Marlins history. And now they've officially blown it to smithereens. No matter how compelling the baseball reasons for that might have been, this team plays in a market in which too few people will take the time to think through the nuances and too many will dismiss it with the words, "Fire sale." And that's trouble. Big trouble.
"I just think they've put themselves in a dangerous situation," said an official of one team. "They've given people there an excuse not to go. And given their history, it may be almost nonrecoverable."
Bronze Medal: Chicago Cubs
They had it all figured out, mapped out, plotted out. Unfortunately, they're still the Cubs.
You won't find two brighter, more prepared people running anyone's baseball teams than Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Unfortunately, they're running the Cubs.
And so, from the cosmic forces that have brought you more than a century's worth of consecutive ticker tape-free seasons, along came the 2012 trading deadline to reel insanely out of control in the most Cub-like manner possible.
The Plan was to trade off Ryan Dempster early, clear the landscape to trade Matt Garza next, and, if all went well, find landing spots for Alfonso Soriano and a bunch of other extraneous parts, too.
Well, The Plan was rolling along just the way it was supposed to -- for about 30 seconds. Then kaboom.
Dempster turned down what looked like a tremendous deal to a team (Atlanta) he'd originally said he'd like to go to. Then Garza got hurt and, ultimately, made himself untradeable. The Dempster negotiations with the Dodgers eventually went from stalled to paralyzed. And the Cubs came within about 10 minutes of getting neither of them traded.
So, in the end, the Cubs found a way to make at least a few deals: Maholm, Reed Johnson, Geovany Soto and the last-minute swap of Dempster to Texas. But what was supposed to be a perfect opportunity to assemble pieces for a brighter tomorrow yielded just one potential star-caliber prospect (former Braves right-hander Arodys Vizcaino) -- and even he just had Tommy John surgery.
And how did it come to that? Not because of human blunders. Just, seemingly, because of Cubs-esque forces beyond anyone's control.
"I've been in the game a long time," one veteran exec said. "And sometimes, even I can't believe the things that happen to the Cubs."
So well said, we should inscribe it on their bronze medal.
Nipped at the Tape: Astros, Orioles and Diamondbacks.