Here's all you need to know about the very weird trading deadline of 2013:
• One frustrated general manager, whose team set out to be a buyer, told this story the other day about how little there was to buy this month: "We keep looking at our board and saying, "That's it?"
• We asked an executive of another team Wednesday morning, "Who's going to be the best player traded today before the deadline?" The exec didn't say a word -- for 20 seconds. Finally, he laughed and said, "I think I just answered your question."
Yep. Sure did. And that's how we wound up with one of the strangest, quietest Deadline Days of all time.
Not enough shops hanging the "For Sale" sign. Not much on the shelves. And too many buyers looking around the mall, trying to figure out why that ordinary pair of Levis they hoped to pick up were suddenly priced like they were stitched by Gucci.
"Oh my God," muttered an executive of one team when 4 p.m. ET had passed. "It wasn't just that nothing happened. There was no action. It was boring."
Ah, but let's try to look past the fact that the only three "major" trades on deadline day involved Bud Norris, Ian Kennedy and Justin Maxwell. We count 16 significant deals that were made in July. So when we assess the winners and losers of this deadline, understand that we're counting the totality of the month, not the final hours.
Got it? Great. So here goes:
The deadline winners …
The Red Sox had to come out of this trading season with a better, deeper, more October-ready pitching staff than they started with. And GM Ben Cherington made it happen, adding Jake Peavy, Matt Thornton and Brayan Villarreal without dealing away Xander Bogaerts or any of the best and brightest young players in his system.
The stunner was the inclusion of shortstop Jose Iglesias in the Peavy deal. But in reality, said one executive of another team, the Red Sox sold high on "a guy they felt was probably overvalued in the industry because of his high batting average" and a player they could afford to trade because of Bogaerts and their depth at a premium position.
And among the rotation options that were available for a team with money -- Peavy, Matt Garza and Cliff Lee -- the Red Sox wound up with the guy who best fits their culture, whom they'll also have around for next year and whose cost in cash and prospects represented a steal compared with what it would have cost to reel in Lee.
"And the guy who might turn out to be their unsung [acquisition] was Thornton," one exec said. "He can still throw meaningful innings when you need them."
Every year at the deadline, it never ceases to amaze us how difficult it seems to be for half the GMs in baseball to make a trade -- and how easy Tigers maestro Dave Dombrowski makes it look.
"He did what he always does," one of his admiring peers said of Dombrowski. "He did what he needed to do. Dave is your classic old-school GM. He says, 'I'm going to fill my holes.' And then he did."
He resisted the temptation to overpay, on every level, for a big bullpen name like Jonathan Papelbon, and instead reeled in Jose Veras to set up for Joaquin Benoit. And with his shortstop, Jhonny Peralta, in danger of disappearing down the Biogenesis sinkhole, Dombrowski roared in quietly at the last minute and traded for Iglesias, a massive defensive upgrade for an infield in serious need of a massive defensive upgrade.
"I know everybody wanted them to go get some big name to pitch the back end of the game," one NL executive said. "But if they lose Peralta and they don't have a guy like this to replace him, that's just as big. I thought they got exactly what they needed. And I know they actually wanted more [bullpen] pieces and tried like hell to get one. But they've already done well. And I'm sure they'll be shopping that waiver wire next month."
For the most part, this deadline was paralyzed by sellers who weren't sure what they wanted to sell or when to sell it. But not Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's Cubs. They had a plan -- to get out in front of the rest of the industry and methodically carry out a critical sell-off of marketable parts. And they pulled it off masterfully.
While so many other sellers got swallowed up by indecision and the usual pre-deadline chaos, the Cubs got reasonable returns for a group of players they had no qualms about moving (Scott Feldman, Alfonso Soriano, Scott Hairston and even Carlos Marmol). And they got an excellent package for Garza (highlighted by pitching prospect C.J. Edwards and power third-base bat Mike Olt), in a market where almost all the other rent-a-players out there turned out to have virtually no selling power whatsoever.
"I really liked the pieces they got back for Garza," said one exec. "We really liked C.J. Edwards. Like the arm. Like the stuff. Chance to be a No. 3 starter. And I think Olt fits perfect for them. You put Olt and [Anthony] Rizzo on the corners, and you've got those corners taken care of. … With what they added, I think they sped up their clock. So one of these days, watch out."
But what that same exec said he admired most was how proactive this group was. "It was very Theo-ish," he said. "He doesn't need a deadline. He doesn't wait for them to say, 'Gentlemen, start your engines.' He just steps on the ignition and drives."
We know there are people out there who thought the White Sox should have done more. We also heard other clubs complain about the steep prices they attached to some of the veteran players they didn't move (Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, etc.).
"But you know what? "I hope nobody calls them a 'loser' because at least Rick [GM Rick Hahn] was active,' " one NL executive observed. "His organization is at a better place than it was 14 days ago. And that's what he's supposed to do at the deadline. The teams that should get smacked around are all the teams that should have sold and did nothing. In some cases, I thought it was inexcusable."
Hahn found a way to get potential value for the injured Jesse Crain via a trade with the Rays that could turn out to be well worth his while if Crain gets healthy and makes any kind of impact in Tampa Bay. But if the White Sox had held on to Crain until August, "they'd have gotten nothing," said one exec, "because he'd have gotten claimed right away and probably pulled back."
And while the Peavy trade "wasn't the kind of deal where you run around the room high-fiving after you make it," quipped one GM, a lot of clubs loved the upside of Avisail Garcia ("chance to be an All-Star," one scout said). And the White Sox at least have a chance to hit on the young pool of prospects they got from Boston, particularly the smoke-balling Francelis Montas. ("I just saw Montos," one scout said. "Wow. Electric. And he can pitch. He's a long ways away. But we'll see.")
Finally, remember that Hahn pulled this off for a team that never sold, or believed in selling, during the Kenny Williams era. "So I'm sure," one fellow exec said, "he had to do a lot of arm-twisting in that organization just to get them to sign off on what he did."
Other winners: Orioles (adding Feldman, Norris, Francisco Rodriguez), Braves (adding badly needed left-hander Scott Downs for the erratic Cory Rasmus), Astros (getting realistic returns for Veras and Norris), Padres (taking a why-the-heck-not chance on Ian Kennedy) and Dodgers (filling their final rotation hole with Ricky Nolasco).
And the deadline losers …
The industry waited all month for the Phillies to decide whether to buy or sell. So shockingly, after an eight-game cliff-dive answered that question for them, they still managed to stagger to the deadline tape without GM Ruben Amaro Jr. pulling off a single deal.
"In a way, I get it," one longtime exec said. "I know Ruben is in a tough spot. People there expect a lot. So you can't ever really sell off. But you have to listen, don't you? If somebody will give you something for some of those guys who aren't part of the future, you have to listen. But with some of them, they barely listened."
Other clubs said the Phillies never seemed motivated to trade Ruiz, made minimal effort to deal Young after the Rangers (his preferred destination) said no and appeared to expend surprising effort on deals that had just about no chance of happening -- for Lee and a guy who announced he wouldn't waive his trade-veto rights, Jimmy Rollins.
"It doesn't seem like they ever set a realistic price point for Lee," one NL executive said. "So at that price [starting with Bogaerts for the Red Sox] and no willingness to take any of the money [about $70 million], it was a waste of time to even engage in the conversation."
No "seller" inspired more consternation among the clubs we surveyed than the Mariners. In a market with essentially no power bats, this was a team that had three of them (Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez), all in the last year of their contracts – and priced every one of them as if they were Willie Mays.
GM Jack Zduriencik's peers seem to like him personally. But this was not a market in which any team was going to trade its very best prospect for any rent-a-bat. Yet, for whatever reason, that's what the Mariners kept asking for in every deal.
"What the heck is Jack doing?" one exasperated executive on a "buyer" team asked Wednesday morning. "What he's asking for -- it's crazy. He should be able to move any of those three guys. They could all be the final touch on somebody's roster. But with every one of them, it's always, 'If somebody wants to blow us away …' In this era, with all the parity in baseball today, why would any team want to risk giving up a premium prospect for a rental player? But that's what he asked for. It's crazy."
We're guessing other winner/loser columns you read will probably place Texas at the top of the LOSERS list -- all because they needed a bat, or maybe two bats, and wound up trading for zero.
So yeah, that hurts, especially with a potential Nelson Cruz Biogenesis suspension lurking over the franchise like a thundercloud. So they have to be somewhere on this list. But in their defense, they did make a bold deal for Garza. And when they pulled into the Big Bat Superstore, which thumper were they supposed to trade for, in a market where the only regular position players dealt away all month were Iglesias, Soriano and Alberto Callaspo?
"In the end, I was surprised a little bit that they didn't make some kind of deal," one exec said. "But in their defense, I know they tried. J.D. [GM Jon Daniels] is always really aggressive. And I know he was this year. So I think he's earned the benefit of the doubt."
It wasn't easy being the GM of this team over the last week. As Jim Bowden wrote, the Angels were so locked in to so many high-priced players in so many places that GM Jerry Dipoto went into sell mode with limited options.
Nevertheless, the Angels made two deals -- and neither got great reviews. Rasmus -- a bullpen prospect with a power arm and a scary 5.5 walk rate per nine innings -- was viewed as a shockingly chancy return for Downs. Not to mention as a deal that several other clubs suggested crushed the market for the rest of the available bullpen arms.
And after dangling three of their starting infielders -- Callaspo, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar -- and telling other teams they had to get "quality," controllable pitching back, the Angels wound up swapping Callaspo for enigmatic young infielder Grant Green, whose stock had fallen precipitously since Oakland made him the 13th overall pick in the 2009 draft.
"I didn't understand what a lot of these teams were doing," one NL exec said. "And the Angels are a good example. They made one deal [Downs] that most people panned, and another deal that didn't get them the one thing they said they needed (pitching)."
Other losers: Mets ("How can Marlon Byrd still be on their roster?" one exec wondered), Diamondbacks (who lost out on Peavy, then traded a one-time 21-game winner within their division for a situational left-hander and a mid-level bullpen prospect), Twins ("They would have gotten incredible value for Glen Perkins"), Blue Jays ("I know they were in no-man's land, but they didn't do anything"), Reds (shopped for bats and bullpen but never got either) and Pirates (see Rangers: emerged disappointingly batless, but only because what they were buying -- a middle-of-the-order bat -- turned out not to be buyable).