Here at International Rumblings and Grumblings headquarters, we took a bold, nearly unprecedented stand this year, in honor of the most overrated trade-deadline swapfest of all time.
We just couldn't bring ourselves to partake in a tradition that is normally one of those annual late-July rituals, right up there with Hall of Fame induction weekend:
The good-old standard trade deadline winners and losers column.
Sorry. Couldn't do it. Not this year.
We couldn't do it because this was a deadline with almost nobody to trade for. So how could we call a bunch of teams "losers" just because they wouldn't give up three Baseball America cover boys for somebody who used to resemble Jose Contreras?
"It was frustrating, but I knew that going in," said one GM, who rolled his shopping cart down the pitching aisles and wound up empty. "It didn't take long, looking at the list [of pitchers who were available], to know what was going to happen."
So we understand exactly why so many teams sat this dance out. But here's their problem:
The deadline may be over, but the season isn't.
So the big question is how not making moves -- moves those clubs knew they needed to make in a perfect world -- will affect them in August and September (not to mention October). Let's answer that question:
A couple of weeks ago, the Cubs let the Rangers and Royals know they wanted to be on the list of approved shoppers in the Eric Gagne and Octavio Dotel auctions. A week later, GM Jim Hendry went on a minor-league scouting journey to check out Kerry Wood -- and saw enough to let those teams know the Cubs were withdrawing from that approved-shopper list. So it will be Wood, who could be activated as early as Friday, who could throw a bolt of electricity into the Cubs' playoff drive. And the only piece Hendry even shopped for, once he'd traded for Jason Kendall and satisfied himself that Wood was ready, was a bat off the bench. He could shop around some more in August. But this team looks good enough to win as constituted. The Cubs, said one NL executive, "already did their shopping last winter."
From the day they left Port St. Lucie, the Mets were readying themselves to swoop in and trade for the best starting pitcher to hit the trade market -- whether it was Carlos Zambrano or Livan Hernandez or (in their dream of dreams) Roy Oswalt. Well, as we think we've mentioned, that kind of starter never did hit the market. So the Mets were among the crop trolling for Joe Blanton and Jon Garland and the best of the bullpen options, primarily Eric Gagne and Chad Cordero. But when it became clear that all six of their most highly regarded prospects were off their Let's Make A Deal table, the only trade they were able to finish was for Luis Castillo, to plug their second-base hole. So if they can't find an arm in the waiver bin this month, it means they'll have to do what they said they didn't want to do: count on Pedro Martinez to make a difference. "What happens in that division all comes down to who pitches better," one GM said. "To me, all those teams [Mets, Braves, Phillies] needed a starter -- and didn't get one." And yes, he was aware when he uttered those words that the Phillies did trade for Kyle Lohse. There's a message in there someplace.
At one point, the Diamondbacks thought they had slipped far enough out of the race that they might be able to afford to trade away Livan Hernandez. One eight-game winning streak and one injury to Randy Johnson later, they were actually looking to trade for another starter. The D-backs looked into a pack of starters that ranged from Garland and Joe Blanton to Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva. But they passed on Lohse, and none of the others ever did change area codes. "To win, I think they need another rotation guy," one NL GM said. "But there wasn't one to get."
The Rockies are a team much like the Diamondbacks: young, getting better all the time and still hanging around with a chance to win the NL West. But they also know their best days are just over the horizon. So they couldn't bring themselves to deal away talents like Ian Stewart and Franklin Morales for a Chad Cordero, a Dan Wheeler or even a Joe Blanton. "I couldn't see Arizona or Colorado giving away any of their good young players for the guys who were out there," one GM said, "because outside of Teixeira, nobody was good enough to get you over the hump."
Even other teams thought the Tigers would push harder to find bullpen reinforcements. "They must think [Fernando] Rodney and [Joel] Zumaya are going to be fine," one GM said, "or they would have tried harder to get [Eric] Gagne or [Octavio] Dotel than they did." In fact, by the end, the Tigers weren't working on relievers at all. They were talking about guys like Jack Wilson and Clint Barmes, as 2007 utilitymen but potential 2008 starting shortstops who would enable Carlos Guillen to move to first base. Nevertheless, this is still a team with a 5.44 bullpen ERA since Zumaya went down. So if Zumaya and Rodney don't right that frigate, the Tigers could be in more trouble than anyone suspects.
The Indians did trade for Kenny Lofton. But their big need was relief quality and quantity -- and they never could reel in any of the fish on their hooks, from Dotel to Zack Greinke to Scott Linebrink. "I know they really wanted to add a back-end reliever," one GM said. "But the only guy worth getting at the end was Dotel, and I really don't blame them for not giving the Royals what they wanted on him." But even if Dotel was overhyped, the Indians needed somebody like him. Or they risk having a special season slither away from them down the stretch. "What's actually hurt them the most," one AL executive said, "is the injury to [hot pitching prospect] Adam Miller. They thought he was going to be the ace up their sleeve, that they could move him into their bullpen and he could be their [Jonathan] Papelbon. Without him, they don't even have a starter they can slide back there to shore that up. I mean, you're looking for a guy with power stuff. So you're not going to put, say, Paul Byrd back there. I'm really not sure where they go from here."
It's always dangerous to subtract a popular player in the midst of a pennant race. So was it worth risking the clubhouse backlash the Twins unleashed when they exported Luis Castillo to the Mets? It sure looks as if the deal they did make hit harder than the trade(s) they didn't make to add offense. "But you know what?" one GM said. "Over the last few years, ever since they reached these heights, they always seem to be able to control their distractions. They've lost people before, and it's never really impacted them. When you really look at Castillo, he wasn't doing that much, so I'm not sure they're really any worse on the field. And they get to find out about a player they love, in [just-recalled] Alexi Casilla. But I'm really not sure what to think, to be honest. I can't tell you for certain that the biggest damage won't be the emotional damage."
Here's a question we've been asked a couple of times this week: When was the last time Angels GM Bill Stoneman made a "major" deal to bring in a big-name player before the trade deadline? The answer: 2000, when he traded Kent Bottenfield for Ron Gant. So that explains why, when the Angels' inactivity this year came up, an executive of one team's instant reaction was: "It's not surprising -- because they never make any moves." But this year, Stoneman did make a serious run at Mark Teixeira, offering the kind of young players he's accused of "never" trading (Casey Kotchman and Joe Saunders). And when he couldn't get Teixeira, he took the reasonable stance that his team was good enough to win before -- so why isn't it good enough now? "If the Angels get their pitching staff straightened out," one scout said, "it won't matter what they didn't do -- because they'll be looking at a lot of teams in their rearview mirror."
There's no team we feel sorrier for than the Mariners. As a scout from another club put it, "They had more scouts out there seeing pitchers than most teams have out for World Series coverage." Name one pitcher whose name you heard in any rumor, and the Mariners either checked him out or made a serious bid on him. One GM nominated them as The Team That Was Most Likely to Have Traded for Mark Buehrle. But Buehrle foiled that plan by re-signing with the White Sox. Next on Seattle's starting pitchers list were Jon Garland and Matt Morris. But Garland turned out to be unaffordable, and Morris pitched so badly, he plummeted right off the radar screen of everyone but the Pirates. Last up: The Mariners hung in to the end on Dotel and on Tampa Bay's Al Reyes. But they wound up with none of the above. So can they stay with the Angels with their current staff? "It all depends on [just-reactivated] Mark Lowe and on Horacio Ramirez staying healthy in the rotation," one scout said. "They don't have a lot of room for error."
It wouldn't be accurate to say the Yankees didn't make any moves, since they did ship Scott Proctor to the Dodgers for infielder Wilson Betemit. But since the Yankees set out to add pitching, it's fair to wonder what kind of shape they left themselves in by subtracting a reliever who has been Joe Torre's security blanket for two years. "The only way they can rationalize this," one GM said, "is that they're calling up [Joba] Chamberlain and [Phil] Hughes, and they can say, 'They're better than anything we could have traded for.'" But an executive of another team disagreed, saying: "I don't understand that trade. They needed Scott Proctor. But he probably feels like he escaped, and he did. He had to get out [of] there. He was just getting killed by Joe." The Yankees' worst pitching blow of all, though, was getting outbid for Gagne by their pals, the Red Sox. "You know," one GM said, "that one of the biggest reasons the Red Sox traded for Gagne was just to keep him away from the Yankees."
Mark Teixeira is one of just two first basemen in the 50-year history of the Gold Glove award to have a season in which he hit at least 35 homers, drove in at least 140 runs and won a Gold Glove by the age of 25. Can you name the other? (Answer later.)
The rumble in the trade jungle
One of the most fascinating developments of the pre-deadline hours was how available the Braves made Bob Wickman after they'd traded for Dotel. But teams that talked about Wickman had their doubts about whether he would have been motivated to pitch the seventh or eighth inning, no matter how good the closer was that he was setting up for. "I don't think he could do that," said one GM who knows him well. "It wouldn't have surprised me if he'd just shut it down, taken his money and gone home instead."
Another surprising bullpen name that popped out there in the past 24 hours was Troy Percival. One club rumored to have talked to the Cardinals extensively about him was the Dodgers. But it had to be tough for any team to convince itself to trade for a guy whose shoulder could disintegrate five minutes after he walked through the clubhouse door.
While the A's are trying to downplay their desire to trade Blanton, it's notable that about a half-dozen teams were in on him at various levels of interest -- and the A's were actively listening. But A's GM Billy Beane is so creative, he sometimes scares his peers just by being willing to discuss players who don't fit the mold of players who would normally get traded this time of year, or at this stage of their careers. "Any time Billy wants to talk about a guy like Blanton, who's just getting into his first year of arbitration, he makes me nervous," one GM said. Also made available by Beane, according to several clubs, was closer Huston Street. Which only caused people to wonder how healthy he is.
Over and over this week, we heard club officials moaning about how injuries wrecked this market. Granted, they had lots to grumble about, but they're right. Among players who almost certainly would have been available: Rich Harden, Miguel Tejada, Esteban Loaiza, Mike Sweeney, Rocco Baldelli and Akinori Otsuka. Oh, and we're hearing the Rockies would have been willing to talk about moving DL'd closer Brian Fuentes, too.
We've heard several people theorize that the Red Sox will let Eric Gagne walk after the season "and take their two draft picks." But wait a second. They might not get two picks. Gagne would need to be a Type A free agent to generate two compensation picks, and he's pitched just 35 1/3 innings in the past two seasons combined. "I don't think anybody can safely predict how those rankings work," said an executive of one club whose job includes projecting matters like this. "But I don't think he's a slam-dunk Type A."
Beware of predictions that you'll see lots of waiver trades in August. "With the state of the game as healthy as it is right now," one GM said, "and how healthy some of these teams are, I think very, very few guys will make it through waivers. Pat Burrell [owed $14 million next season] and Jose Contreras [$20 million coming in 2008-09] might be the only two players in baseball who get through waivers."
Also beware of people like us overestimating the impact of any deadline trades. Remember, we went a full decade without a single pitcher traded on July 31 winning a postseason game -- until last October, when (who else?) Oliver Perez won one for the Mets. Then Jeff Weaver (who else?) became the first starting pitcher traded in midseason to win a World Series game in nearly 30 years (since Mike Torrez in 1977). Anybody see Lohse adding his name to that list?
Still ready to rumble
The two contenders who dealt away beloved members of their clubhouse were the Padres (Linebrink) and the Twins (Castillo). And the tip-off that those losses hit especially hard was that the two players complaining the loudest were the relentlessly classy Trevor Hoffman and Johan Santana. "Sometimes," one National League GM said, "you really are better off doing nothing. When you've got people like Trevor and Santana popping off, you know you're in trouble."
It was a shock to see Santana telling the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune's Joe Christensen that "It makes no sense for me to be here" if the Twins are going to be sellers when they're still in a pennant/wild-card race. We've spoken to Santana about his future, and we'd never previously gotten the impression he didn't want to be a Twin anymore. So what do we make of this? "I think he still wants to be there," an American League GM said. "I just think he realizes now that that's going to be almost impossible."
Another GM told us he felt sorry for the Phillies because they'd just suffered an injury to the most irreplaceable player on their team. Chase Utley? Nope. He was talking about the Flyin' Hawaiian, rising star Shane Victorino. "Losing Victorino is probably as devastating as losing Utley," the GM
said. "And I really mean that. He just has an energy about him. He's a smart, tough player who plays the game with an energy that affects other players."
While the Phillies' trades for Lohse and Julio Mateo didn't cause much applause, their quick acquisition of Tadahito Iguchi after Utley went down was nominated by two NL executives as the most underrated deal of the week. "I like Iguchi with that team," one said. "When the White Sox won the World Series, I thought he was the energy of that team, the way he played. He's one of those guys who does all the little things that makes everyone better." And another GM suggested that if the Phillies were smart, they wouldn't banish Iguchi to the bench after Utley's return. "When Utley comes back, I'd put him over at third," he said. "I don't have a doubt in the world that guy could play third for them in September."
Heading into the trading season, one of the popular theories was that the Dodgers were in the best position of any team to make a deal because they have so many terrific prospects. But an official of one AL team has the opposite theory. "When everyone knows you've got players, that can actually be a hindrance," he said. "When you've got prospects, nobody wants your second-tier guys. They want your first-tier guys, even though your second-tier guys are better than their first-tier guys. I think that's actually hurt the Dodgers in making deals."
Don Mattingly, who accumulated 35 home runs, 145 RBIs and his first Gold Glove in 1985, at age 24.
What player were other teams most shocked to see not get traded? It had to be Kyle Farnsworth -- a guy who hadn't just worn out his welcome in New York. He'd totaled it. "For some reason," said an official of one team that spoke with the Yankees, "they valued him like he was still a seventh- or eighth-inning guy for them. But I think this is one of those cases where you make a mistake and it's hard to admit to yourself that you made that mistake. He's been pitching like a guy who should be an early- or middle-inning reliever, but that's not how they priced him."
And which team that should have sold inspired the most aggravation among the masses by not selling off anybody? Had to be a tie between the two most usual suspects: the Nationals and Pirates. Here's one GM on Washington's approach: "I don't get them. A club like that, they've got to wheel and deal. They've got players to trade. They're not going to win the division. They've got a new stadium coming. So make some trades to help you win in two or three years." And here's another GM: "I haven't figured them out for two years. I can understand why they'd hold on to [Jon] Rauch and [Luis] Ayala. But why not move [Chad] Cordero? I know they talked about him. But some of the proposals they made on that guy -- who isn't what I'd call an unbelievable closer -- were just ridiculous."
But your grand-prize winner, once again, was the Pirates. Teams couldn't even get them to talk about moving their set-up relievers. The only player they even seriously listened on was Wilson. And then there was the Morris trade, a category unto itself. We'll say this again, just so it's clear: We love Matt Morris. Terrific guy. Great teammate. A fine, upstanding mentor and role model for any young pitcher in any town. But it would be tough to pitch much worse than he'd pitched for the past month and a half. And he'll make $9.5 million next year. Other clubs that talked about Morris reported that they were trying to get the Giants to pay anywhere from half to two-thirds of that contract -- and the Giants were actively considering it. Then along came the Pirates and took on every last penny of Morris' deal. It's great to see the Pirates spending money again and all that. But why were they taking on more than $12 million to deal for a guy with a 7.94 ERA since June 17?
Want to hear the three pithiest lines of the day about that deal? Here goes:
Third Prize: "The most puzzling move I've seen in the last 10 years."
Second Prize: "I went down to the clubhouse and told some of our players, and they thought I'd been drinking."
First Prize (repeated from our trade-deadline column, for those who missed it): "That move is so far out of left field, it's in the Monongahela."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.