Trade Deadline Recap: This Season’s Five Biggest Deals

The bell tolled another trade deadline come and gone on Tuesday afternoon. In the wake of talk about the effect of new wild card rules on the trade market, and some grand speculation in both directions, some big names, and some big players too, will be wearing new jerseys for the rest of the season. Unfortunately for the New York Yankees, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Just a few years ago, their trade for Ichiro Suzuki would’ve deserved its own full post. But it’s 2012, and instead, it’ll only get these couple sentences. Here are the five trades likely to have the biggest impact on the season moving forward:

5. Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to the Detroit Tigers

For the Detroit Tigers, it’s now or never. The team has made it no secret that they are done saying “next year,” and little has made that strategy so abundantly clear as trading the team’s top pitching prospect in Jacob Turner to the Marlins for Infante and Sanchez. Currently three games behind the Chicago White Sox in a tight race for the AL Central crown, their two newest faces fill two big holes: second base and the middle of its rotation. We’ll have to wait and see how Sanchez performs and Turner Develops to know which team got the better deal long term. But Infante and Sanchez will do more for the team right now, and that’s all there is for the Tigers.

4. Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants

The Giants are just one game up over the Dodgers in the NL West, and given all the moves LA has been making (discussed below), San Fran had to come up with some sort of counter. What they came up with is two-time all-star Hunter Pence, who’s hitting .271 with 17 homers and 59 RBI this year. In return, the team shipped Tommy Joseph, Nate Schierholtz, and Seth Rosin to Philadelphia. Joseph, a catcher who was one of the team’s best two or three prospects depending on who you asked, is the centerpiece of the deal. The Giants were willing to let him go for Pence, perhaps because they’ve already got Buster Posey behind the plate. After giving up one of their top pitching prospects to rent Carlos Beltran last year, it’s notable that the Giants secured Pence, who’s under contract through 2013. He’s not going to hit as many home runs as he did in Citizens Bank Park, but Pence will be a very important part of the lineup for more than just a few months.

3. Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers

The Angels and Dodgers were the deadline’s biggest movers and shakers, so like the Giants, the Rangers had to come up with something to better their squad for the playoff race to come. Dempster may be 35 years old, and while his 2.25 ERA and 1.04 WHIP are certainly well above the general expectation, the numbers aren’t a total anomaly. Recall that in 2008 he went 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over more than 200 innings. Although 15 years in the bigs, it’s Dempster’s first time in the American League, and his 4.63 ERA in 50 career interleague games aren’t exactly a bright spot, they needed someone to fill the hole injuries have made in their rotation. He’s no Zach Greinke, but Dempster will be a big factor if the team hopes to reach the World Series for the third straight season.

2. Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers

If this was a list of the trades likely to have the biggest impact over the next few years, as opposed to just this season, this one might’ve been at the top of the list. Ramirez might be having a down year (or two) by his standards, hitting .246 with 15 home runs and 56 RBI. And sure, it’s been a little while since 2009, when he hit .342 and brought home a battle title, or his 30/30 campaign in 2008. But Ramirez is coming off an injury and more importantly, he’s still only 28 years old, smack dab in the middle of his statistical prime. Considering the Dodgers gave up very little to get him and also scored Shane Victorino, they might just be the season’s biggest trade deadline winner.

1. Zach Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels

As I said, long term, Greinke moving to the Angels might not be that huge. Who knows where he’ll end up when he becomes a free agent this off season. But with the spot the Angels are in right now, his move to LA is the deadline’s biggest. It’s no surprise that like the Giants and Dodgers, both the Angels and Rangers are on this list. Arguably two of the three best teams in the American League reside in the Western division, and as I discussed last week, playoff spots are no longer created equal. Yes, the Dodgers are in a similar position, and yes, the Rangers made a similar move, but the Angels now have Greinke, who was indubitably the best starting pitcher on the market, to shore up a rotation that already includes Jered WeaverC.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana. Pitching is the name of the game when it comes to the playoffs to begin with. But what’s crucial for the Halos is that even if they do find themselves forced to employ Weaver in a wild card play-in, they’re not so screwed as most other teams might be with a gang like that to follow him.

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2012 MLB Season Preview & Predictions

Will the Tigers run away with things in the American League after acquiring Prince Fielder? Or will the Angels make a trip to the World Series after adding Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this winter?

Are the Phillies due for a major letdown? Are the Giants ready to bounce back with a healthy Buster Posey back in their lineup? Who is the team to beat in the National League this year?

Below are our predictions for the 2012 MLB Season. Don’t like them? Then tell us who you’re picking, tough guy. All comments are welcome and this is meant to be fun, so enjoy the read and enjoy another season of baseball bliss!

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

1. Braves
2. Phillies
3. Marlins
4. Nationals
5. Mets

I’m so used to sliding the Phillies into the No. 1 spot in the NL East that I nearly did it again this year. But even though Philly has the best starting rotation in the division, I like the Braves to ultimately take advantage of the Phillies’ injury problems. Losing Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for the first part of the year will cause the Phillies to start out slow and they could potentially miss the playoffs altogether if Roy Halladay carries his poor spring into the regular season. Atlanta’s starting rotation is solid and its bullpen is very good as well. There’s a good chance that no Brave will hit over .300 this year but they have speed in Michael Bourn, power in Dan Uggla, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward, and a couple of guys that can get on base. Assuming they don’t choke in pressure moments like in each of the last two seasons, I like the Braves to overtake the Phillies in this division… There’s too much talent on the Marlins’ roster for them not to be in the thick of things this year in the NL East. That said, what a combustible situation. Does anyone not think problems will arise with Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison and Carlos Zambrano in the same clubhouse? And with Ozzie Guillen leading them, no less? Maybe Guillen is the right manager to ensure the club stays unified and I do like the additions of veterans Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to the pitching staff. But I just can’t see this team crossing the finish line before imploding first…I really liked what the Nationals did this offseason in adding Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to their starting rotation. Assuming Stephen Strasburg rebounds from his Tommy John surgery, the Nats won’t be pushovers thanks to an excellent rotation and a solid bullpen. I just don’t like the offense. There’s not a hitter in that lineup that’s projected to hit over .300 and there’s not a lot of speed past Ian Desmond at the top of the order. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nationals challenged for one of the two Wild Card spots but I think they’re still another hitter away (unless Jayson Werth somehow surprises)…The Mets remain in a hell of their own making. Until they get some of their bad contracts off the books, this team will struggle to compete in a good division. Of course, if Johan Santana and Andres Torres bounce back to what they were a couple of years ago, the Mets could surprise. But that would mean David Wright, Ike Davis and Jason Bay would have to produce big seasons and I just don’t see it happening. When stacked up against the rest of the division the Mets are the clear doormats.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Cardinals
2. Reds
3. Brewers
4. Cubs
5. Pirates
6. Astros

Why the Cardinals? Because they always find a way to compete and despite losing Albert Pujols, their roster remains balanced. Matt Holliday is the key to whether or not this team will make another World Series run but he’ll have help thanks to Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, David Freese and Yadier Molina. This team also has a couple of complementary pieces in Jon Jay, Rafael Furcal and Allen Craig as well. The starting rotation took a hit when Chris Carpenter was shelved this spring with nerve damage in his back/shoulder. But if Adam Wainwright (who has had a tremendous spring) bounces back from Tommy John surgery, the rotation should be fine. (Kyle Lohse remains underrated, Jake Westbrook is coming off a nice spring, Jaime Garcia has very good stuff and the club is high on youngster Lance Lynn.) The question is: Can the Cards stay healthy all year? World Series teams tend to break down the year after appearing in the Fall Classic and the Cards already have a ton of injury questions heading into the year…The Reds are viewed by most pundits as the favorites to win this division and I can’t argue too much with that line of thinking. Landing Mat Latos in a trade with the Padres was a massive upgrade to their starting rotation and you know Joey Votto will mash again this year. But I just think the Cardinals have more balance from top to bottom and if they stay healthy, they’ll win the Central. That said, if St. Louis breaks down, then Cincinnati should run away with the division…Even though the starting rotation is very good (especially the 1-2 punch of Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke), the Brewers are poised to take a step back without Prince Fielder in the middle of their lineup. Ryan Braun will still be Ryan Braun but he doesn’t have Fielder protecting him in the order and who knows how he’ll handle playing on the road in the wake of his PED fiasco this past offeason. Still, Aramis Ramirez was a nice get if he can stay healthy and this lineup has plenty of pop. I just think the Brew Crew will eventually fade down the stretch…If Cubs fans can stay patient, new GM Theo Epstein will bring a winner to the Windy City (although I use the term “winner” very loosely). Until then, they’ll need to enjoy watching youngster Starlin Castro play because that’s about all the 2012 Chicago team will offer. It was huge of Epstein to unload Carlos Zambrano and get a promising young pitcher in Chris Volstad in return, and landing Anthony Rizzo in a deal with the Padres was solid as well. But this team is devoid of talent right now and it’s going to take Epstein a few offseasons to beef up the roster…The Pirates were a feel good story before the All-Star Break last season but their youth and lack of overall talent eventually caught up to them. I love Andrew McCutchen and their lineup features some nice players in Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones. But the starting pitching is weak and McCutchen can’t carry the team by himself. Maybe Pittsburgh will make things interesting for its fans again this year but eventually, the Cardinals, Reds or Brewers will overtake them in the division…It’s downright cruel of the Astros to ask their fans to pay for tickets, parking and concessions. The games should be free given what kind of product management will put on the field this year. There’s not a 20-plus home run player in their lineup and their starting rotation is weak outside of Wandy Rodriguez. Even in a weak division Houston doesn’t have enough to compete and I can’t envision a scenario in which the Astros surprise. They’ll be out of it by the All-Star Break.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

1. Giants
2. Diamondbacks
3. Dodgers
4. Rockies
5. Padres

I don’t agree with some of the decisions that Brian Sabean made this offseason (or in prior offseasons for that matter), and I remain perplexed as to why the Giants are so hesitant to start Brandon Belt when they’re a club in desperate need of offense. But I like the Giants to re-claim the NL West this season. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval have never been healthy and productive in the same season but I think that all changes this year. Melky Cabrera was a nice addition to the lineup and once he’s healthy, having Freddy Sanchez back in the mix at second base will be huge as well. Of course, the Giants will win because of their pitching. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Volgelsong are fantastic and will cover up the weaknesses of the offense (and Barry Zito, who is horrifyingly bad). Assuming they don’t suffer any big injuries, I like the Giants to make a run this year…That said, if the Giants slip then the Diamondbacks will be there again when they fall.Arizona was very good last season and it went out and improved its pitching staff with the additions of Trevor Cahill and Takashi Saito this offseason. The lineup also offers plenty of power thanks to Justin Upton, Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Young, so why am I not picking the D-Backs to repeat as NL West champs? Because I think they’ll have more competition this season than they did last year. The Giants are healthy again, while the Rockies, Dodgers and Padres all improved in some areas. I see a slip coming for Arizona, although I do like the Snakes to claim one of the Wild Card spots…The Dodgers have been a mess off the field the past couple of years but their on-field product isn’t as bad as some think. Led by ace Clayton Kershaw, the starting rotation is underrated and the lineup features star Matt Kemp. That said, the Dodgers have a tendency to underachieve and while I firmly believe that they have enough to compete, I think they’ll eventually slide to the middle of the pack in the National League…Some folks are high on the Rockies’ potential and I can see why looking at their lineup. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are studs, and the additions of Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez will only help an offense that also features nice complementary pieces in Dexter Fowler and Todd Helton. But their pitching scares me. They don’t have that bona fide ace that will go out and stop the bleeding in the middle of a losing streak and I think over time, their bats will be silenced by teams like the Giants and Diamondbacks, who do have the arms to make a postseason run…I like what the Padres are doing but they just don’t have enough weapons to compete this year. Trading Mat Latos and Anthony Rizzo may help this club in the future, but for now San Diego will have to make due with what it has. And outside of Jesus Guzman and Yonder Alonso, “what it has” simply won’t be good enough.

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Will the American League return to dominance in 2012?

For three of the past four seasons the National League has owned Major League Baseball. But after collectively opening its wallet this past winter, the American League could see a return to dominance in 2012.

The American League bought two of the National League’s biggest stars this offseason when the Angels signed Albert Pujols and the Tigers added slugger Prince Fielder. The Halos also kept C.J. Wilson (the top pitcher on the market) in the AL West while the Yankees beefed up their starting rotation by acquiring promising young right-hander Michael Pineda (now injured) from the Mariners and signing the underrated Hiroki Kuroda (formerly of the Dodgers).

Granted, there are still plenty of quality teams in the National League. The Phillies, Giants, Brewers and Braves all have solid starting rotations and the Marlins bolstered their roster with the additions of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. The Reds and Diamondbacks have plenty going for themselves as well.

But all of the teams listed above have significant question marks heading into the season, which includes the defending World Series champion Cardinals. Ace Chris Carpenter, outfielder Allen Craig, and second baseman Skip Schumaker will all miss significant time this offseason and there’s added pressure for guys like Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and David Freese to produce without No. 5 in the lineup.

When you factor in Pujols and Fielder have jumped leagues, it’s no wonder the odds currently favor AL teams like the Tigers, Yankees, Angels and Rangers when it comes to winning this year’s World Series. The American League rosters are simply more talented right now than their National League counterparts.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that the American League is a shoe-in to win the Fall Classic. Get into a seven-game series when pitchers reign supreme and you cannot count teams like the Phillies, Braves and Giants out of contention. If you think offense overpowers pitching when it comes to the postseason, then you haven’t been paying attention the last two years.

But as of April 1, there’s no question that the balance of power has tilted in the American League’s favor. There’s a lot of baseball to be played but it’s hard not to look up and down the Tigers’ roster and not think, “Wow, this is a potential World Series winner right here.”

Predicting where the big-name MLB free agents will land

St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols comes to bat for the first time to a standing ovation during the last game of the regular season, against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on September 25, 2011. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Here are a couple of predictions sure to be wrong this winter. (It’s not that I lack confidence in my prediction abilities. I just have complete confidence that they won’t be right. But hey, let’s have some freaking fun anyway, huh?)

Albert Pujols: St. Louis Cardinals
Do the Cardinals really have any choice but to work out a deal with Pujols? He is their offense, period. Matt Holliday, David Freese and Lance Berkman are all nice players but their games are enhanced with the mere presence of Pujols, who remains the best hitter in baseball. St. Louis is coming off a miraculous World Series run and just lost icon Tony La Russa to retirement. Turning around and losing Pujols to the Cubs or Dodgers is simply unacceptable. I also believe that St. Louis is the only place Pujols wants to play. But he’s already said that he’s not going to take a hometown discount, which he shouldn’t. That said, considering the Cardinals have allowed him to essentially run the clubhouse over the last decade, he might find that the grass isn’t greener on the other side if he decides to leave. This is a marriage that should stick because it works for all parties involved.

Prince Fielder: Chicago Cubs
Seeing as how I don’t buy into the idea of Pujols leaving the Cardinals, the Cubs make the most sense for Fielder if they’re willing to spend. Signing Fielder could be the start of Theo Epstein’s rebuilding project in Chicago. While the Cubs have a couple of bad contracts on their books, Epstein could build his team around Fielder just like he did with Big Papi in Boston. Management would have to approve a $150-plus million contract for this deal to happen, but it’s clear the Cubs want to win. You don’t acquire Theo Epstein and then tell him to sit on his hands. Could you imagine how many home runs Fielder could hit at Wrigley? I think he just hit one deep while typing this…

Jose Reyes: New York Mets
There are plenty of suitors for Reyes, who is young and productive. The Marlins, Giants, Nationals, Phillies, Pirates, Reds, Twins, Rays and Cardinals could all get involved in the Reyes sweepstakes but in the end, I think he’ll return to the Big Apple. He’s a fan favorite and seemed willing to re-sign with the Mets during the season last year but the situation never played itself out. Trading Carlos Beltran during the deadline last year made sense, as does re-signing Reyes to a new long-term deal.

Carlos Beltran: Boston Red Sox
A return to San Francisco certainly makes sense for Beltran. The Giants obviously need hitting and GM Brian Sabean might want to save face after he inexcusably gave away his top pitching prospect for a three-month rental that didn’t even help San Fran make the playoffs. That said, the Giants still have Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito’s awful contracts on their books and once they get done paying Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, they’ll either be unable or unwilling to sign a big-name free agent. Boston, on the other hand, seems like a perfect place for a guy like Beltran to land. They’re always willing to spend and have a void in right field. Plus, they don’t shy away from risks and seeing as how Beltran is a 34-year-old injury concern, he qualifies as a risk. He’ll be their first free agent signing in the post-Epstein era.

C.J. Wilson: New York Yankees
I had the Rangers listed next to Wilson’s name but I have a feeling that the Yankees will do everything in their power to land the top pitcher on this year’s market. They need a top-of-the-rotation arm to complement CC Sabathia and while Wilson struggled mightily in the postseason this year, he still racked up 250 innings over 39 starts and was Texas’ best pitcher. The Yankees have deep pockets and after missing out on Cliff Lee last winter, they’ll pony up for another Ranger this time around.

Other Predictions:

Jimmy Rollins: Phillies
Aramis Ramirez: Orioles
Edwin Jackson: Nationals
Roy Oswalt: Rangers

Will the World Series go seven games?

A painting crew from the Warren Sign Company puts the finishing touches on the World Series logo at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on October 17, 2011. The St. Louis Cardinals will host the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the 2011 World Series on October 19, 2011. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Did you realize that we haven’t had a game 7 in the World Series since 2002? These teams seem to be pretty evenly matched, so Tom Verducci discusses how we might finally get to seven:

Is this the World Series we’ve been waiting for? Is the longest wait for the best day in sports about to end?

The ingredients are in place for a World Series that is nine years in the making: one so evenly matched and tightly contested that it takes every possible game to decide it. Baseball has not seen a World Series Game 7 since 2002, when the Angels defeated the Giants. It was so long ago that steroids were in full swing, the last year without testing. Since the best-of-seven format permanently replaced the best-of-nine format in 1922, this is the longest drought without a Game 7 in World Series history.

Why not now? The tone was set by the Night of 162, in which the last two playoff sports were decided on the last day of the regular season with three games that ended in the last at-bat. Such drama was then followed by a record-tying three Sudden Death games in the Division Series — all of which were one-run games that went down to the last at-bat.

He goes on to explain how the team that wins Game 1 is 19-4 in for the title since 1987, so Game 1 is very important. On the other hand, neither team has a dominant pitching staff, so Verducci thinks this year might be different.

As for game one, the Cards are favored with Chris Carpenter facing C.J. Wilson. The Cardinals are also loaded with right-handed bats, and the Rangers will start three lefties.

I have no idea who will win this thing, but it’s been a fun season, so maybe we’ll get a great series.

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