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.

Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

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An Extra Wild Card Spot, Sure, but What Does it Mean?

Everybody and their brother has been talking about trades the past few days. A lot of big name players have put on new uniforms, most notably Ichiro Suzuki, but considering I just did a trade-related post last week, I figure I’ll wait until a week from now, the day of the trade deadline, and just do one big recap of the year’s trading season. Instead, I’d like to talk about another topic, one that I just barely scratched the surface of in last week’s post—the additional wild card spot implemented as part of a new collective bargaining agreement this offseason.

As I touched on last week, an extra wild card spot means a lot more teams consider themselves contenders at this point in the season than would have in years past. Right now, 11 of the 14 teams in the American League are either in a playoff spot or within four games of one. Similarly, half of the National League’s 16 teams are within four and a half games of a playoff berth. But the rule change has consequences that stretch far beyond more teams trying to buy at the trade deadline.

First of all, we should probably discuss the specifics of baseball’s first playoff expansion since 1995, when the wild card was first introduced. Since then and prior to this season, the three division winners and the second place team with the best record in each league would make the playoffs. Now, the two wild card teams in each league will play just one game to determine which will move on to the division series.

In the past, teams had one goal: make the playoffs. If they couldn’t win the division then they had to grab the wild card. Once you were in, it didn’t really matter how you’d made it as the challenge ahead would be the same: a five-game series. But with two wild card teams now facing off just to get to that five-game series, playoff spots are no longer created equal. So while a lot more teams are now playoff contenders, those jockeying for a wild card spot will at best go into the divisional series at a serious disadvantage and at worst do a whole lot of extra work (like spending big money at the trade deadline) to play just one extra game.

That play-in game is now what sets division champions and wild card teams apart. It may seem a small thing to play one extra game, but it actually changes things quite a bit. First of all, wild card teams are going to use their best pitcher in that first game, so as to have the best chance of moving forward. But that means when they move on to play the one seed, they’ll be using their second, third, and fourth pitchers against the opponent’s first, second, and third. They could get swept before their ace even gets the chance to take the mound, which in turn means possibly missing out on a single home playoff game. Even the wild card teams that win their 163rd game are far less likely to move past the division series.

Now a lot of you might be thinking “well duh, that’s kind of point the point,” and you’d be correct. The new system is somewhat reminiscent of the NFL’s, in which the top two teams in each conference are given a bye, and thus, an advantage, based on their performance in the regular season. Whereas in the past once a team was in the playoffs, they were effectually equals regardless of how they made it in, having a number one seed now actually means something.

As a result, a team with only a chance for a wild card spot, and thus just a 50-50 shot of making the “real” playoffs should hold off on selling the farm at the trade deadline. Vince Genarro, president of SABR, points out that playoff berths are a big money maker: “fans reward their home teams in the year(s) following a playoff appearance by stepping up their season ticket commitments, absorbing aggressive increases in ticket prices, spiking their viewership of telecasts, and increasing their sponsorship dollars. The deeper the run into October, the greater the fan enthusiasm and spending.” But how much reward is one more game going to bring in?

We’ll have to wait and see what consequences having an extra wild card spot will have on revenue, trades and the like. But there’s one thing we know for certain: if you want to know anything for certain, you’d better win your division.

Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

11 MLB Players and Personnel We Would Not Want to Be in 2011

Ah, the week where pitchers and catchers report to camp. It’s scheduled around Valentine’s Day for a reason, you know. It’s the time of year where hope springs eternal and love conquers all, and even if your favorite team doesn’t have a prayer of making the playoffs, it’s still all right to believe that they might make the playoffs. Faith, even blind faith, is a powerful thing, and it is never stronger for a baseball fan than it is right now.

For the people who actually play and manage the game of baseball, however, it is a much, much different story. Some have contract issues to deal with; others have to try and deliver the same numbers they racked up the previous year even when the lineup around them is depleted. Managers have to talk to reporters about taking baby steps with young players, while telling their shrink that they just can’t bear the thought of losing another 95 games. General managers have to find a way to fill that hole, and they all have a hole. Of the hundreds of players, managers, and baseball personnel currently working in the majors today, though, these are the ones we pity the most. (Thanks to the good people at Baseball Reference for their meticulous, endless stream of statistics and bread sticks.)

Vernon Wells

His contract (seven years, $126 million) was considered to be one of the most untradeable contracts in baseball, and his sub par performance after inking said contract only made it seem like an even bigger albatross. (Sports writers like using the word ‘albatross.’ It makes them look well read.) Granted, he broke his wrist in 2008, and dealt with the lingering effects of it in 2009, but no one remembers that; they just remember the numbers, and Wells was once again confirming his reputation as the “Star Trek” movie franchise of baseball players. Last year, wrist fully healed after surgery, Wells had a nice bounce-back year (he ranked 16th among outfielders in one of our points-based fantasy leagues), so you can see why The The Angels Angels of Anaheim, after missing out on Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford, would view Wells as a worthwhile gamble.

Having said that, Wells is positively boned if he turns in a season less than, or even equal to, his 2010 numbers. Anaheim is taking on nearly all of the money remaining on his contract (a whopping $86 million), and given that the Angels traded Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli in order to get him, Wells will be expected to perform at astronomical levels for the remainder of the contract. Good thing he has his stellar defense to fall back on during the rough patches.

Michael Young

Poor bastard. When the Rangers asked Michael Young to move from second base to shortstop to make room for Alfonso Soriano (who’s now a left fielder, by the way), Young did so. When the Rangers asked Young to move from shortstop – where he had just won his first Gold Glove – to third base in order to make room for Elvis Andrus, Young did so, though a bit more reluctantly than he was the first time. Now the Rangers have signed Adrian Beltre, and they’re asking Young not to play at all; just grab a bat every couple of innings. This is not in Young’s DNA, and Young, understandably, has requested a trade. The Rangers, however, are having a hard time finding a suitor for Young, thanks to his backloaded contract (three years, $48 million), which will make for one awkward clubhouse in a few days.

It’s hard not to feel bad for the guy. He merely signed the contract that the Rangers offered him, and his batting numbers have remained relatively consistent (save for his nine home runs in 2007, though he did knock in 94 runs and steal 13 bases that year). The Rangers are trying to grant his trade wish – they’ve reached out to Colorado and Florida – but everyone in baseball knows the Rangers are stuck, and they’re telling the Rangers they’ll take Young if the Rangers eat the vast majority of his contract. As it stands, it looks as though Young will be a DH and part-time first baseman. As selfless as he’s been in terms of doing what was best for the team, it has to sting that this is how he’s rewarded for his selflessness.


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Is Ichiro the most overrated hitter in baseball?

The Chicago Tribune polled a couple of writers on which hitters were the most overrated in MLB. Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun said Jose Reyes, while Mandy Housenick of The Morning Call went with Carl Crawford and Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times noted J.D. Drew.

While some of the names were a little surprising, the award for biggest head-scratcher went to Phil Rogers of the Tribune, who said Ichiro was the most overrated.

What’s the definition of “most overrated?” You could look at it just in terms of hitting ability, but in my opinion major league baseball is always about the money, so l’m going to consider it in relation to a hitter’s value to a team. That makes this an easy question, as Ichiro Suzuki — who you can argue is the best pure hitter in the game — is clearly the most overrated.

What do his 200-plus hits every season — heavily loaded with singles — do for the Mariners? He had a majors-high 225 in 2009 and they scored the fewest runs in the AL. He’s again leading the majors with 58 hits (including 48 singles), and Seattle is 14-26. Singles hitters, even those with speed, need to be in deep lineups to realize their value.

The drop in power numbers in recent years makes the guys who do regularly drive the ball to walls, and over walls, as valuable as they’ve ever been. A singles hitter in a bad lineup is a hood ornament on a beater. These days, that’s Ichiro.

Rogers is basically penalizing Ichiro because he’s not what Adrian Gonzalez is to the Padres. Because he doesn’t hit for power, he can’t carry the M’s like can Gonzo can for San Diego, so therefore he’s overrated.

Sorry, but that’s some backwards logic.

Ichiro has never been considered a power guy and there’s a reason he has always hit at the top of Seattle’s lineup: He gets on base. That’s what the club pays him for and while Rogers may think that the M’s overpay for that service, Ichiro is what he is. It’s not his fault that the rest of the Mariners’ offensive is a collective of hot garbage.

Plus, the Mariners have been built on pitching and defense because of their home park. They play small ball and Ichiro is the catalyst for their offense. Again, it’s not his fault that Seattle averages a fraction of a run every night. He’s doing his job, so what is Rogers looking for?

Of all the names listed in the article, I’d have to agree with Shaikin’s choice of Drew for the most overrated. He’s making $14 million this season to essentially, as Shaikin so aptly put it, be a complementary player. The last time I checked, Drew hasn’t finished with an average over .300 since 2004, unlike Ichiro, who hasn’t hit less than .300 once since he’s been in the majors.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Five new playoff contenders for the 2010 MLB season

While some enthusiasts will argue otherwise, there’s usually not a lot of change from one year to the next in baseball. Most pundits expect the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals, Twins, Dodgers and Rockies (all eight teams that made the playoffs in 2009) to be good again this year. MLB isn’t like the NFL where teams make unexpected playoff runs every year.

That said, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a couple of sleepers to watch out for in 2010. Below are five clubs that didn’t make the postseason last year that have the best odds (in my estimation) of making the playoffs this season.

1. Chicago White Sox
If you read the 2010 MLB season preview, you’re not surprised to see the White Sox at the top of this list. As long as Jake Peavy stays healthy, Chicago arguably has the best starting rotation one through five in the American League. (Boston fans may argue otherwise, but Boston fans can also shove off…just kidding…although not really.) But the key to the Chi Sox’s success this season lies in their offense. Yes, I’m banking on veterans Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios, Mark Teahen, Paul Konerko and Mark Kotsay to have productive years and yes, that may be asking a lot. But Gordon Beckham looks like a star in the making and the addition of Juan Pierre gives the Sox a solid leadoff hitter. I’m well aware that Chicago could finish third in a three-team race in the AL Central, but their pitching is going to keep them competitive all season and I’m willing to bet that their offense won’t be as bad as many believe.

2. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have all the pieces in place to not only compete for the AL Wild Card, but also unseat the Angels in the AL West. Along with Felix Hernandez, the acquisition of Cliff Lee now gives Seattle the best 1-2 punch in the American League outside of Boston’s Josh Beckett and John Lackey. The problem is that the lineup lacks major punch. Chone Figgins and Ichiro give the M’s quality bats at the top of the order, but can this team score enough runs on a nightly basis? The club has been built on pitching and defense but if they want to make the postseason, the Mariners will have to prove that they can overcome a powerless lineup.

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