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.

New Rules and The Five Best Players on the Trade Market

The MLB trade deadline is a mere two weeks away. But so far, as a result of stipulations sprouting from the league’s most recent collective bargaining agreement, including the addition of an extra wild card spot in each league, the market has been quiet, too quiet. As one baseball executive told Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, “we’re all waiting for somebody else to make the first move.”

With that second wild card spot looming large, a lot more teams consider themselves contenders at this point in the season than would in years past. Eleven of the 14 American League squads are within two games of a playoff spot, and half of the NL’s 16 teams are within three.

What effect the surge in contenders will have on trade activity remains to be seen. When just about everybody thinks they have a shot at the playoffs, a lot of teams that might have been content to coast along become buyers. Just look to the Miami Marlins for your case in point. Despite currently being three games under .500, six back from that final playoff spot, and towards the bottom of the barrel in runs (28th), average (24th), on-base percentage (23rd), and slugging (23rd), they sent two prospects to the Astros for Carlos Lee. But just as many would-be sellers may be more inclined to hold on to their stars and see what comes of it.

Then there’s the new rules regarding compensatory draft picks to consider. In the past, a team that traded for a big name in his contract year knew that even if they couldn’t resign him in the offseason, they’d at least get an early draft pick for their troubles. Take the 2004 Carlos Beltran trade for example. The Astros weren’t able to sign him in the offseason, but they did get a pick in the supplemental first round of the 2005 draft (38th overall). If that trade happened today, they’d get no such selection. Teams will now only be compensated for players lost in free agency if they plays for that team the entire season, so a rental really is just a rental. Even if a player does stay in the same place all year, teams will only get draft compensation for a lost free agent if they tender him a “qualifying offer,” which is a one-year deal worth the average of the league’s top 125 salaries, or around $12.5 million.

All this means that even the best players on the trade market likely won’t command as much in return as they would have just last year. But at this point, the few teams that are looking to sell haven’t adjusted their expectations to match the new rules, which has contributed to the gridlock. However, as we get closer to the July 31 deadline, both buyers and sellers will get desperate, and the market is sure to heat up. As such, let’s countdown the five best players that just might find themselves in a new uniform come August.

5. Carlos Quentin, OF, San Diego Padres

This spot could just as easily have gone to Cubs’ righty Matt Garza, but there’s a dearth of hitting on the market this year, so Quentin’s value is skewed upward. Plus, I’m on a roll talking about guys named Carlos. Anyway, Quentin is currently hitting .266 with eight home runs and 21 RBI. Don’t discount him for that RBI total though, Quentin missed the first few weeks of the season due to injury and is the lone bright spot in perhaps the league’s worst offensive lineup  (the Padres are dead last in runs and slugging, 27th in average, and 25th in OBP). More important than any of those stats is Quentin’s.391 on-base percentage.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported that at least four teams, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Miami, have expressed interest in Quentin, although it’s uncertain whether the Marlins are still in the running following the Lee acquisition. Additionally, the Tigers and Blue Jays were once believed to be targeting him, but that may no longer be the case.

4. Ryan Dempster, SP, Chicago Cubs

With a record of 36-52, which has them 13.5 games behind in the NL Central, the Cubs are one of the few definitive sellers in the league. The 35 year-old Dempster has made 14 starts this year and has a record of 5-3, a 1.02 WHIP and a major league best 1.86 ERA. Plus, after throwing six shutout innings in a win against the Reds on Friday, Dempster has now gone 33 straight innings without giving up a run. That’s the longest scoreless innings streak for a Cubs pitcher since 1969 and is the longest in the majors this season. Orel Hershiser owns the record for the longest such streak, the righty pitched 59 consecutive scoreless innings in 1988.

The Sporting News reported that as many as ten teams (including the Braves, Red Sox, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Dodgers, Yankess, and Nationals) have expressed interest in Dempster, and that a deal could be imminent. On Monday, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that the Red Sox have been Dempster’s most agressive suitors.

3. Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Upton is a two-time all-star and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting last season after hitting .289 with 31 home runs, 88 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. The 24 year-old outfielder’s numbers have dropped off this season, but given his youth and upside, he’s one of the deadline’s hottest commodities. Yesterday, Paul Swydan of Fangraphs discussed just how rare it is for a player who’s had as much success as Upton has at such a young age to be traded. Nonetheless, Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers has stated publicly that he’s open to discussions.

The Pirates, Braves, and Rangers have all expressed interest in Upton. On Monday, Fox Sport’s Ken Rosenthal reported that if he so desired, the young slugger could use his no-trade clause to prevent being dealt to four teams: the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Cubs.

2. Zack Greinke, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

Greinke is having one of the best seasons of his career, the 28 year-old righty is 9-3 with a 3.57 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 117 strikeouts in 116 innings pitched. A bad month of July and a recent announcement that he’ll be given 10 days of rest before his next start, which is now scheduled for July 24, might make some less willing to make a deal. However, a number of teams, including the White Sox and Angels have expressed interest. And why not? Greinke is the best pitcher on the market, bar one, and is smack dab in the middle of his prime. Jon Heyman reported that the Brewers were ready to offer Greinke a five-year deal worth $100 million, but were skeptical that he would accept their bid mid-season and forgo a run on the open market. If they don’t think they can resign him, it might be in the Brewers’ best interest to make a deal, considering their 42-47 record, which has them eight games back in the NL Central. The team will surely be weighing all possibilities: resigning, losing him in free agency and getting some compensatory draft picks, or making a trade for prospects.

1. Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Who else could be number one? This year, Hamels is 11-4 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 125 strikeouts in 126 innings. Hamels’ situation is near identical to Greinke’s, only the stats are better and the financial numbers are bigger. The Phillies are prepared to offer the 28 year-old lefty a five-year deal worth $120 million, but like Greinke, it’s doubtful Hamels accept anything midseason and forgo a chance to test the waters of free agency, where he will command big money, like $25 mil a year big.

Scouts from seven different teams were on hand to see Hamels pitch an eight inning, six hit, one run gem in Denver on Sunday. The teams represented were the Rangers, Pirates, Tigers, Marlins, Dodgers, Giants, and Angels. But the same day, Jon Heyman listed ten teams that wanted to be Cole-powered. Four of them (Texas, Detroit, and both LA teams) were among those that sent Scouts to Colorado, but Heyman also included the White Sox, Red Sox, Braves, Orioles, Yankees, and Blue Jays in the list of Hamels’ potential suitors. So between those two reports, 13 teams, or nearly half the league, has expressed interest in acquiring the Phillies’ ace. It’s going to be an interesting two weeks.

Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

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