Thursday, August 2, 2012

MLB Trade Deadline provides new outlooks for several teams

Each July 31st at 4:00 pm, Major League Baseball ends one of the most fascinating times during the baseball season, the weeks leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline. Teams who feel they are in contention for a playoff berth will invest in new players to varying degrees and teams who are far removed from playoff position choose to unload veteran talent in return for younger less expensive players in an effort to rebuild.

This year was as frenzied as any other, with MLB several teams looking to change their outlooks for this season and those in the future. Let's take a look at some of the teams.

Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies lost Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for a better part of the season to injury and quickly fell off the map. Cliff Lee went months without a win, he has two for the entire season (18 starts) and Roy Halladay spent significant time on the DL. Without Cole Hamelsexcellent season, the Phillies would be even further back.

But, with the writing on the wall for the Phillies, general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. began to put word out that the team was going to unload salary. Shane Victorino's name came up most often at first, but there were several players who could be used on other teams, like Ty Wigginton, Juan Pierre and Joe Blanton. Then over the last couple of days leading up to the deadline, Hunter Pence's name began to surface as well as Lee's.

The Phillies signed Hamels to a six year/$144 million contract last week which signaled the direction the team was going. They would build around Halladay, Hamels and Lee and abscond with the high priced outfielders. In the end they moved Victorino and Pence within a couple hours on Tuesday. They received one major league ready OF in Nate Schierholtz and four minor leaguers. The Phillies called up Domonic Brown and seem intent on giving him a real chance to stick in the Phillies outfield.

It is a washed up season for the Phillies and they may still try to trade Lee during the offseason, but his contract is going to cause problems with that unless they kick some cash in. With or without Lee, the Phillies will have a great top of the rotation and can use their financial power to invest elsewhere on the roster to compliment aging stars in Howard and Utley, who they'll hope to get full seasons from.

Los Angeles Dodgers
At the other end of the spectrum there is new ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers and they have opened up their wallets. The new group led by Magic Johnson, went out and traded for Hanley Ramirez and Victorino providing Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier with two productive bats. The addition of Ramirez and Victorino adds more pop and speed in the middle of the order and should help alleviate some pressure on Kemp and Ethier.

They also received relief help getting Randy Choate along with Ramirez and Brandon League from the Seattle Mariners addressing middle relief depth.

The Dodgers are definitely all in and hope to bring postseason baseball back to Dodger Stadium this year. After getting out to a great start they are now in a tight race with the San Francisco Giants with the Arizona Diamondbacks lurking.

Miami Marlins
The Marlins opened a new park this season and made some free agent moves signifying they may be ready to turn the page on producing a winner. The worry was that the whole thing was a ploy to get the new stadium and at the first sign of trouble the team would start selling off parts. No one thought it would be this soon.

Less than four months after opening the park the Marlins began to trade away pieces and re-group. They moved long time star Hanley Ramirez, who over the last few seasons has become combative about his role with the team. They traded Anibal Sanchez and Gaby Sanchez as well. They were unable to find a partner for Josh Johnson but there is always the offseason. I wouldn't expect him to be around much longer.

The team maintains a core of newcomers Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle as well as power hitting Giancarlo Stanton and Twitter phenom Logan Morrison, who can actually handle a bat pretty well too.

Sadly, even with the new ballpark, the team is unable to draw to capacity. They have been a major disappointment on the field and that certainly hasn't helped any. Expect the Marlins to try and get something for Johnson and rebuild behind the players mentioned above during the offseason to continue their most recent purge. Unfortunately for them this decimation of the roster does not come on the heels of a World Series championship as the other two did under owner Jeffrey Loria.

Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates, who have playoff aspirations and for the first time in a long time, made moves at the trade deadline signaling a push for the playoffs and not as an aid for another team's march to the postseason.

At the deadline the Pirates found themselves in control of one of the two National League Wild Card slots and while they did not make any splashy moves, they solidified their lineup and strengthened their rotation. They acquired Gaby Sanchez from the Marlins and Wandy Rodriguez from division rival Houston Astros. They made a last second deal with the New York Yankees for Chad Qualls, sending an expendable Casey McGehee to the Bronx.

Behind NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and rotation leader A.J. Burnett, the Pirates look like a team which can keep the winning going and reach the postseason for the first time since 1992. It's been a long re-building process and this season the fans of Pittsburgh may finally be rewarded with playoff games in one of MLB's greatest ballparks, PNC Park.

Chicago Cubs
Speaking of re-building, the Cubs went into the season knowing full well they would be unable to compete in the NL Central. They hired Theo Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox to be their president and he lured his former right hand man Jed Hoyer from the San Diego Padres to be his general manager.

The team didn't disappoint as far as their performance was concerned, doing exactly what was expected of them, lose. They have moved or let go of several pieces in the offseason, understanding they would need to start from practically scratch.

At the deadline the Cubs made three moves. One was expected, but took much longer than many felt prior to the trading season setting off. That transaction was Ryan Dempster going to the Texas Rangers. Dempster is having his best season (5-5, 2.25 ERA) and it was speculated that he was going to be traded for some time. The Cubs were able to manufacture a deal for pitching prospect Randall Delgado of the Atlanta Braves, but Dempster used his 10-and-5 veto rights to block the trade.

Then the Dodgers got into the action and it looked like they'd acquire the veteran right-hander, but the Dodgers did not want to give up much for a two-month rental. The teams conversed right up until the final hour and then the Rangers, in desperation to keep up with the Los Angeles Angels, who acquired Zach Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers a few days prior, swooped in for Dempster's services.

The Cubs made two other deadline deals, trading starter Paul Maholm to the Braves and catcher Geovany Soto to the Rangers in a separate move earlier in the day.

The Cubs are certainly not finished. They wanted to trade Matt Garza, but an injury has lessened his value for the time being and they've desired to rid themselves of Alfonso Soriano's contract for some time. Each player may pass through waivers and become eligible to be traded in August. In the upcoming offseason the Cubs will continue to grow around Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson as the core of the youth movement in Chicago.

In the end each of these teams has one thing in mind, getting better. Some are working for the short term prize of a World Series championship, and the others are hoping this is the first stage in a process that will make them buyers at a future deadline. No matter which way you view it, there is nothing more exciting off the diamond than the MLB trade deadline, and this year was no exception.