While I’m listening to the A’s early game against the Tigers, I thought I would reflect on the deadline moves made yesterday.
To start with, let’s briefly compare the MLB trading deadline to the football transfer deadline. In both cases, the deadline creates weeks of rumours before all of the frantic action seemingly takes place with only hours remaining. The pressure of the deadline means that teams can no longer mull deals over; they have to make a decision or miss their chance. That’s really where the common ground ends though due to the very different regulations and structures of the two sports.
Firstly, the MLB trading market is heavily influenced by the absent threat of relegation. Whereas teams near the bottom of the Premiership are often the most active (or, more precisely, desperate) buyers, if you are having a bad season in MLB you can shop your main assets and rebuild for the future. The fact that players are traded rather than bought also has a massive bearing on whether a team is prepared to pull the trigger on a deal. If you pay a transfer fee for a player who subsequently flops, it causes a bit of embarrassment for a while and then everyone moves on. However, if you have to trade a few prospects for a player and it doesn’t work out then it’s almost like death by a thousand cuts. Every home run, RBI or great piece of fielding by one of your former prospects is a painful reminder of a deal gone wrong. As I’ve mentioned before, a GM will face less criticism for a good deal they don’t make than a bad deal they do. So, the simple desire to not look stupid does seem to make some GMs more reluctant to finalize a deal. There are a few organizations who don’t fear stupidity, but we’ll come to them later.
Overall, the MLB deadline passed in the way many predicted: there were a few moves, but nothing particularly earth-shattering. Undoubtedly the team that has improved the most is the Atlanta Braves. Adding Teixeira, Mahay and Dotel provides them with a premium bat and two quality bullpen arms. I’m still of the opinion that they’ve slightly overpaid for Teixeira, but there’s certainly a valid argument that it was a risk worth taking. They are in the thick of the NL East battle right now and these moves make them the team to beat in the Senior circuit (especially as neither the Mets nor the Phillies really added much of great use). They’ve certainly improved their chances of making the play-offs and, as St Louis proved last season, once you get there anything can happen. So while they may have lost some exciting young talent, they’ve given themselves a real shot at winning the World Series this season (and possibly the next). It’s a gamble, but a calculated one.
The Red Sox picked up the prize relief arm by signing Eric Gagne. It barely needs stating that they look to be in an extremely strong position to win the AL East and to get to the World Series. It’s a great deal for the Red Sox under any circumstances, yet when you consider that the Yankees are having a relative off-year, it makes even more sense to take advantage and to add that one extra piece of the puzzle.
The Braves and the Red Sox took advantage of the “Texas sales” and the Rangers themselves can be happy with what they have achieved. Jon Daniels had to move several players before the deadline passed and that’s not necessarily the easiest bargaining position from which to get a good deal. It looks as though he has bagged a good haul of young talent to start the rebuilding process in Texas.
Elsewhere, the Yankees picked up a very useful bench player in Wilson Betemit even though they didn’t really make a move to greatly help their pursuit of the Red Sox this season. The decision not to trade any of their young arms was probably the most important non-trade of the deadline. The Padres have tried to address their woeful offense by picking up a few hitters from the bargain bin over the last few weeks and they continued that trend yesterday by taking a chance on Morgan Ensberg. It’s low risk and was worth doing. Apart from that, most teams just let the deadline go by without much interest (publicly at least). In some cases the inactivity might be worthy of criticism. Both LA teams need reinforcements and a few organizations really should have cashed in their chips to build for another year even if they wouldn’t have gained future All-Stars in the process (I’m not a fan of the extensions given to Belliard and Young by the Nats, for a start). Of course, we don’t know what offers were on the table so it’s difficult to be too critical. There are suggestions that a few deals might go through on the waiver wire over the next month. We shall see.
So, the Braves and the Red Sox have given their World Series 2007 chances a boost while the Rangers have laid the foundations for a real challenge in a few year’s time. The Pirates? Well, they’ve decided to pay Matt Morris $13.7 million over the next year and a third in a move that won’t help them win anything now and won’t help them win in the future. Morris is average at best and moving away from the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park is only going to make things worse (his Road ERA is nearly a full run higher than his Home ERA this season). The Pirates’ GM, Dave Littlefield, has no fewer than six “special assistants” helping him make decisions like this. You can only feel sorry for the long-suffering fans in Pittsburgh. It doesn’t look like an end to losing seasons (never mind, god forbid, a trip to the post-season) is coming any time soon.