Commentary

Deadline deals: From studs to duds

Among contenders, Holliday-to-Cardinals trade ranks highest in terms of impact

Originally Published: September 2, 2009
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

A month isn't very much time to assess a trade. But when you have only two months to see whether a deal is serving its intended purpose, four weeks will have to suffice.

Scott Rolen, Orlando Cabrera, Jerry Hairston, Jack Wilson, Ian Snell, John Grabow, Edwin Encarnacion, Ronny Cedeno and Kevin Hart were among the players who changed teams at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Except for Hairston, who's a reserve for the Yankees, and Cabrera, who has a .282 on-base percentage in 29 games with Minnesota, they all joined clubs on the fringe or going nowhere.

So what about the most aggressive trades made by contending clubs in late July? We spend this edition of Starting 9 looking at the short-term bump that contenders received in deadline deals, and rank the trades from most to least impactful.

Because no one knows how Brett Wallace, Tim Alderson and the young players involved in these deals will fare long-term, we're ranking the trades through a short-term prism. And there will be no discussion here of Jake Peavy's rehab and the Chicago White Sox's recent implosion. That's a subject for another day.

Holliday

Matt Holliday to the Cardinals

The deal: Oakland trades Holliday to St. Louis for minor leaguers Brett Wallace, Shane Peterson and Clayton Mortensen.

The verdict: Holliday has an 1.121 OPS for the Cardinals, who are 26-9 since his arrival and have added nine games to their lead in the NL Central. Infielders Julio Lugo and Mark DeRosa were also acquired in pre-deadline deals, but Holliday's impact has been monumental. The latest big moment: a three-run homer against the Brewers on Tuesday after Milwaukee walked Albert Pujols in front of him.

Theories abound for Holliday's hot streak. Scouts speculate he's seeing better pitches in St. Louis because he's hitting in a stronger lineup. Holliday has his timing back after putting the leg kick back into his swing. He has a familiarity with the National League, and the style of pitching in the NL plays to his strengths.

"They don't pitch inside in the National League very much," a scout said. "In the American League, they understand that you have to pound the heck out of good hitters like that. A guy like Holliday wants to extend."

Holliday's big late-season push is great for his financial outlook. One NL front-office man estimates that Holliday could make an extra $3 million a year as a free agent this winter because of his strong finish. If Holliday signs for six to eight years, that could mean an extra $18-24 million. With a big October, that estimate might be conservative.

Holliday recently expressed interest in staying with the Cardinals. "Hopefully, there'll be some progress, and hopefully, I'll be able to stick around here for a long time," he told a St. Louis radio station.

That's two "hopefullys" in one sentence. That warm and fuzzy thinking runs contrary to the Scott Boras playbook, so it'll be interesting to see whether Holliday continues to express those sentiments publicly. For some reason, we doubt it.

Lee

Cliff Lee to the Phillies

The deal: Cleveland trades Lee and Ben Francisco to Philadelphia for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Lou Marson and Jason Donald.

The verdict: In his first five starts with Philadelphia, Lee posted a 5-0 record and a 0.68 ERA, threw 71.2 percent of his pitches for strikes and elicited comparisons to Rick Sutcliffe, Randy Johnson and CC Sabathia, pitchers who were traded in the middle of the season and had enormous impacts on their new clubs.

After the Braves touched him up for three homers Saturday, it just spawned the obligatory "Lee is human, after all" headlines in the local newspapers.

Lee graciously bowed out of Cy Young speculation, but his impact is undeniable. He gives the Phillies a bona fide No. 1 starter, and his presence has allowed Cole Hamels to work through his issues in a less pressurized environment. J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton combined for a 5-3 record and a 2.26 ERA in August, so the Phillies' rotation is setting up nicely for October.

"It's hard to say this, considering that he won the Cy Young Award last year, but he's more impressive as a pitcher than I thought," Phillies catcher Paul Bako said. "The movement on his pitches is so late and sudden at the end, you can't really get a feel for how good he is unless you catch him or you're standing in the batter's box."

Although Francisco is hitting only .220 as a Phillie, he had his moment to remember with a 12th-inning homer off Kevin Gregg to beat the Cubs on Aug. 11.

Martinez

Victor Martinez to the Red Sox

The deal: Cleveland trades Martinez to Boston for pitcher Justin Masterson and two minor leaguers.

The verdict: Martinez wore dark glasses to hide the tears upon his departure from Cleveland, and Indians general manager Mark Shapiro was equally emotional. Martinez is regarded as a great teammate, and he made his mark on the Indians' clubhouse in 11 years with the organization.

The guy also can rake. In 28 games with Boston, Martinez is hitting .313 with an .886 OPS. His two-run double was the big hit during Texas closer Frank Francisco's six-run ninth-inning blowup in an 8-4 victory for the Red Sox on Aug. 14.

Boston is expected to exercise its $7 million option on Martinez for 2010, and Martinez seems amenable to a long-term arrangement. Manager Terry Francona says Jason Bay needed about 10 minutes to blend into Boston's clubhouse, and Martinez has been no different.

"Who wouldn't want to play here in Boston?" Martinez told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. "It's up to them, but from my side, I would want to stay here."

LaRoche

Adam LaRoche to the Braves

The deal: Boston trades LaRoche to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman.

The verdict: The Braves know all about LaRoche's penchant for turning it on in the second half. LaRoche has a career .773 OPS before the All-Star break and a .917 OPS after it.

LaRoche also has a comfort level in Atlanta after breaking in with the Braves, and he welcomed the opportunity to return and hit in the same lineup as his offseason hunting buddy, Chipper Jones.

But no one quite expected this. LaRoche has eight homers in 99 at-bats with Atlanta, after Kotchman hit only six in 298 ABs as a Brave. LaRoche is making a push for a free-agent deal with the Braves, who would be best served giving 19-year-old prospect Freddie Freeman another year in the minors.

At first glance, Atlanta's lineup is way too left-handed. But Matt Diaz and Martin Prado have worn out lefty pitchers, and that has helped compensate for how poorly Brian McCann and Nate McLouth have hit them. The Braves are 28-18 against lefty starters this year, compared to 42-44 versus righties.

Sherrill

George Sherrill to the Dodgers

The deal: Baltimore trades Sherrill to Los Angeles for minor leaguers Josh Bell and Steve Johnson.

The verdict: Before the Dodgers fortified their bench and rotation with the additions of Jim Thome and Jon Garland in late August, general manager Ned Colletti was concerned primarily with improving the bullpen.

If there were any questions about how Sherrill would adapt to a pennant race after pitching for afterthought teams in Seattle and Baltimore, he quickly answered them. He threw 14 1/3 shutout innings before allowing a solo homer to Arizona's Justin Upton on Monday.

"He's pitching in the National League, which helps, and he's good," an NL scout said. "He's a very deceptive, Sid Fernandez-type pitcher. He throws strikes, and hitters can't see the ball until it's on top of them."

Sherrill throws a lot of fly balls, so he's well-suited for Dodger Stadium. He gave the Dodgers a brief scare when he complained of pain in his right oblique muscle, but an MRI came back negative, and he's apparently OK.

Sherrill has helped ease the load on a Los Angeles bullpen that has logged 462 2/3 innings -- second-highest total in the majors behind San Diego. He also gives manager Joe Torre a Plan B in the event closer Jonathan Broxton gets hurt, struggles or is unavailable on a given night.

Left-handers have batted .119 against Sherrill this season, a comforting stat for Torre in the event the Dodgers face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez and the Phillies in October. Lefties are hitting an even more feeble .077 (2-for-26) against Hong-Chih Kuo, with 15 strikeouts in 26 at-bats.

Beimel
Betancourt

Rafael Betancourt, Joe Beimel to the Rockies

The deals: Colorado acquires Betancourt from Cleveland and Beimel from Washington in exchange for three minor league pitchers.

The verdict: Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd spent August loading on up veteran discards, picking up Jason Giambi, Russ Ortiz and Jose Contreras after the waiver deadline. Before the deadline, he was committed to improving his team's bullpen.

Betancourt coughed up a lead against the Dodgers last week and gave up a grand slam to Edgar Renteria in San Francisco on Sunday, but he began his tenure in Colorado with 14 straight shutout innings. He's been throwing his fastball in the 92-93 mph range, and it has plenty of hop on it.

"He's healthy now, and he wasn't healthy in Cleveland," a scout said. "He makes hitters change their eye level. He's got the real good changeup and the real small slider, and he throws strikes. He comes right at you."

Beimel is a nice complement to hard-throwing Franklin Morales in Colorado's bullpen. The lefties have combined to average a strikeout per inning for the Rockies.

Garko
Sanchez

Freddy Sanchez, Ryan Garko to the Giants

The deals: San Francisco gets Sanchez from Pittsburgh for minor league pitcher Tim Alderson, and Garko from Cleveland for pitcher Scott Barnes.

The verdict: San Francisco GM Brian Sabean, smelling a playoff run and hoping that a nondescript offense wouldn't continue to waste all that good pitching, made two moves in late July to try to upgrade the team's lineup.

Sanchez is hitting .304 as a Giant, but he appeared in only 13 games before going on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Sanchez felt so badly about it, he personally apologized to the fans, his teammates and the organization.

Garko, who admittedly pressed upon arrival in San Francisco, went 68 at-bats before his first home run. He has a .636 OPS in 28 games as a Giant.

"He's a part-time player, and his defense is a problem," a scout said. "But he can hit a fastball."

The Giants posted a 16-12 record in August while continuing to lean heavily on their pitching. Eugenio Velez ranked second on the team with 13 RBIs in August, and Juan Uribe slugged .566 in 17 games. If manager Bruce Bochy has to continue relying on those guys, San Francisco has issues.

Washburn

Jarrod Washburn to the Tigers

The deal: Seattle trades Washburn to Detroit for minor league pitchers Luke French and Mauricio Robles.

The verdict: The Washburn trade seemed like a shrewd move by Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, because it gave Detroit an experienced, crafty left-hander to complement hard-throwing young righties Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello in the rotation.

Everything was great until Washburn actually took the mound. He's 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA as a Tiger, and he has allowed a staggering 11 home runs in 37 innings.

With the exception of eight shutout innings against Kansas City, Washburn has been ordinary or worse in every outing. He beat the Angels 5-3 for his only win as a Tiger, but threw 59 strikes and 48 balls and was bailed out several times by his defense.

After giving up a six-spot to Tampa Bay in the first inning Monday, Washburn described his first month in Detroit as "pretty terrible." He'll have to spend some time in the bullpen with pitching coach Rick Knapp working out the kinks if he plans to help the Tigers hold off those hard-charging Twins in the AL Central.

Johnson

Nick Johnson to the Marlins

The deal: Washington trades Johnson to Florida for pitcher Aaron Thompson.

The verdict: Hanley Ramirez responded with a joyous whoop when the Marlins acquired Johnson at the deadline. Johnson arrived with a .408 OBP and seemed like an ideal fit in the second spot in the order ahead of Ramirez. As a fringe benefit, the Marlins were able to shift Jorge Cantu to third base and move the light-hitting Emilio Bonifacio to a utility role.

The end result was predictable. Johnson hit .308 with a .500 OBP in his first two weeks, then strained his hamstring in mid-August and was forced to go on the disabled list when the injury failed to respond to treatment and rest.

Since 2002, Johnson has been on the DL with a bruised wrist, fractured hand, strained lower back, fractured cheekbone, bruised heel, fractured femur, damaged tendon sheath in his wrist and now hamstring injury. Try telling him baseball isn't a contact sport.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer