- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Is it us, or did we just finish a trade-deadline July we'll look back on in 50 years and still find ourselves wondering: What the heck happened there?
Think about the men who got traded, in a span of 24 action-packed days in July:
An incumbent Cy Young Award winner (CC Sabathia). The starting pitcher with the best strikeout ratio in baseball this year (Rich Harden). And the second switch-hitter in history to rip off four straight seasons of 30 homers, 100 RBIs and a .500 slugging percentage (Mark Teixeira).
Whew. That should be a Hall of Fame ballot, not a shopping list of guys you could line up and trade for. Shouldn't it?
We can't remember a parade of players like that ever landing in the same pre-deadline transactions column. And neither could anyone else we surveyed Thursday.
Usually, at least in recent deadline years, it has been a bunch of little names and smaller pieces that got traded in the scorching days of late July. Not this year.
This year, those little names got trampled by the stampede of the glitterati -- especially on Deadline Day itself, when, aside from the Griffey and Manny World Blockbusters, just about nothing happened.
"There was so much attention, and so much effort, put into the big things," said a frustrated official of one contender that came away with zilch, "and there were so many teams that thought they had a chance to get involved in one of those [whopper] deals, it pushed all the little deals down into the background. And by the time those deals got done or not done, there was really no time left to do the little things."
Maybe the August waiver-deal period will turn out to be "little thing" time. We'll see. But in the meantime, let's try to sort out the true Winners and Losers of a pre-deadline July to remember:
On the Fourth of July, they were nine games out of first and looking like just another .500-ish team. Now, here the Yankees are, a game behind the Red Sox, four games out of first, a bunch of glaring weaknesses shored up and no more Manny-mania to worry about. (Manny's career numbers against the Yankees: .321 BA, .1.029 OPS, 55 HRs, 163 RBIs in 200 games.)
Now, they have a left-handed reliever (Damaso Marte) to haul out of the bullpen for every Big Papi occasion, a right-handed bat (Xavier Nady) to fill out the lineup against the Jon Lesters and Scott Kazmirs in their future and a Hall of Fame catcher (though a fading 36-year-old version of Pudge Rodriguez) to plug in for Jorge Posada. So, who would bet against their extending their hallowed stadium's life into October now?
"Nobody," said one GM, "did a better job of putting pieces together than the Yankees."
No one knows what the Dodgers are going to get from their man Manny these next two months. Not Joe Torre. Not Scott Boras. Not even Manny himself. But it won't be all good. We know that. Not when you have a slightly whacked-out man on a shameless money mission. Not when the manager has to figure out how to play five "regular" outfielders on one roster. And not, certainly, when Manny puts a glove on his hand.
• Red Sox
The eviction of Ramirez is a story with so many levels that it's impossible to sum them all up with a one-word label such as "winner" or "loser." We recognize that. There's also a value to subtracting a selfish, disruptive, divisive knucklehead like Manny from an otherwise-harmonious, purposeful clubhouse. We recognize that, too.
And Jason Bay is a heck of a player, one who can stick around and patrol left field in Fenway next year, too. We recognize all of that. Honestly, if the Red Sox went out now and won another World Series, it wouldn't shock us a bit.
But they still find themselves dumped into the Losers column of this opus because this trade marks the end of a special era in the life of their team. They have a different aura now than they had a week ago. And the reaction of folks all over their division to Manny's unceremonious exit -- an exit subsidized with $7 million of those hard-earned Red Sox dollars, we should note -- told us all we needed to know:
It felt like Mardi Gras for the rest of the AL East.
"Don't get me wrong," said an executive of one AL East club. "The Red Sox do a great job. They utilize every advantage they have, and they use all their resources as well as anyone. But sometimes, I don't think even they realized what they had in Manny. When Manny comes up, you feel like you have to pass out ex-lax to your whole team because everybody gets a sick feeling in their stomach -- especially when he had [David] Ortiz there in the middle with him.
"Look, Jason Bay is a great player. But he's not Manny. You're talking about one of the greatest right-handed hitters in the history of the game. I've seen so many situations where you'd think you've got a game, and then all of a sudden that guy came up and everything changed. I've seen what he does to pitchers. I've seen how he changes games. They'll miss that. That's all I can say."
No seller made two bigger trades in the past week than the Pirates. Up the Monongahela went Nady, Marte and Bay. Down the river came eight young players of varying age, experience and reputation.
We found people in baseball who love the upside of 21-year-old right-hander Bryan Morris, the one-time No. 1 pick the Pirates got from the Dodgers in the Bay trade. We found others who love the stuff of Ross Ohlendorf and the makeup of Daniel McCutchen (both of whom arrived in the Marte/Nady deal). And the three older players they got in the Bay trade (Andy LaRoche, Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss) are all big-league-ready.
But the word we heard used most to describe the Pirates' return in these two trades was "quantity." Which isn't always a compliment.
"Did the Pirates get one young impact player back in any deal?" wondered an executive of one team. "My answer is no. Did they get an Evan Longoria-type they could drop in the middle of their order? Did they get a No. 1 starter? I don't see that. To me, they went for numbers. Yeah, they built depth in their system. But they just traded Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. That's three awfully big chips. And I'm looking for that one slam-dunk guy -- a guy who can make an impact on a lineup or on a pitching staff. And I just can't find one."
Then again, in fairness to the Pirates, you can also argue that no team was able to trade for an impact player like that, because there just wasn't one to be had. And we'll say this for the Pirates: It wasn't for lack of trying. It seemed as if they asked for every young impact player in the minor leagues at some point or another. So it's telling that they didn't get even one guy like that back. But hey, here's the best part of all:
At least this year went a heck of a lot better than last year's Deadline Day (when they swooped in to trade for the disaster that was Matt Morris, who will be collecting the last two months of the $13 million the Pirates owed him on a beach someplace).
• The Sunshine State (Marlins and Rays)
Manny Mania didn't leave its mark just on the Red Sox, Pirates and Dodgers. The real losers were two teams that were hardworking, conscientious adjuncts to that deal and wound up with nothing but tire tracks on their backs to show for it. That would be the Marlins and Rays.
The Marlins thought they had their own trade for Manny all but done late Wednesday night, only to have it blow up when the Pirates decided they weren't happy with their end of the deal.
That opened a path for the Rays to plow in Thursday and nearly come away with Bay -- only to see him drop through a trap door in the final 10 minutes before the deadline and end up in Boston.
Well, maybe both of these teams will make the playoffs anyway. Maybe in August they'll both find those pieces they were looking for. Maybe the Marlins will be better off without Manny. And maybe the first-place Rays will understand that their front office thought they deserved the right to finish what they started, so it was only going to make a deal if it was one that made a difference.
But maybe not -- to all of the above. In the meantime, two of the best front offices in baseball came away from this deadline merely leading their respective leagues in frustration.
• NL East
The five NL East clubs did get a few trades done in the past couple of weeks. We'll grant them that. The Phillies did trade for Joe Blanton. The Braves did trade away Teixeira. And the Nationals did ship Jon Rauch to Arizona. But when July 31 had come and gone, it was safe to say they've all had better Deadline Days.
The Mets lost out on Raul Ibanez and every bullpen arm they chased. The Phillies targeted a left-handed reliever for months and never found one. The Braves couldn't locate a taker for eminently available Will Ohman. The Nationals couldn't find a home for Felipe Lopez, Paul Lo Duca, Tim Redding, Luis Ayala or anyone else on the roster.
And although Florida didn't have a real enjoyable day, either (see above), at least the Fish did come away with something (namely 38-year-old situational relic Arthur Rhodes).
"I'll tell you. I might take Florida to win the East now," one scout said. "Arthur Rhodes can get those left-handers on the Phillies and Mets out -- something Renyel Pinto and Taylor Tankersley couldn't do. And nobody seems to know it, but now that they've got Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez back, they've got the best starting pitching in the division. The Phillies and Mets have holes they need to address. And neither one of them did it."
If ever there was a team that should have used this deadline to clear out as much money, dead weight and extraneous parts as it could export, wasn't Seattle it?
So how could this deadline have come and gone with only Rhodes driving into the sunset? How could Ibanez still be there? How could Jarrod Washburn still be there? How could one-third of that roster not have been traded in the past couple of weeks?
"I'm cutting them a little slack," one rival GM said. "They're leader-less right now."
True, they have an interim GM (the well-liked Lee Pelekoudas) and a confusing ownership arrangement and an uncertain chain of command.
But they angered teams they spoke to with what were widely viewed as outrageous demands. And the bottom line is that this deadline represented a lost renovation opportunity in the middle of an already-lost season. And how many lost opportunities can clubs like this afford?
"I really don't know how to describe that club right now," one AL executive said. "It just seems to be a train wreck out there."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
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