Commentary

Phillies, Red Sox among trade winners

Blue Jays, Yankees fall into loser category; White Sox? Pirates? The jury's out

Updated: August 1, 2009, 2:03 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Well, the smoke has cleared from another trading deadline, and here's what we know:

• Two Cy Youngs got traded -- and neither was named Roy Halladay.

• We're pretty sure the Pirates just traded away everybody but a couple of program salesmen.

• And no game summed up the good old deadline madness better than Thursday's Cubs-Astros tilt -- in which both starting pitchers (Kevin Hart and Russ Ortiz) got lopped off their teams before they had even made it out of the ballpark.

"And that," one NL executive said, "shows you what a wacky week it was."

Ah, but this year's edition of Deadline Madness was more than just wacky. It will leave a powerful mark on the pennant races and the basement races, on the buyers and the sellers, and, especially, on what's left of the long march to October. So let's take a look at this year's Deadline Winners and Losers:

Five Winners

Contrary to popular belief, they didn't bamboozle the Indians into trading them a Cy Young Award winner (Cliff Lee) in exchange for a bunch of flotsam and jetsam. The Indians' haul in this deal was heavily underrated by the masses. And the Phillies didn't get the guy they really wanted -- Halladay -- either. But they did trade for the best pitcher who changed teams, saved $9 million compared with what Halladay would have cost, got an innings-eater who gives them a shot to win two more World Series and kept all the front-line prospects they were trying to keep out of the Halladay deal.

"I give [Phillies GM] Ruben [Amaro Jr.] a lot of credit," one AL executive said. "He got what he wanted, and he didn't have to give up the guy [hot pitching prospect Kyle Drabek] he didn't want to give up. But you know what? As good as Cliff Lee is, I still think it might have been worth it [to overpay for Halladay]. Roy Halladay in the National League would have been unhittable. He would have put up CC [Sabathia] numbers for a year and a half. I can't say that about Cliff Lee. But I do love Cliff Lee. I think he's a fantastic pitcher."

They're the big-game hunters of Deadline Day. Every year, they pull off something mammoth -- by design. And this year's regularly scheduled extravaganza -- for Cleveland's Victor Martinez -- netted them exactly the kind of switch-hitting middle-of-the-order offensive force they needed. Even though Martinez is in a two-month funk (.193 average, .284 OBP, .340 SLG since May 22), he leads all big league catchers in homers and RBIs over the past six seasons. His ability to shift to first base gives the Sox roster insurance to help deal with Jason Varitek's and Mike Lowell's age and health issues. And like the Phillies, the Red Sox didn't have to give up the two young pitchers they thought they most needed to hang on to (Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard).

"Victor Martinez was the best offensive piece who got dealt," one scout said. "But they also need him because they're very concerned about Varitek, who just looks physically beat up. They had to get some help there. Plus, he gives them exactly the kind of bat they were looking for."

They didn't wait till Deadline Day to make their big moves. They reeled in Mark DeRosa more than a month ago, then scarfed up Matt Holliday on July 24, with Julio Lugo tossed in along the way. It cost the Cardinals four of their top six prospects, according to Baseball America. And if they can't re-sign either Holliday or DeRosa, that will feel like way too painful a price. But they've transformed their lineup into one of the deepest in the league -- and given the teams they play a reason to stop walking Albert Pujols. So those deals did just what midseason trades are supposed to do -- turn them into a dangerous matchup for anybody in October.

"They're huge winners," said an official of one NL team. "Adding Holliday and DeRosa to that lineup gives them exactly what they were missing. What it really does is maximizes Pujols' value. Now you don't know what the hell to do. You don't want to walk him, and you don't want to pitch to him, either. And unfortunately, you've only got two choices."

They didn't get the top-of-the-rotation starter they were stalking (Halladay or Lee). And they missed out on Heath Bell in one final pre-deadline buying spree. But there was only one impact bullpen arm who changed teams this week (George Sherrill). And it was the Dodgers who reeled him in -- without dealing away any prospect who figured in their short-term or middle-term plans. Sherrill is precisely what this bullpen needed. He can pitch the eighth inning. He can pitch the ninth. He devours left-handed hitters (who are batting .133, with precisely one extra-base hit and no homers, against him). And he could be a huge weapon in October if the Dodgers meet the lefty-loaded Phillies, who went hitless in three appearances against him this year.

"The first thing Sherrill gives them," one scout said, "is that their bullpen is worn out. So he'll be fresher than any of those guys. And if they see the Phillies down the road, he's one of the best left-on-left relievers there is."

They're not going to feel like winners in Cleveland right now. We know that. Trading away a rent-a-player such as DeRosa was one thing. Trading two pillars the likes of Martinez and Lee is another. So, as one AL front-office man put it, "I'm sure there are no smiles in Cleveland right now. You think about where they were in 2007, up 3-1 in the ALCS and one win away from the World Series. And next thing you know, they're the big sellers two years in a row in July. That can't feel real good."

But of the teams that spent July selling off, nobody reeled in the quality haul of prospects the Indians did. They collected six solid young players who are either big-league-ready now or will be shortly (Chris Perez, Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jess Todd). And they built both the Lee and Martinez deals around younger, 6-foot-5 flame-ballers who both project as No. 1 starters -- Jason Knapp and Nick Hagadone, respectively.

So for what they were trying to accomplish, they did well. But "here's the tough part," said the same front-office man. "This is different than trading CC. At least they could do that and know the next year they still had Cliff Lee. But these trades mean they're not going to win for a couple of years. I'm sure they're excited about a lot of the guys they got back. But 81 times a year, you've got to sit there and watch it. And that's tough. I think they're going to end up being really good in about 2012. But in the meantime, it's going to be hard."

Five Losers

This team, one exec said, wins "the all-time award for much ado about nothing." Three weeks ago, when GM J.P. Ricciardi let the word get out that the great Roy Halladay was available, it seemed inevitable that the ace would be calling the moving vans by Deadline Day. Instead, the Blue Jays just kept jacking the prices north instead of south, and never could get any team to pay them -- hard as a bunch of teams tried.

We give the Jays credit for one thing: They said from the start they wanted a special package in return -- the Erik Bedard deal, only better -- and they never wavered. Still, said an official of one AL team Friday morning, "If they end up with him on their team at 4:01 [i.e., after the deadline], that seems crazy to me. On the day after the season, they won't get 70 percent of what they've been offered right now. So either you'll be trading him for a lot less when you do it, or you're hoping for a one-year window in the toughest division in baseball and then you lose him for two draft picks. That just seems crazy to me."

Once again, the Angels arrived at the final week of July knowing they had a great shot to play in October. And once again, the deadline came and went without a single entry in their transactions column. Not that they didn't try. They made furious runs at Halladay and Lee. They were in the thick of the bidding for Sherrill and Heath Bell. But they couldn't finish off any of those deals. And although they had rational explanations for what happened in all those cases, this is a team that needs a pitching upgrade in general and a bullpen upgrade in particular to win in October. So it had better pray for a waiver-deal bargain to fall in its lap in August.

If everything in life comes down to Yankees-Red Sox, then any deadline when the Red Sox pull off a major coups and the Yankees trade for a utility guy (Jerry Hairston Jr.) has to dump the Yankees in the old "losers" column, even though they're obviously not exactly a team in need of a major overhaul.

"The one thing you have to say in their defense," one AL exec said, "is they're rolling. It's hard to find their fault right now."

But if this is a team without a hole, how come the Yankees made a run at Jarrod Washburn and Kansas City's Brian Bannister? Because they know themselves that they're one rotation injury from a potentially serious pitching crisis. If they can unearth a little pitching depth in August, we'll call off the Trouble Watch. But for now, any Deadline Day that passes without a significant Yankees move will be considered by the proper authorities to be an official "loss."

They liked their team in April, when they got off to that magical 18-11 start. They insist they still like it as they head into August, even though they won just 19 of their next 59 games. But it's tough to look at the Royals' roster and find more than two cornerstone players (Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria). So although this was another team that had reasonable explanations for not dealing anyone from Mark Teahen to Willie Bloomquist, it's still hard to think the Royals didn't miss an opportunity to change their mix and upgrade their system, at least a little.

"The one guy they really had a desire to move was [Gil] Meche," one exec said. "And then they couldn't even move him because he was hurt."

"I guess they like their team," another NL executive said. "But from afar, it's just hard to understand."

This team has played its tail off to climb from nine games under .500, and nine games out of first, to right in the thick of the race. But even the Astros aren't nearly as talented as the teams they're battling, and they sat out the whole deadline free-for-all, from start to finish. But it wasn't GM Ed Wade's fault. Owner Drayton McLane wouldn't let them add one penny to the payroll. So their only move all week was to release Russ Ortiz before he had even turned the shower knobs after giving up nine runs to the Cubs on Thursday.

"That was a team in a tough spot," one NL exec said. "No money to spend. No prospects to trade. Tough combination."

Get Back To Us In Two Years

They're going to show up on a lot of other people's "Winners" lists after pulling off that sneaky Jake Peavy deal about four seconds before the deadline. But is "winner" really the right term for a team that just dealt a big package for a guy who (A) might not throw a pitch until mid-September (if then), (B) is going from the NL to the AL, (C) is moving from Pitching Heaven (Petco Park) to a pitcher's worst nightmare (The Cell) and (D) is adding more than $55 million to the payroll through 2012?

"I don't know if they're winners," one AL exec said. "But they're definitely the biggest gamblers."

They're the talk of the industry. We're just not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

It isn't true that the Pirates made a deal to unload a recognizable face every 20 minutes this month. But it seemed like it. And now that the rubble has settled to earth, they've added 18 players -- whoever they are -- since June in trades that exported Nate McLouth, Eric Hinske, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Adam LaRoche, Nyjer Morgan, John Grabow, Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell.

We have no idea what to make of watching this roster spin through the Cuisinart. So listen to a bunch of great baseball minds debate it:

PRO: "As they said themselves, it's not like they just broke up the '27 Yankees. They weren't going to compete with those guys anyway. And they were just going to start getting too expensive before they had enough talent to win. With the players they got back, some are more questionable than others. But I still think what they're doing is the right thing."

CON: "I don't know what they're doing. They're either over-evaluating their return or under-evaluating what they're moving, or just trying to blow every [big] contract off their roster, because I really don't see a lot of upside in just about anyone they got back."

PRO: "At least they're finally doing it right. Before, they'd always kind of half rebuild. Not this time. I'm not sure where it's leading. But I'll say this. They've definitely got a deep farm system."

CON: "I've seen fire sales. But this is the biggest fire sale I've ever seen. I don't know how you can do this to your fans. You can't just wipe it out and say, 'Come see us in three years.' ... They've got a lot of players now, but I'm not sure what they've got. They've got plenty of quantity. I'm just not sure of the quality. All I know is, some of these guys, in two years, had better be pretty good players. Or somebody has a lot of explaining to do."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com