The trade deadline and the AL playoff pictureBy
The trade deadline passed yesterday, and as usual there were a number of deals. While blockbuster trades for the likes of Justin Upton, Cliff Lee, or Matt Garza never happened, there were still a number of impact players that changed teams Contending teams looked to bolster their squads for the stretch run, while the teams who are out of the playoff hunt dumped assets to save salary and strengthen the farm. In this post, I will take a look at the moves made by the Yankees and their competition, both within the division and within the AL, to see how these deals will impact the 2012 playoff picture.
As has become customary for the Yankees this time of year, Brian Cashman and crew did not make any big, splashy moves, citing the excessive costs demanded in prospects and players. However, they did make a few moves to improve the team’s depth, fill holes created by injuries, and set the Yankees up for a deep run in October.
The Ichiro Suzuki acquisition was one where the hype and excitement is probably disproportionate to the expected impact of the player. Nonetheless, it was an important acquisition, giving the Yankees speed and defensive prowess that they have missed because Brett Gardner has missed most of the season, and shows no signs of returning anytime soon. While Ichiro had had a disappointing 2012 so far, anything the Yankees can get from him offensively is gravy. I think he still has something left in the tank, especially against right-handed pitchers, and he can be an effective table-setting presence from the bottom of the order.
The swap of Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee served two purposes. Not only did the trade rid the Yankees of an ineffective bullpen arm to clear a spot for the return of Joba Chamberlain, it also brought in a backup corner infielder with some right-handed pop who can fill in for the injured Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, and give the notably fragile Eric Chavez some extra rest.
While Boston is 7.5 games out and just 2 games over .500, the team is too talented to count out. However, they didn’t do very much at the deadline in terms of either buying or selling. They re-acquired lefty reliever Craig Breslow, but they didn’t make any moves to deal underachieving pitchers Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, as some speculated they might. Rob Bradford of WEEI reported that they did discuss a blockbuster deal with the Rangers that included Josh Beckett, Kelly Shoppach, and Jacoby Ellsbury, but nothing ever emerged from those talks. While the Red Sox did not wave the white flag by selling off any impact players, they didn’t exactly do anything significant to improve their team. This indicates that they think that they will improve naturally as their players get healthy and start playing better, or consider them too worthwhile to give up long-term assets to increase the small likelihood that they make the playoffs (though they are only 3.5 games out in the Wild Card).
Rays and Orioles
The Rays are 6.5 games behind the Yankees in the division and 2.5 games back in the Wild Card standings, and the Orioles are a game ahead of the Rays. Nonetheless, neither team showed a sense of urgency, as they didn’t make any trades that would increase their likelihood of winning the Wild Card or catching the Yankees.
The traditional thorn in the Yankees’ side made one of the biggest moves of the trading period, acquiring RHP Zack Greinke for Baseball America’s #55 prospect Jean Segura and 2 others. Greinke, who was having a strong season with the Brewers, adds another frontline-caliber pitcher to an Angels rotation that already includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Dan Haren. With Greinke in the fold, the Angels’ deep rotation becomes even deeper, and that quartet of starters could prove formidable come playoff time. As a Yankee fan, it’s hard not to be nervous about a Weaver-Greinke-Wilson-Haren rotation come playoff time, especially when paired with Yankee-killer Mark Trumbo and 20 year-old superman Mike Trout.
The Rangers, the current AL West leaders, made two moves to improve their team in expectation of a trip to October. They acquired RHP Ryan Dempster, who was also connected to the Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves in trade rumors. Dempster is currently #2 in the majors in ERA, and while few expect him to finish that well after moving to the AL and Texas’ hitter-friendly park, Dempster should be a big addition to a pitching staff with some injuries and question marks. They also added catcher Geovany Soto, who will improve the Rangers’ defense behind the plate and allow them to use Mike Napoli at DH or 1st base more often. These two moves strengthened an already-formidable team, and while the Rangers still have questions in the rotation due to injuries, adding Dempster will provide some important stability.
The White Sox own a 2.5 game lead in the AL Central and made some additions at or around the deadline. While GM Kenny Williams reportedly tried and failed to acquire Zack Greinke, he did make a cheaper addition to the rotation in the form of Francisco Liriano. While Liriano has had an uneven season and injuries have kept him from fulfilling his incredible potential, he is talented enough that if he figures things out, he could be a major force in the Chicago rotation. Although the deal happened well before the deadline, the Kevin Youkilis acquisition has already paid dividends for Sox. He provides their lineup with some power and patience, and can adequately fill the 3rd base slot that was causing the Sox problems earlier in the year.
As we can see, almost all of the Yankees’ playoff competitors made significant improvements this trade season. The Angels adding Greinke is the move that scares me the most, but Texas’s acquisition of Ryan Dempster also provides a major upgrade to an already-strong team. The Yankees’ divisional competition didn’t do much to improve, which bodes well for their chances to win the division. While the Yankees failed to make any flashy trades, they filled some holes and should be well-positioned to win the AL East and enter the playoffs as a World Series contender. Healthy and effective returns by Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte will be of utmost importance here.