Getting Zack Greinke all but clinches a playoff berth for the Angels.
The balance of power in the American League changed Friday night, as the Los Angeles Angels won the Zack Greinke sweepstakes.
Not only did the Angels add Greinke to a starting rotation that already featured Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren, but they also prevented league rivals—notably the Texas Rangers—from making a significant addition to their rosters. The Angels were already a front-runner for an AL Wild Card playoff spot, but getting Greinke all but clinches one and makes them a threat for the AL West title.
Another team that likely clinched a spot in the postseason with a big trade this week was the Detroit Tigers. Getting Omar Infante from the Miami Marlins fills a season-long hole at second base while Anibal Sanchez gives Detroit depth in its starting rotation. The Tigers have lost three of four since the trade, but they still look like the favorite in the AL Central, if not for a wild-card spot.
Baseball's trade deadline is just days away as of this writing. Several other playoff contenders could solidify their chances at a postseason bid with the right deal. Here are four teams that should make plans for October if they can pull off a big trade.
The Braves have competed for first place in the NL East and a wild-card spot all season long with the team they already have.
But general manager Frank Wren has been pursuing a starting pitcher for weeks now, knowing that an ace starter could provide a major boost to his team's playoff chances.
The Braves thought they had their man earlier this week when they made a deal with the Chicago Cubs for Ryan Dempster in exchange for top pitching prospect Randall Delgado.
However, Dempster exercised his "10-and-5" rights (10 years in the majors, five of them with the same team) in an effort to arrange a trade to his preferred destination, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A trade for Dempster could still happen if the Dodgers aren't willing to trade a pitcher with as much potential as Delgado. But he may have effectively killed a deal.
With Greinke going to the Angels, that doesn't leave Wren many other options. The Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields and Miami Marlins' Josh Johnson are possibilities. But without getting that ace starter, the Braves may be on the outside of the NL playoff race.
The A's have been baseball's July surprise, winning eight of their past 10 games and compiling a record of 17-3 for the month. That surge has pushed them into the middle of the AL playoff race, alongside the Angels in the AL West and to the top of the wild-card standings.
Oakland has gotten to this point on the strength of the AL's best pitching staff (3.44 team ERA), but it needs to bolster its offense to stay competitive with the Angels, Tigers, Orioles and Rays.
General manager Billy Beane tried to get Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins, which would have provided a massive upgrade at shortstop. But the A's weren't willing to take on the full remaining cost of Ramirez's contract, which was the difference in pulling that deal off.
Oakland is pursuing other shortstops, such as Toronto's Yunel Escobar, but will they find someone with the game-changing capabilities of Ramirez? Marco Scutaro has already been traded to San Francisco. Arizona's Willie Bloomquist or Stephen Drew could also be improvements at the position, but they wouldn't provide the offensive boost that Ramirez promises.
Finding a strong infield bat would greatly help the Athletics' playoff chances, but available options are thinning out. That could end up being the difference in whether or not the A's can sustain their drive to playoff contention.
The Pittsburgh Pirates may have already made their big trade, acquiring Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros. Rodriguez gives the Bucs another top starter to team with A.J. Burnett and James McDonald at the top of their starting rotation.
Those who continue to wonder whether or not the Pirates will collapse and fall deep out of the NL Central race as they did last season should look at how general manager Neal Huntington has improved his team's pitching staff. It's the major difference between this year's club and last year's.
However, Pittsburgh is among the bottom third of major league teams in hitting. Andrew McCutchen is certainly doing all he can and is the front-runner for National League MVP because of his efforts. But the Pirates could use another outfield bat to give McCutchen some help in the lineup each night.
Names such as Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Bryan LaHair are still available. Any one of them would be an upgrade for the Pirates, though Pence would probably provide the most production. Pittsburgh still has prospects available to make such a trade, with a big trade chip in outfielder Starling Marte.
The Pirates are right behind the Reds in the NL Central and lead the NL wild-card race. But offensive reinforcements would certainly help their chances of maintaining that standing.
Did the Dodgers already make their big trade by acquiring Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins? He fills a major hole on the left side of the infield for Don Mattingly's club while also bolstering the middle of the lineup alongside Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.
However, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti knows his team needs more to overtake and outdistance the San Francisco Giants in the NL West, as well as leapfrog three teams in the NL wild-card playoff race.
That's why the Dodgers have been linked to starting pitchers such as Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, in addition to outfielders like Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. Those are two significant holes that need to be filled before the trade deadline.
Can the Dodgers still make the playoff as is? They're only two games behind the Giants in the NL West and two back of a wild-card spot.
But getting another starting pitcher to go with Clayton Kershaw, Chris Capuano and Chad Billingsley would make a formidable rotation. And adding another bat with Kemp and Ethier might give the Dodgers the best outfield in the NL. Strengthening the team so drastically would make the Dodgers a favorite for a postseason bid.
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