No doubt, the Los Angeles Dodgers generated the most trade-related buzz since the all-star break, acquiring some of the biggest names in baseball through four separate trades.
With Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Shane Victorino and the injured Carl Crawford—not to mention, role players Nick Punto and Joe Blanton—now in Los Angeles, the Dodgers lineup is quite intimidating. Yet, since the trading frenzy, the Dodgers have lost ground in the divisional race to the Giants, a team that was as active—yet considerably more frugal—in the trade and waiver-wire markets.
The names may not be quite as impressive, but collectively Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro, Jose Mijares and Xavier Nady are proving to be better acquisitions for the Giants than the bevy of superstars collected by the Dodgers—at least this season.
Here’s why San Francisco’s trades are better.
With the playoffs in sight, Brian Sabean didn’t try to reinvent the Giants. Instead, the Giants GM approached the trade deadline as he did in 2010, addressing weaknesses and adding complementary pieces to a solid core of players.
Infield depth is thin? Bring in Marco Scutaro to fortify the top of the batting order. Aubrey Huff's bat is dead and Brandon Belt still hits like a baby giraffe? Trade for Hunter Pence, who continues to drive in runs even if his other offensive numbers are subpar. Jose Mijares passed through waivers? An extra bullpen lefty can’t hurt. Even Xavier Nady, who was released by the Washington Nationals in late July, has had a couple nice moments since joining the Giants as a role player.
In contrast, the Dodgers seemingly went after every high-priced star on the market in trying to become the National League version of the New York Yankees. Stockpiling talent certainly isn't a bad thing. After all, conventional wisdom suggests that the team with the best players usually wins. But, forging a new team identity midseason is difficult, and while the batting lineup is formidable, that doesn't mean the Dodgers have role players like Joaquin Arias or Hector Sanchez to provide clutch hits off the bench or solid defense at the end of games.
Josh Beckett (left) and Adrian Gonzalez
The Boston Red Sox traded away Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez for a reason. Well, there were probably multiple reasons (Bobby Valentine?) why they did it, but the overriding motive was to rid the franchise of three players whose performances were not matching their exorbitant contracts. Now, the Dodgers have to pay them. Along with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Han-Ram and a bunch of other players making substantial sums.
If the Dodgers can afford these salaries, as well as whatever luxury tax will be triggered by their Yankees-esque payroll, so be it—it’s their money, and with billions of TV dollars supposedly on the way, the Dodgers will have plenty of cash to throw around. But, $192.6 million is already committed to salaries next year, meaning Los Angeles will almost certainly have to surpass $200 million to fill any needs in the offseason. (What if, for instance, Crawford struggles to recover from Tommy John surgery?) The total payroll will be considerably higher once the luxury tax is factored in.
The Giants, meanwhile, acquired two players with expiring contracts, along with an arbitration-eligible all-star who, next year, will probably be due a modest raise over the $10.4 million he’s making in 2012. The only burden the Giants inherited in their trades involves Pence's future—Do they sign him long-term, pay him for his last arbitration-eligible year or let him walk? The Dodgers don't have such options with their recent acquisitions.
Joe Blanton leaves the mound.
For some reason, Joe Blanton was a hot commodity around the trade deadline. When the Baltimore Orioles failed to nab him from the Philadelphia Phillies, the Dodgers swooped in and added him to their starting rotation.
The Orioles should consider themselves lucky.
While the Dodgers needed a fifth starter, since Ted Lilly is unlikely to return this season from a shoulder injury, Blanton doesn’t offer anything that one of the Triple-A pitchers in Albuquerque isn't capable of.
Before joining the Dodgers, Blanton carried a season ERA of 4.59. In seven starts since the trade, he is 1-4 with a 6.25 ERA. John Ely or Steven Fife could have done that. In fact, in three starts with the big club prior to Blanton’s arrival, Fife allowed just four earned runs.
The Giants may not have picked up any superstars for the stretch run, but they also didn't acquire anyone who's hurting the team.
While an individual player is largely judged on the accumulation of stats, team success is often attributed to the immeasurable team chemistry. There is no better example of a team riding strong chemistry than San Francisco's World Series-winning squad of 2010.
Leadership, camaraderie, common goals—these are all indications of chemistry, and the Giants appear to excel in all three. But, perhaps even more important to a team's rapport is continuity. This is an area where the Dodgers lag behind the Giants.
Between eight positions in the field and five starting pitchers, six of those 13 spots for the Dodgers are filled by players who weren't there to start the season. In San Francisco, just two faces appear in those positions.
Whatever it means to have team chemistry—whether it's pitchers and catchers knowing each other's tendencies or good clubhouse vibes spilling onto the field—it's easier to cultivate among a group of players that has largely been together since spring training than on a team that's had an extensive midseason makeover.
The Dodgers' trades were as much (if not more) about the future as they were about winning now. After all, a lineup with Kemp, Crawford, Gonzalez, Ramirez and Ethier has serious dynasty potential. But, in 2012, not only have the trades not lifted the Dodgers past the Giants in the standings, Los Angeles has sputtered in recent weeks, falling behind San Francisco by a nearly insurmountable 5.5 games.
A wild-card berth appears to be their best postseason chance at this point, but the Dodgers currently trail Atlanta and St. Louis for that opportunity.
The Dodgers could very well rack up several division titles and World Series appearances in the coming years. But for now, the Giants are on their way to being division champs, while Los Angeles is just a wild card hopeful that has lost four of its last five games.