MLB's Five Biggest Winners of the Trade Deadline
Every team had a different goal in mind as the calendar advanced to July 31.
Some teams approached the trade deadline hoping to make a big splash and shake up a playoff race.
Several contenders sought to add specific role players, while teams who had given up hope for the season tried to pawn off expensive veterans in exchange for prospects and salary relief.
Then there are the clubs who are content to stand pat, but they're boring.
It's way too early to definitively judge any given deal; we won't know what impact an acquired player will have on the 2010 season until a new champion is crowned, and it may be more than five years before a traded prospect makes his former team regret sending him away.
But that doesn't mean we can't speculate.
In this slideshow are the five teams who did the best job of meeting their various goals in the run-up to the deadline. They are the buyers who helped their playoff chances without risking the farm and the sellers who have raised their hopes for the future, or somewhere in between—clubs who successfully identified and exploited inefficiencies in the trade market.
The Braves upgraded their outfield and bullpen and brought in Alex Gonzalez to give them some pop at second base. However, Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth weren't at the top of anyone's wish list, and in the long run the team will likely regret dealing Yunel Escobar.
San Diego Padres
Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada aren't marquee names, and neither is likely to have a huge impact on the pennant race. However, Ludwick's power and Tejada's versatility will certainly help as the Padres try to fend off the Giants and Dodgers in the NL West.
I tried to limit this list to the deadline buzzer-beaters, and at this point the Cliff Lee trade is pretty much old news. Still, the Rangers deserve some acknowledgment for pulling off the deal of the summer.
No. 5: New York Yankees
The Yankees are known for their aggressive approach to the offseason free agent market, but this year they were also one of the most active clubs at the trade deadline.
The Bombers took advantage of the desperate Astros and Indians by scooping up Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, and Kerry Wood in the 24 hours before the deadline.
They flexed their financial muscles in the negotiations, using salary relief as their primary bargaining chip rather than trading away the few blue-chip prospects left in their farm system.
The general sense is that the Yankees improved, and they did—Berkman and Kearns are leaps and bounds better than Juan Miranda and Colin Curtis, and Wood adds a veteran presence to the bullpen. None of these names have the same impact that they would have, say, five years ago.
While Big Puma is still an above-average hitter, he's aging and in the midst of the worst full season of his career. Kearns has a meager .704 OPS since May 3, and given his 6.30 ERA, the Indians were almost better off during Wood's multiple trips to the DL.
They'll help, sure, but don't expect any miracles. Given the several under-performing stars in their lineup, it would take more than this trio to make the 2010 Yankees lineup as intimidating as last year's.
No. 4: Cleveland Indians
I bet you didn't expect to see Cleveland here, but outgoing GM Mark Shapiro did exactly what he needed to do to help move the team in the right direction.
The team certainly doesn't look as good without Jake Westbrook, Jhonny Peralta, Kearns, and Wood. But this isn't about now—this is about the future.
Those four, along with Russell Branyan (traded in June), were all useful veterans who were set to hit the open market after the season. For a team that currently sits 15.5 games away from a playoff spot, that means there was no use keeping them around for two more months only to let them walk away and get nothing in return.
The Indians didn't get blue-chip prospects in any of the five deals, and they're still paying part of their salaries (except for Kearns, who will make only about a quarter-million the rest of the year).
But for each of them, they got something where they otherwise would have gotten nothing. If any one of the prospects the Tribe received ends up pinch-running or throwing a third of an inning in the 2013 World Series, he will make more of a difference than anyone the Indians gave up could have possibly made for the team in the next two months.
No. 3: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
This can be summed up in two words: Dan Haren.
The Angels took advantage of the Diamondbacks' fire sale and shocked the baseball world by acquiring one of the best pitchers in the game for cents on the dollar.
The Haren deal wasn't a traditional walk-year dump. He's under team control at an bargain price through 2013. He cost the Halos some pitching prospect depth, but none of the youngsters they lost are likely to grow into aces.
If the Rangers start to cool off in the next few weeks, Haren could be an integral part of a dramatic comeback. He and Jered Weaver would make an intimidating one-two punch for the playoffs.
No. 2: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates were about the last team I expected to be involved in any significant trades, and unless you were watching closely, you might have missed them. Yet the Buccaneers are the only team in baseball to do well by both buying and selling at the deadline.
First, Pittsburgh took its turn pillaging Arizona's roster, acquiring Chris Snyder, a solid if unexciting catcher, and $3 million in exchange for Bobby Crosby, Ryan Church, and D.J. Carrasco.
FanGraphs' R.J. Anderson summed up this deal perfectly: "You can take some tinfoil and tape it to a cardboard box but that doesn’t raise the value. That is essentially what the Pirates did, and then they dealt that cardboard box for a television."
But the Pirates didn't stop there. They then shipped mediocre closer Octavio Dotel to the Dodgers for Andrew Lambo and James McDonald—neither of them are considered top prospects anymore, but if either of them comes anywhere close to the high level to which they were once predicted to rise, the Dodgers will kick themselves for this as much as they have for dealing Carlos Santana.
Will any of it matter? Maybe not. But Pittsburgh still did pretty damn well.
No. 1: Philadelphia Phillies
Roy Oswalt is an ace, but he definitely wasn't the most talented pitcher to change hands last month.
The Phillies impressed the rest of the league by squeezing $11 million out of the Astros, but it wasn't the most lopsided deal we saw.
Long-term, this deal is far from a boon for the Phillies. The last thing they need is to have more of their 2011 payroll tied up.
But the Phillies walk away as winners for one very simple reason: Of all the recent moves we've seen, their acquisition of Oswalt is the one that has the best chance of making a difference this October.
Oswalt now joins Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels to combine for one of the best trio of pitchers in the game. Pitching won't be a problem if the Phillies make it deep into October.
But more importantly, the Phillies currently sit just 2.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East. Given that Oswalt is likely to make at least 11 more appearances before the end of the season, if the Phillies mount a comeback, they'll have Oswalt to thank.