Contenders boost 'pens at deadline

Contenders boost 'pens at deadline

The Braves are back.

In a trading season filled with tactical trades, small moves to fill temporary holes, Atlanta made two big splashes on Tuesday. A year after missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990, the Bravos finalized a deal for the most coveted offensive player on the market and reeled in a marquee relief pitcher as well.

General manager John Schuerholz gave up quite a bit to bring in Mark Teixeira and Octavio Dotel, but his boldness stood out in the context of a deadline with numerous moves but few headline-grabbers.

"These are significant players added to a team that's 4 1/2 games out of the pennant race and two games out of the Wild Card race," Schuerholz said Tuesday. "We think they add significantly to the strength of our club. I think it's a legitimate buzz. If that's what has been created then we're happy we were able to get it done."

The only other contending club to make a major addition on Tuesday was the Red Sox, who acquired the No. 1 reliever in circulation -- Texas' Eric Gagne.

Relief pitching was the name of the game at Major League Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline, with Dotel and Gagne changing addresses in the final minutes. A predicted slow deadline day didn't really happen, as nearly every team in serious contention made some sort of tactical move in the final couple of days of unfettered trade action.

Among the 13 teams within three games of a playoff spot, only the Mariners, Tigers and Cubs sat completely still in the week before the deadline. Every other contending club took some action, highlighted by the busy Braves. Atlanta picked up Teixeira and lefty reliever Ron Mahay in a deal finalized on Tuesday and then topped it off by picking up hard-throwing right-hander Dotel for Kyle Davies and lefty Royce Ring from the Padres for starter Wil Ledezma.

"The last 24 hours have been very busy and very productive for us," Schuerholz said.

While the Braves were loading for bear, the teams ahead of them in the National League East made matching moves to answer second-base questions.

The division-leading Mets picked up Luis Castillo from the Twins to replace injured Jose Valentin, while the Phillies acquired Tadahito Iguchi from the White Sox to fill the void left by injured star Chase Utley. The Phils also beefed up their rotation and bullpen by bringing in Kyle Lohse from Cincinnati and Julio Mateo from Seattle. The Mets, meanwhile, were unable to make any pitching additions.

Despite the number of relievers who changed hands, if there was a surprise on Tuesday it was the number of bullpenners who stayed put. Cleveland, the Mets and the Rockies were among the contenders looking for relief help who couldn't make something happen.

Still, though Colorado didn't make any moves to close in on the NL West leaders, the top clubs in the division were busy.

The Dodgers made a bullpen addition when they picked up Scott Proctor from the Yankees, sending Wilson Betemit eastward to help the New York bench. Arizona sent Scott Hairston to division rival San Diego for a prospect, and the Padres also sent Scott Linebrink to Milwaukee over the weekend for three prospects and traded for third baseman Morgan Ensberg from Houston.

Few teams were busier with small moves than San Diego. The Friars picked up Wil Ledezma from Atlanta for reliever Royce Ring, and brought in utility player Rob Mackowiak from the White Sox.

Things were relatively quiet at the top of the NL Central, where the Brewers added Linebrink to a slumping bullpen but the Cubs held fast. St. Louis, potentially back in contention in a shaky division, traded for Joel Pineiro from Boston.

That wasn't the big Red Sox move, though. Boston worked hard but ultimately was unable to add Jermaine Dye, but did agree to a deal with Texas for former Cy Young winner Gagne. Along with Jonathan Papelbon, the addition gives the Red Sox a fearsome end-of-game combination.

"We're excited," said Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. "We feel like we have a really good club. We were looking for ways to strengthen it, and I think the bullpen is already a strength of the club. Acquiring a pitcher the caliber of Eric Gagne only makes us stronger. It helps gives us what we hope will be a truly dominant bullpen for the remainder of the year.

The Yankees, meanwhile, added Betemit but didn't make a big move to aid their pitching staff. They checked on Gagne but decided a deal didn't make sense.

"I just felt the price tag was prohibitive from my end, to be honest," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "I won't say who the players were but I would have had to give up a guy that may very well most likely pitch in our rotation next year for Gagne. As good as he is, it's a two-month situation where you're going to get 20 innings. He's a hell of a pickup, don't get me wrong, and the best reliever [available] without a doubt."

The AL Central-leading Tigers stood pat, while the main team chasing them made one upgrade but couldn't pull the trigger on another. Cleveland added a part-time outfielder and on-base machine in Kenny Lofton but couldn't swing a deal for a desperately-needed relief pitcher. The Twins found themselves as sellers, shipping Castillo to New York.

"Any time you've got a chance to impact something, you're disappointed if you can't do it," said Indians GM Mark Shapiro. "But we made a move that we think impacted the team [the Lofton trade]. We'll go back to the team we built in the offseason and the depth we've gathered, as well, and hope that's good enough to get us where we want to go."

The only division where it remained quiet at the top was the American League West, where neither the Angels nor the Mariners did anything big in the final days. Seattle dealt Mateo from its Triple-A club but didn't touch its big league roster. Los Angeles made a push for Teixeira but came up short, before holding fast.

"We're not going to destroy our ability to compete for [a championship] next year or future years just for a shot at now," Angels GM Bill Stoneman said.

Some non-contending teams made eyebrow-raising moves leading up to the deadline, as well. The biggest name starting pitcher to move on Tuesday went from one out-of-the-race team to another when Matt Morris was traded from the Giants to the Pirates. Houston picked up Ty Wigginton in advance of sending Ensberg out, dealing Dan Wheeler to Tampa Bay -- another reliever. The Reds acquired Jorge Cantu from the Rays, adding to an already crowded infield.

Following Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, players must clear waivers in order to be dealt. That doesn't mean trades won't happen, of course -- plenty of players and their contracts clear waivers every year. It simply gets more difficult.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for Mark Bowman, Ian Browne, Anthony Castrovince and Lyle Spencer contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.