Extra bases: Clearly improved
Atlanta Braves: Head of the class. The Braves landed the biggest bat on the market in Mark Teixeira, picked up a lefty reliever to fill the role injured Mike Gonzalez handled and added another potent right-handed bullpen option in Octavio Dotel. GM John Schuerholz pulled all this off without weakening the Major League roster.
Boston Red Sox: They were in on Teixeira and Jermaine Dye, only to bow out because they wouldn't part with prospects. They avoided getting shut out by picking up one of the better relievers available in Eric Gagne.
Cleveland Indians: At least Kenny Lofton addresses one clear need. Could have used another pitcher as well.
Philadelphia Phillies: Passing grade. The Phillies, like most contending teams this year, were more cost conscious than usual. They could have had Mark Loretta or Mark Grudzielanek, but both were too expensive so they settled on Tadahito Iguchi. They wouldn't part with their best prospects for a starting pitcher, so they settled for Kyle Lohse.
Chicago Cubs: GM Jim Hendry made his best moves in the offseason, and moving Michael Barrett and bringing in Jason Kendall will only help. Cesar Izturis was the odd man out at shortstop, so trading him made perfect sense.
Milwaukee Brewers: They gave up three pretty good prospects for him, but Scott Linebrink (assuming he's healthy) gives the Brewers another veteran option out of the bullpen, and they clearly need him. The Brewers also sent pitcher Grant Balfour to Tampa Bay for Seth McClung.
San Diego Padres: Moving their fourth-best right-handed reliever (Linebrink) was a mild surprise, although they did get three high-ceiling prospects. On the other hand, the Padres did add Milton Bradley, and he can be a difference maker. And Brian Giles came off the disabled list recently, so those two alone should mean more production offensively.
The rest of the additions are low risk/potentially high return possibilities Rob Mackowiak and Morgan Ensberg. If third baseman Ensberg can rediscover the stroke that made him an All-Star two years ago, the Padres could be in business.
Texas Rangers: OK, you don't give up Teixeira and improve, but the Rangers' outlook beyond this year is clearly better. They picked up quite a haul of prospects for Teixeira, Lofton and Gagne, including starter Kason Gabbard, who will help them right away.
Swung on and missed: Needed to connect but didn't
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: They missed on Teixeira and missed on a starter. The only pitcher they added was right-hander Jeff Kennard, acquired from the Yankees for catcher Jose Molina. At least they're already in first place.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Scott Proctor helps, but the Dodgers really needed another starting pitcher. They could have made several deals but wouldn't budge on what they would give up to get the pitching they obviously need.
New York Mets: Luis Castillo is a nice player and a great fielding second baseman, but the Mets could have used more pitching.
New York Yankees: Had conversations on many fronts, but wouldn't budge when it came time to ante up prospects.
Moved the runner over: Movement, but no home run
Chicago White Sox: Shed Iguchi and Mackowiak but the return looks to be modest at best.
Cincinnati Reds: Lohse is out, Jorge Cantu and Minor Leaguers Matt Maloney and Shaun Cumberland are in. Stay tuned.
Houston Astros: Ty Wigginton is an upgrade at third but Dan Wheeler will be missed.
Kansas City Royals: If they can get Kyle Davies to deliver on his unquestioned potential, this one could be plus for the Royals. And he'll be under the Royals' control through 2011.
Minnesota Twins: Supposedly not sellers, then they sent Castillo to the Mets for a pair of prospects.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Wheeler saved 11 games for Houston, and the prospects the Rays acquired in the Cantu deal are intriguing.
Taking all the way: Stood pat, or something like that
Florida Marlins, Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners.
Pearls from the diamond ...
Several industry sources are stunned that both the Angels and Dodgers haven't made moves to add starting pitching.
"Especially with what's happened to both teams these last few weeks, with [the Angels] sending [Ervin] Santana down, putting [Bartolo] Colon on the DL and the Dodgers having all those injuries and an overworked bullpen," one team official said. "I know they're both in first place, but do they really want to stand pat?"
Apparently so. Both the Dodgers and Angels looked hard for pitching help, but what was out there to their liking was either overpriced or not available. The Dodgers did acquire Proctor, a right-handed workhorse who will help their overworked bullpen.
Still, the Angels went 12-12 in July and the team ERA for the month was 5.16 -- 28th among MLB's 30 teams. You would think that would prompt a trade or two. The Dodgers' staff wasn't much better in July (12-13, 4.68), and though they scouted far and wide and had proposals from several teams, did not pull the trigger on any deals.
"They better hope their offense carries them," the official said.
Iguchi won't help as much as Loretta would have as a fill in for injured All-Star second baseman Utley, but the Phillies may be stronger down the stretch even though they didn't make much of a splash on the midsummer trade market.
"They've got [Brett] Myers and [Tom] Gordon back, and that's big for them," said an official with an opposing team. "Getting those two back will help a lot more than Iguchi or Lohse."
Even without Utley, the Phillies figure to have a potent offense, particularly if Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Pat Burrell continue to hit like they did in July. That kind of production could compensate for any weak spots on the pitching side. And the Phillies have certainly had their share of injuries to the staff. So far this year, Myers, Gordon, Jon Lieber, Ryan Madson and Freddy Garcia have spent time on the disabled list.
"This team has a lot of character," Utley said. "We've had a lot of injuries, a lot of pitchers have been down. We're still there. We're right in the hunt. We have two months to go. And I expect to still be in the hunt come October."
The Cubs are being understandably cautious with right-hander Kerry Wood, but early indications are Wood, who is scheduled to continue his rehab from right shoulder tendinitis with a short stint at Double-A Tennessee on Tuesday, may be ready to provide a boost to the Chicago bullpen.
"He's not getting it up there in the high-90s yet, but he's mid-90s anyway, and looks like he will help them," said one scout who caught one of Wood's rehab outings. "He's throwing his breaking stuff, and his control was better than I thought it would be at this point."
Wood has totaled seven innings in rehab outings for Peoria and the Mesa Rookie League team, and his highest pitch count has been 17. The Cubs would like him to extend a little more, but so far he has passed all the tests.
"I've been feeling good -- actually feeling great," Wood said Sunday. "I think we've gotten over the hump."
Watching Jason Jennings get shelled for 11 runs on eight hits in two-thirds of an inning in his start Sunday against San Diego was reminiscent of another disastrous start by a Houston pitcher. Right-hander Jim Clancy was unable to retire a batter in a start at Cincinnati on Aug. 3, 1988. Clancy was charged with seven runs on eight hits before he was replaced by Bob Forsch, who gave up seven more before getting out of the inning as the Reds scored 14 times in the first en route to an 18-2 victory.
Sunday's debacle was the latest in what has been a very disappointing year for the Jennings, and the Astros are almost certain to let him leave via free agency at season's end rather than re-sign him to a contract extension.
"It obviously was the worst inning of my baseball career," Jennings said. "It was pretty much an embarrassment. I was embarrassed for my teammates and for the fans. It was actually pretty much hard to accept. It's one of those that you just flush down the toilet and try to move on. But it's definitely something I'll never forget."
Several teams expect the Rangers to move one of their catchers this winter and wouldn't be surprised to see Texas try to slip Gerald Laird through waivers for a possible deal after the deadline.
After acquiring Jarrod Saltalamacchia from Atlanta and Max Ramirez from Cleveland, the Rangers are well set behind the plate for both the short and long term. They also have Salomon Manriquez at Double-A Frisco, where he is hitting .289 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs in 58 games, and Taylor Teagarden, who was tearing up Class A ball (.315, 20 homers, 67 RBIs) before he was promoted to Double-A.
Wheeler's 5.04 ERA prompted some of the teams interested in the right-hander (such as the Phillies and Dodgers) to submit lowball trade offers to Houston, which wound up sending Wheeler to the Devil Rays for Wigginton, but Wheeler will once again be working with pitching coach Jim Hickey, who helped Wheeler blossom into a productive reliever during their time together with the Astros before Hickey was let go.
"I think we have a great relationship, and I'm really looking forward to working with him again," Wheeler said of Hickey. "I was disappointed when Houston let him go. I didn't think it was right, but that wasn't my decision. They brought in a guy in Dave Wallace that I really liked a lot, too. Nothing against Wally, because I thought Wally was great, too, but I'm really looking forward to working with Hick again. I think it's going to be a good situation."
Though he had only 15 save opportunities in 45 games this season, Wheeler's 11 saves with the Astros ranks 14th in the National League (through games of Sunday, July 29).
Is Corey Patterson finally putting it all together? His past inconsistency makes many wonder, but at least one scout thinks the Orioles outfielder is doing a better job of laying off pitches out of the zone and not over-swinging when he's behind in the count.
Patterson, who hit .235 with two homers before the All-Star break, is batting .388 with three homers and six RBIs since, including .344 in July.
Some observers thought the Blue Jays would be sellers, but GM J.P. Ricciardi held his ground, keeping his team intact, and his reasoning makes sense. First baseman Lyle Overbay and left fielder Reed Johnson are back from the disabled list and Ricciardi wants to see how the team he put together during the winter plays during an extended period, even though it's not the entire team, since pitchers A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan are on the DL.
"Look at Cleveland," Ricciardi said. "They won 78 games last year and they're knocking on the door with the same team this year. You either believe in the players you have or you don't. I believe in the guys we have."
Credit the contributions of outfielder Skip Schumaker and middle infielder Brendan Ryan among the many reasons for the Cardinals' resurgence in the NL Central race.
The left-handed-hitting Schumaker is hitting .307, including .371 in 16 games since the All-Star break. Ryan, generally considered to be the best middle-infield prospect in the organization, batted .339 in 25 games before he was sent back to Triple-A Memphis on Friday, when the Cardinals needed a roster spot for pitcher Randy Keisler.
The word out of Arizona is the Diamondbacks will not re-sign Livan Hernandez this winter but aren't going to trade him, either.
Several teams had inquired about Hernandez's availability, but with the Diamondbacks in the playoff picture and Randy Johnson out for the year, there's no way Arizona deals Hernandez even if he's heading into free agency in a pitching-thin market and making $7 million.
How bad does Cincinnati need bullpen help? The Reds are 5-12 in games tied at the end of seven innings, the worst record in the Major Leagues (through July 30).