With two Wild Cards on the table in each league, a mathematical contention argument, however forced, can be made for roughly two-thirds of MLB's 30 teams (evidence that the general managers, at their annual November meetings, ought to strongly consider pushing the Deadline back a couple of weeks). And with more and more young players locked into long-term deals, the pool of free agents-to-be, even on the obvious sellers, was dismally thin. Toss in the changes to Draft pick compensation (pending free agents traded in-season are no longer attached to such comps) that went into effect last year, and you're left with an especially challenging market in which to get a deal done.
So even the sellers must be applauded if they got anything even remotely approaching the prospect hauls of old. Teams value their young, cost-controlled talent like never before, so it was more difficult for the Cubs to get a nice haul for Matt Garza or the White Sox to get an attractive package for Jake Peavy than it was in years past, when the Indians famously cashed in on Bartolo Colon or the Rangers got a boatload for Mark Teixeira.
Pardon me, then, if I just throw a blanket statement on this and say that anybody who did anything did the best they could, considering the circumstances.
But some did better than others. And this is their story.
I can't think of a contending team that did a better job of fortifying its roster for August, September and beyond than general manager Dave Dombrowski's Tigers. Granted, they were in an awfully good spot to begin with, as their rotation and lineup are undoubtedly October-worthy, thanks to owner Mike Ilitch's all-in attitude. But the Tigers had one obvious hole and one pressing repercussion of the Biogenesis proceedings, and they answered both situations quite convincingly.
First, they added Jose Veras, erstwhile closer of the Astros. And while there are always questions about good closers on bad teams and whether they can pitch in a higher-pressure environment, Veras isn't being tasked with saving what had been a beleaguered Detroit 'pen. Joaquin Benoit already took care of that by solidifying the ninth inning, and Drew Smyly has comfortably taken over the eighth. Veras slides into the seventh, and manager Jim Leyland can breathe easier than he did in the first half.
Leyland can also breathe easier knowing he's not going to be sans shortstop, should the Biogenesis situation play out as reported. Jhonny Peralta is wrapped up in that investigation, and that was looking like a prickly problem for a Tigers team that has benefited from Peralta's bat. But by inserting themselves into the White Sox-Red Sox talks about Jake Peavy, the Tigers were able to land Jose Iglesias' vacuum-like glove and much-needed speed, insuring themselves against Peralta's potential absence and improving their range-challenged left side of the infield (an especially helpful development for a ground ball-prone pitching staff). Anything they get out of Iglesias offensively is a bonus.
Dombrowski has made some of the more shrewd July moves of recent years, landing Doug Fister in 2011 and Anibal Sanchez in '12. It appears he's done it again.
I'll be honest and say I have some reservations about the blockbuster deal the Red Sox made for Peavy. It's hard to give up a young talent who can play a premium position with aplomb, as Iglesias can, and obviously Peavy is an injury risk even among injury risks, given the radical surgery that reattached his right shoulder tendon.
Again, though, this market didn't offer much, especially in terms of starting pitching, and Peavy's bulldog demeanor will fit in well in a revamped Boston clubhouse. Besides, while the Red Sox believe Clay Buchholz will be back in September, the uncertainty surrounding both Buchholz and Ryan Dempster made it clear Boston had to do something to ensure its rotation doesn't take a significant step back -- especially with the way the Rays' arms have been rolling lately. Sometimes you take the best of what's around, as Dave Matthews once sang, and that's what the Red Sox did.
Peavy's 4.28 ERA is nothing to get too excited about, but he'll benefit from the improved offensive and defensive support he'll receive from the Red Sox, who have him under contractual control through 2014. And while giving up Iglesias is tough, Boston was dealing from a position to depth, and the other prospects they yielded in the three-team traded aren't considered blue chippers.
You could put the Orioles here, because, among the more budget-conscious clubs on the buy side, right-hander Bud Norris stood out as one of the more tantalizing trade chips available. He's young enough (28), cheap enough ($3 million salary this season), controlled enough (two more arbitration years before free agency) and versatile enough (some scouts feel he could shift to a prominent relief role, if need be) that he certainly has value.
But let's be honest. The late-developing trade between the O's and Astros is a win for Houston because GM Jeff Luhnow and Co. got to take advantage of a weak market in which Norris, whose career adjusted ERA trends more toward fourth or fifth starter on a contender, had an uptick in trade value. In exchange for Norris, the Astros added a 23-year-old outfielder in L.J. Hoes, who, by virtue of his patient plate approach, profiled as one of Baltimore's top 10 prospects; a valuable competitive balance pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft; and Josh Hader, a 19-year-old left-hander with a mid-90s fastball. A decent haul for Norris, who didn't fit into the Astros' long-term thinking and was currently their highest-paid player (did I mention he makes $3 million?).
Add this to the acquisition of 19-year-old outfielder Danry Vasquez in the Veras trade and the acquisition of 20-year-old right-hander Kyle Smith in Wednesday's deal that sent outfielder Justin Maxwell to the Royals, and Luhnow and the 'Stros keep stripping this thing down to the bone in an effort to get it right several years down the road.
It would have been nice if the Sox could have found a taker for Alex Rios and the roughly $18 million remaining on his contract through 2014, especially with so few power bats available via trade. But we can't rule out the possibility of action on Rios during the waiver trade period in August.
For now, let's just say that this was a nice early test for Rick Hahn in his first season as the Sox GM, and in getting a package highlighted by power-hitting outfielder Avisail Garcia in exchange for Peavy, Hahn passed the test. He also saved his club at least $20 million. Well done.
Garcia, some scouts insist, has 30-plus-homer power. They are starving for offense and upside on the South Side. Garcia's arrival is good for the soul.
The Cubs' roots-up rebuild requires the accumulation of upside, and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer did a fine job of stockpiling it before the final bell tolled.
Getting at least four and potentially five young bodies in exchange for Garza, who was due to make maybe a dozen more starts for a Cubs team currently rebuilding, is an especially satisfying swap. Certainly, there are questions surrounding Mike Olt, whose stock has fallen in 2013, and Justin Grimm, who was homer-prone in his time in Texas this year. But there is quite a bit of potential in that pool, too, and the Cubs, who have operated like a mid-market club compelled to focus on young talent since Epstein arrived, offer the opportunity to tap into that potential in a new environment.
Alfonso Soriano represented the Cubs' old way of doing business, and the Cubbies were finally able to unload him after much effort toward that end a year ago. Granted, the Cubs had to eat the bulk of what remained of Soriano's gargantuan deal, but they can swing that. Besides, they saved nearly $7 million by getting Sori to waive his no-trade clause, and they picked up a power-armed prospect (Corey Black) and opened room in their developing outfield. All good things.
The Cubs also cashed in on their wise offseason investment in Scott Feldman, who was in the midst of a strong bounce-back year in their rotation when they flipped him to Baltimore. Now the Cubs have a chance to turn Jake Arrieta's impressive raw stuff into big league reality. It's a chance worth taking.
Ricky Nolasco was identified early as the cream of this year's starting crop. Heck, as far back as last November, teams were doing their due diligence on Nolasco when it was clear the Marlins were selling.
In the end, it was the Dodgers who pounced. And they pounced early, adding Nolasco on July 6 to unofficially kick off the summer swap season. It was a good, proactive move for a Dodgers club that entered the season with enviable starting depth, only to watch it wither. The Dodgers were just beginning to find their form at that point, and, with Nolasco aboard, their rotation has helped guide the way to the top of the National League West standings. Nolasco is 3-1 with a 3.13 ERA in 23 innings over four starts thus far for L.A.
Oh, the Dodgers also added the Twins' Drew Butera just before the final whistle to be their No. 3 catcher. It was a fittingly mundane ending to an altogether strange Deadline season.