The 2011 trade deadline… a Q&A recap… part 2


A couple of additional thoughts swirling around as the days go by, baseball moves well beyond my 100-game reviews, and the trade deadline approaches three weeks in the rearview mirror…

Expand interleague play? You’re kidding… I hope. Seriously. 30 interleague games per team? What kind of stupid idea is that?

In general, yeah, I understand this response to my suggestion.

In many ways, I wish the days of my youth… where American League and National League differences mattered and the lines were not crossed except in October… still existed. (They don’t.)

Often I look back and recall that, despite flaws, the rotating of home field year to year for the World Series seemed like the best solution to an unbalanced and conflict-filled dilemma. (But now… yeah… the mid-summer coin-flip counts!)

My suggestion comes from trying to address as many problems as possible from a checklist of thoughts and headaches. For instance…

I don’t appreciate a team basically benching its designated hitter for a week or more solely because of the schedule. There is a routine to the game… a flow… and being removed from that flow has consequences. I have no horse in the race. I prefer the designated hitter… but… you could eliminate the designated hitter… keep the designated hitter… or keep it separated as it currently is… and honestly, I’m not sure I care. But there are teams… fewer and fewer every year it seems, but there are teams… that carry a designated hitter on their roster. Adam Dunn, Jim Thome, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero, Travis Hafner, and, of course, David Ortiz all come to mind… without checking stats to see how often any of these guys may have taken the field in 2011. And I think if you played five interleague road series in a year… with say one or maybe two set up per month (depending on travel demands and scheduling needs)… you could space those out so they didn’t really break that rhythm.

I hate seeing New York play New York six times a year. Same in Chicago and Los Angeles. And I think it’s silly to say one year that Philadelphia is Boston’s rival… so let’s set that up and create some history… only to the next year shift it to Atlanta being the rival. I think a system that allows the Yankees and Mets to play six games every three years works just fine.

And while we could continue on with other items, here’s the biggest thing for me… I despise… loathe… hate… the unbalanced leagues. Six teams in the National League Central and four teams in the American League West makes zero sense to me. I try to not think about it… but when I see the standings or consider one of those divisions, I take a deep breath and shake my head. And I believe there are only three options to fix that…

Option number one – Add two more teams. Now, come on, is expansion really an option right now? Of course it isn’t.

Option number two – Eliminate two teams. Interesting… but geez, think about that one. Minnesota and Washington (then Minnesota and Montreal) would have been the choices when this was being discussed several years ago. Tampa wasn’t out of consideration, and Florida was in there too. Now… Minnesota has a new stadium… Washington has moved and opened a new stadium, while also recently increasing their spending and gaining notoriety as a team moving in the right direction… Tampa scares the pants off of Boston and New York, has won the division, and has recently played in the World Series… and Florida will open a new stadium next season. Who would you eliminate?

And so, we move on to option number three – Move one team over to the American League and go with interleague play every day.

In the NFL, teams play four games… a quarter of their schedule… against a division from the other conference. And we get told over and over again how important those games are because there are so few to a season. 30 games comes out to just over 18% of the baseball season.

The scheduling is honestly a non-factor. Sure… I understand people talking about a team facing an interleague opponent in the last days of the year and how that might be an advantage. But really… other than expanded rosters in September… if everyone is playing the same base schedule it’s kind of irrelevant when you are playing someone. Let’s say San Francisco was finishing the year against San Diego… both last year and this year. That’s a divisional contest. And in 2010 the story was much different than it could have been in 2011. Is there really much of a difference playing San Diego, Houston, Kansas City or Seattle, regardless of who you are? Can you know that when preparing the schedule? The answer is no… because when the schedules are made, while we know certain teams are likely to be very good and others not so good, the reality is we don’t know: (1) Which teams might play Cinderella… (2) which teams might have things wrapped up and are fine tuning rosters… (3) what injuries or other circumstances might factor into any particular time of the season.

And so, with three divisions in each league, and five teams in each division, the schedule can be set up so that every team in a division plays the same idea of a schedule for the year…

Interleague games, fifteen home and fifteen away played against a full division from the other league… 30 games. (Each division from the other league would be rotated around once every three seasons.)

Non-divisional games, fifteen home and fifteen away played against the ten teams of the full divisions the club is not a part of… 60 games. (Play all league opponents every season.)

Divisional games, nine home and nine away against every divisional opponent, creating thirty-six home dates and thirty-six road dates… 72 games.

Oh sure… Boston and New York… Boston and New York… other clubs exist you know.

Yes… I know. But once again, these two teams provided a huge chunk of the storylines from the trade deadline.

I love that Cleveland is hanging close… just a couple of games out… and appear to be in the race to stay. (Compare that to Pittsburgh… a club that has dropped out of sight over the past couple of weeks.) Obtaining Ubaldo Jimenez and trading Orlando Cabrera are interesting moves. Applause to the Indians for being involved.

The long and short of it though is this… are you really interested in hearing about David Pauley, Doug Fister and Wilson Betemit? Heck… can you tell me what team was involved in the transactions to obtain those three players between July 20th and July 30th?

I admit it… the Red Sox… the Yankees… and, for now, the Giants and the Phillies… are some of the clubs the media tends to focus on. With my main interests involving the Red Sox, that certainly doesn’t help the focus expand beyond the usual suspects around here. However… I’m guessing more people know the Yankees didn’t make any trades… or that the Red Sox obtained Bedard… than the number that know Pauley, Fister and Betemit went to the Tigers.

Maybe looking a bit more deeply at Milwaukee as the Brewers once again make a somewhat decent-sized move deserves more from me. (I don’t consider getting Francisco Rodriguez a huge acquisition… but then again, considering what he did for the Angels in that World Series run, he absolutely could contribute to another run for a team.)

That said… let’s not pretend we have equals among equals here. Boston and New York get a huge amount of attention… some of it earned, some by circumstance, some random and bias based. Until there are compelling stories that are time and again being lost in the wake of big city, east coast mania though… well… Pauley and Fister and Betemit and the Tigers. Did I really miss all that much? I don’t think so.

Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks, what trades that were made matter? And what moves that weren’t made will hurt?

In more ways than I can imagine or investigate, I think the Hunter Pence trade made the most sense of those we saw. Philadelphia identified a need, and they found an almost picture-perfect piece to complete their puzzle. He provides short-term help, while also looking everything like a longer-term addition to their roster. It’s a beautiful job. (On paper.)

I’m still hesitating at saying everything Cleveland did mattered, but man Jimenez could be big for them. He’s likely joining the Indians for more than just the remainder of this season. The way they are pitching (or have shown they can pitch), he teams up with a guy like Masterson to form a nice postseason pair. (Josh Tomlin is pretty good as well this year. And think about that for a second… go three deep and you could argue (maybe not win the argument, but you could argue) that the Indians are sending better starters to the mound than the Yankees.) I suppose I should be more sold on them than I am… but in the end, simply put, Jimenez could be a really great acquisition for them.

I love what Mike Adams means for the Texas Rangers. Not only does it line up things nicely in the bullpen for 2011… and it does… it adds some interesting thoughts for the future. The Rangers have toyed with the idea of trying Neftali Feliz as a starter before… but never had someone remotely strong enough to think of as a no-brainer closer to replace him if they tried the move. Adams either provides a nice duo with Feliz in the bullpen for the foreseeable future, or a possible option as a closer so they can move Feliz.

Those three trades I thought were very, very good.

On the looks good, but I’m not sold front… I wonder if Carlos Beltran will mean much for San Francisco. And I ask this in two ways… first, for 2011… and second, as an answer to where Beltran might play in 2012. The Twins are paying Thome $3 million this year according to Cot’s. The Orioles are paying Guerrero $8 million. Granted… designated hitters being compared to an outfielder… but in reality I think fair as comparable older, come with some injury risk, and I think we’re in the neighborhood of a Beltran-type discussion. Heck…. Freddy Sanchez is getting $6 million next year from the Giants. Sure… all it takes is one team… but Beltran for two years, perhaps plus an option, at something around $8 to $10 million per season at least sounds reasonable when you consider what some players are getting. San Francisco is a great place to play… likely to be a division contender for every year remaining in his career… as likely to be as good a suitor for him as any team in the majors… I could see him staying. Now… if we can get Buster Posey back, and sign Beltran, the Giants are suddenly only a piece or two away from establishing an interesting batting order for 2012. (Of course, bringing Beltran back is virtually an identical argument to the one that resulted with Miguel Tejada being signed by the Giants for $6.5 million. Fool me twice becomes the saying there. And, honestly, the Giants are always one or two pieces away from an interesting batting order.) So that’s 2012 and beyond, and a story to be decided later. For 2011… well… we’re seeing the Giants having trouble hold off the Diamondbacks. They could still win it… but they might need more than Beltran. And isn’t that the same lesson the Mets learned? …that Beltran doesn’t like being the main performer in the spotlight?

Over the past ten years or so, I recall two interesting pitching matchups that always seemed strange, but proved about as reliable as can be. The first was Randy Johnson against the Mets. New York always seemed to be able to beat him. The second was Roy Halladay against the Red Sox. Same idea. As of right now, Boston doesn’t seem afraid of any pitcher New York has on their roster. Say whatever you want… I do believe New York will end up short on starting pitching when the playoffs roll around. And Boston isn’t the only possible opponent that matches up nicely against them.

Boston had some interesting opportunities to add to their roster, and I honestly can’t figure out what they did. They didn’t add a shortstop or right fielder… they didn’t add a reliever… they didn’t add a difference-making starter. And before you spend too much time arguing the moves they did make, and whether or not they qualify as a shortstop or starting pitcher… I think there’s a chance that both Mike Aviles and Erik Bedard are missing from Boston’s postseason roster. If the playoffs start and Bedard isn’t on the roster, does the trade still make a sound?

I also don’t like the Mets and their moves. I guess you can’t argue too much about it. But everything seemed so safe and predictable. They certainly didn’t want Rodriguez earning his option for 2012… traded. Carlos Beltran wasn’t coming back and wouldn’t be offered arbitration, so trade him or watch him leave with nothing in return… traded. Might be able to pick up two draft picks for Reyes, and he could still sign and stay… not traded. Safe… predictable… easy. The trouble is, I keep wondering if they did it because it was the safe, but potentially right thing to do… or… if they did it because the club without Reyes would give fans zero reason to buy a ticket in September. I think there is plenty of reason to believe this organization is being run in a way designed to consider expenses so the current ownership can hold on. (And I do mean that as a very bad thing instead of some “every team tries to make money-generating business decisions” statement.)

You called baseball the big winner. Do you really believe that?

Let’s jump into a bit of a time machine… head back to July of 2008.

Boston, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh complete a trade that sends Jason Bay to Boston and Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles. Remember?

How did that work out?

Well… Los Angeles has been a mess since that season ended, with Ramirez a part of that mess. That said, he did help LA make it to the playoffs… and the Dodgers in the postseason hasn’t been a given for quite some time.

Boston rode Bay for a couple of years… eventually making him an offer after the 2009 season that led to him joining the Mets for 2010. And… look at the results... their loss of Bay was also their gain. Bay hasn’t been too healthy, and he hasn’t played all that well, since leaving Boston.

Now… those clubs out of the way… what about Pittsburgh? Because, if you recall, they had the major piece in the trade… Jason Bay. Boston was looking to dump Ramirez for anything. There were other offers for Bay. How did the Pirates do?

Not so hot. The big three names they obtained were Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen. LaRoche stayed with the Pirates through 2010, but never materialized into a full-time player. His career batting average is .226, and he hit .206 for the Pirates in 2010. Honestly… that sums things up pretty well. Moss never came close to the numbers he put up in 49 games wearing a Boston uniform. He played 133 games in 2009… 17 games in 2010… and in 2011 he’s not playing major league ball. Hansen? Well… he was a darling prospect with the big future when Boston drafted him. He finished 2008, pitched 6.1 innings in 2009, and hasn’t pitched for a big league club since.

Trades don’t always work out badly. We know that. But this idea that both teams could win seldom goes as planned. Pittsburgh traded Jason Bay for a young pitcher… for everyday players that had been on major league rosters and were not long-term prospects… and all three of them are gone. They likely would have lost Bay after 2009 anyway… but would have received draft picks to use. (Like Boston did.) Perhaps they could have explored the other trade options a bit more closely.

We’ve been conditioned by the media to think of ideas like buyers and sellers and major league ready prospects… but the reality is, that’s bull. And I don’t mean that the ideas are that wrong… because they do summarize the situation pretty well. But they don’t truly capture what is going on. Everyone knew New York was trading Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran if they had any opportunity to do so. We knew it last season. The only way those moves weren’t happening essentially involved the Mets getting a 5-game divisional lead by the end of April and extending it to 10-games ahead for the division or wild card by the end of June. In other words… postseason effectively secured. There was no buyer or seller label needed. The Mets wanted no part of Rodriguez’s 2012 option, and they were getting nothing in return when Beltran departed after the 2011 season.

Occasionally Boston trades a Hanley Ramirez to obtain players… and it works for both sides. Occasionally they trade David Murphy for Eric Gagne… and look like fools. Occasionally they trade Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen and Manny Ramirez… and end up being the only team out of three involved that can claim in the end to have benefitted both at that time and after.

To try and bring this back on track though… we know who most of the supposed buyers will be… we know who most of the sellers will be… and major league ready talent, well, maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t, but go ahead and try to name some of the players Cliff Lee was traded for in recent years. (My guess is you might know one or two names… and that’s about it.)

Year after year though… it seems so predictable. What free-agents-to-be are there or bad contracts to trade off? What teams are out of the race? Again… fed the media line.

So to see Cleveland involved in trades this July was great. And that they were attempts to compete in 2011 which also seem to have next year in mind as well is even better.

And Pittsburgh? Well… they took a shot. Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick were interesting moves, and you can’t really say they were bad moves. Certainly not Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche moves.

It’s nice to see Milwaukee making trades… Cleveland and Pittsburgh getting involved… and… hold on… this one is a good one too…

The Blue Jays would be defined as sellers… right? They weren’t catching Boston or New York… or even Tampa. Well there they are, in the middle of several deals, and ultimately adding Colby Rasmus. And their trade partners were Chicago (out of it) and St. Louis (in it at the time… now struggling to even be a factor until the end of August).

Yeah… I believe baseball was a winner this year during July trading.

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