As the July 31 Major League Baseball trade deadline approaches, it looks as though there will be many teams looking for help, and many in the same isle.
In the National League East there are two teams: the Phillies and the Braves, both looking for outfielders, and preferably a right fielder that provides much needed offense. In the West the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants were looking for the same thing; however, it appears they were the first to strike, trading for Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets to fill that need.
The most interesting race is in the Central, where there are four teams with a shot to win the division. What makes it better is that the Braves have a good hold on the Wild Card race, so unless Atlanta falls or another team gets hot, only one of the four — St. Louis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and defending division champions Cincinnati — will get the spot.
The Cardinals appear to have gained some rotation help from the trade with Toronto, but suffered from the loss of young Colby Rasmus. They also need bullpen help as they have more than a few blown saves this year with a young player filling in as the closer. Milwaukee struck earlier this month, landing Francisco Rodriguez from the Mets and solidifying the back end of their bullpen. On paper, the Brewers have a real chance to run away with the division with the most complete roster, but they can’t seem to win on the road.
The other teams in the race for the NL Central, I believe, must make moves in order to reach the postseason. First are the Pirates, who have been playing very well as of late and have shown that they are not afraid of any team. They have arguably the best closer in the game and a core of young, growing talent. Their problem is that most of their starters are having career years, and you never know when they may fall off the wagon. Charlie Morton is one of the great stories of the year by turning his career around, but how long can he hold up? They also need to look at adding another veteran bat that can help lead them to the playoffs. They showed interest in Beltran and a player of his ilk could be just what they are looking for.
In the American League there is a very similar problem where the East and West seem to be decided, with the East grabbing the Wild Card birth as well, but the Central is far from settled.
The White Sox seem to have thrown in the towel and are prepared to have a fire sale beginning July 27 with the Edwin Jackson trade. Detroit is a solid yet streaky team and may want to look for some pitching depth to solidify its staff. The Indians, much like the Pirates, are a surprise team who are looking to buy for the first time in a while. They will look for an extra bat to help revamp the lineup and make a late push. The Twins are behind, but are closer than earlier in the season. I don’t see them making another late push, but if they can get a starter like Ubaldo Jimenez from Colorado they may have a chance.
All of this being said, I do not believe it is the blockbuster deal that will win any of these teams the World Series. In my opinion, it is the little moves that fill out the roster without messing too much with team chemistry that will win the World Series.
I remember a baseball writer four or five years ago saying, “You never see the big move during the season win it that year,” so I went back to 2008 and looked at his theory. The Phillies picked up Joe Blanton, a minor move to fill out the bottom half of the rotation. That year, many fans were hoping for a big move to land a top starter, just as this year fans all want a stud right-handed bat. Blanton was effective, especially in the playoffs where he won a couple of key games. Philadelphia also picked up J.C. Romero, who ended up being the bullpen-lefty the Phillies needed to win the whole thing.
The Brewers made the big move for C.C. Sabathia and the Dodgers went for Manny Ramirez. Although those moves helped get them to the playoffs, it made management overlook some other flaws on the roster.
In 2009 and 2010 the Phillies went after the big move and picked up Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt, respectively. They did help, but may have masked the issues of lack of bench production in 2009 and a thin outfield in 2010. The Rangers acquired Cliff Lee in 2010, but the rest of the rotation was not as strong as they lost to the Giants. San Francisco made minor moves getting Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and a few bullpen guys leading to their eventual World Series win.
So maybe a Hunter Pence or Carlos Quentin will help a team out, but selling the farm to get to solid but not great players seems unnecessary. Pence was an all-star this year, but that may have more to do, given the fact that you need a player from every team. So before you give up good prospects or major league talent, look at the current roster and think, do we really need to make this move to win?