The Major League Baseball trade deadline has come and gone, and it’s time to size up where each team stands for baseball’s stretch run.
The AL Central saw only the Cleveland Indians improve, with the acquisiton of useful veteran Kenny Lofton. Lofton joins the Indians for the third time in his career. The Minnesota Twins inexplicably gave up leadoff hitter and second baseman Luis Castillo, prompting discontent from Twin stars Johan Santana and Torii Hunter. The White Sox, who were rumored to trade Jermaine Dye, ended up making just one minor move, giving up utility reserve Rob Mackowiak. Count on the Detroit Tigers winning the division with the Cleveland Indians battling the Yankees for Wild Card spoils.
In the AL West, one team unloaded its stars while another surprisingly moved no one. The Texas Rangers sent star slugger Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves for a group of promising prospects. Offseason signing and former Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne was shipped to Beantown to join Jonathan Papelbon at the back end of the Red Sox’ bullpen. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim kept everyone in place, despite season-long suggestions that a powerful bat in the middle of the order was needed. The Angels might have their hands full with a surprising Seattle Mariner team, but look for the Angels to hold on in the West.
The Boston Red Sox made the biggest splash in the AL East at the deadline by acquiring Eric Gagne, but gave up an exciting pitching prospect in Kason Gabbard. Still, the Red Sox now boast the best bullpen in baseball to go along with a lineup and pitching staff that can hold their own. The Yankees traded bullpen stud Scott Proctor to get Dodger infielder Wilson Betemit. While Alex Rodriguez struggles to reach his milestone 500th homerun, the rest of the Yankees lineup is clicking, and should be enough to carry them back to the playoffs as a Wild Card. The Red Sox have had this division won since the first week of the season.
Over in the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs have fought all the way back to catch the Milwaukee Brewers. The big moves for the Cubs this season have come at the catcher position. Although they made no deadline deals, the Cubs’ dangerous lineup and clicking rotation will make for tough competition down the stretch. Only the bottom-dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates stirred the pot at the deadline, adding veteran San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Morris in exchange for young outfielder (and Barry Bonds’ new daily 8th inning replacement) Rajai Davis. This one is too close to call; even the St. Louis Cardinals, now six games out, are still in the hunt.
While Barry Bonds continues to drag out his homerun record pursuit, the NL West is becoming the tighest and most exciting race in baseball. The Arizona Diamondbacks have stormed back, winning nine of ten to take over as the division leaders. The Los Angeles Dodgers, sensing a need to bolster their bullpen, added Yankee Scott Proctor, and look to come back from the game and a half that now separates them from the D-Backs. The Padres are still right there, and added seemingly small pieces to strengthen a dismal lineup. Morgan Ensberg and Scott Hairston have already paid huge dividends; each have posted two-homer games to help the Padres to wins. The Colorado Rockies are just four games out, but have three solid teams in front of them, and will fall short. I look for the Dodgers to pull it out, but wouldn’t rule out the D-Backs or the Padres for the Wild Card.
The NL East featured a flurry of last-minute deals, highlighted by the deadline blockbuster involving Mark Teixeira. The Atlanta Braves made more noise than any other team at the deadline, filling a huge hole at first base with Teixeira, and also adding three solid relief pitchers to fix a perpetually underachieving bullpen. Former Kansas City Royal Octavio Dotel should make the biggest difference in the Braves bullpen. Still, the Braves failed to resolve their biggest problem; starting pitching. Unless they can pull a waivers miracle and add a solid rotation arm, the Braves will come up short. The first place Mets filled their only lineup hole by adding an extremely useful bat in former Twins second baseman Luis Castillo. With Pedro Martinez due back soon, the Mets will be tough to catch. The second place Philadelphia Phillies scrambled to fill the gaping hole left with Chase Utley’s injury, and acquired White Sox second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. Look for Iguchi to move to third base once Utley returns. The Phillies also swung a deal to help out a suspect rotation, taking on Reds pitcher Kyle Lohse. The Mets will win the division and the Phillies and Braves should compete for the Wild Card.