Major league clubs produced a flurry of activity leading up to Sunday afternoon's trading deadline, and each move ostensibly was made to improve each team involved ? whether it be for this season or future ones.
But which contending teams made the biggest game-changing swaps? Let's take a look at what's happened in recent weeks to figure it out.
1. Atlanta Braves get Michael Bourn: Atlanta was known to be hotly pursuing a number of outfielders despite a public unwillingness to trade any of its top pitching prospects. But the Braves managed to hook up with the Astros, a team starved of top prospects in the upper minors, and managed to obtain the best center fielder on the block without giving up any of their major assets. They traded quantity rather than quality; at present, neither Paul Clemens or Brett Oberholtzer profiles as anything beyond an innings eater or a reliever. Bourn replaces Jordan Schafer and Nate McLouth, both of whom are on the DL, but also were ineffective when healthy. Bourn slots in at the top of the lineup, where Braves leadoff hitters had a combined .306 OBP ? 57 points lower than Bourn's OBP this year. He is a tremendous acquisition for the second-best team in the National League.
It took a king's ransom to get Ubaldo, including two of the best pitching prospects in baseball, but that's only fair; he's a Cy Young-caliber pitcher who's only owed about $20 million through 2014. Combined with the Fukudome acquisition, in which the Indians improved their outfield at the cost of a couple of fringe prospects, the Indians might be the frontrunners in their division. (They received Neal in the Orlando Cabrera trade; he's a minor leaguer with questionable plate discipline. He probably won't help the team, but they didn't need Cabrera, so it's better than nothing.) They also were rumored to be after outfielder Ryan Ludwick, but the Pirates got him. Still, other outfielders figure to pass through waivers if the Indians are still looking this month. The X-factor in judging GM Chris Antonetti will be Jimenez's health. As long as his arm holds up, he'll be an ace on that team for 3 1/2 seasons.
3. San Francisco Giants get Carlos Beltran, Jeff Keppinger, and Orlando Cabrera: In Brian Sabean's tenure as GM, the Giants have never been shy about trading prospects to bolster their lineup, from Keith Foulke to Kurt Ainsworth. Zach Wheeler's a fine prospect, and a significant price for a two-month rental; it's arguably a better haul than the Royals received in 2004, when they traded Beltran to the Astros for a three-month rental and received only Mark Teahen, Mike Wood and John Buck.
But the Giants have pitching, Beltran was the best bat on the market and another championship will last forever. Keppinger and Cabrera add additional infield depth, though Keppinger makes Cabrera seem redundant. The Giants paid a high price, notably for Beltran, but they improved their biggest weakness: offense.
4. Toronto Blue Jays get Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, P.J. Walters and Mark Teahen: Toronto was unanimously applauded for its skill in trading a few relievers, a possible swingman or starter in Marc Rzepczynski, and a good-but-not-great pitching prospect in Zach Stewart for one of the best young center fielders in baseball. (After this deal, and his deals to trade Yunel Escobar and acquire several of the Phillies' best prospects for Roy Halladay, GM Alex Anthopoulos has established himself as the sharpest deal-maker in baseball.)
The Cardinals allowed their team to be held hostage because of Tony La Russa's personal dislike for one of their best players. The Jays don't have much hope for a playoff push in 2011, but Rasmus will be under team control through 2014. Even in the toughest division in baseball, the Jays could have serious playoff hopes at some point in the next couple of years.
5. Philadelphia Phillies get Hunter Pence: At the time they acquired him, Pence was arguably the best bat remaining on the market, though the Phillies let their desperation show as they yielded two of their three best prospects for him. They needed a bat to bolster their lineup and Pence can really hit. He's also not a bad fielder, and they can afford him; he unquestionably makes their team better.
Pence will remain under team control until 2013, but he's already been arbitration-eligible for two seasons (due to his Super Two status) and his escalating salary means that he won't be much of a bargain. The Phillies were already virtually guaranteed a playoff spot, so the Pence deal indicates that they're thinking ahead to the World Series, both this year and the next.
6. Texas Rangers get Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Nick Green: Texas needed to shore up their bullpen ? their pen's 4.42 ERA is fifth-worst in the majors ? and did so in a big way. They paid a relatively high price for two of the best relievers on the market, trading two of their best pitching prospects and two major leaguers, though neither slugger Chris Davis nor pitcher Tommy Hunter was more than a role player on their team.
They'll keep Neftali Feliz at closer for now, even though Feliz has struggled lately and Adams and Uehara are likely better pitchers at the moment. Green provides positional flexibility, but he can't hit.
7. Detroit Tigers get Doug Fister, David Pauley and Wilson Betemit: The Tigers were blown away by their division rivals, the Indians, who acquired the best pitcher on the block. So instead, the Tigers made incremental improvements. Detroit was bereft at third base, where Brandon Inge was suffering from mononucleosis and hitting like a Mariner, so they added Betemit's superior bat. Fister is not a great pitcher ? especially on the road, where his career ERA is 4.40 ? but he's a warm body for the rotation, which the Tigers need, considering the struggles of Brad Penny, rookie Duane Below and the other characters in the fifth starting spot.
After making a fair number of win-now trades, starting with the Miguel Cabrera deal several years ago, the Tigers don't have a ton in their farm system, so they didn't have enough trading chips to acquire anything more than role players. They upgraded their team, just not as much as the Indians did.
8. Boston Red Sox get Erik Bedard and Mike Aviles: Boston's deal fell through to acquire Rich Harden, so they went to an even more talented and even more frequently injured pitcher ? Bedard. After missing two full seasons, Bedard is enjoying a very good bounce-back season, but he also missed July with a knee sprain, and it's never clear how many more innings he'll be able to pitch in a given year. The Red Sox gave up four prospects in a three-team trade, but far and away received the best player; this is exactly the right way to throw your weight around if you're one of the richest teams in baseball.
Aviles helps them with their positional depth in the infield as Jed Lowrie rehabs from injury. Aviles was a very effective hitter in 2008 and 2010, was awful in an injury-shortened campaign in 2009, and has been terrible thus far in 2011. Once Lowrie gets back, they won't need him much, but he fills a specific need for now.
9. Milwaukee Brewers get Francisco Rodriguez, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Felipe Lopez: Rodriguez came to the Brewers in an old-fashioned big league salary dump. He can still pitch, but he's terribly overpaid. When the Brewers got him, they received nearly $6 million from the Mets and got Rodriguez to agree to make his $17.5 million vesting option for 2012 into a mutual option; it was the absurdly lucrative option year that the Mets were so eager to avoid.
So the Brewers get a fine reliever and the Mets get relief from one of Omar Minaya's costlier mistakes. Hairston and Lopez, like so many of the other players on this list, give the Brewers additional depth on the infield, which they'll need with Rickie Weeks out for up to six weeks with an ankle sprain.
10. Pittsburgh Pirates get Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick: The Pirates added a couple of past-their-prime sluggers without giving up much of anything in their farm system. It won't be enough to ensure an NL Central championship, but it was great to see the perennial division doormats actually become buyers at the trade deadline. And Lee (pictured) and Ludwick can help.
Lee replaces Lyle Overbay, who was a disaster at first base, and Ludwick effectively replaces the equally inept Matt Diaz as a fill-in for the injured Jose Tabata. The Bucs didn't make their team better by a lot, but upgrading from terrible to mediocre is just as important as upgrading from average to above average ? and it's usually much cheaper, too.
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