At 4:01 p.m. ET every July 31, we ask the same questions: Who won? Who lost? Who was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the baseball trade deadline?
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But as the Red Sox and Dodgers reminded us last week, trades — sometimes very important ones — happen via waivers after July 31. On top of that, moves that appear wise in late July are proven less prescient during the withering heat of August.
This year, perhaps more than any other, we need a recount.
With that, here are my revised winners and losers of the (more generally defined) 2012 Trading Season. The caveat, of course, is that general managers are trying to make even more trades before the deadline to set postseason rosters at 12 a.m. Saturday.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox certainly won’t win the American League East, but at least they became champions of the August trading period with their quarter-billion-dollar purge of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto. Recently, it became clear the organization was in desperate need of a financial and cultural reboot. It got both.
Chicago White Sox: General manager Kenny Williams deserves a healthy amount of credit for his team’s three-game lead over the favored Tigers in the American League Central. The Kevin Youkilis trade has worked out well, while Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano have added a veteran element to a young pitching staff. But the best of Williams’ moves was a subtle one: He brought back outfielder Dewayne Wise after the Yankees released him this month; Wise has been the perfect sub for Alejandro De Aza as the center fielder/leadoff man.
Atlanta Braves: Apparently, Paul Maholm — not Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza — was the most impactful trade commodity on the Chicago Cubs’ pitching staff. The lefty is 2-3 with a 2.45 ERA in his first five starts with the Braves. Meanwhile, Reed Johnson has done what Reed Johnson does, hitting better than .300 with most of his starts coming against left-handed pitching. Shortstop Paul Janish arrived in a quiet trade with Cincinnati and has contributed as an ace defender in the absence of Andrelton Simmons.
San Francisco Giants: They can’t spend like the Dodgers, but they’re still leading them in the National League West by 3-1/2 games. Although Hunter Pence is hitting in the low .200s with the Giants, he homered in a victory Wednesday and should have a big September. Marco Scutaro has been the team’s most impactful acquisition, settling in as a reliable No. 2 hitter and second baseman.
Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles are just 3-1/2 games out of first in the American League East, with Labor Day less than a week away. I’m not entirely sure how they’ve done it, but general manager Dan Duquette has tinkered enough to keep his team in contention with the Yankees. Nate McLouth (minor league free agent) and Omar Quintanilla (cash trade) have contributed as role players. One concern: Joe Saunders had a poor outing in his Orioles debut Wednesday.
St. Louis Cardinals: After striking the title-winning trade last season, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak was more measured with his maneuvering this year. His plan involved adding one reliever (Edward Mujica) while waiting for his veteran hitters to come around. So far, it seems to be working.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Even after all that spending, we can’t say the Dodgers won any blue ribbons at the midsummer swap meet. For one thing, they’re still trailing the archrival Giants. And they are an ordinary 2-3 since the Boston-to-LA charter flight touched down Saturday afternoon, so it’s not as if the blockbuster carried an immediate jolt. Shane Victorino hasn’t had a huge impact, nor has Hanley Ramirez. In the absence of Chad Billingsley, Beckett needs to establish himself as a credible No. 2 starter. For now, many questions remain.
Los Angeles Angels: I thought the Angels’ acquisition of Zack Greinke could swing the AL West from the Texas Rangers. I was wrong. The Angels have the worst ERA in baseball this month, and Greinke (2-2, 5.22 ERA) is part of the problem. GM Jerry Dipoto didn’t address the bullpen last month, and the late innings are every bit the concern they were when the regular season began. In a discontenting season, an ineffective non-waiver trade deadline didn’t help.
Washington Nationals: The Nationals’ place remains unchanged from my original list. They (still) haven’t acquired another starting pitcher as protection, in advance of the Stephen Strasburg shutdown. The bullpen remains (too) young. The acquisition of Kurt Suzuki from Oakland in early August didn’t exactly move the needle. The Nationals had lost five in a row before Wednesday’s win; they should have added reinforcements when they had the chance.
Texas Rangers: This is, admittedly, an odd place for the American League’s best team. But hear me out: While Dempster has pitched better lately, he was rocked twice this month, perpetuating the fear that the Rangers don’t have a true No. 1 starter for the postseason — or, at least, that Dempster isn’t that guy. Remember: For the 2012 Rangers, anything short of a world title will be a disappointment. At this late hour, the rotation looks short.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates are still in the wild-card race and should finish over .500 for the first time in two decades. That’s an achievement worth celebrating. But they may regret passing up the opportunity to acquire a proven cleanup man to hit behind Andrew McCutchen; the Pirates’ MVP candidate isn’t seeing the same pitches to hit that he did in the first half. His numbers — and the Pirates’ fortunes — have changed accordingly.