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Eight Deadline Thoughts

It's a common thing right after the deadline: everybody's talking about "winners" and "losers" in the trade market. Trading's not really a zero-sum game, I don't think; the nature of a trade is that BOTH sides expect to gain value based on their needs.

But it doesn't always work that way, and that's where you get the "winners" and "losers." You'd think that teams use very sophisticated economic models to make transactions at this level, and you would think that most teams can judge for themselves and justify all of their deals quantitatively, but I feel like it would be a good idea to join the foray.

Now, realizing that I was most critical over Wayne Krivsky's acquisition of Bronson Arroyo (fringe Cy Young candidate) and Jim Bowden's acquisition of Alfonso Soriano (fringe MVP candidate, I suspect), I'm going to try to take a quick look at some of these deals, in the spirit of Jason Whitlock's "NFL Truths" column on ESPN (but I'm only doing 8).

1. The New York Yankees improved themselves a lot and didn't give up much to do so.

A great deal for one team might not necessarily be a great deal for another. What the Yankees did to acquire Bobby Abreu could not be considered a good deal if you're talking about a team like Toronto or Cleveland in New York's shoes--they just don't have the cash reserves that the Yankees do. But cash is the biggest asset for the Bombers at this point, and they understood that in this trading process.

The Yankees were quieter than normal, it seemed, with the Abreu rumors becoming serious very late in the process (and I was skeptical right down until the last minute), but the Yanks made the biggest splash of the deadline, and they did very well in the process.

So, what did they get?

Bobby Abreu
Cory Lidle
Craig Wilson
A lot of salary

And, what did they give up:

C.J. Henry
Shawn Chacon

Essentially, the Yankees parlayed their financial advantage into a major coup at the deadline, and, considering that Abreu's 2007 salary will most likely just replace Sheffield's on the roster, it's not even a big salary addition in the long term.

The Abreu deal was topped only by the heist for Craig Wilson, as Dave Littlefield severely undervalued his low-cost slugger (just $3.5 million for the season and he's hitting .267/.339/.478). Shawn Chacon, whose utility had formally worn off with the acquisition of Lidle, was sent to Pittsburgh for Wilson, who will fit in as a great bat off the bench and a DH/1B/OF option.

The Yankees are huge winners in this and are the clear favorites in the AL East, considering the inaction from Boston. You've gotta give Cashman credit; I really have no idea how he pulled all of this off.

2. The Texas Rangers were similar to the Yanks this weekend.

There are some eerie similarities between the Yankees' moves and the Rangers' moves, as far as the personnel additions. The Carlos Lee deal has been quite covered by many outlets, but my feeling was that the Rangers did very, very well in it (especially considering that they got Nelson Cruz, too). They also netted Matt Stairs for reliever Joselo Diaz, who is intriguing with high K-rates and good stuff but some control problems. There are a bunch of guys like that around, and Matt Stairs is an adequate bat off the bench (a lot like Craig Wilson, no?).

The most interesting acquisition, though, was the deal for Kip Wells right before the deadline. Wells' name has been kicked around in trade rumors for a few years now, and Wells has battled injuries this year (most notably a severe blood clot). The statline is unimpressive, to say the least, but Wells has been a good middle of the rotation starter in the past, and there's a chance that he emerges as a valuable piece in the middle of the shaky Texas rotation. They traded minor league pitcher Jesse Chavez, a 22-year old with interesting peripherals but not a guy that appears on prospect lists. Essentially, he's not worth much.

Texas didn't do quite as well as the Yankees did, but they certainly acquitted themselves well here. Quite possibly, the Rangers are the division-favorites out West.

3. Tampa Bay will be scary in 2 years.

If you'd like to extend this back a little further than the deadline, look at the young talent the Devil Rays added:

Dioner Navarro
Justin Ruggiano
Mitch Talbot
Ben Zobrist
Joel Guzman
Sergio Pedroza

What did they give up?

Mark Hendrickson
Toby Hall
Julio Lugo
Aubrey Huff

See, this is what happens when you make smart trades in July: you get a bunch of talented young players. There's no collection of young talent better than that in Tampa; there are three superstar-caliber talents in the fold, now, with Upton, Young, and Guzman. Add in Evan Longoria, Jonny Gomes, and Carl Crawford, and you have the best collection of young bats in the league. The cost was a fringe pitcher, a catcher who never panned out, a middle infielder in the midst of what appears to be a career year, and a bat who simply had no position with the D'Rays in 2007.

Tampa's past inactivity at the deadline froze the market at times and also caused stagnation in Tampa. The new administration clearly has the right idea, though. The bottom line is, at this point, Tampa is looking primed for a run in 2008. Well played in Tampa.

4. The 2006 Dodgers are too close to the 2004 Mets for comfort.

Among Met fans, there is a belief that July 30, 2004 was "Black Friday," a day in which the Mets traded some of their best prospects (Justin Huber, Scott Kazmir) for average or below average major league pitching.

I feel that there are valid comparisons between the 2004 Mets and the 2006 Dodgers.

Here's a table to explore that, comparing how far out of a playoff spot the two teams were at various dates in late July.

                Mets    Dodgers

17-Jul          3.0     3.0
18-Jul          2.0     2.0
19-Jul          3.0     3.0
20-Jul          3.0     3.0
21-Jul          3.0     3.5
22-Jul          3.0     4.0
23-Jul          3.0     4.5
24-Jul          4.0     5.5
25-Jul          5.0     6.5
26-Jul          6.0     6.5
27-Jul          5.0     7.0
28-Jul          6.0     6.0
29-Jul          6.0     6.0
30-Jul          7.0     5.0
31-Jul          8.0     5.0

You'll notice that, in the grand scheme of things, the Dodgers have only lost 2 games in the standings in the past two weeks. The point, though, is that the trend is not a good one, and 5 games out with a boatload of teams to hurdle is not a good time to add talent and deal prospects.

Now. I've privately advocated the Dodgers going for it all this season... but that was with respect to where the Dodgers were two weeks ago. After a horrendous stretch, the Dodgers find themselves a fringe contender for the playoffs moreso than a legitimate one. At this point, it's simply not worth selling off the pieces for the 2007-10 playoff teams (while it may have been worth it to do so two weeks ago).

The weak NL aside, the Dodgers have an uphill battle to reach the postseason, even with the additions of Maddux and Lugo.

Here's another table.

        wOBA    EqA
2003    .336    .263
2004    .332    .258
2005    .347    .277
2006    .384    .292

(Note: wOBA is "weighted-OBP," published in The Book. For more on wOBA, read this article.)

Julio Lugo's 2006 is far out of line with the years that preceded it. The question is: why should we believe that that is sustainable? Furthermore, the Dodgers have stockpiled a valuable collection of SS-2B types, the guys with value on the defensive spectrum. But Lugo, the prized acquisition at the deadline, might be out of a job with Betemit, Furcal, Kent, and Nomar manning the infield (assuming that they're all healthy come September, which is not a sure thing).

Lugo's a good player, but this was the wrong acquisition here. They're too far from the playoffs and they dealt one of their most prized prospects in the process.

Even the Maddux acquisition, which was a savvy one considering that they only dealt Izturis, is the wrong strategy because Maddux is a rent-a-player. If the Dodgers somehow make the playoffs and I'm wrong about all of this (which is possible), I will apologize, but, until then, I can't help but think that these moves are desperate and shortsighted.

One thing's for sure: Depodesta wouldn't have made them. We don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it does show the culture change in the LA front office.

5. Assuming I read this right, it's a fair assumption to make that the Red Sox are a smart, well-run organization.

The subject of rumors and everything else, the Red Sox effectively sat on their hands at the deadline, choosing not to take a seat behind the chessboard and make the move to counter the Yankees.

Why is this smart? Well, it's a rare occassion for moves at the deadline to really tip the scales in a pennant race, but the Abreu-Lidle-Wilson trifecta really does. The Red Sox, who were struggling to crush a wounded Yankees team, really don't seem to have the horses to keep up with the Yanks this year, at this point. Their prized prospect Jon Lester was most likely the sticking point in just about every deal... and they chose not to deal him. Now, whether or not it's sensible to put so much stock into one pitching prospects remains up for debate, but the point is that the Sox did not mortgage what appears to be a very bright future in exchange for a questionable present. Essentially, they didn't do anything that Los Angeles did.

6. Doug Melvin and the Milwaukee Brewers were one move away from a very effective deadline period, but, as it is, you've gotta wonder what they were thinking.

The market this year really, really undervalued good hitting corner outfielders, considering the packages that the Brewers got for Lee (centered around a 30ish reliever, albeit a pretty good one when he's in top form) and the one that the Phils got for Abreu (no prospects over A-ball save a 27-year old reliever), and the one that the Pirates got for Wilson (nothing?).

Perhaps that's what kept Melvin from dealing Mench: he didn't want to get nothing.

Still, though, if that's the case, the Brewers miscalculated. I told myself that I'd wait until the Brewers dealt Mench in order to really look at the Lee deal, but the Brewers opted to hold Mench. The Brewers should have probably swung Lee for a few prospects, instead, although you can certainly see them building for '07 still. It's a minor setback, I guess, but it's not a killer one.

I think that what we're seeing is a high valuing of premium prospects these days because of the salary disparity between a young guy who can give you league average production and a free agent or trade acquisition who could. I'm not an expert on finances, but my general impression is that the average salary has risen much faster than the major league minimum has, and the marginal cost of one of those older free agent-types versus a prospect has certainly gone up. And, it's for this reason that the Gnats couldn't get what they wanted for Soriano--Bowden continually asked for the top prospects when teams just have no desire to give up the potential for cheap, league average or better production. We never heard Brandon Wood's name in trade discussions.

And yet, sometimes, this logic is defeated. We've seen Andy Marte traded twice in the past season. So who knows?
[editor's note, by Marc Normandin]Jeff Sackmann's take is pretty parallel.

7. It's tough to defend the Abreu deal.

I strongly advocated the Phils trading Abreu here about a week ago, but I didn't actually expect it to happen. This was really a "where there's smoke, there's fire" type situation. We heard Abreu's name thrown around in the offseason far too often this year to believe that the Phils weren't exploring trading him for whatever reason.

As it is, I agree with the logic for trading Abreu: the Phils needed some wholesale changes, they had too much money invested in a guy whose power had dropped precipitously, and there's a good chance that Abreu's trade value was dropping by the day. It was a great time to sell ahead of the curve and extract value for one of your franchise's best players.

But I don't think that they played this correctly. The Phils are not a small-market team, and this was a small-market move. Granted, Abreu's no-trade decimated the market for him, but you have to figure that the Phils could have added in a top prospect if they had been willing to pick up a little bit of the salary.

It's a little disheartening as a Phils fan, I'm sure, to see the team head towards a "five-year plan" (Shapiro, not Stalin) style rebuilding program, complete with stronger investment in the farm system, when you've squandered some of the best offensive seasons in the franchise's history over the past few years.

The fairest evaluation of this trade would be to reassess where the Phillies are in the offseason, seeing what they're doing with the money they've saved. I can't imagine that this one has a happy ending for Phillies fans, though.

8. Quick hit playoff picks?

These change by the minute, but at this point I'd go with the Yanks, Tigers, White Sox, and A's in the AL, and the Mets, Cards, Padres, and D'Backs in the NL.