Grinding baseball wheels
Although its prominence has been irrefutable for at least 40 years now, the mid-season, non-waiver, dump 'em while you can still get something for 'em, trade deadline has never generated more sheer noise even as this year's rendition proved to be mainly just the usual sound and fury.
Once again, only a fraction of the epic capers being hotly rumored in the long run-up came to pass. But then most of the feverish speculation that annually precedes the end of July swap shop is the invention of baseball scribes indulging their favorite fantasy loosely titled, "If only I were the General Manager, instead of that stiff ownership has stuck us with." Bluster and gamesmanship, fancy and willful deception are all vital components of this curious game within the game.
Which hardy suggests nothing of consequence has happened. This season's landscape may not have been radically altered by deadline doodling, but it's been shaved, trimmed. It's likely some team has clinched a playoff berth with a move lightly regarded when made. Even higher is the probability a couple clubs out there will curse themselves when all's said and done for the move not taken.
So who won, or lost, was smart or dumb, outwitted the pack or got snookered? If only it were that simple.
Among those who likely did well are your Red Sox. Adding nimble utility man Eduardo Nunez and spot reliever Addison Reed at negligible cost were sharp moves; modest refinements precisely where most needed. That some of GM Dombrowski's earlier less clever moves stripping the franchise of valuable trading chips left them little choice will be considered beside the point if Nunez and Reed guarantee a long postseason run. And they just may have. Allegedly, Dombrowski was sorely tempted by the Todd Frazier -- David Robertson package that ended up in New York but balked at the price. He's better off with Nunez and Reed; wise touch ups where surgery was unnecessary.
As for the Yankees, they stole the show this year and may live to regret it. Their furious deadline moves -- oddly inspired by a modest surge on the heels of a horrible tailspin -- stole a lot of headlines and had pundits who should know better proclaiming the birth of another pin-striped dynasty. If only it were that simple!
It's been said the Yankees have become so miraculously deep in farm system riches they can disperse five premium prospects for a couple relievers, an over-the-hill third baseman, and a nice pitcher with lots of physical questions. Though a curious notion it instantly became conventional wisdom as the Bombers were making their deadline high-dive. It only took about a week for doubt to devour the euphoria.
Because it's nonsense; a rather reckless fling of the dice. No team can justify such a crapshoot; least of all one seriously committed to rebuilding. You hold such chips until you're ready for the finishing touches. This Yankee's team wasn't there yet, the ongoing regression of their young slugging boppers -- Brothers Judge, Sanchez, Frazier etc. -- being only the latest telling evidence. It says here they'd have been better off exercising more patience.
None of which diminishes what a stunner New York's trade with Oakland acquiring the stylish but possibly fragile little right hander Sonny Gray truly was. Frankly, one can't recall any baseball deal quite comparable. That the redoubtable Billy Beane, boss of the A's, willingly accepted two highly touted but seriously injured and otherwise unproven prospects in the package for his most tradeable asset defies imagination. Beane, after all is "Mr. Moneyball"; supposedly the smartest kid on the block. On the other hand, in the match up of Billy Beane and Brian Cashman who would you bet on? What does Beane know about Gray? That, may be the question.
In the meantime, we can put aside all the rash talk -- much of it coming from Fenway -- about how the fabled Red Sox-Yankees relationship which has cooled of late, is about to heat up. Of course, that was before Boston gained four games on New York in five days instantly deflating New York's trade -- deadline bubble. In a season so long and convoluted it's amazing how much difference a couple days can make.
Elsewhere in the vast Baseball Republic, teams that ostensibly helped themselves include the oddly wayward Cubs, who juiced up their pitching, (Theo Epstein never sleeps) and the Diamondbacks, who might have nailed down a wild card berth, and the Dodgers, the one team that needed no help and becomes a veritable embarrassment of riches by making Yu Darvish their staff's seventh quality starter.
On the other hand, teams that ostensibly messed up royally include the Washington Nationals, a loaded team that still lacks a certified closer and once again failed to do anything about it, and the Houston Astros, who've been the class of the AL but suddenly lack sufficient pitching. They settled for a left handed journeyman with an ERA touching 6.00. Good luck!
But then in the end all such chatter may be academic. The overwhelming consensus holds the Dodgers are unbeatable; a notion reinforced by their recent surge winning 43 of their last 50 games (as of the writing).
The last team to do that was the 1912 New York Giants of Mathewson, Marquard, and John J. McGraw, only to lose the World Series to your own Boston Red Sox of Speaker, Hooper and Smokey Joe Wood.
Cue the band. And hold on to your hat!
- Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Boston’s WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.