I was working out at the gym today, thinking about Billy Beane’s “brass balls of steel” (exact origin of quote unknown, but it was somewhere on the Internet) and the Jon Lester/Yoenis Cespedes trade, when all of a sudden the White Sox-Tigers game I was watching took an abrupt turn for the surreal. The camera jumped several times between two men: Austin Jackson, the Tigers’ leadoff hitter/center fielder, standing out in the field looking relatively surly; and Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers’ GM, lurking in the back of the dugout like Tywin Lannister behind the Iron Throne. After a few moments and several horrific Hawk Harrelson quips that need not be repeated here, Jackson jogged in, awkwardly hugging every Tiger in his path before being shepherded up the clubhouse ramp by Dombrowski Lannister.
Jackson now plays for the Seattle Mariners. Enter David Price, former Tampa Bay Ray and newly-minted staff ace of the Detroit Tigers.
Thus concluded this year’s MLB Trade Deadline. In years past, it’s certainly been exciting (particularly memorable for me is Manny Ramirez going to the LA Dodgers in 2008 and wreaking holy hell upon National League pitching to the tune of something like a 1.200 OPS), though never on the scale it was today.
Consider some of the highlights:
- The Oakland A’s, having already traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel earlier in the summer, unleashed a blockbuster trade in America’s collective inbox this morning, swapping Cespedes for Lester and Jonny Gomes. A fun fact of the year is that Cespedes’ 17 home runs are more than the combined total of homers by the entire Red Sox outfield this year.
- The Indians swapped Justin Masterson to the Cardinals and Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals, thus…throwing in the towel on this season? Results will be examined later, though to be fair…you got LeBron, Cleveland, just be happy and hope that another big trade will give your city some Love.
- The Red Sox, meanwhile, sent their other best pitcher, John Lackey, to the Cardinals. In return, they received Joe Kelley, a very young, talented starting pitcher, and Allen Craig, he who recently hit what felt like .699 with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals seem to be trying to seize control of a weak NL Central race by stockpiling talented pitching.
- Pardon me while I go vomit in the corner.
- Not to be outdone for weirdness, the Yankees pulled a relative stunner. Having already acquired Chase Headley (3B) and Brandon McCarthy (SP, Twitter hero), they traded for Martin Prado, All-Star utility infielder of the D-Backs, and Stephen Drew, shortstop of the rival…Boston Red Sox? This was the first trade between the hated enemies since the ’90’s.
- The trade between the Sox and Yanks is not, in and of itself, that unusual. Other past Red Sox-Yankee swaps include the Yankees trading for a bulky starting pitcher not long after the 1918 World Series. You might have heard of him.
- The Marlins and Astros traded some young players and prospects. In the meantime, they continue to do things that the Marlins and Astros do.
The biggest story of the day, however, was the two pitching swaps. Oakland’s trade signals a commitment by Billy Beane to go all-in this season. Forget gunning for a World Series win, he’s gunning for home field advantage, with the Angels creeping up behind them in the Division race. Don’t forget that the first round for the Wild Card teams is a playoff game – and nobody wants to go home after one loss.
<vomits some more>
Lester is a bona fide, proven October playoff ace – and a cancer survivor to boot! – and this gives Beane and the A’s probably the best rotation in the league.
At least, it did…until Dombrowski’s trade. Now the Tigers have a playoff rotation that can include any combinations of Price, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, and the Artist Formerly Known as Justin Verlander. (How bizarre is it that in this combination, Verlander might be the odd man out? Seriously, just last year, the only talk would be about how big the Tigers’ World Series rings would be.) The trade also gives the Tigers the past three MVP winners AND the past three Cy Young winners of the AL. (Verlander and Miggy Cabrera for the former, Verlander, Scherzer, and Price for the latter)
No wonder Dombrowski apparently taunted Beane by texting him just before the Deadline expired “You have one minute to trade for Chris Sale”. We’re talking full-on blood feud between Dombrowski and Beane. (And Beane would totally be a member of House Stark.)
What was especially bizarre about this year’s deadline was the luster of the star power involved. Usually, when stars are traded at this time of year, it’s for packages of minor league prospects. It’s not by accident that the Cleveland team of the late 2000’s was built with other team’s prospects – GM Mark Shapiro tore apart the great team of the 1990’s and built the 2000’s with the players he received in those trades. This year, however, major stars were swapped for other proven players. Look at the Red Sox-Cardinals trade, or the Red Sox-A’s trade. These players are all (relatively) proven commodities at the major league level. GM Ben Cherington of the Sox sure seems intent on proving this year’s swoon an aberration and returning to the World Series as early as next year. (What’s even scarier is that Lester is a free agent rental currently possessed by Oakland…and he’s hinted that he might just resign with Boston in the offseason. That gulp you just heard was made collectively by every other AL East team.)
What’s even more surprising is exactly how “all-in” Beane seems this year. For years, he’s had to deal with the economic reality of assembling rosters for the A’s, one of the stingiest franchises in pro sports. Perhaps he feels that this team, with added pitching, has what it takes to finally break through their playoff wall. Perhaps he’s tired of coming up short in the playoffs year after year. Maybe, with the Angels improving and the Mariners revealing themselves as up and coming, he’s scared of the other teams in his division. Maybe he’s just tired of constantly being reminded of how his “[Moneyball] shit doesn’t work in the playoffs” and wants to shove a fist down the hater’s throats. Who can say?
What we do know is this – it’s only just now August, there’s still two months of baseball, anything can happen, and the A’s, Tigers, and Cardinals are all stepping away from the deadline as relative favorites to win their divisions.
<steps back, rereads last sentence>
<realizes the full impact of what’s written about the Cardinals>