Surprise contenders stand tall at Deadline
Jimenez, Ludwick, Ziegler hope to help Tribe, Pirates, D-backs
As Trade Deadline 2011 reminds us, change in baseball can come in many forms, and change always fills the air when the seconds are ticking down to the July 31 non-waiver Deadline.
These are deals that change lives, change fortunes and change the courses of franchises, and 2011 was another fine example of how it all happens so quickly in the waning days, hours and minutes of July.
With some of the trades that took place in the days and minutes before the clock proverbially struck midnight on non-waiver deals at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, some changes around the game -- including some by surprising teams -- sent serious talent into different uniforms and different situations.
One year, for example, you're making history and putting together about the best pitching season your franchise has ever seen. The next, you're pitching for another franchise -- at least if your name is Ubaldo Jimenez, who went from the Rockies to the Indians.
One day earlier this week, you're playing side by side in the outfield of the team with baseball's worst record. Another day later in the week, you're going head to head in a different division, right in the thick of the postseason race -- like the Phillies' Hunter Pence and the Braves' Michael Bourn, both now former Astros.
One minute you're talking to Dad about hitting, and the next you're headed to Canada, where Colby Rasmus is a bird of a different color now with the Blue Jays.
And perhaps most impressively, one year you're 18, 28 or 31 games out of first place as of July 31, and another year you're buyers, contenders adding pieces to the puzzle. In order, the Indians, D-backs and Pirates were in the mode of making themselves better for the opportunity to play in October, their intentions made clear with their moves in the last minutes of trading freedom in July.
In the case of Jimenez, change can be startling. The 27-year-old right-hander brought the Rockies a healthy return of pitchers Alex White, Joe Gardner and the player to be named reported to be 2010 top pick Drew Pomeranz. But this was a deal that sent a 2007 World Series hero and author of a 2010 no-hitter away from the team that signed him at age 17.
"Any time you have a homegrown kid and that's your model, and you move him in the prime of his career, you're going to go through a lot of sleepless nights and you're going to ask yourself a lot of questions," Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd said on MLB Network. "But ... in this business, you've always got to look ahead, because tomorrow's going to get here very quickly. We feel like the talent we got back justified the decision we made. It was a pure baseball decision."
For the Indians, it was a case of giving up a lot to get a lot.
"It was painful for us, but we decided the time was right. We're a better team than we were," Indians GM Chris Antonetti said.
Not to be outdone, division leaders and recent contenders like the Phillies, Rangers, Braves and Giants made significant additions to their rosters to keep the heat on in postseason races. But really, it's the new kids on the block of contenders that made the most interesting noise at the 2011 Deadline.
The Indians not only picked up Jimenez but also outfield help by getting Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs before battling down to the wire with the Pirates for Ryan Ludwick, falling short there.
The D-backs continued to show they get it, fully aware that the National League West will be won or lost on the mound. Having built a new and effective bullpen in the offseason, they then added starter Jason Marquis and righty reliever Brad Ziegler at the Deadline.
And the Pirates augmented their NL Central chances by picking up veteran first baseman Derrek Lee, following that up by making their intentions to upgrade their offense clear by taking Ludwick as well.
"We added two veteran bats that have played meaningful games late in September, and that we still think can play at the Major League level, bring some experience, bring some maturity to our clubhouse, help our young players continue to develop and continue to move forward," Pirates GM Neal Huntington told MLB Network after the deals.
One beauty of change at the non-waiver Trade Deadline: For all those bold moves made by upstart teams in division races, the flipside is that each of their more established division-mates made moves as well.
The Tigers got two solid pieces for their rotation and their bullpen in Doug Fister and David Pauley, whom they hope will help them fend off the Indians in the American League Central. The Giants upgraded their lineup considerably with veterans Carlos Beltran and Orlando Cabrera in an effort to hold off the D-backs in the NL West, and the Cardinals added starting depth with Edwin Jackson and acquired a veteran shortstop in Rafael Furcal in hopes of breaking past the Pirates and division-leading Brewers in the NL Central.
The Rangers showed they're after a second AL pennant in as many years by picking up Mike Adams and Koji Uehara for their bullpen, the Brewers picked up insurance at second base with Jerry Hairston Jr. after picking up Francisco Rodriguez earlier in the month, and at the very last moment the Red Sox acquired Erik Bedard from the Mariners in a deal that also involved the Dodgers.
Adams said he came to PETCO Park on Sunday thinking he might need to prepare to be the Padres' closer, since Heath Bell was one of the top names being bandied about. But it became Adams who had to start packing, with Bell staying put.
"It's quite a bit of a shock, the past couple of days, with the way the trades had been going," Adams said. "I didn't think I was going anywhere. But things happen, and things happen fast. That's the baseball world. I'm excited about it."
Others were thought to be on the move before the Deadline but stayed put, including Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez, Rays center fielder B.J. Upton, White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin and, well, pretty much the entire Oakland outfield. Rodriguez is already subject of conjecture about a possible waiver deal -- or more likely, a claim by a wealthy team willing to take on the remaining $40 million or so remaining on his contract; teams may only make trades now if a player has passed through waivers, and a team putting in a claim for a player would wind up with him.
Sometimes, change at the Deadline isn't what a team wants to do, but what it feels it has to do. Exhibit A for 2011 (and '10, for that matter): the Houston Astros. For the second time in as many years, the Astros unloaded All-Star talent, trading Pence and Bourne after dealing Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman a year ago.
But they acquired 10 Minor League players this year, adding to the five players they received last year. For an organization whose top four teams are in last place, it's obviously a tough transition to make.
"As was the case with Hunter Pence, this is not the position that we want to be in to have to move not only outstanding players, but outstanding people," Astros general manager Ed Wade said after the Bourn deal. "But time and circumstance dictates that we have to be able to build the type of depth in the system that at some point in time will allow us to have sustained success here."
For Bourn, who was born and raised in Houston, there's a definite silver lining to leaving Texas for Atlanta.
"It's definitely tough leaving Houston, my hometown, but I understand the trade," Bourn said. "I have the chance to be in a pennant race, so I'm happy about that."
Your biggest dose of change for the 2011 non-waiver Trade Deadline: Guys going to the Indians, D-backs and Pirates could say the same thing, one year after such a statement wouldn't have been close to true.
And the GM in Pittsburgh gets to explain his moves as a buyer, not as a seller.
"We sent a strong message to our club, and we sent hopefully a strong message to our fans that we'd like to continue to move forward and we haven't veered off course," Huntington said.
Change can be hard. It can be startling. It can be thrilling.
But as we saw once again as time ticked away to the July 31 non-waiver Deadline, change happens, every single time.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.