It’s a pointless exercise to choose “winners” and “losers” from baseball’s trade deadline, which struck at 4 p.m. Sunday. It may be three or four years before some of the prospects identify themselves as big league stars or total busts. Is a contending team a winner or a loser if the all-star they acquired in July, at a steep cost in young talent, performs exactly as envisioned, but the team itself falls short of the playoffs? When the top three teams in the National League – the Atlanta Braves (Michael Bourn), the San Francisco Giants (Carlos Beltran) and the Philadelphia Phillies (Hunter Pence) – each acquire an all-star-caliber outfielder to fill critical lineup spots, how can we say on August 1 which team is the big winner and which is the big loser?
But it’s a little different in the American League, where things now appear much more defined than they did just a few days ago. It would be difficult to consider all that transpired over the weekend – as well as one major development on Monday morning – without reaching one obvious conclusion: The Texas Rangers struck it big at the trade deadline, and may have just zoomed past the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees as the league’s team to beat.
With a pair of trades, the Rangers have constructed a bullpen for the ages. They picked up two of the best right-handed set-up men in the game, in Baltimore’s Koji Uehara and San Diego’s Mike Adams. To an extent, the moves were insurance against continued inconsistency from Neftali Feliz, the Rangers’ young closer. But if Feliz can pull himself together, the Rangers will go into October – assuming they hold off the Los Angeles Angels and win the West – with arguably the best bullpen in the game. Add that to a rotation full of power arms and a lineup full of power bats, and the Rangers look even more formidable than the juggernaut that went all the way to the World Series last year.
But the Rangers’ ascent in the AL over the past few days is also the product of the stagnation of the Red Sox and Yankees, who own the top two records in the league.
The Yankees inexplicably stood pat at the trade deadline, despite an obvious need for starting pitching. They will be just fine in Game 1 of the playoffs, with ace CC Sabathia on the mound. But in Game 2 they will be sending out A.J. Burnett, a noted master of inconsistency. And in Games 3 and 4, they have to choose from a group that includes stopgap veterans Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, wayward former phenom Phil Hughes and youngster Ivan Nova. It’s true Ubaldo Jimenez, the best starting pitcher on a relatively weak trade market, may not have been worth the high cost in prospects the Colorado Rockies were asking (and ultimately got).
“At some point,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Sunday, “you have to reflect that what you’ve got is pretty good.”
What the Yankees have is certainly good enough to muddle through these next two months and qualify for the postseason. But if you’re a Yankees fan, you have to be nervous – not despondent, mind you; just nervous -- about the prospect of taking this rotation into October.
As for the Red Sox, they made one medium-size deal to bolster their rotation, getting lefty Erik Bedard for Seattle. That would have been fine if Bedard were slotted into the No. 4 spot in the rotation. But with Monday’s news that right-hander Clay Buchholz is out for the season, the Bedard deal takes on extra significance. With no obvious answers behind aces Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, Bedard just might be the Red Sox’ Game 3 starter now.
The Yankees and Red Sox remain formidable teams, with deep, potent lineups and plenty of pitching to get themselves by. And both made solid, reasoned decisions not to mortgage huge portions of their futures to make splashy, quick-fix moves at the deadline.
But while they were doing so, the Rangers were putting the finishing touches on what might be, at this very minute, the most dangerous team in baseball.