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Monday, August 1, 2011

MLB Trade Winners - NASCAR Chase Buzz

MLB Winners and Losers from Trade Deadline

WINNERS

1. ACE IN THE HOLE

In today's trade deadline chat, a commenter who appeared to be an Indians fan was rather upset with the deal to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies, pointing to Jimenez's decreased production and velocity as to why the deal was a failure from the start. While Jimenez's fastball velocity drop is concerning (96.1 mph average last year, 93.4 mph this season), his peripherals line up to what he produced last season. Jimenez may not be an Ace in the Roy Halladay mold, but at the very least, he's an excellent No. 2 who would serve as an ace on oh, 20 teams?

And unlike most top pitchers traded, Jimenez is under team control through 2013 and is just 27. He gives the fanbase a jolt of optimism as Cleveland attempts to win the division, and then most importantly, gives the Indians the premium pitcher necessary to compete the next two years, when Cleveland's core solidifies around a young, talented infield and an upcoming rotation. All they gave up were four minor-league players (three of them pitchers), none of which are guaranteed to turn into anything resembling Jimenez. This deal could still yet work out for Colorado, but it's already working out for Cleveland.

And of course, the Indians also added outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who will help Cleveland withstand the losses of Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore, then become part of a nice stable of outfielders when these players return. They also were hoping to get outfielder Ryan Ludwick, but lost him to the Pirates. That may have been for the best anyways, as Cleveland was reportedly balking at San Diego's price for who wouldn't have significantly upgraded the outfield corps.

2. BOURN TO WIN

Atlanta made out like bandits in the deal for Michael Bourn, acquiring a leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position... and not surrendering any top prospects. The Braves gave up a no-hit center fielder in Jordan Schafer plus three minor-league pitchers in Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu. There are some intriguing aspects to these pitchers, but none are can't miss and only Oberholtzer appeared on Baseball America's top 10 Braves prospects list prior to the season. That hardly seems like fair value for Bourn.

The Braves, meanwhile, gain a 28-year-old who is the sixth-best center fielder in 2011, according to Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement metric. With dazzling defense, scorching legs and a capable bat. Hitting .303/.363/.403, Bourn has added 39 stolen bases into the conversation to become a dynamic leadoff hitter that will cause problems right off the bat to start the game. Atlanta controls his rights through 2012 as well, so he's not a short-term rental. Again, remember: they didn't give up any of their top prospects for someone who, at least this season, has performed as a game-changer.

3. BULLPEN JACKPOT

Texas gave up a pretty penny, there can be no doubt on that. The Rangers didn't make this list because they hoodwinked another team. Baltimore has to be pleased with the Chris Davis - Tommy Hunter haul for Koji Uehara, and the two minor-league pitchers sent to San Diego for Mike Adams will be heard from again. But Texas belongs on this list simply because of how impressively they upgraded their bullpen in the blink of an eye.

No longer are the Rangers handicapped by a shaky bullpen with a volatile closer. While the closer remains, the bridge to Neftali Feliz just got a lot more stable, with Adams and Uehara able to get the game from the starter to Feliz without breaking a sweat. Even better, the presence of Adams allows the Rangers to move Feliz out of the closer's role in October if need be, as well as grease the skids for a conversion to starting pitcher next season with Adams in the fold to close.

LOSERS

1. QUANTITY OVER QUALITY

In the morning, Los Angeles' deal sending Rafael Furcal -- who was injured most of the year and not producing when he was in the lineup -- to St. Louis was finalized. They received a 24-year-old outfielder crushing Double-A but without much promise, and $1.4 million in saved money. Whatever, right? The Dodgers aren't listed here because of that deal.

There was only one trade made the entire week in which a team was instantly ridiculed for its move. The Cardinals were headed for the loser's seat before the waning minutes of the deadline, but Los Angeles took it away with a staggering display of incompetence. To help Boston facilitate acquiring Erik Bedard, the Dodgers agreed to trade away Trayvon Robinson, one of the few bright spots in the high minors that could actually hit. Robinson, along with Jerry Sands, could have made a pretty decent first base-left field combo over the next few years. Instead, Robinson will take his .293/.375/.563 line with 26 home runs in Triple-A to Seattle while the Dodgers come away with three organizational pieces.

And really, that's all they are. You've got catcher Tim Federowicz, who has a strong defensive reputation but whose hitting will be challenged enough that he best profiles as a long-term backup catcher. Those aren't tough to find. Add in starter Stephen Fife, who has pitched to Federowicz all season for Double-A Portland, who profiles as a back of the rotation starter or solid middle reliever. Lastly, Juan Rodriguez, a reliever who throws smoke but is 22 years old and in Class A. Splendid. Oh, and all three will be Rule 5 eligible after the year, meaning they need to be added to the 40-man roster or risk being lost in the draft -- and all three would be strong candidates to be taken. The Dodgers, in one fell swoop, traded away one of their few high-ceiling prospects for three organizational players who will all require 40-man spots, which are incredibly valuable.

2. STANDING PAT

You will hear much more on Monday about the Cubs' massive failure at the trade deadline thanks to GM Jim Hendry, who really should be fired on the spot. But while we're here, we might as well recap the Cubs' situation. That situation is a 42-65 record, which is just a few losses away from a 100-loss pace. The Cubs are loaded with unseemly contracts, ranging from the obscene (Alfonso Soriano) to the bad (Carlos Zambrano) to the unnecessary (John Grabow).

And yet, not only was Hendry content not to move any pieces but he was fine encouraging Aramis Ramirez to stay in town. He was fine ruling out the trading of a backup platoon infielder in Jeff Baker. (Read that last sentence again.) The only player Hendry parted with was Fukudome, and he never had fans in the front office and was a lock to leave after the season, anyways.

Instead of trying to set the Cubs up for future success, Hendry seemed paralyzed by which direction to go and while choosing to become buyers would have been ludicrous, it would have been a more palatable direction than just staying pat. Of course, the Cubs aren't flush with a deep farm system, especially after trading for Matt Garza. So Hendry's stuck pretending to be a contender for what, at least from this side of things, seems to be nothing more than a desperate attempt to save his job by pretending his team is close to contention and does not need a fire sale -- a fire sale that would have been entirely Hendry's fault.

3. MASTER PLAN FOILED

Let's think back to before the season started. Baltimore was coming off a 66-96 season, but optimism abounded thanks to Buck Showalter's 34-23 record to cap off the year. Brian Matusz was emerging into a top young pitcher and Zach Britton wasn't too far behind. The offense needed some help, but was young enough and projectable enough to have some optimism moving forward. In an attempt to make baseball relevant again in Baltimore and give the players some leadership, as well as something to strive for, the O's went veteran heavy in their free-agent signings.

Understandable, even if Baltimore knew it wasn't going to make any type of postseason run. It could still jack up energy in the city, then deal these players at the trade deadline for solid prospects or young players that might help the O's take the next step forward. Alas, Justin Duchscherer has been hurt all season. Vladimir Guerrero has taken his $8 million and crumbled before our very eyes, then hit the disabled list and destroyed his trade value. Only Derrek Lee's recent hot streak saved his trade value, and even he was only able to fetch a 23-year-old currently doing pretty decent ... in high-Class A. Hardly the return to make Baltimore relevant. The Orioles took a risk in the offseason, and even if you don't blame them for Lee and Guerrero's failures at the plate, they are losers because they came away from these moves with a net negative. All these millions of dollars and playing time allocations wasted, rather than giving Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold an entire year to establish themsel





NASCAR Point Standings
August 1, 2011
Driver Pts Behind
1 Carl Edwards 682 ---
2 Jimmie Johnson 671 11
3 Kevin Harvick 670 12
4 Kyle Busch 666 16
5 Matt Kenseth 666 16
6 Kurt Busch 664 18
7 Jeff Gordon 630 52
8 Ryan Newman 618 64
9 Tony Stewart 609 73
10 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 606 76
View Complete Standings


NASCAR Chase Rundown

INDIANAPOLIS -- The champagne had yet to flow on Paul Menard's Victory Lane celebration on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and crew chief Slugger Labbe already was scrambling for an update in the Sprint Cup standings.

"Are we ahead of David Ragan now?" he asked person after person until he got a knowledgeable reply.

The answer was yes.

For now.

Hold on, these last six weeks before the Chase are going to be crazy, maybe crazier than anything we'll see in the final 10 races when the championship is on the line. Depending on how you look at it, there are 14 to 15 drivers competing for the final five spots.

Not that Jeff Gordon is a lock at No. 7, but with two wins and a 43-point advantage -- an entire race -- over 11th-place Denny Hamlin, he and anybody above him has to feel pretty secure.

From eighth on back, it's a crap shoot. Predicting who will win the championship may be easier than predicting who will earn the final three playoff spots on points and who will get the two wild-card spots based on wins.

Or better yet, who will gamble on fuel mileage and who won't.

Maintaining sanity won't be easy for many of those on the bubble. Hamlin's postrace tweet said it all after he fell out of the top 10 with a 27th-place finish.

"Disappointment would be an understatement," Hamlin wrote. "Now just finding a way to vent without getting arrested is the next challenge."

He's not alone. Dale Earnhardt Jr. saw his best run in six weeks turned into a lackluster 16th with the fuel mileage craziness that made the last 30 laps a game of Sprint Cup Roulette.

"We played it out and that's the result we got," said Earnhardt, who has gone from third to 10th in points over the last month and a half. "I don't really know if I was going to be angry about it, what to be angry about. So …"

So there will be more craziness in the coming weeks as drivers gamble for a win to get into this wild-card party that by accident has become the most exciting result of NASCAR's offseason tweak to the points system.

Drivers with no wins will be rolling the dice to get one and secure their position, albeit they can't gamble at the risk of losing too many points and falling outside the top 20. Drivers with one win will take chances for a second win that almost will assure a wild-card spot.

"Right now, if you're outside the Chase or you don't think you have a shot at it, especially with the wins now, that definitely adds another element to it to take more risks," said Gordon, who finished second to Menard with arguably the best car all day. "But if you're 10 laps short [on fuel], that's not risk. That's stupidity.

"To me it's risk versus reward. The further back you get in the points, the more risky you can get."

Hamlin and Menard (14th in points) would own the two wild-card spots if the Chase started today with one win each. But Ragan with his July win at Daytona is only seven points -- or seven positions on the track in the new simplified points system -- back of Menard in 16th place.

Kasey Kahne, who had a car capable of winning Sunday, is only two points back of Menard. A win at Pocono this week and he'd be the second wild card, perhaps first if Hamlin had another bad day.

Clint Bowyer at 12th and Greg Biffle at 13th are only a win away from being in if the Chase started today.

You also can't rule out Brad Keselowski at 21st in points. He already has a win and is only 16 points out of the top 20 needed to be eligible. A second win would almost guarantee him a spot.

Drivers with a win such as Ragan may find themselves cheering for Hamlin and Menard to slide into the top 10 and winless Tony Stewart (ninth) and Earnhardt to fall out of the top 10 and thus make a win really count.

It's setting the stage for the most dramatic regular-season finale at Richmond since 2004, when Jeremy Mayfield won to make the then-10-driver Chase. It's setting the stage for more drivers to spin the wheel like Menard did, understanding there is more to gain than lose.

"Paul and I had a talk last week," Labbe said. "I said, 'Dude, if we're going to make the Chase, we've got to win a race and you've got to let me do what I do and believe in me.' Him listening and being receptive to what we were doing was key."

But things could change next week.

And the next.

There will be so much focus on the bottom half of the Chase field -- particularly with Earnhardt on the verge of dropping out -- that few will pay attention to the battle up top that has Carl Edwards only 11 points ahead of second-place Jimmie Johnson and 18 ahead of sixth-place Kurt Busch.

There'll be a lot of drivers like Hamlin looking for ways to vent without getting arrested.

Whether you like fuel mileage races or not, because of the wild-card element, it has added unintended drama to the season.

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