The Day After the Deadline: Oakland, Detroit and the MLB Arms Race - Rolling Stone
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The Day After the Deadline: Oakland, Detroit Shift the MLB Landscape

The A’s and the Tigers amp up the American League Arms Race on a deadline day unlike any other

David Price

Now pitching for Detroit: David Price

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

It was the deadline day that left Major League Baseball spinning. It would be a surprise if commissioner Bud Selig didn’t develop vertigo.

Thursday’s trade deadline was arguably the most aggressive arms race – literally – in the history of the league. Small-market teams made big-market splashes. Teams with mega payrolls did small-market dumps. One contender would make a deal; another would hit back. Meanwhile, sports fans’ Twitter timelines started to look like stock market tickers, with moves being reported minute-by-minute until the 4 p.m. Eastern deadline.

There was no shortage of drama, and teams weren’t shy about trading top prospects for a shot at the playoffs. Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane set the tone, moving his cleanup hitter for a frontline ace and sending clear signals that his normally frugal team was flat-out going for it in 2014.

But Beane wasn’t alone. Every team looking to stockpile its arsenal for a playoff run honed in on pitching, realizing that there weren’t too many difference-making bats on the block. And what was it all for?

The buyers risk their future by trading prospects for one run at a World Series this year. The sellers looked to position themselves for the future. But now that the smoke has cleared and baseball’s stretch-run begins, which teams are poised to be playing in October, and who’s laying up until next season? Here’s my post-mortem on deadline day.

All In For 2014

Oakland A’s

Being the most aggressive doesn’t make you necessarily the most successful in the trade market. But after acquiring left-handed starting pitcher Jon Lester from Boston Thursday, the A’s look every bit the World Series favorite I said they were at the start of the second half.

When Oakland traded for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel last month, they had winning the division on their mind. When they made the Lester deal, the A’s were thinking World Series.

The only negative from Thursday’s trade? The A’s sent the Red Sox Yoenis Cespedes and have about 10,000 T-shirts that they can’t do anything with. Their offense has clicked all year, now, they’re hoping it will keep right on rolling without Cespedes’ bat. It’s a gamble, but it could pay off with a World Series title.

Detroit Tigers

Just hours after the Lester deal was made the Tigers hit Oakland back by trading with the Rays for this year’s Holy Grail – left-handed starter David Price. The trade keeps Detroit glued to Oakland’s bumper and makes for some potentially interesting pitching matchups should the two teams meet in the playoffs. What’s more, unlike Oakland, they didn’t have to sacrifice big-time power at the plate…too bad their bullpen is a complete disaster.

Atlanta Braves

A trade with the Cubs that brought infielder Emilio Bonifacio and left-handed reliever James Russell to Atlanta isn’t a sexy move. But sometimes you don’t need a splashy deal to get better.

Bonifacio is a streaky switch-hitter with the ability to play second, third, shortstop or centerfield. As for Russell, lefty relievers are kind of like kickers in football. They’re not always called upon to throw full innings, but they pitch in the most crucial moments of games.

Wait Until Next Year

Boston Red Sox

The reigning World Series champs were the busiest sellers on deadline day, trading away starting pitchers Lester and John Lackey. The Lester deal landed them Cespedes, the biggest prize of the day for any seller.

The 28-year old Cuban was one of baseball’s bright young stars in Oakland and will continue to be in Boston.  In dealing Lackey, they also picked up Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly. Automatically, the Sox’ abysmal outfield gets better…but who’s going to pitch for them in 2015?

Tampa Bay Rays

Most would probably call the Rays deadline-day losers.

The narrative: They either should have hung onto Price and made a go at the division or traded him earlier when they would have gotten a better package in return.

But here’s the deal: they couldn’t afford to re-sign Price. He was leaving at some point and it was prudent that life without him begin sooner rather than later. The Rays weren’t thinking they could leapfrog five teams to slide into a wild card spot. So they came away with a pair of MLB-tested players (Nick Franklin and Drew Smyly) and a prospect. Not a tremendous haul, but, hey, it’s something.

Detroit Tigers

No, that’s not a typo. How could they be on both lists? Well, Price is under contract through 2015, which gives the Tigers another year (assuming they don’t sign him long term) with one of the best left-handed starters in baseball…and a rather nice back-up plan should reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer decide to test the free agency waters this offseason.

A frontline guy like Price will position Detroit for another run at a World Series in 2015.


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