By Michelle Dingley
Sunday, July 31 was the non-waiver trade deadline and the unofficial beginning of the push for the postseason. The sellers have largely given up on their team’s relevance in 2011, turning their focus toward cutting payroll and rebuilding for next season. The buyers are looking toward October.
Statistically the worst team in baseball, the Astros have dropped their best players. Right fielder Hunter Pence heads to the Phillies, who crave power from the right-hand side. In return, the Astros will receive 4 prospects. The Astros’ former leadoff batter and center fielder, Michael Bourn, is sent to the Braves. Three minor league pitchers and center fielder Jordan Schafer, currently on the DL, join Houston’s organization in exchange. The AL East-leading Red Sox get starter Erik Bedard in a three-team trade involving the Mariners and Dodgers.
Moves in the NL West imply this will be a two-team race to win the division. The Rockies have excused themselves from the running. They trade starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians for 4 prospects. The Padres have also thrown in the towel. They hold onto All-Star closer Heath Bell, but they trade their very talented setup man, Mike Adams, to the Rangers in return for 2 pitching prospects. The Friars also hand left fielder Ryan Ludwick over to the Pirates, who are surprise contenders this season. In return, San Diego will receive a player to be named later or cash. (The Pirates also pick up Sacramento native and El Camino High graduate Derrek Lee from the Orioles for a minor league first baseman.) The Dodgers give their underperforming shortstop Rafael Furcal to the Cardinals for a prospect. With no significant gains for those three teams, the NL West will come down to the Giants and the Diamondbacks.
The D-backs have made big moves to shore up their biggest problem area: pitching. Arizona gets reliever Brad Ziegler from the A’s for two Triple-A prospects, pitcher Jordan Norberto and first baseman Brandon Allen. In 43 appearances with the A’s this year, Ziegler has a 2.39 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP. Righties are hitting .198 against him, lefties .396. The D-backs’ marquee acquisition, if you pardon the pun, is starting pitcher and known Giant killer Jason Marquis. He was picked up from the Nationals for a shortstop prospect. Marquis is slated to start on Wednesday against San Francisco. In 12 career games (11 starts) against the Giants, Marquis has a 5-3 record with 2.47 ERA. His last start against the Giants was April 29 in Washington. He hurled a complete game shutout, giving up only 5 hits and hitting a batter (Buster Posey). He struck out 7, walked none and needed only 96 pitches to close out the game.
The Giants have made moves to bolster their timid offense. They pick up the big bat with Carlos Beltran from the Mets. Beltran is a proven asset. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1999 with the Royals. With the Mets, Beltran won 3 Gold Gloves (2006 through 2008) and 2 Silver Sluggers (2006 and 2007). He is a six-time All-Star (2004 through 2007, 2009 and 2011). In return for Beltran, the Mets receive a top Giants prospect, starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was the Giants’ first round draft pick in 2009, the sixth selection overall. He made the 2010 Futures Game and the 2011 California League Mid-Season All-Star Game. For Advanced-A San Jose, Wheeler owns a 7-5 record with an ERA of 3.99.
San Francisco also acquires shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the Indians. Cabrera has played in the postseason in four consecutive years with four different teams. If the Giants make it to the playoffs this year, Cabrera will be the first player in MLB history to get there five consecutive times with five different teams. Not exactly a big offensive threat, Cabrera is batting .242 this year, with a .275 OBP, 4 homers and 38 RBI. His numbers are similar to those of Miguel Tejada (.242, .274 OBP, 4 HR, 26 RBI). Cabrera is said to have more range than Tejada. He won two Gold Gloves (2001 with the Expos, 2007 with the Angels). In 2010 at short (he has played mostly second base this season), Cabrera has a fielding percentage of .977 with a range factor of 3.84, compared to .946 and 3.76 for Tejada in 37 games at short this season. It is not known when the injured Tejada will be able to rejoin the major league team. The Giants need a right-handed option at short. Despite his meager offensive stats, Cabrera is performing better at the plate than the Giants’ two left-handed shortstops, Mike Fontenot and Brandon Crawford. After missing playing time with a stint on the DL, Fontenot is hitting .208 with .293 OBP, 2 homers and 12 RBI. The sure-handed Crawford has had trouble hitting major-league pitching, hovering below .200 for most of the season. To make room on the roster for Cabrera, Crawford is sent back to Fresno with a .190 average, .275 OBP, 2 HR and 17 RBI.
In exchange for Orlando Cabrera, the Indians pick up Giants’ left field prospect Thomas Neal. He is a three-time minor league All-Star. For Triple-A Fresno this year, he’s batting .295 with .351 OBP, .409 slugging, 2 home runs and 25 RBI. Neal was expected to be the Giants’ starting left fielder sooner rather than later.
To make room for the new Giants, Bill Hall was released and Emmanuel Burriss was sent back to Fresno. Hall was on the DL, and he had been all but replaced by Jeff Keppinger. Though he was not a major contributor with his bat, Burriss had stolen 10 bases (caught stealing three times). The only Giant with more steals is Andres Torres, who has 12 (4 CS). The running game is not a major part of the Giants’ plan of attack, but speed on the base paths does seem to make a big difference in close games, which is a specialty of the team.
The trade deadline has passed, but that doesn’t mean that teams are set in stone. Remember that Cody Ross was claimed off waivers in August, and that worked out pretty well for the Giants. Also, rosters expand to 40 players on September 1, so we haven’t seen the last of Brandon Crawford nor Emmanuel Burriss. Hopefully the Giants’ bats will heat up, and the team can make a strong push down the home stretch.