Thinking small but smart at the Deadline
Three players who could help contenders in important ways
It's that time of year -- the time when fans await the latest news updates about their favorite teams the way they look forward to Christmas morning. It's the time when clubs decide to pull the trigger on risky deals, mortgaging their future in order to gain an upper hand over the final two months of the regular season, and hopefully in October as well.
Some clubs are shooting for the stars, and sometimes it works out. Sometimes you land Danny Haren, like the Angels did. More often, though, the big moves don't pan out. The grand dreams don't end up being realized, and instead, contending clubs make smaller moves. With that in mind, what follows is a look at three moves that contending clubs could make to bolster their chances of playing and winning in October, ideally without breaking the bank as far as talent or cash.
It should be obvious before long that this isn't intended to be a comprehensive look at Saturday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Rather, it's an examination of a few particular cases, which might illuminate some other clubs' situations as well.
White Sox: Kelly Johnson
The White Sox seem to be focused on a basher, but it's not really what they need. They need a table-setter. Chicago hits plenty of home runs. The problem is outs; White Sox hitters just don't get on base nearly enough, so they end up hitting solo homer after solo homer.
Thus, Johnson fits the Sox in just about every way. For most of his career -- not just in this, a career season he's having for the D-backs -- he's gotten on base at a good clip -- save for his disastrous '09 season that ended his tenure in Atlanta. His left-handed bat would provide much-needed balance in a heavily right-handed Chicago lineup. The Sox's current second baseman, Gordon Beckham, just isn't getting the job done offensively. And it's hard to imagine the Snakes, who traded Haren on Sunday, won't continue to be sellers over the next few days.
If in fact the Diamondbacks are going to be sellers between now and Saturday, they have a number of intriguing players to offer. Shortstop Stephen Drew could be a great fit in St. Louis, catcher Miguel Montero has drawn a great deal of interest in the past, and there's reportedly even some interest in reliever Chad Qualls. But Johnson looks like the best fit for the White Sox -- even if it means buying high on a player enjoying a career year. He'd be a significant upgrade at a position of weakness, while also addressing Chicago's largest club-wide offensive issue.
In fairness, a player such as Prince Fielder or Adam Dunn would also address the OBP issue for the Sox while simultaneously providing even more power. But Johnson might come cheaper than those players, and his defensive versatility would be a plus as well. Still, it seems the Sox aren't looking at table-setters, but instead at thumpers.
"Same list. Same targets," general manager Ken Williams told reporters recently.
Phillies: Jake Westbrook
The Phils need an awful lot, truth be told. What they don't really need is the one thing they appear to be chasing: a front-of-the-rotation starter.
Actually that's not entirely fair, because pretty much every team in baseball could use Roy Oswalt for the right price. The problem for the Phillies is that they're not one move away from where they need to be. They're several. Their offense has aged drastically. Their bullpen remains a question mark. And the rotation is about two pitchers deep.
It's that last thing that can be fixed. As an alternative to pursuing a single big name, the Phillies might well be better served by aiming for a couple of starters at more modest price tags. By most accounts, plenty such pitchers are available: Westbrook and Fausto Carmona of the Indians, Brian Bannister from Kansas City and Jeremy Guthrie from Baltimore are just some of the examples. Westbrook and Carmona in particular would represent upgrades over what the Phils are trotting out there three out of five days right now, and it would likely cost less in talent to acquire two solid pitchers than one ace.
Reds: Octavio Dotel
The Reds are an interesting team in an interesting position. They don't have a lot of gaping holes, save possibly for the massive offensive struggles of shortstop Orlando Cabrera. They're scoring tons of runs even with several regulars having only so-so offensive seasons. They have plenty of starting pitching depth. They even have two good relievers having good years at the back of their bullpen in Francisco Cordero and Arthur Rhodes.
A team like this is a tough one to upgrade. It's always easier to fix a team with major strengths and major weaknesses, as opposed to one that's pretty good in most facets. Moreover, as compared to some contenders, Cincinnati might not be best served by a win-now approach. It remains something of an open question just how good this club is, and a single major upgrade might not be worth selling the farm to make happen.
"I'm talking to clubs to see who's available," general manager Walt Jocketty told MLB.com on Friday. "I'm not close to anything, but a lot can happen this week as the deadline gets closer."
But there are always right-handed relievers on the market. This year, Dotel is one of the best, and he's playing for a team, the Pirates, that knows its best bet is to sell. Dotel is having his typical season, with boatloads of strikeouts, a few too many walks and an enormous platoon split. Dotel obliterates right-handed hitters, of which the Cardinals have many. Dotel would not be much more than a tactical move, but that means he also would not require the kind of talent outlay that a major move would.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.