A couple of weeks ago, the Texas Rangers surprised everyone by sneaking in and grabbing Cliff Lee ahead of the Yankees. It was particularly noteworthy because the Rangers seemed to be making a statement more than anything that they were going to make this year the one where they stayed in contention through and through, even at the risk of stepping on New York's toes. The trade carried some weight in balancing out the heavy swinging teams with those who seemed to fade just before making it to the top. This, it stood to reason, was a sign that other teams were trying to join the upper echelons.
Then yesterday rolled around, and we were reminded that the same old standard teams were going to be the big wheeler and dealers at the deadline, anyway. The Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals, Phillies, and Braves were the big winners this weekend with their deadline deals that snatched up available talent in order to patch up starting rotations, bullpens, and benches as they charge toward the post-season. That's the nature of how baseball's been for some time now; the superpowers can gamble with mid-season trades that won't set them back too much if the players fail to produce. You do have to feel for teams like San Diego, Tampa, Cincinnati and others that are at the top of their divisions and inevitably wind up watching their competition grow better and better around them.
If these other teams found ways they could get better, they could too. But this is where the money side of the game becomes such a hot-button issue. The Rays, for instance, right now are sandwiched between the Yanks and Sox in the A.L. East where they hope to grab hold of the wild card and not let go. For the Sox to have a chance to leapfrog their opposition, they needed to make a move to bring in a hitter who could inject some offense into their lineup. That came yesterday in the form of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Sox were dealing with a setback as a result of Jason Varitek's foot injury and needed an everyday catcher who they could rely on.
This deal could have much the same impact as the one that brought Victor Martinez aboard this time last year. The name of the game around the deadline is not "How can we plug holes?" as much as it is a question of "Who's available?" The Sox will deal with their trio of catchers when the time comes, but until then it's good for them to have better options at the position. It's the same thinking the Yankees used when acquiring Lance Berkman -- once they have him, they'll find a way to make use of him. That's the luxury that these teams have that gives them such an edge over their competition. Fading stars from other teams can wind up energizing an already powerful team by giving them more than backups or replacements tend to. And, yes, that could make all the difference in which teams make it through September and which stay at home wondering what could have been had they been able to acquire new players on a whim.
This post originally ran on the Sports Nook blog.