Judging by the amount of attention Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and the like got as the trade deadline moved closer, you'd think analysts were talking about high-caliber pitching that could turn a team around.
CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee have done it in recent years, after all, being traded to good teams at the deadline and lifting them to playoff heights over the last couple of months.
But Sabathia and Lee are Cy Young award winners. Dempster and Garza are merely Chicago Cubs.
The trade deadline this year was more about poor teams (like the Cubs) getting rid of extra pieces than it was about anyone coming from behind to make the postseason. Of the dozen or more teams still within reach of a wild card spot, none made the huge move needed to change the standings. Instead, the contenders shored up the staffs that have brought them this far, all but ensuring that the middling teams are out of luck.
Despite plenty of trades and down-to-the-wire action, this year's trade deadline may have been one of the most irrelevant in years. A few good moves were made, but the best trades came from teams already set up to win big — and none of the deals were game-changers in the tradition of Sabathia and Lee.
In the American League, the main contenders — the Yankees, Angels, Rangers, Tigers and White Sox — all came into the trade deadline with most of their positions well-manned, and any moves they made were merely supplementary to the strategy that's given them their strong records so far.
The Angels added Zack Greinke, but he's only going to help a rotation that boasts Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. Greinke has won a Cy Young, but he hasn't been lights-out as of late. The Yankees picked up Ichiro Suzuki as a stopgap at Brett Gardner's position, and New York stuck with the starting rotation that has brought the team this far, choosing uneven times like this week (a few bad losses to the Red Sox and Orioles) over a shakeup of its main arms. The other teams that did make moves — the Tigers, in getting Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, and the Rangers, in grabbing Dempster to help a pitching staff now without Neftali Feliz — were only plugging holes. The pieces that got those teams through the first part of the season will be the ones expected to carry them the rest of the way.
The other teams hoping to jump into the American League wild card race, however — from the 53-win Red Sox all the way up to the division-threatening Oakland A's — didn't do anything near enough to vault past the teams that have been controlling their divisions all year. These playoff hopefuls were the ones who needed to make a move for a Felix Hernandez or a Lee, but they were the ones scooping up spare players and sticking to their game plans — much like the division leaders, but without the nice records to match.
As the American League stands now, there's no reason to think the season won't end without the same top five teams. The other teams hoping to crack that bubble did precious little at the trade deadline to make it happen.
In the National League, the gap between the top teams and former contenders also appears to have widened. Six teams are now vying for the five playoff spots, with the other two or three that could have been in the race failing to make a move that would help.
The Dodgers were aggressive, taking a team that fought through the Matt Kemp injury earlier this year and bolstering it with Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino. Of all teams, they made the biggest splash. The Giants, who have had every reason to fade this year with struggles from Tim Lincecum and others, picked up Hunter Pence to stay even in the National League West. These two teams will likely be fighting for the division down to the last game, and they made the moves they needed to stay in it. The Diamondbacks, however, who are within striking distance despite being two games above .500 going into Wednesday's game, did nothing to keep up.
In the National League Central, the Reds and Pirates also increased the distance between themselves and the rest of the division. Cincinnati grabbed setup man Jonathan Broxton, and Pittsburgh traded for first baseman Gaby Sanchez. While St. Louis (four games behind the Pirates, seven games behind the Reds) still has a decent record, it also failed to make a move that could lift it past the division leaders.
In the National League East, where the Nationals and Braves have distanced themselves from the rest of the group, both Washington and Atlanta stayed away from trade deadline moves. At their pace, their division should yield two playoff berths, with the contenders from the National League Central and West having to fight amongst themselves for the last two spots.
With the trade deadline past, the same teams that looked strong going in will remain strong coming out — and that may be the most remarkable feature of the July 31 flurry. As much as many teams think they can still get to the playoffs, they showed a remarkable amount of restraint in not trading away their futures for a few pieces now. Without a Sabathia or Lee on the market (or, this year, Hernandez and Lee), teams had no reason to go crazy when the clubs atop their divisions were just getting slowly stronger.
The quality of the trade pieces likely had something to do with it. Garza (5-5, 3.91 ERA) may have been fine if given new surroundings, but he would have never been able to help a team in a significant way. Dempster (5-5, 2.25) had teams fighting over him, but he won't be affecting playoff position.
That was the real story of this year's trade deadline — so much hope and so much movement, but so little that could actually change any team's fate. With so many teams in the mix, it was all Cubs (and Marlins, for that matter, who sent a player to just about every playoff contender) and no Cy Young winners.
Mediocre teams wouldn't trade to get worse, but they couldn't trade to get better. They're close to a playoff spot, but that's where they'll remain.
So, despite the numbers showing that some teams have hope, the rest of the season holds one thing for baseball fans: More of the same.