8:25 AM–MLB Deadline Day

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Let’s take a brief look at the trades that have been completed up to now, at 8:25 AM EST.

White Sox acquire Francisco Liriano from the Twins

It’s increasingly looking as if Twins’ “interim” GM Terry Ryan probably should’ve stayed retired. Getting Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez for a lefty arm in Liriano—even one who’s a pending free agent—is a nonexistent return on a potential difference-maker down the stretch. And why trade him 3 days before the deadline? Why not wait? The only situation in which to jump at a trade that early is when there’s an offer on the table not to be refused. This was a deal that the Twins should’ve refused, or at least waited to see if anything else came up.

Blue Jays trade OF Travis Snider to the Pirates for RHP Brad Lincoln

Snider was a 1st round draft pick of then-Blue Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi in 2006 and is the prototypical lefty masher with pop that the supposedly stat-savvy once coveted. He’s gotten chances to play with the Blue Jays and shown flashes of being a 15-20 homer man, but has also endured horrific slumps. Snider’s more of a Matt Stairs-type than an everyday player.

Lincoln was also a 1st round pick in 2006 who failed as a starter—amid blame being doled on former Pirates’ pitching coach Joe Kerrigan for changing his mechanics—and has found a home in the bullpen. Perhaps the Blue Jays are going to try him as a starter; perhaps the Pirates will give Snider a legitimate chance to play.

Neither is a kid anymore with Lincoln 27 and Snider 24. Both could use a change.

Cubs trade LHP Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson to the Braves for RHP Arodys Vizcaino and RHP Jaye Chapman

Vizcaino is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but had a 100-mph fastball before he got hurt. Chapman is 25 and stagnating at Triple A. He strikes out a batter-per-inning. Johnson is a speedy and useful extra outfielder who can play all three positions.

I’ve always liked Maholm and felt it was a drastic mistake for the Pirates to turn down his contract option when they could’ve held onto him and used/traded him. Maholm is not a rental for the Braves as he has a contract option for 2013 at $6.5 million. That said, this trade is in line with the Braves looking for an “impact” starter such as Zack Greinke, but also placing the likes of Jason Vargas in the category of “impact”. Vargas is not that and nor is Maholm, although Maholm is better than Vargas. It’s a useful and not earth-shattering pickup.

If it were a team president/GM combo in Chicago that was the target of ridicule by the self-proclaimed “experts” in the media and clever purveyors of snark, does anyone doubt that the joke would be made that the Cubs are under the mistaken impression that the combination of an Arodys and a Chapman means they’re getting a 200-mph fastball in some weird Frankenstein mixing and matching of human parts?

Cubs trade C Geovany Soto to the Rangers for RHP Jacob Brigham

Brigham’s numbers in Double A haven’t been impressive over the past two seasons, but Cubs’ boss Theo Epstein is cleaning house and accumulating arms. Soto was a burgeoning star once, but injuries and apparent apathy from playing with a team spiraling so far, so fast appears to have affected him negatively. The change to a contender with a very friendly home part for hitters is a good move for him.

In a corresponding move, the Rangers designated Yorvit Torrealba for assignment. Is there anyone, anywhere who doubts Torrealba’s going to wind up with the Mets?

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Thome The First Phillies’ Domino To Fall

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Now that Jim Thome has been traded from the Phillies to the Orioles for two low level minor leaguers, no one’s come up with a realistic answer as to why he signed with the Phillies in the first place.

It only made moderate sense for the Phillies hoping that he’d be happy as a pinch-hitter and DH in inter-league play. It would be the height of arrogance (possible) that the Phillies were looking forward to a World Series for Thome to be the DH in the AL parks.

But did both parties really think Thome was going to be able to play first base?

In what world is Thome—even as he’s turning 42 in August—mentioned in the same breath with other former Phillies’ pinch hitters Greg Dobbs, Ross Gload and Matt Stairs?

Thome can still hit and be productive as a semi-regular DH in the American League. That’s why re-signing with the Phillies made little-to-no sense for him and was done far too early in the free agent process to give the pretense of preplanning on either side. It was a rushed reunion like divorced spouses rekindling a relationship and hoping it would work out a second time.

But those types of reunions rarely work out.

The return to Philadelphia was a decision based on sentimentality and the friendship between Thome and Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel.

As curious as the signing was in November, this trade is more curious.

Considering Thome had played 4 games at first base this season, Ryan Howard’s pending return had nothing to do with this trade. Thome was a pinch-hitter and Howard is their everyday first baseman. There’s no connection between the two.

The only obvious answer as to why this trade was made is that this is beginning of a Phillies’ sell off.

There’s no other explanation. Perhaps they’re going to give it another 3 weeks to see where they are before going full bore into sell mode and trading their two big name pending free agents Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino, but they’re preparing for that eventuality.

Even with the return of Chase Utley, they’ve lost 4 straight games. They’re 36-44, 10 ½ games out of first place in the NL East and 7 ½ games out of first in the Wild Card. The deficit can be overcome, but they have to win a few games of their own to do it.

They’re not auctioning Hamels and Victorino on July 1st, but you can bet if teams are calling GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to inquire about those two players, Amaro’s telling those teams that they’re not available…yet. He’s telling them to keep in touch and is thinking about what he wants in exchange for Hamels and Victorino.

You can also bet that the Phillies’ scouts are fanning out to look at the minor league systems of the teams that are calling about Hamels and Victorino so they have an idea of what to ask for if they do put them on the market.

Thome was the first domino.

If the Phillies don’t start winning soon, the other ones are going to fall by the end of the month.

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Phillies Sign Jack Cust—Not Sexy But Maybe Important

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Sometimes it’s the understated and ignored acquisition or signing that turns out to be most important.

Eyes rolled at the Giants signing Pat Burrell and claiming Cody Ross last season, but without Burrell and Ross there likely wouldn’t have been a Giants World Series win.

In 1985, the Cardinals made a late-August trade for the stretch run when they acquired Cesar Cedeno for a nondescript minor leaguer named Mark Jackson who never made it to the majors. Cedeno was an unproductive part-timer in the twilight of his career with the Reds before getting to the Cardinals—upon which he went on a tear.

Over that final month in 1985, Cedeno batted .434 in 82 plate appearances with an absurd 1.213 OPS and 6 homers—some of which were game-winners. (I was at the September game in which Dwight Gooden and John Tudor hooked up for a scoreless tie through 9 innings; Cedeno pinch hit in the top of the 10th against Jesse Orosco and homered. Tudor finished the shutout in the bottom of the inning.)

Without Cedeno, the Cardinals would probably not have held the Mets off that September.

In what were essentially “nothing” moves, the Cardinals and Giants made it to the World Series.

It’s not sexy, but the Phillies signing of Jack Cust to a minor league deal could eventually be seen as big.

Cust was a washout with the Mariners this year, but that team is currently a lost cause; he was jerked around by the Athletics after rejuvenating his career with the organization, but the A’s are a farce of their very own with an upcoming feature film to prove it.

The difference with the Phillies is that he’s only going to be asked to do what he does in a limited role rather than as the lone power threat for two desperately short-handed clubs.

What Cust does is hit the ball out of the park; strike out; or walk.

The Phillies home of Citizens Bank Park will be more enticing to him than the vast dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum and Safeco Field, and he can hit a fastball. He murders the Giants’ Matt Cain and can catch up to Brian Wilson‘s fastball or walk if Wilson loses the strike zone.

Much like Matt Stairs‘s towering homer against a 100-mph fastball from Jonathan Broxton spun the 2009 NLCS into the Phillies favor and sent Broxton into a confidence-sapped tailspin from which he’s yet to recover, Cust could perform a similar function of a lefty bat off the bench against the Giants, Braves, Brewers or Cardinals—all potential playoff opponents for the Phillies.

Occasionally, all it takes is the smell of a pennant race to wake up a veteran’s bat. These inexpensive acquisitions wind up being turning points in a championship season without anyone realizing it at the time they were completed and it could be so with the Phillies signing of Cust.

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