MLB trade talk: Once again the sellers win out over buyers

Elevating Duensing instead of chasing star was best move

August 29, 2010|By Phil Rogers

In everyone's dreams, often even for the guys in the dugouts, help is always right around the corner for a contender. But the reality is, year in and out, the teams that benefit the most from business both before and after baseball's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline are the teams that are selling high-priced talent, not the teams adding players.

That's not always the case, of course. But the real impact trades are few and far between.

Consider the 2010 Twins.

With revenues from Target Field putting general manager Bill Smith and his front office staff in the unaccustomed position of buyer, the Twins seriously explored deals for starters Cliff Lee, Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt. In the end, however, they decided to put 27-year-old lefty Brian Duensing into the rotation and use their trading chips to acquire closer Matt Capps.

Duensing had spent the first four months as Ron Gardenhire's long reliever and said he felt being moved into the rotation would be the "worst-case scenario'' for his team. That's hardly how it's turned out.

When Duensing replaced Nick Blackburn on July 23, the Twins were in third place in the American League Central, two games behind the White Sox. They lost to the Orioles in his first start, falling three games back, but then won 19 of their next 23 games, moving to a five-game lead over the Sox.

Duensing has made seven starts, going 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA, thanks mostly to attacking the strike zone (eight walks in 471/3 innings) and trusting his fielders. The Twins are 4-3 in his starts, compared with a 2-5 record in Blackburn's last seven starts.

This isn't exactly new for Duensing, however. He was 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA in nine starts last season, helping the Twins to their 163-game division championship.

"Things are working out so far," Duensing said. "Hopefully, they keep going."

Gardenhire has been thrilled with what he's received from Duensing, as well as what the Twins may have gained long-term by trusting their own guy.

"It's always nice to be able to fill from within our organization and not have to give away a lot of prospects," he said.

Consider how the Twins and Duensing have compared to the teams that made the biggest moves for starters:

The Rangers probably won't be able to measure Lee's impact until October. They were leading the AL West by 41/2 games when they acquired the well-traveled lefty from the Mariners on July 9 and had increased that lead to 81/2 games entering the weekend. They did that despite Lee going 2-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 starts.

The Phillies were in second place in the NL East, 31/2 games behind the Braves when they acquired Oswalt from the Astros on July 29. They have run in place since then, entering the weekend three games back in the division and a half-game out of the wild card. Oswalt is 3-1 in six starts for the Phillies.

The Angels were six games behind the Rangers when they added Haren from the Diamondbacks on July 24. They had fallen to 10 games back entering the weekend, with Haren going 2-4 with a 4.02 ERA in seven starts.

Coming storm: Albert Pujols keeps hitting, and baseball agents everywhere keep smiling.

When Pujols hit his 400th homer Thursday, he became the first player to reach that figure in his first 10 seasons and the third-youngest overall (behind Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr.). He has done what he can to downplay speculation about his next contract, but this is going to be an interesting winter as he seems unlikely to enter 2011 without a deal to keep him off the free-agent market after that season.

How can the 30-year-old Pujols be worth less than Rodriguez, who got a 10-year, $275 million deal from the Yankees when he was 32? And can the Cardinals maintain the consistent contender they have built with a payroll at about $100 million when they commit almost $45 million a year to two players — Pujols and Matt Holliday?

Will they be in a mood to do that if they miss the playoffs in the first full season in which they have those two playing together? Having lost eight of their last 11 games, the Cardinals entered the weekend four games behind the first-place Reds in the NL Central and in third place in the wild-card race. It might be an exciting September in St. Louis; it's definitely going to be a tense one.

Tap dancing: Major League Baseball is running an internal investigation to try to find out who leaked financial documents to Deadspin.com, but no one is calling the reports on the Marlins, Pirates, Rays, Rangers and Angels bogus. The reports show that some of baseball's biggest deadbeat franchises have made nifty profits while bellying up to the revenue-sharing trough.

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