Monday, August 1, 2011

2011 MLB Grades: Evaluating the Top Teams of the MLB Trade Deadline

The MLB Trade Deadline is usually one of the more exciting times of the sports year, and this season's was no different.

Several talented, high-profile players, like Hunter Pence and Carlos Beltran, were dealt, with some teams being overwhelming sellers and other teams buying their way into contention for the World Series.

The winners and losers of the deadline are hard to make out, although some are fairly obvious.

The Houston Astros were definite sellers, trading two of their top players for promising future prospects, while the Philadelphia Phillies benefited from that and scooped up Hunter Pence at the first chance.

The MLB Trade Deadline is where good teams separate themselves from the pack and decent teams become contenders.

This year, we saw a little bit of everything.

Here are the report cards for the most active teams at the trade deadline.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates' surprising season took a mean hit the past three games as the Bucs were swept by the Philadelphia Phillies.

However, the Pirates benefited during that time by bolstering their roster with two big bats.

Approaching the MLB Trade Deadline, the Pirates did not have that significant big bat in the middle of their lineup, so it was necessary that they go out and find one.

It turns out they found two, at least potentially.

The Pirates acquired Derrek Lee from the Orioles and Ryan Ludwick from the Padres, giving the team two definite power threats to go alongside Andrew McCutchen.

It was a win for the Pirates, even while they were being swept in Philadelphia.

The team is now 4.5 games back of the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers, and time may be running out on Pittsburgh's magical season.

However, the Lee and Ludwick acquisitions should improve their chances.

Grade: B

4. Cleveland Indians

With the Indians 2.5 games back of the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers, they needed to make a move and prove that a hot start wasn't just that.

Cleveland was proactive and acquired the services of ace Ubaldo Jimenez to shore up their pitching situation.

Jimenez has had a tough season so far in Colorado, going 6-9 with a 4.46 ERA, but there is no doubt that he is one of the better pitchers in the game today.

The 27-year-old instantly makes the Indians rotation one of the best in the AL, as he joins the likes of Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona, Josh Tomlin, and Carlos Carrasco.

Tomlin leads the team in wins with 11, and Masterson leads the team in ERA with a 2.56.

If the Indians are to make a move and finish atop the AL Central, they started in the right place picking up an ace for the top of their rotation.

Grade: B+

3. San Francisco Giants

It was pretty simple for the Giants. They needed a bat, and they needed it now.

They got it by acquiring the biggest bat available in Carlos Beltran and dealing prospect Zack Wheeler to the New York Mets.

There is a little commotion over the Giants' giving up their top pitching prospect for an aging, injury-prone Beltran, but GM Brian Sabean's strategy is clearly to win now.

Beltran is the big bat that San Francisco has longed for since Barry Bonds, and he instantly makes their offense better.

He is off to a slow start with the Giants, however, but his playoff numbers are outstanding, which is why San Francisco plans on striking it rich come playoff time.

Grade: B+

2. Atlanta Braves

With the Phillies' acquisition of Hunter Pence, the Braves had to answer. They did so by benefiting off the Astros' urge to sell, acquiring the speedy Michael Bourn.

Atlanta has wanted a leadoff hitter for some time, and they definitely got one here.

Also, with CF Nate McLouth on the 15-day DL, it made perfect sense for the Braves to land a center fielder, as well as a leadoff hitter.

The Braves needed to act at the trade deadline if they wanted to stay in contention in the NL East and wild-card races, and Bourn helps them do just that.

He is a game changer and totally alters the Braves' image and style of baseball.

Atlanta currently is six games back of the Phillies in the NL East and 3.5 games up in the wild-card standings.

Grade: A-

1. Philadelphia Phillies

Entering the 2011 baseball season, the Phillies were the favorites to be World Series champs. They had acquired Cliff Lee to add to Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, and had one of the best lineups in baseball.

However, after losing two out of three to the defending-champion Giants, it was evident that things were not so certain in Philadelphia.

That changed when they acquired Hunter Pence from the free-dealing Astros for prospects.

If they were not World Series favorites, then they are most certainly now.

Pence is added to an already talented lineup consisting of Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, Jimmy Rollins, etc.

The Phillies continue to get better, and it is a testament to their front office, as Philadelphia is poised for another World Series run.

Grade: A

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