For Dodgers fans, the non-waiver trade deadline Sunday was a cruel reminder of the once-proud franchise’s place on baseball’s landscape.
Bankrupt and out of contention, the team was reduced to making minor deals, shipping Rafael Furcal to the St. Louis Cardinals to save $1.4 million and set up a two-month audition for shortstop prospect Dee Gordon.
And this might be the worst part: the team Dodgers fans most hate put itself in position to once again bombard them with images of men with overgrown beards hoisting the World Series trophy and waving red thongs.
“We owed it to the city,” San Francisco Giants General Manager Brian Sabean told reporters. “We owed it to the players on the field. When you’re the defending world champions, you do have to try to defend that title any way you can.”
Last week, the Giants added a potentially lineup-altering hitter in Carlos Beltran and a second baseman in Jeff Keppinger. On Saturday, they acquired an able-bodied shortstop in Orlando Cabrera to replace the fossilized Miguel Tejada.
To acquire Beltran, who will be a free agent this winter, the Giants had to part with top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.
The co-favorites to emerge as the National League’s representatives in the World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies, also made a significant push.
The consensus around baseball was that the Phillies overpaid for .306-hitting outfielder Hunter Pence, for whom they traded four players to the Houston Astros. The deal cost the Phillies their two top prospects, right-hander Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton.
Deals such as this one are becoming an annual tradition in Philadelphia. The Phillies acquired Cliff Lee to prepare for their World Series run in 2009; they traded for Roy Oswalt last year.
“Pence and Beltran were certainly [the best] of the position players,” Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers said. “It’s not odd that two of the best teams in the National League probably improve themselves the most — the Phillies and Giants.”
Towers did what he could to keep pace. The Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers, 6-3, on Sunday to close to within two games of the first-place Giants in the National League West.
During their three-day stay in Los Angeles, the Diamondbacks marginally improved their pitching by adding back-end starter Jason Marquis from the Washington Nationals on Saturday and reliever Brad Ziegler from the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.
“As close as we were to the Giants, we weren’t going to concede and let them just run away with this thing,” Towers said. “I think their hope was maybe after the Cabrera deal, the Beltran deal, the rest of us would kind of fade away. We felt we could at least make it difficult for them.”
The Diamondbacks weren’t the only contenders scrambling at the deadline.
The Boston Red Sox were desperate to fill vacancies in their rotation resulting from Clay Buchholz’s back problems and Daisuke Matsuzaka’s season-ending elbow operation.
But Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers declined to waive his no-trade clause and Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies was snapped up by the Cleveland Indians. The Red Sox had a deal in place for Rich Harden of the Oakland Athletics, but canceled the trade over concerns about his medical records.
Minutes before the 1 p.m. deadline Sunday, the Red Sox completed a three-team trade involving the Dodgers and Seattle Mariners to land left-hander Erik Bedard from Seattle.
The New York Yankees, who trail the Red Sox by two games in the American League East, wanted pitching but couldn’t add any.
The Texas Rangers also searched in vain for a starter, but made the best of their situation by bolstering their bullpen. They acquired Koji Uehara (1.72 earned-run average) from the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday and Mike Adams (1.13 ERA) from the San Diego Padres on Sunday.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, who found themselves in the rare position of contending, bulked up their offense by prying Ryan Ludwick away from San Diego on Sunday. The deal came a day after they made a deal with the Orioles for Derrek Lee.
Not all deals were geared to short term.
The Indians parted with a valuable group of prospects to get Jimenez because he won’t be a free agent until after the 2013 season. Stolen-base king Michael Bourn, who moved from the Astros to the Atlanta Braves, is under club control through next season.
The most interesting deadline deal involved Colby Rasmus, who is under club control through the 2014 season. The Cardinals were at a place with Rasmus similar to where the Dodgers recently were with Matt Kemp. Rasmus is considered a five-tool talent, as is Kemp. Rasmus had problems with the coaching staff, as did Kemp.
But while the Dodgers held onto Kemp, the Cardinals sent Rasmus to the Toronto Blue Jays as part of an eight-player trade.