The chase for the AL pennant might have included as many as 6 teams before Thursday's trade deadline. Now, however, there are 2 clear superpowers in Detroit and Oakland, and they are heavy pennant favorites on MLB odds.
Tigers Upstage A's
Just when it looked as if the Oakland A's were going to steal the spotlight on trade deadline day by acquiring Boston's Jon Lester, the Detroit Tigers swooped in at the last minute and made a stunning deal for Tampa Bay ace David Price, who wasn't even supposed to be available with the Rays back in the wild-card race.
In a three-team deal, the Tigers gave up center fielder Austin Jackson and young pitcher Drew Smyly (along with a minor-league prospect) while getting Price from Tampa Bay. The Seattle Mariners get Jackson, while the Rays get Smyly and infielder Nick Franklin from Seattle. It sure seems like Detroit didn't have to give up all that much. Price is an obviously huge upgrade over Smyly. Jackson is hitting .273 with four homers, 33 RBIs with nine steals but he strikes out way too much.
Now the Tigers have the last three Cy Young winners on their staff in Price, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, No. 2 starters on many teams, round out the rotation. That's amazing, even with Verlander's struggles. This deal all but assures Scherzer will leave as a free agent after this season, but now the Tigers have Price for 2015. Detroit can stick Rajai Davis (.295, 6 HRs, 33 RBIs) in center field and really not lose anything except a bit of defense.
The A's have lost to the Tigers in Game 5 of the past two ALDS -- both to Verlander -- so GM Billy Beane has been going nuts to finally get over the hump. He gave up the team's top two prospects early this month to the Cubs for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Now the A's have a pretty amazing rotation of their own in Lester, Sonny Gray, Samardzija, Scott Kazmir and Hammel/Jesse Chavez.
To get Lester, a proven playoff stud, Beane gave up his No. 3 hitter (in the lineup), Yoenis Cespedes. Beane sort of made up for his loss by also getting outfielder Jonny Gomes in that deal. The GM also acquired outfielder Sam Fuld from Minnesota for Triple-A pitcher Tommy Milone. Fuld and Gomes will likely platoon once the A's are fully healthy in the outfield (Craig Gentry is hurt right now).
So how does a Tigers-A's playoff rematch sound? Price vs. Lester? Scherzer vs. Samardzija? Gray vs. Verlander? Nice. Lean 'under' on those totals!
Best of the Rest
The Mariners were in on Price and Lester but only improved one of the majors' worst outfields in Jackson and San Diego's Chris Denorfia. He was hitting .242 with one homer, 10 doubles and 16 RBIs in 89 games for the Padres and can play all three outfield positions. Blah.
I'm shocked that the only moves the Yankees made were acquiring utility-man Martin Prado from Arizona and shortstop Stephen Drew from the Red Sox -- and equally shocked that Boston and New York made a deal (first time in 15 years). Drew has never played second base in his career. Is Drew (.176) really an upgrade over Brian Roberts (.237)? Apparently, because the Yanks designated Roberts for assignment. Obviously Drew won't be playing shortstop during Derek Jeter's retirement tour. Prado (.270, 5 HRs, 42 RBIs) appears ticketed for the outfield. New York still has major starting pitching issues.
Baltimore was also in on Price and Lester, but the only move the Orioles made was acquiring Red Sox lefty reliever Andrew Miller (2.34 ERA; lefties hit only .150 off him). Now Baltimore might have the best left-handed bullpen in the majors in Miller, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz. Surprised Baltimore didn't do more, especially in the rotation, with how winnable the AL East is.
What Does It All Mean?
The AL East remains a mediocre mess with minor moves from Baltimore and the Yankees and nothing at all from Toronto. Lean the Jays there at +200. Detroit was going to win the AL Central for a fourth straight year without doing anything. The Tigers are -1800 favorites there. With the Angels doing nothing, the A's should hold off L.A. in the AL West. Oakland is -400 on MLB odds with the Halos at +125. The A's are currently +200 favorites to win the AL pennant, but they did nothing to address the hitting woes that have plagued them the past two postseasons and in fact subtracted from it by dealing Cespedes. Detroit (+220) is your new AL champion. The only other team I give a shot is the Angels (+400), but only if they make a post-deadline move.