The deadline comes alive

The Manny Ramirez deal at "3:59 and seconds" puts a cap on a refreshingly active trading season.

Published August 1, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)

Another baseball trading deadline has come and gone with a whole lot more noise than action. As usual, a ton of speculation turned into a few crumbs of ...

Wait a minute. Manny Ramirez went where?!

The three-way deal that sent the tempestuous Boston Red Sox slugger to the Los Angeles Dodgers capped off a far more entertaining than usual deadline season. It was announced after the 4 p.m. EDT limit, after having been agreed upon at "3:59 and seconds," according to Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington.

The excitement started well before Thursday with the twin National League Central deals that brought aces C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers and Rich Harden to the Chicago Cubs at midmonth and ended late, with the three-way Ramirez deal, thought to involve the Red Sox, Pirates and Florida Marlins right up to the moment it was declared dead Thursday, a declaration that was soon followed by the surprise announcement that it lived! It lived! And it was going west. The Dodgers, not the Marlins.

It's not every day that a sure-thing Hall of Famer with more than 600 home runs gets traded and it's "In other news," but the sheer soap-operatude of the Manny drama forced Ken Griffey Jr. to the inside pages.

In fact, such a trade has only happened twice before Thursday, most recently 34 years ago.

Griffey, sixth on the all-time home run list and one year removed from having hit 30, was shipped from the Cincinnati Reds to the Chicago White Sox Thursday for second baseman Danny Richar and reliever Nick Masset, youngsters but not blue-chippers. The deal got only a little more attention than the one that sent veteran reliever Arthur Rhodes from Seattle to Florida for Double-A pitcher Gaby Hernandez.

Here's a list of everyone who has ever been traded after having hit more homers than Junior:

Hank Aaron, 733: Atlanta Braves to Milwaukee Brewers, Nov. 2, 1974
Willie Mays, 646: San Francisco Giants to New York Mets, May 11, 1972

And those were pretty big deals at the time, more for the magnitude of the personalities than for pure baseball reasons. But that's it. Babe Ruth had hit 708 when he went from the New York Yankees to the Boston Braves in a little ceremony in February 1935, but the Yankees actually released him and he signed with Boston as a free agent.

It's not entirely clear why the White Sox wanted Griffey, but they plan to play him in center field, which should be an adventure. Once a very good center fielder, he hasn't even been a decent one for a long time. Recently, he hasn't even been a good right fielder.

It's clear why the Dodgers, a game out in baseball's weakest division before Thursday's contests -- two games out after losing to the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks -- wanted Ramirez. He's a big bat, which they needed badly, and they got him for the stretch drive in exchange for languishing third base prospect Andy LaRoche and Single-A pitcher Bryan Morris. And the Red Sox will even pay his salary.

Ramirez will be on his best behavior with his new team, all hugs and kisses, and while Dodger Stadium isn't nearly as friendly to hitters as Fenway Park, he's going to the easier league, and he's also Manny Ramirez. He can hit anywhere. His OPS was 30 points higher away from Fenway this year anyway.

Patrolling Dodger Stadium's expansive left field is another matter entirely. The Dodgers will hope he doesn't give back so many runs with his glove as to make his bat not worthwhile. That would have to be a lot of runs.

The most refreshing thing about Thursday, other than all that activity, was the presence of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the winners section of all those end-of-day "Winners and Losers" pieces around the Web. The Pirates sent reliever Damaso Marte and outfielder Xavier Nady to the Yankees for four prospects a few days ago, and they sent outfielder Jason Bay to the Red Sox in the Ramirez deal, getting back LaRoche and Morris from the Dodgers and two more prospects slash fringe big-leaguers from the Red Sox, pitcher Craig Hansen and outfielder Brandon Moss.

Bay's a nice player, a dependable slugger -- not counting a down year in '07 -- who's under reasonable contract through next year. But Marte and Nady didn't figure to be a part of the next good Pirates team, and for those three, the Bucs got eight young players.

The only real high-ceiling guy in the bunch is former Yankee Jose Tabata, an outfielder who has struggled this year and about whose attitude and maturity there are serious questions. That's why he was available. But he's only 19. LaRoche, who has been jerked around by the Dodgers, has a chance to be a solid big-league third baseman, maybe an All-Star. Any of the other six could turn into useful pieces.

That's the kind of haul the Pirates have spent decades not getting. Just a year ago they were trading for the burned-out shell of Matt Morris -- and his humongous contract. They were in need of supervision by a trained professional. Now it actually looks like they know what they're doing. They've still got a long way to go, but there appears to be an actual plan of some sort at work.

It's great to see. Welcome back to the world, Pittsburgh Pirates.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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