LOS ANGELES, CA: Hunter Pence, formerly of the Philadelphia Phillies, hits a two-RBI single to left field against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 10th inning to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)
The Dodgers and Giants loaded up at the trade deadline, and the arms race should make for an interesting NL West.
Heading into Tuesday's games, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants were tied for first place in the National League West. Both teams had holes, and each of them made moves leading up to the deadline and on the day of the deadline. It wasn't quite like the Yankees and Red Sox back in the day, or even the Angels and Rangers in the present, but it was still exciting -- especially for fans of the two clubs -- to watch them answer each other's moves with their own.
The Dodgers struck first, trading Nathan Eovaldi and minor-leaguer Scott McGough for reliever Randy Choate and Hanley Ramirez on July 25. Ramirez had rebounded to the point where his bat was average, but hadn't yet returned to the form that made him one of the game's greats in his early years with the Marlins. This, among other reasons, made him expendable to Miami, but also attractive to the Dodgers. It's been just seven games, but Ramirez has been productive as the Dodger third baseman, posting a 107 OPS+ over his first 32 plate appearances. He doesn't have to be exactly who he used to be in order to give the Dodgers a huge boost, but the possibility remains that he will thanks to the change of scenery.
The Giants answered with an infield move of their own, acquiring Marco Scutaro from the Rockies two days after the Hanley deal. Scutaro started slow with Colorado, but picked things up to finish at .271/.324/.361. In his first week with the Giants, Scutaro already has a pair of doubles and a .462/.500/.615 line. He was an above-average shortstop for the Red Sox in 2011, so it's not beyond belief that he would produce for the Giants in the season's final two months. When Pablo Sandoval returns from his thigh strain, Scutaro won't be lining up at third every day, but he has experience all over the infield, and can be slotted in for injuries or match-ups as necessary.
The Dodgers have had something of an issue in left field all season long, hence their acquisition of Bobby Abreu in early May following his release from the Angels. Abreu hit .251/.359/.341 for the Dodgers, with 46 of his 51 games coming in left, and while that beat the .278/.327/.320 mark he succeeded at the position, it wasn't enough. Especially when you consider that Abreu was a terrible defensive player even before he was 38 years old and coming off of a season in which he was primarily a DH.
Enter the Shane Victorino trade, which brings a slowing center fielder in to cover a much easier position, one who has had about the same value as Abreu in the National League this year at the plate (94 OPS+ to Abreu's 95). Abreu has been worth anywhere from a run below-average to a full win below, depending on which defensive stat you check, while Victorino has been average according to the defensive metrics of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Prospectus. An average center fielder shifting to left is likely to provide much better defensive value than what Abreu produced, and if their bats are equals at this point, that gives the edge -- albeit slight -- to Victorino, which explains why the Dodgers designated Abreu for assignment on Wednesday.
Over two months time, that might not make a huge difference in the Dodgers' fortunes, especially if the more optimistic-looking defensive numbers for Abreu were closer to the truth of his season. That's not so with Hunter Pence and the Giants, however, as they acquired a bat that can make a difference.
The 29-year-old Pence is having a down year -- his worst since 2008, when he hit just .269/.318/.466 in his second season. However, over the last three years, he's hit .291/.345/.473, good for a 121 OPS+, so there's a much better hitter than that hiding in there somewhere. Even if he retains the 109 OPS+ he put together this season in Philadelphia, that'll be an improvement over what the Giants were getting in right field as of late. Gregor Blanco has played 53 games in right field on the season, and has hit just .242/.336/.358. After park adjustments, that's basically average, but it's well below when it comes to the right-field average, a position with a collective OPS+ of 110.
Pence is basically there even though he's below his normal pace, so a return to form would be a huge boost. It also gives the Giants a strong outfield from left to right, as they already have Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan in place, and without the downside of playing Melky in center field, too. That being said, if Pagan continues his recent scuffles, at least the Giants now have Blanco to slot in as necessary, either defensively or as an occasional starter. Options are a good thing, and Pence allows the Giants more options than they had.
The Giants are now one game up on the Dodgers, and, as baseball fans know, just about anything can go down in only two months time. Los Angeles set themselves up with a potentially high-impact acquisition a week before the deadline, while the Giants waited until the 31st to do the same. Both clubs also dealt for a player showing their age, but one who could possibly fill a hole better than what was on the roster, at the least giving the teams a better chance to succeed in the season's final two months. They were neck-and-neck heading into the deadline, and remain that way after it, but now there are two teams out west more exciting than they were to watch down the stretch.