The Los Angeles Dodgers are going for the jugular in the NL West: Still maintaining a six-game divisional lead over Colorado and San Francisco when the evening started, the Dodgers struck late and dramatically Monday night to acquire slugger Jim Thome from the White Sox and starting pitcher Jon Garland from the Diamondbacks.
The moves not only answered, but upstaged, their closest rivals on a day that saw a flurry of moves as contenders scrambled to acquire stretch-run help before the midnight EDT post-season roster deadline: Colorado acquired starter Jose Contreras from the White Sox and, earlier in the day, the Giants signed two-time All-Star Brad Penny, who had been waived by the Red Sox, and subsequently went unclaimed.
But on a day that got crazy in the last few minutes before the deadline, nobody was more bold than the Dodgers. In acquiring Thome, they strengthened their bench with a slugger, albeit past his prime, who has cracked 23 homers and collected 74 RBI this season.
Scouts say that Thome, 39, can no longer move well enough to be a viable option at first base, so expect manager Joe Torre to spot Thome into key, situational at-bats as a pinch hitter (and, should the Dodgers reach the World Series, they'll certainly have a veteran designated hitter ready and warmed up for games in the American League park). A full-time DH now, Thome has played only four games at first base, total, in the past four seasons.
The trade not only kept Thome away from the offense-starved Giants, who well might have blundered in passing on him on the waiver wire, but also reunites a couple of former Clevelanders from the Indians' 1990s glory days, Thome and Manny Ramirez.
Known universally throughout the game as a good teammate and good player to have in the clubhouse, maybe Thome's calm, positive and familiar nature can help Manny get back to being Manny. Ramirez, since the All-Star break, is batting just .268 and averaging a mere home run per 29.8 at-bats -- as opposed to one homer per 13.4 at-bats before the break.
The Dodgers acquired Thome for minor-league infielder Justin Fuller, and the White Sox are including cash to cover a pro-rated portion of the remainder of Thome's $13 million salary for 2009.
The Dodgers acquired Garland for a player to be named later, and the Diamondbacks, according to sources, also are including cash to cover the remainder of the pitcher's $6.25 million salary for '09, plus the $2.5 million buyout of his 2010 option. Consequently, that will improve the caliber of player to be named later Arizona receives.
While Thome is the biggest name, Garland (8-11, 4.29 ERA) fills the Dodgers' most dire need. Caught looking as Philadelphia acquired Cliff Lee at the July trade deadline (and as Toronto hung onto ace Roy Halladay), the Dodgers have lacked a veteran workhorse in a young rotation that had been ultra-dependent on Chad Billingsley. Increasingly, that has been a scary proposition: Over his past 13 starts, Billingsley (12-8) has just three wins and a 5.61 ERA.
In Garland, the Dodgers are getting a veteran with playoff experience (he was a key member of the 2005 White Sox's World Series champion rotation) and a right-hander who has worked 190 or more innings in each of the past seven seasons (he's at 167 2/32 now). He is expected to take the place of knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, his former Chicago teammate, in the rotation.
As for the Rockies, Contreras gives them another stretch-run arm -- and they can use all comers with ace Aaron Cook sidelined -- though he has been awful in Chicago (5.42 ERA, six earned runs allowed to the Yankees on Saturday in just 3 1/3 innings).
Clearly, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams is disgusted and has lost patience with his slumping club. When he acquired ace pitcher Jake Peavy from San Diego and outfielder Alex Rios from Toronto several weeks ago, they were deals both to help the Sox now and in the future. Both Peavy and Rios are signed long term -- Peavy through 2012, with a club option for 2013; Rios through 2014, with a club option for 2015.
Now, the emphasis clearly is on the future. In addition to dumping Thome and Contreras, the White Sox also shopped outfielder Jermaine Dye and set-up man Scott Linebrink earlier Monday, according to sources. Clearly, Williams' re-shaping of the Sox has begun.