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Weekend Buzz: Pirates, Indians on the move, fortified by July


The Weekend Trade Deadline Buzz while you were wondering whether the Smurfs really are crypto-fascists. ...

1. Pittsburgh and Cleveland go for it: No official word from the Commissioner's Office in Milwaukee (located between the Potsie Weber and Ralph Malph residences, I believe), but Bud Selig surely was so pleased with this year's trade deadline that maybe he'll even offer to take a few bucks off Frank McCourt's tab.

Selig said at the All-Star Game that the first thing he does every night is check the Pirates' score, and the second thing he does is check Cleveland's. Well, baseball's two feel-good stories are charging toward August, fortified by July help.

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The Pirates became buyers for the first time in nearly 20 years by scooping up Derrek Lee from Baltimore and Ryan Ludwick from San Diego. Ranked 13th in the NL in runs scored but only 4½ games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central, the Pirates maybe didn't get Manny Ramirez at his peak, but Lee and Ludwick should help. (And they don't come packing female fertility drugs, either).

Only five NL clubs have better rotation ERAs than Pittsburgh's 3.66, and Pittsburgh's bullpen is ranked fourth in the NL at 2.98. As the Pirates sniff their first winning season since 1992, Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington was looking for reinforcements in so many areas that one executive says he was "amazed at how many balls Neal was juggling."

Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti's juggling act netted the Indians big-time starter Ubaldo Jimenez, whose velocity has been down but who says he feels healthier now than he has all season. If he can move even close to his 2010 self, when he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA, the Indians will be playing for keeps in their very last series of the season, three games in Detroit.

"He's 27 years old and, to me, he's still got that Mustang quality," Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca says. "He just needs to calm down a little. I keep telling him, 'I see the pitcher you are and the pitcher you could be side by side. If you make subtle adjustments, lower your pitch count and concentrate on dominating parts of the strike zone ...' "

He does that, and Cleveland is going to fall in love with a starting pitcher all over again (think CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee).

In the meantime, we're still on track for that Indians-Pirates World Series, right?

As Indians closer Chris Perez told me at the All-Star Game, "Cleveland and Pittsburgh have baseball players, too. You forget about that with all of the Yankees and Red Sox stuff."

2. Is Carlos Beltran this year's Cody Ross? While the Indians were acquiring the highest impact starting pitcher on the market, the Giants picked up arguably the highest impact offensive player in Carlos Beltran. Problem is, have you seen Beltran's San Francisco numbers? He was 1 for 15 (.071) with a .133 on-base percentage and .071 slugging percentage in his first three games and, after going 1 for 3 on Sunday, still is looking for his first Giants home run (and second RBI). He's got a long way to go to match San Francisco's key waiver claim last August -- Ross -- but the prediction here is Beltran can be every bit the postseason hero Ross was when October arrives.

3. Heath Bell, Mr. Padre: How big of a shock was it that Heath Bell didn't move? With a trade clearly having been made, manager Bud Black met with reporters in the dugout about an hour before gametime Sunday and said, "We've traded Mike to Texas." Pause. "You mean Heath," one reporter corrected. Pause. "Wait," Black replied, confused. "You guys think we traded Heath to Texas?"

All along, the Padres targeted two of Texas' best Double-A pitchers: Joe Wieland, who threw a no-hitter the other night, and Robbie Erlin. The Rangers wanted Adams instead of Bell because they love his sinker, and because he's under club control through 2012, while Bell can be a free agent this winter.

In the end, the Padres and Rangers compromised.

"[Rangers GM] Jon Daniels and I have been talking for several weeks, and I made it clear the players we wanted," Padres GM Jed Hoyer said. "They always preferred to acquire Mike because of the extra year."

Texas likes Mike Adams' sinker, but also that he's under club control through '12. (Getty Images)  
Texas likes Mike Adams' sinker, but also that he's under club control through '12. (Getty Images)  
Padres sources swore they would not dump Bell for a low price, because they will get two high draft picks for him if he leaves as a free agent (both probably before the 50th pick), and they were true to their word. They also are leaving open the possibility of re-signing Bell.

"We've had conversations with his agent," Hoyer said. "They've been more conceptual than anything else, getting a feel for where we are."

4. Yankees sit this one out; Boston nearly does: By one accounting -- Joel Sherman of the New York Post -- this is the first time since 1999 that the Yankees failed to make a July trade. They were outbid by Cleveland for Jimenez, the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda declined to waive his no-trade clause (before a deal was presented to him), and Houston's Wandy Rodriguez didn't do it for them. It will be fascinating to see how all this plays out for the rotation-challenged Yanks. Speculation continues to grow that GM Brian Cashman, a free agent this winter, will move on to a different challenge.

Boston, in the meantime, apparently was looking to corner the market on brittle starters. A deal with Oakland for Rich Harden fell through, freeing the Sox to go get Ben Sheets. Instead, they acquired Seattle's Erik Bedard who, because of multiple shoulder surgeries, has not thrown a pitch later than July 25 since 2007. And who has not thrown a pitch in September since 2006. His current 91 1/3 innings pitched this season is his highest total since '07.

5. Milwaukee pitch perfect: Savvy Brewers GM Doug Melvin struck for Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez the night of the All-Star Game, and after Rickie Weeks' sprained ankle, acquired infielders Felipe Lopez and Jerry Hairston Jr. in the past few days. Hairston in particular is a great get: he can play second base, shortstop, third base, all three outfield positions, he's a great clubhouse guy and a solid team player.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke phoned his old buddy, Padres manager Bud Black, while doing homework last week in advance of the deal because Hairston played for San Diego last year and Roenicke and Black worked together on the Angels' staff under Mike Scioscia earlier this decade. "Go get him," Black advised -- and with good reason: there is an argument to be made that had Hairston not gotten hurt and missed two weeks beginning in late August last year, the Padres would have held on and won the NL West.

6. Rangers perfect pitch(ers), too: At least, that's what they hope they acquired in relievers Koji Uehara (Baltimore) and Mike Adams (San Diego), two moves that significantly strengthen Texas' bullpen while the Rangers' only competition in the AL West, the Angels, did nothing.

Three things that will make for a smooth transition for Adams, who had not allowed an earned run in 23 of his past 25 games and whose .155 opponents' batting average ranked as sixth-best among NL relievers:

 He will be reunited with pitching coach Mike Maddux, with whom he worked in Milwaukee from 2004-06.

 He will be reunited with catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who handled him beautifully last year during San Diego's 90-win season.

 He's a Texas native.

"It should be fun," Adams said. "I play to win, and this past month has been frustrating."

7. The NL East race starts in Houston. Discuss: The Phillies went to the Astros to get an offensive reinforcement in Hunter Pence. Atlanta went to the Astros to beef up its offense with Michael Bourn. The argument already is raging as to who did better -- the Braves, for one thing, snatched Bourn without giving up any of their top four pitching prospects. True, but the Phillies were able to replace the hole left by Jayson Werth (and not filled by Domonic Brown) at a fraction of the cost. As for the Astros, sources say the Pacific Coast League is considering expansion -- but might not allow the Astros in.

8. Don't forget the Tigers: Yes, Cleveland got the headlines with Jimenez while lots of people watched the Tigers import Doug Fister from Seattle and chortled something about his being 3-12. Caution: Remember, the Mariners score less frequently than Dungeons & Dragons addicts. Fister had the worst run support of any AL pitcher (1.97 runs a game), and his 3.33 ERA ranks 19th in the AL.

9. The Twins and Drew Storen: Minnesota, only six games behind Detroit in the AL Central after being 20 games under .500 on June 1, tried like crazy to add bullpen help but couldn't do it. The Twins were adamant that they weren't going into sell mode, so they kept Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young. The Nationals took a hard run at Denard Span, according to sources, but would not include closer Drew Storen in what the Twins deemed a satisfactory return package.

The Twins' frustration was evident in two tweets from club president Dave St. Peter on Sunday following a 7-3 loss to Oakland:

First tweet: "Disappointing day for the ballclub -- both on field and in the front office. Still a lot of baseball to be played. Better days ahead!"

Second tweet: "Speaking of the deadline, I give [GM] Bill Smith and his staff credit for efforts to improve our club for '11, '12 and beyond. It takes two."

10. The weekend's most painful deal: Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman traded his appendix for an organ to be named later. Seriously: Poor guy was stricken with appendicitis on Saturday and underwent emergency surgery. The Rays said he was conducting business from his hospital room, but who knows? Maybe in the post-surgery haze, Friedman thought he traded B.J. Upton to the Yankees.


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