Wednesday afternoon was very close to being one of the most dormant MLB trade deadline days in recent memory. Despite there being plenty of activity in the rumor mill and a couple of blockbuster deals prior to the deadline, there seemed to be little action when the day itself arrived.
Eventually, the surplus of deals that were made right at the deadline would come as some of the most surprising trades in recent memory, but most MLB fans were scouring their Twitter feeds with baited breath to see whether or not their team had made an impact move.
Of course, part of the inactivity on Wednesday stemmed from the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds completely altering the market by trading for Marcus Stroman and Trevor Bauer, respectively. As some have already pointed out, the sellers became the buyers.
This led to a host of teams — including the likes of the Yankees and Astros — being more unsure about whether or not to get aggressive at the deadline, especially because the Mets and Reds seemed to think they had all the leverage after swinging those trades.
With all that being said, a number of teams addressed their needs in one way or another. There are always purported winners and losers at the deadline, so let’s take a closer look.
There is no question that the Houston Astros are the biggest winners of this deadline. Sure, they had to give up four of their top prospects to land Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke and his $53 million combined (the Diamondbacks are paying $24 million through 2021) over two more seasons. But to merely assess the deal from that lens would be surface-level thinking.
For starters, the Astros kept their promise of keeping their No. 1 and No. 2 prospects (Forrest Whitley and Kyle Tucker) while actually managing to get a higher caliber of starting pitcher than they had originally anticipated.
Secondly, and most importantly, the Astros have to be regarded as the favorite to win the World Series after acquiring Greinke. They now possess a three-headed monster of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Greinke. Not only could all three boast about being a top-three starter in the American League, but that trio might just be the best assemblage of arms since Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz dominated for the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s.
Contract be damned. Prior to Wednesday’s start against the Yankees, Greinke led the National League in WHIP. Through 23 starts, he has a 2.90 ERA and 8.3 K/9 against a 1.3 BB/9. Of course, Greinke had the benefit of making his home games at Chase Field, which has been a pitcher’s park this season. However, there is no question that he is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.
Oh, and just for good measure, the Astros also brought back defensive-minded catcher Martin Maldonado in a trade with the Cubs while acquiring Aaron Sanchez and reliever Joe Biagini from the Toronto Blue Jays. Sure, Sanchez has struggled despite finally being healthy. But the Astros have a knack for getting the very best out of their staff (look no further than Verlander, who has returned to ace form in Houston).
Jeff Luhnow simply knows what it takes to win a World Series, and he was willing to use a deep farm system to play for a ring this year. Not to mention, Greinke may as well serve as a potential replacement for Cole if he leaves the team in free agency.
Brilliantly done, Jeff.
The Astros may have been the big winners and made the most shocking move of the deadline, but Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves probably had the best day of any team in the National League.
Atlanta’s strategy was mostly unknown heading into Wednesday. They had been rumored to be interested in adding a starting pitcher in recent weeks, but that notion started to fade after Kevin Gausman looked pretty strong in his return from the Injured List.
What was clear, however, is that the Braves desperately needed to add bullpen arms to the roster. Atlanta’s bullpen posted a 5.76 ERA in July and ranked dead-last in fWAR and xFIP for the month, according to FanGraphs. The Braves have lacked a bona fide closer for the last two years, but that certainly changed on Wednesday afternoon.
Anthopoulos outbid teams like the Dodgers and Nationals to acquire Detroit Tigers closer Shane Greene, who ranked fourth in baseball with 22 saves and had a 1.18 ERA and 10.2 K/9 in 38 innings of work with Detroit. In fact, Greene only allowed five earned runs all season with the Tigers, all of which came via the home run.
Aside from making the move for Greene, Anthopoulos also acquired Mark Melancon from the San Francisco Giants after trading for Rangers middle reliever Chris Martin earlier in the week, giving the Braves added depth and guys with late-game experience.
The Braves also kept pace with the Washington Nationals, who looked to address their bullpen woes by adding a number of fringe relievers on team-friendly contracts.
Most importantly, the Braves gained ground on the Dodgers. Not only did they take Greene off the market, but they also watched as the Dodgers failed to land Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez (more on that later).
The gap between Atlanta and Los Angeles is considerably smaller than it was prior to Wednesday.
Some people are unsure what to make of the Trevor Bauer trade. After all, the mercurial Bauer was one of the more talented pitchers in Cleveland’s rotation. But make no mistake, this move made the Indians a better team as they look to chase down the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central.
Firstly, Bauer’s 2018 season might as well have been an outlier, when you take into account every other season of his career. He has also been nightmarish in the postseason, and he was even relegated to the bullpen last October. Lastly, Bauer is likely to make close to $20 million in arbitration this season.
Aside from the fact that retaining Bauer would be costly, the Indians probably do not need him in the rotation. Cleveland expects to get Corey Kluber back sometime this month, and there is a real possibility that Carlos Carrasco may be able to return despite battling leukemia. With Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger leading the way, that would probably be the best playoff rotation outside of Houston.
Where the Indians did need more help was in the lineup, and boy did they get a pair of run producers in Franmil Reyes and Yasiel Puig. Yes, Oscar Mercado has been excellent since he was called up, and both Tyler Naquin and Jordan Luplow have rebounded very nicely.
However, as of Thursday, Reyes was slugging .536 with 27 homers. Puig has rebounded from a very slow start to post a torrid June and equally tremendous July, and he has also been one of the better defensive corner outfielders in the game this season.
Additionally, Reyes’ defensive deficiencies are negated by the fact that he will likely be the team’s designated hitter, where he is a sizable upgrade over Jake Bauers.
Oh, and from a financial standpoint? Reyes still has two more years of pre-arbitration, while Puig is going to be a free agent at the end of the season. The Indians essentially saved close to $20 million on their payroll, money that could go toward extending Francisco Lindor.
This deadline was a big win for the Indians, who might even emerge as World Series contenders in the second half.
New York Mets
Listen, I get it … the Mets were supposed to be sellers. Insert all your Mets jokes and “Fire the Wilpons” barbs here. Call general manager Brodie Van Wagenen brash and inexperienced.
Still, I kind of like what the Mets did — and especially what they did not do — at the deadline.
It was hilariously amusing to see not only how fans and reporters reacted when the Mets dealt for Stroman, but also how the move totally confounded the Yankees, who may have been the favorite to land Stroman before their crosstown rival shocked the baseball world.
In a baseball sense, why not make this move? The Mets had to give up a pair of top prospects to land Stroman, but if the team is truly trying to be competitive both this season and in 2020, then the deal checks out, whether you believe they can contend or not.
Stroman is an All-Star. He is under team control for another year. And, perhaps most importantly, he is a gamer who could thrive for a team still hoping to make a playoff run. After all, the Mets were only four games back of a Wild Card spot before play began on Thursday.
More importantly, the Mets did not acquire Stroman just to give up Noah Syndergaard. They ended up retaining Thor, and now this rotation is locked and loaded for the second half.
You could argue that New York should have traded Zack Wheeler — a free agent at the end of the season — or the idea that Stroman will be pitching in front of one of the worst defensive infields in baseball. But those are mostly semantics.
The bottom line is that Van Wagenen and co. believed that acquiring Stroman would give the team a better chance to be competitive this year and beyond. Considering how many teams were afraid to do anything at all, you have to give them credit for being bold, at the very least.
Plus, imagine if Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz rebound in the second half. Suddenly, Van Wagenen will look like a genius.
This might sound confusing, but I think the Diamondbacks may have found a way to remain competitive this season while also acquiring a number of top prospects in the Zack Greinke trade.
Yes, the loss of Greinke hurts the team’s playoff chances tremendously. After all, there is no replacing a true ace, and Greinke has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. Still, the Diamondbacks will hope to equal his value in the form of Zac Gallen and Mike Leake.
Arizona traded top prospect Jazz Chisholm to acquire Gallen from the Marlins, but the 23-year-old fits a more immediate need while also showing immense promise. Through his first seven starts with Miami, Gallen posted a 2.72 ERA and 10.7 K/9, showcasing a fastball with good life and plus off-speed stuff.
Leake, meanwhile, had his best month of the season in July (3.00 ERA and 81 OPS+ against), and he provides Arizona’s rotation with another veteran arm. It is hardly ideal that the Diamondbacks will have to pay Leake at least $20 million over the next two seasons (though the St. Louis Cardinals are still paying part of his salary), but it is also hard to argue that he is not an immediate upgrade in the middle of the rotation.
So, while the DBacks lost their ace, they acquired a pair of effective pitchers who — like Greinke — should also benefit from making home starts at Chase Field.
And, of course, the Greinke trade netted the Diamondbacks four legitimate prospects to add to their farm system. Corbin Martin underwent Tommy John surgery, but he is someone who has already logged big-league innings. Seth Beer immediately becomes a top-five prospect in their farm, and then they also received J.B. Bukauskas and Josh Rojas.
Arizona also kept the likes of Robbie Ray and David Peralta when all was said and done. This is still a very talented team, and they also acquired plenty of future value. Chalk it up as a win, folks.
The Cubs seem like the one team that has the kind of talent to be able to pull away from the pack in the NL Central, but they simply have not done it due to inconsistent production in the lineup and a bullpen lacking in depth. Despite working on a tight budget, however, Theo Epstein managed to make something very positive of this deadline.
Chicago acquired a lefty specialist (Derek Holland), another depth reliever with a track record of recent success and solid peripherals (David Phelps) and flipped Martin Maldonado for Tony Kemp, a speedster who can get on base and play multiple positions.
The crown jewel, however, was bringing in Detroit Tigers slugger Nicholas Castellanos.
Aside from being one of the better hitters on the market, Castellanos absolutely crushes left-handed pitching, something that the Cubs had lacking in recent weeks. Castellanos slashed .347/.415/.611 against lefties this season in Detroit, and he should also benefit from playing home games at Wrigley Field (where the ball flies during late summer) instead of Comerica Park.
Not only was Epstein able to address the most pressing needs, but every single player he acquired (aside from Tony Kemp, who is just entering arbitration) will be a free agent this offseason, which preserves the team’s financial flexibility this winter.
The Cubs may suffer defensively with Castellanos in the outfield, but they simply needed to make some kind of move to jumpstart a lineup that is capable of being one of the most explosive offenses in the league.
Epstein found a way to deliver, especially given how much pressure he is under every season and how little financial flexibility he was working with (the Cubs are approaching the upper luxury tax bracket).
New York Yankees
Perhaps it is slightly unfair to qualify the Yankees as losers. After all, Stroman was likely their top target, and nobody expected the Mets to be buyers.
Still, there is no question that the Yankees failed to make an impact move at the deadline, while the Astros loaded up with an ace. Seriously, Brian Cashman did not do anything of consequence. That is an oddity, as far as the trade deadline goes.
Like the Astros, the Yankees also needed starting pitching. Entering play on Thursday, New York ranked 16th in starting pitcher fWAR and 18th in ERA, hardly ideal metrics for a team hoping to win a World Series.
Domingo German — of all people — has been the ace this season. Luis Severino looks increasingly unlikely to return this season, and CC Sabathia just hit the Injured List. The Yankees needed another arm even before Sabathia was hurt, but his injury should have forced Cashman’s hand.
Yes, both Zack Greinke and Mike Minor had no-trade clauses specific to the Yankees, and the team might have felt they had a better initial offer for Stroman. Additionally, the Mets reportedly turned down an offer of Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar for Zack Wheeler.
Yet, it is impossible to ignore that Houston was unabashed in its desire to do just about whatever it took to get someone like Greinke, and the Yankees simply could not find a suitable deal. As a result, the Astros have overtaken them as the favorite in the American League.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are still the best team in the National League even after failing to do much at the trade deadline. They also added Adam Kolarek — who dominates left-handed hitters — from the Rays. However, this is unquestionably a loss for Andrew Friedman.
Los Angeles seemed to continually build momentum toward acquiring Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez to bolster their bullpen, which had blown 19 saves on the season entering play Thursday, the sixth-worst total in the bigs.
Vazquez (1.83 ERA and 14. K/9) may not have been the closer in Los Angeles, but he would have been an option if Kenley Jansen struggled, and would also have acted as a perfect “bridge” guy to get the game into Jansen’s hands.
Perhaps Vazquez actually would have assumed the closer role. Jansen was terrible in July, posting a 5.63 ERA in eight appearances and blowing a save in Philadelphia on July 16, when he failed to tell manager Dave Roberts that he did not feel comfortable entering the game.
Given Jansen’s history of inconsistency and durability issues in the second half, the Dodgers really needed to make a push for Vazquez or somebody like Shane Greene. Heck, even someone like Alex Colome may have been an option.
However, Friedman was stonewalled especially by the Pirates, who kept demanding that top prospect Gavin Lux be included in any deal for Vazquez, who is controllable through 2022.
It is understandable that Friedman was reluctant, but again, teams like the Astros and Braves made moves that satisfy their desire to win a World Series this year.
Los Angeles always deploys one of its starters to the bullpen, but that has not saved them from ineffectiveness in October and the World Series in particular. After coming up short two years in a row, it is a bit strange that Friedman was so reluctant to “go for it.”
If the Dodgers get docked for not being aggressive enough, then the Pirates should also catch some flak for being extremely stingy.
Sure, Vazquez has an unbelievably team-friendly contract that could indeed have made him the most valuable pitcher — starting or relief — on the market. And yes, there is precedent for setting a high asking price given the notorious Cubs-Yankees swap involving Aroldis Chapman and Gleyber Torres in 2016.
Still, there was a way for the Pirates and Dodgers to get a deal done without Pittsburgh demanding Lux in return. Los Angeles was already more than willing to part with Keibert Ruiz, and in fact would probably have traded anyone other than Lux or right-handed pitcher Dustin May.
Look at what the Diamondbacks did in the Greinke deal. Arizona did not demand that Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley be included, but still acquired four top prospects while also shedding a bunch of payroll. The Pirates could have restocked the farm system with plenty of young talent, but they were too obstinate.
Besides, when has an elite closer ever really propelled a team at the bottom of their division to a first-place finish? Pittsburgh should have capitalized on Vazquez’s value while it was at an all-time high.
San Francisco Giants
Some in the industry have praised the Giants for their “repositioning,” of sorts. To me, this seems rather confusing.
Farhan Zaidi had to decide whether or not he wanted to engage the market as a seller or a buyer, given San Francisco made a miraculous turnaround and found itself in the thick of the Wild Card race. The fact that the Giants were in contention made it increasingly likely they would at least retain Madison Bumgarner.
However, are the Giants a more competitive team after this deadline? No. Did they acquire numerous premium future assets they otherwise might have been able to had they been sellers? No.
So, how are they not losers?
I understand the Giants had a number of bullpen options to choose from because their relief corps is so deep. Simultaneously, they managed to acquire some prospects for Sam Dyson while forcing the Braves to take on all of Melancon’s remaining salary.
They also pilfered Mauricio Dubon from the Milwaukee Brewers, who gave up one of their best prospects for Drew Pomeranz (yikes, Brew Crew). Plus, the Reds are practically giving away Scooter Gennett for free, and he could be a major boon to the lineup if he can rediscover his form from the previous two seasons.
Still, the strongest asset (the bullpen) of the team is noticeably weaker, and the lineup — barring massive improvement from Gennett — still does not possess dependable run producers.
Additionally, San Francisco did not acquire the kind of “world beater” prospects it may otherwise have received in a hypothetical deal for Bumgarner or Will Smith, and the farm system still looks pretty bleak.
In summary, the Giants are not in any better position to make the playoffs than they had been before the deadline and, on the margin, they missed out on a huge opportunity to infuse the farm with talent.
At this point, you might be asking this: “Why would the Mets be labeled as ‘winners’ while the Reds are considered ‘losers’ of the deadline?”
Well, the Reds have to be considered “losers” for multiple reasons. For starters, they parted ways with top prospect Taylor Trammell, who is ranked as the 30th-best prospect in the majors according to MLB.com.
Sure, Trammell has struggled at Double-A this season, but are you seriously about to give up on a 21-year-old (with multiple tools) only drafted three years ago? Not to mention, you are including another pitching prospect in this three-team deal … all for 1.5 years of Trevor Bauer??
The actual acquisition cost for Bauer proved higher than it did for Stroman, in spite of the fact that Stroman is likely the better pitcher. The financial cost is much greater, too, as Bauer will probably earn at least $5 million more than Stroman in arbitration.
I do not mind dealing Yasiel Puig and Tanner Roark — both of whom were on expiring deals — but the ends did not justify the means when you consider the bigger picture.
Before play began on Thursday, the Reds were six games back of the second Wild Card spot, and they just lost one of their most productive hitters in addition to their top prospect and a rotation guy whose numbers were not too much worse than Bauer’s. Huh?
If the Reds cannot contend next year and Bauer elects to leave in free agency, that blockbuster will have been a disaster of a trade, particularly if Trammell blossoms into a star in San Diego.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals came into deadline day leading the Cubs by one game in the NL Central. Chicago added Castellanos, Kemp and Phelps to address specific needs that might help them gain an advantage in the final two months of the season.
St. Louis, on the other hand, did just about nothing.
The Redbirds acquired two relievers — Zac Rosscup and Tony Cingrani — who have thrown a combined three innings in the bigs this season … all of them belonging to Rosscup. In fact, Cingrani might miss the rest of the season due to injury.
St. Louis could almost certainly have used another starting pitcher amidst disappointing campaigns from both Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty, and a horrific seasons from Michael Wacha. Although the Cardinals had shown some interest in trying to acquire Bumgarner, they never seemed to be major players.
The Cardinals are one of the best organizations at churning out talent within their own system. But with the Cubs and Brewers both making improvements to their respective clubs, St. Louis is definitely a deadline loser.
Surprising stuff from John Mozeliak, who has proven he will usually do whatever is necessary to improve a team that is looking to win the division.
Boston Red Sox
There is not a whole lot that needs to be said here. The Red Sox made their play weeks ago, when they acquired Andrew Cashner from the Baltimore Orioles (oof).
Although Dave Dombrowski was totally handicapped by the danger of surpassing the highest luxury tax threshold, it is somewhat surprising that he did not find a way to make fringe additions, especially in the bullpen.
Boston’s offense is more well-rounded and potent than last season, despite the fact that Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez have both regressed. But the absence of quality starting pitching and a reliable arm at the back end of the bullpen are two persistent issues that have made this season a tough slog.
The Red Sox did not have as much to work with as the Yankees. They had little room on payroll, and the farm system is among the worst in the league.
However, the Red Sox are losers because — for a season that should have been about defending their World Series title — they failed to add depth while watching teams like the Astros and Rays reload.