Now that the last deals of the day have trickled in and a wild, high-volume trade deadline has come to a close, let’s take a look back at the past week-and-change and figure out which teams got the most out of trade season and which went to the store to get eggs, forgot what they were supposed to buy, and came home with $20 worth of Cheez-Its instead.
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Toronto Blue Jays
I’ve said for years that if the Blue Jays ever realized they’re a big-market team, it could irrevocably change the landscape of the game. The Jays play in an extremely cosmopolitan metro area of more than 5.6 million people (comparable to Houston, Philadelphia, or Washington) and considering that they have 30 million more Canadians to themselves, that Toronto-specific number understates their true commercial and economic reach. Plus, the Jays are owned by Canadian media giant Rogers Communications (think Jonathan Pryce’s character in Tomorrow Never Dies). They could conquer and subjugate Red Sox Nation if they wanted to.
And for once, it’s finally starting to show, as the Jays went out and got the two best players on the market: David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. Even before adding Tulo, Toronto’s offense was already the best in the game, by far, and now the Jays are only two games out of a wild-card spot despite underperforming their run differential by nine games. And it’s not like they only upgraded the top of the lineup and rotation: Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins strengthen the bullpen, while Ben Revere, in addition to having a lovely smile, is a solid on-base guy to plug in left field, even if he has trouble identifying local food. This team is starting to remind me a lot of the 1993 Blue Jays.
Left-handed starter Daniel Norris, probably the best prospect to change hands at the deadline, is a lot of freight to pay for Price, particularly compared to what the Royals gave up for Johnny Cueto, but that’s offset by the degree to which the Blue Jays absolutely bamboozled Colorado for Tulowitzki. A lot of teams got better this week, but Toronto is the winner at the deadline.
Kansas City Royals
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I’m kind of enjoying this new era of the Royals as the bully. They’re a fun team with excitable fans, plus uniforms and a ballpark that look great on TV in October, and they’re trying like hell to make sure they get plenty of airtime again this year.
To get Cueto and Ben Zobrist, Kansas City gave up five pitching prospects, including two really good ones in Sean Manaea and Brandon Finnegan. But the cost of landing Cueto looks better in light of what the Jays gave up a few days later for Price. Besides, Cueto is now by leaps and bounds the best pitcher in a starting rotation that had been just good enough to get the ball to one of the best bullpens ever assembled.
Zobrist, meanwhile, is a force multiplier. His ability to play every position but catcher while swinging an above-average bat from both sides of the plate makes him this generation’s Gil McDougald or Jim Gilliam, only better. He’s certainly better than Omar Infante, and the Royals’ repeat pennant chances are better as a result.
Los Angeles Dodgers
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Speaking of sheer economic brute force. In their three-way deal with the Marlins and Braves, the Dodgers managed to give up just two things of real value: (1) Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, whom they esteemed enough this offseason to sign to a $62.5 million contract, but who is also 30 years old and has yet to play in a big league game, and (2) lots of money. Between the parts of Olivera’s contract they’re eating and the major league contracts they took on — while sending only one, Paco Rodriguez’s pre-arbitration deal, out — we’re talking a net cash outlay in the neighborhood of $45 million. Olivera plus that chunk of cash is a big thing to trade away, but in return, the Dodgers got Mat Latos and Alex Wood to plug into a rotation that needed depth; plus two quality bullpen arms in Luis Avilan and Jim Johnson; plus infield prospect Jose Peraza, who could replace Jimmy Rollins at shortstop next year. That’s a lot to get back, and the Dodgers once again got the most out of the greatest asset in modern American life: vulgar, ostentatious wealth.
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The Phillies continued to progress in their rebuild by trading the franchise’s all-time saves leader (and sometime crotch grabber and dog jostler) Jonathan Papelbon to Washington for Nick Pivetta. Then, on deadline day, they offloaded Revere, who’d been rendered surplus to requirements by Odubel Herrera, to Toronto for two hard-throwing minor leaguers.
But the biggest coup for the Phillies was shipping ace Cole Hamels to Texas. After getting nothing out of the draft for almost a decade and lacking other impact trade chips, it was of paramount importance that the Phillies get the Hamels trade right.
Even though it took almost a year, and even though the Phillies didn’t get the kind of global top-10 prospect they wanted, they still did a good job, netting three Double-A players with All-Star upside; two nice lower-tier pitching prospects; and veteran starter Matt Harrison, who may never return to his prior form, but who enabled Philly to fetch better prospects as compensation for absorbing his contract. This was a smart, well-timed, well-constructed deal for a franchise that really needed it.
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In recent seasons, Pirates GM Neal Huntington found himself entering July with a team playing better than its roster makeup and underlying stats suggested, and the main wave of prospects still a couple of years away. So he’d respond to the pressure to buy by picking up a platoon first baseman here or a good reliever there, without touching the Gerrit Cole- or Gregory Polanco-level prospects in his farm system. It was a hedge toward his team continuing to exceed expectations without blowing up the future. And now that we’re in the future, with Pittsburgh on its way to its third playoff berth in as many years, Huntington looks pretty smart.
I was a huge fan of Huntington’s customary annual head fake toward buying at the deadline, and I’m an equally huge fan of Twins GM Terry Ryan doing the same this week. The Twins, who hold the AL’s second wild-card spot at the moment but will have to hold off a very crowded field of contenders to stay there, could’ve used an upgrade at catcher, shortstop, or in the starting rotation (because everyone needs more pitching). And if Ryan had chosen to pursue that course of action, he could’ve dealt from a comic-book supervillain’s arsenal of prospects. But instead of going after Hamels or Price, he made a low-profile move for Kevin Jepsen, who’s an OK reliever, and nothing else.
I like a few things about this: First, it shows faith in the young players already up and challenges Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano to prove that they can carry a team to the playoffs now. If that works, it’s a huge psychological and perceptional boost for the franchise and those young stars. Second, even if it doesn’t work, it’s something that the Twins would’ve gone 85-77 — or wherever they end up — with only half a season of Sano and Ervin Santana, and having gotten nothing from Byron Buxton, J.O. Berrios, and Jorge Polanco. It’s easier to build when you don’t sell off all the materials you need before you’re done, and by standing pat, Ryan has set up the Twins to continue to be just fine now and absolutely bonkers in the near future.
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New York Mets
The Mets have hung in the NL East race despite not really having an offense, so it made sense when GM Sandy Alderson went out and made a trade for Carlos Gomez, a good two-way outfielder and not even a particularly expensive one. But as word leaked out, the trade was scuttled amid reports that the Mets were either concerned about Gomez’s health or backtracking on financial grounds. The team blamed the whole thing on “social media,” which is a popular scapegoat for old white men to use, and seeing Alderson break out that line makes me wonder exactly how dystopic Logan’s Run really was.
After failing to trade Zack Wheeler for Gomez, they tried to trade him for Jay Bruce, only to have that deal fall through, as well, when the Mets realized that Bruce expected to be paid. Instead, they got impending free agent Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers minutes before the deadline. Cespedes is having a career year and certainly qualifies as the big bat the Mets needed, so landing him is nice, particularly since the Mets were able to do so without trading Wheeler. Still, there are two reasons not to be over the moon about the trade.
First, the Mets can’t play Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, and top outfield prospect Michael Conforto at the same time without putting Granderson in center, a proposition that makes me sweat under my eyes at this point in Granderson’s career. Second, Cespedes, a fine player who’s worked out of the cooler-than-he-is-good rut he’d been in for a couple of years, is now obviously New York’s third choice, and only because the Mets couldn’t bring themselves to take on two relatively cheap contracts for players locked up past this season. In light of all the baggage that came before, the Cespedes trade is a Pyrrhic victory at best.
I’m not going to rehash the reasons the Wilpons are such comprehensively embarrassing owners, because they’re well documented. But at what point does their custodianship of this highly visible franchise pass the McCourt Zone? For the good of everyone involved, the commissioner’s office needs to step in and force a sale by whatever means necessary, because the Mets aren’t being run like a baseball team anymore.
San Diego Padres
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If I had a soul, I’d have bet it this time yesterday that the Padres would make half a dozen notable trades in the half-hour before the deadline. Their GM, A.J. Preller, was known going into this season for two things: his outstanding hair and being suicidally aggressive on the trade market. And as the offseason’s biggest buyer went into the deadline with only a 3 percent chance at the playoffs (according to Baseball Prospectus) and a ton of veterans and free-agents-to-be on his roster, it was logical to assume that he’d make some moves.
Well, Preller got a haircut, and he’s apparently stopped making trades.
That’s not the least likely thing I’m aware of a grown-up believing, but it’s close. Maybe after so much starting pitching changed hands, there weren’t buyers left for Tyson Ross, James Shields, and Andrew Cashner. Maybe there wasn’t anything on the table for Justin Upton that would’ve been worth more than a compensatory pick. Or maybe Preller got Monty Hall’d into picking the door with the goat behind it. Whatever the cause of his inaction, watching the deadline pass without any notable involvement from San Diego was quite disappointing.
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Back in March, I picked this team to win the World Series with the knowledge that if I got it wrong, I’d be wrong by a lot. And my goodness gracious, did the Marlins make me look like a spectacular idiot.
So the Marlins, who currently sit 18 games below .500, did what they always do when they try to contend and it doesn’t immediately work: They sold the team off for parts. Latos and Mike Morse went to the Dodgers in a salary dump,1 while Dan Haren went to Chicago, even though the Dodgers were paying Haren’s $10 million salary anyway.
The Dodgers designated Morse for assignment, then flipped him to Pittsburgh for Jose Tabata.
Miami fans can rest secure knowing that even though Latos and Morse, two of the team’s biggest offseason additions, got cashiered by August 1, at least ownership got to pocket $14 million from the Dodgers, and at least the deal got drawn out for two days in order to help out a division rival.
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The Rockies traded Tulowitzki, the best shortstop in baseball, for Jose Reyes, a much worse shortstop who actually makes more money per year, so we can’t even defend this as a salary dump. Which is disappointing, because while Jeff Hoffman is an exciting, if polarizing, pitching prospect, he’s just now recovering from Tommy John surgery, and it’s not like the Rockies have much of a track record of developing starting pitchers. When Tulowitzki is healthy, there may not be five better players in baseball, so Hoffman and a couple of other guys is a meager return absent considerable salary relief.
Sure, the Rockies freed up $50 million in future commitments because Tulowitzki’s deal is longer than Reyes’s, but that just raises another question: What’s a baseball team going to spend $50 million on, if not one of the best players in the world?
It’s all in keeping with the Rockies’ tradition under owner Dick Monfort of finding extremely creative ways to lose 90 games a year for bottom dollar, and it’s a reminder of how nice it is to have a good owner at the trade deadline.
New York Yankees
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It’s not surprising that Michael Pineda got hurt, but it’s inconvenient that he got hurt right after the four best starters on the market had been traded. Ultimately, the Yankees are going to be fine, because a six-game division lead is huge, even this far out; Baseball Prospectus currently gives them around an 87 percent chance to win the AL East. They made a competitive offer for San Diego closer Craig Kimbrel, who would’ve made quite an addition to a bullpen already featuring Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, like something out of Rivera and Wetteland: The Next Generation, but that deal got eaten when Preller spent all week with his hands in his pockets. So it’s not like the Yankees didn’t try. Plus, I think Thursday acquisition Dustin Ackley looks really nice clean-shaven. But it was a little weird to see the Royals and Blue Jays make big trades for big names while the Yankees more or less stood pat.
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This label isn’t a hard condemnation of their moves: I thought Scott Kazmir was a great addition, and Carlos Gomez gives the Astros more power and speed, plus the option to essentially field an outfield of three good defensive center fielders. I don’t know if I’d feel great about Mike Fiers making a playoff start, but he’s a competent big league pitcher, and no one who lived through Boston’s 2011 collapse should downplay the importance of having lots of those down the stretch. Plus, Houston got those players without having to unload any major league contributors or top pitching prospect Mark Appel.
Those upgrades still came at a great cost, however. Brett Phillips, Keith Law’s no. 35 prospect, went to Milwaukee, as did outfielder Domingo Santana and pitchers Josh Hader and Adrian Houser. Add in the loss of Daniel Mengden and Jacob Nottingham in the Kazmir trade, and Rio Ruiz and Mike Foltynewicz in the offseason Evan Gattis trade with Atlanta, and that’s a lot of prospect attrition. Meanwhile, as much as I liked the Kazmir trade — which looks better and better the longer Kazmir goes without allowing a run in an Astros uniform — the three starting pitchers on the trade market who are better than him — Hamels, Price, and Cueto — all went to other AL playoff hopefuls.
The counterargument: The Astros just added two top-five picks in the draft, and a top-10-quality pick in Daz Cameron at no. 37 overall, which mitigates those losses. Plus, what are prospects for, if not to trade for big league help when the team gets good?
I like that the Astros sensed an opportunity and got aggressive, but these moves give the impression that Houston paid sticker price for decent players, and it’s hard to get excited about that.