How did you like this year’s MLB trade deadline? Any worries about little happening leading up to 4 p.m. ET on Thursday were blown up right away as the A’s and Red Sox made a blockbuster deal. The action didn’t slow down from there, resulting in one of the busiest — maybe the busiest — July 31 deadlines in recent memory and big names being exchanged between playoff hopefuls and non-contenders.
Which teams excelled by making big additions or filling key holes on their rosters? Who failed to trigger the deal that could make the difference between qualifying for the postseason and going home in October?
There are winners and losers every season at the trade deadline, but the margin between success and disappointment seemed to be particularly large this year. Here are the teams and general managers that had big smiles after the deadline passed, along with those left covering their faces in shame.
David Price was the best player available on the trade market and the Tigers got him, answering and maybe even one-upping the A’s. The outfield defense will suffer greatly without Austin Jackson and the bullpen will miss Drew Smyly in the postseason. But adding another Cy Young Award winner to the starting staff more than offsets those losses. (With Price under club control for next season, this also probably covers losing Max Scherzer in free agency.) Price, Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez make up a lethal trio to lead Detroit’s playoff rotation. Oh, and there’s Justin Verlander too.
Ruben Amaro Jr. just makes it so damn easy to pick on him. In his defense, the Phillies GM was handcuffed by Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins having no-trade rights. No one wanted to take on Ryan Howard’s contract and diminishing skills. And Cliff Lee’s left elbow isn’t healthy, as he reinjured it on Thursday.
But Amaro had two very movable pieces in Marlon Byrd, Antonio Bastardo and A.J. Burnett. A right-handed hitting outfielder, left-handed reliever and starting pitcher were in demand among several playoff contenders. Yet the Phillies couldn’t make a deal involving either player. Even worse, Lee’s injury now rules out any possible trade before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline.
The A’s were already trade deadline winners for adding Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to their rotation in early July. But then Billy Beane pulled off the biggest surprise of July 31 (at least before the Tigers got Price) by swooping in as the mystery team and trading for Jon Lester. Oakland was already a heavy favorite, but now has an unquestioned ace at the top of its rotation. Lester, Samardzija and Sonny Gray match up toe-to-toe with the Tigers in a potential playoff series, and the A’s might be deeper with Scott Kazmir in the fourth spot. Giving up Yoenis Cespedes certainly weakens the lineup, but Beane got center field insurance in Sam Fuld.
Loser: Blue Jays
Getting a starting pitcher has been a priority for Toronto going back to spring training. Price, Lester and Samardzija were all available for trade, and the Blue Jays didn’t get either of them. GM Alex Anthopoulos didn’t even add depth to the starting rotation with someone like Jake Peavy, Justin Masterson or John Lackey. So did he bolster his lineup and add a bat at either second or third base? Well, the Jays did get Danny Valencia, but he won’t make the impact that an Aaron Hill or Martin Prado could have. But even Jose Bautista was disappointed by his front office’s performance, surely speaking for the Blue Jays clubhouse.
Winner: Red Sox
Was any general manager busier leading up to the deadline than Ben Cherington? The Red Sox starting rotation was almost completely dismantled, with Lester and Lackey joining Peavy on the trade deadline parade out of Boston. But rather than get top prospects in return, Cherington added immediate contributors to the lineup in Cespedes and Allen Craig, both of whom should make a significant impact for this season and next. (Craig could also be used in a future deal, whether it’s before Aug. 31 or during the offseason.)
Boston also got some major league pitching help in Joe Kelly, but also added an arm for the future by dealing Andrew Miller to the Orioles for Eduardo Rodriguez, one of Baltimore’s top prospects. And the infield gained some clarity with Stephen Drew getting traded to the Yankees, opening shortstop up for Xander Bogaerts. That’s quite an overhaul for the defending World Series champs.
Tampa Bay did add a possible future star in Nick Franklin, rotation depth with Smyly and a teenage shortstop prospect in Willy Adames. But is that all GM Andrew Friedman could really get in return for a Cy Young Award winner under club control through next season? Maybe he couldn’t get a top prospect because the Cardinals didn’t want to trade Oscar Taveras and the Dodgers wanted to keep Joc Pederson. But it feels like the Rays settled when they didn’t really have to. After all, they would’ve had Price next year. Of course, Tampa Bay will save about $20 million now that Price is in Detroit. That’s not insignificant for a club that has to keep costs under control.
Could we call the Cards more of a “winoser” — not exactly a winner, but not quite a loser either? Maybe that’s a bit harsh. After all, St. Louis did add two meaningful arms to its rotation, which helps compensate for Michael Wacha possibly not returning this season. Masterson is a bit of a question mark, coming off injury. But Lackey is under contract for next season at the absolute bargain price of $500,000. GM John Mozeliak also cleared up his outfield logjam and ditched a disappointment by unloading Craig to Boston.
Most importantly, the Cardinals didn’t have to trade a top prospect like Taveras or Carlos Martinez to improve his starting staff. But should he have, if it meant getting an ace-caliber arm like Price or Lester? St. Louis also didn’t add a bat at second or third base, which would’ve helped a struggling offense. But maybe Mozeliak can get that done before Aug. 31.
The Dodgers approached the trade deadline with visions of adding Price, Lester or Cole Hamels to an already dominant rotation staffed by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. With strong starting pitching already in place, it’s understandable that GM Ned Colletti didn’t want to sell off a top prospect like Pederson, Corey Seager or Julio Urias. But what about adding another reliever to the bullpen or help for the left side of the infield? Maybe Colletti can address those areas before the waiver trade deadline. And on the bright side, Matt Kemp has really boosted his trade value recently.
Another for the “winhoser” category here. While Seattle may not have acquired an impact bat for its lineup, GM Jack Zduriencik did make two key trade deadline additions. Jackson is an established major league center fielder who should improve the Mariners’ outfield defense. He also gives the batting order a leadoff hitter, though that role didn’t always suit him in Detroit. Chris Denorfia provides another good outfield glove and right-handed bat with a career .301 average and .809 OPS versus left-handed pitching.
But will these two, along with Kendrys Morales, make enough of a difference for the M’s as they try to stay alive in the AL wild-card race? And should Zduriencik have gotten more than Jackson in return for Nick Franklin?
The O’s added an excellent left-handed reliever in Andrew Miller that should help against the formidable lefty sluggers among AL East rivals. But Miller shouldn’t be considered strictly a southpaw specialist; he’s been effective against hitters on both sides of the plate this season.
Yet is that enough to set Baltimore apart from the Blue Jays and Yankees in the division? Where is the starting pitcher this team so badly needed? Even if GM Dan Duquette couldn’t get a No. 1 starter like Price, Lester or Samardzija, he had an opportunity to add depth with a mid-rotation arm like Peavy, Lackey or Masterson. Or what about adding a bat at second base or catcher? Duquette can’t say such help wasn’t available.
GM Chris Antonetti believes the Tribe is still a playoff contender at two games under .500, 6.5 games back in the AL Central and six behind in the wild-card standings. But he was able to sell off some pieces without weakening his roster. Cleveland traded two expendable pieces in Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera, getting prospects in return for players who were going to be lost to free agency and saving nearly $8 million in the process. James Ramsey and Zach Walters are solid players who could become major league contributors by September (and perhaps help with a playoff run) or compete for spots on next year’s club.
While teams that arguably didn’t need starting pitching, such as the A’s and Tigers, traded for No. 1 starters, the Pirates joined the list of contenders that really should have added a top-of-the-rotation starter to boost their playoff chances. Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, as GM Neal Huntington has typically been hesitant to trade top young talent. Pittsburgh was in the running for Lester, but obviously wasn’t willing to give up an elite prospect or established major league batter. The Pirates didn’t even make a smaller move to add infield or outfield depth. But Huntington was very active before the waiver trade deadline last season, and perhaps envisions a similar approach this year.
OK, Brian Cashman didn’t add a marquee name to his roster. But the Yankees GM quietly did some good work to improve his team as it tries to hang with the Orioles and Blue Jays in the AL East. Stephen Drew has not hit well this season, but should improve the defense at second base and may just be the shortstop next season. Martin Prado is a solid player that improves any lineup and gives the Yanks a right-handed bat to platoon in right field with Ichiro Suzuki. (He could also be a replacement at third base for A-Rod next year or the starting second baseman.) Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano were savvy additions to the starting rotation as well.
Four games behind the Tigers in the AL Central and 3.5 away from the AL’s second wild-card spot, the right trade deadline move could have given the Royals’ playoff drive a boost. Instead, GM Dayton Moore didn’t add the bat that Kansas City’s lineup urgently needs, nor could he nab a pitcher for the back end of the starting rotation. Meanwhile, the Tigers may have put the division far out of reach by getting the best pitcher on the market.
In Moore’s defense, potential trade partners wanted major league talent and giving that up would not have helped the Royals’ cause. Couple that with ownership’s unwillingness to add payroll and there was little the front office could do. That doesn’t seem likely to change as the calendar moves toward the waiver trade deadline.
With Ryan Zimmerman likely out for six to eight weeks with a severe hamstring strain, the Nats needed some infield help. Anthony Rendon moving over to third base created an opening at second base, which GM Mike Rizzo filled nicely by getting Asdrubal Cabrera from the Indians. Zach Walters really didn’t have a place on the Nats’ roster, other than as an injury replacement, so Rizzo didn’t give up much in exchange. Though Cabrera has struggled the past two seasons, he’s a better hitter than Danny Espinosa who strikes out less and has decent power. Espinosa moves to a utility role, where his superior defense helps the Nats out in the middle infield.