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The Winners and Losers of the 2016 MLB Trade Deadline

Brian Cashman suddenly has the best farm system in the majors, the Pirates pinch pennies, and more

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Now that the dust — well, the deadline closed only a few hours ago and there was a lot of dust, so it’s still settling. But over the past 24 hours — not to mention the past two weeks — just about every team in baseball became notably better or worse off. It was a busy deadline, with more trades on the final day than any year since at least 1995, and though star pitchers like Chris Sale and Chris Archer stayed put, several big-name players are now in position to affect the pennant race.

Here are your four winners and four losers.

Winners

Brian Cashman

Cashman has been the GM of the Yankees since 1998, but we’d never really seen him in sell mode until about a week ago. Turns out, he’s really good at it.

Cashman traded away Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, Andrew Miller to the Indians, and Carlos Beltrán to the Rangers in exchange for 11 players, 10 of them minor leaguers. (He also traded minor leaguer Vicente Campos to Arizona for reliever Tyler Clippard, and offloaded Iván Nova to Pittsburgh for two players to be named later.) Beltrán and Chapman will be free agents this winter, so they are of limited use to a .500 team like the Yankees, and Miller might be the best relief pitcher in baseball this year, but he’s still a relief pitcher, so there’s a ceiling on his value.

In return, Cashman received what are now his system’s nos. 1, 2, 7, 11, and 16 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. In other words, these moves vaulted the Yankees’ farm system to the best in the league. Among the new arrivals are three top-100 prospects: Clint Frazier, an outfielder with hair the color of his frightening bat speed; Gleyber Torres, a potential above-average shortstop; and Justus Sheffield, a 5-foot-10 left-hander who profiles as a midrotation starter.

In a week, Cashman turned the team from a moribund also-ran struggling to come to grips with its fall from grace to a team with some real momentum toward a rebuild. Strange as it may seem, the Yankees — for so long the avatar of vulgar wealth and insatiable buy-now avarice — have had the kind of deadline we’d ordinarily expect to see from a small-market team trying to cash out and reload before all their good players leave in free agency. More or less out of nowhere, they have vacuumed up a huge hoard of young talent that could be truly scary in pinstripes.

Texas Rangers

As the Yankees will soon learn, a great farm system gives you two options: Normally, you can use the players you develop yourself or you can trade them for established stars. Or, if you’re the Rangers, you can do both. The three best prospects the Rangers have produced in recent years are outfielder Nomar Mazara, power-hitting third baseman Joey Gallo, and infielder Jurickson Profar, who was the no. 1 prospect in baseball in 2013 before he missed the better part of two seasons due to shoulder injuries. And for the second straight year, the Rangers got the best asset moved at the deadline without giving up any of their system’s crown jewels.

Last year, it was the six-for-two deal that pried Cole Hamels from Philadelphia. This year, Texas sent outfielder Lewis Brinson, pitcher Luis Ortiz, and a player to be named later to Milwaukee for Lucroy, who’s the best catcher in baseball not named Buster Posey and who, thanks to a team-friendly option, is signed through next year for middle-reliever money. He’ll replace Robinson Chirinos (.192/.274/.471) as the Rangers’ primary catcher, and while Chirinos is a better player than his batting average would lead you to believe, Lucroy’s still a huge upgrade. The deal also brought over Milwaukee closer Jeremy Jeffress (2.22 ERA, 27 saves), who will help shore up a middle relief unit that, while talented, is still prone to blow a lead now and then.

Texas still gave up a lot. Brinson and Ortiz are both top-50 prospects, and either one would be the top prospect in about a quarter of MLB farm systems. But even after two straight deadlines of dealing multiple top-100 prospects, the Rangers still have their core young talent intact.

In addition to Lucroy, the Rangers will get a half season of Beltrán, a switch hitter who brings a 135 OPS+ and as much in the way of intangibles as any player in baseball. He’ll take over for Prince Fielder at DH, and probably see some time in the outfield both as Shin-Soo Choo works back into the lineup and to shield Mazara from tough lefties. The 39-year-old comes at the cost of a package centered on pitcher Dillon Tate, last year’s no. 4 overall draft pick out of UC Santa Barbara. Tate is a hard-throwing right-hander who, judging by his talent and college experience, ought to be dominating the low-A South Atlantic League. Instead, he has a 5.12 ERA in 65 innings at that level this year, and he went from a top-100 prospect before the season to a guy mostly living on reputation now. The Yankees might fix Tate, but as of right now he’s broken, and the Rangers were able to flip him for a middle-of-the-order bat.

The one flaw with the Rangers’ deadline moves is that they didn’t pick up another starting pitcher. Maybe they didn’t want to move one of the holy troika for Chicago’s Chris Sale, Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, or Philadelphia’s Vincent Velasquez, but even a reliable no. 4 starter might have helped a rotation that, outside of Hamels and Yu Darvish, has consistently flailed around ineffectively. Maybe a waiver deal changes that, but right now, Texas is looking at Martín Pérez and A.J. Griffin to start Games 3 and 4 of the ALDS. Lucroy and Beltrán might allow the Rangers to just slug their way through it, but another reliable starter would have been nice.

Washington Nationals

Despite plenty of rumors, the Nats stayed pretty quiet at the deadline. On Saturday, they got Mark Melancon from Pittsburgh for lefty reliever Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn, a 21-year-old in A-ball, now no. 26 on MLB Pipeline’s organizational ranking. Melancon, a free agent at the end of the year, wasn’t the best relief pitcher moved at the deadline, but given how little the Nationals traded for him compared to what it took to get Chapman or even the Brewers’ Will Smith, he might be the best value. In four seasons in Pittsburgh, Melancon posted a 1.80 ERA and a 5.74 K/BB ratio, and he will replace Jonathan Papelbon as Washington’s closer, presumably without the histrionics that marred Papelbon’s first stretch run with the Nationals. But after the move for Melancon, the Nationals sat out the weirdness of the deadline’s final two days.

In fact, the bigger win for the Nationals might be what they didn’t do. They didn’t give up Lucas Giolito for Miller, as was briefly rumored, and they didn’t gut the farm system for Chapman. Meanwhile, Washington’s two main rivals in the NL East, the Marlins and Mets, didn’t do much to improve themselves. The Marlins’ big move involved pitcher Colin Rea, whom they immediately returned to San Diego for store credit after an elbow injury in his first start, and the enigmatic Andrew Cashner. And instead of getting Lucroy, the Mets wound up with a fifth corner outfielder.

Sometimes, you don’t need to make a big splash at the deadline to come out a winner. If you’re already four games up in the standings and have the most talented team in the division, as the Nationals do, you just need to keep pace with your rivals and wait for them to make a mistake.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore (Getty Images)
Matt Moore (Getty Images)

Before the 2012 season, Moore was the third guy in the Harper-Trout debate. In fact, Baseball Prospectus ranked Moore ahead of Trout and Harper in its offseason prospect rankings. Moore was average as a 23-year-old rookie in 2012, an All-Star in 2013, and then had Tommy John surgery in 2014. He still hasn’t returned to his old form, posting a 100 ERA+ and 7.5 K/9 ratio in 130 innings in 2016, which is fine, but nothing special. Still, the Giants paid a steep price for the left-hander, giving up starting third baseman Matt Duffy, 19-year-old Bahamian shortstop Lucius Fox (their no. 2 preseason prospect), and 21-year-old A-ball pitcher Michael Santos.

Even if Moore is only average, he slots in just fine as the Giants’ no. 4 starter, behind Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija, in a playoff rotation. But over the past seven weeks, Moore has started to click, holding batters to a .199/.269/.303 line since June 12 and cutting his ERA by a run and a half in that time. If that version of Moore shows up at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park and in front of the Giants’ defense under the bright lights of the postseason, he could soon get back on the path to being a star.

Losers

New York Mets

We’ll start with the good news: The Mets didn’t end up trading Brandon Nimmo to Cincinnati for Jay Bruce. They also pulled off a my-garbage-for-your-trash move with Pittsburgh, sending disappointing reliever Antonio Bastardo to the Pirates for disappointing starter Jon Niese.

The bad news: After a week of batting their eyes at Milwaukee, a process that involved trying to get the Brewers to trade their catcher straight-up for a worse catcher, the Mets didn’t get Lucroy. And not only that, after an original deal that included Nimmo was scuttled when an ancillary minor leaguer failed his physical, they still managed to acquire Bruce, which makes less sense than any other move that went down at the deadline.

Last year, I thought the Mets were fools for backing out of a trade for Carlos Gómez and trading Michael Fulmer to Detroit for Yoenis Céspedes. I was wrong; Gómez’s nagging injuries, which scuttled the trade, never cleared up, and Céspedes went on to have the best two months of his life, en route to the NL pennant. It wound up being a huge win for New York even as the line of asses Fulmer has kicked in Detroit gets longer and longer. A year later, the Mets still have no center fielder, and all they’ve done is expend more resources to make a corner outfield logjam even more crowded. But beyond the positional pileup he creates, Bruce just isn’t anywhere near as good as Céspedes. New York caught lightning in a bottle last year; it won’t do so again with a worse player.

The Mets came into Monday down 6.5 games to the Nationals for the division and 2.5 to the Marlins in the wild card. They needed a jolt — a star at any position or an upgrade at catcher, center field, or first base — and they didn’t get one.

The Philadelphia Phillies and Jeremy Hellickson

All weekend, there were rumors that the Phillies might be able to capitalize on the thin pitching market and flip 24-year-old righty Vincent Velasquez to the Rangers for something preposterous, like the package the Brewers got for Lucroy, or maybe even Gallo. After four years in the wilderness, the Phillies are starting to assemble the core of their next contender, but they aren’t so far along in that process that they wouldn’t trade Velasquez if they thought they could get a better young player.

Not only did that not happen, but they failed to move 29-year-old Jeremy Hellickson, who’s having his first good season since 2012, to a team in need of a no. 4 starter for the playoffs, like the Giants or Rangers. As a free agent at the end of the year, Hellickson isn’t part of the Phillies’ future the way Velasquez is, and they acquired him in the first place with the idea of flipping him at the deadline if he pitched well.

Now, barring a new CBA taking effect before the offseason, the Phillies will need to submit a qualifying offer (around $17 million) for Hellickson, or they’ll lose him for nothing. If he turns it down, they’ll net a compensation draft pick, but if he doesn’t, they’ll have to pay Hellickson nearly $17 million next year and hope he repeats his 2016, in which he hasn’t missed a start and posted a 110 ERA+, rather than returning to the state he was in from 2013 to 2015, when he averaged only an 81 ERA+ in 128 innings per season.

Hellickson can’t be happy about this either, as a trade would have prevented him from being tagged with a qualifying offer as he entered free agency. For top-tier free agents, like Zack Greinke last year, the qualifying offer isn’t a big deal; they’d make $200 million no matter what. But a qualifying offer can cause a middling free agent’s value to crater: If Hellickson was in line for, just to pick numbers out of the air, three years and $45 million without free-agent compensation, teams would pay more for an equivalent pitcher who isn’t tied to a qualifying offer. It’s worth losing a draft pick to pay Greinke market rate, but not Hellickson.

Pirates Fans and Players

Most of the Pirates’ trades at the deadline were either straightforward sell-now moves, like the deal that sent Melancon to Washington, or multiple my-garbage-for-your-trash trades, like Bastardo-for-Niese or Iván Nova–for-Whatever-We’ll-Figure-It-Out-Later.

Francisco Liriano (Getty Images)
Francisco Liriano (Getty Images)

But Pittsburgh’s one big-ticket deal involved acquiring right-handed pitcher Drew Hutchison from Toronto for Francisco Liriano, along with outfielder Harold Ramirez and catcher Reese McGuire, the team’s no. 6 and no. 7 prospects, respectively. Hutchison, who turns 26 later this month, is best known for a bizarre 2015 season in which he had a 4.42 FIP, 5.57 ERA, and 13–5 record. After spending most of 2016 in the minors and posting a 4.97 ERA in only 12.2 innings with Toronto, Hutchison, who was once a fairly well-regarded prospect, is a prime reclamation project for heralded Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. Meanwhile, Liriano, after three excellent seasons in Pittsburgh, has been execrable in 2016, with a 5.46 ERA and a league-high 69 walks. If you just judge the trade on the swap of struggling starters, it looks like the Pirates are taking a flyer on the younger, cheaper Hutchison, and the Blue Jays are banking on Liriano regaining his previous form when he’s reunited with catcher Russell Martin, who caught Liriano through the first two years of his Pittsburgh renaissance.

Except the inclusion of McGuire, a former first-rounder whom Baseball Prospectus ranked as the 76th-best prospect in baseball coming into the season, and Ramirez is worth raising an eyebrow over. If anything, Liriano is better than Hutchison, so the Pirates essentially just gave the Blue Jays two nontrivial prospects in order to save $15 million on Liriano’s salary.

Of course, that’s not a big deal if the Pirates, who at four games out of the second wild card, are in a position to concede and reinvest that $15 million elsewhere in the team. But this organization has a troubling record of crying poor while pocketing huge profits. Even if taxpayers weren’t spending hundreds of millions on ballpark construction across the country, the status of a baseball team as a legal monopoly and de facto civic institution demands that we hold owners to a higher standard than naked avarice. Because if this money doesn’t show up in free agency — or in a Gerrit Cole extension — and it winds up in owner Bob Nutting’s wallet, that’s exactly what this trade would represent.

Houston Astros

Over the past couple of weeks, Houston was a stalking horse, rumored to be in on Lucroy, Rich Hill, and any of the various Tampa Bay starting pitchers. But apart from a couple ofminor deals out of big-league-caliber depth — pitchers Scott Feldman and Josh Fields went to the Blue Jays and Dodgers, respectively, for relatively unheralded teenagers — the Astros remained quiet. They didn’t need to make a splash in order to stay in the race, as the promotions of infielder Alex Bregman and pitcher Joe Musgrove are exciting in and of themselves, but they’re losing ground to the Rangers, who have stretched their lead in the division from 2.5 games to six since Thursday. Houston didn’t go backward by failing to make a big move, but by making two of their own, the Rangers made the Astros look like they’re standing still.