These are dark days for trade deadline hot takery. No longer are the Braves giving up Elvis Andrus, Neftalí Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for 12 months of Mark Teixeira, then flipping him to Anaheim for Casey Kotchman the next year. Now that there’s relatively little difference in style and quality from one front office to another, most trades make sense for both teams right off the bat, and when trades do turn into robberies, it’s usually because a prospect develops in an unexpected fashion.
This deadline, which featured relatively few big moves compared to what was rumored, nevertheless shook up the pennant race and represented a turning point for several franchises. Let’s see who ought to be satisfied and who ought to be left wanting more.
Chicago White Sox
In: OF Tito Polo, LHP Ian Clarkin, OF Blake Rutherford, RHP Tyler Clippard, INF Bryant Flete, INF Matt Rose, OF Eloy Jimenez, RHP Dylan Cease, OF Ryan Cordell, 1B Casey Gillaspie, LHP Andre Davis, RHP A.J. Puckett
Out: 1B/3B Todd Frazier, LHP José Quintana, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP David Robertson, RHP Anthony Swarzak, LHP Dan Jennings, OF Melky Cabrera
At the absolute minimum, GM Rick Hahn can put his feet up and slip off into a food coma for a while, because the rebuild is over. Nine months ago, the White Sox had a talented but perpetually disappointing team stuck about 10 games under .500. Now, the White Sox have if not the best farm system in baseball then close to it, with eight players in the MLB Pipeline midseason top 100, including four in the top 26. The top 11 prospects in that system, and 14 of the top 15, have all been acquired in the past 14 months, whether through trades, the 2016 and 2017 drafts, or, in the case of Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, the international market.
This July, Hahn liquidated a very good bullpen, his best starting pitcher, and two free-agent-to-be hitters and got back a top-10 prospect (Jimenez), two other top-100 prospects (Cease and Rutherford), a couple of former first-rounders in need of a change (Gillaspie and Clarkin), and some odds and ends. There’s still an enormous amount of player-development work to be done, but so far, so good.
New York Yankees
In: 1B/3B Todd Frazier, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP David Robertson, RHP Sonny Gray, LHP Jaime García, 1B Garrett Cooper, 1B Ryan McBroom
Out: OF Tito Polo, LHP Ian Clarkin, OF Blake Rutherford, RHP Tyler Clippard, RHP James Kaprielian, OF Dustin Fowler, INF Jorge Mateo, LHP Tyler Webb, INF Rob Refsnyder, LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP Zack Littell
The Yankees, already in possession of Aroldis Chapman, Adam Warren, Chad Green, Chasen Shreve, and Dellin Betances, added two more good relievers in Kahnle and Robertson, both of whom are under team control beyond this season. They didn’t quite solve their hole at first base — Yankees first basemen are 2.4 wins below average this year, tied for the worst in baseball — though Frazier represents an upgrade over Chris Carter, either by playing there himself or moving third baseman Chase Headley across the diamond.
They also bolstered a rotation that would’ve put them at a disadvantage in a short series against Houston, Cleveland, or Boston by adding García and Gray, the latter of whom is starting to look like his old self after missing large chunks of 2016 and early 2017 with various injuries. A week ago, the Yankees were on track to have both Masahiro Tanaka (5.09 ERA) and rookie Jordan Montgomery start playoff games. Now, Gray solves at least half of that problem, but with at least seven good relievers in the pen the Yankees could probably toss Bartolo Colón out there in October and be fine. Not only that — Gray is under team control through 2019, and the Yankees got him for less than the Cubs paid for a Chapman rental a year ago.
It wasn’t a perfect month — the Yankees gave up way more to get García from the Twins than the Twins did to get him from Atlanta the week before — but they managed to do all this without dealing their top prospects: shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielders Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial. Fowler and Rutherford are both very good prospects, but with Frazier and Aaron Judge in the fold, the Yankees are all set at the outfield corners. And while Kaprielian has no. 1 starter stuff when he’s healthy, he hasn’t been healthy for more than a few weeks at a time since college.
The Yankees gave up a lot this past month, but the risky nature of their prospects and their depth at the positions they dealt from meant that New York could afford to. And most importantly, they got a lot back in return; the Yankees are solidly in that second class of contenders behind the Astros and Dodgers, with a very good chance of ending their five-year absence from the ALDS.
Los Angeles Dodgers
In: LHP Tony Watson, LHP Tony Cingrani, RHP Yu Darvish
Out: 2B Willie Calhoun, RHP Sergio Romo, RHP A.J. Alexy, INF Brendon Davis, INF Oneil Cruz, RHP Angel German, OF Scott Van Slyke, C Hendrik Clementina, PTBNL
Put Out the Fire
In: LHP José Quintana, LHP Justin Wilson, C Alex Avila
Out: INF Bryant Flete, INF Matt Rose, OF Eloy Jimenez, RHP Dylan Cease, 3B Jeimer Candelario, SS Isaac Paredes, PTBNL or cash
The Cubs always had the potential to bounce past Milwaukee in the standings if they didn’t do anything, and now they’ve got a no. 2 starter under team control through 2020 (Quintana), a high-leverage lefty reliever with a 12.3 K/9 ratio (Wilson), and a left-handed backup to Willson Contreras (Avila) to replace Miguel Montero, who talked his way out of town a month ago.
To acquire those pieces, the Cubs gave up most of their remaining high-end minor league talent — Jimenez in particular could sting in the future — but that’s the price of doing business. This ship was sinking at the All-Star break, and now it looks to have been righted and has resumed its course to the playoffs. The Cubs’ farm system is all but tapped out now, but Theo Epstein and his whiz kids can figure out how to fix that later.
Boston Red Sox
In: INF Eduardo Núñez, RHP Addison Reed
Out: RHP Shaun Anderson, RHP Gregory Santos, RHP Gerson Bautista, RHP Jamie Callahan, RHP Stephen Nogosek
This deadline for the Red Sox doesn’t look great because the Yankees made a bunch of splashy moves while Boston went on a 3–7 skid and dropped behind its rivals in the standings, and David Price waged war on the local media en route to the disabled list. The reality is that Boston did pretty well.
Boston’s best setup guy this year, Joe Kelly, is on the DL with a strained hamstring, and you can never have too much bullpen depth, so the Sox traded for Mets righty Addison Reed. He built a reputation in Arizona as a closer who was bad for your blood pressure, and got torched in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, but the truth is that in two years with the Mets, Reed has been awesome: a 197 ERA+ and 9.9 K/9 in 142 innings.
The Red Sox also went out and got Eduardo Núñez (.312/.341/.436) from the Giants in case 20-year-old rookie Rafael Devers couldn’t hack it at third base. Those two replace a chemical fire of a third-base situation that was being led by Deven Marrero (.212/.258/.318) and the since-released Pablo Sandoval (.212/.269/.354). Through five games, Devers has been great, but even if he cools off, Núñez can hit for a high average, steal the odd base, and play five defensive positions, which would make him an ideal playoff bench guy. And while a huge name like Darvish, Gray, or Baltimore’s Zach Britton would’ve been easier to sell, third base was such a disaster that the upgrade from Marrero to Núñez is just as big as the upgrade from Rick Porcello to Gray would’ve been in the playoff rotation.
Plus, the cost of all of that was five not-particularly-exciting pitching prospects. If Shaun Anderson turns into a high-leverage reliever for the Giants in two years, and he could, Sox fans should tip their caps and enjoy the memory of their third basemen not going oh-for-the-playoffs.
Boston probably shouldn’t keep starting Doug Fister (7.46 ERA) down the stretch, but even assuming Price is out for a long time and Brian Johnson can’t be an adequate no. 5 starter, you can sneak a competent pitcher through waivers in a trade between now and August 31. For instance, in 2012 the Orioles brought Joe Saunders over from Arizona on August 26, and six weeks later he beat Darvish in the wild-card game. So while it wasn’t a perfect deadline, it got the job done.
Still in Fine Shape, Even If It Feels Like a Missed Opportunity
In: LHP Francisco Liriano
Out: OF Nori Aoki, OF Teoscar Hernández
Another top-end starter would’ve been nice, but it wasn’t exactly a must-have. The emergence of rookie Derek Fisher as a corner-outfield option made Aoki and Hernandez expendable, and Liriano, risible as his 2017 numbers are, actually fills Houston’s most pressing need: a lefty out of the pen.
Right now, Houston has two lefty relievers: Reymin Guduan, who’s made just 10 uninspiring appearances, and Tony Sipp, who’s got a 6.39 ERA. The Astros plan to use Liriano mostly, but not exclusively, as a lefty specialist, and for good reason: Left-handed hitters are batting just .230/.254/.361 off Liriano this year, but he can still eat up multiple innings if need be.
With the Rays’ sudden contention taking Chris Archer off the board and the Cubs pouncing on Quintana early, the starting pitching market didn’t quite break Houston’s way. Meanwhile, one of Houston’s top prospects, David Paulino, is serving a PED suspension. Granted, even having made just the one move, the Astros have a double-digit lead in the standings and are still heavy favorites to win the American League. But it didn’t take much to pry Gray from Oakland, and from Lance McCullers’s latest DL stint to the suddenness of Brad Peacock’s emergence, plenty of questions remain in this playoff rotation after Dallas Keuchel. Seeing all that, I can’t help but wonder whether Houston will come to regret not trading away Fisher or top pitching prospect Francis Martes for another starting pitcher.
In: RHP Ryan Madson, LHP Sean Doolittle, RHP Brandon Kintzler
Out: RHP Blake Treinen, INF Sheldon Neuse, LHP Jesus Luzardo, LHP Tyler Watson, $500,000 in international bonus money
At the All-Star break, the Nationals were white-knuckling their way down the stretch with Matt Albers, Enny Romero, and Oliver Pérez as their best relievers. Madson, Doolittle, and Kintzler are all solid veteran relievers with experience pitching in high-leverage situations. It’s still not a great bullpen — certainly not on the level of what the Yankees have assembled — but it’s not going to get GM Mike Rizzo fired.
Experiencing General Sadness
In: RHP Blake Treinen, INF Sheldon Neuse, LHP Jesus Luzardo, OF Dustin Fowler, INF Jorge Mateo, RHP James Kaprielian, RHP Jeferson Mejia
Out: RHP Sonny Gray, RHP Ryan Madson, LHP Sean Doolittle, INF Adam Rosales
Gray is somewhere between a no. 1 starter and a no. 3 who has trouble staying healthy, depending on how you look at him. What the A’s got back for him is probably fair value considering how high and low Gray has been in the past 24 months, but it’s a little disappointing and surprising, considering how many teams could’ve used him, that they couldn’t get a trade partner to give up more. Fowler blew out his knee this year, Mateo’s best tool is his speed, and Kaprielian could turn out to be a god, but he’s also thrown only 29 minor league innings in three years. That just doesn’t feel like the appropriate return on a 27-year-old top-end starter with two more years of team control. There’s no Jimenez in this package.
It’s been three years since Oakland went all in on Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester in July 2014, and it seems like they’re going in the wrong direction. The A’s aren’t even building up a juggernaut farm system like the White Sox — they’re just treading water.
In: LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Anthony Swarzak, RHP Jeremy Jeffress
Out: 1B Garrett Cooper, OF Ryan Cordell, RHP Tayler Scott
It’s hard to blame Brewers GM David Stearns for not going all in to pursue someone like Gray at the deadline. Fueled by unexpected breakouts from Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, and Corey Knebel, this season always felt like found money, and all of a sudden the Cubs are the Cubs again. Even so, as Chicago passed them by, it felt like the Brewers didn’t give chase. With so much young talent coming through, you’d expect Milwaukee to get another shot at a pennant race in the next couple of years, but baseball’s so uncertain that it’s hard to pass up a chance now for fear of giving up a better chance later.
In: 2B Willie Calhoun, RHP A.J. Alexy, INF Brendon Davis, RHP Tayler Scott, PTBNL
Out: C Jonathan Lucroy, RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Jeremy Jeffress
Lucroy and Darvish are free agents at the end of the year, which made them obvious trade targets once Lucroy, Sam Dyson, and Rougned Odor imploded and the Astros put the division out of reach early. The return is probably a little lighter than GM Jon Daniels would’ve hoped, but it’s fine for two rentals and a reliever with a 5.31 ERA.
Mostly, this is sad because it feels like the end of the ride for a Rangers team that’s been just bucketloads of fun since 2015 — or if you want to trace it back to before the beginning of the Andrus–Adrián Beltré head-touching era, the World Series team in 2010. There’s nothing wrong with the moves Daniels made, but it’s a bummer that he had to make them.