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The Winners and Losers of the 2019 MLB Trade Deadline

Though a largely quiet, confounding deadline saw most clubs tread water, a handful of hopefuls made daring moves, while their peers showed a lack of urgency they’re likely to regret. And as usual, we have no idea what to make of the Mets.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

After weeks of underwhelming rumors, the 2019 trade deadline finally brought some fireworks, as news leaked after the deadline that the Astros had acquired Arizona’s Zack Greinke. Until that moment, deadline day had been lacking in star power, with mostly relievers and bench bats changing teams, and even the Greinke deal, the Trevor Bauer trade from Tuesday night, and Sunday’s Marcus Stroman trade didn’t quite match the pizzazz of previous deadlines.

Indeed, most teams that made moves ended up treading water; even clubs like the Cubs and Rays, who remade huge swaths of their rosters in an afternoon, are in mostly the same position they were in before. Stroman and Bauer, rather than landing on clubs in the thick of the pennant race, went to teams on the fringe of the playoff picture at the very best, and most of the big-market contenders made only token attempts to improve.

But even though most clubs did little to improve or damage their positions, a few stood out by making big gains through daring or clever trades, while others displayed a troubling lack of urgency and could end up regretting their inaction in the months to come.

Winners

Houston Astros

In: RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Aaron Sanchez, C Martín Maldonado, RHP Joe Biagini, OF Rainier Rivas, OF Raider Uceta, RHP Andre Scrubb, cash

Out: UTIL Tony Kemp, C Max Stassi, OF Seth Beer, 3B Josh Rojas, RHP J.B. Bukauskas, RHP Corbin Martin, OF Derek Fisher, 1B Tyler White

When the clock struck four on the East Coast, it looked like the Astros had accomplished nothing but a swap of backup catchers. Then the Greinke hammer dropped, with Sanchez and Biagini sneaking in among all the commotion like remoras under a shark. In acquiring Greinke from the Diamondbacks, the Astros added the best player to move at the deadline, without giving up top prospects Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley or taking on the entirety of Greinke’s contract. The Astros will be on the hook to pay Greinke just $53 million over the next two and a third seasons, with Arizona picking up the other $24 million Greinke is owed. That structure makes this deal look quite a lot like the Justin Verlander trade that led directly to a title in 2017.

While most of the other top teams stood still—particularly the other top teams in the AL—the Astros got substantially better, and will be able to rip off Verlander, Greinke, and Gerrit Cole at the top of the playoff rotation. No other team in baseball can match that, and even if they could, the Astros still also have the same steamroller offense that’s led them to back-to-back 100-win seasons. It’s also worth noting that they acquired from Toronto Biagini, a solid middle reliever, and Sanchez, who led the AL in ERA in 2016, for the cost of Derek Fisher, who was nothing more than an extra outfielder on this team. That’s an astoundingly low cost for a reclamation project with as much upside as Sanchez. Houston doesn’t have another World Series title wrapped up, but sure looks like the favorite to win the AL pennant right now.

Cleveland Indians

In: OF Yasiel Puig, OF Franmil Reyes, INF Christian Arroyo, RHP Hunter Wood, INF Victor Nova, LHP Scott Moss, LHP Logan Allen

Out: RHP Trevor Bauer, OF Ruben Cardenas, international slot money

After gobbling up some major league depth (along with Hunter Wood’s sick head of lettuce), the Indians pulled off the biggest deal of the deadline, when after months of puzzling speculation they finally traded Bauer, the periodically intemperate amateur aerospace engineer who happened to be their second-best pitcher. The big question surrounding any Bauer trade was what they could get back that could help them compete in the next few years, before Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber reach free agency.

As it turns out, they did quite well. Puig and Reyes fill Cleveland’s greatest area of need as legitimate corner outfielders with power—quite a lot of it in Reyes’s case, as he’s hit 43 home runs in just 639 big league plate appearances, a better ratio than Hank Aaron. And while Puig is a free agent after this season, Reyes is under team control through 2024. Meanwhile, Allen, in addition to being a close personal friend of John Cena, is a solid pitching prospect who made his major league debut earlier this year. And while this isn’t the most important part of the trade, it bears mentioning that Puig and Reyes are both 80-grade Fun Hang guys. Cleveland’s clubhouse is going to be the most exciting place in baseball for the next two months.

A team like Cleveland, which aims to compete without spending much, has to not only be creative, but nail almost all of its big moves. That’s what they did here. Trading Bauer is still risky. Even though he was all but certain to leave after next season—Bauer’s contract demands will far outstrip Cleveland’s willingness to pay—trading him now assumes that one or more of Danny Salazar, Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco will be able to fill his spot in the rotation. Salazar, who hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since 2017, will be back this week, with Kluber returning from his broken arm in August at the earliest, and Carrasco, who’s being treated for leukemia, sometime later this season. Relying on those three is a risk, but it’s a calculated risk that’s brought back a good balance of current talent and future potential.

San Diego Padres

In: OF Taylor Trammell, RHP Carl Edwards Jr., international slot money

Out: OF Franmil Reyes, INF Victor Nova, LHP Logan Allen, LHP Brad Wieck

Last month, I wrote that the Padres needed to figure out a way to trade players at positions of depth (pitching, corner bats) for players at positions of greater need, and that’s what they’ve done here, exchanging Reyes—who for all his prodigious power was surplus to requirements in San Diego—and two prospects for the best prospect to move in Tuesday’s three-way blockbuster. Trammell will be a center fielder, where he brings not only top-end speed and athleticism but charisma as well. Whether he can hit is an open question, which is why the former Red is MLB Pipeline’s no. 30 prospect and not its no. 4 or no. 5 prospect, but the Padres have a center fielder of the future, which they did not 24 hours ago, and they didn’t give up anything particularly painful to acquire him.

Commendably Brave Teams

Cincinnati Reds

In: RHP Trevor Bauer, OF Jameson Hannah, cash

Out: OF Yasiel Puig, OF Taylor Trammell, LHP Scott Moss, RHP Tanner Roark, 2B Scooter Gennett

Hannah’s a solid get for free agent-to-be Roark, but Bauer is obviously the big name here. Like Stroman, Bauer was one of the top arms available at the deadline but did not go to a contender. Instead, the Reds can either flip him in the offseason or make him the no. 2 starter behind Luis Castillo if and when they attempt to reload for 2020. It’s a creative approach, but it cost them Trammell, who was arguably their top prospect. There’s significant risk in Trammell’s profile, as he’s one of the best athletes in the minor leagues but is struggling to hit, and hit for power. But if he puts that together and the Reds founder with Bauer, this could end up being one of those trades that haunts a front office for years.

Miami Marlins

In: 1B Lewin Diaz, SS Jazz Chisholm, RHP Ryne Stanek, OF Jesus Sanchez

Out: RHP Sergio Romo, RHP Chris Vallimont, RHP Zac Gallen, RHP Nick Anderson, RHP Trevor Richards

There are few things in baseball I love more than a challenge trade, and that’s what the Chisholm-for-Gallen move is: a swap of two prospects, with each club betting that its own scouting and development teams are better than its trade partner’s. Gallen, a 23-year-old from Gibbsboro, New Jersey, by way of the University of North Carolina, has been excellent in seven starts for the Marlins, with 43 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings and an ERA of just 2.72. He’s probably a mid-rotation starter going forward, with an extremely high floor. Chisholm is a 21-year-old shortstop from the Bahamas with big-time power and one of the best names in all of organized sports. But he’s also hitting .204 with 123 strikeouts in Double-A right now, so while his ceiling is much higher than Gallen’s, he still has holes in his game. But I love the Marlins’ confidence that they can help Chisholm reach his superstar potential. If they can, he’d be the kind of player they could build around.

So too is Sanchez, MLB.com’s no. 42 prospect. The Marlins got him, along with Rays opener Ryne Stanek, for right-handers Trevor Richards and Nick Anderson. It wasn’t long ago that the Marlins dealt Christian Yelich for a package centered on Lewis Brinson, who never learned to hit big league pitching, so they know better than most the risk of trading for low-floor, high-ceiling guys. On the other hand, they’ve supercharged their farm system in an afternoon, because both Sanchez and Chisholm represent such tantalizing upside.

Took Care of Business

Arizona Diamondbacks

In: RHP Mike Leake, RHP Zac Gallen, 1B/OF Seth Beer, 3B Josh Rojas, RHP J.B. Bukauskas, RHP Corbin Martin, cash

Out: RHP Zack Greinke, SS Jazz Chisholm, INF Jose Caballero, cash

The Diamondbacks would surely have liked to pry one of Tucker or Whitley from Houston in the Greinke trade, but the four players they got back are a solid return, given Greinke’s age and contract. Beer might be a first baseman in the long run but he’s an extremely polished hitter, and while Martin (injury) and Bukauskas (wildness) would rather put 2019 behind them, both profile as solid contributors in the majors, and sooner rather than later. Rojas is a 25-year-old Triple-A utilityman, but he’s hitting .315/.403/.575 with 32 stolen bases across two minor league levels this year, so he’s earned a chance to show that his offensive skills translate to the majors.

As in last winter’s trade that sent Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis, the Diamondbacks have prioritized young players who can make an impact at the major league level soon, not just in the Greinke trade but in the Gallen-for-Chisholm deal with Miami. Arizona took a step back by moving Greinke, but they’ve reloaded effectively for 2020 and beyond.

Atlanta Braves

In: RHP Shane Greene, RHP Chris Martin, RHP Mark Melancon, C John Ryan Murphy

Out: LHP Kolby Allard, RHP Tristan Beck, INF Travis Demeritte, LHP Joey Wentz, RHP Dan Winkler, cash

The Braves came away from the deadline without an outfielder to replace the injured Nick Markakis, or help at the back of the rotation. Instead, they made their bullpen over wholesale, acquiring righty Chris Martin from Texas, Mark Melancon from San Francisco, and Shane Greene—probably the best reliever who ended up moving at the deadline—from Detroit.

You might recognize the names the Braves gave up: Winkler made 69 appearances out of the pen for Atlanta last year, Beck was a standout at Stanford, and Allard, Demeritte, and Wentz were all high draft picks. But all of them have had their ups and downs since turning pro, and the Braves managed to get a lot of value for these five prospects who aren’t quite as shiny as they once were. It’s not as flashy as trading for Greinke, but it keeps them ahead of the Phillies and Nats in the NL East race.

It’s also encouraging to see the Braves take on all of Melancon’s remaining contract, which runs through 2020 at $14 million a year. Liberty Media, the company that owns the Braves, has tended not to spend big on player salaries, but by making an exception here they got a solid eighth-inning reliever by sending only Beck and Winkler the other way. The Braves could’ve done more, but they’ve done enough to stay ahead of the pack in the division.

Mixed Results

New York Mets

In: RHP Marcus Stroman, C Austin Bossart

Out: RHP Simeon Woods Richardson, LHP Anthony Kay, LHP Jason Vargas, cash

This might be a little uncharitable to the Mets, who got Stroman from Toronto for pennies on the dollar. The only way they could have screwed that up was by trading Edwin Díaz or Noah Syndergaard (as was rumored), and they didn’t, so well done. The Vargas trade is a nonentity—the Mets sent along cash to pay his buyout, and the player they got back from the Phillies, Bossart, is most notable for having played college baseball with the son of Mets COO Jeff Wilpon.

The major complaint is that it was blindingly obvious that the Mets had to trade right-hander Zack Wheeler, who after a brief injury scare returned to action, and whose contract is up at the end of the season. But the Mets, who remain five games out of a playoff spot even after winning five straight, held on to the 29-year-old and will lose him at the end of the season for nothing. That’s an unforced error, but considering that it’s not as bad an error as trading Syndergaard would have been, it’s hard to be too upset with how the Mets’ deadline shook out.

San Francisco Giants

In: 2B Scooter Gennett, OF Jaylin Davis, RHP Prelander Berroa, RHP Kai-Wei Teng, RHP Daniel Winkler, RHP Tristan Beck, INF Mauricio Dubon

Out: RHP Sam Dyson, RHP Mark Melancon, LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Ray Black, cash

The Giants’ deadline is somewhat puzzling. After straddling the line between buying and selling, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi did a little of both, sending cash to Cincinnati for Gennett to fill the Joe Panik–shaped hole at second base. If Gennett doesn’t pan out, Dubon, acquired from Milwaukee for Pomeranz and Black, would be an able replacement.

But the Giants also sold, if only halfheartedly. They sent out three relievers—Pomeranz, Dyson, and Melancon—but kept all three of their major upcoming free agents: Will Smith, Tony Watson (who has a player option for 2020), and most importantly, Madison Bumgarner. Zaidi did well to swipe Dubon from Milwaukee, and he got Atlanta to eat Melancon’s entire contract, but like the Mets, it’s hard to pin down exactly what the Giants’ plan is, or even how good the front office thinks the team is.

Losers

Toronto Blue Jays

In: RHP Simeon Woods Richardson, LHP Anthony Kay, RHP Kyle Johnston, OF Derek Fisher, two PTBNL

Out: RHP Marcus Stroman, RHP Aaron Sanchez, INF Eric Sogard, RHP Daniel Hudson, RHP Joe Biagini

The Blue Jays had some bad luck when closer Ken Giles, who was poised to be one of the most valuable pitchers traded this season, came down with a janky elbow in the week before the deadline. That they couldn’t control. But Fisher, a career .201/.282/.367 hitter, is an underwhelming return for Biagini and Sanchez, even accounting for Sanchez’s struggles this season, and indicates that Toronto essentially wrote off the former All-Star.

The Stroman trade return was also underwhelming, though apparently Toronto asked the Yankees for top prospects Estevan Florial and Deivi Garcia before trading Stroman to the Mets. Worth a shot, since the worst the Yankees could do is say no, and of course they did. Right now, a lot is riding on whether Woods Richardson, the raw teenager the Mets did end up sending back, hits his ceiling.

There are two ways for the Blue Jays to sell this deadline: The first is that these trades, disappointing though they may be, are less important than the fact that rookie infielders Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette are playing together in the big leagues. The second is to talk up how much team control Toronto ended up walking away with—and GM Ross Atkins tried this by saying he’d turned 14 years of team control into 42 years of team control. Left unexamined: the quality of those 42 years.

Minnesota Twins

In: RHP Sergio Romo, RHP Chris Vallimont, RHP Sam Dyson, RHP Marcos Diplan

Out: 1B Lewin Diaz, OF Jaylin Davis, RHP Prelander Berroa, RHP Kai-Wei Teng, cash

The Twins didn’t make any bad trades at the deadline, and Dyson and Romo will upgrade a shaky bullpen, but they needed another starting pitcher and struck out on Stroman, Syndergaard, and Wheeler. That’s not functionally different from what the Brewers or Nationals or half a dozen other teams did, but the Twins are suddenly in a dogfight for the AL Central. After leading the division by as many as 11.5 games in early June, Minnesota finds itself just three games up on a Cleveland club that made one of the biggest trades of the deadline season and now looms as large as ever in the Twins’ rearview mirror. Minnesota had a chance to pull away from Cleveland and missed it.

Los Angeles Dodgers

In: 1B Tyler White, LHP Adam Kolarek, INF Jedd Gyorko, UTIL Kristopher Negrón, international slot money, cash

Out: RHP Andre Scrubb, OF Niko Hulsizer, LHP Tony Cingrani, RHP Jeffry Abreu, INF Daniel Castro

The Dodgers had fewer needs heading into the deadline than any other team in baseball, but nonetheless they pursued some of the top relievers on the market, particularly Pirates closer Felipe Vázquez. Pittsburgh, however, asked for top shortstop prospect Gavin Lux, among other pieces, and the Dodgers understandably balked.

But as the deadline approached, the Dodgers never found another target. And after pulling off big-time deadline trades for Rich Hill in 2016, Yu Darvish in 2017, and Manny Machado in 2018, Los Angeles comes home from the 2019 trade season with an unremarkable middle reliever (Kolarek), an injured utility infielder (Gyorko), and a Max Muncy body double (White). Los Angeles is so far out in front of the rest of the NL that they’ll probably be fine in the long run, but it was strange to see a trade deadline season pass without the Dodgers ever taking their hands out of their pockets.

New York Yankees

In: OF Terrance Gore, LHP Alfredo Garcia

Out: RHP Joseph Harvey, cash

Like the Dodgers, the Yankees have a huge lead in their division and kicked the tires on some big names—Greene, Wheeler, Stroman, Giles, and particularly Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray—but couldn’t consummate a deal. Unlike the Dodgers, however, the Yankees will face stiffer competition in the playoffs, and their current rotation simply isn’t up to the task. There’s no better reminder of that than fellow AL pennant hopeful Houston loading up with Greinke while the Bronx Bombers did nothing of note.

Boston Red Sox

In: RHP Andrew Cashner

Out: OF Elio Prado, INF Noelberth Romero

Apart from some preliminary discussions with the Mets over a Díaz trade that was never going to happen, the Red Sox were even less active than the Yankees. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said the Red Sox were so far back in the division it wasn’t worth trying to make a deal. That’s refreshingly candid, and Dombrowski deserves the benefit of the doubt, as he just won a World Series, but it’s still a difficult message to hear from a team that entered the season among the league’s elite. So Boston picked up Cashner in mid-July and went home, even though the bullpen has major deficiencies and even though Boston is two games out of a playoff spot, trailing in the wild-card race to three teams (Cleveland, Oakland, and Tampa Bay) that brought in reinforcements at the deadline. The Red Sox have the talent to make up that deficit and then some, but another relief arm or two would’ve helped.

Philadelphia Phillies

In: OF Corey Dickerson, LHP Jason Vargas, cash

Out: C Austin Bossart, international slot money, PTBNL

Then again, doing nothing might’ve looked better than what the Phillies did. While the Dodgers and Yankees were at least in serious talks for top-end players, the Phillies made as many key acquisitions by grabbing players off the street (Drew Smyly, Blake Parker) as they did by trade. It’s hard to be this firmly entrenched in the bargain bin and not come out with a $5 copy of The Terminal on DVD. By these standards, even Washington’s modest bullpen acquisitions (Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elías, Hunter Strickland) look like real progress. None of those pitchers are as good as Greene or Melancon, but at least they were good enough to hold down a spot on an MLB roster, which is more than you can say for Smyly or Parker.