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The Winners and Losers of the Wildest MLB Trade Deadline in Memory

Max Scherzer! Trea Turner! Kris Bryant! Prospects galore! And no Trevor Story?! Let’s break down everything that happened these past few days.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

This trade deadline was so busy, so full of salacious rumors and exhilarating last-minute reversals, that frankly, we’re all winners for merely having experienced it.

But some teams made out better than others. A full, comprehensive rundown of each team’s activity would take until the World Series, so here’s a quick evaluation of how some of the most noteworthy teams made out.

Winners

Los Angeles Dodgers

In: RHP Max Scherzer, SS Trea Turner, LHP Danny Duffy, LF Billy McKinney, cash
Out: C Keibert Ruiz, RHP Josiah Gray, RHP Gerardo Carrillo, OF Donovan Casey, RHP Carlos Rincon, PTBNL

One could say the Dodgers got the two best players to move at the deadline, and in the process kept Scherzer away from the Padres and Giants, or one could spin an extended metaphor.

Imagine the NL West is a small, affluent New England hamlet, and the Dodgers are the old-money family that’s generally run things for the past few generations. And imagine that the division title is a holiday party. The Dodgers have held the best holiday party more or less by default for the past decade, but now there’s a nouveau riche neighbor down the block with cool sports cars and a fancy pool with a Jacuzzi, and all his parties have loud music and Jell-O shots and so on—the Padres. On the other end of the street are the Giants, a somewhat mysterious family that might be conjuring apparitions in the basement, but everyone in town finds them compelling.

The Dodgers, upset at the increasing possibility of looking stodgy and obsolete, have cried, “Enough!” They’ve booked a bouncy castle, hired a former Top Chef contestant to do the catering, and booked the best cover band on the East Coast. The noisy neighbors were a fun diversion, but it’s time to remind everyone who really runs this town.

New York Yankees

In: OF Joey Gallo, 1B Anthony Rizzo, LHP Joely Rodriguez, RHP Clay Holmes, LHP Andrew Heaney, PTBNL, cash
Out: OF Kevin Alcantara, RHP Alexander Vizcaino, INF Ezequiel Duran, INF Josh Smith, INF Trevor Hauver, RHP Glenn Otto, LHP Justin Wilson, RHP Luis Cessa, SS Hoy Park, SS Diego Castillo, RHP Janson Junk, RHP Elvis Peguero

The Yankees got better and, somewhat improbably, bigger at the deadline. Gallo is a good two-way player with impact on-base skills and nearly unparalleled power, and he’s under team control for another year. Rizzo’s defense and contact skills solve a lot of problems for a team that’s had more trouble at first base than a high school freshman who got braces the week before homecoming. The Yankees gave up a lot of prospects to land these two—including a couple with the kind of upside that could lead to buyers’ remorse in a few years—but they’ve also shored up a lot of weaknesses in the hunt for the second AL wild card.

New York Mets

In: INF Javy Báez, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Trevor Williams, CF Mark Payton, RHP Carlos Rincon
Out: OF Pete Crow-Armstrong, RHP Tommy Hunter, C Matt Dyer, LF Billy McKinney, cash

Putting Báez in a double-play combination with Francisco Lindor is going to result in exceptional defense and even better vibes. Báez isn’t the offensive contributor he used to be, but New York’s biggest win at the deadline was how the rest of the NL East behaved. Washington and Miami sold, Atlanta made only token upgrades to plug holes in the outfield, and Philadelphia ended up scrambling for leftovers in the hour before the deadline. It looked fairly unlikely a week ago that anyone would run the Mets down before the end of the season, and it looks much less likely now.

San Francisco Giants

In: UTIL Kris Bryant
Out: RHP Caleb Kilian, OF Alexander Canario

Not as comprehensive a victory as one might think based on the lead transaction alone, since the Giants lost ground to the Dodgers and basically held serve against the Padres after both teams made numerous trades.

Still, the Giants got Kris freaking Bryant without having to give up prize shortstop Marco Luciano, catchers of the future Joey Bart and Patrick Bailey, or anyone else resembling an impact prospect.

Mostly Good Trades in Service of an Unsavory End

Chicago Cubs

In: RHP Alexander Vizcaino, CF Kevin Alcantara, LHP Bailey Horn, 1B Greg Deichmann, RHP Daniel Palencia, 2B Nick Madrigal, RHP Codi Heuer, OF Pete Crow-Armstrong, RHP Caleb Kilian, OF Alexander Canario, RHP Anderson Espinoza
Out: SS Javy Báez, UTIL Kris Bryant, RHP Craig Kimbrel, 1B Anthony Rizzo, LHP Andrew Chafin, RHP Ryan Tepera, CF Jake Marisnick, cash

I hesitate to deliver unqualified praise on a team that’s tearing up a championship core and really shouldn’t be, but the Cubs did pretty well given the circumstances. They got major upside in the form of Alcantara for Rizzo’s expiring deal, then leveraged Kimbrel’s team option to land a big-name youngster—Madrigal—from their crosstown rival. Even some of the minor pieces, like Heuer and Deichmann, could be significant big league contributors in the near future. You can find places to quibble with individual trades—the return for Bryant, in particular, seems light—but as a group, the skeleton of a competitive team is here.

Got Their Man, but Might Regret It

Toronto Blue Jays

In: RHP José Berríos, LHP Brad Hand, RHP Joakim Soria
Out: UTIL Austin Martin, RHP Simeon Woods Richardson, C Riley Adams, PTBNL

I love Berrios. He’s a reliable no. 2 starter with playoff experience, the perfect addition for a team whose potential playoff rotation consisted of Hyun-Jin Ryu, hoping Robbie Ray doesn’t lose his release point, and also hoping Alek Manoah doesn’t turn into a pumpkin. The Blue Jays spent all this time waiting for Vladito and Bo Bichette to develop, and they’ve spent tons of money on Ryu, George Springer, and Marcus Semien. And after a year and a half on the road, they’re about to return to a gigantic market that will go absolutely gaga since the Jays are good again. Now is the time to capitalize.

But damn, this is a steep price. Martin, whom some evaluators thought was the best prospect in last year’s draft (he’s Baseball Prospectus’s 20th-ranked prospect), is a five-tool player with the ability to play basically anywhere up the middle. Martin is polarizing because during his first taste of pro ball he’s struggled to hit for power in Double-A, but it’s astonishing that he was even available. And Woods Richardson, currently on loan to Team USA for the Olympics, is also a top-100-type prospect, most famous for his role in the Marcus Stroman trade two years ago. With Berrios under team control through 2022 this isn’t a gamble on a long-shot playoff chase, but this is one of very few buy-now moves that comes with immediate sticker shock.

Chicago White Sox

In: RHP Craig Kimbrel, 2B Cesar Hernandez, RHP Ryan Tepera
Out: LHP Konnor Pilkington, LHP Bailey Horn, 2B Nick Madrigal, RHP Codi Heuer

The White Sox have a deadlock on the division and the best rotation in the AL. Eloy Jimenez is back and Luis Robert will be soon—there weren’t really that many opportunities to upgrade. But they still went out on their shield. Tepera’s a live bullpen arm, and Hernandez is more than a credible replacement for the injured Madrigal at second base. I’d worry about sending Pilkington, a solid-but-unspectacular pitching prospect with a history of college success, to a team that tends to turn such players into Cy Young contenders. But one can’t live one’s life in fear of Cleveland’s player development staff, I suppose.

Then, 90 minutes before the deadline, they traded Madrigal—a recent top-five pick and a potential franchise cornerstone as recently as a couple of months ago—to the Cubs, along with Codi Heuer, for Craig Kimbrel. The logic to this move is obvious. Madrigal’s power has yet to develop fully, and he’s struggled to stay healthy in his brief career, while Kimbrel is once again the best one-inning closer in the world. But given Madrigal’s youth and contact ability it’s a huge price to pay for a closer, even one with an option year coming after this season. It’s a risky trade, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Miami Marlins

In: LHP Jesús Luzardo, RF Bryan De La Cruz, RHP Austin Pruitt
Out: OF Starling Marte, RHP Yimi Garcia

Oakland A’s

In: OF Starling Marte, LHP Andrew Chafin, C Yan Gomes, INF Josh Harrison
Out: LHP Jesús Luzardo, 1B Greg Deichmann, RHP Daniel Palencia, C/OF Drew Millas, RHP Seth Shuman, RHP Richard Guasch

The Marlins have become specialists in extremely fun one-for-one deals, on the heels of the Zac Gallen–for–Jazz Chisholm trade at the 2019 deadline. Now, they’ve shipped off offensive spark plug Starling Marte to Oakland for left-hander Jesús Luzardo. Marte, with his .406 OBP this year, would be an upgrade in just about anyone’s offense, particularly Oakland’s, where right field has been an automatic out this year.

And by eating Marte’s entire 2021 salary, the Marlins managed to nab no less of a name than Luzardo, a South Florida native who was once the top left-handed pitching prospect in the sport. (This deadline’s top piece of trivia: Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland has produced three big league ballplayers. Two of them—Luzardo and Anthony Rizzo—were traded this week.) Luzardo has struggled to stay on the field over parts of three big league seasons, but he carries huge upside for a team that’s quietly turned into something of a pitching development powerhouse. Marlins GM Kim Ng’s first big trade is a risky one, but it’s not every day that a player like Luzardo is available for two months of a player like Marte. This probably won’t end up being the most consequential trade of the deadline season, but it’s an early contender for most fun.

Cry Now, Judge Later

Washington Nationals

In: C Keibert Ruiz, RHP Josiah Gray, C Riley Adams, RHP Mason Thompson, RHP Gerardo Carrillo, OF Donovan Casey, RHP Aldo Ramirez, C/OF Drew Millas, RHP Seth Shuman, RHP Richard Guasch, OF Lane Thomas, INF Jordy Barley
Out: RHP Max Scherzer, SS Trea Turner, OF Kyle Schwarber, RHP Daniel Hudson, LHP Brad Hand, C Yan Gomes, UTIL Josh Harrison, LHP Jon Lester

This was the Gotterdammerung, the Ragnarok, the Battle of Armageddon. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo shuffled out three current All-Stars, a former three-time All-Star, and the guy who recorded the last out in his franchise’s only World Series. Five of his top six players this year, by bWAR, plus his two best relief pitchers and a four-time All-Star starter, making some $91 million in salary this year between them. And he did it all in about 24 hours.

Rizzo is an underrated important figure in baseball history. He was never the best at converting money into WAR, and he’s won only one title, leaving him adrift of the kind of legacy that Cashman or Billy Beane could claim. But for the past 13 seasons, he’s taken one giant, planet-tilting swing after another. He drafted Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, signed Jayson Werth, stood toe-to-toe with his richer and more successful neighbors, then shut Strasburg down in the middle of a playoff race. He threw out the medical reports to draft Anthony Rendon and Lucas Giolito, then traded Giolito and Jesús Luzardo in a desperate effort to grind his way over the hump. He signed Scherzer, promoted Juan Soto at 19, cycled through a series of managers with glowing credentials (and also Matt Williams), then let Harper walk in free agency as part of a plan to finally win a title.

For a decade, Rizzo’s Nats—and these are his Nats in a way no other GM can claim custodianship of his team—alternated between dominance and lovable fallibility, and between lunch and bedtime on Thursday he blew it all up. It’s logical. Scherzer, Hand, Hudson, and Schwarber are all pending free agents, and while Turner has one more year of team control on his contract, extension talks have thus far gone nowhere. Any return for Scherzer and Turner would’ve seemed inadequate, but Gray and Ruiz are probably the two best prospects traded at this deadline; in fact, I’d argue that Ruiz is the best prospect to be traded midseason since 2017.

But rebuilding isn’t just a matter of hitting the plunger and watching the building come down. The Nats now have to reinvest, as they did when they signed Patrick Corbin after parting with Harper. Otherwise, they might never come back. Five years into their rebuilds, the Tigers, Pirates, and Orioles aren’t any better off than when they started. And if Rizzo’s Nats take that long to return to contention, that might spell the end of Soto’s time in Washington, which would make this decision an unforgivable error.

But we won’t know one way or another for some time. All we know now is that Rizzo, the great gambler, has taken his biggest risk yet.

Seattle Mariners

In: RHP Diego Castillo, INF Abraham Toro, RHP Joe Smith, LHP Tyler Anderson
Out: RHP Kendall Graveman, RHP Rafael Montero, RHP JT Chargois, 3B Austin Shenton, C Carter Bins, RHP Joaquin Tejada

On Monday night, the Mariners pulled off a stunning comeback win over the Astros to move them within a game of their first playoff berth in 20 years. White-hot closer Kendall Graveman picked up the win. The next day, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, the wheeler-dealer nonpareil, flipped Graveman to the very team he’d just beaten as part of a four-player trade that nearly touched off a clubhouse mutiny. The Mariners thought they were contenders, and found out secondhand that they were sellers.

Dipoto assured his team and the public that a plan would reveal itself in the coming days, and sure enough he soon traded for Tyler Anderson—a cheap and useful regular-season starter, if not the kind of pitcher you want in your playoff rotation—and Diego Castillo. College basketball personality and Rays superfan Dick Vitale went ballistic, calling Castillo the Rays’ best closer, although he conceded to Tampa Bay GM Erik Neander’s ultimate wisdom later in the tweet.

I’m with Dickie V on this one—Castillo’s a great pitcher, better than Graveman, and he’s under team control for two more years. Abraham Toro, the headliner in the Graveman deal, didn’t hit a lick with the Astros but homered twice in his first two games for Seattle, and has plenty of potential as a future starting infielder. Seattle is better on paper than it was last week.

But I keep coming back to Dipoto’s plea for patience and trust. At the moment of the Graveman trade, the Mariners were on a high, the elusive return to the playoffs almost within their grasp. To hell with the playoff odds and Seattle’s preposterously good record in one-run games—one game out with two months to go is win-now territory for any team. It was bracing, therefore, to watch Dipoto choose that moment to reshuffle the deck and risk turning a moral victory into a morale crisis. I’m not sure a team that last clinched a playoff spot before 9/11 and a GM who’s made the postseason once in three stops over a decade have earned the trust they seem to be demanding. We’ll see whether, and how, this week will affect the Mariners going forward.

Losers

San Diego Padres

In: RHP Daniel Hudson, 2B Adam Frazier, OF Jake Marisnick
Out: SS Tucupita Marcano, RHP Michell Miliano, CF Jack Suwinski, RHP Mason Thompson, INF Jordy Barley, RHP Anderson Espinoza

On Thursday afternoon, it looked like Scherzer was going to the Padres, and in a matter of hours he was headed to their toughest and most urgent competitor. San Diego was also in the mix for Gallo but couldn’t land him. As much as GM A.J. Preller did improve the team at the deadline, the specter of what could have been has to sting. Add to that the last-second trade that sent Bryant to the Giants and this deadline is going to go down as a missed opportunity for a club that usually trades frequently and effectively.

Tampa Bay Rays

In: DH Nelson Cruz, RHP Tommy Hunter, C Matt Dyer, RHP JT Chargois, 3B Austin Shenton, RHP Shawn Armstrong, RHP Calvin Faucher, OF Jordan Luplow, RHP DJ Johnson
Out: RHP Diego Castillo, RHP Drew Strotman, RHP Joe Ryan, RHP Peyton Battenfield, cash

Grabbing Cruz was a good piece of business, and at least one of these anonymous relief pitchers is probably going to end up as an All-Star closer someday, but the Rays these days remind me of this tweet from Baseball Prospectus editor-in-chief Craig Goldstein.

They’ll probably make the playoffs anyway, but the Yankees, Blue Jays, and A’s all made big additions at the deadline, so their margin for error just got thinner. Then again, having a margin of error costs more than scraping past by the skin of your teeth.

Philadelphia Phillies

In: RHP Kyle Gibson, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Hans Crouse, LHP Braeden Ogle, SS Freddy Galvis, cash
Out: RHP Spencer Howard, RHP Kevin Gowdy, RHP Josh Gessner, C Abraham Gutierrez, RHP Tyler Burch

In the weeks leading up to the deadline, there was a lot of noise about whether the Phillies would go over the luxury tax threshold in pursuit of their first playoff berth in a decade. And with plenty of holes on the roster and little prospect depth, that would’ve been a convenient avenue by which to improve the club.

So the Phillies lined up a deal to send two minor prospects to Pittsburgh for Anderson, only for the Pirates to pull the rug out when Seattle offered something better. Pittsburgh later got the prospect it wanted, Gutierrez, anyway. Then, having been depantsed by Pittsburgh, baseball ops chief Dave Dombrowski and GM Sam Fuld flipped top pitching prospect Spencer Howard—whose value has been tanked as he’s struggled with wildly unpredictable usage patterns—to Texas for Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy.

Gibson, an All-Star this year, has a 93 career ERA+ through 2020 and a 156 ERA+ this year. But he’s a pitch-to-contact guy, with the 39th-highest strikeout rate and ninth-highest ground ball rate among 54 qualified starters this year. And now he’s pitching in front of the worst defense in the league. Look for that ERA+ to get back down into the double digits soon enough. The best pitcher the Phillies got back, weirdly enough, might end up being Crouse, a 22-year-old who’s impressed at Double-A for Texas this year.

Colorado Rockies

In: RHP Case Williams, RHP Noah Davis
Out: RHP Mychal Givens

At least the Phillies did something, though. With no hope of competing in the medium term and a slew of pending free agents, the Rockies held on to pitchers German Marquez and Daniel Bard, who could’ve been quite valuable given how many teams overpaid for extra years of control, and free-agents-to-be Trevor Story and Jon Gray. It’s possible that the most dysfunctional front office in baseball might have forgotten that the deadline was July 30 this year, and not July 31. I can’t think of another explanation for failing to move Story, one of the best shortstops in the league, with as much runway as the Rockies had.