David Dombrowski swooped in to make a brilliant deal (again). The defending champs reloaded for a run — in 2015. The Cardinals, Mariners, Orioles and Yankees got a little bit better. The Rays missed a huge opportunity (maybe). And Billy Beane went for the kill.
We hereby present the three biggest winners and losers from that totally insane 2014 non-waiver trade deadline.
We may never know whether the Tigers would have made the three-team deal with Tampa Bay and Seattle that landed them David Price if the Athletics hadn’t gotten Jon Lester earlier on Thursday. What we do know now is that the rotation in Motown is officially ridiculous. Dombrowski is a general manager who thinks big, and he went out and struck the biggest deal of the deadline. The Tigers gave up a decent outfielder who will be a free agent after 2015 (Austin Jackson, who went to the Mariners); a pitcher most evaluators would label a No. 3 starter (Drew Smyly, who went to the Rays); and an 18-year-old minor league shortstop (Willy Adames, also to Tampa Bay). In return, they got a 28-year-old Cy Young winner in the prime of his career.
Detroit entered Deadline Day five games up in the AL Central, and even though it gave a game back on Thursday, it is still in the driver's seat for a fourth straight division title. A World Series championship has eluded the Tigers since 1984, however, so this was clearly a move made more for October than August and September. Thus, in considering this deal, it’s worth asking just how Detroit's new-look rotation sets up for the postseason.
Price presumably replaces Rick Porcello in a potential playoff rotation, but at 12-5 with a 3.24 ERA, Porcello has been having a very good year. The guy Price should be replacing come October is Justin Verlander, whose velocity is down and whose ERA is up (at 4.79, it's more than a run higher than any other Detroit starter). With Price now on the staff to go with reigning AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, and with the bullpen still looking like the one big weakness on this team, would Detroit consider making Verlander a reliever in the postseason? It certainly should.
The Jon Lester deal in Oakland was all about Billy Beane’s faith that this A’s team — potentially his best club ever — can finally break through and win the World Series title that has eluded them in seven previous postseason trips under his leadership. It was about the A’s sensing a grand opportunity this season, with AL powers New York, Boston and Texas all having off years. And it was about avoiding a date against a pitcher like Seattle's Felix Hernandez in a frightening one-game playoff.
The A’s were the best team in baseball before Thursday, and now they’re even better — better built to hold off the Angels, whom they lead by two games in the AL West, and better built for a deep October run. They had to send Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox to get Lester, but the 26-year-old Cuban is a good player, not a great one. Don’t dismiss Oakland’s addition of Sam Fuld from Minnesota for displaced starting pitcher Tommy Milone, either. Fuld will obviously never win a Home Run Derby like Cespedes, and he doesn’t make the same absurdly amazing throws from the outfield. Fuld, though, is an excellent corner outfielder and a perfect complement to Jonny Gomes, who also comes back to Oakland in the Lester deal for a second stint in the green-and-gold. These two will lessen the blow of losing Cespedes.
Boston Red Sox
Okay, so they no longer have a No. 1 starter, and we still have no idea what they’ll really look like next season. But this is just the beginning of the Red Sox' reloading, and this is a good start for GM Ben Cherington, who deserves credit for recognizing that it was time to sell. Boston could have gone for prospects in the Lester deal, but instead opted for established major leaguers. Cespedes, whose 17 home runs are more than every Red Sox outfielder combined, might be a little overrated — this is a guy with a career .318 OBP, after all — but he could have a 40-home run season next year when he plays up to 81 home games at Fenway Park.
Boston also traded another starting pitcher on Friday, dealing John Lackey to the Cardinals for first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly (the Red Sox also traded minor league pitcher Corey Littrell and cash in that deal). Alhough he’s been awful this season, batting just .237 with a .638 OPS, Craig is an intriguing gamble. Boston’s minor league system is loaded, so it could make a monster trade this offseason (Troy Tulowitzki?). And of course, there’s still the possibility that Lester signs with the Red Sox and is back in Fenway next year. Either way, with Cespedes and Craig bolstering the lineup, Boston is starting to set itself up for another run in 2015.
They’re all still there: Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Howard, Antonio Bastardo, A.J. Burnett, the Phillie Phanatic. GM Ruben Amaro was rightly under pressure from fans and the media to make a number of moves at the deadline. Amazingly, he made none. After the deadline passed, Amaro told Philadelphia reporters that teams were not being aggressive enough, which seemed like a crazy thing to say on a day full of bold moves. While deals for left-handed aces Hamels and Lee always seemed far-fetched, it was reasonable to assume that at least a journeyman outfielder like Byrd would be moved. Headed toward their third straight season of not making the playoffs, the crumbling Phillies needed to start their overdue rebuild on Thursday. Instead, they did nothing.
Tampa Bay Rays
Could they have gotten more for Price if they’d waited until the offseason? We’ll never know. Are they set up for a run in 2015? That's hard to tell. Yes, Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin are both young, and they should provide immediate value this year and going forward. Still, neither looks like a major difference-maker in the long-term. Franklin is a 23-year-old who has played all over the diamond but primarily at second base. He could be a versatile, Ben Zobrist-type for Tampa Bay, but it’s hard to overlook just how much he’s struggled in the majors, batting .214 over 119 games the past two years. Smyly, 25, has been unable to build on his 6-0, 2.37 ERA season of a year ago, posting a 6-9 record with a 3.93 ERA amid declining strikeout rates and a rising WHIP.
The key guy in the Price trade, then, could turn out to be Willy Adames. Maybe Adames, who is batting .269 in High-A ball, will be a star, but that seems to be betting a lot on an 18-year old. The consensus is that Rays should have gotten more, and it’s hard to argue with that, even though it’s also hard to criticize and question a front office that has been so brilliant in making a small-market team an annual playoff contender.
San Francisco Giants
The Dodgers were the clear favorites to win the NL West before the deadline, and the Giants did nothing on Friday to change that. San Francisco made a good deal earlier in the week to get starting pitcher Jake Peavy from the Red Sox, but it needed to do a lot more to hang with the Los Angeles in the division. The Giants needed another starting pitcher with Matt Cain hurt, and, most of all, a second baseman. They failed to get either, even on a day when a number of middle infielders were dealt. The Dodgers, who have taken less than two months to turn a 9 1/2-game deficit to their Northern California rivals into a 3 1/2-game lead in the division, look like they could run away with the NL West. Tim Lincecum is starting to get hit hard, Tim Hudson is probably due for some regression, and — perhaps most ominous of all — Dan Uggla is still on the roster.