Breaking down winners and losers after exhilarating trade deadline
Deadline day may have been a bit of a dud, but the week leading up to the 2015 non-waiver trade deadline provided enough excitement to make this one of the best trading deadline periods in recent memory. Only the White Sox and Diamondbacks didn’t make a trade that impacted their 25-man roster in the last week, a span over which 20 former All-Stars switched teams, including Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Reyes, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Papelbon. Now that the deadline has passed, we try to make sense of it all with our annual look at the trading deadline winners and losers (presented in alphabetical order):
A surprise contender this year following a 92-loss season last year and three straight last-place finishes before that, the Astros slipped behind the Angels into second place in the American League West on July 12, marking the first time since mid-April that they didn’t occupy the top spot in their division. Their confidence did not waiver. The Astros struck the first blow of the deadline period by acquiring Houston native Scott Kazmir from the A’s late last Thursday, just in time for him to start against, and beat, the Royals Friday night.
Kazmir’s next start came on Thursday and consisted of 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Angels as Houston completed a sweep of Los Angeles to move back into first place by two games. While that game was going on, the Astros completed a second deal, bringing centerfielder Carlos Gomez and starter Mike Fiers to Houston, the former representing a significant upgrade from the slumping Jake Marisnick. With Kazmir and Gomez in place, the Astros are in excellent position to reach the postseason for the first time since 2005, and with their deep farm system and young major league roster, not to mention Gomez and Fiers under team control beyond this season, they seem unlikely to return to the second division any time soon.
Having not appeared in the postseason since Joe Carter hit his World Series-winning home run in 1993, Toronto is the reluctant possessor of the longest postseason drought in baseball. It was thus highly motivated to take advantage of its soft division and encouraging run differential at this year’s break, and did so spectacularly. In David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, the Jays arguably landed the best pitcher and position player to be dealt at this deadline, the latter of whom is under contract for six more seasons. In adding set-up men LaTroy Hawkins (acquired in the Tulowitzki deal) and Mark Lowe, they drastically improved their bullpen. And they upgraded their fourth outfielder slot by acquiring Ben Revere (who has two team-controlled years remaining) to boot. It remains to be seen if the Jays, who were three games out in the loss column in the wild-card race and seven games out in the loss column in their division entering Friday’s action, can snap that 21-year playoff drought, but their chances are excellent given that the overperforming Twins are the team they are chasing for a Wild Card. Indeed, coming into Friday, Baseball Prospectus’s playoff odds gave them a 46.2% chance of making the postseason, which effectively makes them BP’s pick to claim the second Wild Card spot from this point (the Twins and Orioles both have less than a 20% chance per BP).
The Dodgers made just one trade at this deadline, but it was a doozy, a three-team, 13-player blockbuster that added four above-average pitchers to a staff desperate for reinforcements. Having lost Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy to season-ending arm surgeries early in the year, the Dodgers finally landed replacements in Mat Latos and Alex Wood, the latter of whom has four team-controlled years remaining, and to a bullpen that has been shaky all year, they added rejuvenated former closer Jim Johnson and lefty Luis Avilan. In addition to all of that, they brought in highly-regarded 21-year-old infield prospect Jose Pereza, who could be starting in the middle of the diamond for L.A. next year, and the best player they gave up was a 30-year-old Cuban defector with a sketchy injury history who has never played a game in the major leagues (Hector Olivera).
It was touch and go there for a couple of days after an agreed-upon deal for Carlos Gomez was quashed, and they may have overpaid for the pieces they did ultimately land, all of whom are pending free agents, but when 4 p.m. ET arrived on Friday, the Mets had added Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Tyler Clippard. That’s an impressive haul for a team that has been paralyzed by financial concerns in recent seasons and developed a reputation for never making the big move it needed to make to get better.
The Mets desperately needed a bat, and they got three, led by All-Star slugger Cespedes, whose Home Run Derby win in 2013 stands as one of a limited number of memorable moments from Citi Field’s first seven seasons. Uribe and Johnson may not appear in the lineup together very often, but both veterans have been swinging hot bats this season and represent upgrades for a Mets lineup that was last in the majors in run scored prior to their acquisition. Clippard, meanwhile, has already proven to be a necessary addition with Jenrry Mejia lasting just seven games between performance-enhancing drug suspensions. They Mets haul may not be as impressive as that of the other four teams on this list out of context, but within the context of New York's needs and the larger atmosphere of poverty and pessimism that has festered around the team in recent years, adding those four players at a time when the National League East title is well within reach just may be a turning point for the organization.
Already dominating their division and the American League in general, the Royals added an ace-plus-bat combination bested only by the Blue Jays this month. Johnny Cueto, who makes his Royals debut in Toronto Friday night, owns the second best ERA+ among pitchers with 800 or more innings pitched over the last five years (154, trailing only Clayton Kershaw’s 168), giving the Royals an ace significantly better than James Shields. Ben Zobrist, meanwhile, is an Alex Gordon doppelganger at the plate who can play either outfield corner or second base, the three places the Royals most needed an upgrade with Gordon on the disabled list with a strained groin. Already the favorites to repeat as AL champions given their performance to this point in the season, the Royals are significantly improved with those two pieces in place.
The Angels attempted to fill their giant hole in left field by acquiring veterans David DeJesus, David Murphy and Shane Victorino. Those three could potentially form a complex platoon between leftfield and designated hitter with DeJesus and Murphy on the left side and Victorino and C.J. Cron on the right. However, the current-season splits of the three new additions don’t indicate that doing so would unlock some tremendous offensive potential in these aging retreads, the youngest of whom is the 33-year-old Murphy and all of whom are due to become free agents in November. That’s not nothing, but it’s a lot less than the upgrades the Astros made.
For the most part, the trades that went down at this deadline were reasonable ones. Contending teams addressed their needs and rebuilding teams acquired talented prospects, and most of the trades were balanced well enough that no team appeared to do significantly better than the one it was trading with. Then there was the 13-player megadeal that saw the Braves send team-controlled lefty Alex Wood and infield prospect Jose Peraza to the Dodgers. There were a lot of moving parts in that deal, but the nut of it from Atlanta’s perspective is that it traded four years of team control over Wood and all of Peraza’s team-controlled seasons for Cuban defector Hector Olivera and a competitive balance pick in next year’s draft.
Olivera is under contract for five years and is regarded by some (the Braves obviously included) as a potential impact bat, but he is on the wrong side of 30, has a sketchy injury history and has never played a game in the major leagues. If I’m running a rebuilding team, which the Braves obviously are, I’d much rather have the 24-year-old Wood, who is already established as a quality major league starter, and the 21-year-old Peraza, who could be in the majors as early as this September, than the 30-year-old Olivera, who even with the savings built into the deal will cost the Braves $24.5 million over the next five years. Given their active offseason, which saw them deal impending free agents Justin Upton and Jayson Hewyard, the Braves didn’t necessarily have to make any moves at this deadline. They decided to act anyway and wound up on the short side of their one impact deal, losing 10 team-controlled seasons of two well-regarded players.
Like the Astros, the Cubs are contending a bit ahead of schedule, but are doing so legitimately thanks to a talented young roster reinforced by their farm system and some aggressive offseason acquisitions. Heading into Friday’s action, however, they were in third place in the NL wild-card race, two games behind the Giants, who made an obvious upgrade Thursday night by acquiring Mike Leake to replace 40-year-old Tim Hudson in their rotation. The Cubs’ attempt to answer that move on Friday was not good. Looking at the Cubs’ roster last week, I concluded that the team most needed help on offense. Instead, they waited until deadline day to make a move, then acquired two pitchers, veteran starter Dan Haren and righty reliever Tommy Hunter.
Hunter is a depth move for the bullpen that doesn’t move the needle much. Haren, meanwhile, is a terrible fit as the Cubs’ fifth starter. A soft-tossing fly-ball pitcher moving from Marlins Park to Wrigley Field, Haren posted an 86 ERA+ over the last three seasons, and his superior results this year are undermined by a 4.57 FIP. Even working in pitcher-friendly ballparks the last four seasons, he has allowed 1.4 home runs per nine innings, including a 1.5 mark this year compared to the current NL average of 0.9 HR/9. They didn’t give up much to get him, but I’m not convinced that Haren won’t make the Cubs worse than they were without him. With the Giants surging and making a well-targeted addition at the deadline, the Cubs’ hopes of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2008 are dimming.
I wasn’t among those who thought the Padres had to tear apart their entire team at this deadline, but at the very least they should have gotten something for their pending free agents, especially Justin Upton, who surely could have brought a more valuable return at the deadline than the compensation pick the team will receive for him after he departs this off-season. Will Venable, Ian Kennedy, and Joaquin Benoit are due to become free agents as well, and none of them are going to yield compensation. Instead, the only deal the Padres made was to trade for veteran LOOGY Marc Rzepczynski. Reportedly, the Padres stood pat because general manager A.J. Preller thinks his team, which has won 10 of its last 15 games, has a chance to reach the postseason. Baseball Prospectus’s postseason odds put that chance at 3% heading into Friday’s action. If that report is true, Preller is crazier than we thought. Even after that 10–5 run, the Padres are eight games out of a playoff spot in the loss column in both their division and the wild-card race. Their third-order winning percentage on the season is .435. If hopes are dimming for the Cubs, the lights are out in San Diego.
I’ve been an outspoken doubter of the Twins’ legitimacy as a contender this season. Nonetheless, Minnesota, which has gone 23–29 since the end of May, is still in a playoff position entering Friday’s action, leading the Blue Jays and Orioles by two games for the second wild-card spot. The Twins could have fortified that position in the last week, ideally by acquiring a big bat. Instead, the only addition they made was righty reliever Kevin Jepsen. Meanwhile, one of the teams two games behind them in the wild-card race added David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. That team comes to Minneapolis for a four-game set on Monday. The Twins’ wild-card lead isn’t likely to last much longer.