The MLB trade deadline is over, and thanks to a late flourish of action, it provided some real thrills and new storylines for the rest of the season. But who came out ahead and who missed out? Here are the winners and losers from a busy July 31.
Winners of the Deadline
As the clock ticked closer and closer to 4 PM ET, it looked like this year’s deadline was going to be an all-time snoozer—and then the Astros flipped the league on its head. Houston pulled off three trades right at the buzzer, with the biggest one bringing in Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke for a four-prospect package. To a rotation already fronted by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the Astros now add a former Cy Young winner with a 2.87 ERA, 155 ERA+ and sub-1.00 WHIP. Good luck to the rest of the AL.
Greinke is the highlight, but in picking up Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini from Toronto, Houston once again may have found some undervalued commodities that can be coached up a la Ryan Pressley last season. Like Pressley, both of those ex-Blue Jays righties feature high-spin curveballs—a favorite of Houston’s—that could play up in relief. The Astros also avoided giving up either Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker, instead dealing away surplus prospects (Seth Beer and Derek Fisher) and volatile arms (Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas). Just like with Verlander and Cole, the Astros have once again conjured a No. 1 starter out of thin air and, in the process, emerged as the league’s new World Series favorite.
Nationals and Braves
For a while, Atlanta and Washington seemed to be the only teams who realized that it was deadline day. The Nationals struck first, adding depth to their bullpen in the form of Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland. No one in that trio is anything approaching elite, but they’re all solid arms for the late innings, giving manager Dave Martinez some usable options beyond the untested Wander Suero and the superannuated Fernando Rodney.
The Braves also scored some needed bullpen help, snagging Shane Greene from Detroit and Mark Melancon from San Francisco. The former is a better bet than the latter going forward, even despite some scary peripherals, and it’s interesting that, after years of refusing to pay for virtually anyone, Atlanta is taking on the full $18 million owed to Melancon. But a shaky relief corps required bolstering, and both of those players should provide capable high-leverage work (and, in Greene’s case, possibly displace Luke Jackson as the closer). And neither team had to give up much to improve materially.
Hunter Strickland’s Revenge Tour
Strickland isn’t the calmest of guys, as evidenced by his longstanding feud/vendetta with Bryce Harper. Those two memorably squared up two years ago, when fists flew following a plunking, but haven’t had much of a chance to reignite the rivalry since. That’ll change at the end of September, though, when Harper’s Phillies face Strickland and the Nationals five times in the season’s final week. The deadline just gave Strickland another chance at settling a score that may or may not exist entirely in his head.
Farhan Zaidi and His First Trade Deadline Leading the Giants
After spending all spring poised to sell, the Giants turned their deadline prospects around with a red-hot July, putting into question whether or not Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith and the rest of the team’s most desirable options would stay or go. As it turns out, new general manager Farhan Zaidi bought and sold: He kept Bumgarner and Smith, added Scooter Gennett, and disposed of Melancon, Sam Dyson and Drew Pomeranz.
You can argue whether or not holding onto Bumgarner and Smith was a mistake, given that the former could have helped any pitching-needy contender and the latter was likely the best reliever on the market. But in the end, if you don’t get the price you want, why sell? Dealing away a player for 75 cents on the dollar is relatively pointless. What’s not debatable, though, is how well Zaidi did with the rest of his day. Gennett’s season has been wrecked by injury and he hasn’t hit at all, but he was an All-Star last year and cost just cash or a PTBNL. Selling high on Melancon and Pomeranz, meanwhile, was excellent work, particularly with the latter, who returned a good infield prospect in Mauricio Dubon.
The ultimate verdict on Zaidi’s first deadline in charge won’t come until the year is over and Smith and Bumgarner are taking offers in free agency. But as of right now, this was a successful day in San Francisco.
I don’t want to give the Mets too much credit. The Marcus Stroman trade was solid, but the dithering surrounding Noah Syndergaard, who remains in Queens seemingly by default, was bizarre. Likewise, it never felt like New York had a concrete plan for impending free agents Zack Wheeler and Todd Frazier, both of whom are surprisingly still on the roster.
Like the Giants, the Mets were clearly aiming for some kind of buy-and-sell deadline, though the execution was severely lacking and the logic to it hard to understand. Still, the Mets came out ahead, even if by accident, and they now have arguably the best rotation in the NL with an outside chance at a playoff spot. Nor did they foolishly punt on Syndergaard (though I still expect them to do so this winter).
Losers of the Deadline
Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox
New York needed a starting pitcher and didn’t get one. Los Angeles needed a top-flight reliever and didn’t get one. Boston needed a reliever of any kind and didn’t get one. All three of these teams sat on their hands this deadline, simply tinkering at the margins if doing anything at all.
Was that a mistake? Both the Yankees and Dodgers have safe division leads, so their inaction won’t hurt them there. But it’s hard to see how New York survives the playoffs with a thin, uneven rotation, even if Luis Severino does return (and what his impact will be after missing the entire season so far is totally up in the air). As for the Dodgers, every late-inning October lead of theirs is going to create heart palpitations across southern California. I can’t blame them for not giving up the farm for Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez, but someone like Greene or even a combo of guys like Hudson and Elias would have been better than just adding fringe lefty Adam Kolarek from the Rays. They may end up regretting their prospect hugging if the year comes and goes without another title.
The Red Sox’ postseason situation is far more tenuous, as they trail the A’s and Rays for the second wild-card, and the prospect of a play-in game on the road followed by a division series against either Houston or New York isn’t appealing. Maybe that’s why Dave Dombrowski chose to sit out the deadline. It doesn’t help that Boston’s farm system is weak, leaving the team short of the prospects needed to get the relief help that would make a true difference. Still, doing nothing after watching a mediocre-at-best bullpen blow lead after lead all summer is a head-scratcher, even if Dombrowski is probably the last GM you want evaluating or acquiring relievers.
Unlike that big-money trio, the small-market Brewers at least made a few moves. But their notable trades—sending Jesus Aguilar to the Rays for Jacob Faria and picking up Pomeranz and Ray Black from the Giants for Dubon—both feel flawed. In Aguilar, the Brewers are quickly giving up on a slugger who clubbed 35 homers last year but has slumped badly all season. Maybe he needs a change of scenery to rediscover his stroke, but the return in Faria is underwhelming for a big bat that’s under team control for another four seasons.
Going the other direction, Pomeranz could be of real help in the bullpen: Since being dumped from the rotation to relief in San Francisco, he’s been excellent, striking out eight in 5 1/3 scoreless frames while seeing his velocity spike. But that sample size is tiny, and there’s a much longer track record of Pomeranz being an inconsistent pitcher who struggles with control. Black could be something going forward given his booming fastball, but the cost was steep in Dubon, the No. 3 prospect in their system. He may not have had a place going forward in a crowded infield, but Milwaukee likely overpaid for a rental pitcher and a hard thrower who still hasn’t found consistent major league success at 29 years old.
Beyond that, though, the Brewers didn’t address their biggest issue in the rotation, which is a mess, nor did they add an impact reliever to reduce Josh Hader’s workload. They’re still a viable division and wild-card contender, but this was a disappointingly quiet deadline, especially as their chief competition in both got better.
Syndergaard is clearly relieved to be staying in New York, but it’s a disappointment that a pitcher with his incredible raw talent remains stuck on a team that doesn’t know how to unearth his best self consistently. Selfishly, I was dreaming of Syndergaard getting traded to a smart club like the Astros, Twins, Yankees or Padres and flourishing as the ace that he’s supposed to be. Maybe that’ll happen over the offseason, but I wanted to see him blossom in October instead of in intermittent flashes for a Mets team that probably won’t be relevant much longer.
The Wild-Card Teams
The Astros have the AL’s best rotation, and even though the Yankees missed on their opportunity to add a starter, that roster is still one of the league’s best. One of those two teams will emerge with the AL’s best record and a date with the league’s wild-card winner, who probably isn’t feeling too great about that Division Series matchup. The path for the Indians, A’s, Rays or Red Sox is murderously hard, particularly if it’s Houston that comes away with the Junior Circuit’s top finish.
Things aren’t as dismal in the NL (though it’s not as if a trip to Los Angeles is much more appealing), but like the AL, the would-be wild card teams didn’t go all out. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the fool’s gold that the wild-card seems to be, especially for the second team, which faces a gauntlet right from the get-go. It’s still a playoff spot at the end of the day, but front offices don’t seem inclined to give up prospects for a better chance at being one and done.