Madness. So chaotic was this baseball trade deadline that it not only moved huge names—including 10 All-Stars just from this year—it also changed the game. With moves made by every contender, team decision-makers no longer will be able to hide behind the excuse of saying, “Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make.” It will be a requirement going forward that standing still is not an option.
The Giants and Mariners proved this new world order in their own way.
Sitting on the best record in baseball in a magic carpet ride of a season—the Giants have hit the most homers and allowed the third-fewest in the National League, compiling a 151-101 advantage in homers—San Francisco could have held firm. And for hours Friday, it looked that way.
Instead, because the Dodgers pulled off the blockbuster of all blockbusters by getting Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from Washington, and the Padres had acquired All-Star Adam Frazier and Daniel Hudson, the Giants jumped in and made their own cannonball splash. About 10 minutes before the 4 p.m. Eastern deadline, they traded for the best hitter available, Kris Bryant.
Seattle did not sit idle, but it bore the public and clubhouse wrath of not doing enough in this window of opportunity. General manager Jerry DiPoto traded his best reliever, Kendall Graveman, and wound up with a replacement in Diego Castillo (with more years of control) but did almost nothing about the offense of the worst-hitting team in half a century of full seasons (.219). No Luke Voit. No Trevor Story. No Bryant.
Capturing the mood of a disappointed fan base, if not the public demand for action, a reporter coldly asked DiPoto, “Did your phone die?”
DiPoto captured the Mariner Way perfectly when he crowed about getting five years of control of a 24-year-old infielder with a .197 career average, Abraham Toro. “This is what we do,” said DiPoto, whose realm values “years of control” over seizing the moment.
What changed? Why the flurry of activity?
1. There is no August waiver trade deadline. This was the only chance to trade significant players. No Justin Verlanders to be had at the end of August. Teams had to not only address holes, but also anticipate them.
2. Prospects did not play competitive baseball last season. Teams were more likely to trade hyped prospects this year without that year of development and gameplay to fall in love with them (Josiah Gray, Pete Armstrong-Crow, Austin Martin, etc.).
3. The Cubs and Nationals collapsed. When July began, Chicago and Washington were three and two games better than .500, respectively. They were in the thick of the playoff race and looked to be sure buyers. From then to the deadline, the Cubs (8-15) and Nationals (7-17) were the two worst teams in the NL. They were so bad they removed any doubt about what to do: sell. Together they traded 17 major league players.
4. The swirl of expectation. MLB has sold this window as a tent pole to the baseball calendar, like Opening Day, All-Star Week or the Winter Meetings. One day has become more than a month of rumors and hype. Public pressure mounts not only as expectations grow, but also as competitors make moves.
Here is what else we learned from the most chaotic trade deadline ever:
The Dodgers should win the World Series.
Don’t mistake that declaration to mean they will. No team has repeated as champs in two decades. It only means they have the best team on paper after adding Scherzer and Turner. It is hard to imagine a more decorated team. There are 29 active players who have won an MVP or Cy Young Award. The Dodgers have seven of them.
They have nine players who have combined for 6 MVPs and 28 top 10 MVP finishes. And on their payroll, they have five pitchers who have combined for 8 Cys and 19 top 5 Cy finishes. That includes the disbarred Trevor Bauer, whose paid administrative leave prompted Los Angeles to go get Scherzer.
The Dodgers are that desperate to stay out of a wild card game, where blowing through the luxury tax might get them nothing more than a nerve-wracking win-or-go-home game. But it would be a mistake to think the Giants can’t win the NL West.
The Yankees had a great week.
They finally addressed their lineup imbalance by getting lefthanded hitters Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, while GM Brian Cashman is like an NFL capologist whiz when it comes to limboing under the CBT.
In Gallo, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees join the 2016 Cubs as the only teams with three qualified hitters 6-5 and taller. There is one downside to loading up on such similar hitters: the best Yankees hitters crush fastballs but are vulnerable to spin and off-speed, which is how the Rays and Red Sox have stayed ahead of them this year.
The White Sox had an even better week.
Chicago pulled off a stunner by adding Craig Kimbrel, who should get most of the closing assignments as the preferred complement to Liam Hendricks. The White Sox already had the best rotation in the league. Now they have the best bullpen. It’s 1990 all over again for Tony LaRussa.
The Blue Jays added the best starting pitcher not named Scherzer.
Toronto looks like the 2015 Cubs. It has a base of terrific young position players. Their window to win is just opening. But they must acquire pitching, not just to rent but to win next year, as well. They did just that by getting Jose Berrios from the Twins, a hard-working, durable young pitcher. How rare are such starters? Ten years ago, there were 93 pitchers who threw enough innings to qualify (one inning for every team game). This year there are only 54. To get one the Jays had to part with Martin, the fifth overall pick last year.
The Rays are a puzzle.
They traded for Nelson Cruz but sent packing their closer, Castillo (he’s arbitration-eligible), and a starter, Rich Hill. They have almost no length from their starting pitchers. They have used 25 relievers, five of whom are on the IL.
The Rays’ Way of using fungible relievers with varying arm slots and an abundance of spin is resulting in an alarming breakdown rate. Tampa Bay simply plugs in another arm from another organization with tweaks to their pitch use. Next up: J.T. Chargois and Shawn Armstrong, the best test case yet to the Tampa Bay pixie dust. Armstrong is a 30-year-old reliever with an 8.55 ERA with Baltimore this year but who does have a 94-mph fastball with a 2600 rpm spin rate.
The Cardinals are an oddity.
J.A. Happ and Jon Lester? Really? Cornering the market on old lefties with declining stuff when you’re seven games out of a playoff spot? Yes, they are placeholders as Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas work their way back from injury, but no team had a more curious approach to the trade deadline than St. Louis.
Unable to fill benches and needs in August, teams moved to finish off rosters now. Among the smart but under-the-radar moves: the defensively challenged Phillies bringing back Freddy Galvis, the A’s adding Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes, and the Dodgers adding starter/reliever Danny Duffy.
The Mets acted boldly.
They traded a first-round pick for two months of Javier Baez. Baez is a streaky offensive player who still chases and strikes out too much and walks too infrequently. But he is a fabulous defender who gives protection at shortstop until Francisco Lindor returns and he is an even better second baseman than he is a shortstop, which means when Lindor does come back the Mets will have the best defensive double play combination since Cal Ripken and Robbie Alomar in Baltimore. Baez also is a wonderful baserunner—not a small gain for the worst baserunning team in the NL.
First base is not that easy.
Neither Eduardo Escobar, now of Milwaukee, or Kyle Schwarber, the lefthanded bat Boston needed, has ever started a major league game at first base. It’s a big risk to think they can learn the position on the fly in a pennant race.
Baseball turns over faster than ever.
The Cubs won the World Series in 2016. Only three players remain from those who played in Game 7. The last out was made by Bryant throwing to Rizzo. Both are gone.
The Nationals won the World Series in 2019. Only four players remain from those who played in Game 7. The last out was made by Hudson throwing to Gomes. Both are gone.
As baseball proved Friday, the churn rate gets faster.
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