Last year at this time, the Rangers made one of the biggest moves at the trade deadline, acquiring Jonathan Lucroy for some of their top prospects. He was widely seen as a huge acquisition, an all-star who was still under control for 2017. Even though the Rangers gave up a formidable chunk of their farm system, it was hard to blame them.
Over the weekend, the Rangers traded Lucroy to the Rockies for a player to be named later.
That’s how quickly the walls can melt around you, so let’s not pretend that we actually know who won or lost the trade deadline. Last year, apparently, the only winners were the Cubs, Indians, all of the teams that got prospects back, and absolutely no one else. We’ll know the real winners and losers in a few months, if not a few years.
We can guess, though! We can guess. Here are the provisional winners and losers of the 2017 MLB trade deadline*.
*I’m not going to write about every team and every trade because I’m not that sick. Five. You’ll get five winners and five losers.
Chicago White Sox
ACQUIRED: Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete and Matt Rose (from Cubs). Ryan Cordell (from Brewers). Casey Gillaspie (from Rays). Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo, Blake Rutherford, and Tyler Clippard (from Yankees). A.J. Puckett and Andre Davis (from Royals), sweet, sweet cash (from Rockies).
TRADED: Jose Quintana, Anthony Swarzak, Dan Jennings, Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Will Lamb
There was no team that did as much, no team that has as much to show from the deadline, no team that executed their plans so faithfully. The White Sox looked like they were starting at a disadvantage, with Quintana’s season not going according to plan and Todd Frazier hitting close to the Mendoza Line again.
Instead, the Cubs were willing to pretend that the first three months of the season didn’t happen. The Yankees were willing to take David Robertson’s contract (or most of it) as part of a Tommy Kahnle tax and still give up some of their better prospects. The best part might have been the White Sox getting value from pitchers like Dan Jennings and Anthony Swarzak, the latter of whom was signed this spring as a minor league free agent.
I was bleating that the White Sox needed to contend, not rebuild, for the last two years. In a way, the bounty of prospects sort of proves my point — there’s a reason why they got so much back, and it’s because of the talent that went out. On the other hand, if you had told me that they were going to nail each and every one of their trades ...
Los Angeles Dodgers
ACQUIRED: Tony Watson, Tony Cingrani, Yu “Tony” Darvish
TRADED: Oneil Cruz and Angel German (to Pirates); Hendrik Clementina and Scott Van Slyke (to Reds); Willie Calhoun, A.J. Alexy, and Brendon Davis (to Rangers)
Oh, how I was going to savage the Dodgers in this silly little exercise. When the clock struck 1:00 p.m. PT, they had two new left-handed relievers, and both of them were buy-low guys they are assuming can be polished up. Tony Watson isn’t really close to the All-Star he was a couple years ago, and Cingrani is a befuddling mess. On the one hand, the Dodgers are the team that’s turned Brandon Morrow into a late-inning monster. On the other hand, tick tock. Better fix them before the postseason.
It was an underwhelming cavalry for a team that could be forgiven for assuming they didn’t need any substantial upgrades.
AND THEN KEN ROSENTHAL YELLED INTO HIS PHONE.
Source: Darvish TRADED.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2017
ROSENTHAL: SIRI, SEND TWEET.
SIRI: OK. What would you like me to tweet?
ROSENTHAL: “SOURCE: DARVISH CAPS LOCK TRADED CAPS LOCK OFF PERIOD.”
SIRI: Your pizza will arrive in 45 minutes.
ROSENTHAL: SIRI, IF MOROSI GETS THIS FIRST BECAUSE OF YOU, I WILL KILL YOU.
SIRI: Sending a hitman to kill Jon Morosi.
ROSENTHAL: WAIT. START OVER.
You can read why I think this makes the Dodgers winners over here. The short version: They’re going to have a four-man rotation in the postseason. That’s so danged huge for them. They’ve needed that for years, and now they have it. Terrifying.
ACQUIRED: J.D. Martinez, David Hernandez, John Ryan Murphy
TRADED: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King (to Tigers); Luis Madero (to Angels); Gabriel Moya (to Twins)
The Diamondbacks played it cool, for the most part, and I actually dislike the Murphy trade an awful lot. Moya looks like a pitcher who can contribute in a major league bullpen right away; Murphy was hitting poorly for a Triple-A catcher, much less someone who belongs on a major league roster.
At the same time, the Diamondbacks got J.D. Martinez. They struggled against lefties, and they picked up one of the best lefty-mashers in the business. I’m not learned enough to accurately grade a lot of the prospects going back and forth*, but I know that exactly one exciting position player changed hands this deadline, and the Diamondbacks got him for what most prospect mavens felt was an underwhelming return.
The Diamondbacks didn’t have a great farm system. They still walked away with a player who fit their needs perfectly. That’s a winner.
* Which means I have no business deciding which teams are winners or losers. But you already clicked. Thanks ... ssssssucker.
ACQUIRED: Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler
TRADED: McKenzie Mills and international bonus pool space (to Phillies); Blake Treinen, Jesus Luzardo, and Sheldon Neuse (to A’s); Tyler Watson (to Twins)
I’m not going to pretend that these pitchers don’t come with some red flags. Doolittle has troubles staying on the field; Madson is on the older side and often has injury concerns of his own; Kintzler is a weirdo no-strikeout pitcher, even if he’s been successful.
But the Nationals have a bullpen now. They can mix and match better. They can shorten the game just a bit. Their biggest weakness was addressed, which is exactly what a team in their position needs to do. There’s no thinking about 2020 for the Nationals. There’s Max Scherzer and Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper and go go go go go.
If they got Zach Britton or Justin Wilson, they would have made my “Super Winners of the Trade Deadline” column that’s available for premium SB Nation Gold subscribers. As is, they did what they needed to do.
New York Yankees
ACQUIRED: Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Sonny Gray, Jaime Garcia
TRADED: Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo, Blake Rutherford, and Tyler Clippard (to White Sox). Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian (to A’s)
Not only did they shorten the game by an absurd amount — Kahnle, Robertson, Betances, and Chapman in a postseason schedule with regularly scheduled rest days should be against the rules, really — but they added a third baseman and a no. 2 starter, both of which they desperately needed.
The best part? They kept Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, Estevan Florial, Justus Sheffield ... they still have one of the better farm systems in baseball. There are a lot of other teams who did moves that I liked — the Rockies getting Jonathan Lucroy for a player to be named later was outstanding — but the Yankees checked off all of their boxes, and they didn’t decimate the organizational depth.
The moral of the story appears to be “have a million prospects, and good things will happen.”
San Francisco Giants
ACQUIRED: Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos (from Red Sox)
TRADED: Eduardo Nuñez
Oh, it’s not really the Giants’ fault. Getting the very bad players on their very bad baseball team was, I suppose. But after that, everything was designed to hose the Giants as much as possible. They had mid-tier, quasi-interesting relievers. The market was saturated with relievers who were a tier above.
They had an ace who had started last year’s All-Star Game and was going to be a rental, a similar situation to Yu Darvish, really. He was ineffective and blister-addled, though, and no one wanted to take the risk he would opt in to his contract.
They had a breakthrough year from a starter who ranks seventh in the National League in FanGraphs’ WAR. He has the seventh-best xFIP in baseball. He also ranks 55th in the NL in ERA and makes a lot of money, enough that teams weren’t willing to overlook the old stats to focus on the new stats.
They had a young pitcher under a reasonable contract who was ultra-desirable last year. That pitcher has the worst ERA in the NL.
They had a dominant closer, the kind every postseason wants, even if the Giants would have had to pay down his salary a little. The closer was partially ineffective, and now he’s hurt.
They had an outfielder in the middle of a very nice offensive renaissance. But he can’t field and, whoops, looks like absolutely no team is looking for an outfielder.
I could go on. Don’t make me go on. But the Giants didn’t make a move after Eduardo Nuñez because they couldn’t. They were screwed in all the right ways, bless them. And it’s why they’re stuck between a rebuild and a forced reload.
San Diego Padres
ACQUIRED: Esteury Ruiz, Travis Wood, and Matt Strahm (from Royals)
TRADED: Ryan Buchter, Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer
I guess a free Travis Wood is something that any team can use. Ruiz is an 18-year-old raffle ticket in Rookie League. Strahm is a 25-year-old starter with dodgy control and homer problems. It’s possible that all three work out, but it’s an underwhelming return for a team that’s openly rebuilding.
More importantly, however, we have the decision to keep Brad Hand. Considering that the Orioles held on to Zach Britton, it’s possible that the bottom fell out of the super-reliever market, especially after Justin Wilson went to the Cubs. With Hand under team control at bargain rates for the next two seasons, there was no reason to give him away.
There had to be one deal that made sense. One deal that fit in with an organizational philosophy of “We’ve found Brad Hand before. We’ll find Brad Hand again,” which would allow the Padres to get the kinds of prospects or young players they can’t find under a rock. Instead, the Padres set an Andrew Miller asking price based on a few months of Miller-like pitching, which is total second-wave-trend stuff. The Padres are trying to tell you why their fidget spinner is as good as those name brand fidget spinners, and you’re right to be skeptical.
Man, my analogies have been horrible lately.
Tampa Bay Rays
ACQUIRED: Steve Cishek, Lucas Duda, Dan Jennings, Sergio Romo, Chaz Roe
TRADED: Erasmo Ramirez (to Mariners). Drew Smith (to Mets). Casey Gillaspie (to White Sox). PTBNL/cash (to Dodgers). Caaaassssh (to Braves).
This was the have-cake-and-eat-it-too deadline, which is understandable for a team that needs a steady supply of prospects and pre-arbitration players in order to compete. That doesn’t make the bullpen reinforcements any more appealing, though.
Cishek is the big bullpen catch, a ball of funk who was having a nice season for the Mariners. But he still needs to be protected against left-handers, which isn’t something teams usually have the luxury of doing with their best relievers. Romo was designated for assignment for a reason, and his fall has been precipitous. Roe has thrown two innings in the majors this year, and the 30-year-old’s ceiling has been entirely ordinary up until now.
I love the Lucas Duda trade, but the bullpen reinforcements are what a team gets when they don’t want to give away good prospects. It makes sense for the Rays, given what they need to survive. That doesn’t mean I can slap a winning grade on them, though.
ACQUIRED: Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila
TRADED: Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete and Matt Rose (to White Sox). Jeimer Candelario, Isaac Parades, and a player to be named later (to Tigers).
The Cubs are here for exactly one reason: Eloy. That doesn’t mean Quintana wasn’t a perfect fit. He was, and his contract will allow the Cubs to be even more creative in the offseason. I’m also a huge Justin Wilson fan, and reinforcing the catching position with a lefty bat who almost made the All-Star team was extra sweet. So I love the talent the Cubs got back, and it will make them a better team right now. Maybe even a much better team. Which is the point, I guess.
But the Cubs had to give up a top-10 prospect to get Quintana. The Yankees didn’t. While Quintana is off to the kind of start with the Cubs that reminds us all that he’s a better pitcher than Sonny Gray, I’m not sure that the difference is that vast. But the Cubs gave up a top-10 prospect in baseball and another top-100 prospect, and the Yankees got to hang on to Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, and Chance Adams.
I’m not sure if the lesson is to wait until the last second, but it feels like the Yankees helped themselves by waiting. The White Sox didn’t want to watch Quintana have a second half as disappointing as his first half, so they had some urgency too, just like the A’s with Gray. The Yankees waited the A’s out. The Cubs got things over quickly.
That means the Cubs got the better pitcher, too, I suppose. But they also gave up Eloy.
They will miss him.
ACQUIRED: Francisco Liriano
TRADED: Nori Aoki, Teoscar Hernandez (to Blue Jays)
That’s ... that’s it. And it’s not as if they traded for a proven Andrew Miller-type, either. They traded for a struggling starter with the hopes that they can turn him into an ace reliever by the time the postseason starts. That sounds iffy, and that’s before you get to the part where Liriano has made just two relief appearances in the last five years, and just 29 overall. That’s before you get to the part where his ERA as a reliever is nearly a full run higher than it is as a starter.
I’m willing to believe that what Liriano did in 2012 as a reliever has little to do with how he’ll do in 2017. But that’s kind of the point. No one knows how he’ll adjust to a setup role. He dominates lefties like some of the other available power bullpen arms, as Crawfish Boxes points out, but this is still very much an experiment.
I hate experiments for teams like the Astros. Pitching Clayton Kershaw on three day’s rest every danged postseason was an experiment the Dodgers kept trying, over and over again. The correct answer was to take the existing team and make it exponentially better. Making the Astros five percent better doesn’t sound like a worthwhile goal when they’re going to coast into the postseason, but baseball fans know that a five-percent difference can be the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter.
For the Astros, adding Yu Darvish could have been the difference between them being a .350 hitter and a .400 hitter, metaphorically speaking. The .350 hitter is great, fearsome, one of the best. But ... the .400 hitter is Ted Williams in his best season. Wouldn’t you rather take your chances with the latter in a situation where the season’s success is going to be defined by how far the team makes it in the postseason? This is year three of the Great Astros Renaissance, and while division titles aren’t exactly getting old, they would certainly like one of the bigger trophies at this point.
We’ll see if holding on to their best prospects will pay off like it did for the Dodgers when they were in a similar spot. Three years ago, I was yelling about them keeping Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger instead of getting Chris Sale, and I’m sure the Dodgers have zero regrets there. But at some point, the Dodgers snapped. I think the Astros will get there. There are no guarantees they’ll get a Bellinger or Seager before they do.