The Takeaways from the MLB Trade Deadline
The MLB Trade Deadline is perennially one of the most fun days of the season, though this year seemed a bit different. There was still a flurry of activity, to be sure, but so much of the action took place in the days leading up to the deadline. Jose Quintana was traded across town, the White Sox sent a trio of veterans to the Yankees, and any number of smaller moves were consummated long before 4:00 p.m. on Monday.
This year, we truly had a trade season, as opposed to a one-day deadline fiesta. The entire month of July was littered with spurious rumors and honest-to-goodness trades. The big Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish dominoes didn’t drop until the eleventh hour, but those fireworks represented the grand finale of a show that lasted weeks.
Other than the spread out nature of this year’s trade season, what else stuck out? Here are our broad takeaways from the 2017 trade deadline:
The Dodgers stood out among the elites
One of the themes of this year has been the incredible play of the game’s top teams. In the Dodgers and Astros, MLB has a pair of the most dominant teams the league has seen in ages.
Both teams had reasons to go all in this year, with tremendous rosters that could potentially steamroll through October. However, Los Angeles stood out at the deadline; most of their peers at the top of the league were content to make quieter maneuvers, while the Dodgers threw down the gauntlet.
The Astros were very quiet. They were continually linked to a number of big names, like Gray, Zach Britton, Justin Wilson, and others. Yet when the dust settled, all they had to show was Francisco Liriano. Liriano still has good stuff, but has posted just a 5.88 ERA this year. He cost the Astros outfielder Nori Aoki and solid outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez, who has a .854 OPS at Triple-A. Liriano may profile as a lefty specialist for Houston down the stretch.
Elsewhere, the AL Central-leading Indians also made a simple move for a relief arm. They brought in Joe Smith from the Blue Jays, sending little-known Thomas Pannone and Samad Taylor to Toronto. Smith is a nice pickup, with a 2.93 ERA since 2014, but doesn’t move the needle much for Cleveland.
The other top tier division leader, the Nationals, was a little more active than Cleveland and Houston, picking up Brandon Kintzler on deadline day, after acquiring revilers Sean Doolitle and Ryan Madson earlier in the month from Oakland. That trio of bullpen arms is a huge boost to Washington’s porous relief corps, but none is a standout name.
This is where the Dodgers were distinct. The other division leaders were content to patch their holes and roll with what they had. Perhaps motivated by Clatyon Kershaw’s injury, the Dodgers made a huge splash for Yu Darvish. LA now has insurance in case Kershaw is seriously injured, and has a potential nightmare of a playoff rotation lined up in Kershaw, Darvish, Alex Wood, and Rich Hill.
The Dodgers also filled out their bullpen by picking up a couple interesting arms, Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson. Los Angeles is now by far the favorite to take the World Series, thanks in part to their relative aggressiveness. Baseball prospectus playoff odds give the Dodgers easily the best WS chances at nearly 1 in 4.
The relief market saw a correction
Remember when Yankees GM Brian Cashman put his relief aces on the trade market last season, and came away with a franchise-altering prospect haul? The Yankees have been able to retool so seamlessly thanks largely because of the massive bounty they fetched at last year’s deadline for Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Chapman brought all-world prospect Gleyber Torres, not to mention reliever Adam Warren and outfield prospect Billy McKinney. Miller fetched the talented Clint Frazier, tantalizing lefty Justus Sheffield, and a pair of flyer bullpen prospects.
Flash forward to this year, and the market’s top relievers simply did not fetch anything close to that kind of return. The Yankees were able to fill out their bullpen at this deadline, and bring in starting corner infielder Todd Frazier, by sending just one good prospect, Blake Rutherford, to the White Sox in exchange for David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, both of whom have excellent numbers this year and future team control.
In bringing in Doolittle and Madson, the Nationals only had to send out Jesus Lazardo and Sheldon Neuse, the former of whom is a 19-year-old in rookie ball, the latter of which hasn’t played above A-Ball, along with Blake Treinen, who has had a trying year at the majors. In trading for the Mets’ Addison Reed, the Red Sox had to surrender three prospects, but all of them project as relievers.
Last deadline’s huge trades for relievers, and the subsquent large free agent deals handed out to Chapman and Kenley Jansen, may have represetned the peak of the relief market. Teams were much more reticient about sacrificing for bullpen arms this year, so much so that the Orioles and Padres sat on their hands when it came to Zach Britton and Brad Hand, respectively.
Does this signal a major shift in how teams value relievers? More likely, last year saw a major confluence of events that led to Cleveland and Chicago feeling comfortable with trading huge packagers for hugely talented relievers. Those circumstances don’t exist this year, and for the most part, relievers of Chapman’s and Miller’s caliber weren’t available. That being said, it bears watching to see if teams continue to value relievers less than they did last year.
Several sellers left business unfinished
The decision to sell can be the toughest a team can make. It took plenty of convincing for the Steinbrenner brass in New York to let Cashman rebuild the Yankees. The Royals have staved off the selling decision by simply playing too well to sell. But when the decision is made, it’s typically best to commit to it, much in the way the White Sox have the past year.
However, several teams that look like clear sellers didn’t take a full measure. The A’s and White Sox were the only selling teams to make multiple major moves. The league’s other also-rans instead seemed to opt for half-measures, holding onto several key assets.
The Orioles were displeased with the bounty they could’ve fetched for Britton, and instead will roll with him in an ill-fated attempt to win now, and possibly again in 2018, before he hits free agency. The Padres similarly weren’t happy with the offers for Hand, and also held onto other veterans having solid seasons, like Yangervis Solarte, Kirby Yates, and Jhoulys Chacin.
The Mets were able to recoup something for Reed, but were left sitting on several veteran bats. Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce both can provide pop in a corner outfield spot, but both will still be playing in Queens when the calender flips to August. So too will Asdrubal Cabrera, even after the infielder requested a trade.
The Marlins kept Dan Straily, the Tigers couldn’t find a taker for Justin Verlander, the list goes on. Maybe these clubs just couldn’t find value on the market htis year. The industry consensus that the Tigers’ return last week for rental bat JD Martinez was light, perhaps signaling that the market just wasn’t putting a premium on some veteran bats.
Still, it was curious to see so many teams with essentially zero playoff hopes this season hold onto veterans with limited team control remaining. The White Sox may have given themselves a leg up in retooling, as they tore down completely a sold most of their valuable players. The teams that were left without a chair when the music stopped and held onto their veterans will have to see if they can recoup value in the offseason.