Assessing the Deadline Deals

August 1, 2016

 

 

This was one of the busiest and most interesting trade deadlines in recent memory; eighteen trades occurred in the final 24 hours. Several teams made themselves considerably better and for the first time in two decades, the Yankees were sellers. So in no particular order, hereís how I see each of the major transactions that occurred.

 

Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress to Rangers for PTBNL, Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz + Carlos Beltran to Rangers for Dillon Tate, Nick Green and Eric Swanson

Getting both Lucroy and Beltran gave the Rangers the most potent offense in the majors. They already had Ian Desmond, Nomar Mazara, Adrian Beltre, Roughned Odor, Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus, and adding two more impact bats gave them a line-up where every spot is a threat to go deep. Thatís tough to pitch to in a playoff situation. They are a little on the young side and no one has particularly high contact rates so itís possible to get through them unscathed but for three or four times through? Cleveland will make an interesting match-up with all their power arms but teams that donít have a lot of strikeout pitchers like Baltimore and Toronto will have tough going. The addition of Jeffress just adds another power arm to a bullpen that already has four guys who throw 95+ and one (Dario Alvarez) whoís just shy of it.

 

What is very interesting to me Ė at least from the Rangers perspective Ė is that they did not surrender Joey Gallo in the trade to the Brewers, as had been rumored. The Rangers had already given an extension to Adrian Beltre so Gallo wasnít going to find playing time at his natural position, third base. His playing time would have to come from either the outfield, first base or DH spots. Shin Soo Choo is signed through 2020 and Mazara has pretty well established himself so unless Gallo suddenly became a standout centerfielder he wasnít going to be playing much in the outfield either. Beltranís contract expires after this season, as does Desmondís and Mitch Morelandís. Desmond has done a pretty good job in center after a rough start to the season so the Rangers might be interested in bringing him back if they can afford his demands. Heíll have a number of suitors this winter. Depending on how well he hits, particularly in the post-season, the Rangers may or may not want to re-sign Beltran. If heís the hero of a World Championship run I canít imagine them not giving him at least two more years. Which leaves Mitch Moreland. Heís not that expensive right now Ė a little less than $6 million Ė but heís pretty much the same player as Gallo only with five more years of major league service time. The fact that they didnít deal Gallo but instead dealt their #2 and #3 prospects indicates to me that Gallo will be their starting first baseman in 2017.

 

Andrew Miller to the Indians for Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and JP Feyereisen

While the Indians might not have as many hard throwers in their bullpen as the Rangers, their bullpen is definitely a strength. Adding Miller to the mix only makes it moreso. One could reasonably argue that the Indians have the best pitching staff in the majors, top to bottom and could conceivably give the Cubs nightmares like they experienced in last yearís post-season against the Mets were the two to meet in the Series. Whatís more is that Miller is under contract for a couple more years, as are the other major contributors on the staff, so this group has a pretty nice window of opportunity.

 

People have been raving about the return the Yankees obtained in this and the Chapman deal but I donít see it. Frazier is a nice player but I donít see him becoming a star. Both he and Sheffield are undersized and have several significant holes in their games. Similarly, Torres from the Chapman deal is a nice prospect but heís still in A-ball and also has a good amount to work on before we can start suggesting heís a star. Tate (from the aforementioned Beltran deal) might be a nice arm but someone has to figure out why he lost 5 mph off his fastball this year. To me, the Yankees got an awful lot of ďifĒ in trade. Thatís not to say that Brian Cashman didnít do well; just that I donít expect the Yankees to have built another dynasty from this yearís dump deals.

 

Mark Melancon to the Nationals for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn

For half a decade the Detroit Tigers had the best team in the majors, but because they did not have anyone to close out games - and I mean to shut down the opposition without even a whimper Ė they failed to win it all. For years they had the best pitcher and the best hitter and a supporting cast that could have been a contender even without them. And yet for lack of one guy to get those last three outs they have nothing to show for it. Each year, Dave Dombrowski would trot out a ďcloserĒ who was supposed to solve their problem but was clearly way past his prime, or a young flamethrower who was supposed to evolve into a ninth inning monster but never materialized. All he had to do was shell out a prospect or two to get THE guy. And he never did. It ended up being a death by paper cuts.

 

I bring this up because this is the course that Mike Rizzo appears to be taking as well. Last year, Drew Storen was solid but had a history of looking like a deer in the headlights on the big stage of October. So he went out and traded for a closer. Unfortunately it was for Jonathan Papelbon, who was obviously well past his prime, arguably not as effective as Storen and a pain in the neck in the clubhouse. This year, again all the Nats needed was just one guy to take the ninth and make the game Dusty-proof. There were a couple of options available in Aroldys Chapman and Andrew Miller. Craig Kimbrel could have been had as well. But Rizzo didnít want to pony up the prospects and instead opted for Mark Melancon. Donít get me wrong, Melancon is good; heís got more saves than anyone over the past three years and a stellar ERA. But the number of saves he got was a function of how the Pirates play baseball Ė they rely heavily on their bullpen(since 2013 theyíve only pitched two complete games as a team, fewest in the majors) Ė and the ERA is largely a function of the park he pitches in (1.59 ERA at PNC). Thereís also another concern that is not revealed by the numbers Ė pitch selection. In Pittsburgh, Melancon had the luxury of pitching to two of the gameís premier pitch callers in Francisco Cervelli and Russell Martin. In Washington, heíll have one of the worst in Wilson Ramos. In short, heís not a pitcher a team can just put on the mound and feel confident that a win is in the bag. Itís possible that wonít be a factor down the stretch but with Dustyís history of poor bullpen management itís just something else to think about. By the way, Melanconís post-season ERA is 6.35Ö one more thing to think about.

 

From the Pirates side, again, they look to have bettered themselves as Rivero has the type of arm that finishes games; he just needs some seasoning in a set-up role to get acclimated to the pressure. By the time the Bucs are ready to part with Tony Watson, who now moves into the 9th inning role, heíll be ready to take over.

 

Francisco Liriano, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez to the Blue Jays for Drew Hutchison + Ivan Nova to Pirates for two PTBNL

Hutchison and Nova are two intriguing fairly young arms to add to the Pirates rotation and giving up Liriano and his $13 million salary seems to be a fair trade-off. Liriano still has the stuff to dominate for a stretch and thatís what the Blue Jays are hoping to find. Itís an interesting challenge trade on both sides as neither Hutchison or Nova has developed as well as expected and Liriano has struggled to regain his all-star form. That said, if I had to bet I would go with the Pirates end of this one as they will have a better park, better league to pitch in and one of the best pitching coaches in the game to get them back on track.

 

Matt Moore to Giants for Matt Duffy, Michael Santos and Lucius Fox

Although a big deal has been made of Matt Duffy being included in this deal I donít know that heís not pretty easily replaceable. He had a great season last year but that was pretty much the best weíll see of him. Thereís not a lot of physical growth left in his body. In exchange, the Giants acquired one of the better left-handed arms in baseball. Heís still refining in his recovery from Tommy John surgery but he has tremendous talent. I canít imagine the Dodger line-up - with all their left-handed batters Ė is looking forward to facing both him and Bumgarner in a three game set.Sure, they match-up when Kerhsaw is on the mound but what about the other days? Which reminds meÖ

 

Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Dodgers for Jharel Colton, Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes 

I like the Josh Reddick end of this deal as he is an underrated player who can help his team win in a lot of ways. I like this aspect even more if the Dodgers find a taker for Yasiel Puig or one of their other outfielders so they donít have the logjam distraction again. What Iím not as keen on is the Dodger front officeís propensity to make smart deals rather than good ones. Iíll illustrate: no one questions that both Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy are talented pitchers. And when they are healthy they can shut just about anyone down. But when are they healthy? In 11 seasons in the majors, McCarthy has had two in which he pitched more than 135 innings. In Brett Andersonís seven seasons heís also had only two healthy years. So yeah, anyone would look like a genius to have these guys when they are healthy but by percentage that has only happened 22% of the time. Similarly, Rich Hill has pitched 12 years in the bigs and has only once threw more than 100 innings. So how many pitchers like this does a team have to have under contract in order to be assured to get one full season out of that rotation spot? At this rate the Dodgers could have the best rotation ever; the only drawback would be that they would have to have a 16-man rotation. So, sure, the Dodgers have a chance to have an incredible rotation in the post-season. But with Kershawís return uncertain, they also have as good a chance of having Ross Stripling as their ace. For a team that desperately needs certainty in the rotation, this was a pointless trade.

 

Jay Bruce to Mets for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell

This one was another trade that I donít get. Jay Bruce is a fine player but much of his value comes from playing in Great America Ballpark. At home he hits .254/.328/.502; on the road itís .244/.310/.439. Thatís almost 100 points in OPS and for a player who really only plays right field. That doesnít actually help a Mets team that already has a right fielder in Curtis Granderson and a young corner outfielder in Michael Conforto who just needs playing time. A few years ago Granderson played center but doesnít really have the range for it any more and Yoennis Cespedes canít play center full time so basically theyíll be asking a corner outfielder to play center every day of the week even though it wonít be the same guy every day in center. Even though Bruce is having a nice bounceback year it looks to me as though the Mets just traded for an older version of Michael Conforto. What makes it even more puzzling is that they gave up Dilson Herrera, who was supposed to take over at second base for Neil Walker after his contract expired at the end of this season.So trading for a player you already have by giving up a key piece to your future? Someone else will have to explain that one.

 

Hector Santiago and Alan Busenitz to Twins for Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer

Hereís another deal that didnít make much sense to me. Santiago is a pretty decent starter but the Angels are desperate for young players. Alex Meyer has a world of potential in his arm but his shoulder has not cooperated for much of his career leading many to suggest that his future is in the bullpen. The part that doesnít make sense is that they are taking Ricky Nolascoís contract and trading for basically the only commodity Ė right handed power arms in the bullpen Ė that they seem to have plenty of, all the while giving up a decent lefty for the rotation. How does this make them better, now or in the future?

 

Will Smith to the Giants for Andrew Susac and Phil Bickford

When the Giants won it all in 2010, 2012 and 2014 their bullpen was a significant strength and interestingly they werenít blessed with an overabundance of hard-throwers. They were efficient but they all gave hitters a different look so that each inning they could never get comfortable with an eye level or arm angle. It was like hitters were facing a Hindu god of pitching. Smith will be assuming the Jeremy Affeldt role as the primary lefty who can also be used against right-handed hitters. The key for their success, however, will be if Casilla can keep it together in the ninth.

 

Brandon Guyer to the Indians for Nathan Lukes and Jhonleider Salinas

This one was not a bad deal considering that the Tribe ranked 20th in OPS against lefties. Guyer canít hit right-handers but he is devastating against left-handers. His impact during the regular season might not be that great as the Tigers, Twins and Royals only have one lefty each in their respective rotations but the Indians still have tilts against the Rangers and the Astros, both of whom have tough lefties. And of course thereís their division rival, the White Sox, who have three lefties. Still, this move was more about October than August and September where theyíre likely to be facing off against either the Rangers (Hamels and Perez), Red Sox, (Price, Pomeranz and Rodriguez) or Blue Jays (Happ and Liriano).

 

Steve Pearce to the Orioles for Jonah Heim

Other than Joe Maddon, I donít think there is any competition as to who the best manager in the major leagues is: Buck Showalter. For the Orioles to have been as successful as they have been for the last three or four seasons without one top 30 starter is amazing. I canít think of anyone in history who has done more with less starting pitching. He does it by using all 25 players on the roster and it seems like he is especially adept at knowing the perfect situation to employ each playerís unique talents. So even though Pearce is a position player and has no place to play regularly, Showalter will find a way to make him impactful. Thatís what he does. And who knows, he might find a way to use him in the bullpen, too.

 

Joe Smith to Cubs for Jesus Castillo

Smith gives the Cubs another look (another style that canít easily be picked up by batters) with an effective arm for an already excellent bullpen.

 

Jesse Chavez to the Dodgers for Mike Bolsinger

Yawn.

 

Josh Fields to the Dodgers for Yordan Alvarez

Fields is an intriguing arm Ė definitely upper end of the velocity spectrum. But heís been that for a decade and still no closer to being reliable.

 

Jon Niese to the Mets for Antonio Bastardo

Two pitchers who went to better situation yet failed to take advantage and are now back where they started.

 

 

Final Assessment:

The teams that helped themselves the most were the Rangers, Indians, Giants and Pirates. The Twins and Brewers did nice jobs of preparing for next year with their deals, too. I was underwhelmed by the Nationalsí moves, but fortunately they inhabit the same division as the Mets who were even more puzzling.The Dodgers still seem like theyíd rather be smart than good which may come back to bite them because the Rockies are better than they are given credit for. If Kershaw misses significant time, the Dodgers could finish third in the West. The Cubs are still the team to beat in the NL and they continued to improve through trades, while the AL just got a whole lot more interesting.