A Quick Look at Midsummer Intradivisional Trades: AL Edition

As I was saying before the busiest trade deadline day on record — yes, my timing of this two-part series was impeccable — Monday’s trade of Jason Vargas to the Phillies was noteworthy as the rare intradivisional pre-deadline swap. Some might view in-season deals with direct rivals to be taboo, but they do occur, and as the July 31 trade deadline approached, it seemed like a fun idea to examine their recent history.

To keep this from becoming unruly, I’ve confined my focus to the 2012-19 period, the era of two Wild Cards in each league — a cutoff chosen because it expands not only the number of teams who make the playoffs, but also the group who can at least envision themselves as contenders. For this, I’m using the Baseball-Reference Trade Partners tool and counting only trades that occurred in June, July, or August, which we might more accurately call midsummer deals rather than deadline ones — though some of them were definitely of that variety. I’ve omitted straight purchases, which generally involve waiver bait, though I have counted deals in which cash changed hands instead of a player to be named later.

If you’re looking for a basis of comparison, in the companion piece to this, covering the National League, I found that the NL division with the most deals fitting the description within the period was the NL East, with 12, with five such deals taking place in the NL Central, and just three in the NL West, none of them involving the Dodgers; this year’s deadline didn’t change any of those tallies. The most notable NL deal in this class was a July 27, 2012 one that sent Marco Scutaro from the Rockies to the Giants, whom he not only helped win a World Series but earned NLCS MVP honors along the way. Since I worked from West to East in the NL edition to emphasize some of those points, we’ll take these divisions in the same order.

Midsummer Trades 2012-19: AL West
Team Astros Angels Athletics Mariners Rangers Total
Astros 2 1 0 (6/2010) 1 4
Angels 2 1 0 (12/2012) 0 (6/2018) 3
Athletics 1 1 1 1 4
Mariners 0 (6/2010) 0 (12/2012) 1 0 (4/2019) 1
Rangers 1 0 (6/2018) 1 0 (4/2019) 2
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
For combinations with no midsummer trades, the dates in parentheses note the last transaction involving the two teams.

I had already written a complete draft of the NL edition of this when I made a mid-process decision to go back and exclude midsummer purchases from both editions, mainly because this particular division has been lousy with them (I’m looking primarily at you, Rangers) and recounting them doesn’t make for compelling reading or get at the points I’m trying to make.

With those omitted, the team at the center of the majority of this division’s midsummer deals — indeed, the only one to execute one such deal with every other team — has been the A’s, though I’m not sure that Billy Beane would conclude that such trades are a new market inefficiency to exploit. They’ve had it both ways, dealing prospects for veteran help while contending twice, and going the other direction in a couple of down years. On the former note, on July 30, 2013, they sent second base prospect Grant Green to the Angels in exchange for infielder Alberto Callaspo, who played a part on their 2013 and ’14 playoff teams, and then on August 31 of last year, they sent two prospects (Abdiel Mendoza and Teodoro Ortega) to the Rangers for Cory Gearrin, who made all of six appearances for them. On the latter note, on July 23, 2015, they sent Scott Kazmir to the Astros in exchange for Jacob Nottingham and the well-mustachioed Daniel Mengden, and on August 6, 2017, they sent Yonder Alonso to Seattle in exchange for the second Boog Powell. Note that despite all of Jerry Dipoto’s wheeling and dealing, that’s the only Mariners deal that fits the bill for this period. Evidently, Seattle’s GM did not take that as a challenge this year.

The Astros, who didn’t join the division until 2013 (they had one intradivision trade in the NL, with the Pirates, in 2012), when they were in the midst of their rebuilding effort, traded pitcher Travis Blackley to the Rangers for cash on August 14 of that year. When they improved enough to work towards a playoff spot in 2015, they tabbed the A’s for Kazmir, who did not pitch well down the stretch but did make a start in the AL Division Series against the Royals. On July 26, 2018, with catcher Brian McCann undergoing knee surgery in early July, they sent pitcher Patrick Sandoval and international slot money to the Angels in exchange for catcher Martin Maldonado. As it turns out, their reacquisition of Maldonado this July 31 led to the day’s only intradivisional swap, that of catcher Max Stassi to the Angels for two 18-year-old outfield prospects, Rainier Rivas and Raider Uceta.

Midsummer Trades 2012-19: AL Central
Team White Sox Indians Tigers Royals Twins Total
White Sox 0 (12/2018) 1 1 1 3
Indians 0 (12/2018) 1 0 (6/2004) 0 (5/2019) 1
Tigers 1 1 0 (4/2012) 0 (8/2011) 2
Royals 1 0 (6/2004) 0 (4/2012) 1 2
Twins 1 0 (5/2019) 0 (8/2011) 1 2
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
For combinations with no midsummer trades, the dates in parentheses note the last transaction involving the two teams.

There’s been even less in the way of intradivision midsummer action in the AL Central. The Indians have stayed out of it entirely save for the Leonys Martin deal with the Tigers last July 31, when they sent switch-hitting Double-A shortstop Willi Castro back to Detroit. The move made a ton of sense at the time given Martin’s offensive upturn, but a life-threatening bacterial infection limited him to just six games the rest of the way, and he’s struggled mightily this year.

The White Sox have been in the center of what Central action there is, covering three of the other four deals. On July 28, 2012, they traded infielder Eduardo Escobar and lefty reliever Pedro Hernandez for lefty Francisco Liriano, who proved too enigmatic for pitching coach Don Cooper to fix (Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage would have more success). On July 30, 2013, they were part of a three-way, seven-player trade with the Tigers and Red Sox; while Jake Peavy and José Iglesias were the most notable players in that deal, which helped Boston win that year’s World Series, the only player that changed hands between the two division rivals was outfielder Avisaíl García, who had an uneven time in six years on the South Side but did make the AL All-Star team in 2017. Finally, on July 30, 2017, the Sox traded outfielder Melky Cabrera to the Royals in exchange for a pair of pitching prospects (Andre Davis and A.J. Puckett) who have yet to rise above A-ball; Cabrera was unable to recover the high-average form he showed in Kansas City in 2011, when he rapped out a career-high 201 hits.

The division’s other deal was a minor one, with the Twins trading Josh Willingham to the Royals for pitching prospect Jason Adam on August 11, 2014. The 35-year-old outfielder did get to cap his 11-year major league career with a World Series appearance, while it took Adam four years to reach the majors for what proved to be a rough go, with a 6.12 ERA in 31 appearances.

Midsummer Trades 2012-19: AL East
Team Orioles Red Sox Yankees Rays Blue Jays Total
Orioles 4 2 2 0 (3/2019) 8
Red Sox 4 1 1 1 7
Yankees 2 1 0 (2/2018) 2 5
Rays 2 1 0 (2/2018) 1 4
Blue Jays 0 (3/2019) 1 2 1 4
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
For combinations with no midsummer trades, the dates in parentheses note the last transaction involving the two teams.

Ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to intradivisional midsummer swaps, we have a winner. The AL East has been the division most open to such deals, with 14, and the Orioles, who made the playoffs three times within the span but have since become the majors’ doormats, have been involved in more of them than any other team, with the Red Sox a close second. Those two teams paired up for one of the most impactful deals in this exercise, namely the July 31, 2014 trade that sent reliever Andrew Miller to Baltimore in exchange for pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. Miller sparkled down the stretch and into the postseason, allowing just three runs in 27 innings while striking out 42, while Rodriguez has been a fragile but useful back-end starter for the Red Sox for the past five seasons.

Those two teams have hooked up three other times in this context. On August 30, 2014, the Red Sox traded utilityman Kelly Johnson — who as noted in the NL edition was twice dealt from the Braves to the Mets under such circumstances — and third base prospect Michael Almanzar to the Orioles for infielders Ivan De Jesus and Jemile Weeks. On June 3, 2015, the O’s sent the Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza for pitching prospect Joe Gunkel, and on July 13 of this year, they dealt starter Andrew Cashner to Boston for a pair of Venezuela-born 17-year-olds in the Dominican Summer League, Elio Prado and Noelberth Romero.

It just so happens that Johnson was obtained by the Red Sox in their only deal with the Yankees since August 1997 (the Mike Stanley trade). On July 31, 2014, he was sent to Boston in exchange for shortstop Stephen Drew; as such, I think it’s fair to crown Johnson the king of this type of deal. Meanwhile, the Red Sox added a pair of postseason heroes last summer via this route, obtaining World Series MVP Steve Pearce from the Blue Jays on June 28 in exchange for infield prospect Santiago Espinal, and adding starter-turned-reliever Nathan Eovaldi from the Rays on July 25 in exchange for lefty Jalen Beeks. Re-signing the pair via free agency hasn’t exactly worked out, but their October heroics stand.

Drew performed dismally for the Yankees (.187/.257/.352 with -0.6 WAR in 583 PA), but New York did pretty well in a couple of intradivisional deals last summer. On July 24, they acquired reliever Zack Britton from the Orioles for a trio of pitching prospects (Cody Carroll, Josh Rogers, and Dillon Tate, all of whom have all been lit up in limited duty in Baltimore this year), and two days later, they added J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney. Both pitchers helped the Yankees claim a Wild Card spot and were re-signed as free agents, though the results have been mixed there, too. The Yankees’ other deal with the Orioles merely involved receiving international slot money for pitcher Matt Wotherspoon on July 2, 2017. Their other deal with the Blue Jays, on July 23 2017, sent super-utilityman Rob Refsnyder to Toronto for first base prospect Ryan McBroom.

Like Johnson, Pearce has played for every team in this division, so of course he turns up in this context again. On August 1, 2016, the Rays traded him to the Orioles — with whom he’d already served two stints, in mid-2012 (after being purchased from the Yankees) and then from 2013-15 — for catcher Jonah Heim. Those two teams paired up on July 31, 2017 as well, in a deal that sent shortstop Tim Beckham to Baltimore for righty prospect Tobias Myers. Meanwhile, the Rays and Jays just hooked up on the Eric Sogard blockbuster on Monday, so it’s a bit early to ask about the two players yet to be named.

In all, I think it’s fair to say that the Miller/Rodriguez, Eovaldi, and Pearce transactions can stand with the Scutaro deal in showing that such midsummer intradivisional trades can have a major impact, but for the most part, these deals tend to be smaller ones. Going forward, the loss of the August waiver period will almost certainly cut into the frequency of such trades, but their mix of short-term payoffs and long-term consequences still makes them worth noting.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

4 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Joe Joemember
3 years ago

That Dipoto just doesn’t like to make trades….