Deadline Deals and Non-Deals I Liked… and Didn’t Like

The 2019 trade deadline has come and gone, and while it provided a frenzy of late-breaking activity, ultimately it offered far more quantity than quality. With the exception of Trevor Bauer, Zack Greinke, and Marcus Stroman, most of the top starters whose names have been tossed around for the past several weeks — including Matthew Boyd, Madison Bumgarner, Mike Minor, Robbie Ray, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler — ended up staying put, and likewise when it came to relievers. What’s more, there weren’t many big bats dealt, and in general, the combination of too many teams that view themselves as contenders and the loss of the August waiver period led to approaches that felt far too risk-averse.

Regarding the volume, first consider the accounting of True Blue LA’s Eric Stephen from a year ago as compared to this year. Last year, there were 18 trades on July 31, and 37 from July 25 onward. This year there were 22 on July 31, and 35 from July 25 onward. In terms of quality, last year there were six position players (Manny Machado, Eduardo Escobar, Tommy Pham, Ian Kinsler, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Mike Moustakas) who had higher WARs at the time they were dealt than this year’s leader, Franmil Reyes (1.4). On the other hand, this year had more pitchers above that baseline (five to four), and where J.A. Happ led last year’s brigade at just 2.0 WAR, Greinke (3.6, not counting his 0.7 as a hitter), Stroman (2.9) and Bauer (2.7) all surpassed that. Finally, by the accounting of colleague Ben Clemens — whose study of deadline activity goes back to 1986 and can be found here — last year, there were 143 players traded in all of July; they had totaled 64.9 WAR in 2017 and were on pace to total 62.1 WAR in 2018. This year, there were 126 such players dealt; they totaled 55.1 WAR in 2018 and were on pace for just 45.6 WAR this year.

What follows here is a breakdown of five of my favorite trades (or in some cases, sets of trades) of July and five of my least favorite trades and non-trades. Admittedly, I’m viewing these with a vague bias towards winning now, and against your favorite team (I kid, I kid). In some cases, I wrote about these deals myself, while for others, I’ll refer you to the fine analysis of my colleagues in order to keep this from becoming a novel.

Favorites

1. Astros acquire RHP Zack Greinke from Diamondbacks for four prospects

To these eyes, the boldest move of the deadline was clearly the best. At a time when so many other top contenders talked themselves out of paying high prices to acquire top talent, the Astros — who already owned the AL’s best record (69-39, .639) — added the 35-year-old Greinke in exchange for righties J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin, first baseman Seth Beer, and infielder/outfielder Josh Rojas. As Dan Szymborski detailed, Greinke’s curve keeps getting better and better, and he’s currently ninth in the majors in pitching WAR (it’s a shame he likely won’t bat much the rest of the way).

While the two pitchers Houston sent to Arizona ranked fourth and third respectively on the Astros’ prospect list as of March, none of the players they dealt rank among our Top 100 prospects, and Martin, who made five appearances for the Astros in May and June, recently underwent Tommy John surgery. That Greinke’s contract runs through 2021, with the Diamondbacks picking up about 31% of the remaining tab, makes this all the better for the Astros, as it protects them against the potential loss of Gerrit Cole in free agency while costing them only about $22.7 million per year on an annualized basis.

2. Indians acquire OF Yasiel Puig, OF Franmil Reyes, LHP Logan Allen, 3B Victor Nova, and LHP Scott Moss for RHP Trevor Bauer

While I think that all three teams in Tuesday night’s three-way trade made out fine, it’s the Indians’ angle I like the best, particularly given that they hold the top AL Wild Card spot and have closed to within three games of the Twins. I’ve harped again and again about the team’s offseason failures and lousy outfield and DH production, and here they’ve addressed those problems, both in the short- and long-term.

While dealing Bauer presents some risk, he was clearly the cause of some headaches for manager Terry Francona, and the emergence of Shane Bieber and the strong work of Mike Clevinger since returning from injuries makes the move more defensible, particularly if the Indians believe that some combination of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar can contribute down the stretch. Allen may not be ready yet, but pitching prospects with Future Values of 50 don’t grow on trees, and as the aforementioned names suggest, Cleveland’s track record with young pitching recently has been very good. Plus, this deal means that Bauer’s last act as an Indian was this:

Of course, Puig’s last act as a Red was this (starting around the 2:12 mark):

Keep that Excedrin close, Terry.

3. Cubs acquire OF Nicholas Castellanos from Tigers for RHP Alex Lange and RHP Paul Richan

Last year, Castellanos set across-the-board career highs in all three slash stats (.298/.354/.500) as well as wRC+ (130) and WAR (3.0), and while he hasn’t lived up to that in his age-27 season, he’s moving to a park that’s more favorable for righty power. He’s not a perfect fit for the Cubs’ lineup, though by bumping Jason Heyward to center field and Albert Almora Jr. to the bench, he helps upgrade Chicago’s offense even if it does come at the expense of their outfield defense. Where the righty bat particularly helps is against lefties; the Cubs have hit just .235/.319/.423 against southpaws, for a 92 wRC+ (tied for 19th in the majors). Castellanos has hit .340/.392/.590 against lefties since the start of 2017; his 160 wRC+ in that context ranks ninth. The two pitching prospects the Cubs gave up, who grade out at 40 FV and 35 FV, respectively, aren’t likely to come back to haunt them. For more, see my writeup here.

4. Braves acquire RHP Shane Greene from Tigers, RHP Mark Melancon from Giants, and RHP Chris Martin from Rangers

“But wait, that’s three trades!” you’re probably saying, but I can’t hear you over this Stereolab live set, and since it’s my list, it’s my rules. While the Braves’ bullpen entered Wednesday ranked third in the NL in ERA (4.15), the unit was 12th in FIP (4.78), 11th in K-BB% (12.7%), and ninth in K% (23.8%). Greene’s 1.18 ERA isn’t supported by his peripherals, but he does miss bats (28.5% K rate) and generate groundballs galore (53.8%). Melancon isn’t as good as he was prior to his forearm woes, which limited him to 69 innings in 2017-18, but his 3.33 FIP, 0.58 HR/9, and 61.4% groundball rate all suggest he can help. The oft-injured Martin, who’s 33 and has never surpassed 41.2 innings in a major league season, is more of a curiosity given his extreme strikeout and walk rates (29.3% and 2.7%, respectively), and getting out of Arlington, where he’s allowed six homers in 21 innings this year, should help. While I’m no prospect hound, I don’t see anything that they gave up in young pitching (Kolby Allard, Tristan Beck, Joey Wentz, Dan Winkler – in deals addressed here, here, and here) that they can’t live without (that the Giants have already designated Winkler for assignment reinforces my stance), and the fact that they took on Melancon’s remaining $18 million, after pinching pennies in so many different ways, certainly helped that.

5. Mets acquire Marcus Stroman for LHP Anthony Kay and RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson

I’ve warmed to this one since writing about it on Sunday and seeing what the Mets have done since — or haven’t, since they didn’t trade either Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler. Oddly, I get the impression that the fact that they obtained Stroman, who has one-plus year of club control remaining, for two pitchers who are viewed merely as 45 FV prospects may have undercut the offers they received on their pair. There was no reason to sell low on Syndergaard, who has two-plus years of control remaining; a rotation with Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Stroman, and Steven Matz has the potential to be one of the NL’s best next year. While I’m not crazy about the fact that they kept Wheeler, a pending free agent who surely could have brought back something of value, the combination of their front five, their current 12-4 surge, and the league’s fourth-softest remaining schedule does leave them with a chance to salvage some respectability this season. Their playoff odds are up to 19.1%, after all.

Least favorite

1. Yankees fail to add a starting pitcher

They lead the AL East by 7.5 games, but their rotation has been lit up for a 6.23 ERA and 5.82 FIP in July, and the seams are showing. They’ve been without Luis Severino all season and may not get him back as a starter. CC Sabathia is on the injured list for the third time this year (and second time to deal with his troublesome right knee). Masahiro Tanaka has struggled with his splitter due to the lower seams on this year’s ball, and neither James Paxton nor J.A. Happ have lived up to expectations. Brian Cashman is said to have pursued Wheeler, Bumgarner, Ray, Stroman, and who knows who else, but save for a minor league deal involving pitchers Alfredo Garcia and Joe Harvey, for once, he came home empty-handed on deadline, even given his reported willingness to deal outfielder Clint Frazier. Yes, their bullpen is strong, but today it’s very difficult to envision this team getting past the Astros.

2. Red Sox fail to add a late-inning reliever

I’ve written about Boston’s bullpen woes again and again, to the point that I might break the record for sounding like a broken record. After failing to adequately replace free agents Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly, and watching one of their key late-inning options, Ryan Brasier, pitch his way back to Triple-A, their relief corps entered Wednesday a respectable fifth in the AL in FIP (4.16) but just 10th in ERA (4.53) and last in walk rate (10.6%). At the beginning of the month, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager Alex Cora announced plans to use Nathan Eovaldi — then recuperating from arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies in his right elbow — as their closer, a job the 29-year-old righty has never held before. So far, he’s allowed five runs in 3.2 innings over four appearances, and isn’t yet ready to handle save situations. The Sox explored trading for Greene as well as Andrew Chafin, Edwin Díaz, Daniel Hudson, and Will Smith… but wound up with bupkis. That will put more stress on their existing options, such as they are.

Dombrowski said he didn’t like the cost of any potential acquisition, particularly given that “Realistically, we’re probably playing first for a wild-card spot… If we were closer to first place, I would’ve been more open-minded.” While that makes some sense, it’s difficult to justify not finding some smaller way to enhance your chances to win when you’re already carrying a major league-high $236 million payroll. In for a penny, in for a pound.

3. Dodgers fail to add an impact reliever

Another bullpen situation that I’m prone to prattling on about. While their unit entered Wednesday fourth in the NL in ERA (4.17) and fifth in FIP (4.31), it doesn’t look anything close to the ‘pens that helped them reach back-to-back World Series. While Joe Kelly, their big offseason addition, has pitched better lately (2.12 ERA and 2.52 FIP since the start of June) after delivering an 8.35 ERA and 5.57 FIP through the end of May, Kenley Jansen no longer looks like an elite closer; he’s pitched to a 4.24 ERA and 3.58 FIP since the start of June. Pedro Baez and Caleb Ferguson have regressed from last year’s strong contributions, Yimi García can’t keep the ball in the park, and Dylan Floro, Ross Stripling, and Scott Alexander are all on the IL, not that any of them holds the key to the unit’s success.

The Dodgers tried to pry the Pirates’ Felipe Vázquez loose, but reportedly wouldn’t include either infielder Gavin Lux (number 10 overall on THE BOARD) or righty Dustin May (number eight) alongside catcher Keibert Ruiz (number 12), and I can’t say I blame them. They couldn’t get Díaz or Greene, whom they were interested in as well. They did add sinkerballing lefty Adam Kolarek from the Rays, but he’s not enough to move the needle. The best they can hope for now is that their surplus of starters — including a healthy Rich Hill, eventually — allows them to bolster the bullpen down the stretch, as in years past.

4. Nationals acquire LHP Roenis Elias, RHP Daniel Hudson, and RHP Hunter Strickland

I’m playing the hits on this list, so here’s another number you’ve heard me sing before, this one about about the bullpen being the bane of general manager Mike Rizzo’s existence. Over the years, Rizzo’s failure to adequately address the team’s bullpen depth and quality in the offseason has cost them talent such as Nick Pivetta (to the Phillies in 2015 for Jonathan Papelbon), Vazquez (to the Pirates in 2016 for Melaoncon), and Jesus Luzardo and Blake Treinen (both to the A’s for Doolittle and Ryan Madson in 2017). While the Nationals added Trevor Rosenthal, who missed all of last year due to Tommy John surgery, and Kyle Barraclough before the season, it wasn’t anywhere close to enough. Rosenthal was released on June 23, Barraclough has pitched to a 6.66 ERA and 6.58 FIP, and the unit as a whole entered Wednesday with an MLB-worst 5.99 ERA; their 4.80 FIP was merely the third-worst in the NL.

So yes, they needed help, and in bulk (you can read about the deals here and here). For as much as I like Hudson, his peripherals aren’t much better than they were with the Dodgers last year. Strickland’s results have never matched his stuff, and he’s got just 3.1 innings under his belt this year after missing time due to a lat strain; that he’s a National now, after brawling with Bryce Harper, is quite amusing. Elias has been replacement level fodder for most of his career. To borrow an Abraham Lincoln phrase that my former Baseball Prospectus colleague Steven Goldman was fond of citing, “If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.”

5. Blue Jays trade IF Eric Sogard and RHPs Joe Biagini, Daniel Hudson, David Phelps, Aaron Sanchez, and Marcus Stroman for… stuff

I was originally tempted to include the Giants here for not selling Bumgarner and Smith, but having slept on it and done some homework, I’ve reconsidered my position, and more fully understand the decision to blow up most of the bullpen, free up some payroll, restock the system, and stay invested in the season. So instead I’m going with the Blue Jays here.

Look, I’m no prospect expert by any stretch of the imagination, but like a Holiday Inn Express customer, the knowledge I draw from my surroundings — in this case, primarily the expertise of colleagues Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel in the form of their team prospect rankings and THE BOARD, but also other voices within the industry whose work I read and respect — makes me feel like one sometimes. I’m no scout, either, but I can read a dang prospect list, and looking at the Blue Jays’ one after they’ve dealt all of the aforementioned players, I’m hardly wowed.

Hudson and Sogard were pending free agents, but Stroman and Sanchez each had a year of control remaining, while Biagini had three years remaining, and Phelps an affordable club option. For all of the prospects they received — Kay and Woods-Richardson for Stroman; outfielder Derek Fisher for Sanchez, Biagini, and outfield prospect Cal Stevenson; righty Thomas Hatch for Phelps; and righty Kyle Johnston for Hudson — the big picture seems pretty underwhelming. They sold early on Stroman (why not wait a couple of days?) and low on Sanchez (6.07 ERA, 5.03 FIP), and they took in far more quantity than quality, as none of the newcomers is a top 100 prospect, not even for Stroman, the best player they traded. GM Ross Atkins’ claim that he “turned 14 years of control into 42 years of control” isn’t going to sell a single ticket.

On THE BOARD, Woods-Richardson grades out at a 45+ Future Value and Kay a 45. Reasonable minds can certainly differ when it comes to prospects — MLB Pipeline grades both as 50s, for example — but neither cracks their top 100, let alone ours, and they currently rate as the team’s fifth- and sixth-best prospects, respectively. Fisher was a 45 two years ago, before hitting for a 77 wRC+ in his first 312 major league plate appearances, which is to say that his stock is down. Of the rest, Hatch (40 FV) ranks 28th on the team’s list, while Johnston doesn’t crack it. If the relievers weren’t going to bring back much individually, perhaps they could have done better by bundling them.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… perhaps I’ll get a good night’s sleep now that the deadline is past.





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.

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Collinmember
3 years ago

Surprised no mention of the non-move of Bader or O’Neill for Wheeler here. An org supposedly mad at not making the playoffs since ’15 being unwilling to trade a depth position for what would be their potential number 1 seems like a major concern.

aschrag83member
3 years ago
Reply to  Collin

I think once some of the (justifiable!) anger with the Cardinals for making zero moves of any real impact has cooled, most will come around to the fact that it was pretty reasonable to walk away from Wheeler at that price. (I mean, unless Bader really has forgotten how to hit entirely, but that doesn’t seem too likely.)

They should have brought in a rotation arm. Not doing so was a major failure, and I’d have included it in Jay’s list. Not doing that particular deal, though… eh.

jcutigermember
3 years ago
Reply to  aschrag83

Wheeler has been better than any Cardinals starter this year by FIP/xFIP.

JupiterBrandomember
3 years ago
Reply to  Collin

Bader for Wheeler is a trade both teams should have been ecstatic to do. Really no excuse for the Cardinals walking away from that one.

cartermember
3 years ago
Reply to  Collin

Bader might end up being good, but I’d rather have O’Neil who also somehow is one of the fastest players in the game

sadtrombonemember
3 years ago
Reply to  Collin

Maybe I’m the wrong person to answer this question, because I don’t understand why the Cardinals aren’t playing Bader.

But it seems like the Cardinals should be keeping and playing Bader, not trading him.

Fowler is good and all, but it’s hard to imagine that their best outfield arrangement doesn’t involve Bader in some way.

Lanidrac
3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Have you watched Bader hit this year?! His bat has sucked so badly this year that even his stellar defense hasn’t made up for it to deserve a starting job! He’s not going to start ahead of Ozuna, Fowler, Martinez, or O’Neill, and even Munoz and his <.700 OPS might be a better outfield option! The Cardinals can't afford to play Bader while contending for a playoff spot.

It's certainly too early to give up on Bader, and he does have some situational value as a pinch-runner and late inning defensive replacement, but his demotion is fully deserved. Meanwhile, he's not likely to break out of his slump while riding the bench, so AAA is the best place for him right now.

sadtrombonemember
3 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

I think you lost me where you said that Martinez and O’Neill should be starting ahead of Bader. I also suspect Bader is due for a lot of positive regression to the mean…his xwOBA is pretty promising compared to his actual wOBA.

Lanidrac
3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Of course they should. Even with his contact issues, O’Neill is still a decent overall hitter and plays good defense. As for Martinez, he’d be better as a bench bat (or an AL DH), but he can hit well enough to mostly make up for his terrible defense in a pinch. Aside from the battery, it’s better to have guys who can hit but can’t field than the opposite.

As for Bader’s possible regression, he’ll have a lot easier time figuring that out in AAA where he can play everyday and not cost the Big League team wins and hopefully be able to contribute more in a September call-up or maybe even sooner.

sadtrombonemember
3 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

Harrison Bader: 0.8 fWAR, 260 PAs
Tyler O’Neill: 0.2 fWAR, 136 PAs
Jose Martnez: 0.4 fWAR, 329 PAs
So basically, Bader is about twice as good as O’Neill and Martinez, potentially more. And before we start defending Martinez by noting he played a bunch at 1B where he’s a bad defender, his defense is way worse in the outfield. And that’s with Bader getting awfully unlucky.

will1331member
3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

You’re leaving out the part where Bader’s xwOBA (.307) is in the 26th %tile & his .215 xBA is in the 6th %tile. This coming on the heels of last year’s .295 xwOBA, it safe to say Bader could use some ABs in AAA.

Any writer here on the site will tell you that splitting hairs over decimal points of WAR is worthless. All of the assumptions & error bars involved in the WAR calculation mean that while the formulas will spit out as many decimal points as you want, 0.8 fWAR vs 0.4 fWAR is not a meaningful difference. Given what we know about the accuracy of offensive & defensive WAR calculations, in an effective tie (like the sad horse race you posted above), I would take the O’Neill & Martinez over Bader’s contributions every single time.

sadtrombonemember
3 years ago
Reply to  will1331

So basically, you’re saying:
(1) The evidence isn’t strong enough to support any conclusion
(2) So my point is right

I refer you back to your logic textbook. Either it doesn’t matter or it does, but if it does matter it certainly doesn’t support your position.

BMac
3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Bader seems like a steep price to pay for a few months of Wheeler, esp. since the latter isn’t exactly an automatic W. as a prospect, you would never trade Bader, so maybe let him figure it out at AAA.

jcutigermember
3 years ago
Reply to  BMac

Going by FIP/xFIP, Wheeler is better than any Cardinals starter. So there’s that.

calebwmember
3 years ago
Reply to  jcutiger

I feel like I’ve read this somewhere before…

Lanidrac
3 years ago
Reply to  Collin

Since when is the MLB outfield a position of depth for the Cardinals?! They need everybody they currently have just to string one together right now, even with Ozuna due back soon. You can complain about not making a move for Wheeler or another starting pitcher, but they weren’t going to trade guys like Bader (even with his recently fully deserved demotion) or O’Neill to do it.

fjtorres
3 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

How times change: at this time last year they traded away Grichuck, Pham, and Mercado. Tampa, Toronto, and Cleveland seem happy.

sadtrombonemember
3 years ago
Reply to  fjtorres

Probably not Toronto, but that more to do with that extension than the trade.