Superstar trades are the most fun type of deadline trade, but the majority of deals before July 31 will involve more ordinary talent. Typically, these players don’t really move the needle on playoff chances in the aggregate; the largest benefit they deliver is to sand off a nick in the team’s roster construction. We haven’t seen many of these trades just yet, but the working hypothesis — with which I agree — is that one trade deadline ought to make teams more interested in these types of moves since they no longer have the luxury of an additional month to see if they’re needed at all.
Baseball being baseball, some of these minor acquisitions may end up being instant superstars for their new teams.
For instance, Randy Winn was hardly a mediocre player and, using modern constructions of Wins Above Replacement, you can make a very good case that he was a borderline star in 2002-2004 leading up to his trade. That wasn’t really his reputation at the time, and having a fairly run-of-the-mill season with the Mariners, he only fetched the endlessly injured Jesse Foppert and the endlessly Yorvit Torrealba, Yorvit Torrealba. Winn responded to the trade by literally putting up Mike Trout-levels of WARitude, a .359/.391/.680, 3.6 WAR hitting double-digit WAR totals on a seasonal basis.
And Doyle Alexander, a solid pitcher mid-career for the Blue Jays, is chiefly remembered in lore for two things. The first is being the player who used a rarely exercised part of the CBA to demand a trade after being dealt during a multi-year contract with more than five years of service time. Alexander did not realize that it lost him his free agent rights for a time. The second, and more famous thing, he’s remembered for is being traded for John Smoltz. Alexander’s 9-0, 1.53 ERA effort in 11 starts was crucial to getting Detroit in the playoffs, but the Tigers weren’t secret geniuses.
Getting back to 2019 playoffs, here are some of the most interesting players who are likely available for trade at a price that doesn’t involve giving up top prospects.
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles
The sight of Dylan Bundy’s 5.14 ERA is ugly, but in 2019 Camden Yards, that’s only moderately below-average. Bundy has stayed healthy for years and a few of the fringe contenders, including the Giants, could use a moderately healthy starting pitcher who isn’t very good. But there’s actual upside here. Going back and crunching the 2019 projections for current major league starters, but assuming the 2019 environment as the baseline, ZiPS thought Bundy was the pitcher that would be hurt the second-most by ZiPS guessing too low on the homers (the first was Dan Straily). A literal change of environment, or a team that seems better equipped at developing him as a junkballer, would be a fascinating change for Bundy. And the O’s can hardly be demanding that much at this point.
Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers
I’m actually fairly surprised Shin-Soo Choo’s name hasn’t popped up more the last few weeks, especially with the Rangers willing to talk trade on Mike Minor. As Choo’s contract slowly winds down, the financial constraints to work out with a new team become easier to deal with, and his OBPitude is a fun alternative to some of the more out-laden sluggers available. Getting Willie Calhoun at-bats ought to be a priority for the Rangers, after all, and it’s hard to do that without Texas trading someone from the outfield. Plus, Choo’s already selling his house.
Tanner Roark, Cincinnati Reds
Mike Minor’s attracted a lot of attention, but both ZiPS and Steamer project Roark to be just two runs worse than Minor over the rest of the season. There was some uproar about me “only” giving Albert Abreu and Clarke Schmidt to the Yankees in my piece earlier this week, but Tanner Roark may not even fetch one of those two (or other, similar prospects). Roark’s probably a more significant pickup for a contending team than Yasiel Puig, a Reds player who is generating much more interest at present. The Reds have played better than their 46-54 record, but that record still makes the playoff math daunting.
Corey Dickerson, Pittsburgh Pirates
Corey Dickerson is unsigned for next season and it’s hard to see the Pirates being gung-ho about bringing him back on a larger, guaranteed contract. Dickerson’s healthy now and is putting up his typical wRC+ around 120. Given that he can actually field his position, I personally think he’s far more interesting a pickup than Nicholas Castellanos would be. The Pirates aren’t technically out of the playoff picture, but as they now have the second-worst record in the National League, the camera can’t see them standing behind the large adult sons.
Mike Leake, Seattle Mariners
Mike Leake is no Kelly Leak, but he’s just about the most nondescript league-average inning-eater in the post-Jeremy Guthrie era. Since 2012, Leake hadn’t had a single season below 1.5 WAR or above 3.0 WAR. He also made 30 starts in every single one of those seasons. He’s not flashy, but serious playoff contenders ought to be rather risk-averse with their starting pitching, especially now that you can’t claim someone like Leake in August. It’s uncertain whether the Mariners would prefer salary relief or a better prospect, but the can team with starting pitcher injuries like the Astros or Indians afford to balk at either option?
Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers
The idea of getting Willie Calhoun more at-bats is the same here as it would be with a Choo trade, but after four seasons and little (I’m being nice) improvement, Texas has to be nearing wit’s end with Nomar Mazara even though he’s still just 24 years old. It’s not the typical trade deadline move, but I’d definitely be interested to see if there’s anyone willing to bet something of value on being able to fix the former top prospect.
Buck Farmer, Detroit Tigers
Buck Farmer’s shown a great deal of development the last couple of seasons, finally fixing some of the issues that plagued him as a prospect. First, while he was always expected to sit at 93-95 mph comfortably, his fastball never had much vertical bite. This year, he’s added two inches of drop, enough to get him into above-average range. That’s been enough to increase his fastball grounders to 40% of balls hit in play, compared to under 30% in 2017 and 2018, and drop his average launch angle on fastballs from 21 degrees to 12 degrees (from .671 SLG to .414).
The other knock on Farmer — unimpressive breaking stuff — has also largely been dealt with. He’s chopped three-to-four mph on his slider, turning it back into slurve territory (which I’m not using here as an insult), with enough break that it’s causing some confusion among the pitch algorithms as to whether it’s a slider or a curve. Farmer’s already nearing 30 and the Tigers are years away from needing interesting relievers. Maybe not in the heat of a playoff run, but I’d like to see Farmer get some looks as a starter again.
Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
The Royals may be a difficult trade partner given their rumored demands for Whit Merrifield, but Kansas City has him on a very inexpensive contract, reducing the financial consequences of keeping him for their 2020 pennant fantasies. At $15 million per, the team may not have the same motivation with Danny Duffy, who has at least partially rehabilitated his value after an unimpressive 2018. $15 million may be a lot for the Royals, but it really shouldn’t be a huge barrier for a team wanting to acquire a pitcher who can help them beyond 2018. There’s no guarantee the Royals will be reasonable in their demands for Duffy, but it’s something I’d at least want to explore.
Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.