The Trade Deadline Winners, Losers … and a Few Surprises by Craig Edwards September 1, 2020 An unusual season deserves an unusual trade deadline, and that’s what we got yesterday. With one-third of the league all but assured of a playoff spot, teams at the top were reticent to push in their chips for this season. There were a fair number of teams in the middle willing to take a chance on 2020, in contrast to the last few seasons. At the bottom, there were very few teams without a chance to win this season due to the expanded playoff format, which meant there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from for teams looking to get better this year. And while we won’t know the end result of these deals for at least a month (and, in the case of some of the players exchanged, perhaps for years), it doesn’t mean we can’t evaluate teams’ moves based on the information we have today. With that, let’s get to it. The Winners Toronto Blue Jays While some teams were looking to maximize value beyond the 2020 season, Toronto saw this year’s extra playoff spots as an opportunity and struck, without sending a ton of talent away. The team added two potential starters in Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray, as well as a starter/swingman type in Ross Stripling. They traded for a nice utility player/stopgap starter in Jonathan Villar. They added to their tower of beef in the lineup with Daniel Vogelbach. Toronto was likely to make the playoffs without adding much, given their 76% playoff odds as we head into September. But with Matt Shoemaker and Nate Pearson sidelined, the club’s depth in the rotation was thinning. Ray and Stripling have struggled this season and Walker hardly provides guaranteed production, but they don’t all have to work out to prove useful to the Blue Jays. The starters added could end up providing strength out of the bullpen or help allow others, like Pearson, to come back in a reliever role and fortify the late-innings. While a playoff berth isn’t a lock, Toronto did what was necessary to shore up a flawed roster in the hopes of playing in October without sacrificing much of the future. San Diego Padres The Padres look pretty safe as far as a playoff spot goes, so they went a different route than the Blue Jays did, focusing more on players with team control beyond this season. Sure, they added Trevor Rosenthal and Mitch Moreland (who does have a 2021 option), but their big moves were focused on 2020 and beyond. When a team lands the best player traded at the deadline — and that’s what Mike Clevinger represents — we can expect a significant package of players to head the other way. The trade that netted the right-hander featured a large quantity of players going to Cleveland, and perhaps a few will flourish there, but none of those moved were top prospects, and all carry significant risk regarding their future production. The team ended up moving Taylor Trammell to Seattle in a package headlined by catcher Austin Nola; Trammell was the highest ranked prospect San Diego traded at the deadline, and he wasn’t in their top four. The Padres have enviable prospect depth and they used it to get one of the better pitchers in the game. Those Clinging to Playoff Hopes The cost to trade for players at this deadline doesn’t appear to have been great, and teams with a reasonable chance of making the playoffs were active. In addition to the Blue Jays in the American League, the Reds, Marlins, Rockies, Mets, Phillies, and Giants all made smaller moves to improve their teams’ chances of making the playoffs. The biggest moves in this group were the Marlins’ addition of Starling Marte (who has a reasonable option for 2021) and the Reds’ trade for Archie Bradley, who is also under team control for another season. Those with No Playoff Hopes It’s too early to know exactly what teams will get from the bevy of prospects and players to be named later who moved, but the Mariners were able to snag the best prospect traded in Trammell in exchange for Nola who, despite his performance this year and remaining control, is 30 and has a short track record. They also moved players who likely didn’t have a future with the club in Vogelbach and Walker. The Orioles are in the early stages of their rebuild, and the need to bulk up their minor league system is still pretty great. The team moved a host of relievers as well as Tommy Milone to try to add depth to their farm. The returns might not provide much in terms of major league production, but they made the moves they needed to. The Red Sox moved some relievers, but held on to Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, which is a minor victory in their lost season. The Losers Teams Wanting Starting Pitching Many of us thought that Lance Lynn and Dylan Bundy might be on the move, but both ended up staying with their respective teams. Lynn is under contract for next year for right around $10 million while Bundy has another year of arbitration at a likely lesser cost. There were rumors about the White Sox, Twins, Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves (among others) wanting starting pitching, and the idea of trading for players who could help in 2021 had to be appealing. Ultimately, teams must have found the cost to be too high. While the Rangers and Angels could certainly draw some criticism for failing to extract the highest possible value for either player, it isn’t as though those teams won’t want to compete next season. The Angels are still trying to surround Mike Trout with a playoff-team — they brought in Anthony Rendon last offseason with that purpose in mind. The Rangers tried to thread the needle this season and failed, but in the first full season at their new ballpark, they’ll probably want to have a winning team. Good starting pitchers help teams win, and there was little reason to deal players with remaining team control without a good amount of talent coming back. Arizona’s 2021 Season Even after the team traded Paul Goldschmidt ahead of the 2019 season, Arizona was still able to compete. It’s not entirely clear what their plans are for next year, but moving Marte, who has a reasonable option, and Archie Bradley isn’t a great sign that the D-backs plan to get better next season. They still have a lot of talented players, but even with Madison Bumgarner’s salary going up next season, the team has only around $50 million in salary commitments in 2021, about half what they were looking at after last winter. Perhaps the D-backs are going to use that financial flexibility this offseason, or look to their farm system for reinforcements (they check in at ninth in our rankings right now), but their trades seemed more of the cost-cutting variety, and with the Dodgers still the Dodgers and the Padres on the rise, a contending season for Arizona is going to be difficult without more talent. The Surprises I think the Padres trading for a 30-year-old catcher with almost no track record — and giving up one of the better prospects in the game to do it — qualifies as a surprise and merits a deeper look into Austin Nola. The Rangers not moving Lance Lynn or Joey Gallo probably qualifies as a surprise, but hopefully signals their desire to compete next year. The White Sox not making more moves (they pulled off a minor swap for Jarrod Dyson last week) as they get back to the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons is a bit curious given the moves they made in the offseason to compete this year. With a likely playoff spot already theirs, they didn’t have to make a move, but their trade deadline stands in sharp contrast with the Padres’, who were in a similar position. The Cleveland return for Mike Clevinger is certainly an odd one. There’s some benefit of the doubt heading Cleveland’s way given their track record of player development, but the return feels light compared to Clevinger’s talent and remaining team control — he won’t hit free agency for another two years after this one. The Brewers are typically active when they are in a playoff position, but were mostly absent from the deadline this year, only trading David Phelps for a trio of Players to be Named Later. The Cubs picking up a few relievers wasn’t a surprise, and even trading for Cameron Maybin wasn’t a huge move, but sending Albert Almora Jr. off the active roster is not a great signal for his future. The Astros have been one of most aggressive teams in deadlines past, but did nothing this year. The same was true for their opponent in last year’s World Series, the Washington Nationals. The Non-Surprises The A’s filled a few holes at a low cost by trading for Tommy La Stella and Mike Minor. Tampa Bay traded away a player (José Martínez) who they traded for in the last year so they could get more playing time for a player they also acquired (Randy Arozarena) in the same trade as the one that netted them the player they traded away. They also added a defense-first outfielder (Brett Phillips). The Tigers traded Cameron Maybin. The Pirates didn’t have much to give to other teams, but did manage to get some international spending money for Jarrod Dyson in the aforementioned deal with the White Sox. Kansas City traded a reliever, but not enough relievers, and maybe Lucius Fox will end up in the majors. The Cardinals made no additions.