The ZiPS Trade Deadline Reshuffle

It’s sad to say farewell to what I think was the best trade deadline in the years I’ve been covering baseball, but at least there’s still an autopsy to do! With the league moving to a single trade deadline after eliminating the August waiver-trade shenanigans, this was the last, best opportunity for teams to make changes as we head into the season’s closing chapters.

So who won, who lost, and who finished in the murky middle? To aid us in answering those questions, I ran two sets of ZiPS projections. First, I ran the projections as of Monday morning with each team’s post-deadline roster. Then I ran ZiPS again with today’s standings and current injuries, but having undone all the additions over the two weeks before the trade deadline (including differences in WAR between players). I then compared the pre- and post-deadline projections. Some differences surprised me. Others … did not.

ZiPS Playoff Probabilities – Trade Deadline
Team Div% Before Div% After Chg Playoff% Before Playoff% After Chg WS Win% Before WS Win% Chg%
New York Yankees 5.8% 8.8% 3.0% 36.4% 45.1% 8.7% 2.3% 3.0% 0.8%
Atlanta Braves 10.9% 16.8% 5.9% 11.4% 18.1% 6.7% 0.7% 1.1% 0.4%
Milwaukee Brewers 86.5% 89.7% 3.2% 91.8% 93.8% 2.0% 10.6% 10.9% 0.3%
Philadelphia Phillies 24.3% 25.3% 1.0% 25.4% 27.2% 1.7% 1.6% 1.8% 0.1%
Toronto Blue Jays 4.8% 5.7% 0.9% 32.2% 33.7% 1.6% 2.0% 2.2% 0.2%
San Francisco Giants 43.1% 45.2% 2.0% 95.9% 97.4% 1.5% 9.8% 10.3% 0.4%
Los Angeles Dodgers 48.7% 49.2% 0.5% 97.3% 98.0% 0.7% 10.5% 10.6% 0.1%
Chicago White Sox 99.9% 100.0% 0.1% 99.9% 100.0% 0.1% 13.9% 14.0% 0.2%
Arizona Diamondbacks 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Baltimore Orioles 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Colorado Rockies 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Detroit Tigers 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Kansas City Royals 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Minnesota Twins 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Pittsburgh Pirates 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Texas Rangers 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Miami Marlins 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Chicago Cubs 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.3% 0.0% -0.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Cleveland Indians 0.1% 0.0% -0.1% 0.5% 0.1% -0.4% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Seattle Mariners 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 1.0% 0.5% -0.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Houston Astros 87.9% 87.2% -0.7% 97.2% 96.6% -0.6% 14.8% 14.6% -0.3%
St. Louis Cardinals 1.2% 0.8% -0.4% 4.3% 3.4% -0.9% 0.2% 0.2% -0.1%
Tampa Bay Rays 63.5% 60.8% -2.7% 92.7% 91.1% -1.6% 11.5% 11.2% -0.4%
San Diego Padres 8.2% 5.7% -2.5% 75.5% 73.8% -1.7% 4.4% 3.9% -0.4%
Washington Nationals 1.7% 0.0% -1.7% 1.7% 0.0% -1.7% 0.1% 0.0% -0.1%
Los Angeles Angels 0.1% 0.0% -0.1% 2.3% 0.5% -1.8% 0.1% 0.0% -0.1%
Oakland A’s 12.0% 12.8% 0.8% 60.7% 58.5% -2.2% 4.2% 4.2% 0.0%
Boston Red Sox 25.9% 24.7% -1.2% 77.1% 73.9% -3.2% 6.5% 6.1% -0.4%
Cincinnati Reds 12.2% 9.5% -2.7% 32.4% 28.8% -3.5% 2.1% 1.7% -0.4%
New York Mets 63.1% 57.9% -5.2% 64.0% 59.5% -4.5% 4.6% 4.3% -0.3%

The Winners

New York Yankees
Sometimes conventional wisdom is correct, and sometimes it is anything but. New York’s deadline falls into the first category. The Yankees came into the end of July well behind in the divisional race and fighting for their playoff lives. With a massive incentive to improve the team, they proceeded to do so aggressively, targeting an area of weakness: left-handed power hitting. Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo are giant additions to a struggling offense, while Andrew Heaney is better than his ERA and provides additional stability for a rotation that has mostly survived the injury bug. The Yankees had the largest change in their ZiPS playoff and World Series probabilities, so there was no question they’d end up here. Winning the division remains a long-shot, but they kept that hope alive, with the three other contending teams in AL East also making moves.

San Francisco Giants
The projections have regularly given the Dodgers a better shot at the division than the Giants, even when they’ve been behind in the standings by several games. That stems from the fact that ZiPS just doesn’t see the Giants as being this good of a team. Given that, any addition was going to have a larger effect on the Giants than an identical move would for the Dodgers, as Los Angeles is a team with few legitimate weaknesses. Kris Bryant is a big addition for San Francisco and he fits perfectly into the team’s current injury situation; he can play third now but has extensive experience in left field when Evan Longoria returns. ZiPS sees the Giants as an 85-win team — they’re safely going to beat that number, of course — and an 85-win team can win the World Series if they get to the playoffs.

Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are basically in the range of diminishing returns, so it’s impressive that they got an upgrade even this strong. Denying Max Scherzer to the Padres is just as good as getting him and Trea Turner is a big deal for the 2022 race, which is beyond the purview of these specific projections. Losing Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray is tough, but the Dodgers understand that you either play your prospects or trade your prospects. In a baseball world where winning right this very second has too-often been de-emphasized, Los Angeles gets it.

Atlanta Braves
This is a case of the whole being better than the sum of its parts. No superstars are coming to Atlanta, but they acquired a lot of talent in the outfield and a terrific bullpen arm in Richard Rodríguez, both places of serious weakness. They can now cobble together a pretty solid outfield out of Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, and Eddie Rosario. Rodríguez isn’t a short-term addition, either, with two more full seasons until he hits free agency. It’s too bad the moves weren’t made a month ago, but better late than never.

Toronto Blue Jays
Getting José Berríos was a big deal and the injured bullpen looks a lot deeper than it did a week ago, even if the Blue Jays didn’t add anyone of Craig Kimbrel’s stature. As with the Dodgers and Turner, this was as much about 2022 as 2021; the Blue Jays can cross a starting pitcher off this winter’s shopping list.

Philadelphia Phillies
The team really needed a starting pitcher, and they got one in Kyle Gibson, who has bounced back spectacularly from his poor 2020 season with the Rangers. He’s also still under contract for 2022, which is important for a team that doesn’t want to push the luxury tax threshold. Freddy Galvis is a good depth add as well.

Chicago White Sox
With the additions of Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera, I think the White Sox have the strongest bullpen in baseball, while Cesar Hernandez is a solid second baseman this year and next, which takes some of the sting out of having to give up Nick Madrigal. That they didn’t move in the probabilities is basically the result of them having already all but wrapped up the AL Central, and the best way to improve your World Series probability is to improve your chances of making the playoffs.

Oakland Athletics
Starling Marte was an excellent addition and while there’s a decent chance that Jesús Luzardo could make the A’s rue this trade, you’d be lying if you said there weren’t questions surrounding The Lizard King’s future. As an oft-injured starter or a reliever, he’s a lot less interesting. ZiPS gives Oakland the edge over Houston in terms of the projections.

Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs
They’re all here for a similar reason: they all recognized reality and traded significant players for a lot of talent. ZiPS did still gave the Nats a 1.7% chance of making the playoffs before the deadline, but that’s a slim reed to chase given where the team is right now.

Miami Marlins
I could have put the Marlins with the last group, but thinking about their rotation options in the future makes me all giddy: Jesús Luzardo, Trevor Rogers, Pablo López, Sandy Alcantara, Sixto Sánchez, Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett … I could keep typing all day, but my editor would be very unhappy if there were 4,000 words of me looking at this group with heart-shaped eyes popping out of my head like a 1950s cartoon character. Yes, trading Starling Marte fits a tired, old pattern with the Marlins, but he’s likely to be in decline in his next free agent contract and he wasn’t a part of the team’s central core the way, say, Christian Yelich was. I don’t know how this team is going to score runs, but they won’t need that many.

The Losers

San Diego Padres
It’s not that the Padres were incompetent or lazy or cheap or anything like that. Sometimes, you just lose despite your good-faith best efforts. The Padres are one of the best teams in baseball, but they’re in a brutal NL West race, and both of the teams ahead of them made a larger move. Then they had the bad luck to lose Fernando Tatis Jr. with another shoulder injury hours after the deadline passed, meaning that they could have used another upgrade without realizing it. Further complicating things is that the NL East contenders actually got stronger as well. The Padres were reportedly close to bringing in Scherzer instead of the Dodgers, but close isn’t better, just crueler.

Colorado Rockies
Steve Urkel has passed out in the Winslow house, and an ambulance has been called. Despite the initial belief that Steve was faking it in dramatic fashion, it turns out that he has a case of appendicitis, necessitating a hospital stay. Meanwhile, Carl was shot in the butt while stopping a robbery at a jewelry store and has to go to the hospital where, naturally, he ends up sharing a room with Steve, much to the former’s chagrin. But Carl ends up being thankful when an escaped robber comes to the hospital in disguise to get their revenge, and Steve brains the would-be killer with a bedpan to the noggin.

Why are we talking about a Family Matters episode? Well, because it has as little to do with improving the team as the Rockies front office did this deadline. In the midst of the liveliest trade deadline in years, with struggling teams acquiring all sorts of high-upside prospects, the Rockies traded Mychal Givens on Wednesday and then called it a week. Trevor Story will now fetch only a compensation pick and was unhappy by the whole situation, becoming the second Rockies star to blast the team in the press this year. Even if Colorado wasn’t ready to trade Germán Márquez, the basic fact of the team’s current situation is that Story, Jon Gray, and Daniel Bard are far more useful for what they can bring back to the team than they are playing out the stretch for the Rockies.

Los Angeles Angels
Clearly, the Angels weren’t interested in chasing their slim playoff hopes. But they also weren’t interested in retooling to make their team better in the future; Raisel Iglesias, Alex Cobb, Steve Cishek, and José Iglesias are all free agents after the season. I’m not even being flippant about Cobb; if you’ve mostly paid attention to the Shohei Ohtani part of the Angels’ season, you might have missed that Cobb has been really good this year. He’s on the IL for wrist inflammation right now, but it’s believed to be a minor issue. The Angels didn’t do much to improve their outlook now or later, so they fit here.

New York Mets
I really hate to do this, but they did lose more divisional and playoff probability than any other team in baseball, largely because the Braves and Phillies so directly addressed significant needs. Injuries have made the pitching fragile, and it would have been nice for them to just be a little more ambitious. Rich Hill is an injury risk in his own right, but more importantly, he was having his worst FIP season in a decade for Tampa Bay, meaning he’s a performance risk as well. And considering he had inflammation after throwing on Thursday, they had to know pre-deadline that the Jacob deGrom outlook had worsened and that’s not a situation that can be addressed with Trevor Williams. Javier Báez was a terrific pickup, but their pitching was the biggest problem and there are no August salary pickups.

Boston Red Sox
No, Chris Sale isn’t really a deadline pickup because all the projections already factored in his return. The Red Sox added Kyle Schwarber, but that was probably the least meaningful big move among the AL East. That Schwarber isn’t a particularly good fit for Fenway, a notoriously horrific environment for left-handed sluggers, pushes them into this category. Even Ted Williams hit 10% fewer homers at home than on the road for his career; he was awesome in Fenway because he had a lot of other hitting skills that, to be honest, Schwarber doesn’t have.

The Meh

Tampa Bay Rays
I can’t bring myself to put the Rays in the losers category, even after losing ground to the Yankees and Blue Jays, because they did make a killer pickup in Nelson Cruz, who is a better fit for the team’s needs than Schwarber is for Boston’s. Another mitigating factor is just how hard the Rays’ roster actually is to upgrade. They’re a team that’s solid in most places instead of one laden with stars but a few glaring holes. They just barely squeezed in here.

Milwaukee Brewers
You could very reasonably put the Brewers in the winners category, but I really wanted to see them make a splash at first base, as Rowdy Tellez is in the bottom-third of major league first baseman and Eduardo Escobar’s skills are kind of wasted there. I’m a bit down on the Escobar transaction anyway. Yes, third base has been an issue for the team, but that was Travis Shaw-related, a problem the Brewers fixed when they acquired Willy Adames and moved Luis Urías (101 wRC+ on the season) to the hot corner. Escobar was the right addition for the wrong team.

Houston Astros
To get into the winners tier, I think the Astros also needed to add a starting pitcher. Kendall Graveman’s a really fun pickup, but losing Myles Straw does make the outfield a bit thinner in the near future. Even if you’re all-in on Jake Meyers — I’m not quite there yet — it doesn’t mean there’s no risk here. Don’t take this as me souring on the team’s outlook. The Dodgers still project as the best team in baseball, but they may have to play a Wild Card game, making the Astros the World Series favorite of my humble computer. It’s just not because of last week’s moves.

Cincinnati Reds
Mychal Givens and Luis Cessa solidify a pretty awful bullpen, but in terms of competing in 2021, the Reds needed to shake up the race rather than just hang around. The Brewers are not invincible, and the Cincinnati is only four games behind the Padres for the second Wild Card spot. No, the Reds could not have known about Tatis’ future injury at the deadline, but luck is the residue of design, and if the team had been more aggressive, they’d have been better able to capitalize if something bad happened to the Padres. Instead of adding to their playoff chances, they gave a little back to the Braves, Phillies, and Padres. Their only good luck is that the Brewers didn’t make a coup de grâce type of transaction.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for 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.

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Supposedly Gray wants to stay in Colorado so the Rox are hoping they can sign him to a long-term deal so maybe not dealing him makes sense. But Story? You have to trade Story. If Cruz gets you 2 45 prospects, Story should get right around there and I’ll take that all day over the 31st pick in next year’s draft. Also, you didn’t mention him but they had no business hanging on to Cron either. He would have only brought back a lottery ticket minor leaguer but still. . . .