ZiPS Trade-Deadline Roundup, American League

One of my favorite post-deadline activities to do is to force ZiPS to act a bit like a time machine. Not the cool kind that goes back in history and saves James Garfield or into the future to see the dependable hoverboards that we were supposed to get in 2015, but to give a bottom-line estimate of how, based on projections, the trade deadline mixed up those playoff races.

To do this, I first start with the updated ZiPS projections as of the morning of August 1st, which includes my spin on the new depth charts. There’s some variation from the FanGraphs Depth Charts, but they tend to be in the same neighborhood given that the disagreements between playing-time predictions typically involve mostly fringe-type players; it’s not like one of us thinks Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers and the other things they’ll release him or something.

Then, I “undo” every transaction made since June 15th, both reshuffling the depth charts as if the trades never happened and removing or adding the fractional wins that players have added to their new teams since those trades. Then… ZiPS-zap-zippity-zoop… out come the new projections and a bottom line of the changes in playoff odds. Let’s start with the American League with the bottom-line playoff improvements. (We’ll get into the divisions next.)

ZiPS Trade Deadline Improvements, Playoff Percentage Points
Team Playoff+
Seattle Mariners 8.2%
Cleveland Indians 0.5%
New York Yankees 0.0%
Texas Rangers 0.0%
Kansas City Royals 0.0%
Detroit Tigers 0.0%
Chicago White Sox 0.0%
Boston Red Sox 0.0%
Baltimore Orioles 0.0%
Toronto Blue Jays 0.0%
Houston Astros -0.2%
Minnesota Twins -0.5%
Los Angeles Angels -0.7%
Tampa Bay Rays -0.8%
Oakland A’s -6.5%

The rather prosaic results here demonstrate just how relatively set the American League is in 2018. Four of the teams are nearly guaranteed playoff appearances: Boston, Cleveland, Houston, and New York. The fifth playoff spot essentially has only two real contenders in the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s. There are a few additional questions here, mainly whether the Yankees can catch the Red Sox or Seattle can shock Houston, but after those six teams, the odds of a seventh team becoming playoff-relevant down the stretch are very long. Sure, the Angels and Rays aren’t mathematically out of the hunt by any means — they both have something better than a Dumb and Dumber “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” probability — but even those two teams didn’t act like they believed it was anything more than pure moon shot.

ZiPS Projections, AL East, 8/1/18
Boston Red Sox 107 55 .660 76.6% 23.4% 100.0% 77.5% 100.0%
New York Yankees 103 59 4 .636 23.4% 76.6% 100.0% 22.5% 99.9%
Tampa Bay Rays 80 82 27 .494 0.0% 0.2% 0.2% 0.0% 1.0%
Toronto Blue Jays 74 88 33 .457 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Baltimore Orioles 52 110 55 .321 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

If you haven’t figured it out from the context, “PrePlayoff” represents the team’s playoff probability without any of the trades of the last six weeks.

J.T. Realmuto would have been a gigantic get for the Boston Red Sox, but considering that the Marlins apparently rejected a package headed by Victor Robles, it appears as though the franchise’s demands for their All-Star catcher were little more than simple posturing. With only a truly epic collapse capable of preventing a Red Sox’ postseason appearance, it’s understandable that they didn’t feel much pressure to outdo the Nats. The additions of Nate Eovaldi, Ian Kinsler, and Steve Pearce should keep the team cruising. Even if Pedroia were to recover unexpectedly and become available at the end of the season, the team had to act as if that weren’t going to occur. Even if UZR is closer to Eduardo Nunez’s defense than DRS, Ian Kinsler remains a top-notch defensive player and a superior option at second.

I have mixed feelings about what the Yankees did, liking the pickups of Zach Britton and the now-ill J.A. Happ, and the exchange of some less critical pieces for international bonus money. I think they would have been well served, however, to deal with some of the risk that the Aaron Judge injury adds to the team. I don’t think Tyler Austin is a long-term starter in the league or really an outfielder defensively, but after trading Billy McKinney and with Clint Frazier dealing with a concussion, I would have liked the team to have preserved some of that depth in the short-term. Bryce Harper would have been a lot of fun, of course, giving the Yankees some serious upside while they play catchup, but if the Nats ownership didn’t want to deal, it’s hardly New York’s fault.

Tampa Bay got a fair return for Chris Archer, who was cost-controlled but not really pitching like an ace even if the potential was there. The Rays got good value from the Eovaldi — whom they originally signed knowing he’d need Tommy John — and would have for Wilson Ramos if he hadn’t been injured at an inopportune moment. I liked how the Rays got a long-term option in Tommy Pham, the type of move that isn’t really a trad-deadline type of deal but simply a normal one that happened to happen at the deadline.

The Blue Jays traded off a slew of their peripheral players but didn’t do anything to suggest that they plan to enter a proper rebuild. Brandon Drury and Ken Giles aren’t the sort of players an organization acquires when they’re looking three or four years down the road. The question is if this kind of organizational optimism is actually warranted. With Josh Donaldson’s future in Toronto unknown and some very real questions about Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, I’m not sure that it is.

This may be the happiest I’ve been about the Baltimore Orioles for some time. I said last month that trading the pending free agents is the bare minimum to start a rebuild and, if the team were serious, they needed to explore trades for players who weren’t on the verge of free agency, players like Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, and Jonathan Schoop. Not only were two of them dealt, but the O’s also suddenly exhibited an interest in international money, one of my huge sticking points with the franchise in the past. For the time being, I have to take their intentions seriously until proven otherwise. I’ve been a vocal critic of the O’s, but I try to give everyone an opportunity to prove me wrong. I used to think Brian Sabean was one of the worst GMs in baseball, around the time they quickly signed Michael Tucker before midnight to make sure they lost a draft pick (seriously, I’m not making this up), but he got a lot better after that.

ZiPS Projections, AL Central, 8/1/18
Cleveland Indians 92 70 .568 99.9% 0.0% 99.9% 99.4% 99.4%
Minnesota Twins 78 84 14 .481 0.1% 0.0% 0.2% 0.6% 0.7%
Detroit Tigers 69 93 23 .426 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Chicago White Sox 60 102 32 .370 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Kansas City Royals 55 107 37 .340 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Cleveland entered trade season tasked with upgrading a bullpen that had dramatically underperformed projections in the first half. They recognized, rightly, that nobody gets credit for shouldas and added Brad Hand, Adam Cimber, and the less-heralded James Hoyt (3.30 FIP!). These moves were typically Cleveland in that they included players who will help the club beyond 2018, a necessity for teams that don’t run a $200 million payroll and also possess the easiest path to a division title of any team in baseball. Leonys Martin is having a better season than you think — I won’t blame anyone for not living and dying with the 2018 Detroit Tigers — and provides a safe upgrade in center field.

The Twins went into the season with legitimate (and not unfounded) beliefs about being able to contend. It hasn’t worked out that way, and you see the team cashing in some of those players who are unlikely to play key long-term roles with the team. Pretty by-the-book here.

I’m actually surprised that we didn’t see more activity from the Tigers. I didn’t really expect them to trade Michael Fulmer when push came to shove, but I thought they’d be more aggressive in shopping not just Nicholas Castellanos but also free agents-to-be Jose Iglesias and Francisco Liriano. The latter two ought to be moved sometime in August. Castellanos likely finishes 2018 in Detroit, but I think there’s a problem if he’s still there in 2019.

A relatively quiet deadline passed for the White Sox, with most of the trade chips having long being traded. Sure, Jose Abreu is still around and I still believe a team like the Rockies should have tried to acquire him, but I never really expected him to leave Chicago. Soria was acquired for essentially the sole purpose of flipping him later, which the team ultimately did. I still expect James Shields to move in August; he’s been a tolerable inning-eater in 2018, but anybody who claims him on August waivers would find themselves responsible not just for the remaining $3 million on his contract for this year but also $2 million buyout of his 2019 option. Avi Garcia could still be traded this winter, but with his injuries, it’s understandable that Chicago might not find exciting takers right now.

The Royals pretty much did Royals stuff. They retained most of their older players and, while they did trade Mike Moustakas for reasonable value, they got the type of players who are more suitable for a team planning on contending in 2019-21. I’ve been wrong about the Royals before, but if they win 220 games over the next three years, I’d be very surprised.

ZiPS Projections, AL West, 8/1/18
Houston Astros 100 62 .617 93.6% 5.8% 99.4% 95.4% 99.6%
Seattle Mariners 92 70 8 .568 4.6% 59.2% 63.8% 2.9% 55.7%
Oakland A’s 90 72 10 .556 1.7% 34.6% 36.3% 1.7% 42.8%
Los Angeles Angels 80 82 20 .494 0.0% 0.3% 0.3% 0.0% 1.0%
Texas Rangers 69 93 31 .426 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Houston’s a hard team to upgrade since they’re so good from top to bottom, even with injuries to Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. It may have made sense to pick up another middle infielder as a depth piece, but with Alex Bregman, Marwin Gonzalez, and Yuli Gurriel all offering significant positional flexibility, it’s hard to blame them for not wanting to commit additional resources into backstopping their stars. Roberto Osuna may cause the team a more serious kind of headache than Ken Giles‘ inconsistency and conflicts with the team, but he’s also a better closer option for the playoffs.

At least in the cyber-eyes of ZiPS, no team improved their playoff odds more than the Seattle Mariners. And in typical Jerry Dipoto fashion, there was no one large gigantic move to stun the baseball world, but a series of smaller, incremental improvements that addressed team needs. Another starting pitcher would have been beneficial, but the mostly unsung bullpen is one of the best and deepest in baseball now, while their outfield has quietly improved significantly. I’m still not crazy about Robinson Cano not returning to second base, but that’s a bit out of this article’s jurisdiction.

I was kind of hoping for more from Oakland after they closed the gap against the Mariners and picked up Jeurys Familia at a solid price. Billy Beane sometimes just pulls a crazy trade out of his hat, though not always a good one *cough Josh Donaldson cough*. This felt like a moment when we might see some wacky Beaneanigans and find that Oakland had somehow convinced the Nats to let them rent Bryce Harper or something. Instead, the only thing in Beane’s hat was his hair. Kind of a shame in that this is the most interesting late-season Oakland team since 2014.

The Angels have good reason to simply retool rather than start a wider rebuild, and the former is precisely what they appear to be doing. It made sense to cash in on what value Ian Kinsler had remaining, while the other player who could have served as a trade chip, Garrett Richards, had Tommy John surgery this month and won’t be relevant until 2020. Los Anaheim ought to be aggressive again this winter — something that should probably always be true of a club that employs Mike Trout — but their 2018 is essentially over.

Texas’s rebuild continues, even if they don’t trumpet it from the heavens as the White Sox or Orioles have. Shin-Soo Choo, who should pass easily through waivers but also still has some value to other clubs, could still vmove in August, with the sell-off continuing this winter. Four players still remain eligible for MLB free agency after this season, but after Adrian Beltre, who did not want to be traded, none really have trade value. Our Immortal Beloved, Bartolo Colon, has a 6.90 ERA since June, trading Yovani Gallardo necessitates a trading partner that wants to play Yovani Gallardo, and Cliff Pennington’s spent his time in Texas playing for Round Rock.

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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3 years ago

This trade deadline hammered home a few things for me, many of which I might have already known but hadn’t really internalized:

1) There was a ton of deadline activity where teams dealt guys who would need to take up Rule 5 space for expiring contracts. The Brewers, Phillies, Dodgers, Astros, and Yankees seemed to be in on every player, but that’s because they had 45 guys (maybe more) they wanted to protect in the Rule 5. So they figured out who was expendable and then tried to trade them for whatever upgrades they could, and didn’t fixate in on particular trade candidates. Were the Yankees looking for Britton specifically? The Brewers for Moustakas and Schoop? I doubt it. Teams were just looking for places to trade Tate, Ortiz, Phillips, Drury, etc. In terms of prospect value, I think Rule 5 status is something that we overlook too much.

2) Waiting too long to sell (Archer, Gausman, Schoop, Donaldson, and maybe even Machado and Stroman and Happ) can really set back a rebuild. I think all of these teams thought that they wouldn’t be losing too much leverage by waiting to see how they did, but in this case teams were doing badly in part because of their potential trade chips underperforming. Imagine what kind of package the Orioles could have gotten back if they traded Schoop and Gausman in the offseason. I know there’s some 20/20 hindsight here, but those teams should have known they weren’t going to be serious contenders and gotten ahead of everything.

3) The Royals and Blue Jays are in denial about where they are. Total. Denial.

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

When should the Rays have traded Chris Archer?

Last year they were in the thick of the WC race. This year they are an over .500 club, the only reason they aren’t in the WC race is because the M’s and A’s are overperforming like crazy. By BaseRuns, they are the 5th best team.

You don’t trade your best pitcher in the middle of a WC push (last year) and while you could make the argument Arch could have been moved in the winter, the Rays W-L recond and mostly BaseRuns record show they weren’t far off in the notion they could at least compete.

3 years ago
Reply to  Cartulo

I would have leaned to trading him earlier rather than later, perhaps in 2016. It was pretty clear at that point the Rays’ window had closed.

If I had come on board later, I would have traded him no later than the moment they made the decision to move Brad Miller to first base. That ain’t no way to win…

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I’m a Rays fan, I’m biased and I know this wasn’t the train of thought in 2015 but trading Archer now has allowed the org to get two solid players with sky upside that fit perfectly the Adames/Bauers/Honey timeline.

2015 – 2017 Archer was more valuable to the Rays than to the rest of baseball. 2018 Archer is the other way around. The Rays handled this thing beatifully.

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

If the choice is between trying to contend against the odds but not ridiculously so, and cashing in on short-term assets immediately rather than a half season later, I don’t blame any team for choosing the former over the latter. By the way the Blue Jays were among the top 5 AL teams in the Fangraphs projections pre-season, essentially tied with the Angels. The Orioles weren’t, but they never are and they somehow won 3 division titles. If you asked their fans whether they should try to win with the core one more time or sell high, I’m guessing most would prefer the former course. I certainly would.

One team that probably should have tried to win is the 2008 Twins who gave up before the season and traded Johan Santana for Carlos Gomez, who wouldn’t become good until the Twins were bad. Yes this is one example ten years ago, but I still remember it and flags fly forever.

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I’m with you on point #1. Very funny year from that aspect, and really speaks to those teams ability to develop players and how that helped to enable them to spend more.

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I disagree, I think the Jays are closer than you think. They’re competing in 2020. There was no need to trade Stroman especially coming off an injury and poor performance. With Jd they should have traded him in the off-season but it wasn’t that crazy for them to be an 85 or so win team and be in the wc hunt this year. Didn’t work out but it was worth the gamble.

The Orioles should have been rebuilding years ago, but the Jays don’t need a long rebuild. They’ll have no money on the books, their top prospects up, and they should have a quick turnaround. I don’t like Drury but it’s hard to find fault with their other decisions.

3 years ago
Reply to  Twitchy

The Blue Jays have a lot of questions in the future at catcher and the outfield. I’m not optimistic about their chances in the next couple of years, and they need to build towards the Guerrero-Bichette-Biggio era at those positions and pitching.

3 years ago
Reply to  rockbard

I would actually think that they have lots of options at catcher, but even more questions about pitching.

3 years ago
Reply to  rockbard

One of their top prospects is a catcher in AAA

3 years ago
Reply to  Twitchy

The Blue Jays are competing whenever the “Class of 2020” (Vlad Jr., Bichette, and anyone who comes with them) start moving closer to their peak. They’re not competing next year, and probably not in 2020 either. They don’t need a long rebuild, but getting guys with only 2.5 years of control doesn’t fit their window at all.

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Who might be coming with them? Keep your eye on Santiago Espinal who the Jays got for Steve Pearce. I had never heard of him until my yearly trip to Roanoke but he showed off a pretty nice SS with some sting in his bat

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

If the class of 2020 comes on as hard as a lot of the rookies have been coming on lately they could easily compete a year early.

Keyser Soze
3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I don’t agree about point #3. Maybe it applies to the Royals but definitely don’t agree about the Blue Jays. I don’t know how closely you follow them but they are not that far away. If not for injuries they would very likely have been a contender this year. Maybe they still miss out with the way the Mariners and A’s have played but they would be a lot closer.

Looking at last season, one of their greatest issues was a seriously bad lineup, with only three average of better hitters most of the season. They had issues with injuries in the rotation but the starters were excellent just the previous season and the bullpen was pretty respectable.

This season, the Jays have addressed their biggest hole. The lineup has more depth, maybe not the same as the recent playoff years but still very solid down the lineup. Catcher is below average (like many teams) and Pillar is still a bit of a liability at the plate but guys like Grichuk, Hernandez and Gurriel have stepped up this year. Smoak is solid again, Morales raised his game and Diaz has come on strong from a slow start. The team has close to an average offense and is up with the AL leaders in home runs – all of this without having a healthy Donaldson or Tulo for really the whole season.

Add Vlad Guerrero Jr next season to likely replace the missing Donaldson along with other depth like catcher Dan Jansen and possibly outfielders like Dwight Smith, Dalton Pompey, Anthony Alford, Jonathan Davis or maybe Billy McKinney and there is tons of potential depth. Defense is something they need to work on but some lineup stability might help there.

The rotation will be a bit of a question with the health of Stroman and Sanchez but they are quality starters when healthy. The team has young guys like Borucki, Gaviglio and Reid-Foley on tap and I wouldn’t be surprised if they re-sign Happ in the offseason as a vet leader for the rotation. He already stated he and his family love it in Toronto. Bullpens are voodoo so who knows but I like the potential of the options.

Keeping in mind that with Donaldson likely moving on the Jays also free up a lot of money to pursue free agents in one or two areas of need. Plug in a key free agent or two and this team is not far away at all, with plenty of more depth options still rising in the system in the next couple of years.