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
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.)
|New York Yankees||0.0%|
|Kansas City Royals||0.0%|
|Chicago White Sox||0.0%|
|Boston Red Sox||0.0%|
|Toronto Blue Jays||0.0%|
|Los Angeles Angels||-0.7%|
|Tampa Bay Rays||-0.8%|
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.
|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%|
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.
|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.
|Los Angeles Angels||80||82||20||.494||0.0%||0.3%||0.3%||0.0%||1.0%|
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 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.