Well, love or hate the second wildcard, there’s no denying that it has spiced up the month of July. With so many more teams realistically contending, demand has never been higher at the deadline, and we’ve seen TONS of big names get moved in recent years. 2015 was no exception. Let’s take a look at the teams that made out the best, those that made some questionable moves, and those who should have done more.
-Toronto heads this list…and this is a good time to mention that I’m basing these mainly off of perceived upgrade, chances to contend right now, and how reasonable the deal was overall. In the Jays’ case, there’s no question that they’ve pushed their chips in and 2015 is make-or-break, and they’ve mortgaged quite a bit of their future here. With this division, this roster, and such a long playoff drought (1993) I think they were right to take the shot – and they were absolutely right to aim high.
David Price is EXACTLY what this team needed – their rotation has held them back all summer (they have the best offense in baseball BY FAR). He’s the rare deadline ace that might make all the difference, because there’s such a wide gap between his performance and the pitcher he’s replacing. Adding SS Troy Tulowitzki was a stunner, but he’s one of the best SS in baseball and he provides much better defense than Jose Reyes.
The Jays have outscored opponents by over 100 runs (second only to the Cards) yet have flirted with .500 due to bad luck and bad pitching. Look for them to go on a serious run in August.
-Kansas City also made two splashy deals that really helped them. Much like the Jays, they needed an ace and got one in Cueto. Adding Ben Zobrist lengthens their lineup and offers versatility in case of an injury. They already had the division well in hand, Cueto was picked up for October. You have to figure the Royals are the AL favorite with Cueto, their defense, and that killer bullpen…but remember, there are no sure things in baseball’s playoffs.
-What the Dodgers did was almost larceny. They picked up TWO quality starters and gave up nothing of consequence. The deal was a 3-team deal involving 13 players, very complicated, but suffice it to say that Latos and Wood really help the Dodgers, the Braves got some prospect help, and the Marlins saved money (again). We’ll talk more about the Marlins in a bit, but the Dodgers really made out here.
-Two savvy franchises made under-the-radar moves that didn’t generate headlines, but were extremely smart. The Giants, the team I consistently underrate, needed a starter. Rather than pay the steep price for an ace, they got Mike Leake – a solid, durable starter – for a modest price. Leake fills a big hole in the SF rotation and gives them an excellent chance to win a wildcard – and we all know how dangerous SF is when they make the playoffs.
The Cardinals have shocked me all season – what other franchise could lose their ace, their slugging 1B and STILL be on a 105-win pace? Now, within hours of losing Matt Holliday to a torn quad, they quietly traded for Brandon Moss. Moss is a needed power threat who will replace 85% of Holiday’s production, and they didn’t give up much to acquire him. They also picked up Jonathan Broxton, deepening an already-deep bullpen. The Cards deserve their own column at some point, I’ve looked closely at their roster and I simply cannot figure out how they are this good.
-Houston also made some smart moves – they are ahead of schedule, but recognize they have a legit shot at October and did some hole-filling. Scott Kazmir helps the rotation, but Carlos Gomez is the big prize – the Astros were a bat short all season, and Gomez really will help this team. They gave up some young talent, but Houston has plenty of farm depth and correctly recognized that their window is open.
-Detroit made the smart choice to hoist the white flag – as I suspected in March, this roster just didn’t have enough pitching to contend, and the injury to Cabrera ended their season. They got a nice haul of prospects in the Price deal, and the late trades of Soria and Cespedes made sense as well. GM Dave Dombrowski is generally an excellent trader, and it looks like he’s going to try to ‘reload on the fly’ to give this offensive core one more shot.
–Cincy and Milwaukee both made good deals, realizing the time for a rebuild was at hand. By moving Cueto, Leake, Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, Parra, and Broxton, both teams pulled in a handful of good prospects and set themselves up to reload for 2018 and beyond. The division belongs to the Cubs, Cards, and Bucs for the next few years and these teams were wise to take the long view.
-Finally, Pittsburgh made some good deals, although the deal they didn’t make may cost them. Aramis Ramirez was a perfect fit at a low cost – he’s solid defensively, he still has some pop, and he stabilized the issues at 3B with Harrison and Mercer out. Soria was an even better pickup – this team desperately needed another reliable bullpen arm, and Soria fits the bill. They got both without giving up top prospects, which was a bonus…and they added JA Happ and Michael Morse at the deadline for almost no cost. Morse is a gamble, he CAN provide pop from the right side but he’s had a terrible 2015.
Happ was acquired because of the injury to Burnett, and that’s where I think the team should have done more. Between AJ’s regression/injury and the inconsistency shown by Locke and Morton, this team needed another reliable starter. I’m not advocating for Cueto or Price – both would have been great fits, but I agree with not trading top prospects for ‘rentals’ – but someone like Leake, or Latos would have been ideal fits. In Happ, they get yet another inconsistent starter, and frankly there’s no one in AAA that can help unless they rush Tyler Glasnow (he was just promoted to AAA, but I think he needs to spend the rest of the season there). Maybe a deal will present itself in August, and maybe Burnett isn’t badly injured – but if he’s done, they need another arm. Overall, though, Pittsburgh is in excellent shape to make another playoff appearance and if not for the Cards’ stunning dominance, they’d be in prime position to win the division. Sometimes you’re just stuck in the wrong division.
-San Diego – I gave their new GM the benefit of the doubt, but I really have no idea what he’s doing. He rebuilt the roster this spring, it didn’t work out, and their 2015 season is sunk – but rather than trade his assets, especially his impending free agents like Justin Upton, he did absolutely nothing. Bizarre, to say the least.
-Tampa Bay – In about the same boat as the Padres, they are going nowhere and desperately need at least a partial rebuild. All they traded were minor parts, which means they either need to make big offseason moves or their fans can expect a long period of losing.
-NY Yankees – They’ve surprised a lot of people by leading the division, primarily due to the fantastic comeback seasons from A-Rod and Teixeira, and their bullpen has been fantastic. On the other hand, their rotation is kind of a mess – Sabathia is awful, Pineda is hurt, Tanaka’s elbow could go at any moment, and Eovaldi has allowed 140 hits in 117 innings. Toronto’s fundamentals were better than New York before the deadline – going forward, it’s clear that Toronto is the better team. NY has the big lead and still is the favorite to win the division, but GM Brian Cashman should have seized the moment – this is the best Yankee team in six years, there’s a lot of aging talent here, he should have gone out and fixed the rotation.
-Miami – Also worth an entire column, the Marlins’ ownership may be the worst in all of sports. I’ve always disliked the Steinbrenners and Jerry Jones of the sports world, but at least those guys wanted to win. They may stick their noses in where they shouldn’t and micromanage, but fans at least knew that their owners wanted that trophy as much as they did. Jeffrey Loria cares about nothing but profit – which would be OK if he hadn’t swindled the taxpayers of Miami into building a new stadium under the premise that he’d spend to build a winner. Loria’s legacy of greed and deceit goes way back to his Montreal Expo days, so this doesn’t surprise me – but it’s a truly sad state of affairs.
The trade the Marlins made last week didn’t help the team on the field and they didn’t significantly help the farm system. They DID reduce payroll and ensure the Lorias get to see a healthy bottom line. I’m glad he doesn’t own a team I care about.
-Texas – I’ll give the Rangers points for unconventional thinking – they really aren’t in the race this year, at 50-52 and a very negative run differential – yet they went out and acquired the biggest prize on the market in Cole Hamels. They sent six players back to Philly, five of which were prospects. Clearly they are banking on 2016, because unlike the other aces dealt, Hamels is under contract for several more years…with the return of Yu Darvish, Texas is expecting a strong 2016 rotation. Here’s the thing, though – they are not a young roster, Hamels is already on the wrong side of 30, and they pretty much spent what prospect currency they had in this deal. This is a flawed team with or without Hamels – their outfield is a mess, they play in a hitter’s park yet they rank in the middle of the pack in the AL (which means they are really below-average once you allow for their home park), and even with Hamels (and Darvish next season) their rotation projects as average or worse.
I think they just wasted a lot of resources on a pitcher who isn’t going to help them win, and who they will end up trading for a smaller return in a year or two. This team should have been selling, instead they were buying, and it may set the franchise back years.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the Penguins’ recent trades and how they impact the upcoming season.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.