Yesterday was truly incredible. When the new CBA added a second Wild Card to the mix, one of the attendant – and intended – consequences was more teams that believe they are still in the race come late July. That’s fun for fans and better for the game, but it can make the Trade Deadline a lot less exciting, because fewer teams are selling. That was supposed to be the case this year, at least as of a week ago, with virtually no teams openly selling. But the buzz started picking up within the last few days – and, to be sure, we saw a fair bit of action earlier in the month around the game, too – and then yesterday was an absolute explosion of activity.
Here’s hoping that’s what the deadline looks like in the future, now that teams are more comfortable operating within the new environment.
With some sleep under my belt, and now not being in the heat of trying to cover things as they happen, I have a few – well, more than a few, I guess – thoughts on yesterday’s flurry of activity, and the trade season, in general.
- I said it yesterday, but I’ll say it again: the Chicago Cubs look very, very smart for dealing their top pieces early in the month, because, by the last two days, the pitching market was suddenly very crowded. Could the Cubs have done as well yesterday on Samardzija/Hammel as they did back on July 4? Maybe. Better? Probably not. Worse? Distinct possibility. You take a risk when you jump the market like the Cubs did, because it was just as possible that the pitching market would stay very thin, and maybe the Cubs could have extracted even more value by waiting. But, as we saw with what actually happened, the risk of a crowded market is very real, the risk of underperformance (see what Hammel has done with the A’s) is very really, and the risk of injury is very real. At the time of the trade, I said I really liked the return, and I liked the idea of going early and packaging assets. I also left open the possibility that we’d need to look back on August 1 and evaluate if we still felt that way, based on what happened on July 31. Well, I’m looking at what happened, and I’m feeling very good about what the Cubs did.
- (And, as I wrote this morning, I also feel good about the deal the Cubs made yesterday.)
- The biggest trade yesterday came right there at the end, with the Detroit Tigers picking up David Price from the Rays, the Rays getting Drew Smyly and a low-level (high upside) shortstop prospect from the Tigers, the Rays getting infielder Nick Franklin from the Mariners, and the Mariners getting Austin Jackson. The Rays have been pretty roundly criticized for the deal, and I’ll add a measured “they probably didn’t get enough” to the mix. How much can we as outsiders really know? Probably not quite enough, but we can at least look at various valuations and try to determine whether a team maximized its return. For me, unless the Rays decided they absolutely had to deal Price right now (which may have happened), it just feels like they could have done better. On the flip-side, I think the trade confirms something I’ve been saying for a long time: as an offseason asset, heading into his last year of control where he’ll make upwards of $20 million, David Price might not have as much trade value as people think. This trade suggests the Rays agreed with that, and knew that dealing him now was the only way to maximize their return (even if it doesn’t look like quite enough from the outside).
- The Price fallout here is pretty obvious: the Tigers won’t be trading him in the offseason, and he’ll probably be their “replacement” for Max Scherzer, who is now pretty much a lock to do a full free agency tour. Dave Kaplan says the Cubs won’t be in on Scherzer because of health concerns, which is something we’ll get into more when the offseason is actually approaching. Short version? I don’t know about any health-related questions, but I do think, however much you like Scherzer (and I really like him), it’ll be hard to convince me that the kind of contract he’s going to get will ever make sense for a pitcher after 30. So, that is to say, the fact that Scherzer is now assured wide availability … not sure how much that really impacts the Cubs, other than perhaps making their other targets slightly (*slightly*) more signable. And if the Cubs want Price, they’ll just have to see how things are looking at 2015.
- I can’t get a read on how legit the whispers are, but there is a lot of talk that Jon Lester is going to be the kind of guy who really does re-sign with the team that traded him away. Given that the Red Sox gutted their experienced pitching – while simultaneously adding pieces that make it very clear that they plan to really go for it in 2015 – maybe they know something we don’t know about Lester’s willingness to come back. Either way, the Red Sox are going to be heavy into top-end pitching this offseason, even given their wealth of decent pitching prospects ready to break through.
- Speaking of that A’s/Red Sox trade, how about the balls on Billy Beane? Sure, they might have wanted to shop Yoenis Cespedes in the offseason anyway (he’s a free agent after 2015, makes $10.5 million next year, and reportedly cannot be given a qualifying offer), but this is not a team that needed Jon Lester. But, given the landscape, the A’s can add Lester, become an AL favorite (the Tigers obviously responded later in the day), and all they lose is the downgrade from Cespedes to Jonny Gomes … whom they can platoon anyway. It was just a gutsy move to really shoot for it this year, and I respect the hell out of it. Go A’s, man. I hope they win it all.
- I don’t want to point out the lack of balls elsewhere, but, as a baseball fan, I’m pretty disappointed to see the Pirates do nothing at the deadline. Maybe they’ll try to make a waiver deal, but you had your chance, guys. The Cardinals upgraded and the Brewers upgraded, and neither completely gutted their system to do it. Sucks for the Cubs in small measure, but sucks far more for the Pirates.
- Speaking of the Cardinals deals, they come away better off for 2014 and maybe only a teeny, tiny bit worse off for 2015. That’s not the deadline experience Cubs fans were looking for. The only question is whether getting John Lackey to pitch in 2015 for that $500,000 option is going to be a problem. It feels wrong to root for him not to, but I think it’s OK for us to hope there’s at least a little drama. Because watching drama from the outside is SCardenfreude.
- As for the Red Sox, it was interesting to see how much they sold off over the past week, and added very few prospects – they got a couple interesting arms from the Giants, and they stole Eduardo Rodriguez (down this year, obviously) from the Orioles. But otherwise, it was pretty much big league pieces, with a clear eye toward 2015. Smart, I think. (Although they better hope that Cespedes, Kelly, and Craig don’t afford them too many wins over the final two months, pushing them into the top 20 teams. Would the Red Sox give up, say, the 11th or 12th pick in the 2015 draft to sign a top tier free agent? Or will it not matter, because they’ll focus on guys who can’t be qualified, like Jon Lester, anyway?)
- Speaking of those kinds of parenthetical considerations, let’s be honest about something: how many more losses the Cubs can pile up the rest of the way matters. That’s an ugly way to say it, but it’s true. The worse they do, the higher they pick next year (and the more draft bonus pool space they get, and the more IFA pool space they get). But, losing is a zero-sum game, and the Cubs can only sink in the standings if other teams rise. How did the teams around them in the standings do at the deadline?
- The Rangers (.398) didn’t sell off any further, though, they didn’t have much reasonably left to sell. They will continue to struggle on account of the unbelievable number of injuries they’ve suffered.
- The Astros (.404) traded Jarred Cosart (and promising youngster Enrique Hernandez) to the Marlins (for a freaking haul), which could hurt a little at the big league level, though it’s debatable how good Cosart actually is.
- The Rockies (.407) did nothing, and it’ll be interesting to see how they perform once Troy Tulowitzki comes back.
- Based on yesterday, alone, I’m not sure the Cubs (.421) got a ton worse. Emilio Bonifacio is a good player, and I suppose to the extent his starts are replaced by a Watkins/Valaika type, there could be a step back. James Russell is a decent reliever, but the Cubs are so loaded there, I’m not convinced that’ll hurt in terms of wins and losses.
- The Phillies (.440) inexplicably did nothing. They could try to move some guys in August, though Cliff Lee is apparently hurt again. I guess that could wind up being the same as trading him, though, so maybe that will hurt their performance down the stretch.
- The Diamondbacks (.440) traded away Gerardo Parra and Martin Prado yesterday, and, although each is having a down year, they could have provided production for the Diamondbacks down the stretch. This will ding the Diamondbacks, just as the trade of Brandon McCarthy a couple weeks ago (also an underperformer) did.
- The Padres (.444) traded Chris Denorfia, who hadn’t been performing all that well. They had other pieces they could have dealt, but didn’t. Dealing away Huston Street a couple weeks ago will hurt, though.
- The Red Sox (.444) were incredibly active, though because they got back so many big league pieces, I’m not sure their performance will be hurt all that much.
- The Twins (.449) didn’t sell off, and actually picked up Tommy Milone, who could help them a little bit.
- The good news? Even if the Cubs fall behind (climb ahead of?) all nine of those teams, they’ll still have the 9th worst record, and a protected first round pick in 2015 (which is the key consideration in all of this).