Winners and losers of an unexpectedly wild MLB trade deadline

ByDavid Schoenfield ESPN logo
Thursday, August 1, 2019

Just remember, sometimes the biggest deals don't end up being the most important. See: Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce for the 2018 Red Sox. Anyway, let's review some of the winners and losers from a 2019 MLB trade deadline that finished with a flurry of activity. (Note: This is not a comprehensive review of every trade, but I did like the A's picking Tanner Roark in the most A's trade the A's could make.)

Winner: Houston Astros

In a move that broke in the minutes immediately after the 4 p.m. ET deadline, the Astros acquired Zack Greinke, the blockbuster deal that made all the weeks of rumors and speculation worth the wait. With a rotation now of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Greinke and Wade Miley for the postseason, plus one of the best bullpens (they also acquired Joe Biagini and Aaron Sanchez from the Blue Jays), the Astros will probably now rate as the consensus World Series favorites.

When so many front offices are afraid of making a mistake and dealing a prospect who then becomes a star, Jeff Luhnow continues to outmaneuver his peers. In 2017, he acquired Justin Verlander at the Aug. 31 deadline and won a World Series. That offseason, he acquired Gerrit Cole from the Pirates for four young players and Cole has gone 27-10 with a 2.90 ERA in Houston. Now he gets Greinke, who is 10-4 with a 2.87 ERA. Verlander, Greinke and Cole rank first, fourth and eighth in the majors in weighted on-base average allowed. In the year of the home run, starting pitching is a precious commodity and the Astros now have three of the 10 best starters in the majors. Heck, even Miley is top-15 in ERA.

Yes, Luhnow gives up three of Houston's top 10 prospects in J.B. Bukauskas, Seth Beer and Corbin Martin, but all three have notable flaws: Bukauskas struggled with his control and has a 5.25 ERA in Double-A; Beer can hit, but has no position; Martin reached the majors this year, but underwent Tommy John surgery. The Diamondbacks also get Triple-A utility player Josh Rojas, who has hit .315/.403/.575 and could be a nice sleeper.

Arizona also gets salary relief, as Greinke was set to make $35 million each of the next two seasons (the Diamondbacks will send the Astros $24 million, according to a report by Ken Rosenthal). Luhnow also kept his top two prospects in outfielder Kyle Tucker and pitcher Forrest Whitley. The Astros also have a replacement now for Cole, in case he leaves as a free agent. And don't undersell the addition of Sanchez, who hasn't been able to replicate his 2016 season, when he led the American League in ERA. As Buster Olney said, he looks like the perfect science project for Houston's analytics department, maybe as a power reliever (he's under team control through 2020). Man, I would hate to be one of the four other AL West teams.

Losers: New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers

As the Greinke deal was announced, Yankees and Dodgers fans had a collective Twitter meltdown. Hey, it's not easy being a fan of a big-market team. The Yankees didn't do anything on Wednesday; they didn't do anything all month after acquiring Edwin Encarnacion in June. The Dodgers made a couple minor deals in getting veteran infielder Jedd Gyorko from the Cardinals and left-hander reliever Adam Kolarek from the Rays. Kolarek is a lefty killer (.187 average, .531 OPS allowed) and will help, but the Dodgers missed out on getting a premium setup guy for Kenley Jansen.

And for the Yankees, for the second time in two seasons, Luhnow outdueled Brian Cashman. It's not quite that simple: Greinke had a no-trade clause to 15 teams, including the Yankees, and reports say he never would have approved a trade to New York. So it's not fair to bash the Yankees for not getting Greinke. But it's perhaps fair to bash the front office -- and by extension, ownership -- for not adding a starter like Robbie Ray or even a reliever. The rotation has been in a freefall since April. The Yankees are good, but the Astros won the day. And just as Verlander beat them twice in the 2017 American League Championship Series, you wonder if Greinke will haunt the Yankees this October.

Winner: National League East bullpens

Look, the Nationals could have acquired Charlie Sheen and that kid from "Rookie of the Year" and that would have improved a bullpen that ranks last in the majors with a 5.93 ERA. Adding Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland will certainly help. Are they big difference-makers? No, not really. Hudson has a 3.00 ERA, although his peripheral numbers aren't as impressive (4.21 FIP). Elias is a journeyman lefty who has closed for the Mariners, but has a 4.40 ERA and a significant reverse platoon split (righties have hit .182 off him, lefties .353). Strickland just returned from a strained latissimus dorsi that had kept him out since the fourth game of the season. Nothing flashy here, but this trio should improve the seventh and eighth innings in front of closer Sean Doolittle.

So the Nationals did OK, but the Braves probably did better. They added Chris Martin on Tuesday and then Shane Greene and Mark Melancon on Wednesday to a bullpen that has struggled in July:

Greene comes with the magical labels of "closer" and "All-Star" and also owns a 1.18 ERA. All three items probably overstate his value -- he has allowed five home runs and just five earned runs, as he also has allowed six unearned runs, and his runs allowed per nine is actually 2.61. It seems almost impossible, but here's how that has happened:

Greene has also thrown just 38 innings, including just 14 innings over the past two months. Let's see what happens when he has to pitch five times in a week.

Still, as Ryan Milowicki of ESPN Stats & Information points out, the Braves' acquisitions have been better in the clutch than the guys the Nationals picked up. Here's how these guys rank in Win Probability Added out of 697 MLB pitchers this season:

Chris Martin: +1.26 (33rd)

Shane Greene: +1.14 (41st)

Mark Melancon: +0.52 (106th)

Daniel Hudson: +1.08 (46th)

Hunter Strickland: -0.40 (442nd)

Roenis Elias: -0.79 (559th)

Winner: San Francisco Giants fans

Madison Bumgarner stays put, which should make Giants fans happy. I think it's the right decision by Farhan Zaidi. With their tremendous July, the Giants have earned the right to give the wild-card race a run (and give Bruce Bochy one more shot at a playoff run in his final season). They did trade away three relievers (Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, Drew Pomeranz) and acquired Scooter Gennett, so it seems Zaidi tried to play it both ways, realizing that odds of reaching the playoffs are slim (6.2%, according to FanGraphs) and making a deep run even slimmer. Still, trading away a franchise icon isn't easy if you're only 2.5 games out of a wild card.

Loser: Boston Red Sox

They needed a reliever. They didn't get one. But maybe Dave Dombrowski is right: Really, they just need the current guys to pitch better. (Hey, the bullpen does have the second-highest strikeout rate in the majors and if Nathan Eovaldi can get going, maybe the pen will be fine.)

Winner: New York media

The Yankees don't do anything, the Mets don't trade Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard. Plenty of fodder to discuss.

Was it the right move by the Mets to keep Wheeler, who is a pending free agent? Riding a five-game winning streak, the Mets' playoff odds have increased to 16.4% -- and odds of winning the division are just 1.1%. But why not? Plus, they can always extend Wheeler a qualifying offer and get a pick for him -- or even re-sign him. How about a 2020 rotation of Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Stroman, Wheeler and Steven Matz?

Winners ... or maybe Losers ... or maybe something in between:Cleveland Indians, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds

The fascinating three-way trade that sent Trevor Bauer to the Reds, Franmil Reyes, Logan Allen and Yasiel Puig (and two minor leaguers) to the Indians and prospect Taylor Trammell to the Padres could end up being a win-win-win or a lose-lose-lose. We don't know.

The Indians probably have the most on the line because they're the team trying to make the playoffs and they just traded a very good starting pitcher who leads the majors in innings pitched. Reyes and Puig will help an offense that ranks 10th in the AL in runs per game, and Reyes and Allen, who projects as a back-end starter, should help the Indians win the long-term WAR comparison because they'll have years of team control of those players in comparison to Bauer.

But does it improve their chances of catching the Twins and winning a World Series? I'm not so sure. I'd take my chances in the playoffs with a rotation of Bauer, Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Corey Kluber, even with a mediocre offense. Of course, if the Indians had addressed their outfield in the offseason, maybe they wouldn't have been in position of making this trade. It also could work in their favor: They start scoring more runs, Kluber returns and pitches well and they also have Reyes mashing for the next five years.

The Padres' side is easy to understand: They're swinging for the fences with Trammell, who is loaded with tools but has struggled in Double-A with a .236/.349/.336 line. In contrast to Reyes, who is a one-dimensional slugger with limited defensive value, Trammell is a more well-rounded player who projects as the team's center fielder of the future if the bat comes around.

The Reds, with playoff odds of 4.9%, essentially acquired Bauer for next season. Trammell seems like a high price to pay for one year of Bauer's services, but maybe the Reds aren't as high on Trammell and now they have a rotation of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Bauer to build around. Plus, they can give Bauer a qualifying offer at the end of 2020 and receive draft-pick compensation or trade him if they're not in the playoff race, so their side of the deal really includes a prospect to be named later.

Winner: Challenge trade!

The Marlins traded pitcher Zac Gallen to the Diamondbacks for minor league shortstop Jazz Chisholm, an odd trade to make on July 31. The Marlins better hope Gallen isn't their next Chris Paddack or Luis Castillo. His raw stuff isn't on their level, but he has a 2.72 ERA through his first seven major league starts with 43 K's in 36.1 innings, suggesting he can pitch off a fastball that has averaged 92.2 mph.

Chisholm began 2019 as Arizona's top prospect, but he has struggled mightily in Double-A, hitting .204/.305/.427 with 123 strikeouts in 364 plate appearances. He does have 18 home runs, but just 11 other extra-base hits, so it has been an all-or-nothing approach. He's just 21, hits left-handed and can run, so he fits the Marlins' profile as a tools-laden position player with a questionable hit tool, but how many players who strike out 34% of the time in Double-A turn into good major league hitters? There's a chance the Marlins gave up a solid rotation anchor for Lewis Brinson II. Or maybe they hit a home run with a kid who develops into a power-hitting shortstop.

Winner: Jerry Dipoto

Sit quietly? No way. Trader Jerry didn't disappoint, trading Mike Leake to the Diamondbacks and the two relievers to the Nationals. Were they good trades? Who cares. Trader Jerry rose up to the occasion -- unlike some other general managers -- and that's all that matters.

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