Major League Baseball’s July 31 non-waiver trade deadline brought plenty of drama and intrigue, plus a big final-hour surprise. Who fared best on deadline day? Who fared worst? Let’s take a look.
Teams that aggressively sign young players to long-term extensions
In any given year, a player that can test free agency at season’s end is always going to fetch far less in trade than a similarly talented player who’s controllable for another year, or two, or three. But “team control” became a ubiquitous buzzword this time around, looming larger than ever in both trade talks and breathless media accounts of those trade talks.
The Padres were the first team that hit the jackpot by trading multiple years of team control on a good player for a premium prospect. When San Diego sent relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber to Cleveland on July 19, you’d figure the Friars would get a decent return. Instead they got Francisco Mejia, a 22-year-old potential all-star with a strong hit tool and rocket arm that Baseball Prospectus ranked as its No. 5 overall prospect this spring.
Hand growing into a two-time all-star closer certainly played a role in making that happen. But so too did the three-year, $19.75 million extension the Padres gave Hand, binding him to his employer through 2020, and possibly 2021 if his $10 million club option gets picked up. Considering the Padres got Hand for the price of a waiver claim two years ago from the Marlins, that’s a hell of a haul.
On Monday, the Rays cashed their own lottery ticket in the form of Chris Archer. A two-time all-star in his own right, Archer has grown progressively more generous over the past three seasons, watching his ERA rise more than a full run over that span. You could argue that Archer’s been a victim of bad luck, given that he remains one of the most prolific strikeout artists in the game, only to be done in by rising hit rates. But other indicators point to more troubling trends: His hard-hit rate has climbed in each of the past three seasons, hitters are successfully pulling the ball against him more often this year than they have since 2014, and his fastball has entered danger zone territory, with opponents batting .301 against that pitch this season, and slugging better than .500 against it every year since 2016.
So why did the Pirates give up not one but two extremely intriguing young players (Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow) to acquire Archer’s services? First, because Archer’s been one of the most durable starters in the game, topping 200 innings in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Second, because Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Searage has had lots of success tweaking the approach of less talented pitchers than Archer, and reaping great results. But a trade of this magnitude never happens if not for Archer’s contract. A wet dishrag would be worth $27.5 million over three years in this market. A pitcher like Archer with even a slight chance of returning to ace status becomes a colossal steal at that price.
Fans in Dodger Stadium’s Pavilion
What do you give the team that leads the National League in home runs? More power, of course.
We already know about Manny Machado, the one true superstar to change teams in late July. But don’t discount the potential impact Brian Dozier could have for the Dodgers. Yes, the 31-year-old second baseman’s hitting just .224/.305/.402 this year, his worst mark since his rookie season. But Dozier’s low price tag illustrated how, for all the talk of teams remaining disciplined and considering larger sample sizes when evaluating players, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately still counts for a lot come deadline time. Still, ignore Dozier’s first four months of 2018 and you get this: a middle infielder who crushed 76 home runs over the previous two seasons, who’s also posted gigantic numbers down the stretch in both 2016 and 2017.
Given that Dodgers second basemen collectively ranked 26th in Wins Above Replacement heading into the deadline, any sign of a pulse from Dozier would constitute an upgrade. If he goes on another power binge in the final two months of the season, every seat beyond the left-field wall could become a target.
The 2018 Free-Agent Class
We were supposed to be approaching the Hot Stove season to end all Hot Stove seasons. Instead, three of the four marquee names eligible for free agency this winter have underachieved, potentially costing them big bucks.
Though his new teammate Machado has flourished in his walk year before free agency, Clayton Kershaw has done himself no favours with another extended stay on the disabled list this year. The Dodgers ace has still been terrific when healthy in 2018, ranking among the league leaders with a 2.52 ERA. But that mark would still be Kershaw’s highest in six years, with his strikeout rate dipping to its lowest level in five seasons. Given that this is now three years in a row that Kershaw has spent significant time on the disabled list, you could argue that Max Scherzer has eclipsed him as the best pitcher in the National League. You could also argue that Kershaw won’t land the mega-jackpot he might’ve once expected if he opts out of his multi-year deal with the Dodgers at season’s end.
While Kershaw was never a threat to get dealt before the deadline, Bryce Harper became everyone’s favourite trade rumour subject. On one hand that makes perfect sense, given the Nationals’ shocking sub-.500 record at the end of July. On the other hand, the Nats would have been in much better shape if Harper hadn’t suddenly turned into a strikeout machine who’s getting regularly bamboozled by the shift. Both Harper and the Nats have picked up the pace over the past two days against the lowly Mets.
Still, a five-game deficit isn’t what anyone expected for Washington at this point, and a batting line that even after two strong days sits at .226/.373/.482 isn’t what anyone imagined for Harper. Those struggles (along with some ugly advanced defensive metrics) might’ve prompted the Nats to scuttle any talk of trading Harper, given that the return might’ve been less than the pot of gold GM Mike Rizzo expected. They might also make potential suitors pause before throwing $400 million (or more) at the bearded slugger.
The final marquee name in this year’s free-agent class (and big fish at this year’s trade deadline) was supposed to be Josh Donaldson. To which we say…oy.
Owners of the longest playoff drought in all of baseball, the M’s looked like playoff shoo-ins earlier this year. But 13 losses in their past 20 games, combined with the A’s surging out of nowhere to become the hottest team in baseball, suddenly has the two AL West rivals in a dead heat for the American League’s final playoff spot.
How did the Mariners respond to that challenge? By acquiring Adam Warren, Zach Duke, and Cameron Maybin. For a general manager with the reputation of being more trade-happy than anyone else, Jerry Dipoto left us wanting more at the deadline. If the Mariners’ starting rotation after ace James Paxton runs out of gas, the bottom of the lineup fails to get going down the stretch, and the team with the lowest opening day payroll in the majors extends Seattle fans’ agony for another season, we might look back at late July and wonder why the M’s suddenly got quiet.