The Houston Astros are getting considerable heat for doing next to nothing at the deadline, and according to sources it’s true that a deadline-day agreement they had with just the sort of left-handed bullpen star they need – with Baltimore for star closer Zach Britton – was cancelled by the Orioles, as is their right.
While Orioles higherups are staying quiet and making no alibis about their quirky calls to buy rather than sell when they don’t appear to be a clear contender, Astros owner Jim Crane took to the airwaves to push back. Crane told a Houston radio station (97.5 ESPN Radio), without naming the team or player, that there was “an agreement in principle, medicals were exchanged and then (it) got vetoed at the top,” before going on to make clear where he thought the deal died by volunteering that it’s not his way to call out “another owner.”
Crane actually said at one point, “We thought we had a couple deals done. And they got vetoed.”
He didn’t say whether there was another pitcher they thought they had, too, or it was two separate deals for Britton. But in any case, people connected to the Orioles didn’t agree with the suggestion that Orioles owner Peter Angelos (whether he’s named or not) had anything to do with the death of that blockbuster deal, nor were they especially thrilled about the suggestion he did. Angelos takes a lot of hits for things he has done while running his team, but people associated with the team say that while he never seemed especially thrilled to trade Britton he doesn’t deserve this particular hit.
Though Crane didn’t name Britton, the Orioles or Angelos, multiple MLB sources say there was indeed a deal for Britton, who is just the sort of left hander who could save the Astros talented, but currently imploding bullpen.
It’s possible Crane may not have known all the precise details of how the deal got canceled, but people familiar with that agreement say it was actually at least one medical report that caused the Orioles to quash it, and that it never even got to Angelos. While Crane kept names out of his remarks, word’s gotten out circulated throughout baseball circles, the lost Britton deal was the one that’s most on their minds.
(Crane declined to elaborate for this story, or even confirm it was Britton and Angelos he was talking about.)
It also isn’t known what player or players didn’t receive medical approval from Orioles doctors, but it’s quite believable it was the medicals since the Orioles have a recent history for being tougher on medicals than many other teams (they have proven correct a couple times, including once with Grant Balfour). In any case, the Astros were unable to find or offer the right prospects to alter the deal, or make another one, at a time their bullpen is sagging badly. They also failed to land any of the other proven lefty relievers on the market, with Justin Wilson going to the Cubs, Tony Watson to the Dodgers and Brad Hand staying with the Padres.
The explanation for the Astros coming up empty is more about their longstanding stance on their top prospects, others insist. They just weren’t willing to surrender their top prospects in some cases, rival execs said. “The Astros had the (young) players to make a deal,” said one other rival GM. “They have a good farm system.”
The Astros have outfielders Kyle Tucker and Derek Fisher, pitcher Francis Martes and first baseman Yordan Alvarez, all of whom drew strong interest, among other prospects. Crane revealed in that radio interview that he instructed his baseball people going into the deadline to “be bold.” But he didn’t blame them for sticking to their conservative plan, either.
“It wasn’t because (GM Jeff Jeff Luhnow) wasn’t trying. We realize we could have made some adjustments,” Crane said. “People weren’t willing to let go of some of the players we wanted.” Some other deals Crane said, would have been “catastrophic” to their farm system. Which provides a nice barometer of how they feel about their prospects.
Wilson went to the Cubs in a deal in a deal for Jeimer Candelario, a talented player who’s struggled whenever he’s been called up, and word is the Padres weren’t insisting on Martes, Tucker, or in the end, even Fisher.
There’s no way to doubt that the Astros were trying, but it’s equally clear they stuck to their conservative ways. It has served them well in recent years (more on that below in the Astros section). But perhaps they should have taken a chance here. The opportunity to get to a World Series is there, thanks to a spectacular offense, talented pitching staff and youthful core, and while they are a relatively young, there are no guarantees they’ll be back in this position from year to year.
The reality is, the Astros didn’t help themselves enough. And it’s hard to blame it on Angelos or any other rival owner for that.
Best deadline jobs
Los Angeles Dodgers
Their plan was to go for a top lefty reliever who could close on occasion and perhaps star starter Yu Darvish without touching their two coveted prospects, right-hander Walker Buehler and outfielder Alex Verdugo, and they somehow accomplished it, getting Darvish plus lefties Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani and turning them from a strong favorite to a prohibitive favorite, maybe the biggest favorite in close to 20 years. While they didn’t smartly act desperate for Darvish – they remain optimistic ace Clayton Kershaw will return this year – they managed to grab the international star in a last-minute deal that made the rich ridiculously rich, moving them from Beverly Hills to the even more exclusive Holmby Hills. But for a long while on deadline day, they couldn’t be certain. There was a long period of silence while the Rangers were apparently fielding other calls to see if they could beat what is described as a “loose framework” of a deal that was worked out in the two weeks previous. Then, at around 12:30 PT, with a half hour to go, the Dodgers got the call from Texas, and they completed the deal that sent top fine hitting prospect Willie Calhoun and two others to Texas for Darvish. The Dodgers have a rep for being protective of its prospects, but that’s three straight years they added a significant starter at the deadline (Alex Wood and Rich Hill the last two years). While one rival exec called it a “gamble” based on Darvish’s uneven recent performances, they nonetheless sent a jolt through the rest of league, putting them on notice that the great may just have solidified all-time great. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a tense moment or two along the way. Their consistently agreeable manager Dave Roberts, who has already locked up his second Manager of the Year award in two years, upset one of the higherups when he candidly told Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times that “every team in baseball would like Yu Darvish.” It seemed obvious that’s true at the time, but apparently it was a little too forthcoming for one of the bosses, according to sources, and Roberts received what’s described as a stern talking to. Anyway, things should be all smiles in L.A. now as they look like one of the best teams of this generation, not only on paper but also on the field, where they continue to win every day. “Everyone’s conceding to the Dodgers,” one rival exec said in what’s only a mild overstatement. Bravo, boys.
The Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer duo continues to amaze, as they followed up the team’s disappointing first half with a brilliant deadline performance. They turned fine power prospect Eloy Jimenez into Jose Quintana, who was probably the best get of this trading season (since Britton stayed put), between his amazing reliability, his uncanny consistency and his ultra-reasonable and long contract with two options that makes it in effect a three-and-a-half-year proposition. Quintana would have been perfect for the Astros, a powerhouse that needs that sort of dependable, consistent veteran starter (with that offense, he might not have lost a game for them). Anyway, the Cubs quickly turned into a pretty strong favorite in the strangely mediocre NL Central with that one move alone, but continued to work, managing to land excellent left reliever Justin Wilson, seemingly out of the blue. Wilson is the perfect find for them, as he can set up for Wade Davis now, then close next year for the Cubs, who smartly determined to go for talented closers on shorter deals. Alex Avila, who was having a nice year behind the plate, was a nice bonus for the Cubs, who look like they have the mojo again. They didn’t stop working there, either, and are said to have put in a call for Sonny Gray, though they knew from the moment they got Quintana it was practically impossible. If not for the Dodgers, they might be the favorite to win a second straight World Series after failing to do so for 108 years.
New York Yankees
The Yankees did things exactly right, making great sales a year ago, and great buys this time. Gray was the guy they needed, not only for this year, when they have suddenly turned into a surprise AL East favorite, but also next year, when they’ll be without Michael Pineda and possibly Masahiro Tanaka (who’s back in form and could opt out). Gray is a big-game pitcher though he hasn’t had his chance in Oakland the past few years, and he came in a deal one rival said should be “relatively painless” for the Yankees (Dustin Fowler and James Kaprielian have potential but are both hurt at the moment, and Jorge Mateo was expendable in a deep system). “If you have a chance to grab a No. 1 or 2 pitcher, you do it,” one rival exec said. “I don’t think they could have won with the pitching they had.” It only continued an excellent year. David Robertson is a guy they’ve always loved, and Tommy Kahnle has an arm they’ve always liked (and why not, he throws 100), and they give the Yankees the best collection of bullpen talent in the game. They’ve done a nice job of adding 20-something stalwarts (Gray is 27, the same age as several other top Yankees, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post pointed out), and veteran Todd Frazier, a local kid from Toms River, N.J., is an upgrade at third base. Chase Headley moved to first and has been hitting better lately, and Garrett Cooper gives them another option over there. The only quibble would be why they didn’t get the A’s to throw in Yonder Alonso, an All-Star who seems to be bored these last few weeks in Oakland (of course, it’s possible he may just be reverting to form). Nobody can blame the Yanks for not getting Lucas Duda, who would have been perfect (“the Mets just wouldn’t trade him to us,” one Yankees person said). Dealing Blake Rutherford, Kaprielian, Fowler and Mateo decreases one of the baseball’s very best farm systems, sure, but they kept the very top guys the ones they got last July (Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres and Justus Sheffield) when they conceded Kaprielian, who appears to have been the compromise piece. Between last year’s sale and this year’s buy, it’s been pretty amazing stuff.
They saw the obvious need at the back of the pen, and they didn’t mess around, adding Brandon Kintzler in the closing minutes to go with the previously acquired Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, helping turn their relief situation move from abysmal to at least average. While the group still isn’t overwhelming, it is at least playoff worthy with Kintzler, who developed into a star in the Twin Cities and should close for them (though Doolittle’s been doing a serviceable job). They didn’t get Zach Britton who they coveted but probably never had a chance for (as little as Peter Angelos wanted to trade Britton, he wanted to trade him less to the hated Nats; “No way” was that happening, says someone familiar with the situation) or Justin Wilson or Hand. There are some concerns, though seemingly minor, about their star starters, as Stephen Strasburg will miss another start and Max Scherzer had to leave one with a neck tweak. There wasn’t going to be a way to replace either of them in trade, but a nice depth move wouldn’t hurt with Joe Ross already out (perhaps they could do that after the deadline). Anyway, Kintzler continues to be under-rated. Howie Kendrick was a nice under-the-radar move, as well, and he rewarded the Nats with an early five-hit day. The man can hit, and his versatility helps for a team that’s been socked by injuries to positional players like Trea Turner, Adam Eaton and Jayson Werth. Nice job.
They took advantage of a buyers’ market for hitters by grabbing the best one available, J.D. Martinez, and making their fine lineup look like one of the top five in baseball, and Martinez made an immediate impact with a spate of quick dingers. They added to their infield depth with a small deal for Adam Rosales then brought back old friend David Hernandez for the bullpen. Talented infielder Ketel Marte suffered the devastating loss of his mother in yet another tragic vehicle accident in the Dominican Republic, and Rosales brings needed depth a low price. Hernandez provides depth to a pen that probably needed it. The talented team that looked a little top heavy now has some decent depth. Very good job overall.
Chicago White Sox
Just like in the winter, the ChiSox received the best haul of prospects, adding Blake Rutherford, Eloy Jimenez, Ian Clarkin, Dylan Cease, A.J. Puckett and many, many others to a stash that’s generally considered either the best or second best in baseball (the Braves’ prospects are pretty good, too). They even got something for Melky Cabrera, who’s slowed down defensively and whose $15-million salary looks like it’s from a past life. Puckett has a nice arm and great Chicago baseball name (unrelated Kirby was from the projects just across I-94 from Comiskey Park) and Rutherford can really hit but Jimenez is showing star potential already. Anyway, while the major action for the rest of the season will again be on the North Side, the ChiSox look extremely well set up for the future.
Solid Deadline Help
They did two of the three things they set out to do, landing a very nice reliever in Pat Neshek and veteran catcher in Jonathan Lucroy while failing to get the big veteran pitcher that might have solidified their playoff hopes even further. They looked into the big guys (Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray) but it was tough to compete with the Yankees for Gray and Darvish had a no-trade to the Rockies. However, what they did do really enhanced their chances and surely energized a young team that needed a little more veteran presence. Lucroy was having a down year with Texas but he’s one of the best hitting catchers in the game, and Neshek is simply having a terrific season. He also “gives them a different look,” which can’t be discounted. It’s been a nice run for young GM Jeff Bridich, who made maybe the best free agent signing of the winter in closer Greg Holland, who’s been a major key to their success while turning a $7-million guarantee into a likely $60-million-plus bonanza as an opt-out will make him a primo free agent this winter.
They weren’t able to do much at the end for a change. But we can’t forget their first deal, which was a great one to land Matt Adams, for a spare infield prospect. That trade was triggered by the injury to Freddie Freeman, and Adams may yet go this winter if they decide they want Freeman to play first base. But that deal kept Atlanta afloat while their superstar Freeman was done. And they gave up seemingly very little to get him (and got the Cardinals to pay some of the salary, too). They received a long-range pitching talent back for Jaime Garcia, which was about all you could ask for considering the Twins took the money (the Braves sent only 100 grand toward Anthony Recker in that deal). They couldn’t dig up much interest in Brandon Phillips considering no one sought a second baseman, and unfortunately Jim Johnson had a rough final weekend, being demoted as he was from his closer’s job with less than two days to go before the deadline. So that may have killed any chance there.
Kansas City Royals
They needed to upgrade their outfield production, and old friend Melky Cabrera does that. And they beefed up a pen that had been their calling card in their World Series years, with lefty Ryan Buchter and back-end guy Brandon Maurer, solid pieces who’ll help. They made tries, too, for either Sonny Gray or Yu Darvish, but either didn’t match up perfectly or weren’t willing to include their very top prospects in the end (Raul Mondesi, etc.). One more starter certainly would help, as it would enable them to move Trevor Cahill to the pen, where he’s most effective. While they’ve lost a couple since the deadline, they did the right thing by buying, and trying to take advantage of their window. The reality is that while Eric Hosmer , Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain are very good players, the market for rental position players was nothing short of a disaster, anyway. Jason Vargas might have gotten them a decent piece back. But they love their nucleus (why not, they reached two straight World Series), and giving it another run made sense considering the market and their play heading into the deadline, which had been very good.
Boston Red Sox
They best thing they did was probably bringing up Rafael Devers, the 20-year wunderkind third baseman. Even though even some in the organization doubted he was ready, he looked like a better option to them than anyone but Mike Moustakas (who was ultimately held by the Royals, who turned into a buyer with their hot streak and win-first M.O.). When the Red Sox made clear they’d never surrender Devers for Moustakas in a theoretical deal that was talked about before Moustakas was really on the table anyway (he never made it to market), the Red Sox had nothing left that the Royals wanted. And meantime, Boston didn’t love any of the starting third-base options out there. They did take Eduardo Nunez, who will be a super utility guy, and can help. Addison Reed is the tough-minded set-up guy they needed. Not bad at all. But the real issue is whether they can get a good vibe going in town where it’s tough to do that once negativity seeps in (and it definitely has).
It’s reasonable to wonder whether the genius GM Billy Beane may have peaked in 2002 at this point, as the A’s will spend the second half with easily the worst team in the A.L. and a prospect stash that doesn’t come close to catching the White Sox, who are vying with them for the AL’s worst record. The take for Sonny Gray seemed somewhat underwhelming, as they failed to land Estevan Florial or Justus Sheffield (never mind Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres). Pitcher James Kaprielian missed the year with Tommy John surgery and the unfortunate outfielder Dustin Fowler played only an inning in the bigs before a very unlucky knee injury felled the speedster. Beane is historically one of the best traders around, but Gray, with his reasonable salary ($3.8 million) control (two more years) and a hot streak leading up to the deadline, arguably didn’t bring back as much as Aroldis Chapman, a rental reliever, only the year before. Beane is a Hall of Famer but maybe it didn’t help when he gave away all his state secrets in that brilliant book of his. Their prospect stash is now above average, but they are very likely at least another year away from even .500.
Tampa Bay Rays
Give them this: Nobody made more trades than them. Lucas Duda can really hit, and they took advantage of the lack of need for a power-hitting first baseman and the Mets’ preference not to send Duda crosstown to the Yankees, where he could have peppered that right field porch (right after the trade, he sent one into the upper deck there, for the Rays). Adeiny Hechavarria is a major upgrade at shortstop over former No. 1 pick Tim Beckham, who took awhile to get serious about his game and will always be remembered as the guy the Rays took four picks before Florida State superstar Buster Posey. The bullpen should be better with Steve Cishek, Dan Jennings and even Sergio Romo, who didn’t exactly thrive with his hometown Dodgers. They may ultimately regret not selling, and trading red-hot, free-agent-to-be Alex Cobb instead. But with a winning record and in the thick of the AL Wild Card race, who could blame them for going for it?
They needed to trade Yu Darvish once they determined this wasn’t their year. The problem was that the teams that were interested were teams that seemed to prioritize relief pitching (Dodgers and Astros). In the end, while the Dodgers predictably stuck to their guns to keep top pitching prospect Walker Buehler and top outfield prospect Alex Verdugo, they landed Willie Calhoun, a big-time hitting prospect who might be better suited for the American League. They probably preferred him to Yadier Alvarez since he’s major-league ready whereas hard-throwing kid pitcher is at least a year away, maybe two (and the Dodgers preferred to keep Alvarez, anyway, since they are well-stocked with left fielders). They undid the unfortunate Jonathan Lucroy-Jeremy Jeffress trade from a year ago (that trade was roundly praised here at the time; it’s a shocker Lucroy didn’t perform like usual this year after doing his usual last year and helping them into the playoffs), but with Jeffress also not living up to past performance, there wasn’t much to be accomplished there. It’s still a mystery why the Astros didn’t get Darvish, though their prospect protection really shouldn’t be a shock by now. The Indians made a call, but that always seemed like a long shot. So in the end, and it was the very end (eight minutes to go, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo first reported), the Rangers scrambled to do what they could by putting a deal together in 22 minutes (from 2:30 to 2:52 CT, eight minutes before the deadline).
San Diego Padres
They received talented hitter Esteury Ruiz (“he could be another Alfonso Soriano,” said an AL GM) in trade for three veteran arms, just the very kind of deal they desired to make. Unfortunately, they never got what they were looking for in a trade for All-Star lefty Brad Hand, saying only that “we came close” on a couple fronts. Some believe Hand’s value will never be higher, but a Padres person suggested that by the end they weren’t even insisting on a top-100 prospect in some scenarios (others claim they did seek “top” guys, though everyone’s got different rankings). They did come off the originals asks of Alex Verdugo from the Dodgers, Derek Fisher from the Astros and Victor Robles or Juan Soto from the Nats. The Pads are believed willing to have talked about Carter Kieboom with the Nets, but Washington said no. With the Dodgers, it seems San Diego was willing to take multiple guys outside their top five, but ultimately, L.A. opted for a lower cost (in terms of prospects) for Tony Watson instead. Hand’s performance and salary would suggest he’s worth at least a top 100 prospect back. In fact, the prospect haul for relievers seemed shockingly low in a few cases. Too bad because Hand, a lefty with a low salary (just over $1M), should have created a feeding frenzy.
They were in the fray for the big pitcher near the end, still trying to figure out a way if they could somehow pry Sonny Gray away from the A’s (and Yankees, where he ultimately landed). They debated how aggressively they should go for it, first with a decent but still iffy 5 ½ game first-half lead and then a small deficit in the surprisingly competitive NL Central, with emerging star GM David Stearns ultimately deciding not to break up their excellent prospect stash, even for Gray, who they coveted (their fine new pitching coach Derek Johnson was Gray’s pitching coach at baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt and is like a father figure to him). But Stearns also loves their prospects, and why not? They have some of the best ones in baseball, starting with Lewis Brinson, a center field speed-power guy they got in the Jonathan Lucroy-Jeremy Jeffress deal last winter. Speaking of Jeffress, they brought him back in addition to late bloomer Anthony Swarzak. And why not? While he looked lost in Texas, he’d thrived in Milwaukee.
They dipped their toe in on some very big names late (Yu Darvish, Zach Britton) but those were always long shots. In the end, they did what a lot of teams did, which was to take back an old bullpen friend in Joe Smith, a reliable arm that will enable them to spell Bryan Shaw and the others a bit more. Though that doesn’t rank with the recent excitement they’ve created, they almost surely remain the favorite in the AL Central, anyway. They didn’t do a ton, but the reality is that they probably didn’t have to.
A Little Help
It’s hard to judge the Phillies moves since they paid down many of the salaries of the guys they dealt for unknown dollars. But they certainly were active. They got three decent prospects, including Alejandro Requena, for their best trade chip, the side-arming star Pat Neshek, then scrambled to move many more, sending money in each case. They found a taker for Howie Kendrick, Joaquin Benoit and Jeremy Hellickson, which was better than a year ago when they held Hellickson, then paid him the stunning salary of $17.2 million in the form of a qualifying offer. Anyway, with Aaron Nola emerging as perhaps that top of the rotation guy they need, a very decent group of prospects, and plenty of money left to buy big free agents a year and a half from now, they look like they have a chance to make themselves great again.
Move-a-minute GM Jerry Dipoto did all his work before deadline day, then surprised folks by standing still and pat the last 24 hours. A depleted farm system limited what he could do, but he did earlier add starting depth in Erasmo Ramirez and Marco Gonzales, two more maybe among a slew of them for the rotation. Dipoto probably felt guilty doing nothing for a whole day, but his hands were tied. They dipped in on Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray but simply do not have the prospects beyond young center fielder Kyle Lewis to do what Dipoto wants, which is to take advantage of a window that may close after next year. The good news is, they remarkably underachieved in the first half, and should still have a real chance at earning their first playoff spot since 2001. Yes, hard to believe, but their drought has been the longest in the game.
They got hit for trading J.D. Martinez without receiving a top-100 prospect back (third baseman Dawel Lugo was the best one in that deal), but it was not only a tough year for rentals, it was an especially tough year for position players. They probably did their best by making a quick call on that one. Justin Wilson was probably the third most valuable reliever out there (behind Zach Britton and the emerging Brad Hand, who has an extra year of control), and they did fine grabbing Jeimer Candelario in that one. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they felt they needed a third baseman since Nick Castellanos has taken a step back at third base. As far as the others, the contracts were generally too large, and drop-offs in performance for Ian Kinsler and even the great Justin Verlander didn’t help. While Verlander’s name was thrown around, with the Tigers wanting a real return back for an icon, there was never a chance of something happening before the deadline. He will clear waivers, so there remains an outside chance for a deal, if they’ll pay it way down (so far they’ve been reluctant to do that; they’d pay this year but not the $56 million remaining for 18-19, apparently). In the end they got back five infielders. The good news is, the sales two deadlines ago of Yoenis Cespedes and David Price look prescient now, and they have a nice group of young starting pitchers going forward. The problem is that the late owner Mike Ilitch was very generous with past deals, making sales very difficult.
San Francisco Giants
They certainly know how to go for it, but they may have to learn to get the hang of this rebuilding thing. The real problem, of course, is not their trading methods but some contracts that don’t look great at the moment. Jeff Samardzija’s peripherals and intangibles are attractive, but ultimately, his record and contract lessen his value. And Johnny Cueto’s opt-out/blister issue made him untradeable even before he came up with a forearm concern on deadline day. Ultimately, they did what folks figured, which was to find a new home for Eduardo Nunez. They also let bygones be bygones and brought back Pablo Sandoval, who they hope to return to his glory years. Sam Dyson, who absolutely stunk this year in Texas following an excellent run for the winning WBC team, has found his old form, which is a small plus. If they want to contend in 2018, as they hope to, they have a lot of work left to do, starting with that mess of an outfield. They are on pace to finish 50 games out, which isn’t easy, especially for a team that’s won three World Series titles this decade.
The impending franchise sale plus some very bad old contracts limited what they could do. But what they did do made sense. Adeiny Hechavarria needed a change of scenery, and they received four prospects for solid middle reliever David Phelps in what seemed like one of the better hauls for relievers, as long as you don’t mind the wait (the guys they got are barely out of high school in some cases). Outfielder Brayan Hernandez was the key for them. They set a high bar on Dan Straily, and wouldn’t even talk about superstar Giancarlo Stanton or their cost efficient young stars Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna or J.T. Realmuto. Meanwhile, they have a lot of work left to do if they are to reset. Three teams (Royals, Angels, Blue Jays) expressed some level of interest in Dee Gordon, but the reality is that the Marlins would have to pay down Gordon or even the great Stanton to have a chance to trade them. They are stuck with Wei-Yin Chen whose contract rapidly escalates, and they received some bad news when Edinson Volquez was determined to have a torn UCL while rehabbing his knee (that’s Marlins luck for you!).
Caught in the Middle
Their deal for Zach Britton fell through to the Astros, leaving them as the unlikeliest buyer. While they hardly look like a contender, their three moves were all buys – Jeremy Hellickson, Tim Beckham and Ruben Tejada. Yes, it seems weird. But you have to remember that owner Peter Angelos has only sold once in his long and bizarre reign (in 2000, when the Orioles dealt Will Clark and many others). The other thing to remember is that the O’s can surprise. As one rival pointed out, even though they’ve pitched terribly, they are within five games of the wild card. And as one Orioles person said, “No one’s exactly running away in the AL East.” So, who knows?
New York Mets
Unfortunately for them, this wasn’t the year to try to trade position players, even good ones. While they found a taker for Lucas Duda and his .900 OPS (no surprise there), they are still holding Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and Asdrubal Cabrera, who may all clear waivers. (Granderson is certain to, while the others have only a slight chance to be claimed). They did quite well for tough, dependable reliever Addison Reed, who should be great as Boston’s new set-up man, adding Gerson Bautista, a righty who throws 98-101 plus two others, in a very logical deal. They received a different closer a day earlier in A.J. Ramos, who brings good humor and a varied repertoire, though he came at a high salary – he’ll make $3 million more for the non-contending Mets plus an estimated $9 million via arbitration next year, making it a $12-million price tag for one year that counts. While that seems high, the Mets love relievers on one-year deals (Jerry Blevins will be back, with the Mets picking up his $7 million option since there’s no way he’d clear waivers). It’s probably not the worst idea to keep pen arms on short deals, unless you have a very top guy. In any case, for the Mets the deadline went better than the season.
After early speculation about Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen (good thing they didn’t trade him!), the Pirates did their usual half-buy, half-sell. They don’t have much money but seem to have a pretty good eye, so maybe a Joaquin Benoit for Tony Watson swap (in two different trades) will work. Their trades last trading deadline to acquire Ivan Nova and dump Francisco Liriano received barely a notice, yet they wound up as one of the biggest winners of July 2016. So no one should question them. The Pirates are sneaky good.
Toronto Blue Jays
Amazing, they were able to get two actual players for wild starter Francisco Liriano (Nori Aoki and Teoscar Harenanez; Hernandez has a chance even if funny Jays manager John Gibbons said he’s never heard of him), but that’s because several contenders saw Liriano as a reliever with promise rather than the starter who couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean for the Jays. They also found a taker for Joe Smith in the Indians, his former employers. Nobody wanted Joey Bats, Kendrys Morales or apparently Marco Estrada, who can all clear waivers and at least Estrada, who’s been a clutch pitcher in the past, has a chance to be dealt this month after clearing waivers.
Los Angeles Angels
They correctly determined by the end that they should be a seller. The problem was, what was there to sell? They got a decent back for David Hernandez (young righty Luis Madero) but there couldn’t have been much of a market for Bud Norris, though he’s come out of nowhere to do a surprisingly good job as their closer. They keep shuffling players in and out at second base, so that’s something that needs to be resolved. But the main issue remains a rotation that’s been hit by injuries to almost everyone two straight seasons.
St. Louis Cardinals
They seemed to be considering a minor sale, but opposing teams complained they wanted a haul for free-agent-to-be Lance Lynn, a nice starter who could have been replaced by Luke Weaver from the Cardinals’ fertile farm system. Anyway, the hope seems to be that they will regain the Cardinals Way after it went missing a year and a half ago and hasn’t been seen since. They make too many mistakes in the field and on the basepaths, and could really use a middle-of-the-order rock, which led to the longshot call to the Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton. They did get Tyler O’Neill for former No. 1 pick Marco Gonzales, and O’Neill has that potential. Ironically, Matt Adams has served that middle-of-the-order role for the Braves since they traded him for a prospect to the Braves for a middle-of-the-road prospect, Juan Yepez.
No one’s ever done a quicker pivot going from buyer to seller. But a week where their only win came from Jaime Garcia (the one buy they made) convinced them to reverse course. They wound up trading the very guy they got in Garcia, acquiring Zack Little from the Yankees after sending Huascar Ynoa to the Braves. They wound up spending an extra $4 million in the quick exchange but got a guy with a great record who’s closer to the bigs. Littell, despite that 14-1 mark and 1.87 ERA, was seen as a guy the Yankees might bump off the 40-man roster. An Al exec called Littell a sure bet to make it to the majors but a “No. 4 or 5 starter” unless he builds some strength. They also dealt sudden closing star Brandon Kintzler, who was a terrific find by the old regime, but few of the reliever hauls seemed especially impressive (for him that got lefty Tyler Watson plus international money). They held Ervin Santana again, as they were hampered by his so-so recent pitching and average velo readings, and that may be a good thing. Their about face was weird, but it may turn out they did the right thing in the end.
They get the award for the least eventful deadline, with only veteran lefty reliever Tony Cingrani dealt. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise since their roster is comprised of a lot of kids, plus highly-paid superstar Joey Votto (who wasn’t going anywhere), highly paid pitcher Homer Bailey (who wouldn’t draw any interest from anyone) plus free-agent-to-be All-Star shortstop Zack Cozart (who’s currently sidelined with a quad injury). Their real action occurred at the draft when they took Hunter Greene No. 2 overall, then followed up that big pick with shortstop Jeter Downs and outfielder Stuart Fairchild, two more potential stars, in a draft-day bonanza. The deadline was a real snooze-fest for them, though.
Trade Deadline Loser
Even Dallas Keuchel had unkind words of concern. “Disappointment would be an understatement,” he told Astros writers about a deadline in which they got only struggling starter Francisco Liriano for a pen that’s fallen on hard times (they must be tired because these are really good pitchers). “I thought for sure they’d get one of the relievers,” one rival exec said. “You can’t be a coward,” another said. “Prospects, prospects, prospects will get you fired, fired, fired.” (For the record, the Astros baseball people, as conservative as they are, seem to be in good stead.) They came very close for Britton (see above), but didn’t figure out how to adjust to land the Orioles star, or get Justin Wilson or Brad Hand, either. Some believe Liriano will help, but he looks like a band-aid for a staff that needs much more now. Some wonder, too, why they didn’t make sure to add a reliable starter, either. “They knew (Lance) McCullers was going on the DL,” one rival executive pointed out. So it’s a mystery why they did nothing to reinforce the rotation. One rival, cutting them slack said, “They’ve made shrewd, responsible decisions for years, so it’s hard to blame them now for going away from their plans now,” that exec said. But it says here that their young staff needed some reinforcements that never came.