So maybe MLB’s new, one-shot trading deadline didn’t turn out to be the sensational ratings grabber everyone hoped it would be. Why should we have expected otherwise?
Besides the two-year Ice Age free agency has become, the people running these teams A). seem to treasure their own young, cheap, controllable assets more than ever before and B). would rather not roll the dice on someone else’s young, cheap, controllable assets.
Stuff did happen, however. Just not in a timely enough fashion to create drama for the TV network specials. The only bona fide blockbuster on Deadline Day itself turned out to be the Astros dealing for Zack Greinke minutes before the buzzer, a stunner that wasn’t revealed until five minutes after. But in eliminating the August waiver-trade period, MLB did get an increase in traffic in the weeks leading up to July 31.
There were 76 trades during the months of June and July, the most since MLB expanded to 30 teams in 1998. That was 11 more than last year, and 26 more than 2017. Also, Deadline Day featured 30 trades, which was a record, as well.
So where did the new format swing and miss? MLB just didn’t get some of the anticipated headline-worthy names in play to switch uniforms, such as Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, to mention a few. As far as the more notable players, 14 All-Stars (with a total of 25 appearances) were moved, as compared with 22 last year, and it was the fewest number of All-Stars traded since a dozen in 2014.
MLB should consider making the deadline a little later, thereby allowing teams to better evaluate their buy-sell situation. Though it’s logical that changing to a hard July 31 deadline should have prompted teams to act by that date, apparently the market wasn’t swayed in extreme fashion. Now teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox, two juggernauts who kept quiet, will need their second-half performance to justify standing pat.
The new format does leave the door open a crack for roster enhancement, but in very limited circumstances. Minor-league players who have have yet to appear in the bigs can be traded, but only if they are not on a major-league contract. In addition, teams can still claim players on waivers, so it’s always possible that a salary-dump player could be picked up, with the acquiring club responsible for all of the remaining cash (that feels unlikely these days). Lastly, players can be signed from the international leagues, or independent teams, such as the Long Island Ducks.
Those are all long-shot avenues, but not impossible. And now that we’ve moved into the post-deadline segment of this year’s schedule, here’s a snapshot of the winners and losers.
Brodie Van Wagenen: Take a bow, Brodie. The Mets’ populist general manager not only gave the fans what they wanted by holding on to Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, he further energized his base by adding Long Island hero Marcus Stroman in a pre-deadline stunner. And let’s not forget dumping Jason Vargas, whose solid Phillies debut Friday (6 1/3 IP, 2 R, 5 Ks) hasn’t convinced us that his road splits (5.03 ERA) won’t come back to bite him outside Citi Field.
Edwin Diaz: If the embattled closer was having this much trouble getting comfortable on the Flushing stage, for a sub-.500 team, can you imagine his roughed-up ego handling Boston for the defending champs? Or having to close games for the heavily favored Dodgers, who are trying to overcome back-to-back World Series defeats? Staying put was his best-possible scenario.
Astros: GM Jeff Luhnow is no dummy. The Astros won the 2017 World Series because they traded for Justin Verlander (right before the old Aug. 31 deadline, by the way) and if they’re champs again this October, it’s probably because Luhnow used the same formula in trading for Greinke. Along with Gerrit Cole — and even Wade Miley — Houston’s rotation could be the first in history to feature four starters with sub-3.10 ERAs and better than 7.5 K/9 ratios.
Indians: Trading away your second-best pitcher doesn’t usually land a playoff contender in the “winners" category, but in sending Trevor Bauer to the other side of Ohio, the Indians filled a big need with slugging outfielders Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes. We’re not a big fan of saving money as a reason to make deals — MLB teams have plenty — but if Cleveland wasn’t going to pay Bauer the $20 million or so he had coming to him this offseason, they did well with Reyes’ five years of control and the projected high ceiling of young lefty Logan Allen.
Taylor Trammell: The highly touted outfield prospect was the Padres’ key acquisition in the three-team trade otherwise known as the Trevor Bauer deal. Just swapped Cincy (Skyline chili, midwest) for San Diego (fish tacos, Pacific Ocean). Enough said.
Braves: Needed bullpen help, added three top-shelf relievers in Shane Greene, Mark Melancon and Chris Martin. Organizational depth makes these things possible.
Bruce Bochy: When this season began, it was shaping up to be a rather somber farewell for Bochy, who’s leaving after 13 years — and three rings — in the Bay Area. But the Giants’ rebound, and subsequent decision to keep Bumgarner ensures his final two months will be more enjoyable than the alternative.
Brian Cashman: The Yankees’ GM deserves more of an incomplete grade, but since there’s no gray area here, he gets the L for failing to secure pitching help. The mid-June trade for Edwin Encarnacion was huge, made more so by Luke Voit’s sports hernia. But Cashman’s hands seemed tied because two of the best rotation upgrades were on the Mets — who basically refused to do business with him — the Giants kept MadBum and Greinke had a no-trade to the Bronx. This was a case, however, where he could have justified overpaying for someone.
Clint Frazier: It seems like the Yankees aren’t big Red Thunder fans anymore based on his difficulty cracking the major-league roster, no matter how many outfielders get hurt. Even with space freeing up at DH, Frazier still can’t get the call, which suggests he would have been much better off getting traded to a team ready to use him in the bigs.
Trevor Bauer: Personally, we didn’t see what the big deal was firing a ball over the centerfield wall. Shocking, sure. But there are worse things, and now Bauer’s talents will be squandered in the Reds’ bandbox down by the Ohio River rather than used in a playoff chase. Tough break for Trevor.
Red Sox: GM Dave Dombrowski refused to pay for bullpen help over the winter and refused to trade for it by Wednesday’s deadline, ignoring the Sox’s biggest area of need. Boston has 19 blown saves, second only to the A’s (21) in the AL, and their bullpen’s 4.55 ERA is tied for ninth.
Phillies: Is it possible the Phils got outfoxed by their Flushing pals in trading for Vargas, whose hard-contact rate of 38.4 percent is the highest of his career? He had little trouble with the weak White Sox in Friday’s Philly debut, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Then again, Vargas didn’t cost them all that much, just $2M and the Penn teammate of Jeff Wilpon’s son. Went cheap on rotation help with Vargas and Drew Smyly.
Marcus Stroman: Let’s face it. Stroman wanted to be a Yankee, and probably had convinced himself he would be. His dad even said as much. Still, the Mets are a solid consolation prize, not only giving Stroman the opportunity to pitch at home but the chance to boost their long-shot playoff hopes.
Dodgers: I mean, did the Dodgers technically need anything? Maybe not. But when the goal is for the rich to get richer, they really could have used Felipe Vazquez or Shane Greene as a setup man to Kenley Jansen. Instead, L.A. wound up with lefty specialist Adam Kolarek and utility man Jedd Gyorko. Like the Yankees, the NL-best Dodgers get graded on a curve here On Friday, the deadline dud was an afterthought once the Dodgers called up yet another stud prospect, this time Dustin May — nickname, “Gingergaard” — to make his major-league debut.