I learned of the Jeff Samardzija trade at an Independence Day house party. That’s how long ago that deal took place, and most people have moved on. They’ve turned their attention to potential trades. We analyzed the Oakland-Chicago deal rather thoroughly, first with Mike Petriello, then with Tony Blengino. It seems like there shouldn’t be a whole lot left to say — the A’s paid steeply to try to win a World Series; the Cubs bolstered a position-player stockpile that’s not so easy to bolster. Classic, fascinating midseason blockbuster.
And I agree there’s not a lot left to say. But I do have one thought I want to throw on top of the others. It concerns a potential side benefit for the A’s — a side benefit they might not have even considered to be a benefit at the time. This is about the nature of how the deadline works, and how this particular deadline could be shaping up.
Generally, what is it that we observe around the trade deadline? Teams identify as buyers, holders or sellers. Maybe you just think in terms of buyers and sellers. But, overall, there’s a pattern: Sellers sell and tend to get worse, and buyers buy and tend to get better. Competitive teams try to strengthen themselves, while non-competitive teams turn their attention to the future. Those are very simple principles. Teams with short-term interests scour the market for upgrades, and they make upgrades when they agree to the cost.
The A’s upgraded their short-term roster when they picked up Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Let’s forget, for a moment, about 2015 — this doesn’t concern next year. Oakland improved its odds of winning the division in this season, and they improved their odds of advancing to and winning the World Series this season. That’s the whole point. Yet usually, upgrades aren’t made in isolation because other good teams are trying to upgrade, too. Depending on how you look at it, the deadline is about being a team that upgrades, or about not being the team that doesn’t upgrade.
But now look around the league. The deadline is a week away. There have been other moves already, but they’ve been fairly minor. The Yankees picked up a third baseman who hasn’t been hitting. They also picked up a mid-rotation starting pitcher, while losing a far superior starting pitcher. The Angels made two moves, but they both just added to the bullpen, which is important but not as important as the starting rotation. And it’s unclear how much more activity there’s really going to be.
Teams have checked in on both David Price and Ben Zobrist, and they’d be big splashes, but now the Rays are playing well and they might not want to sell. We have them projected as maybe the best team in the American League East, so the Rays might not give away anything. The Red Sox have played better, too, and even if they decide to shed some veterans, it seems unlikely they’ll deal Jon Lester. There’s no indication the Royals would consider moving James Shields, despite their record. The Padres don’t have a general manager and they’ve expressed reluctance to move Ian Kennedy. The Phillies have given some indications they don’t want to move Cole Hamels. And while Cliff Lee could go once he proves himself healthy, he’s so expensive that might be unworkable.
Here’s a line from Dave’s Wednesday chat:
Comment From Tradey Tradestein
Biggest name to be moved at the deadline will be?
Dave Cameron: If the Rays keep winning, maybe Chris Denorfia.
It’s not clear if Dave was joking. There just might not be much out there. Partly because some potential sellers might not be sellers anymore, and partly because other sellers don’t have a lot to sell. There are always bullpen pieces, but relievers are relievers. Alex Rios has a WAR less than 1. Josh Willingham has a WAR less than 1. Marlon Byrd has a WAR a little above 1, but his partial no-trade clause has proven an issue in negotiating with his most obvious suitor. The Rockies presumably won’t even think about moving big chips until the offseason, at the earliest. Maybe the Rockies trade Jorge de la Rosa, but he’s having a mediocre season and the organization overvalues him.
The A’s identified a definite seller, and they identified two pieces to be sold. The Cubs were way out of it, and Samardzija and Hammel were goners. Part of the benefit is the A’s got Samardzija and Hammel. Part of the benefit is that the A’s prevented competition from getting Samardzija and Hammel. And part of the benefit now might be that the A’s made the biggest move, period, paying a little extra to upgrade early where now not many good upgrades are readily available. Samardzija and Hammel were going to go somewhere. The A’s got in front of the market and wound up strengthening themselves considerably. For other teams these days, that might not even be an option.
Oakland was already perhaps the best team in baseball. This is, for them, a ripe opportunity to really go for it. Then they went and got better in a way other teams might not be able to match. In theory, if a lot of contenders upgrade at the deadline, the team that’s worst off is the team that doesn’t make a move. But at this deadline, with so few clearly available upgrades, the A’s seized an opportunity that no longer exists. It’s not just that Samardzija and Hammel aren’t available for Oakland’s competition, it’s that precious little is. Maybe this isn’t something Oakland was planning on, but I doubt they’re complaining. One of the good things about being the first to move is you don’t know how many moves there actually will be.
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