Classifying the Last Trades of August

A few things to know, that you already knew: (1) FanGraphs isn’t very busy on the weekends. (2) Much of the content on FanGraphs is planned and scheduled ahead of time. (3) We’re coming off a holiday weekend during which an awful lot of people got away to do some traveling or relaxing. (4) Baseball, this past weekend, was as active as ever. Put it all together and, here on FanGraphs, one could argue baseball has lately been under-covered. Things have happened that didn’t get words to them.

Things like trades on or before August 31, which is an important deadline for purposes having to do with postseason roster eligibility. Last Friday and Saturday, there were five trades swung in major-league baseball, none of which were written up on the site. This is an attempt to make up for that, by addressing them all at once. “Better late than never,” is an expression that applies, to a point. Below, find all five moves, each with its own subjectively appropriate classification. Five moves for five contenders. What have they done to themselves?


Barring some kind of anti-miracle, which would be a regular miracle for somebody else, the Pirates are going to advance beyond the 2013 regular season. They’re in the lead in the National League Central, and the two Central teams behind them are in the lead in the wild-card standings. The Pirates should play at least one game in October, which for them is an achievement of historical significance. But just because the Pirates are in good position to advance doesn’t mean they couldn’t stand to upgrade, and they made themselves a little better by adding Morneau. In this way, they’ve improved their chances of winning the division and avoiding the one-game playoff. There is, obviously, an enormous difference between the two kinds of postseason berths.

The Pirates are in little jeopardy of missing completely, but there’s a significant difference between one guaranteed game and at least three guaranteed games, and you can think of the Division Series as the second round. If the Pirates win the Central, they’re granted a first-round bye, putting them in a better spot to make it to the World Series. The Pirates, then, are in a high-leverage position in the standings. That, in turn, makes little deals into bigger deals. Name value aside, Morneau is a little deal, but now the Pirates have a better answer to what’s been a season-long question.

Morneau is joining a first-base platoon with Gaby Sanchez, replacing Garrett Jones. Morneau hits righties a little better than Garrett Jones, and this also frees up Jones to serve as depth somewhere else, be it in the lineup or on the bench. So Morneau improves the lineup, the depth, and the defense, and though the improvements are small, the Pirates aren’t losing a lot, and they certainly aren’t losing what they can’t afford to lose. Presley is a useful but low-upside outfielder. Welker is a Triple-A reliever who might be all right. A month of Morneau will cost a couple million dollars.

The Twins save money, get a couple pieces, and avoid a potentially awkward situation with Morneau after the year. The Pirates add a bat that recently went on something of a dinger binge. Morneau says he made a mechanical adjustment that helped him in August, and the Pirates are believers. Odds are, Morneau is more like his overall numbers, and odds are, we can’t predict four weeks of September, but odds are, Morneau is just a little better at his new job than Jones, and nothing’s more important than the odds. I mean, the games are more important than the odds, but the odds are all that matter when you’re making a roster decision.


Unlike the Pirates, the Orioles aren’t leading their division. Unlike the Pirates, the Orioles aren’t looking good to go to the playoffs, even as a wild card. They’re a few games back of the second wild-card slot, and you don’t want to make a big, risky move just so you can maybe play one extra game. In Morse, the Orioles got a guy with a strongly negative WAR. But I still like the move from their perspective, and there’s an important idea, here.

It was important for the Orioles to improve, because they still have a chance and that chance is worth pursuing. As with the Pirates, the Orioles are at a high-leverage position in the win curve, so to speak. I need to figure out a better way to write that. And though Morse isn’t, objectively, a good all-around baseball player, what he is is a power-hitting righty DH. What the Orioles have really needed is some kind of respectable DH.

Morse wouldn’t be much of an improvement for many teams, but this is why it’s critical to consider the specific team doing the adding. Maybe the Orioles could get similar production out of Wilson Betemit or Danny Valencia, but Morse has been a big threat in the recent past, and the Orioles didn’t have to surrender much to roll the dice. They’ll pay the rest of Morse’s salary, and they gave up a potential fourth outfielder. It’s fine for the Mariners, because they were out of uses for Morse, and they save some money. But if Morse is anything like healthy, he makes the Orioles look that much more threatening, and on hot streaks he can appear unpitchable.

Just like with Morneau, Morse should improve both the Orioles’ lineup and depth. It’s a small improvement at a small cost, and if it doesn’t work, well, the Orioles were on the outside looking in, anyway. If it does work, the Orioles don’t have that many games to gain. They’re close enough that Morse could be a classic difference-maker.


Like the Orioles, the Indians are chasing after the wild card, with their division hopes all but dashed. Like the Orioles, the Indians are behind in the race, and they don’t have a whole lot of extra money to spend. The Indians, though, liked the idea of improving, and their answer to Baltimore’s Morse addition was a Kubel addition, with the catch being that Jason Kubel has been bad.

For whatever it’s worth, the rest of the way ZiPS projects Kubel for a 91 wRC+. Morse, 116. In theory, Kubel can slide right in as a lefty-hitting DH. Jason Giambi has occupied that role for the Indians and he hasn’t hit, a year after failing to hit in Colorado. But Kubel has struggled, meaning the Indians are banking on a bounceback, and Terry Francona isn’t yet quite sure how he’s going to fold Kubel in. He’s been able to hit righties in the past, but so has Giambi, and it’s not like Kubel offers much in the way of actual defensive versatility. The numbers make this out to be a whole lot of nothing.

Used optimally, Kubel could help, if he heats up. Again, the Indians didn’t give up much, so it’s not like they can really “lose” this exchange. But Kubel comes with considerably less upside than Morse, and these two teams are in direct competition. In this paragraph I pretend to be able to tell the future, where by “the future” I’m referring to one month of regular-season baseball. Maybe Kubel out-hits Morse the rest of the way, and maybe that puts Cleveland in the one-game playoff. I’ve been wrong before. One time I asked for blue cheese instead of chevre.


John Axford isn’t any easier to hit than he was when he was good. He doesn’t throw any softer than he did when he was good. He’s only a couple years removed from being a really effective right-handed closer, and the stuff is there for him to be effective again, if he’s able to harness his stuff and get in the zone more often. If Axford can resume getting ahead, he can resume putting batters on the defensive, and the Cardinals have a reputation for being able to rescue the troubled. For a guy like Axford, St. Louis seems like the perfect landing spot, and given his remaining years of team control, one could say this is a high-upside gamble.

And Axford could work well with the Cardinals’ coaching staff and Yadier Molina. But, there’s a month left. Axford would have to show tremendous improvement in a month, because he’s getting paid $5 million, and he’s eligible for his second year of arbitration. He seems like a pretty probable non-tender candidate, unless he immediately turns things around, and while maybe he’d turn around and re-sign with the Cardinals for less, that’s not something to count on. And he probably would’ve been non-tendered by the Brewers anyway. Instead, they get a different reliever with good velocity and issues with the strike zone.

If anyone can figure out John Axford, it’s St. Louis. But they don’t have a lot of time, and sometimes once-good players just can’t be saved. Even if they’re given the highest-quality help. It isn’t worth paying that much for good relievers, and at present, John Axford isn’t a good reliever.


Watch your back, Xander Bogaerts.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

28 Responses to “Classifying the Last Trades of August”

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  1. Stringer Bell says:

    John McDonald is still in the league?

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    • Spit Ball says:

      Well The McDonald acquisition does a couple things sesing as they added him prior to Sept. 1. It gives you the option of carrying 5 shortstop,3b, 2b in the postseason which could be valuable for many reasons seeing as they all have issues potentially besides Pedy. And if Pedy gets hurt then what. Last time we saw Pedy out for an inning or 2 we got Middlebrooks at 2B, Drew at SS and Boegarts at third. I don’t want the 6’4 Middlebrooks at second in the bottom of the ninth in an important playoff game if get where I’m going with this. I could give you reason after reason being a Sox fan but I’ll spare you. Bottom line; when pitching staffs go from 13 to 12 or even 11 during the postseason McDonald’s not a bad option to have given the flex of the left side of the Sox infield and the question marks. THANKS BEN!

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    • Billy says:

      Yeah, but I would imagine a 38-year-old career utility infielder on the interstate probably won’t be for much longer. To be honest, I’m not sure why the Sox did this… the odds of the kid being worse than that seem pretty slim. Is Bogaerts not postseason eligible or something?

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      • Matt says:

        McDonald is a defensive replacement at 3 infield spots and offers depth in case of injury. An A-ball relief pitcher was a fair trade to fill the Red Sox only hole.

        Defensively – he is MUCH better than Xander (and most infielders in baseball)

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      • Balthazar says:

        I wouldn’t even be surprised if McDonald was with the 2014 Sox and S. Drew was not. Cherington didn’t have an alternative to Drew before, but he does now. Interesting move, useful too, and shrewd. I like Cherington the more I watch him work. Not that I didn’t like Theo, but Benny seems at least to know how to play marbles his own self.

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        • Stringer Bell says:

          How is McDonald an alternative to Stephen Drew? He’s a below replacement level guy as a starter. Solid defender (nowhere near elite anymore), but godawful hitter.

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        • Grohman says:

          John McDonald is not a candidate for the starting SS job in Boston in 2014. He literally has 1.0 WAR in 999 career games. So he has nothing to do with Stephen Drew. The alternate to Drew is Xander Bogaerts or some other major league starting caliber SS.

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        • Balthazar says:

          I understand exactly who John McDonald is, how old, how he hits. And how he fields. If Drew is asking for the kind of money he’s always seemed to be after and has Boras to work the airwaves for him, that money might best be spent elsewhere. Getting Bogaerts settled at 3B while a good glow stopgaps the middle of the diamond is not necessarily a bad outcome in Boston. To me, getting the 1B situation settled with a quality bat may matter more. And if the Sox decide that Bogaerts is the way to go at SS, then what they need is a good glove back-up who can cover some other infield position, not a lot of money sunk into Drew to polish the pine. Again, I’d say McDonald on the 2014 roster and Drew not is not unlikely, and entirely viable.

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      • matt w says:

        McDonald ain’t even on the interstate. He’s on a Quebec route heading west: O-98.

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    • Ben Gburek says:

      John McDonald actually pitched the other day for the Phillies

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  2. David says:

    SEA: Tyler Pike,Victor Sanchez, and John Hicks for
    NYY: Cito Culver and Dante Bichette Jr

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    • anonymous says:

      don’t mess with me like that.

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    • Balthazar says:

      NYY’s entire Prospect Top Ten aren’t worth Pike and Sanchez. And it’s not because Pike and Sanchez are all _that_ good . . . . Although I’d happily see the Yankers take Yoervis Medina for Jose Campos coming back to the Land of the Lotus Smokers. Yoervis might even do good fer yah (Sean Kelley did), but I’d rather have Jose back.

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      • Cliff says:

        Campos isn’t even in their top 10

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        • Balthazar says:

          Yes, because he missed most of last year with a bad elbow. Going into the year, no way would he be in their Top Ten. Looking at how he commanded his stuff before the trade, and how he’s commanded his stuff since, I prefer his upside. ‘Top Ten ratings’ are a snap shot in time; what a guy does has and how he does fill out the picture.

          Campos, if healthy, is a better prospect than Pike in my book (and Pike was shut down mid-summer with his own physical maladies, evidently). And as per my first comment, Campos _isn’t_ in their Top Ten, but may be more valuable than half the guys who’re in it at the moment.

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  3. pft says:

    I really wish you guys would keep the articles separate from the Daily Notes and Audio stuff since I sometimes miss the few articles which get sandwiched between the other stuff.

    Anyways, the best move this August was not even a trade, it was the Yankees picking up Mark Reynolds who was released by the Indians.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Reynolds: The shine will soon wear off, friend. There’s a reason why he was released, and the same reason his two previous orgs cut him loose. He’s not very good, in any respect.

      And the Yankees aren’t even going to sniff postseason, so it’s hard to see his pick-up as ‘the best,’ even if he pops a few over the next two weeks. I’d say that Pittsburgh’s deal with the Mets was the best. The Pirates got two experienced guys to fill their biggest immediate needs in a context where winning even a _single_ game in September via contributions from Buck and Byrd can make the difference in winning their division and home field advantage. That’s about as impactful an _opportunity_ as one could envision, and Byrd is having the best season of anybody moved, and hence the largest probability to pay off in production. Would have been better if this deal was done in July, but I’ll bet the asking price for Byrd was much higher then. The Mets still got a pretty good comeback, so the deal was even a win/win.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        Yankees are 2.5 games back from the wild card. They just passed Baltimore, who is considered a contender. How are the Yankees not in contention for the postseason? They’re the closest person to getting a WC spot who does not already have one.

        (Athletics/Rays: WC spots
        Yankees: 2.5 back
        Orioles: 3.0 back
        Indians: 3.5 back
        Royals: 4.5 back, all as of this writing)

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        • Balthazar says:

          So Ruki, it’s not who the Yankees have passed (for the moment) but who they have to pass to get a slot. Here are three teams: Rays, As, and Rangers. The Yanks have to win more games than one of those to get a slot. I don’t see that happening, and yes I’m aware of the Rays’ lousy stretch. And to pass any of those teams, the Yankees have to have _somebody_ in their rotation step up and quit giving up 5+ runs a game. Several somebodies, of whom only Kuroda gives much hope there.

          The Yankees need a bunch of help, in other words. And now that it’s September, what matters is the _loss_ column. Half games are irrelevant because missed games will be made up if there is a tie. Losses stay on the board, though. Yankees starters don’t look like they’ll be locking in too many wins from here on out. Yankees’ odds are a tough sell . . . .

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    • JKB says:

      Rays Picking Up Delmon Young > Yankees Picking Up Mark Reynolds

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  4. Moz says:

    Axford might be better in STL? Let’s see Mujica 2012 in Miami 2.89K/BB 95ERA+ 2012-13 in STL 10.68K/BB 234ERA+ well your story checks out.

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  5. SamE says:

    I really believe that Ax can turn things around with St.Louis. His stuff is still pretty strong, and with Yadi calling his game I expect the numbers to improve. If he can get his confidence back and locate his fastball, this could easily be another Mujica type trade.

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    • Balthazar says:

      That was my thinking as well, SamE. Relievers are volatile, but that goes both ways. Axford’s stuff is still good, it’s his command which has been an issue, and the Cards have been particularly good at coaching that. To me, this was an astute pick-up, even if Axford won’t be cheap if they tender him a contract. —But even so, relievers just aren’t so valuable as to rank in the Most Valuable Move respect, particularly since Axford won’t be pitching key innings for the Cards in 2013 by any estimation. A good forward play, tho’.

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  6. Jason B says:

    “They’re close enough that Morse could be a classic difference-maker.”

    From a negative WAR guy? Even considering Baltimore has had a black hole at DH this season, thae premise that Morse will be a difference maker is super-duper unlikely.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Jack Zd found a greater fool in Baltimore; twice! Thames was just cut there, and Morse fills the pointy-cap slot nicely. So glad to see the last of him in the NW. I don’t know how valuable XA will be, but even if his number is 0 that’s non-negative. Mike Morse should get into broadcasting, and stop impersonating a baseball player . . . .

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