Trade Deadline Winners and Losers

With the trade deadline behind us, it’s worth looking back at which teams improved themselves the most with mid-season acquisitions, which clubs found value without surrendering much of their future, and which organizations may regret missing an opportunity to upgrade their talent base. Each club had different goals and different needs, so any review of this sort is going to be subjective in nature, but there are some clubs that made moves that certainly have the appearance of improving their overall organization either in the short term or in the long term.

The Winners

Los Angeles Dodgers — added Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Brandon League, and Randy Choate

While I defended the Marlins side of the Ramirez deal, this was a trade that made sense for Los Angeles as well, as the new ownership group has money burning a hole in their pocket and the marginal value of a win for the Dodgers is extremely high. They had a gaping hole on the left side of the infield, and even the less productive version of Ramirez represented a significant upgrade for the Dodgers. The Victorino deal is the real big winner here, though. The Dodgers got a quality outfielder who improves both their offense and their defense without taking on any future payroll commitments or giving up much in the way of long term talent. League essentially replaces Lindblom as the righty specialist in the bullpen (and, again, he didn’t cost them much), while Choate gives them an effective LOOGY for the stretch run.

Between Ramirez and Victorino, the Dodgers probably added +2 to +3 wins to their roster down the stretch, and League and Choate give them match-up weapons if they get to the playoffs. They were in a position where trading future value for present value made sense, but Ned Colletti and his staff figured out a way to upgrade their 2012 roster without even surrendering all that much future value to begin with. As a high revenue team that can easily absorb Hanley Ramirez’s contract, the Dodgers essentially maximized what they could do to help their team win now, and they won’t suffer in the future for making these moves. Hard to do much better than that.

Chicago White Sox — added Kevin Youkilis, Francisco Liriano, and Brett Myers

The pieces that Kenny Williams added might be just a bit less effective than what Ned Colletti added, but he also got them at an even steeper discount. As we noted on Monday, Williams picked up a couple of valuable pieces for just being willing to take them off the other team’s hands, and in all, the White Sox made three upgrades to their roster without surrendering any real talent or taking on any significant future payroll obligations.

I find it especially interesting how the White Sox were able to add pieces at the three positions that were in the highest demand — third base, starting pitcher, and reliever — while other teams were scrambling to decide whether they wanted to pay premium prices to get guys at those very positions. Besides Victorino, Youkilis and Liriano were probably the two best value buys that any team made in July, and the White Sox got them both. If they manage to hold off the Tigers to win the AL Central, the moves that they made to upgrade the team will probably be one of the main reasons why.

Houston Astros — added every living player known to man.

Seriously, the list of guys that Jeff Luhnow acquired in the last month is 15 names long, and that doesn’t even include the two PTBNLs in he got in various deals. Sure, some of those names are the likes of Francisco Cordero, who is neither good nor part of the Astros future, but their quantity approach to buying talent is the right one for the franchise. Houston didn’t really have anything of significant value to sell, and so getting a premium prospect for the likes of Carlos Lee, Brett Myers, Chris Johnson, or Brandon Lyon wasn’t going to happen, so the organization decided to throw as much spaghetti against the wall as they could find and dig through what sticks over the next year.

This type of move already landed them Jed Lowrie over the off-season, and while there probably aren’t any kids in this recent haul that will turn into that kind of player, the Astros managed to bring in enough interesting young players that they’ll probably find a good one or two just through the sheer scope of the acquisitions. Prospect evaluation is a tricky thing, and the more semi-interesting guys you have in the system, the better your chances of finding a guy who slipped through the cracks. The Astros managed to flip a bunch of marginally valuable players into a basket of prospects, and while most of them will probably fail, just finding one or two hidden gems out of the whole lot will make the exercise worth it.

The Losers

Washington Nationals — “No Transactions Were Found That Match Your Query”

As we discussed 10 days ago, the difference between winning your division and settling for one of the two wild card spots is enormous. The changing playoff structure has greatly incentivized winning your division, but the Nationals have watched the Braves turn the NL East into a legitimate race and still decided not to make a single move to upgrade their roster for the final two months of the year.

A 2 1/2 game lead is simply not a big enough cushion to rest on, and the Nationals roster is hardly perfect. Their catchers have been a disaster since Wilson Ramos tore his ACL, and even a guy like George Kottaras could have been a useful part-time guy to help upgrade their offense against right-handed pitching. Or even just make a move to upgrade the bench, which is currently housing the barely-breathing remains of Mark DeRosa. But, perhaps the biggest surprise is that they didn’t acquire a single pitcher, while Mike Rizzo has been insistent that they are going to shut Stephen Strasburg down at some point before the season ends. If they’re sticking to that plan while simultaneously relying on John Lannan or Chien-Ming Wang to fill the void it will create in the rotation, that seems like a pretty big mistake.

Meanwhile the Braves got better, adding useful pieces like Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson, and the division looks to be a real dogfight for the last two months. The Nationals didn’t have to mortgage the farm in order to make a big splash, but this was a roster that could have really used a couple of solid role players in order to hold on to the division title. If they end up as one of the wild card entries having to play their way into the playoffs instead, they’ll probably regret standing pat in July.

Colorado Rockies – added Jonathan Sanchez and Charlie Culberson

It’s not really about the players who the Rockies brought in that puts them on this part of the list — it’s the guys they decided not to trade to begin with. At 37-64, only the Astros have a worse record than the Rockies this year, and the organization doesn’t exactly look poised for a huge bounce back season in 2013. And yet, with the team losing and the fan’s losing interest — Minnesota and Houston are the only two franchises with larger per game attendance declines this year — the Rockies decided to hold onto a group of players that could have brought them real talent and financial flexibility in return.

Michael Cuddyer is already proving that his three year, $30 million contract was a mistake, but there weren’t many bats on the market, and there were a lot of teams looking for an outfielder who could hit a little bit. Even if they just shed the remaining two years left on the deal without getting a huge prospect in return, dumping Cuddyer would have been worth it, and given the seller’s market for hitters, they may very well have gotten legitimate talent in return had they not announced that he was untouchable a month ago.

But, that’s not the real problem here. The real issue is not even attempting to cash in on the significant value that Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle have right now. Both are high quality relievers signed to below market deals for 2013, and both come with a team option for 2014 at reasonable prices as well. Both guys could have been marketed as difference maker relievers with 2+ years of team control remaining, and as Pittsburgh showed, you could get some interesting young talent with that kind of trade chip.

The Rockies are a bad baseball team. Bad baseball teams don’t need veteran relievers. Bad baseball teams should trade veteran relievers for younger talent at positions with longer shelf lives. Betancourt and Belisle are high risk assets who can easily go from valuable commodity this year to worthless next year. The Mariners made this same decision with Brandon League a year ago, and they ended up essentially giving him away to the Dodgers. Relievers are inconsistent and should not be counted on as significant building blocks for your future. The Rockies simply whiffed on an opportunity to turn two good trade assets into something that could have helped the team get back to where they need to be. 2012 is a lost season in Colorado, but they could have at least salvaged something by selling high on their relievers when they had the chance.

The Did Enoughs

There were a bunch of teams that made solid moves, about what you’d expect from a team in their position, and either sold off present talent for prospects or vice versa. Teams like the Giants, Angels, Rangers, and Pirates did just fine as buyers, but they didn’t exceed expectations in a a real way. They paid market price for some useful players as they should have. Good for them.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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