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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hscer
Member

I knew you’d have the Nats as a loser! But the only one (basically)?

Which starter would they have gotten without mortgaging the farm? What would he have been worth over Lannan or Wang in the 5 or so starts after Strasburg’s season ends? Maybe half a win? They still have an ace, a near ace, and two average guys for the playoff rotation.

They probably should have gotten a catcher, yes. Even if they guy would have gotten hurt within 2 days.

With Chad Tracy and Jayson Werth coming back, the bench isn’t a massive issue. DeRosa’s near-corpse won’t be around long. Probably didn’t lose any wins there.

So maybe they lost one win by not making any trades; half of one on the pitching end and half of one on the catching end? I feel some nitpicking was involved in naming the Nats THE loser of the deadline among contenders.

23553
Guest
23553

Werth or Tracy isn’t going to replace DeRosa. They need a new middle infielder.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool

Starters: Espinosa, Desmond. Backup: Lombardozi. Not sure that I see the need to acquire another guy.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman

Catcher is what you might call a black hole of suck right now. A Kottaras or even a Torrealba (who may still be traded I believe?) would be a significant help at the position. Chad Tracy is limited to 1B and Jayson Werth is an OF, so Mark DeRosa is more or less their only backup infielder until Desmond returns from the DL. While Lombardozzi and Espinosa are filling in splendidly, you don’t want to be completely absent a back-up plan. The Nationals failed on these two counts.

I agree the pitching issue is overrated. TJ recovery entails command issues and a drop-off at the end of the year anyway, so we are not seeing Strasburg nearly at his best. Moreover, Ross Detwiler is no worse a playoff rotation option than, say, Jurrjens, Minor, Zito, Porcello, or Humber.

hscer
Member

Tracy can play third, but sure the MIF is weaker without Desmond. It does essentially amount to a backup plan though as you note.

They probably could come up with a waiver trade for a catcher. It really has been awful. Still not sure you’re talking about more than a fraction of a win.

Dave might argue that the playoff rotation -Strasburg isn’t so much the issue because the Nats are risking losing a one-game play-in instead. Nevertheless, you’re talking about 5 starts in the regular season, not 15, and the available pitchers for a price they would pay are not going to be an major upgrade. (I’m not arguing with you WBE so I don’t know why I’m rambling.)

Johnnynewguy
Guest
Johnnynewguy

That one win for the Nats could be the difference in the division. The Braves have the 2nd best offense in the NL right now next to the Cards and their rotation just got better. The Braves are only 2.5 back and are really rolling right now. It also isn’t correct to assume that Werth and Tracy are going to hit immediately.

hscer
Member

The trick will be to get Chipper Jones off of Twitter.

hscer
Member

Since you can argue they did lose wins, that’s why I limited myself to arguing that they weren’t the only loser.

For instance what did the Reds do? They got Broxton. How much is he going to be worth in two months, half a win? And the Reds happen to have worse odds at winning their division than the Nats do at the moment.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter

But that one win might be meaningless. That’s what makes it such a difficult decision for the GM. Do you give up a piece of the future for a win that might not mean anything? If they miss the playoffs by a game I’m sure they’ll regret it – but if they win the division by 3 games I’m sure they’ll be glad they didn’t give up a decent prospect.

A year ago, one win could have been the difference between the Giants making the playoffs or playing golf. The Mets are thankful they didn’t take the Nats’ route.

Jason
Guest
Jason

What did the Reds do? The Reds didn’t merit a mention apparently.

Sean
Guest

I think the Nats should have made a move to get a backup middle infielder (while Tracy returns soon, Lombardozzi is the only long-term backup MI…it’s best to have 2 guys on the bench that can play up the middle). Still could see them make a move for a guy like Stephen Drew after the deadline, though, but they need one now with Desmond out. Catcher is a big issue as well but there are no options that don’t have their own issues…Shoppach/Jaso will get claimed before they get to Nats on waivers, Yorvit/Ramon Hernandez are declining (-0.1 WAR/-0.5 WAR this year, respectively) and the former attacks umpires, etc. The Flores/Solano/Leon/Maldonado/Hill show is what the Nats are likely stuck with for better or for worse.

The Braves should have done more to improve as well…they’re the ones that are actually behind in the standings. I don’t really get why the Braves adding Maholm and Reed Johnson is a big deal to anyone. Maholm is a mediocre pitcher who is currently on a hot streak (and when pitching normally, he is John Lannan with a tad better control and a few more K’s…4th/5th starter material) and Reed Johnson is a platoon OF.

Jason
Guest
Jason

They fill holes for the Braves. Not the only holes, but important ones that they could fill with one hot prospect from an area of depth that has significant issues that limit his potential impact with the Braves. To do more would have cost more, and they’ve been burned going down that route in the past.

All they wanted to do was spend enough to reward the fans’ renewed optimism with a real race this year without sacrificing much of the future. I think they did enough to solidify a wildcard spot and legitimately challenge for the division. I think that makes their moves a short-term benefit and a long term winner.

NatsFan73
Member
NatsFan73

Hey look, PHI just put Mike Fontenot on waivers. A handy MIF backup just sitting there for the taking …

Colin
Guest
Colin

When your team needs are 6th starter, backup backup MI, and backup catcher, I think that standing pat is a fine strategy.
The problem with upgrading the pitching was that they needed to find someone who was better than Lannan while not giving up anything more valuable than Lannan.
Yes, DeRosa has been bad, and the current back up infield plan is a mess. (Ryan Zimmerman moving to short if Lombo or Espy get injured before Desmond returns? Really?) But I’d guess that at some point, Chris Marrero will be recalled to replace DeRosa as a bat off of the bench.
I think this season is being viewed more as “bonus” year, as 2013 was the real target year to be competitive. While settling for a WC would be disappointing given their season to date, I don’t think that a WC should be counted as a disappointing season.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

No need to replace your starting catcher with his wRC+ at 53 (75 career)?

I’m pretty sure the Nats have “touchable” pieces to get, say, Ryan Doumit (111 wRC+ in 2012, 105 career).

Colin
Guest
Colin

Sure. But Ramos should be back next year, so this is strictly for a rental catcher. And if you look at the catchers who were actually traded (Soto and Kottaras), they are marginal upgrades over Flores, if even that. Flores is supposed to be a good receiver, and this is a team built around pitching. I don’t know how best to quantify the value of the rapport between pitchers and catchers, but I can’t imagine that it is valueless.

I concede that Doumit would be an upgrade on the offensive end. But with his questionable glove, would he start over Flores? How valuable is a backup catcher, given their limited availability as PHs? Also, with the Minn “Josh Willingham is untouchable” Twins owning Doumit, was he even available?

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