The Blurring of the Line Between Buyers and Sellers

Four trades of relative significance occurred last Friday. With all due respect to Howie Kendrick, the other three trades are my primary interest. The Mets and Orioles, each far separated from the top of their divisions, made deals to beef up their major-league teams, dealing young players in the process. On top of that, the Mariners and Rays, just 2.0 games from each other in the wild-card race, made a deal to address their respective weaknesses. These deals seem to re-affirm a belief that began to surface with the introduction of the second wild card, but has likely never been as pronounced as this year (in part due to the mediocrity of the American League, in all likelihood). The line between buyers and sellers has blurred, leaving many teams dabbling on both sides.

As of July 29th, FanGraphs lists the Mets’ playoff odds at a measly 8.1%, which makes sense given their 48-53 record and 13.5-game deficit in the NL East. In fact, that exact record is shared by the lowly Marlins, who felt the need to deal their closer, A.J. Ramos. The Mets acquired Ramos despite virtually no chance to compete for a title this year. Now, the validity of the trade is up for debate, as relievers are highly volatile and the Mets roster is flawed enough to argue they should fully rebuild. What really matters, though, is that the Mets opted to start their winter shopping early, as opposed to simply selling off short-term assets and waiting for the offseason. With Ramos under control for 2018, the team clearly felt that they have enough to simply retool their roster, giving them a shot in ’18.

The O’s made a similar but yet very different move, adding Jeremy Hellickson from Philadelphia. Hellickson is a pure rental, and the Orioles, to this point, have not been a good team. At 48-54, FanGraphs gives them a 2.6% chance of making the playoffs. The primary reason for that record in a starting rotation that has been an unmitigated disaster, with just one pitcher (Dylan Bundy) posting an ERA below 5.00 (4.53). Even amid rumors of Baltimore dealing away some primary pieces, Dan Duquette must have seen an opportunity to add some stable innings to a rotation that is anything but stable. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported after the deal that Baltimore could still deal off pieces. That seems to hint that Baltimore has interest remaining competitive as long as possible, but not at the cost of mortgaging the future in what’s been termed a “seller’s market.”

Finally, we have the very interesting trade between Seattle and Tampa. Neither player on their own is of huge interest, as Erasmo Ramirez boasts a 4.80 ERA, while FanGraphs pegs Steve Cishek at a -0.1 WAR. However, with limited control left, both are clearly win-now assets, moving between teams that are contending for the same playoff spot. Jerry Dipoto’s love of trades has been well documented, but this is possibly his most fascinating. The motivation is clear, as Seattle has a need in the back end of its rotation, and Tampa Bay has worked effortlessly to revamp its entire pen. But we rarely see teams move players off the big-league roster when contending in July, and it’s even more rare to see a deal between two teams competing against each other for a playoff opportunity.

Whether due to increased parity, opportunistic general managers, or simply an odd one-day coincidence, it appears as though teams are taking a less rigid stance on buying and selling. With just about everyone in the American League within shouting distance of contention, we may be in for one of the more interesting trade deadlines in recent memory (ed. note: now complete!). And if your favorite team is out of it, you may still have a reason to get excited these next few days, as teams like the Braves threaten to make moves toward contention regardless. With a unique trade market, many clubs may see fit to stick their toes on both sides of the line, re-assembling their roster without the limitations that a rigid approach brings.

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