I learned something new this non-waiver trade deadline: Travelling and being off the web is glorious and fully recommended. When you get back, you get to do the web-sports equivalent of binge watching, and dig into all of the delicious nonsense all at once. This year’s deadline was particularly delightful, as the volume of deals broke an over 20-year record. There was also, of course, some somewhat curious standing pat, or close to it.
It’s time to take a look at some of the highlights. Obviously, because there was so much action (and occasionally, lack thereof), we can’t cover everything. If I leave something out or don’t talk about it in as much detail as you would like, keep in mind that it is not because I had to make some decisions about what were the most interesting deals to me, but because I am 100% actively biased against you and your team.
Grade for Giants: C+
The Giants might be the toughest team to stick a letter grade on after the deadline (I’ve changed this from a B- to a C+ and back like a dozen times). They made some of the biggest deals and addressed some of their biggest roster problems, but they also gave up a lot, didn’t have the deepest farm to begin with and have question marks on the players they picked up. We already covered the Eduardo Núñez trade last week, and it turned out that the suspicion about the Giants’ motives with that move were correct. In one of the biggest surprises of the deadline, they sent third baseman Matt Duffy and prospects to Tampa Bay in exchange for starting pitcher Matt Moore.
Duffy was a revelation for the Giants in his first full season in 2015, hitting .295/.334/.428, while playing excellent defense, putting up just shy of 5 WAR and coming in second in NL Rookie of the Year voting. However, he never had that top prospect je ne sais quoi and his 2016 represented a serious step back (.253/.313/.358, 1.7 bWAR/1.2 fWAR) and, although he continued to provide value with his glove, he’s been out since mid-June due to an Achilles injury. In addition to Duffy, the Giants gave up one of their top prospects in shortstop Lucius Fox, who was one of the hottest international free agents last year, and an A-ball RHP toss-in Michael Santos.
Moore broke out in 2012 and looked to be a core part of the Rays’ rotation going forward until he was shut down and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014. When he came back in 2015, his 5.43 ERA/4.49 FIP didn’t exactly inspire confidence that he was going to return to his pre-surgery self. However, recovering from TJS can take time and it looks like Moore’s stuff might be back, as he’s been excellent this year as long as you discount his brutal May. Duffy won’t be a free agent until 2021, but Moore is signed through 2018. We’re in a golden age of third basemen and there’s a paucity of pitchers. Good luck figuring this move out without the benefit of hindsight!!!
Starting pitching hasn’t been the Giants’ only issue over their abysmal (4-12) post-All Star Break stretch. The bullpen was a concern when we checked in almost a month ago, but the blown saves and inability to keep the Giants in the game continued, so it’s not even close to surprising that they headed to the Milwaukee brewpub for a very expensive pint of Will Smith. Smith isn’t in the same tier as the biggest gets like Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller, but the Giants didn’t really have a prospect package to land either of them, either.
To get Smith, the Giants gave up backup catcher Andrew Susac and RHP Phil Bickford. While Susac was seemingly starter material for a number of teams, he had been (and would continue to be) blocked by Buster Posey and he has also been dealing with assorted injuries, so the Giants won’t be terribly hurt by his loss. Bickford was pretty high up the list of Giants’ prospects, but he also wasn’t without his detractors in term of his ability to stick long term. While Smith has been having a down year, there’s certainly cause to believe that he’s regaining his prior form thanks to an uptick in velocity, as pointed out by Craig Edwards at Fangraphs, in which case Smith would certainly be an upgrade in the lefty department for the Giants in the long term, as he’s around through 2020. Again, though, the Giants gave big chips to get a relief pitcher who isn’t a sure thing.
All in all, the Giants certainly improved before the deadline, but they did so at a substantial cost in terms of present and potential talent and there are some question marks by the players they traded for, even if they are around for longer than normal rental player trade deadline fodder.
Grade for Dodgers: B
Despite the Giants' poor play since the break, they were able to hold on to an increasingly tenuous lead, as the Dodgers have problems of their own, like missing the best pitcher on the planet. Los Angeles, however, took a very different approach, going after a couple of the best available rentals in a package from the Athletics in the form of Rich Hill and Josh Reddick.
Hill, 36, is the feel good story of the year, finally breaking out after years of dealing with injuries. He finally delivered on his prior potential in the first half, putting up a 2.25 ERA, 2.53 FIP and 181 ERA+ over 14 starts, but he’s only appeared for an inning since the All-Star Break, as he’s been dealing with a blister. If Hill is able to make his starts and pitches like he did in the first half, it could certainly be a difference maker for the Dodgers, but we are talking about injuries, predictive or not, to a pitcher with a history of injuries (on a team full of injured pitchers, no less).
Reddick, on the other hand, doesn’t come with question marks. In the last four full seasons in Oakland, Reddick averaged 19 home runs and 3.6 bWAR a year. Los Angeles ranks 23rd in MLB by fWAR, thanks to injuries and poor hitting and fielding, so Reddick is clearly an upgrade for a team that was in need of one.
In return, the Dodgers sent the A’s three pitching prospects, Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes and Jharel Cotton. Both Montas and Holmes made Baseball America’s midseason top-100 list, so the Dodgers did part with some serious prospect pesos, but they also managed to hold on to all of their top-50 prospects on that list. The Dodgers have a much deeper farm system than the Giants and it’s refreshing to see them taking advantage of that depth to bolster their current roster.
Grade for Padres: K (that’s “Kemp,” not “strikeout”)
Before we leave the NL West, I want to take a moment and pour one out for the fact that the Friars managed to finally trade Matt Kemp, who was one of most untradeable players in baseball. Sure, they did it by eating salary and taking on a player who is currently suspended for accusations of domestic violence that they DFA-ed as soon as possible. There is no such a thing as an untradeable player, y’all.
Grade for Mets: D
And another quick hit for the Mets, who made a very curious move when they traded for Jay Bruce. They could have used offensive help at numerous positions, especially catcher, but they got another outfielder who plays questionable defense instead. At least he should hit a lot of home runs at Citi Field...
Grade for Nationals: A-
With the Nationals sitting on a more sizable lead than the Giants, and less desperate needs, they set out to do the one thing the one thing they really needed to take care of before the deadline: getting Jonathan Papelbon out of the closer role. While Papelbon was one of the best closers in baseball for almost ten years, he’s remembered more for choking his MVP teammate last year than his results after he came over from the Phillies and he’s following that up with his worst season to date. He’s been dealing with injuries, walking more batters, getting less ground balls and putting up the worst context dependent stats of his career.
So, trading for the Pirates’ closer, Mark Melancon, makes a ton of sense (even if the Nats could have solved it internally). Melancon has been, as usual, excellent for the Pirates (.960 WHIP, 2.65 FIP, 11.17 RE24). Like Will Smith, he’s no Chapman or Miller, but he also comes with less question marks than Smith and he cost less as well. The Nationals only gave up lefty reliever Felipe Rivero and LHP prospect Taylor Hearn and got one of the best relievers available for a pretty reasonable price.
Grade for Pirates: F
Oh, the flipside to good trades... It’s never going to be surprising to see the Pirates trade a player who’s approaching free agency, but that also doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting and you would least hope they got back a better package. While we all handed the NL Central to the Cubs before the season even started, the Pirates are still in the thick of the Wild Card race. Giving up a proven closer for the rest of the season isn’t something that a team that’s looking to play postseason baseball should do, no matter how poor they are, unless the return is overwhelming. It wasn’t.
Then there’s the other big move that the Pirates made as the deadline approached. They acquired Drew Hutchison, who has never been particularly good, from the Blue Jays, in exchange for Francisco Liriano, who was excellent as recently as last season, although he has been having a terrible year. That in and of itself isn’t the issue, it’s that Pittsburg also included not one, but two, top-100 overall and top-10 organizational prospects, Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire. There’s almost no way to justify this move on the Pirates’ part except that they’re just trying to save money. People are upset. Not a good look, Pirates.
Grade for Phillies: Eph
Since we’re already giving out really bad grades, let’s go ahead give a shout out to the Phillies, who didn’t move anyone before the trade deadline. Jeremy Hellickson is going to be a free agent and is one of the best rental pitchers available. We’ll never know what Philadelphia was offered, but based on what we saw change hands and the going cost of pitching, it’s pretty hard to believe that it wasn’t better than the compensatory draft pick they’ll get instead. There were other rumors, like those about Vincent Velasquez and Jeanmar Gomez, but you can understand why they wouldn’t move players that are under control after this year, unless the price was right. Not trading Hellickson, though, was almost certainly a mistake.