We previously covered some of the National League highlights from this year’s delightful and record-breaking non-waiver trade deadline. Now, we’ll turn our thoughts to the deals (or lack thereof) in the American League. Obviously, because there was so much action, 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 and non-deals to me, but because I am 100 percent actively biased against you and your team.
Grade for Rangers: A
With the Astros surging after the All-Star Break and pulling within 2.5 games of the Rangers last week, Texas realized that it needed to improve wherever it could in order to maintain its grasp on the division and prep for the postseason. Jonathan Lucroy was one of the crown jewels of the trade deadline, after bouncing back from a lackluster 2015 to hit .299/.359/.479 for a 121 OPS+, while providing plus defense at the most premium defensive position, good for 3rd in fWAR at catcher this season. He’s sticking around in 2017 for the Rangers at the bargain price of $5.25 million.
While the Rangers received a break when Lucroy exercised his no trade clause to keep him from going to the Indians (a super-hot-take generating move that was actually pretty reasonable), they still shelled out for his services. The Brewers received outfielder Lewis Brinson, RHP Luis Ortiz and a player to be named later. Brinson was a consensus top-20 prospect before this season and, although a couple of trips to the DL have dropped him a bit into the 20s, he was likely the best prospect to move at the deadline. Ortiz is another top 100 prospect (currently 63 at MLB.com and 74 at Baseball America), which makes him another one of the top pieces to move, but the Rangers also get points for hanging on to their top prospect, Joey Gallo, and (obviously) their youngsters already in the bigs.
Getting just Lucroy at this cost might have fit in with some of the other overpays this trade season, but the Rangers got reliever Jeremy Jeffress in the deal as well. The Rangers’ bullpen has been middle of the pack and Jeffress, who has been excellent for Milwaukee (2.38 WPA, 4th in MLB), is an excellent pickup and is around through 2019.
Texas also hit up the rental market to replace Prince Fielder at DH, who has only hit .212/.292/.334 and is recently out for the rest of the season after neck surgery anyway. Carlos Beltran and his .304/.344.436 line is an immediate upgrade there (not to mention his clutch record in the postseason). Again, the Rangers had to give up something big, in this case Dillon Tate, who was the Rangers’ 1st round (4th overall) pick in 2015 and started off this season as a top-100 prospect but has struggled mightily in A-ball this year.
It’s certainly no secret that the Rangers have pushed most of their chips into the center of the table at this point, but they managed to hold on to their top prospect and youngsters who are already contributing, while obtaining some players who are more than just rentals. It certainly looks like they’re taking an acceptable risk vs. reward strategy in terms of what they’ve gotten back and they look set up for the stretch run and like one of the smartest teams after this year’s deadline.
Bonus Grade for Brewers: B+
I just realized that I didn’t write about Milwaukee yesterday, but, despite the Indians-Lucroy scuttlebutt, they still got a good return on Lucroy and that, coupled with what they got from the Giants for Will Smith, certainly looks like what a team that’s rebuilding should be doing.
Grade for Astros: C+
Unlike the arms race that went down in the NL West between the Dodgers and Giants prior to the trade deadline, the Astros more or less sat out on any external upgrades to keep up with the Rangers’ wheeling and dealing. Josh Fields and Scott Feldman (who had a crazy first day on his new team) were dealt for prospects who aren’t going to help this year. That’s not to say that they don’t have reinforcements on the way. Starting RHP and top-100 prospect Joe Musgrove made his first, record-breaking appearance in four innings of relief the day after the trade deadline. Top ten prospect Alex Bregman finally got his first MLB hit and will hopefully figure things out quickly. Veteran Cuban Yulieski Gurriel (who was signed in mid-July) is cruising through the minors and should also be up before too long.
It’s not that they can’t win a bunch of games with their current roster, who went 18-6 in the calendar month starting on June 18. But the 2-6 stretch they have gone on since being within striking distance of the Rangers obviously doesn’t help their playoff odds (from 69% to 30% from July 24 to today, per Fangraphs) or their standing (they’re now 5.5 games back in the division, 3.0 for a Wild Card spot).
The players the Astros are adding and counting on down the stretch are unproven, unlike the Rangers’ additions. There’s definitely something to be said for not burning down what’s left of the farm (especially after the Ken Giles trade over the offseason), but it’s also hard to be too high on the Astros watching the Rangers upgrade as much as they did.
Grade for Athletics: B+
We’ll close out the AL West with a quick shout out to the A’s, who were mentioned yesterday in terms of the quality arms the Dodgers gave up some in their pursuit of Rich Hill and Josh Reddick. With the A’s out of the playoff picture this year, they were wise to reload for the future and they got a pretty solid return, especially considering they only took a $6 million flier on Hill prior to this season.
Grade for Yankees: A-
If the A’s made out pretty well at the deadline, the Yankees made out like bandits, for the most part. We already talked about how the Yankees absolutely won the Aroldis Chapman deal (from a purely baseball perspective, of course). They also traded Andrew Miller to the Indians for two top prospects, outfielder Clint Frazier (22nd on MLB.com’s midseason 100 top prospects and 21st on Baseball America) and LHP Justus Sheffield (93rd on MLB.com and 69 on BA), and two mid-20s RHPs in in the upper minors, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen, both of whom have solid if not terribly exciting numbers that could see either one them in a relief role sooner rather than later. While Miller still had a couple of years left under team control, he was still a reliever, albeit an elite one, and this makes for a pretty solid haul for New York.
As discussed above, they also got an interesting pitching prospect in Tate for Beltran. Then there were lesser moves, like two players to be named later from the Pirates for Iván Nova, which, sure, why not? Trading RGP prospect Vicente Campos to Arizona for reliever Tyler Clippard was the only curious move the Yankees made, as Campos had improved quite a bit this year after recovering from TJS and it’s not as if they really need bullpen arms right now, but it’s not enough to dock them too much and at least Clippard is around for next year.
The Yankees now have five of the top fifty prospects from MLB.com and look like they did pretty well going full rebuild for the first time in forever. These deals could impact things for quite some time, what with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hitting free agency in a couple of years and the money saved by having some cost controlled top talent would mean to the Yankees’ ability to outspend everyone else.
Grade for Indians: A-
To be fair to the Indians, I think that the Miller trade was a good move on their part, as well. They may have lost the Lucroy contest, but they made out pretty well on the reliever market. As with the Rangers, their bullpen was middle of the pack, but simply by adding Miller, they’re pretty threatening. With their already dominant rotation backed by a newly dominant bullpen, they’ll probably be pretty good at shutting other teams down, and they, along with Texas, look like one of the two teams to beat in the AL.