The first day of school might still be a month away, but it is never too early to hand out grades. After a busy, eventful trade deadline, M-SABR editor Sahil Shah has evaluated every team’s moves (or lack thereof) and has handed out grades accordingly for five teams who made some big moves at the deadline.
Pittsburgh Pirates: A
Take a bow, Neal Huntington. You killed it at the trade deadline.
The Pirates reeled in not one, but two solid controllable pitchers in Chris Archer and Keone Kela, both of whom will be key contributors to the team in the short term and the long term. In particular, I believe the Chris Archer deal is a solid investment. As a team with a relatively small payroll, the Pirates inevitably have a hard time reeling in marquee starting pitchers. While they have a number of intriguing young pitchers in the minor leagues and the major leagues, their rotation lacked a strong veteran anchor to help them compete in the NL Central over the next several years. With plenty of experience pitching in high-stakes games in the AL East and a team-friendly long-term contract, Archer fits the bill perfectly. The price to get him was very reasonable as well. Austin Meadows was a highly-ranked prospect and already has shown some promise during his time in the major leagues, but I don’t see him becoming a star outfielder that the Pirates will regret trading. Ditto for Glasnow, as his high walk rate and inability to consistently throw strikes makes me think he is destined for the bullpen rather than the top of the rotation. While the third piece in the deal has yet to be determined, I still believe the Pirates did not subtract too much from their ballclub to add Archer.
As for Kela, he has proven this year that he can pitch effectively in high-leverage situations and will give the Pirates a much-needed set-up man to pair with closer Felipe Vazquez in the back of the bullpen. Although there is some risk involved in acquiring Kela (relievers tend to fluctuate a bit, as evident by Kela’s unsightly 2016 season) and giving up starting pitcher prospect Taylor Hearn in the deal (who has turned in a nice season in AA and has the makings of a future mid-rotation starter), the move is a perfect gamble for a Pirates team that has committed resources to being a contender over the next several years.
One question I have seen raised is whether it makes sense for the Pirates to acquire pieces like Archer and Kela to gear up to compete with the Cubs and Brewers seemingly in line to dominate the division over the next several years. Look at teams like the 2012 Royals. After only winning 72 games in 2012, with the Tigers dominating the AL Central, the Royals decided to amplify a budding young core of players including Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar by acquiring star veteran pitcher James Shields and pitcher Wade Davis from the Rays. It was a move panned by many baseball analysts, but it paid dividends for the Royals as Shields anchored the rotation and Davis developed into an elite reliever that helped deliver a World Series title to Kansas City. The Pirates have built a similar strong core including Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell, and Jameson Taillon, and they are banking on Archer and Kela to be the next Shields and Davis to lead the Pirates to victory. And the beauty of the long-term nature of Archer and Kela’s deals is if the Pirates plan to compete falls flat, they can always trade Archer and Kela for big hauls and begin a rebuild. Overall, I believe this was a fantastic trade deadline for the Pittsburgh Pirates and one that will pay dividends for years to come.
Baltimore Orioles: B
As a diehard Orioles fan, I was terrified that the team would find a way to mess up the trade deadline much like they messed up by signing Chris Davis to a long-term contract (I’m not salty, I promise). But I have to say, I was pretty impressed with how the deals the team has made over the past month.
Trading Manny Machado was the worst day of my life as a baseball fan. I will never forgive Orioles owner Peter Angelos for not re-signing Machado to a long-term contract and building around him. Angelos is dead to me. Considering the circumstances, however, I think the Orioles extracted a great return for him. Yusniel Diaz is having a fantastic season and looks like he can be a fixture in the Orioles outfield for their next playoff team. Dean Kremer, Rylan Bannon, and Zach Pop, while not elite prospects, have posted great numbers in the minor leagues and could potentially be solid contributors for the team down the line.
In addition, I was very pleased to see the Orioles get some quality returns for Zach Britton and Jonathan Schoop. Luis Ortiz and Dillon Tate both look like they could be future major league starting pitchers. Cody Carroll and Josh Rogers have the potential to be late-inning relievers, while Jonathan Villar provides an interesting speed element to an Orioles team that has been overly focused on power in recent years and could return a nice haul in a trade if he recaptures his 2016 form.
Perhaps the most interesting development for the Orioles at the trade deadline was their renewed commitment to signing international players. The Orioles over the past several years have been well-known for choosing to ignore the talented pool of international amateurs and trade their bonus money away for mediocre minor league talent. However, they acquired international bonus money in two separate trades that saw Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman, and Darren O’Day all go to the Atlanta Braves. With the Orioles now armed with a boatload of international money and being heavily linked to star Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, the international bonus money acquisitions could prove to be one of the best parts of these deals.
The one thing that held me back from giving the Orioles an A was their return in the Kevin Gausman/Darren O’Day deal. With Gausman being under team control until 2020, I thought he would bring back a decent haul. I generally liked the prospects the Orioles acquired in the deal – Brett Cumberland has cracked a couple top 100 prospect lists this season and can be a decent major league catcher, Evan Phillips looks like he can be a solid bullpen piece, and Jean Carlos Encarnacion and Bruce Zimmerman are nice lottery tickets – but none of them were top prospects in the Braves organization. Attaching O’Day’s contract to the deal seemed to lessen the prospect return a bit and felt largely unnecessary considering the Orioles don’t need to clear payroll to sign big name free agents (unless they re-sign Machado, which I am still holding out hope for). At the very least, I think they could have waited to trade him at next year’s trade deadline to see if they could extract some value out of a healthy version of him.
However, I am still very happy with the Orioles moves overall. They finally ripped off the band-aid and started the rebuild in earnest. They acquired 15 young players to help improve a barren farm system, as well as international bonus money that could help them acquire more top prospects. While it was painful to trade so many core members of some great Orioles teams from 2012-2018, it was the right decision to make.
Seattle Mariners: C
Just because the Mariners are struggling on the field does not mean the front office is in a slump too. Despite lacking a deep farm system, Jerry Dipoto once again made some very creative moves to improve a Seattle Mariners team that is battling for a playoff spot. Looking at the outfield, early acquisition Denard Span has already put up great numbers for the Mariners since coming over from Tampa Bay. He has become a stabilizing force in the outfield that appeared a bit shallow when Dee Gordon moved back to the infield, posting a pristine .300 batting average and looking like a rejuvenated player. The trade for Cameron Maybin could have a similar effect, as he has had a solid season starting for the Marlins and will provide some solid depth for the ever-changing Mariners outfield. Even if he does not serve as an everyday starter for the Mariners, he can be counted on as a solid pinch-hitter or defensive replacement off the bench.
As for the bullpen, the Mariners also did a great job targeting arms to fit their needs. While they already have an elite closer in Edwin Diaz and some solid late-inning relievers such as James Pazos, the team desperately needed reinforcements. In acquiring Alex Colome, Sam Tuivailala, Adam Warren, and Zach Duke, the Mariners have added a solid group of relievers with great track records that might not have been as flashy as the premium relievers on the board, but will provide similar results at a much cheaper price. Some fans may be concerned about giving up Seth Elledge, one of the few bright spots of the Mariners minor league system, to land Tuivailala, but the fact that Tuivailala is under team control through 2022 makes this a very solid deal for the Mariners. If Tuivailala can continue to pitch well for the Mariners, he, along with Diaz, Pazos, and Colome (who is under team control through 2020) can form a nice late-inning combo for years to come.
While the Mariners did a nice job addressing two important needs, the one thing I wish they had done is gone out and acquired another starting pitcher. Ace James Paxton has been fantastic on the season, but he recently spent time on the disabled list with a back injury and has a long injury history. Marco Gonzales has been solid, but the rest of their rotation has ranged from roughly average to awful. I would have liked to have seen the Mariners get an inexpensive rental like Matt Harvey or Mike Fiers at the deadline to replace the struggling Felix Hernandez in the rotation. There is still plenty of time to do so (lord knows how much Jerry Dipoto loves to make trades), but until they fix the glaring hole in their rotation, it is hard to assign them a higher grade.
St. Louis Cardinals: D
The St. Louis Cardinals are a hot mess right now. They seem to have no direction and little idea what to do. To any average baseball fan, it’s pretty obvious that the Cardinals are not going to compete this year, and selling off some pending free agents and looking to acquire some controllable talent for the future would be a good idea. Instead, they did the exact opposite.
Bud Norris is not part of the long-term plan for the Cardinals and is having a fantastic season as the closer. It is fairly likely he won’t be a Cardinal next year, and they have his replacement in the wings in Jordan Hicks. Yet, instead of trading Norris and acquiring some decent prospects in return, they decided to hold onto him in the off chance that they could compete in the upcoming year.
Instead of trading Norris, they chose to trade Tommy Pham, a player with 3+ years of team control that they had seemingly committed to as a long-term fixture in their outfield in the offseason after trading away Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. Although he has been struggling as of late, he posted a fantastic 2017 season and was red-hot to start the 2018 season. And the return for him was unimpressive to say the least (the Rays didn’t give up a single top 10 prospect according to MLB.com). I get the argument that they wanted to open up playing time for Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill, but they could have done it at the expense of Dexter Fowler (who is somehow giving Chris Davis a run for his money as baseball’s worst player). And even if they wanted to trade away Pham, they could have at least waited until the offseason or next year’s trade deadline to see if he could rebuild some of his value that has been lost for his prolonged slump.
Speaking of outfielders, the Cardinals made one last confusing deal to wrap up the trade deadline, moving outfielder Oscar Mercado to the Indians for outfielders Connor Capel and Jhon Torres. Mercado has had a fantastic year at the age of 23, both offensively and defensively, in Triple-A. He is a player that might have earned a September call-up for the Cardinals this year, and a spot on their Opening Day roster in 2019. Instead, they trade him for two lottery ticket outfielders with some potential that aren’t nearly as good. Capel and/or Torres might end up being solid ballplayers down the line, but it is odd to me that the Cardinals would trade away a seemingly major-league ready outfielder for players who will probably be organizational filler.
In conclusion, Cardinals, get it together and come up with a solid game plan so you don’t end up like my beloved Orioles.
Houston Astros: F
Ryan Pressly was a nice acquisition. He will help shore up the bullpen. But the Roberto Osuna deal was the worst possible move the Astros could have made at the trade deadline. And it’s not even close.
As most of you are probably aware of, he has been suspended since May because of an ugly domestic violence incident. It is an inexcusable action that has no place in baseball or society at large. The last thing the Astros needed, coming off of a World Series victory with fantastic team chemistry and a huge lead in the AL West, was any source of controversy. Yet, they made the decision to acquire one of the, if not the most controversial player in all of baseball currently. Already, a number of Astros players have spoken out about the deal, including star pitcher Justin Verlander. If Verlander’s reaction to the last Astros player who was involved in a disturbing domestic violence incident is any indicator, it is obvious that the addition of Osuna will not sit well with him and the rest of his teammates. So why would the Astros add him to the clubhouse? It’s not like they couldn’t go out and get another reliever. The market was flooded with relievers, and players such as Zach Britton, Joakim Soria, Jeurys Familia, Keone Kela, and countless others were on the market that has actually been allowed to pitch this year and would have been an upgrade to their bullpen. But the Astros willingly chose to acquire the player with a domestic violence incident instead. Their attempts to justify the deal have been described as hollow, impersonal, and contradictory to their supposed stance on domestic violence, and fans are making sure the team knows that.
Maybe Osuna comes off his suspension and pitches well for the Astros. Maybe he leads them to a second consecutive World Series victory. And maybe he doesn’t have another major incident the rest of his career. But the damage has been done to the Houston Astros organization. By acquiring Osuna over the countless other bullpen pieces they could have pursued, they have sent a message to the players, coaches, and fans that they are alright with domestic violence baggage as long as the player is good at baseball, which is a terrible way to run a baseball organization.