For the past two seasons the July 31st MLB non-waiver trade deadline had been a non-event. There were no big blockbuster deals in years. Lately the biggest moves have happened in August or during the offseason. That changed last Thursday.
We saw a flurry of big names moved. Red Sox ace Jon Lester was traded to the Oakland Athletics for star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Boston also shipped out veteran starter John Lackey to St. Louis for outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig.
But the biggest move of the day occurred when the Detroit Tigers, clearly in response to the A’s blockbuster trade for Lester, acquired Tampa Bay Rays ace and 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price in a three-team trade with the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners received Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson while the Rays received 25-year-old pitcher Drew Smyly and a middle infield prospect from Detroit and shortstop Nick Franklin from Seattle.
Here is a breakdown of the biggest winners and losers at the deadline:
Oakland Athletics: After two consecutive seasons of being knocked out in the American League Division Series by the Tigers, the A’s bolstered their pitching staff by trading for Cubs pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on July 5th to go along with rotation stalwarts Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray. Samardzija has flourished with Oakland, pitching to a 3.19 ERA and .82 WHIP in five starts. Hammel meanwhile has struggled mightily. The veteran right-hander has pitched to an era of close to 10 and a WHIP over 2. If the A’s were to keep up with the Tigers, they needed to get another arm. Lester has had huge success in the postseason, posting a 2.11 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 76 2/3 innings pitched in October. It adds legitimacy to a rotation with very limited postseason appearances.
Boston Red Sox: Despite losing their top two starters to trade, the Red Sox made out particularly well in both of these deals. The Red Sox acquired Yoenis Cespedes from the A’s for Lester and outfielder Johnny Gomes. Surprisingly Cespedes’ slugging percentage is lower outside of the Oakland Coliseum than it is at home. Oakland’s home park is mostly known as a pitcher’s park. But Cespedes’ power numbers should improve due to the Green Monster in left field.
By trading John Lackey the Red Sox picked up nice players going forward. Allen Craig seems to be having a down year in 2014, but has shown promise, hitting over .300 in each his last three seasons with St. Louis with an on base percentage hovering around .360 as well. Craig has played a lot of outfield but will likely shift over to first base, his more familiar position. Outfielder Oscar Tavares was ranked the third best prospect in all of baseball going into 2014, according to MLB.com. Tavares has struggled in his brief stints in the majors, but the Red Sox are clear winners in this trade.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers made the biggest splash at the deadline by acquiring perhaps the best pitcher in the American League in David Price. Loaded with the last three American League Cy Young Award winners (Justin Verlander 2011 [also won MVP], Price 2012, Max Scherzer 2013) Detroit clearly wants to return to the World Series, and win it this time. The only issue the Tigers still need to address is a weak bullpen, but with strong starters who each can go deep into games, it is less critical. Scherzer is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season. If he were to leave Price still gives the Tigers a nasty 1-2 punch with Verlander at the top of the rotation.
Philadelphia Phillies: An aging, veteran team, in desperate need of a rebuild, does nothing to help their own cause. With attractive pieces such as Cole Hamels, Marlon Byrd, and Antonio Bastardo, the Phillies could have traded away some of their better performing players to help kick start a rebuild. Instead the Phillies chose to stand pat with their massively underperforming team. When asked why the Phillies did not make a trade, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. placed the blame on the other teams, “I’m not disappointed, more surprised there wasn't more aggressive action from the other end ... We have some pretty good baseball players here… Our goal all along was to try to improve the club, and there wasn't a deal to be made to help us do that.” One of their best trade pieces in Cliff Lee was removed from his start Thursday with a strain on his left elbow. Lee is likely done for the season. Lee has one more year left on his contract but at a hefty price of $25 million, in addition to an option for the 2016 season at $27.5 or a buyout for $11 million. Ruben Amaro Jr. needed to make something happen… instead he earned his nickname “Ruin Tomorrow Jr.”.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals did need help to stabilize their rotation heading into the deadline, and they did so successfully with the acquisition of Cleveland Indians’ ace Justin Masterson. But the Cardinals also desperately needed offensive help, and did nothing to address it. Instead the team with the second least runs scored in all of baseball chose to acquire pitcher John Lackey from the Red Sox for Allen Craig and top prospect Oscar Tavares. Lackey is far from a bad player, pitching to a 3.60 ERA and 1.23 WHIP this season for Boston. Lackey is even under team control next season at the league minimum $500k, because of a clause in his contract which was activated after missing the 2012 season because of Tommy John surgery. But Lackey is not what the Cards needed. St. Louis is in desperate need of a bat. The Cardinals are hoping some of the bats that got them to the World Series last year - but have been silent so far this year - will wake up in time to make a run. Perhaps a player like Phillies second baseman Chase Utley would have made sense.
To Be Determined:
There is only one team that falls into this category and it is the Tampa Bay Rays. Selling high on David Price was a smart move for the Rays, considering it was clear they would not be able to re-sign him. But the return on this trade is puzzling from their perspective. When the Rays made a similar trade in the 2012-2013 offseason, sending pitcher James Shields to Kansas City, they acquired one of the best prospects in all of baseball in outfielder Wil Meyers. So far that has been a nice haul for the Rays.
With this trade, they received pitcher Drew Smyly from the Tigers and Nick Franklin from the Seattle Mariners (more on him later). Smyly is still a young pitcher, but is not that highly regarded. Used largely as a reliever last season, Smyly had enormous success, to a 2.37 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. But in this his first full season as a starter Smyly has struggled with his control, posting a 1.34 WHIP to go along with a 3.93 ERA. It will be interesting see how the Rays use Smyly going forward.
Nick Franklin is a rookie middle infielder who came to Tampa from the Mariners. Franklin has struggled mightily in his time in the majors. Franklin hit. 225 last season in 107 games for Seattle. This season, in just 17 games, Franklin has hit only .128 and was sent down to AAA Tacoma in late May due to a lack of performance.
The key player in this trade from the Rays perspective is Willy Adames, a young 18-year-old middle infielder from the Dominican Republic, who most recently played for the Tigers low A team in West Michigan. In 98 games with the Whitecaps this year, Adames hit .270 with a .345 on base percentage. Time will tell what Adames turns out to be but he has shown some promise.
This is far from the end of trading. Expect many more names to be floated around before the waiver trade deadline on August 31st. Players that were not dealt before the non-waiver deadline could still be moved. We’ll see if there are any more big names dealt. New York Mets starter Bartolo Colon is a name that has been floated around, as have San Diego Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers outfielder Alex Rios and Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd.