By Connor Pignatello
As teams approached MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline at 4 pm on July 31st, many hoped to bolster their squads to make pennant pushes and many sold off valuable assets for young players who can help them in the coming years. Bargain deals, veteran rentals, and blockbusters combined to form one of the most active trade deadlines in recent memory, as stars like Manny Machado, Chris Archer, and Brian Dozier changed uniforms. Here is my breakdown of the most significant moves from the days leading up to deadline day.
On July 18th, the day after the All Star game, the Dodgers kicked off trade season with a blockbuster deal to land Manny Machado, an established star and one of the best players in baseball, for a handful of prospects. Machado is a stellar defender at both shortstop and third base, and has played both so far in his short Dodgers career. Although the Dodgers would love to resign Machado and place him at third for the next several years, Machado will require a lot of money in free agency and has been adamant about his desire to play shortstop, a positio that waspreviously held by 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who underwent Tommy John surgery in May. The rebuilding Orioles had no chance to resign Machado on the open market, and received talented outfielder Yusniel Diaz, who immediately slots in as their best prospect in an extremely weak farm system. Even if this is just a rental for Los Angeles, they hope this will get them over the hump and help them defend their National League crown.
Dodgers Grade: A
With their once-dominant bullpen suffering due to injuries and ineffectiveness — Andrew Miller hasn’t pitched since May and once dominant closer Cody Allen is struggling to a career-worst 4.57 ERA — the Indians added some much-needed bullpen help in two-time All-Star Brad Hand, who has three more years of team control left. As every other team in their division is below .500, the Indians have an easy path to the postseason, but as the 2016 AL pennant winners know, a lights-out bullpen is a necessity in the postseason. Hand and Cimber have combined for a 3.01 ERA in 99 ⅓ innings this year, and will be a big boost for the Tribe come October. However, these acquisitions did not come without a price, as the Indians were forced to part with their best prospect and the #21 prospect in all of baseball, Francisco Mejia. Mejia is the best catcher prospect in the minor leagues — a good hitter with a great throwing arm frombehind the plate. The Padres will probably give Mejia a cameo at the end of this season, and he appears to be their future at the catcher position. The Indians acquired vital bullpen help, but Hand and Cimber are unlikely to push them past better teams like the Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees. Mejia seemed to be a great replacement for veteran Yan Gomes, and this move seems a bit shortsighted, despite the three years of team control of Brad Hand.
Indians Grade: B+
Padres Grade: B+
Although Zach Britton has fallen off in recent years, he is still an asset and will supplement a fearsome Yankee bullpen. Britton has struggled with injuries in both 2017 and 2018, but the Yankees are banking on him returning to his pre-injury form. In 2016, Britton was the most feared reliever in baseball, leading the league with 47 saves (and not blowing a single one) and recording an unfathomable 0.54 ERA. Britton got first-place Cy Young award votes in 2016, ultimately finishing fourth on the ballot. However, the past two seasons have been tough for Britton. In just 56 games in 2017 and 2018, Britton has only notched 19 saves, and allowed more earned runs than he did in the 133 games he played in 2015 and 2016. Britton will probably be a rental for the Yankee bullpen, but this trade is beneficial for both sides. As a rebuilding team, the Orioles do not need a closer like Britton, and did well to get Dillon Tate, who projects to be a solid starter and slots in at sixth in the Orioles prospect rankings.
Yankees Grade: A
Orioles Grade: A
Despite struggles with injuries, Nathan Eovaldi is now on his fifth team in seven MLB seasons thanks to his great arm and streaky play. In his first eight starts of the year, Eovaldi pitched masterfully to a 3.35 ERA and seemed to have fully recovered from a second Tommy John surgery in 2017. However, for the rest of the first half, Eovaldi struggled, and ended his tenure with the Rays with an ERA well over 4. In Eovaldi’s first and only start for the Red Sox, he impressed, throwing seven shutout innings and allowing just four hits. The backend of the Red Sox rotation has been a mess — 2016 trade deadline acquisition Drew Pomeranz has stumbled to a 6.91 ERA, fill-in Brian Johnson belongs in Triple-A, and knuckleballer Steven Wright has struggled with injuries since his breakout in 2016. With ace Chris Sale going to the 10-Day DL on July 31st, the Red Sox need starting pitching depth now more than ever, and the relatively low price of Jalen Beeks is worth it as the Red Sox progress towards the postseason. Beeks ranks as the Rays 15th-best prospect, and they will hope to develop him into a solid back-end starter.
Red Sox Grade: A-
Rays Grade: B
In the midst of the worst season of his career, veteran pitcher Cole Hamels was acquired by the Cubs to help them retain their one game lead in the NL Central and make another trip to the postseason. Although Hamels home-road splits have been extreme — 2.93 ERA away, 6.41 at home — Hamels is in the midst of the worst stretch of the worst season of his career, and although it seems he could benefit from a change in scenery, the 34 year old does not have the stuff he used to have. In his last ten games, Hamels has pitched to a ghastly 10.23 ERA which has boosted his ERA for the year to 4.72. And no, Hamels is not the recipient of some bad luck, in fact, it is the opposite — a 5.20 FIP shows Hamels has actually been lucky this year. Although Hamels’ experience will help the Cubs come October — and the Cubs did not part with any significant assets to get him — this is a puzzling move from Theo Epstein. If Hamels can turn it around Epstein just got a great bargain, but if he continues his downward trend, he will be a disappointment for the hungry Cubs. Hamels has a $20 million team option for next season which will most definitely not be picked up, so the Rangers did well to recoup some assets for their aging pitcher.
Cubs Grade: C-
Rangers Grade: B+
Eduardo Escobar’s newfound power stroke has led to 15 homers, a league-leading 38 doubles, and 65 RBIs — and he’s on pace to easily register career highs in each of those categories. Capable at third base, shortstop, and second base, Escobar represents an upgrade at each of those positions as Arizona tries to make the postseason for the second year in a row. Escobar will be a free agent come year’s end, and after extension talks between Minnesota and Escobar failed, they wisely traded him in a forward-thinking move, which nets them two prospects that fit into their top 30, #17 Maciel and #21 Duran.
Twins Grade: A-
Diamondbacks Grade: A
As the Phillies try to hold onto their ½ game lead in the NL East, they bolstered their infield with a rental of Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera had an pretty good year from the plate with the Mets, batting .272 with 18 homers and 58 RBIs and registering a nice 2.8 WAR on the offensive end through 101 games. However, the 32-year old has been horrendous in the field, notching a -1.6 WAR on the defensive end, as his limited range has proved he can not play second base effectively anymore. His bat will help the Phillies push for the playoffs, but his glove dims his overall production. In a good trade for the Mets, they land yet another pitching prospect, Frankyln Kilome, who has struggled with control in Double-A, but slots in as their #5 prospect.
Phillies Grade: B-
Mets Grade: B+
After an All-Star campaign in 2017 in which he smacked 38 home runs, Mike Moustakas settled for a 1 year, $5.5 deal with the Royals, who currently hold the second-worst record in the MLB. Moustakas followed up his stellar 2017 season with another good performance this year — bashing 21 home runs before his trade to the Brewers. A solid defensive presence at the hot corner, Moustakas packs middle-of-the-order pop for a Brewers team that is just one game back from the NL Central lead. Incumbent third baseman Travis Shaw has been taking ground balls at second base, showing the willingness of the Brewers to include both of their power-hitting third basemen in the lineup. Although neither Brett Phillips nor Jorge Lopez had significant playing time this year, both are serviceable young players under team control until 2024. The 29-year old Moustakas was clearly not part of the rebuilding Royals’ plans, and they did well to recover two players for their longtime third baseman. Although Moustakas is a rental, he was one of the best bats on the trade market and was acquired for a relatively low cost by Brewers General Manager David Stearns.
Brewers Grade: A
Royals Grade: B
RP Brad Brach to the Braves for International Bonus Pool Money
From 2013-2017, Brach was excellent in the Orioles bullpen, pitching to a 2.79 ERA in 279 games. He has fallen off a bit this year, recording a 4.85 ERA in 42 games, but if he is able to regain his previous form, this will be an excellent addition for the Braves. To acquire Brach, Atlanta used international bonus pool money which they wouldn’t have been able to use anyway, thanks to a penalty handed down from MLB thanks to the John Coppolella scandal, where the Braves circumvented baseball’s international signing rules. The additional money will give the Orioles the chance to rebuild one of baseball’s weakest farm systems.
Braves Grade: A+
Orioles Grade: A
Osuna is currently serving a 75-game suspension for Domestic Violence, but he is one of the most successful young closers in the game, saving 104 games with a 2.87 ERA in his first four years in baseball. Osuna has only appeared in 15 games this year due to his suspension, but he is eligible for the postseason and will bolster Houston’s bullpen after their disastrous Ken Giles experiment. After pitching to a 1.56 ERA in 113 games for the Phillies, Giles was traded to the Astros and has struggled mightily in his three years in H-town. After amassing a 4.99 ERA in 34 games for the Astros this year, Giles was embarrassingly sent down to the minors three weeks ago, and he will certainly benefit from a change in scenery. On one side, Osuna is an accomplished closer at just 23 and under club control until 2021, but on the other side, his Astro teammates, especially Justin Verlander, have been extremely critical of domestic violence issues in the past, and may not welcome him as the prized deadline acquisition that his ability suggests he is. Perez slots in as the Blue Jays #11 prospect and Paulino will serve as a solid depth addition with back-end starting rotation ability.
Astros Grade: A-
Blue Jays Grade: B+
After back-to-back 30 homer seasons and an All-Star appearance in 2016, the Reds sent outfielder Adam Duvall to the Braves. Duvall has struggled to a .205 batting average this year, but Statcast metrics show he’s making hard contact more consistently than last year, and his BABIP of .244 — closer to his career average of .245 — suggests he has been unlucky and there is room for him to grow. Duvall is under team control until 2021 and seems like a great replacement for 34-year old Nick Markakis, who will be a free agent this winter. Sims and Wisler have struggled for the Braves, but both pitchers are young and can act as starters or relievers. Tucker has been serviceable for the Braves in 62 games this year, and will slot easily into either a starting or bench role for the Reds. Duvall is a promising player despite his struggles this year, and the Braves have made yet another great acquisition in trading for him.
Braves Grade: A
Kinsler, the longtime Rangers and Tigers second baseman, has struggled this year with a .239 batting average for the Angels, but is a valuable acquisition at a low cost for the Red Sox, who have struggled to replace Dustin Pedroia’s production at second base. Pedroia has played just three games for Boston this year and is not expected to return to the team this year. His replacements Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt, although solid offensively, have been liabilities defensively. Still a great defensive second baseman at 36 years old, Kinsler has been a plus on the defensive end for his whole career, registering a 1.4 defensive WAR this year against Nunez and Holt, who have combined for -1.2 defensive WAR. Although Kinsler is not his former self anymore, he has rebounded in July, batting .320, hopefully signaling a change. Kinsler will slide into an almost-everyday role with the Red Sox, allowing Eduardo Nunez to slide to third base — where he is much more defensively proficient — while Rafael Devers is injured. Although Buttrey and Jerez have pitched well out of the bullpen in Triple-A, they are not high-level prospects and are easily replaceable by Boston. This trade benefits both sides, especially Boston, where Kinsler will slide in perfectly.
Red Sox Grade: A+
In a deal that will help both sides, Keone Kela heads to the Pirates as they make a heated pursuit of the NL Wild card, and Taylor Hearn heads to the Rangers, immediately becoming a top ten prospect for the Texas farm system. Kela has been excellent this season, converting 24 of 25 save chances with a 3.44 ERA and a 2.97 FIP, suggesting he has been even better than his numbers show. The Pirates have hopefully acquired their closer for the future in Kela, who will not be a free agent until 2022. In return, the Rangers received Taylor Hearn, a lefthander with a great fastball in the high 90s, able to pitch as a starter or a reliever. The Rangers do not need a great closer as they rebuild, but Kela has flourished in his first year of closing and is under team control for three more years. Hearn is less only sixteen months younger than Kela, so the Rangers are not getting much younger with this trade. Although Hearn is a valuable pickup, trading Kela so soon after discovering him could be a mistake.
Pirates Grade: A-
Rangers Grade: C
Thanks to MLB.com for prospect rankings and the Sporting News for a list of the transactions of the trade deadline. As always, many thanks to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for all these helpful stats. Part II with the trades from deadline day will be released shortly.
I write a blog called The Full Court Press (thefullcourtpress.net) which covers buzzer beaters, bunts, blitzes, bicycle kicks and everything in between. I'm a high school student who really enjoys writing about sports. I write about baseball, football, basketball, and soccer. Sports writing is incredibly fun for me and it's what I want to do later in my life. I also announce my articles on Twitter (@tfcpblog), so make sure to follow that for updates. You can subscribe to email updates on thefullcourtpress.net too.