How Active Teams Won the Trade Deadline

You don’t choose the window, the window chooses you.

Apparently, only 11 MLB general managers understand the most important concept of front office-ing. Out of all 30 teams at the deadline, only 11 seemed to truly know what they were doing and only 11 teams truly improved.

The Nationals, Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Rays, Diamondbacks and Indians all sensed an opportunity to win in 2017 and acted on it. The Rangers and A’s sensed that they needed to build for the future and acted on it. The White Sox continued a fire sale that will pay off soon.

Every other team? Yikes.

About 3 weeks ago, I wrote about how the idea of ‘standing pat’ at the deadline is stupid and useless. You either feel you have a team that can make a playoff run or you feel you don’t. And based on that feeling, you act accordingly at the trade deadline. Standing pat and doing nothing creates mediocrity and irrelevancy.

And, out of the 29 teams that won’t be celebrating a World Series in 2017, 21 of them – excluding intentional sellers Oakland, Texas and the White Sox – just solidified that status with an apathetic trade deadline approach. Yeah, I’m primarily looking at you, Houston Astros. Enjoy 2017 as your ‘what could have been’ season.

But I’m not here to talk about the teams that failed the deadline, I’ll get to them some other time. I’m here to talk about the teams that won the deadline and the common approach that they all shared.

Activity won the trade deadline, and I will personally guarantee that one of the 7 buyers I listed above will be standing alone at the end of the season as 2017 World Series champions.

In the National League, the 3 best teams have clearly separated themselves. The Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers all understand that they have both pressure and rosters ready to make a deep playoff run in 2017, and they all acted like it in July, operating with the precision and aggression conducive to a World Series winning approach.

The Cubs, experiencing a World Series hangover that saw them enter the All Star break under .500, were able to stay afloat for the first 3 and a half months of the season due to a weak NL Central. However, instead of trusting the team already in place to get things going, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer bolstered what few roster holes they had and have kick-started a sleeping giant.

Since acquiring Jose Quintana on July 14th, the Cubs are 14-3 and have leapfrogged the Brewers to take control of the NL Central. Having filled the three discernible roster holes that they had – left handed reliever, backup catcher, starting pitcher – with micro-precision trades, Chicago appears set for another playoff run and has put itself back on track for more future success after appearing unsteady.

Out in Washington, the bullpen appears to be the only problem. The Nationals are 63-42 and hold a commanding 13 game lead over the second place Marlins in the NL East. However, with 14 blown saves and a 4.38 ERA entering the All-Star break, some clear help was needed in the bullpen.

GM Mike Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals’ front office acted accordingly, making trades for A’s relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madsen along with Twins’ closer Brandon Kintzler. By adding 3 back end arms and addressing the dire bullpen need, Washington has secured itself a more stable playoff position and can feel good about their chances of finally making good on the promise of a World Series run that they have teased their fans with for so long.

Since the break, the Nationals haven’t blown a save and hold a much improved 3.05 team bullpen ERA. Problem solved thus far.

With a 75-31 record on August 2nd, the Dodgers have something seriously special going on. That .708 winning percentage has them on pace for 114 wins, just 3 shy of setting a Major League record. Clearly, this is a tremendous team having a tremendous season.

With an approach reflecting that, the Dodgers didn’t mess around at the deadline. They tried and failed to acquire Zach Britton from the Orioles. However, when that fell through, Andrew Freidman, Farhan Zaidi and the rest of the Los Angeles brass launched into plan B.

Plan B consisted of power relievers Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani along with Texas Rangers’ ace Yu Darvish.

The Dodgers have a sparkling farm system that has been carefully built by a patient and stingy front office. Their traditional refusal to trade prospects has yielded them Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger’s respective 2016 and 2017 breakouts. However, understanding that 114 win teams don’t come around very often, Los Angeles rightly decided it was time to bite the bullet on their traditional mold and deal away some future talent.

Instead of cuddling up in a corner with their precious prospects, the best team in baseball sacked up, dealt some away and got better because of it. The Dodgers’ are now easily in pole position to win their first World Series since 1988 because of a superb trade deadline and it was beautiful to watch.

I also have to give props to the Diamondbacks for going and getting JD Martinez. Arizona is currently in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and although they don’t appear good enough to take down the Cubs, Nationals, or Dodgers, they have separated as the best of the rest.

Their move for Martinez showed a clear approach. Arizona believes that they just have to make the playoffs to have a shot. The Diamondbacks didn’t deplete the farm system chasing after rentals, they made a calculated move in order to smartly capitalize on a winning team without mortgaging their future.

Those 4 teams all guaranteed themselves a playoff spot by simply having a clear plan and being active at the deadline.

In the American League, the story wasn’t so much about separating the gap between playoff teams as it was closing the gap.

The Astros, to this point, have made themselves a clear front runner in the junior circuit. Sports Illustrated, 3 years ago, declared them the 2017 World Series champions and Houston has apparently taken that to heart.

However, some chinks in the armor have shown through over the course of the past month or so and Houston is only 8-8 since the All Star break with a disturbing 5.64 team ERA.  Sensing an opportunity to close ground on the previously invincible looking Astros, the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians all pounced.

New York reeled in the most prized possession of the trade deadline in Sonny Gray. Boston nabbed themselves Eduardo Nunez and Addison Reed, thus far solving their 3rd base issue and adding another power arm to an already stacked bullpen. And Cleveland moved for strikeout machine Joe Smith from Toronto, further solidifying a bullpen that has already shown itself as a dynamic October weapon.

Hell, even the plucky Tampa Bay Rays acquired Lucas Duda and Steve Cishek to fortify their troops for a possible Wild Card run.

The gap that Houston had previously created between themselves and the rest of the American League is now all but gone. Old fashioned aggressive dealing by Dave Dombrowski, Brian Cashman and Chris Antonetti closed it and just made the junior circuit playoff picture a whole lot more interesting.

And on the selling side, Texas and Oakland nailed it.

Instead of waiting until the offseason and possibly only getting a compensatory draft pick, the Texas Rangers opted to pull back 3 prospects for walk year ace Yu Darvish. Prospects are already one of the most volatile commodities in baseball, but prospects that haven’t even been drafted yet take it to another level. Texas secured themselves a much more comfortable return by trading Darvish to Los Angeles, even if they didn’t get back the ideal package of prospects they were looking for.

Oakland did similarly with their trades of Sonny Gray, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madsen. Knowing they aren’t ready to win right now, the A’s have no use for those 3 players. Instead of letting their value waste away on a losing team, Oakland acquired high quality future talent from the Yankees for Gray, and also got prospects back for Doolittle and Madsen.

With 2 more years of control, could Oakland have easily held onto Sonny Gray in hopes of having him ready to lead a winning team soon? Absolutely, but Billy Beane isn’t stupid enough to think that his team is going to need a player like Gray right now or even in the immediate future because he knows that the A’s won’t be ready to win during Sonny Gray’s contracted tenure.

So, he planned for the future.

It boggled my mind while watching the trade deadline unfold that only 11 out of 30 teams seemed to have a clear plan and know what they were doing. In a seller’s market, only Oakland and Texas truly took advantage of a seemingly voracious appetite for pitching.

Understanding that playoff opportunities aren’t to be taken for granted, Tampa Bay and Arizona (and Kansas City in a way, but that’s a more unique situation) made calculated deals to maximize the teams they have now without selling away their futures.

And with pressure to win now and rosters conducive to that plan, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Chicago and Washington went all in and have essentially set the playoff picture.

When October rolls around and the teams playing include the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Indians, Cubs, Nationals and Diamondbacks, everyone will see that activity and aggression won the trade deadline. No team has ever won the World Series by sitting pat in July, and no team that isn’t listed above will be raising a trophy this year either.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

How Active Teams Won the Trade Deadline