How Delusion Lost the Trade Deadline

Man, the Baltimore Orioles really don’t know how to use Zach Britton.

After last year’s Wild Card game, you’d figure the Orioles maybe would have finally figured out how to deploy their greatest asset. But, it’s August 3rd and Britton still puts on an orange and black uniform every night that doesn’t say ‘Houston’ on the front of it.

Lol nope, they haven’t figured out. 

According to Ken Rosenthal, with about an hour left until the deadline the Baltimore front office called all teams interested in Britton – presumably Houston, Cleveland and Los Angeles – and told him that he wasn’t available any more. The Orioles then preceded to acquire Tim Beckham from the Rays, combining him with Jeremy Hellickson, acquired two nights prior, to make up their trade deadline prizes.  

The Baltimore Orioles, 4 games under .500 entering July 31st and featuring the 27th best MLB farm system according to ESPN’s Keith Law, decided to buy at the trade deadline.

Now, if we’re to believe Houston’s front office and a report by Jon Heyman, there was a Zach Britton to the Astros trade in place before it was “vetoed at the top.” Orioles owner Peter Angelos has only allowed his team to ‘sell’ for 2 out of the past 20-30 deadlines, so it seems pretty easy to understand who put the stamp on things.

Delusion reigned supreme in Baltimore.

From Angelos’ point of view, he’s 86 years old and I understand an urgency to win. But his win-now demands have tied the hands of his franchise. The Orioles traditionally don’t draft well or spend internationally, so they have to be on point with trading and free agency. Holding onto Zach Britton and Brad Brach – among others – at the deadline has set them up in a porous position going forward.

In a seller’s market for pitching, Baltimore had two of the most valuable assets and a chance to run the table. Instead, they decided to hold firm and, further, when they weren’t able to get the presumably exorbitant player returns they wanted on Britton and Brach, the Orioles decided to buy.

When Jeremy Hellickson doesn’t solve Baltimore’s awful starting pitching situation, things predictably collapse down the stretch of this season and the Orioles finish in the AL East cellar, they’ll have a dire offseason situation staring them in the face and nobody to blame but themselves. 

So, congratulations to the Orioles for still thinking they can contend, I guess. Enjoy Tim Beckham and another decade of irrelevancy.

What Baltimore – and a startling amount of other clubs – apparently fails to understand is that relief pitching is the most volatile commodity in baseball. Second on that list is prospects. So all the teams that decided to cuddle up with their relievers and prospects instead of sacking up and making smart, calculated moves did a great job holding firm and not being pushed around!

But don’t be too proud, you’re worse off than you were before.

Out in San Diego, General Manager AJ Preller was reportedly “reaching for the stars” with his asking price on reliever Brad Hand. Hand is having a breakout, All-Star season and had emerged as one of the most valuable deadline commodities.

The Padres have absolutely no use for him. A top quality relief pitcher on a bad team is like having icing, but no cake. Keeping Brad Hand in San Diego is a useless luxury because a good bullpen is usually the final piece in a championship puzzle, but the Padres don’t even have a box to keep it in, let alone the rest of the puzzle.

What AJ Preller apparently failed to understand is that he wasn’t in a position of leverage with negotiations surrounding Hand. Could teams such as the Dodgers, Astros, Red Sox and Indians all use a pitcher like Brad Hand? Absolutely, but the Padres aren’t in a spot where holding onto Hand instead of trading him gives them any sort of advantage.

Bad teams clearly fail to understand that they will not be able to extort GM’s of better teams in relief pitching negotiations. And instead of accepting a lesser, yet still valuable return on a luxury player they had no use for, the Padres opted to hold firm on their outrageous demands and ended up keeping Hand through the deadline.

Way to go, AJ Preller and company! You didn’t allow yourself to be pushed around and have wasted the only useful trade commodity wearing Padres brown. 

Considering that Hand has no track record of putting up the numbers he’s putting up this season and also considering the volatility of relief pitching, he could easily flame out within a year and San Diego would end up with nothing to show for what once could be considered the most valuable deadline commodity.

Delusional return demands and the idea that they had some leverage made San Diego hold onto Hand and caused them to fail the deadline. Enjoy more irrelevancy, Padres; not like it’s anything you aren’t used to, though.

And now we get to the biggest failure of the deadline, the Houston Astros.

3 weeks ago, I said that if Houston didn’t trade for a young, controllable starting pitcher they will have failed the trade deadline. Well, guess whose parents aren’t gonna be happy with the report card coming in the mail.

The Astros’ team ERA has gradually risen from 3.38 in April, bottoming out at an alarming 5.08 over the month of July. Team ace Dallas Keuchel has spent extended time on the DL this season, and Lance McCullers Jr. just was placed there on Wednesday morning. Right now, Houston would roll into a playoff series with Keuchel, Mike Fiers, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh making up their rotation.

And the front office’s brilliant solution to this problem was Francisco Liriano.

I certainly believe that the Astros were busy because, as I mentioned earlier, they reportedly had a deal for Zach Britton all set until it got “vetoed at the top.” But, unlike the Dodgers, Houston didn’t seem to have a backup plan after their Britton pursuit failed.

Los Angeles finalized 3 trades in the span of an hour after the Britton shutdown and solidified their contender status. Houston curled up in a corner and convinced themselves that they were already good enough.

And then as soon as the masses predictably began questioning the Astros’ lack of trade movement, the executives played the victim card. General Manager Jeff Luhnow talked about how disappointed he was that some deals were “almost over the finish line” but then couldn’t get done. He mentioned that things either got vetoed at the top or that Houston’s “math guys” didn’t like the long term numbers of deals in place.

Whatever excuse they come up with next, the Astros failed miserably.

Houston’s seeming lack of a Britton back up plan is pathetic. If Liriano was their back up plan and the trade just got announced sooner than the Britton news happened, that’s less pathetic but still not conducive to a team trying to win its first ever World Series.

If the Astros were worried about their long term math being messed up, that’s even more of a problem because it shows that the front office lacks perspective. As I mentioned yesterday, you don’t get to choose the winning window because it chooses you. Houston seems to be irresponsibly acting as if, by holding onto their precious prospects, the window is going to be open forever and that trading some away would close it immediately after 2017.

Teams in a similar position, the Yankees and Dodgers, went out and aggressively acquired quality starting pitching. Houston, with just as many prospects to trade as those two teams, let themselves be bullied into a corner and have thus allowed the gap between them and the rest of the American League to be all but closed.

The Astros will have nobody to blame but themselves when 2017 turns into another ‘what could have been’ year in the franchise’s long, title-less history.

Considering that I implored every team to either buy or sell at the deadline, you can put me up at the top of the list of people that are immensely frustrated by the holistic lack of movement over the month of July.

The Giants only traded Eduardo Nunez because it was convenient. The Mets moved laterally by shipping out Addison Reed but bringing in AJ Ramos. Milwaukee allowed themselves to be bullied around by the Cubs and opted to only comfortably acquire a few relievers. The Tigers unwisely held firm on Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler. The Pirates went nowhere. Cincinnati failed to capitalize on Zack Cozart’s sky high value. And I have yet to even mention teams like St. Louis, Toronto, Seattle, and the Angels that all remain without a clear franchise direction.

This trade deadline was a mess, and all the ‘losers’ have delusion to blame.

Baltimore’s delusion was believing it should buy. Houston’s delusion was believing prospects are more valuable than winning now. San Diego’s delusion was believing they had leverage with Brad Hand negotiations. Among many, many others, these stand out most.

Hopefully 2017’s trade deadline can serve as a reminder to all GM’s that midseason activity is pivotal to franchise success, whether that be during the current season or in the future. Sitting pat is a useless activity that yields nothing but mediocrity and irrelevancy.

To the D’Backs, Cubs, Indians, Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Dodgers or Nationals: one of you will enjoy a 2017 championship.

To the A’s, Rangers and especially the White Sox: enjoy the future fruits of your selling labor.

To everyone else: figure it out or remain irrelevant. The choice is yours.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

How Delusion Lost the Trade Deadline

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

Getting Real About the Trade Deadline

The month of July starts this up coming Saturday, which means that we are right at the halfway point in the MLB season. The trade deadline is 36 days away, and it’s time for everybody to get serious. There’s no more time to ‘wait things out’ or ‘see what you have’, it’s time to make a decision about buying or selling.

Now, if you go read other people’s trade deadline articles, they’ll talk about teams that need to buy, sell, or hold. Having been a fan of a team that has “held” now for umpteen straight trade deadlines, the idea of standing pat during this time period is stupid to me.

That being said, I believe that every team in Major League Baseball either needs to buy or sell, no in between. So let’s get real about things, and I’ll start with a team that I know needs to get serious about winning.

The Houston Astros.

It’s time for the Astros to stop planning for the future because the future is here. Houston is 52-25, unequivocally the best team in baseball right now, and their time has come. The prospects have arrived, and Houston’s winning window is wide open.

The thing that a lot of teams don’t seem to understand about winning windows is that they don’t stay open. In 2012, the Nationals won 98 games and then decided to sit Stephen Strasburg for the entirety of the playoffs because they figured they’d be right back there next year and wanted Strasburg healthy for that run.

Those 98 win Nationals were bounced in the first round of the playoffs and missed the playoffs the next year. World Series opportunities don’t grow on trees, and it’s time for everyone to realize that.

That being said, Houston needs to go all in. Don’t protect your top prospects like Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker and continue planning for the future. Your future is staring you in the face, and a guy like Sonny Gray or Jose Quintana is out there just waiting to be the missing piece in a World Series run.

If Houston holds onto their top prospects and doesn’t push to improve the team by trading for a young, controllable starting pitcher, they’ve failed the deadline and only have themselves to blame when their World Series run doesn’t come to fruition.

Next up is a team that a lot of people think needs to hold, but I think needs to commit to a clear direction. The New York Mets need to sell, and they need to sell hard.

I’m not talking about giving up expendable pieces like Asdrubal Cabrera or Neil Walker, get crazy. The Mets are stuck in between right now, they’re a team with a lot of potential that has yet to truly crack it after a 2015 World Series run. So, move on from the core of players that has failed you.

Take some of that starting pitching wealth and move it for future position player studs. Take advantage of Houston’s presumed desire for a young starting pitcher and offer them Steven Matz or even Jacob DeGrom for a hefty haul of position player prospects.

Commit to a direction, and make that direction ‘winning in the future.’

I’m not interested in going over a plan for every single team this trade deadline, but the point of this article is that I’m sick of MLB teams ‘standing pat’ at the deadline.

The Chicago Cubs stormed their way to a World Series title last year and appeared set up for one of the most dominant stretches of baseball in the league’s history. This year, their pitching has collapsed, Kyle Schwarber has seemingly forgot how to hit, and the team is barely floating above the .500 mark.

The Mets appeared ready to rule over the National League with an iron fist when they marched their way to the World Series in 2015. 2 years later, they can’t stay healthy and are sitting in a distant 4th place in the NL East.

Consistent winning baseball is something that takes a tricky balance of luck, circumstance, and the intentional building of a winning team. Winning can happen suddenly, and a collapse of that same winning team can happen just as quickly.

Baseball is a fickle beast, and that’s the way the game goes.

For teams that appear set up to ‘hold’ at the deadline, this is my plea to your front office to reconsider that approach. Let’s take the Milwaukee Brewers as an example.

The Brewers are a surprise leader in the NL Central thus far, and they show no signs of slowing back down to the rest of the division. Now, it seems like the most sensible thing for the Brewers to do would be to sit pat, let this year’s team play things out, and then still hold onto your prospects and then plan to win in the future.

However, take a look at the landscape of the league. The Chicago Cubs, a dynasty in the making, are having a down year. The NL Central appears as winnable as it might be for the next decade. It’s sitting there just waiting for the Brewers to take it and nobody knows how things will look in the future. The Brewers could collapse, none of their prospects could pan out, and they could have to rebuild again.

This might be their best shot to win the Central, so why not go for it?

The Rockies are in a similar situation. The Rockies haven’t had a winning season since 2007, and they have proven to be as unstable a team as any in Major League Baseball, so why not go for it while you have the team?

Same with the Diamondbacks. Arizona seemed like they had a winning team last year, and then lost AJ Pollock to a preseason elbow injury and watched their season turn into a 96 loss fiasco. So, again, while your team is in prime playoff position, why not go for it?

The goal of the game is to win the World Series. The trade deadline is a prime time to make or break that goal. Making a positive trade could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. The playoffs are a crapshoot, and once you’re in there, anything can happen.

I firmly believe that every team in position to seriously challenge for a playoff spot absolutely needs to go for it and buy at the deadline. Not stupidly buy and totally mortgage the future, but just don’t sit pat and let your current team be the one that you head into the final few months with.

And, for every team not in a playoff contending position, why sit around with the same team and just keep losing? Why not commit to building for the future and plan on winning in the next years?

The idea of it just seems so simple to me after watching years of fickle baseball. If you can win, go for it and win. If you can’t win, make moves so that you can win in the future. If you’re stuck in between, commit to a direction and make moves that fit that direction.

Just, enough of this ‘standing pat’ stuff.

MAKE MOVES.

Thanks for reading.

Getting Real About the Trade Deadline