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

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How Active Teams Won the Trade Deadline

Looking for More Tyler O’Neill’s

About 3 weeks ago, when the Cardinals initially announced that they would be promoting John Mozeliak to President of Baseball Operations and that Mike Girsch would be taking over Mozeliak’s former role as General Manager, my initial reaction was one of hope.

I believe that Mozeliak’s approach as GM had become stale and passed over. His ‘win now, but protect the future’ thinking model had led to an average Major League team and an average farm system, leaving the Cardinals stuck in an awkward spot entering 2017. That awkward spot has brought St. Louis to a 47-50 record thus far and left the team without a clear direction for the future.

When Mozeliak’s promotion was announced, I was hopeful because I figured that a new set of hands on the Cardinals could bring some direction to the team. Girsch’s first significant trade as General Manager happened on Friday afternoon, shipping out Marco Gonzales to Seattle in exchange for Tyler O’Neill.

The move has gotten rave reviews from all corners of Cardinal nation thus far, and for good reason.

Gonzales, at 25 years old and coming off of an entire missed season because of Tommy John surgery, had been passed up on all sides within the organization as a pitching prospect. Once viewed as a potential #2 or #3 starter, Gonzales had become expendable as the incredible wealth of Cardinal pitching talent has unfortunately flown by him during his missed injury time.

Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Luke Weaver, Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen and others are now viewed as far more valuable than Gonzales. Capitalizing on the value that Gonzales still had, Girsch managed to net a top OF prospect from Seattle in return for him.

Tyler O’Neill immediately jumps to the front of the line among Cardinal outfield prospects, and he was acquired in exchange for a position that St. Louis had depth from. It was a textbook trade executed brilliantly by Grisch.

And while a prospect for prospect deal doesn’t particularly seem like it designates a clear direction for the Cardinals, this particular deal provides a valuable start to a pivotal trade deadline for the St. Louis front office.

Considering where they are right now, the approach that I believe the Cardinals need to take during this deadline is giving up on 2017 while building to win in 2018. It’s both buying and selling, but avoiding rentals at all costs; specific and difficult, but necessary.

The Tyler O’Neill trade fits this bill almost to a ’t’. O’Neill is a future asset that the Cardinals have long term control over, but can realistically be counted on to help the big club win in 2018. And he was acquired for practically nothing in the big picture of the St. Louis system. So what are some other Tyler O’Neill-esque trades that the Cardinals can make before the July 31 deadline?

I’ve got some ideas.

The thing the Cardinals need to do in order to successfully execute a ‘sell for 2017 but buy for 2018’ trade deadline is know the players that are expendable. In the ‘sell’ pile, I’ve placed Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Seung Hwan-Oh, Kolten Wong, Trevor Rosenthal, and Randal Grichuk.

Out of those listed, the most valuable trade asset the Cardinals possess is Wong. A plus defender still yet to enter his prime and controllable for another 3 years after 2017 at a team friendly salary of $5 million per season. Wong’s potential surplus value (the difference between the value of his projected WAR versus actual salary) is immense and serves as an attractive piece for a team like Oakland.

So that’s where we’ll look to start this. Who can the Cardinals gain from Oakland in exchange for Kolten Wong?

Matt Chapman.

Matt Chapman
Photo by Getty Images

A Kolten Wong for Matt Chapman trade serves the Cardinals (and Oakland A’s) beautifully. With Jed Lowrie under contract and struggling defensively at 2nd base, the A’s gain a cheap 2nd baseman that slots right in and allows Lowrie to slide into more of a classic Oakland platoon role. The deal also fully clears the way at 3rd base for Ryon Healy, having a breakout season and needing at bats to stay consistent.

As for the Cardinals, Chapman is the type of piece they need; not ready right now, but has near future 4-5 WAR potential. He plays a top quality defensive 3rd base, (Fangraphs has him at a future 60 on the 20-80 scale for both arm and glove) and the power is legit. His career ISO in the minor leagues is a robust .231, highlighted by a .331 mark at Triple-A this season with 16 home runs in only 204 at bats.

Chapman has struggled at the major league level this year, but has the kind of difference making bat that the Cardinals could realistically count on to produce in 2018. And although this is a much bigger subject to be discussed deeper on a different day, I prefer Paul DeJong as the future 2nd baseman of the Cardinals over Kolten Wong anyway.

Now, the one problem with a trade for Matt Chapman is that it creates a logjam over at 3rd base for the Cardinals with Jedd Gyorko currently playing at a high level. So, instead of letting Mike Matheny decide this (please fire him anyway and solve ALL the problems), let’s see what we can get for Gyorko, shall we?

According to defensive runs saved, Jedd Gyorko has been the second best defensive 3rd baseman in all of baseball only trailing the immortal Nolan Arenado. Combine that with a 117 WRC+ over 343 AB’s and you have a player on pace for a 5 WAR season while under contract for only $6 million.

Gyorko is signed for the next two years at $9 million and $13 million, and when considering the production he’s posted over the last two seasons and the current market value for a win, he’s a bargain buy.

The exact kind of bargain buy that the Tampa Bay Rays create the base of their franchise off of.

From the Rays perspective, Gyorko is an attractive piece; controllable, cheap and versatile. He could slide in to provide production from a 2nd base position that has posted a combined 0.1 WAR between Daniel Robertson and Brad Miller. He could slide in at 3rd base when Evan Longoria needs a day off. He’ll be ready to help a currently playoff bound Rays team win right now and he’ll still be around for another 2 years to help a young team still win in the future.

From the Cardinals perspective, Chapman makes Gyorko expendable and the Rays have an overflowing fountain of talent that fits the current trade deadline blueprint. I’ve got my eye on one guy, though.

Willy Adames.

Willy Adames
Photo by USA Today

Now, considering the type of franchise the Rays are, giving up their top prospect in exchange for a 28 year old utility guy makes no sense. And that’s why the Cardinals also throw Trevor Rosenthal into the deal.

Under contract for next season in his final year of arbitration, Rosenthal gives the Rays another bullpen weapon as they close in on October. Now, bullpen arms and quality infielders aren’t a position of strength for the Cardinals so this doesn’t technically qualify as a ‘Tyler O’Neill’ trade, but it’s two expendable pieces being traded for a quality prospect at a position of need in 2018.

From the Cardinals’ perspective, Adames becomes the anointed shortstop of the future. Is it fair to move on from Aledmys Diaz so quickly? Absolutely not, but I’m in the business of winning baseball games, and Willy Adames helps me do that more effectively, fairness be damned.

Adames is another part of the generation of bigger shortstops, listed at 6’1” and 200 lbs. His power grades out as a future 60 (according to Fangraphs), and while he’s never been known for his glove, the defense has markedly improved between 2015 and 2017 to the point where he is now a consensus top 20 prospect in all of baseball.

Currently at Triple-A, he falls almost exactly into the same mold as O’Neill and Chapman; not quite ready yet, but will be in 2018 and beyond.

Trades for Matt Chapman and Willy Adames sets the Cardinals infield for 2018, with those two manning the left side of the diamond while Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter hold down the right side of the infield. Young, athletic, and massive power potential.

With the amount of pitching talent that is about to tear it’s way up to the Major League team, the Cardinals aren’t far away from being the type of winning team that they are used to being. These two trades give St. Louis an even clearer sense of direction heading into 2018 and I haven’t even touched players like Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn or Randal Grichuk, which leaves St. Louis with the pieces to still go pull off a blockbuster deal for somebody like Christian Yelich.

This trade deadline is as pivotal as any I can ever remember to the Cardinals’ future and it needs to be executed with a clear sense of purpose for the team to be successful in the future. Tyler O’Neill was just the start, but more trades like that are exactly what the doctor ordered.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Looking for More Tyler O’Neill’s