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All The Things MLB Teams Did Wrong At The Trade Deadline

gfoster (Geoff Foster, sports editor): It’s officially August, which means the MLB trade deadline has passed and baseball’s contenders (more or less) have all their pieces in place for the stretch run. There were a boatload of moves over the past couple of weeks and a bunch at the buzzer yesterday, so let’s sort it out with a Slack chat! Let’s start with this: What was the most surprising move (or nonmove) of the past month?

Also: Sorry for promising bagels and then not bringing bagels.

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, general editor): I feel betrayed.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sports writer): I guess it doesn’t count as “surprising” that the Mets froze up and didn’t do anything significant of note with their most tradeable assets…

sara.ziegler: The Brewers stockpiling infielders when they needed a pitcher is a little confusing. But I guess when you can’t get Jacob deGrom, you get … Jonathan Schoop.

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst/baseball writer): Yeah, Sara, I thought that was a lateral move for the Brewers. Schoop has the same WAR (FanGraphs version) as Jonathan Villar, whom the Brewers traded. But they also gave up two prospects, including their No. 4 prospect, Luis Ortiz.

Schoop brings power while Villar brings speed, but the Brewers are already tied for third in the National League in home runs.

sara.ziegler: I’m still really bummed that the Brewers didn’t demand Eric Hosmer from the Padres to complete their reconstruction of the 2015 Royals.

nrakich: Most surprising to me was the Pirates’ trade for Chris Archer. They made a big show of dumping Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen during the offseason, and now they turn around and get Archer, who is a poor excuse for Cole. Cole, meanwhile, has gone absolutely bananas in Houston.

neil: That I agree with ^^

nrakich: Cole has a 2.55 ERA and 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings this year. If the Pirates had that, they’d be in prime Wild Card position right now. Instead, they get a third of a season of Archer and his 4.31 ERA.

neil: The Pirates have been hot recently — they’ve won 16 of 20, including Tuesday night vs. the Cubs — but it was almost the worst time to get hot, because it convinced them to buy after (like you said) acting like sellers for a while. That said, Archer is under team control longer than Cole would have been, so it’s not a totally win-now move for Pittsburgh.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, I don’t think the Pirates took their Doyle Number to heart.

gfoster: But don’t you respect a team for going for it? There’s less of that now with all the teams trying to tank — as Neil wrote this week. Also, I don’t think Austin Meadows or Tyler Glasnow are THAT good. They could be almost selling high.

nrakich: Ooh, fightin’ words. The tarnish has gone off their prospect shine, but there’s still time for them to turn it around.

gfoster: They are touted prospects, but are they stars? Will the Pirates regret this in five years?

nrakich: Glasnow has turned things around after a rough start to the season:

gfoster: The Rays have a rotation?!?!

neil: LOL.

As of now, it’s Glasnow and only Glasnow:

nrakich: And Meadows has been in the big leagues for all of 150 at bats.

Plus, is Archer really that good?

gfoster: He’s a little overrated, I guess.

nrakich: Archer is a household name, and he always has a good FIP (fielding-independent pitching), but he hasn’t lived up to it for several years.

sara.ziegler: I would take 102 strikeouts in 96 innings pitched.

nrakich: Don’t get me wrong, I love his peripherals. But he’s on his third straight year now with an ERA over 4. Something isn’t translating; I don’t think we can call it luck anymore.

gfoster: In the AL East though. He won’t be facing the Red Sox and Yankees every other night now.

neil: (On the other hand, he’s also not facing Chris Davis.)

gfoster: Chris Davis is actually 98 of those strikeouts.

sara.ziegler: I think that, for where the Pirates are in the standings, this isn’t a bad move. The Cubs and Brewers are catchable, and even if Pittsburgh doesn’t make the playoffs, this was an OK trade for the future.

nrakich: I did find it interesting how the Pirates and Cardinals went into deadline day in essentially the same position, but the Pirates decided to buy and the Cardinals decided to sell. I feel like the Cardinals were the smart ones there.

gfoster: Speaking of the AL East … the Orioles finally fully committed to the firesale. They unloaded Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, Manny Machado, their entire bullpen, etc. Do we like what they got back?

sara.ziegler: They got a LOT, but I’m not sure there’s a lot of value in there.

neil: Yusniel Diaz was one of the best prospects acquired at the deadline.

nrakich: That’s the thing about prospects, though — they’re lottery tickets. It’s good to get a lot of them, because then you will get lucky on more of them.

gfoster: So they went out and bought 20 lottery tickets. That usually works.

neil: And as we wrote about, many of the buyers had already emptied their farm systems in previous deals, so there weren’t as many future stars to be had in these deadline deals.

nrakich: They also unloaded, what, $35 million? Baseball Twitter is speculating that they’ll use that money to be active in the international market.

gfoster: Boston was relatively quiet. We have a Red Sox fan (Nathaniel) here and a quasi-Red Sox fan in Neil. Was there anything else they could have done?

neil: They should have gotten bullpen help!!!

sara.ziegler: They should have foreseen the Chris Sale injury and gotten another starter.

Lance Lynn was there for the taking!

neil: You mean Nate Eovaldi isn’t equivalent to Chris Sale???

sara.ziegler: Um…

nrakich: At first glance, the Red Sox look fine as is; they’re a loaded team, projected to finish with the best record in baseball. But as Neil has written extensively, the best teams should actually be the most desperate to buy, because the playoffs are such a crapshoot and you want to maximize your chances there when you can. That’s a long way of saying that, yeah, they should have done more.

I would’ve liked to see them get future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. Ian Kinsler kind of plugs that hole, but Beltre would look so good in that lineup.

gfoster: We are big Adrian Beltre supporters here at FiveThirtyEight (as evidenced here and here).

nrakich: That said, there’s another trade deadline at the end of August — the waiver trade deadline. Beltre could still be traded before then.

gfoster: Yes, that’s key. The Astros got Verlander in this period a year ago.

neil: I’ve long been a Kinsler fan, so it’s nice to see him in a position to impact another World Series run.

sara.ziegler: It does sorta feel like the Red Sox and Yankees just kept pace with each other.

Which is what they do.

nrakich: 💪💪💪 race

gfoster: The Yankees were more busy. Lance Lynn, Zach Britton, J.A. Happ. Not exactly star power, but they seemed to fill in any remaining holes in rotation and bullpen. Anything missing for them? Besides humility?

nrakich: You know what Steinbrenner always used to say: Any season where you don’t trade for Bryce Harper is a disappointment.

neil: In this insanely top-heavy year, the Yankees, Red Sox and other top contenders with roughly 100 percent playoff odds are just about making small tweaks for the real battles to come.

gfoster: But it’s all for naught if you don’t win a one-game playoff, which presumably features Severino and not, say, Lance Lynn.

sara.ziegler: Lynn wins Wild Card game in mop-up role after Severino gives up three runs in the first.

neil: Not that Sara the Twins fan is bitter. ^^

gfoster: Let’s talk Harper. Did the Nats do the right thing?

nrakich: I will probably get some pushback on this, but I think the Nats should have bought. They’re still the best team in the NL East, with FanGraphs projecting they will go .577 the rest of the way.

But there’s also a good argument for selling. Their Doyle Number was 0.3. Harper would have extracted a nice haul from a team like the Indians, who badly needed him. (Their outfielders have a .699 OPS on the season.)

But they didn’t do either!

They traded Brandon Kintzler, and that’s it.

As Neil has written, doing nothing is pretty much the worst thing you can do.

gfoster: Meanwhile, the Nats are still batting in the bottom of the seventh against the Mets, up 164-1. Keith Hernandez now pitching for New York.

neil: LOL.

sara.ziegler:

^^^ I don’t know, the Nats seem fine.

neil: In a weird way, I think the fact that Washington is still the best in the East on paper probably informed their decision to stand pat. They are playing the long game: They want to re-sign Harper and run it back.

sara.ziegler: I feel like deGrom was wishing last night that he had been traded.

nrakich: Yeah, the Mets are another team that did almost nothing.

gfoster: They didn’t trade deGrom or Zack Wheeler. They did get a decent pitcher (maybe?) for Asdrubal Cabrera. They got a ham sandwich for closer Jeurys Familia.

nrakich: Maybe their uncertain GM situation played into that?

neil: I think that’s definitely true. Hard to make massive franchise-altering decisions as a three-headed GM crew. Much easier to do nothing. But this has “Mets didn’t sell high on Matt Harvey, Part II” written all over it.

gfoster: The Mets’ problem is the same as it always is: They operate like a big-market team and yet they have a small-market budget.

nrakich: Yeah, holding onto deGrom/Noah Syndergaard would be totally defensible if they were planning on being big players in this offseason’s insane free-agent market and contending next year. But they just haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt on that.

neil: Right, holding on to these guys is the right call only if you plan on bolstering the team around them and winning in a short-term window. But it’s not like this dumpster fire of a roster is just a few pieces away, and the Wilpons have seldom proved willing to spend to truly address the team’s problems anyway.

gfoster: OK, let’s talk about a team that does like open the wallet: the Dodgers.

neil: Who apparently want to acquire every multi-position infielder in baseball.

sara.ziegler: That’s how you solve injuries to key players.

neil: Yes, I actually really like what they did. They have a ton of flexibility and depth.

And now they also have someone to police the unwritten rules of baseball etiquette.

sara.ziegler: Shut up, Neil.

neil: Haha.

sara.ziegler: And they added John Axford! Whom I had forgotten was still in baseball!

gfoster: What does that infield even look like when Justin Turner gets back? I guess Chris Taylor can be moved anywhere, and Max Muncy plays a few positions.

nrakich: Yeah, Machado probably goes to short and Taylor becomes a super-utility guy.

neil: And that’s the beauty of it — they have a bunch of those guys who can move around.

gfoster: Maybe Taylor plays pitcher’s helper.

sara.ziegler: Muncy can play ANYWHERE. (On my fantasy team, at least.)

nrakich: But I agree with Neil that I really like that approach. The Dodgers don’t worry about being overstocked; they just acquire talent regardless of position.

gfoster: Any underrated moves?

sara.ziegler: The Indians got a little heat for not making bigger moves, but I like what they did. They made the smaller trades they needed to bolster their bullpen and outfield.

The Tribe also made an interesting prospect swap with the Cardinals, getting speedy centerfielder Oscar Mercado for in exchange for two lower-minor prospects. Seems like a good move when considering the imminent free agency of Michael Brantley, Rajai Davis, Lonnie Chisenhall and Melky Cabrera.

nrakich: Fun fact: Going by FanGraphs WAR, Leonys Martin was the best player traded on deadline day. An underrated pickup, IMO.

sara.ziegler: That’s kind of amazing. I agree, Nathaniel.

neil: I also liked Atlanta getting Kevin Gausman. He’s underrated as a guy who chews up innings at a league-average rate. He’s averaged 2.9 WAR per year over the past couple seasons, and it on pace for basically exactly that this year.

nrakich: Another guy who could benefit from moving out of the AL East.

sara.ziegler: What do we think about Houston picking up Roberto Osuna?

nrakich: Oh man, Sara, what don’t we think?

I thought it was an incredibly cynical and disappointing move, but totally in character for the Astros — find market inefficiencies wherever you can, the human element be damned.

sara.ziegler: Doesn’t seem like Justin Verlander is a big fan.

neil: Well, Jeff Luhnow assures us he’s changed

🙄

gfoster: If I were running the Astros, I would have hid that move on the same day you traded for a Machado, Harper or deGrom type. The optics are REALLY bad for them that their lone significant move was picking up the guy on a domestic violence suspension.

sara.ziegler: Wouldn’t it be nice if domestic violence carried the same weight as steroid abuse? 🤔

nrakich: Yeah, that’s a ridiculous double standard. No way Houston trades for Osuna if he’s not eligible for the playoffs.

sara.ziegler: Great point.

nrakich: Although if I were commissioner, I’d have never instituted the no-playoffs-for-PED-users rule in the first place.

gfoster: Colorado was oddly quiet? Do they know they are a half-game out of first?

nrakich: They had a higher Doyle Number than the Braves!

neil: Yeah, that was kind of a head-scratcher.

nrakich: That would have been an interesting destination for Harper. (Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gonzalez are both not getting it done.) Could you imagine the dingers?

gfoster: His home runs would be landing in Vail.

neil: Another one that could blow up (or be brilliant) is the Cubs getting Cole Hamels. He has been very bad this year, and not good in a couple of years, but maybe you write that off to playing in Texas. He certainly has a great postseason reputation, and the Cubs’ rotation has been so bad that every little bit helps.

nrakich: Hamels’s home run to fly ball ratio is 21 percent. I have to believe that’s gonna come down.

To Neil’s point, he also has a 2.93 ERA on the road compared with 6.41 in Texas.

gfoster: Last question: What was the biggest disappointment of the deadline?

nrakich: I think the biggest disappointment, as a fan, was not seeing anything truly epic go down. There are good reasons for that, but the outlook for the rest of the season is basically what it was before the deadline.

sara.ziegler: Definitely, Nathaniel. The trade deadline is way more fun when the big names switch teams. I would have loved to see Harper go to the Dodgers or deGrom to the Brewers. That kind of move always makes the stretch run more interesting.

It’s substantially less fun when your team is bad and sells off guys you liked. *sad trombone*

neil: Yeah, if there was a disappointment, it was that the most earth-shattering names being floated didn’t really get moved. We even got a brief tease overnight Monday that Harper might be on the move. But nope.

gfoster: I wanted a relative underdog to take a bigger swing. Oakland was super quiet, despite being in a great position and having an interesting team. The only ballclub in this tier that went for it was Pittsburgh, and that deal was pretty much panned.

nrakich: To borrow one of our favorite expressions from the politics desk, the deadline didn’t change my priors much. This is a Red Sox/Yankees/Astros/Dodgers/Cubs world, and everyone else is just living in it.

gfoster: Feels like a Debbie Downer ending for us? But at least these last two months will be fun. The top teams are all absolutely loaded.

Update: Nationals have taken a 754-5 lead in the eighth. Mr. Met is pitching and his stuff doesn’t look good.

Geoff Foster is the sports editor for FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

Sara Ziegler is the assistant sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

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