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Baseball’s Richest Just Got Much Richer

The Dodgers and Yankees punctuated a quiet deadline with a pair of last-minute trades, acquiring starting pitchers Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray, respectively. Both players strengthen already formidable rotations, readying their teams for long runs into October, and the trades cap a frenetic cycle of trade activity for the Dodgers and Yankees. Two of the richest teams in baseball are now even better.

Going back to 2009, the Yankees and Dodgers tended to be quiet at the deadline, preferring to acquire players through free agency instead. They picked up only an average of about one win above replacement at the trade deadline since 2009. But this year, the two wealthiest teams in baseball decided to buy.

The rich get richer

Total wins above replacement (WAR) added through trades, 2017

TEAM TOTAL WAR ADDED
Chicago Cubs +4.6
New York Yankees +4.2
Washington Nationals +2.7
Kansas City Royals +2.4
Atlanta Braves +2.1
Los Angeles Dodgers +2.0

Sources: MLB, Baseball Prospectus

They weren’t the only good teams who did so. The Dodgers and Yankees are two of the six teams who gained the most value this trade deadline, and four of the top six are leading their respective divisions this year.

Like the Dodgers and Yankees, most of the contending teams have traded for starting pitchers. Darvish and Gray are two of the best options available. Each is a nearly mirror image of the other in the events a pitcher can control most — strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed. Both pitchers have recent injury troubles from which they’ve bounced back to produce ace-level seasons. Both command dazzling arrays of pitches, fooling hitters as much with unpredictability as raw stuff. Each ought to boost their teams’ playoff fortunes substantially.

Not like the Dodgers’ playoff fortunes were ever in doubt, even with a recent injury to ace Clayton Kershaw. A mere 43 games over .500, the Dodgers have marched to a 14-game division lead while boasting one of the strongest teams (by Elo) in history.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have capitalized on unexpected performances from young players like Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier, surprising resurgences from veterans like CC Sabathia and Matt Holliday, and career years from journeymen like Aaron Hicks. The confluence of production has New York narrowly edging out the Red Sox in the American League East so far. It’s hard to say any good New York Yankees season has come from “out of nowhere,” but projections didn’t expect them to be this good this year.

These trades should leave baseball’s other contenders very scared. The Houston Astros have mashed their way to 68 wins so far, but they barely improved at this year’s deadline. While other teams traded for aces, the Astros managed to get erratic southpaw Francisco Liriano, a choice that could haunt them, especially given that their top two starters — Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers — have both battled through injury and underperformance in the past two months.

If the Yankees and Dodgers’ 2017 prospects weren’t frustrating enough for their rivals, it gets worse: Neither of these teams are going anywhere, anytime soon. Baseball America puts their farm systems as the second and fourth-best in baseball entering 2017, and these trades didn’t get rid of the teams’ best prospects. As if that wasn’t enough, the Dodgers and Yankees also boast some of the most promising youngsters in baseball, with players like Judge and Cody Bellinger exceeding expectations.

Both the Yankees and Dodgers are young, rich, and talented. The other 28 teams in baseball better watch out.

CORRECTION (July 31, 8:24 p.m.): An earlier version of this story misstated how far above .500 the Dodgers are. They are 43 games above .500, not 33.

Rob Arthur is FiveThirtyEight’s baseball columnist and also writes about crime.

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