Major League Baseball’s (non-waiver) trade deadline passed and the dust has finally settled. This year was a busy one for general managers around the league and a number of well-known as well as not-so-well-known names have moved to new addresses. I am more or less a baseball atheist. I back players, not teams. The reason for this is probably because I have an obsession with fantasy baseball and focus on the individuals and their performances more than what jersey a player is wearing. Another reason for my lack of a single team to cheer for is the fact that these days, nobody is safe from being traded. Things can change quickly for a player regardless of whether he is an all-star, a rookie, a veteran, or a prospect. This brings me to the heart of my post: why are so many teams willing to trade significant assets at the deadline just because they aren’t meeting expectations for the current season or because they feel they are in position to be one of the dozen teams that can run the table in the postseason?
There are times when moving a significant asset is warranted. For instance, the huge return the Yankees received for Aroldis Chapman from the Cubs (Rashad Crawford (minors), Billy McKinney (minors), Gleyber Torres (minors) and Adam Warren) is a deal that appears beneficial whether the team is currently contending or whether they are looking to rebuild (especially if there is another relief pitcher on the team that is capable of stepping into the closer role). Conversely, the move for the Cubs appears to be an extreme overpay. For less than 1 season of Chapman, the Cubs gave up one Top 100 prospect, one Top 40 prospect, a young guy who although not a top prospect appears to have some potential (especially the Speed tool), and a former Yankee pitcher who has previously been successful at the major league level.
The Cubs are not the only team making a move similar to the one mentioned above. Here are two more deals that were made before the deadline that seem counterintuitive:
- The Pittsburg Pirates traded Francisco Liriano and minor leaguers Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire (two players who were on many Top 100 Prospects lists) to the Toronto Blue Jays for right handed pitcher Drew Hutchison. While Hutchison has had some success in the majors and has some upside of his own (especially with Pittsburg’s pitching guru, Ray Searage, waiting to work with him), Toronto did not have a use for him and/or did not trust him to be part of their major league pitching staff in 2016 (with the exception of three appearances with the big league club this season).
Pittsburg has made their organization over in recent years and are now a perennial playoff hopeful. How is trading away Liriano, a player who has been a key to their recent playoff appearances and a player under a reasonable contract for another season helpful for a playoff push in 2016 or a step forward for the 2017 season? Giving up another two prospects to make the deal happen makes even less sense for the Pirates.
- The Cleveland Indians (please change your name already!) traded outfielder Clint Frazier and pitchers Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and P. Feyereisen to the New York Yankees for Andrew Miller. Clearly, Cleveland is ‘all in’. They lead their division and hope to strengthen what is already seen as a squad capable of winning it all. However, they had a solid closer on staff already in Cody Allen. Strengthening the bull pen is a great way to shorten games once you have a lead and was a recipe that paid out nicely for the Royals last year as they used a three headed bullpen monster to win it all in 2015. However, the price Cleveland paid for Miller (who happens to be an amazing pitcher and one of my favorite players) is astounding. Frazier and Sheffield were both recent first round picks and are highly thought of prospects (both are high on the various Top 100 Prospects lists). Heller is a AAA pitcher putting up a solid season and Feyereisen is a 23 year old AA pitcher who has been working well in the bullpen. Although trading for a beast like Miller who has another two years on his contract at a good price is great way to secure the back end of games, the price Cleveland paid for 25 innings of Miller this year and another 125 innings over the next two years if he stays completely healthy does not justify the hit the team took in its ability to be competitive in the future.
I completely understand that an active front office attempts to move players in the hopes of reconfiguring on the fly or reloading for future seasons. However, ‘going all in’ is, at best, only going to work for one of the many teams that attempt the strategy (or for none of the teams if an organization like the Red Sox who stood pat at the deadline end up winning the World Series). A massive overpay such as the ones the Yankees received for Chapman or for Miller is a great strategy for a team throwing up a white flag on a season, however, just because a team is dealing from a strength this year does not guarantee they will be in the same position of strength in future years, especially when they are passing along valuable assets in such a casual fashion. Additionally, deals like the one Pittsburg made for Hutchison does not appear helpful to the organization now or in the future and is a puzzle to an outside observer. Cost controlled assets are of huge importance to an organization with less spending power like Pittsburg. This deal provides minimal cost savings yet weakens the big league club this year and possibly in the future as well (depending on how well Hutchison does with the big league club and how well or how poorly the prospects that were traded away develop). As an outsider to an organization, attempting to understand the rationale/justification for a trade is difficult. Teams operate with knowledge, resources, and a systems approach that we cannot access. But even though people like me are at a knowledge base disadvantage as compared to the GM pulling the trigger on these deals, it is sure is fun to throw stones at the front offices!