The action at Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline was more fascinating than any game this week, and a further highlight that baseball pulls off the most interesting transactions in any sport – real trades that can help two teams simultaneously, trades involving stars, trades involving prospects. Think that happens in the NFL?
● Oakland: Wow. The Athletics took the American League’s best rotation and added the guy who will front it in the postseason, lefty Jon Lester, sending power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston in exchange – a hefty price, sure, but a no-doubt-about-it signal the A’s are going for it all right this very minute. What more exciting message to send to a fan base and a clubhouse? But go further. General Manager Billy Beane also creatively traded for Cespedes’s replacements, getting right-handed-hitting Jonny Gomes in the Lester deal, then spinning lefty Tommy Milone – displaced in the rotation – for left-handed-hitting Sam Fuld. Nimble and ingenious.
● Detroit: What if Lester was traded Thursday afternoon, say an hour before the 4 p.m. deadline? Would the Tigers have stood pat? Maybe. But because the Boston-Oakland deal went down in the morning, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski had time to stitch together a package for the prize of the trade market, Tampa Bay lefty David Price. The cost? Center fielder Austin Jackson, who is eminently replaceable; 25-year-old lefty Drew Smyly, who’s under team control through 2018; and 18-year-old minor-league infielder Willy Adames. Price makes Justin Verlander the fifth-best pitcher in the Detroit rotation, and even if Max Scherzer departs as a free agent in the offseason, Price is still a Tiger in 2015.
● Boston: It’s nothing short of stunning that a World Series champion can fall to last place and almost instantly remake itself into a contender for 2015. But in dealing free-agent-to-be Lester, Boston GM Ben Cherington instantly addressed his team’s glaring weakness – power from the outfield – with Cespedes. But he went further. Right-hander John Lackey was loathed more than loved in Boston, and he got two major league pieces in return from St. Louis: first baseman-outfielder Allen Craig, signed through 2017 with an affordable $13 million team option for 2018; and right-hander Joe Kelly, who’s just 26 and is under club control through 2018. And who’s to say the Red Sox won’t make a run at Lester – with whom they won two World Series – again in the offseason?
HMMMMMMM … ?
● Cardinals: Crazy that a franchise with so many fire-balling young arms needed to trade for two starting pitchers – Justin Masterson and Lackey – in the final week of July. But the deal for Lackey that sent Craig (whose 2011-13 seasons produced a slash line of .312/.364/.500) and Kelly (who has a 3.25 ERA in his first 38 major league starts) shook up the clubhouse. Lackey had a 2.77 ERA in five postseason appearances for Boston last year, and has a provision in his $83-million contract that means he will make just $500,000 next season, making him the best bargain in baseball. And though they gave up minor league outfielder James Ramsey for Masterson, they held onto top prospect Oscar Tavares – who has struggled as a rookie, but now has been empowered by the organization to fulfill his promise as Craig’s de facto replacement.
● Dodgers: Not that Los Angeles is filled with weaknesses. But money is no object, either. On a day when a trade for Lester or Price seemed possible, the Dodgers stood pat, holding onto outfielder Joc Pederson and shortstop Corey Seager, their top prospects. They could win now [ITAL] and [end ITAL] later because of it. But they could also regret not being more aggressive when the National League is right there for the taking.
● Tampa Bay: Was the return for Price, which also included 23-year-old infielder Nick Franklin from Seattle, the maximum the Rays could have landed? Might they have made a run with him this summer – and gotten a similar package in the offseason? We’ll never know.
● Phillies: Sure, Ryan Howard has an untradeable contract, Cliff Lee’s balky elbow made him impossible to move, and Cole Hamels is just 30 and could still be good when and if the Phillies become contenders again. But what in the world are outfielder Marlon Byrd and lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo still doing in Phillies’ uniforms this weekend? Byrd was the right-handed bat the Royals needed, and he could have helped the Yankees or Mariners, too. Bastardo could have helped Baltimore, Pittsburgh – anyone needing a lefty out of the pen. Instead of acquiring pieces that might have contributed to a rebuild, the last-place Phillies kept everything intact. Ruben Amaro Jr. has more serious questions to answer about his team’s present and future than any general manager in the game. What, exactly, is the vision here?
● Mariners: An average American League outfielder this year carries a .727 OPS. To address their offensive problems, Seattle ended up with Jackson (.730 OPS with Detroit) in the three-team Price deal, and traded for outfielder Chris Denorfia (.602 OPS with San Diego). That’s an upgrade? The Mariners dramatically signed second baseman Robinson Cano in the offseason. These were hardly the kinds of moves that back up that commitment.
● Royals: A franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1985 and hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 1988-89 sits just 2-1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot and four games out of first and does – nothing? What’s worse: Price is now in their division.
● Pirates: Pittsburgh has spent years rebuilding what was a barren farm system. Now, with the pieces in place to deal and a team poised to make a run at a second straight postseason appearance, GM Neal Huntington couldn’t pull off a move to upgrade the rotation or the bullpen. Were the Pirates really good enough to stand still?