With a mid-afternoon crescendo, a final-hour flurry and a collective exhale, baseball’s nonwaiver trade deadline came and went Tuesday. And even then, it wasn’t actually over, as a last-second deal — the Baltimore Orioles capping their summer fire sale by sending second baseman Jonathan Schoop to the Milwaukee Brewers — wasn’t made official until minutes after the 4 p.m. deadline.
At the end of a frantic, frenzied day, which itself came at the end of a busy month of dealmaking, the competitive landscape had been remade across both leagues, as the 2018 season enters its final two months.
Some of the biggest trades of the entire summer came in the final hours leading up to the deadline, with five former all-star players dealt in the two hours leading up to the deadline.
Along with Schoop, who joins a crowded infield picture in Milwaukee, those all-stars were Washington Nationals closer Brandon Kintzler, who went to the Chicago Cubs in a curious move by the third-place team in the NL East; former Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, who went from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Philadelphia Phillies despite currently residing on the disabled list; second baseman Brian Dozier going from the Minnesota Twins to the Los Angeles Dodgers; and right-handed starter Chris Archer going from the Rays to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Fueled by a healthy dose of pennant races — four divisions saw their first- and second-place teams separated by three or fewer games entering Tuesday, and both leagues’ wild-card races are free-for-alls — as well as an extreme case of stratification, with a relatively equal number of horrendous teams eager to sell and superteams eager to buy, this year’s trade market was active, robust and fruitful.
All told, each of baseball’s 30 teams made moves during the month of July. No, Bryce Harper wasn’t traded, despite a rush of rumors that he might be. But among those who were traded in the weeks, days and hours leading up to Tuesday were a World Series most valuable player (lefty Cole Hamels, sent from the Texas Rangers to the Chicago Cubs) and a four-time all-star considered among the half-dozen or so best young players in the game (Manny Machado, from the Orioles to the Dodgers).
The Phillies got a catcher (Ramos) who is on the disabled list for at least a few more weeks, and the Braves got a reliever (former all-star Darren O’Day of the Orioles) who is out for the rest of this season, while the Houston Astros got a closer (Roberto Osuna from Toronto) who is still serving a 75-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy.
Teams that looked like certain sellers a month ago (the Pirates) suddenly became aggressive buyers, while teams that looked like firm buyers a month ago (the Nationals) suddenly became tentative sellers.
“It’s not about sending messages,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle, whose team recently ran off 11 straight wins to alter its trajectory, told reporters in Pittsburgh. “That, I think, is the most overrated term you can use in baseball. It gives us a better opportunity to deliver, and that’s what everyone is looking for — the fans, us, everybody.”
Plenty of top prospects were dealt for veterans, of course, the best of them arguably being catcher/outfielder Francisco Mejia, rated 21st on MLB Pipeline’s list of the game’s top 100 prospects, whom the Cleveland Indians sent to San Diego in exchange for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber.
To no one’s surprise, the players most in demand, and most frequently dealt, were relief pitchers — a reality that underscored their growing importance across the game, especially in the crucible of the postseason.
Nearly every contending team — the Yankees, Phillies, Indians, Pirates, Mariners, Astros, Braves, Brewers, Diamondbacks, A’s, Cubs, Rockies and Dodgers — made moves to bolster their bullpens in July. Basically, that’s every contending team except the Nationals, who added Kelvin Herrera in June, and the Red Sox, whose acquisition of starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi will result in someone being moved to their bullpen.
For the Nationals, who passed on an opportunity to sell off other pieces and retool for 2019, their task of trying to climb back into the playoff race was made tougher by the fact the teams they will need to vanquish in August and September, not to mention October, all got significantly better at the deadline.
The Phillies, who entered Tuesday with a half-game lead over the Braves, got one of the best-hitting catchers in the game in Ramos (despite his present unavailability) and a lefty reliever in Aaron Loup from the Blue Jays, to go along with infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, whom they acquired from the Mets on Friday.
The Braves, meanwhile, added a controllable starting pitcher (Kevin Gausman), a slugger (Adam Duvall) and plenty of bullpen help (O’Day, Brad Brach and Jonny Venters).
But while the NL playoff picture is still wide open, with as many as 10 teams that consider themselves still alive, the AL is a different story. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s trade deadline, only six of its 15 teams — the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, Astros, Mariners and A’s — are still competing in 2018, a sad commentary on baseball’s state of stratification.
No team was a more aggressive seller than the Orioles, who, saddled with the game’s worst record, wound up dealing away six pieces of their core — Machado, Gausman, Schoop, O’Day, Brach and Zach Britton — for a total of 15 younger players, all but one of them minor leaguers, and international bonus-pool money.
Now that the nonwaiver trade deadline has passed, August will be at least partly consumed with the second trade deadline, for which the involved players must clear waivers before being dealt. Players must be acquired by Aug. 31 to be eligible for postseason rosters.
Eleven months ago, the Astros acquired Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander with just minutes to go before the calendar flipped to September, a fateful move that paid off in a World Series victory that probably would not have been possible without Verlander.
There probably won’t be anybody like Verlander available this August, but then again, few saw that trade happening in the days leading up to it. And there’s a good chance that whoever wins this year’s World Series may have already acquired their game-changer.
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