That oh-so-brief Bryce Harper trade derby sure was interesting. It was over before we knew it, and maybe before we even heard about it.
There was a spate of worthless trade speculation overnight and into the early morning of trade-deadline day, after Harper had already been told he was staying in Washington and just before Nationals GM Mike Rizzo made clear he “loves Bryce,” and publicly proclaimed one of the biggest names in the game was going nowhere.
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Well, good thing, too.
The stacked Nats are far from out of it, and beyond excising one of the best players in the game, a trade of Harper just might have sent the wrong message to the underperforming team at the absolute wrong time.
Instead, the simple message that the team isn’t selling (and that Rizzo believes wholeheartedly in them, which was his other message) seemed to trigger something to finally loosen up an all-time tight team. Just three hours post deadline, Washington's historic 25-4 victory over the equally disappointing Mets (the Mets’ most lopsided defeat ever) may have finally announced the arrival of a team that meandered through the first two-thirds of the season.
A sale of Harper may ultimately have worked for a team whose clubhouse seemed on the brink of disaster, of course. But it just wasn’t worth taking such a steep risk. The Nats remain a very good team on paper, even better when mercurial No. 2 starter Stephen Strasburg returns. And more to the point, while they currently rank as one of the three most disappointing teams in the game (the rival Mets and Twins are the other two), they remain solidly within striking distance.
No, there wasn’t enough reason to do something so drastic as trade their superstar in his walk year, which from here would have severely diminished their chances to keep him long-term and all but eliminated their chances to catch the upstart Braves and Phillies, who lead them.
Yes, the Nats are a winner for doing next to nothing, for creating a stir, then announcing their own calm.
For that they make our winners list. Now, without further ado, here are all our winners and losers …
1) Dodgers: Let’s not forget, the Dodgers imported the best player traded this month — Manny Machado — and yet another big star in Brian Dozier while managing to remain below the $197-million luxury tax threshold. Better, they now boast quite likely the best lineup in the National League, enhanced further by crazy versatility. They didn’t do anything to aid their pitching situation, which looks iffy at the moment, with All-Star Ross Stripling joining Hyun-Jin Ryu and Julio Urias on the disabled list. But there just wasn’t room to operate under the threshold, and more to the point, their offense looks so darned good, it may not matter much.
2) Yankees: Yes, it’s a little sad in many parts to see baseball’s two richest teams at the top of this list. While the Yankees appeared to be re-arranging deck chairs in the final couple days before the deadline, we can’t forget they did yeoman’s work early by enhancing baseball’s best bullpen, adding former Cy Young contender Zach Britton, and a pretty ordinary rotation by adding their top target J.A. Happ. Their deal for Happ may have looked like an overpay to some — former starting big-league infielder Brandon Drury and likely future starting big-league outfielder Billy McKinney — but the reality is those two players never would have the chance to make their mark in pinstripes. (The Yankees also wondered whether Drury’s migraine problem was related to The Big Apple, though they’ll never know for sure.)
3) Rays: We’ve been critical here of their laboratory approach to the game. But Tampa manages to surprise us more than we care to admit. It’s amazing after a stark sell-off followed by a stricken spring how they have played .500 ball in baseball’s hardest division. And it’s amazing how they turned the Chris Archer derby into an event well beyond its real worthiness. Archer is a very nice young man with a big arm. But the reality, as one rival executive put it, is that the real selling point is “that contract.” Archer’s deal seemed like a good idea at the time, but it’s so popular among rival executives that it’s led to him finding himself on the trading block year after year. While this has been far from Archer’s greatest season, the lack of true aces on the block — the Mets never seemed serious about trading Jacob deGrom, or even Noah Syndergaard, even before he got old-style hand, foot and mouth disease — put the Rays in the perfect position. And boy did they take advantage. The Rays wound up getting three good players (one unnamed, though word is it’s anything but a throw in) from the Pirates including impressive young outfielder Austin Meadows, who’s posted a .468 slugging percentage in his age 23 season. Beyond the big deal of the day, the Rays somehow landed Tommy Pham, one of many players involved in a dispute in St. Louis, his over the club renewing his contract at the minimum after a fantastic breakout 2017 season, and his decision to reject their two-year offer designed to take advantage of his late-blooming career and lack of negotiating leverage. To get two such talented offensive players was big for the Rays, who are among the teams best at developing pitchers, but not nearly as accomplished at doing the same with positional stars.
4) Pirates: Yes, they are full of surprises. Many of their fans had given up on them after they traded Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen in the winter. But some inspired play and a thrilling deadline may bring them back. Yes, they gave a lot to get Chris Archer. But everything they do is calculated. And they see potential there, based on a FIP that’s much lower than his ERA (3.62 to 4.31) and apparently many other statistics much more obscure than that. Archer is under contract for three more years after this one, giving them a rotation anchor at a mid-rotation rate (the team options in the last two years are for $9 million and $11 million, respectively). And the Archer deal came on the heels of the pickup of quirky reliever Keone Kela who gives them a stellar back-end duo with also closer Felipe Vazquez. To get Archer they gave up top young outfielder Austin Meadows, hard-throwing relief pitcher Tyler Glasnow and that player to be named later (not to be confused with Vazquez, who used to be called Rivero but named himself later).
5) Red Sox: They have such a small prospect list their options were supposed to be limited. Yet, they added excellent second baseman Ian Kinsler, red-hot starter Nathan Eovaldi and dangerous bat Steve Pearce. Somehow, baseball president Dave Dombrowski figured out how to turn his tiny prospect list into a trio of important pieces, with the Eovaldi deal looking especially prescient after he began his Red Sox career with seven innings of shutout ball in a win. The other surprise was that they didn’t come away with any bullpen help in a year when there was a reliever list a mile long.
6) Diamondbacks: They didn’t get superstar Manny Machado and painfully saw him go to their main and hated divisional rival and fellow contender. But they bounced back nicely from that disappointment, adding Eduardo Escobar, who is having a career year for the disappointing Twins (he actually had more extra-base hits than Machado). Escobar also brings a little extra leadership to a relatively young team. Then on deadline day, the D-Backs bulked up their strong bullpen with soft-tossing, side-arming veteran righty Brad Ziegler, who they had and loved for six years, and hard-throwing lefty Jake Diekman. The duo gives them two new looks. The whole picture looks better thanks to their maneuvering.
7) Orioles: They gave it a shot this year, signing three free agent pitchers and trying to make one last run before superstar Manny Machado and many other key personnel presumably leave the Inner Harbor behind and ride off into the sunset. But when things turned disastrous early, they did exactly what they had to do, which was hold a sale of gigantic proportions. They got a haul for the aforementioned Machado, did well, too, for talented closer Zach Britton and brought in great quantity on deadline day for two nice players with an extra year of control beyond this one – underachieving pitcher Kevin Gausman and excellent but somewhat inconsistent infielder Jonathan Schoop. The Orioles’ haul included five-tool outfielder Yusniel Diaz, 100-mph-throwing right hander Dillon Tate and tons more. On top of that, they wound up running their international bonus money up to $8.25 million, giving them a chance to reap the benefits of a fertile ground for ballplayers for the first time ever (one of the biggest mistakes of the Peter Angelos era has been to virtually ignore Latin America) while saving a whopping $35 million in player salaries. There was some difference of opinion among Orioles higher-ups about whether they should trade their non-free-agents, but in the end they probably did the right thing. Take a bow, Dan Duquette, whether or not you stay with the O’s.
8) Cubs: The all-time great general managing duo of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer may not be perfect in the free agent game (who is?), but their track record on trades is just about spotless. Cole Hamels may become the latest example of a trade jackpot. Hamels isn’t having a very good year, and his 10.73 ERA over his five starts before the trade wouldn’t inspire much confidence. But the Cubs’ tandem in charge noticed that Hamels’ road ERA was 2.93, understood that his home run issue was likely tied directly to Globe Life Park and believed that the switch in league might not hurt either. Hamels certainly has the pedigree. The Cubs’ belief, too, is that there was an uptick in stuff, giving them an extra bit of confidence that their hunch might be right.
9) Twins: They weren’t expecting to be in this position, but they certainly seemed prepared. Minnesota's takes for their trade bait were uniformly excellent, though special notice goes to the trade of lefty specialist Zach Duke. In that deal, which could easily have been a giveaway, they received right hander Chase De Jong and infielder Ryan Costello, which seems like way more than it should have been. While they are obscure minor leaguers to some, Costello for instance was a 31st round draft choice who looks like he might become a classic overachiever; he leads the Midwest League in home runs in RBI. Tyler Austin could become a consistent power hitter, and other pickups seem worthwhile as well. While their buying spree didn’t produce a winner in 2018, their sale looks like a smart one.
10) Indians: Brad Hand is one of the best relievers in the game, and exactly what was needed for a bullpen that’s gone from best in the game to near the bottom in seemingly no time at all. No one is Andrew Miller, of course. But Hand is the closest approximation to Miller there is. Leonys Martin fills a center field hole with the latest of stop-gap guys.
11) Blue Jays: Toronto was handicapped in its sale by the injuries of superstar Josh Donaldson and the slumps of Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia. But the Blue Jays made the most of what they had. The trade of banned closer Roberto Osuna has to rank as the trade of the year, if not the trade of the decade. To get three live bodies, much less talented pitchers, for Osuna, is nothing short of a coup. Beyond that, Forrest Wall, who came in the trade for Seung-hwan Oh, can really hit. Under the difficult circumstances, it’s an A.
12) Padres: San Diego already had the most star-studded prospect stash going, and Francisco Mejia made it that much better. “The best hitting prospect in the minors,” one scout called him. The question is whether he can catch. The Indians appear to have had their doubts based on the fact that this is the second time they traded him (the first time Mejia was only one of four players who would have gone to Milwaukee had Jonathan Lucroy accepted the deal). They seemed like a serious player for Chris Archer for a while, but word now is that their offers were consistently non-compelling. That actually makes sense since they are targeting 2020 as their year to win.
13) Braves: They enhanced both their offense and rotation without giving up their very best prospects, which seems like the goal in a year when they’d like to make the playoffs but don’t want to risk the future for a team that doesn’t look like a true World Series contender. And they still have baseball’s best prospect list (tied with the Padres). The big questions are whether Adam Duvall, a former All-Star, can improve his poor start (.684 OPS), and Kevin Gausman can shed the underachiever label. The other question is whether they did enough for their bullpen, which could be their undoing.
14) Nats: They didn’t get prime target J.T. Realmuto, or even come particularly close (word is, they’d give up outfielder Victor Robles but not both Robles and shortstop Carter Kieboom). They added Kelvin Herrera early, then sold solid reliever Brandon Kintzler late. However, the brief consideration and eventual rejection of the idea of trading Bryce Harper may prove to be the trigger to get this team back on track. Trading Harper would have been absolutely nutty, even if the then 52-53 team was performing nowhere near expectation and clubhouse issues were hitting the papers and internet. A quick glance at the standings should have told them all they needed to know; while their record isn't good, they sit clearly within striking distance of the Braves and Phillies, two upstart teams that come with no guarantees.
15) Brewers: The Brewers needed a shortstop, a second baseman, a catcher and a starting pitcher, and while they made a trio of trades, the only obvious hole they filled was when they got Jonathan Schoop right at the deadline. Now it seems the second baseman could wind up playing shortstop on this team. It really isn’t certain how they will line up since they have two power-hitting third basemen, thanks to the earlier pickup of Mike Moustakas, who has pushed Travis Shaw to second for the first time in his career – at least temporarily. This still looks like a work in progress for an excellent team that had clear needs but seems not to mind doubling up strengths (remember when they acquired two great center fielders – Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich – on the same day when they already had a decent outfield?). Some believe Moustakas, a former high school shortstop, is better equipped for second than Shaw, and they could go that way, too. Milwaukee never did get a catcher or a starting pitcher, though it did try for the pitcher, looking into just about every starter on the market but falling short on every one of them. Matt Harvey seemed like a perfect fit, but in the end, just like last year, they will go with the rotation already in place.
16) Tigers: There was some speculation early they might trade stars Michael Fulmer or Nick Castellanos. They also had Jose Iglesias and Mike Fiers, whose names were out there. But when deadline day came, the only deal they made was for cost-efficient free agent signing Leonys Martin. They did make the most of that one chip, getting back a nice shortstop prospect Willi Castro in a smart two-for-Castro deal.
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17) Phillies: Philadelphia addressed its offensive questions by adding Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilson Ramos (who should return from the DL within a couple weeks) and those two moves should lengthen the lineup. But while Cabrera is a versatile player (and fine hitter), the reality is that he really isn’t a shortstop, which is where he seems to fit them best. The Phillies have appeared to make the call to not fret over a defense that was already less than stellar, which could be an issue. They helped themselves but they didn’t add to the bullpen that needed help or to the starting pitcher depth when some believe the young rotation could run out of gas.
18) Royals: When they brought back Mike Moustakas it surprised some folks who believed the team was down on him. But Moustakas not only came back, he returned with a purpose. He put up big numbers and gave the Royals the opportunity to turn him into a nice package, which is what they did when they sent him to Milwaukee for toolsy outfielder Brett Phillips and reliever Jorge Lopez. Earlier, they dealt Kelvin Herrera to D.C., and while that deal received a bit of criticism for Kansas City's return, the Royals felt confident in what they got. Their trading history should inspire confidence they know what they’re doing. They smartly decided to hold on to late-blooming homegrown star Whit Merrifield, and markets didn’t develop for Lucas Duda or many of their pitchers. But the Moustakas deal made their deadline.
19) Athletics: They made a strength that much stronger by importing reliever Jeurys Famila to aid a bullpen that’s been one of the best in the game. The deal was praised on both coasts (from the Oakland perspective) and Familia had a nice A's debut in his new town. Everything seems to be going the Athletics' way.
20) Reds: Adam Duvall isn’t having a very good year, but they managed to turn him into three prospects — and not only that, but three prospects with pedigree. The Braves may have soured on Lucas Sims, Matt Wisler and Preston Tucker but they were top drawer prospects at some point. That was a great start. However, deadline day itself turned into a disappointment when Matt Harvey, who hit 98 mph in his last start, drew so little interest the Reds wound up holding onto him. Harvey has posted an ERA under 4 in Great America Ballpark, which is quite a feat, and yet, they received only nibbles for the former Dark Knight. The suspicion is that folks feared the potential drama that can come with Harvey, which may prove a mistake.
21) White Sox: They knew by the end of the month there wouldn't be takers for Jose Abreu, James Shields or some of the others. But they did a nice deal earlier, sending veteran reliever Joakim Soria to the Brewers for two prospects, including former No. 1 pick Kodi Medeiros, a former No. 1 pick and lefty who adds to their stash of pitching prospects.
22) Rockies: The Rockies once again concentrated on the bullpen, and they made a nice deal for Seung-hwan Oh, who’s quietly having a big year and is under contract for next year, too. With the rotation coming on strong (an ERA under 3 in July), a bullpen piece is exactly what was needed. It wasn’t a headline grabber, but it was an under-the-radar winner.
23) Mariners: In an effort to head off the upstart A’s and make the postseason for the first time since 2001, the Mariners bolstered their relief corps with Zach Duke and Adam Warren and aided a weakness in center when they added Cameron Maybin. While they couldn’t do a ton with a painfully thin prospect list, we wonder if that’s enough. The A’s look like a freight train in the rear view mirror.
24) Angels: The Angels made the right call to sell, and they made a nice trade when they sent Ian Kinsler to Boston and received a pair of pitching prospects, Ty Buttrey and Williams Jerez. Both pitchers could make it, which is all you can ask when trading a rental player. The Angels need all the pitching they can get considering their luck when it comes to pitchers, too.
25) Rangers: There was talk of a lot of big names leaving town. But in the end, veteran Cole Hamels, who was in a slump when the deadline approached, was the lone star to go due to a variety of factors. Staying in Texas were Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Gallo. Beltre loves it in Texas and the team in turn loves him. And the other two lineup mainstays were a matter of contracts: Choo’s was too high to trade, and Gallo’s too low. In the end, the Rangers merely traded a pair of relievers – Keone Kela and Jake Diekman, which is a small start toward their rebuild.
26) Marlins: They didn’t make the big deal, as they held on to J.T. Realmuto, who requested a trade last winter. The price for him, “keeps going up,” says a rival, and understandably so, as Realmuto looks like baseball’s best catcher. “And he’ll be the best for the next five years,” one scout predicts. In any case, the Nats were allegedly willing to offer top outfield prospect Victor Robles, but not both Robles and top shortstop prospect Carter Kieboom, dooming their chances. The Marlins are making noises about trying to lock up Realmuto in the winter, and while he’s said he’s willing to listen, it’s quite possible he’s just being polite. The two trades they did make involved small sales of Brad Ziegler, who went to the D-Backs, and Cameron Maybin, who went to the Mariners. They didn’t wind up trading Derek Dietrich, Justin Bour or Starlin Castro, either, making for a pretty uneventful month in the end.
27) Giants: When you’re up against the luxury tax threshold sometimes there’s only so much you can do. It appears they are right up against it. The Giants, a win at most costs team, have made it clear they aren’t going past the threshold, and that probably makes sense for a team that’s a long shot to make the playoffs. There was talk of trading Andrew McCutchen, which would have made a little more room. But in the end, they did nothing. The only news was the painful loss of Johnny Cueto due to an elbow injury expected to require Tommy John surgery, which dampens everyone’s spirits by the beautiful bay.
28) Mets: The decision to stand pat would be more understandable if the team is, you know, good. The Mets may have faith they will win next year with the same primary cast of characters. But they have tried this laissez-faire approach before, and it didn’t work then. The best that can be said is they didn’t hurt anything. The trades of Jeurys Familia and Asdrubal Cabrera brought a few prospects, and while those trades were criticized, they probably didn’t do terribly (for instance, lanky right hander Franklyn Kilome, who came for Cabrera, has a chance, if he “grows into his body,” says a scout). The real question came later when they didn’t make a move. Following the decision to do nothing, they laid the largest egg in franchise history at their rival Nats, losing 25-4, which reinforced the outsiders’ notion that they may need to do something more drastic.
29) Cardinals: The goal seems to be to shake things up. Still, to trade Tommy Pham for a couple of prospects over a team-made dispute seems shortsighted. What would they expect besides a disappointed player when they renew a guy who turned himself into a star at the minimum? In terms of a sale, the usefulness seems limited, especially since Pham was under control at the lowest salary in the game. The Cardinals seem to specialize in self-made fires (the Bud Norris-Jordan Hicks story, the Dexter Fowler effort controversy, the Mike Matheny firing, etc.), and beyond losing their Cardinals way and somehow becoming one of the most fundamentally unsound teams, this is perhaps the defining characteristic of this team. The other deals were mainly giveaways not worth mentioning.
30) Astros: No one liked their trade for Roberto Osuna, a talented closer who’s out until Aug. 5 due to his 75-game spousal abuse ban. While Osuna has been an above average closer and fills an obvious need, the Astros gave up an oddly large package for such a tainted player and seemed to contradict their own “zero” tolerance policy. It turns out, the zero tolerance only applies to their own players, not to the guys they are bringing into the fold. That’s weird. But if there was a saving grace, one of the players they sent away had a ban in his past, just for something less heinous; it was a run of the mill PED penalty.