This post was adapted and updated from a previous post last May.
It’ll soon be June, so let’s look back at a few recent transactions in the month before primary deadline season. Most major swaps occur in July, of course, and most of those occur toward the end of the month.
The biggest “early” deadline deal of recent memory — the 2014 swap that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs to the Athletics in exchange for Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and Dan Straily — didn’t go through until the 4th of July. Likewise, the equally important deal from the year prior — in which the Cubs nabbed Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop from the Orioles for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger — was reached on July 2nd.
But that doesn’t mean that nothing of consequence occurs in June. Those deals could easily have come a few days sooner, and baseball’s increasingly free-wheeling player market could lead to some surprises. This year, for instance, we’ve heard suggestions that the Padres could look to make an early move involving quality left-handed reliever Brad Hand.
What kinds of swaps might be anticipated over the thirty days to come? Here are some of the most notable deals that were actually completed in the month of June over the last five seasons:
- The first and most significant deal in June of 2016 is a good place to point friends when they ask, “why don’t teams make big trades earlier in the season?” With the White Sox fading after a hot start, they took a chance on struggling veteran James Shields, absorbing about $27MM of his remaining salary obligations while also sending righty Erik Johnson and young infield prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. to the Padres. Shields continued to decline, the Sox crashed, and Tatis blossomed into one of the better prospects in a loaded San Diego system. (Johnson is working back from Tommy John surgery or the deal could look even worse — and may yet.) Shields did turn in three good starts to open the 2017 season, but he’s now on the DL at 35 years of age and has plenty to show before the now-rebuilding White Sox can try to get something back.
- In a reprisal of a deal from the prior July, the Mets picked up utilityman Kelly Johnson from the Braves. New York had a need for a veteran lefty bat capable of moving around, and Johnson fit the bill, hitting quite well and helping the Mets eke into the postseason. That came at a cost, though, as the return — relief prospect Akeel Morris — has thrown fairy well for his new organization.
- A similar deal went down shortly thereafter, as the Cubs brought back Chris Coghlan after a brief stint with the Athletics. Like Johnson, he showed new life once back in his old uniform. Outfielder Arismendy Alcantara went to Oakland in the deal, but was later lost on waivers.
- In a swap of former prospects who had fallen on hard times, the Dodgers added infielder Chris Taylor from the Mariners in exchange for righty Zach Lee. The immediate impact was minimal, but Taylor has broken out with 123 plate appearances of .321/.415/.557 hitting for Los Angeles in 2017. Lee, like Alcantara, was lost on the waiver wire over the ensuing offseason.
- The Dodgers also made another trade right at June’s end, adding righty Bud Norris along with outfielder Dian Toscano from the Braves in exchange for righty Caleb Dirks and lefty Phil Pfeifer. Norris fell flat in Los Angeles in 2016, though he’s pitching well there now — albeit with the Angels. Dirks may end up being a nice pick-up for Atlanta, as he’s carrying a 2.93 ERA with 10.7 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 through 27 2/3 Triple-A innings thus far in 2017.
- The month started with an interest arrangement that saw slugger Mark Trumbo head from the D-Backs to the Mariners along with lefty Vidal Nuno. That seemed mostly motivated by salary from Arizona’s perspective, but the team has received compelling production from backstop Welington Castillo. The team also picked up righty Dominic Leone and prospects Gabby Guerrero and Jack Reinheimer from Seattle.
- One day later, the Orioles sent veteran outfielder Alejandro De Aza to the Red Sox after designating him for assignment, receiving minor league righty Joe Gunkel in return. De Aza performed well in Boston, which took on about $1MM of his remaining salary, but couldn’t turn around a sinking ship, and was eventually passed along to the Giants.
- Later that June, the D-Backs struck another interesting deal. In exchange for taking over about $10MM of salary obligations to injured veteran Bronson Arroyo, and sending over infielder Philip Gosselin, the Braves earned the rights to high-upside pitching prospect Touki Toussaint.
- In another agreement involving prospect assets, the Pirates got the 39th overall pick in the 2014 draft from the Marlins on June 1. Miami picked up righty Bryan Morris, who’s been a sturdy reliever who’s still controlled for two more years, while Pittsburgh ultimately turned that selection into first baseman Connor Joe, who has largely scuffled in the low minors since.
- Later that month, the Pirates and Angels made a change-of-scenery swap that sent Jason Grilli out west in exchange for Ernesto Frieri. While Grilli provided some solid innings, Frieri faded, though both organizations ended up making the post-season.
- DFA swaps are often fruitful in the middle of the year, and the Brewers managed to land a useful piece from the Braves out of limbo. Third baseman Juan Francisco went to Milwaukee for lefty Tom Keeling, and ultimately gave the Brew Crew a league-average bat with some pop while the club dealt with an injury to veteran Aramis Ramirez.
- A middle-of-the-month trade of seemingly limited consequence was reached between the Mets and Rockies. New York added speedy but limited outfielder Eric Young Jr., while Colorado picked up righty Collin McHugh. The latter didn’t find success at Coors Field, but turned into quite a useful starter for the Astros in the season that followed.
- The month of June started with a quiet transfer of cash considerations from the Orioles to the division-rival Yankees. The return? A first baseman by the name of Steve Pearce, who had joined New York on a minor league deal. He showed a bit of a spark that year, filled in usefully in 2013, and then exploded in the following season, when the O’s trounced the Yankees and the rest of the AL East.
- Kevin Youkilis traded color schemes, going from the Red Sox to the White Sox on June 24th. A struggling Youk headed to Chicago along with a stack of salary-offsetting cash for righty Zach Stewart and utilityman Brent Lillibridge. The 33-year-old provided a jolt for the South Siders, though the club ultimately fell shy of the playoffs.
- And at month’s end, the Orioles picked up veteran slugger Jim Thome from the Phillies in exchange for a pair of prospects (Kyle Simon and Gabriel Lino). The 41-year-old Thome wasn’t an impact bat for Baltimore, but neither of the players dealt has been of much consequence since.