It has only been four weeks, so it’s too soon to judge with finality how this year’s trade deadline maneuvers will play out. That said, we’re already half of the way through the period — the regular season portion, at least — for which rental players were acquired. Even players with future control are usually added first and foremost for their immediate contributions (though there are some exceptions). It’d be awfully premature to say anything conclusive about the prospect side of any deals, but we do now have some additional information with which to work.
So, that’s why we’re going to take a glance back over our shoulders at the moves (and major non-moves) that organizations made in the run-up to this year’s trade deadline. We already covered the AL Central; now we’ll go over to the National League’s middle division.
When the Cards dropped five of six games after the trade deadline, it looked as if they may be on the brink of a collapse. But the club recovered with a stirring, 19-5 run. So … what caused it? A big deadline blockbuster? Multiple, well-conceived additions? Not so much.
The only move the Cards made this summer was a roster-management swap in which they sent veteran infielder Jedd Gyorko to the Dodgers. He’s playing a limited role in L.A. and hasn’t yet done anything of note. Back in St. Louis, the Cards remain laden with position-player options. A deep September roster will help the club mix and match down the stretch, though cramming talent onto a postseason roster will be more difficult.
When the Cards held pat at the deadline, it was fair to wonder whether the team’s uncertain place in the standings was a significant factor. Now, there’s little question that the club has the inside track to a divisional appearance, if not more. It was arguable at the time that the club ought to cash in some of its many solid young assets in pursuit of a higher-end starter or center fielder. So far, the decision not to do so hasn’t hurt (far from it). We’ll see how it plays out over the final month and beyond.
The Cubbies’ biggest mid-season acquisition came not via trade, but by way of signing. But closer Craig Kimbrel hasn’t had the biggest impact. That honor would go to outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, who burst to life after being sent to Chicago. He carries a 1.060 OPS through thirty games. The move did cost two pitchers (Paul Richan and Alex Lange) that now feature among the top thirty or so Tigers farmhands. The former has shown well since the deal, carrying a 29:2 K/BB ratio over five High-A starts.
Also more helpful to this point than Kimbrel is veteran reliever David Phelps, who has been excellent since coming over. He has allowed just two earned runs in 13 appearances. That deal could still cost in the long run. It cost the Cubbies Tom Hatch, a Double-A starter who has compiled 35 1/3 innings of 2.80 ERA pitching with an intriguing 34:2 K/BB ratio since the swap.
A low-risk shot on Derek Holland hasn’t really paid dividends, as he wasn’t terribly effective before hitting the injured list. But he could still return and provide an important pen presence late in the season. Brad Wieck, acquired when the club gave up on Carl Edwards Jr., has added a bit of lefty relief depth. Edwards was knocked around before hitting the IL, so there aren’t any regrets there.
There was also a sort of hot-stove miniseries regarding the Cubs catching situation. The team added Martin Maldonado but then sent him on to the Astros for Tony Kemp. When starter Willson Contreras went down with a significant injury, the club picked up Jonathan Lucroy. The club was simply acting on the needs it had before it, but this series of moves hasn’t really worked out. Maldonado would be preferable to Lucroy at this stage of their respective careers; Kemp has struggled badly at the plate and doesn’t seem all that necessary to a roster with a wide variety of infield/outfield-capable players.
While the Cubs are now staring at a three-game deficit in the NL Central, they’ve moved into strong Wild Card position. It’s hard to say they realistically could or should have done much more at the deadline.
The Milwaukee org has fallen off the pace since the deadline, playing sub-.500 ball over the month of August. That drop coincided with the rise of the Redbirds … in spite of the fact that the Brew Crew front office was far more active on the trade market — and generally successful in unearthing value.
Adding Jordan Lyles, at the cost of pitching prospect Cody Ponce, has been a clear win to this point. The 28-year-old Lyles has a 2.51 ERA through six starts in Milwaukee. Ponce, a former second-round pick, could yet emerge but hasn’t done anything since the deal to suggest the Brewers made a big mistake by parting with him.
Improving the bullpen was also a key need and the Brewers accomplished that in their swap with the Giants. Lefty Drew Pomeranz has turned on the afterburners of late. Overall, he has allowed just four earned runs with a 22:7 K/BB ratio over 13 2/3 innings. Righty Ray Black has just two strikeouts in his 6 2/3 innings but has managed to keep opponents to just a pair of earned runs. It’ll be interesting to see whether former top prospect Mauricio Dubon makes the Milwaukee org pay for parting with him. He’d likely be playing a significant role there with Keston Hiura injured; instead, he’s getting a full MLB showcase with the Giants.
The Brewers’ other trade hasn’t yet added value but also hasn’t hurt much. Though Jesus Aguilar started out hot after the Brewers sent him to the Rays, he has fallen back to an unremarkable .279/.351/.412 overall slash with his new club. The hurler acquired in return, Jake Faria, has been knocked around a bit in three MLB appearances.
The Cincinnati front office turned in what was arguably the most interesting overall package of deadline moves. With only an outside chance at a postseason run this season, but a keen desire to contend as soon as possible, the focus was on the near-future.
First and foremost was the surprising move to bring in veteran righty Trevor Bauer. After picking up multiple short-term starters in the prior offseason, the Reds were in need of another reload entering 2020. In that respect, going for Bauer made for an early shopping trip. He has struggled quite a bit working to an 8.40 ERA in thirty innings, though he’s still sporting a 37:13 K/BB ratio. It just hasn’t been a great follow-up season for a pitcher who landed sixth in the Cy Young voting last year. The Reds are betting he’ll figure out how to return to dominance over the offseason.
The cost for Bauer was fairly steep. Outfielder Yasiel Puig is a pending free agent, but he could’ve been cashed in otherwise. Top prospect Taylor Trammell isn’t tearing up Double-A with the Padres organization, but remains a highly regarded player. And then there’s the other, least-known aspect of the swap. Lefty Scott Moss was pitching well before the swap but has impressed all the more since. He even overcame the treacherous International League in a late stint, allowing just four earned runs on a dozen hits with 23 strikeouts and eight walks in 18 2/3 innings.
Having picked up Bauer, the Reds proceeded to ship out pending free agent starter Tanner Roark. That helped cover the late-2019 salary of the new rotation piece and also landed the team a new prospect in recent second-round pick Jameson Hannah. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been a shining season thus far for Hannah, who struggled to a .224/.325/.299 slash in 78 plate appearances after the deal.
Otherwise, the Reds don’t regret dumping Scooter Gennett, whose feel-good tenure in Cincinnati ended in bitterness. He didn’t last long in San Francisco. The club added righty Justin Grimm for depth, but he hasn’t been called upon.
The Pirates were within 2.5 games of the division lead as late as July 7th, but it has been an unmitigated disaster ever since. It was already clear that this wasn’t going to be the team’s year by the time the deadline hit, but that didn’t set the stage for a sell-off.
The deadline period ended up being rather quiet. After the aforementioned Lyles deal, the Pirates swapped Corey Dickerson to the Phillies for some international bonus capacity and a PTBNL. Something may ultimately come of the acquired assets — Ponce seems like a good bet to appear in the majors at some point — but it was hardly a moment of note.
It could’ve been different. The Pirates discussed Felipe Vazquez with the Dodgers and could’ve come away with some serious talent for the high-end reliever. The club also could’ve held trade talks on Starling Marte, Josh Bell, or others. But it’s also plenty understandable that the organization decided against rushing into a decision on such significant assets. The pressure of the deadline might’ve spiked Vazquez’s value, but it could also be that the Bucs can get as much or more by shopping him over the winter (if they decide to do so at all). There’s always injury risk, but he has only continued to excel. While there is an argument to be made that the organization ought to pursue a different direction after another disappointing season, the club still has every opportunity to do so after holding tight this summer.