Just when it seemed like the 2019 trade deadline has passed without any truly major transactions, a blockbuster deal between the Astros and Diamondbacks shook things up when details emerged of the swap shortly after 3pm CT yesterday. The Astros landed one of baseball’s top arms in Zack Greinke (and also $24MM of the roughly $77MM owed to Greinke through 2021), while trading away four interesting prospects in right-handers Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas, first baseman Seth Beer and infielder Joshua Rojas.
The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan (subscription required), ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan, and the Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome all provided some of the details that led up to the trade, including the fact that Astros GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t get in touch with the D’Backs about Greinke until the day before the deadline. Arizona GM Mike Hazen and his front office wanted four prospects for Greinke and didn’t move from those demands, despite some counters from the Astros. Talks didn’t pick up again until around 35 minutes before the deadline.
“At the end of the day, that was the deal they insisted on, and that was the only deal that was going to get done, and we conceded at the last moment,” Luhnow said in a conference call with Rome and other media members.
It could be that the Astros were willing to bend on the Diamondbacks’ ask since Arizona may have been one of the few teams that didn’t try to pry away Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley, Houston’s top two prospects. Luhnow told rival clubs that Tucker and Whitley were “off limits” — the Tigers and Mets are two of the teams known to have asked about Tucker, in discussions around Matt Boyd and Noah Syndergaard.
Also, as Passan writes, “it dawned on the Astros: No one else was doing anything” on deadline day. The biggest moves for starting pitching were driven by teams that weren’t really contenders in 2019, namely the Reds’ acquisition of Trevor Bauer and the Mets’ acquisition of Marcus Stroman. With teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers having quiet deadlines and other top teams like the Nationals, Twins, and Braves focusing on bullpen moves, Houston felt a Greinke trade would make an even bigger splash than usual due to the relative lack of activity from other World Series challengers.
Speaking of the Mets’ Stroman deal, that surprise trade served as something of a catalyst for the Greinke trade, Passan notes. The Astros had interest in Stroman themselves, and once the right-hander went elsewhere, it broadened Houston’s search into other potentially available arms, including Greinke.
From the Diamondbacks’ perspective, a Greinke deal wasn’t a priority for Hazen, despite constant speculation over the last several years that Greinke’s large contract was simply too much of a burden on the Snakes’ payroll. When the Astros were agreeable to Arizona’s asking price, however, Hazen got the go-ahead from D’Backs owner Ken Kendrick and team president/CEO Derrick Hall.
“This was how the deal came together,” Hazen said. “I think we anticipated, as we’ve gone through the last few weeks, if we were going to get any sizable amount of talent in return that there was going to have to be some compromise financially. That talent return was extremely important to us. We would never have considered trading Zack Greinke without talent (coming back). That would have been a nonstarter.”
With the Greinke trade coming down to the final few minutes before the deadline, the D’Backs were simultaneously in a scramble to replace him in the rotation with another veteran arm in Mike Leake. Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters (including MLB.com’s Greg Johns) yesterday that the Leake trade was finalized with only 68 seconds remaining before the 3pm deadline.
“Human beings are notoriously bad when deadlines are imposed….For some reason, we don’t ever get to work until there are 20 minutes to go. This was a big one to be tackling with 20 minutes to go,” Hazen joked about the two trades.