The trade market this season has been slow developing so far. The only moves of significance have been Nelson Cruz going to the Tampa Bay Rays and Rich Hill being acquired by the New York Mets. However, the lack of transactions does not mean the trade market is dead. Teams generally like to wait until the last few days before the deadline because they feel the maximum return can be extracted when players are available for last-minute deals. Fans of contending teams want to see their favorite club add the missing piece of a future World Series winner; the fans of the struggling teams hope their club can add the young talent to build around for the future. Last week I wrote about some of the players who may be moved during this trade season, but today I want to provide a bit of historical context. To keep things current, I will focus on deals made leading up to the trade deadlines over the past decade (Nothing says “old guy” like bringing up a trade deadline deal from 1990 where future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell was traded as a minor leaguer for veteran pitcher Larry Andersen).
It became apparent to me when looking at deadline deals they are a mixed bag. Teams are a lot better at properly assessing the value of the players in the deal, therefore fleecing a team in a deadline deal is much harder to do. Most of the deals have very little impact on the fortunes of the buyer; the teams performed as they had previously for the most part. The sellers rarely acquired a franchise changer. It makes sense the sellers are actively looking for arbitrage opportunities at the trade deadline, but stars a simply hard to find; buyers should not hold their prospects so dear. I do want to mention the Chicago White Sox/San Diego Padres trade of James Shields in exchange for Fernando Tatis Jr. doesn’t count as a deadline deal because the transaction occurred in June.
Trade deadline deals cannot be properly evaluated until years after the fact. The season has to conclude to examine what impact the acquisition makes for the buyer. The prospects have to be given a chance to develop to see the difference they make to the fortunes of the seller. Let’s review a few deals. I will try to limit the list to players more casual fans will know or remember.
2011: Hunter Pence to the Phillies from the Astros for three minor leaguers. Pence hit .324/.394/.560. He provided 2.3 WAR down the stretch for Philadelphia, who won the National League East that year. The key prospect sent to the Astros was Jon Singleton, who was out of baseball after 357 major league at-bats due to off-field issues.
Carlos Beltran to the Giants from the Mets for Zack Wheeler. The Giants were in the middle of their even-numbered year World Series run. Unfortunately for them, 2011 was an odd-numbered year; they finished second in the National League West. Beltran produced during his short stint in NorCal. .323/.369/.551 was what the Giants were looking for. Zack Wheeler became one of the better pitchers in the league, going 44-38 and amassing 10.4 WAR during his time with the Mets.
2012: Shane Victorino to the Dodgers from the Phillies for Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin. The Dodgers were giving Tony Gwynn Jr. regular at-bats, so Victorino’s .245/.316/.351 was seen as providing them with an upgrade. Needless, to say it wasn’t. Lindblom looked better on the Dodgers than he did anywhere else. In his career, he has a 130 ERA+ for LA compared to an 86 ERA+ anywhere else. By some miracle, he is still pitching in 2021. Martin’s career lasted 17 games.
Hunter Pence (He’s back) from the Phillies to the San Francisco Giants for Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph, and Seth Rosin. The Phillies fell apart to end at .500. Pence hit .219/.287/.384, but gave an impassioned speech which led to the Giants’ comeback in the NLDS, so there is that. Nate Schierholtz was the best of the bunch going from San Francisco. He had 4.8 career WAR over 8 seasons. Joseph hit 43 homers in two seasons before disappearing. Rosin had one win in four career appearances.
2013: Houston Astros send Bud Norris to the Baltimore Orioles for L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader, and 2014 a competitive balance pick. This deal is interesting for the butterfly effect on the Astros side of the deal. Norris was mediocre (86 ERA+ and 0.1 WAR) for a mediocre 2013 Orioles team, which finished third in the AL East. L.J. Hoes end up being the player the Astros preferred when they released J.D. Martinez. Hoes was worth 0.1 WAR over 337 plate appearances for Houston. Hader never appeared for the Astros and was traded to Milwaukee at the 2015 deadline in a deal with included Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez.
2014: Tampa Bay Rays trade David Price to the Detroit Tigers as part of a three-team deal. The Tigers moved Austin Jackson to the Seattle Mariners. The Tigers sent Willy Adames and Drew Smyly the Rays. The Mariners also sent Nick Franklin to the Rays. Lots of moving parts in this deal. Price was solid for Detroit. He was 4-4, but his 3.59 ERA compared to his 2.44 FIP shows he was a bit unlucky. The Tigers won the American League Central but lost in the ALDS. Price was second in 2015 Cy Young voting, so the Tigers got a return from the deal. Austin Jackson provided 22.1 career WAR over 9 seasons. Smyly has a 42-38 record and has been good for 10.1 WAR to this point in his career. Franklin was totaled 1.2 WAR in playing days, which were over in 2018. Willy Adames was good, but not a star in Tampa Bay, and may still be a significant part of 2021 in his new home of Milwaukee.
2015: Detroit Tigers trade Yoenis Cespedes (Remember him?) to the New York Mets for Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa. This deal is the lightning in a bottle teams and fans dream of on deadline day. After the trade, Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 with 2.1 WAR over the last two months of the season. He helped lead the Mets to the 2015 World Series. Michael Fulmer was the 2016 Rookie of the Year, but his 3.2 WAR since means his best days may already be behind him. Luis Cessa was traded by Detroit to the New York Yankees in the 2015 off-season. He has produced 2.0 WAR in his career.
2016: New York Yankees trade Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs for Gelyber Torres. This was a great bit of business by the Yankees. They sent Champan to Chicago to fill their need for a closer. He performed as expected, saving 16 games with a 0.82 FIP. He helped the Cubs end their 108 year World Series drought. The Yankees acquired the Cubs’ top prospect in Gleyber Torres. Torres hit the ground running and was third in the 2018 Rookie of The Year balloting, and is a two-time all-star who has contributed 7.2 WAR in his first three plus seasons. The deal was made sweeter for the Yankees when Chapman re-signed with the club after the 2016 season. This means they acquired an all-star in exchange for two months of Champan being in Chicago.
2017: Texas Rangers send Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Willie Calhoun, A.J Alexy, and Brendon Davis. Darvish was good for the Dodgers by going 4-3 with a 3.38 FIP. The Dodgers made it to the World Series before losing to Houston under dubious circumstances. Willie Calhoun has been sub-replacement level in Texas. He has a -0.9 WAR so far in his career. It is nearly four years later and we are still waiting for Alexy or Davis to become big leaguers.
Chicago White Sox trade Jose Quintana to the Chicago Cubs for Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease. Quintana was decent for the Cubs, providing a 7-3 record with a 118 ERA+ and 1.3 WAR. The Cubs did not repeat as World Series winners, falling to the Dodgers in the NLCS. The bill has come due as Eloy Jimenez looks to become a fixture in the White Sox lineup, hitting 45 home runs and chipping in 2.8 WAR in his first 177 games since his call-up in 2019. Dylan Cease has been a league-average starter in his first season in the White Sox rotation. He has provided 1.1 WAR over his first 20 starts this season.
2018: Chris Archer was dealt by the Tampa Bay Rays to the Pittsburgh Pirates, yielding a return of Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows. This is the type of deal that gets a general manager fired (and it did). Archer was the same middle-of-the-road starter in Pittsburgh that he had been in Tampa Bay, going 3-3 with 92 ERA+. His 4.30 ERA was nearly identical to his 4.00 FIP, so he was exactly who his numbers said he was- a replacement-level pitcher who provided 1.5 WAR over his career in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Glasnow blossomed into one of the better pitchers in the American League. He is 17-9 with an ERA+ of 133 during his time in the 813 area code. Injuries have been the only thing keeping him from being truly elite. Austin Meadows has slashed .262/.342/.500, with a 130 OPS+, and 5.7 WAR since the deal he was an all-star in 2019. Archer is now back on the Rays just to make things a little bit worse.
Baltimore Orioles deal Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for (wait for it) Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Diaz, Dean Kremer, Zach Pop, and Breyvic Valeria. Dodgers fans may loathe Machado now, but he was productive in L.A. .273/.338/.487 are almost his exact career averages. He produced 2.5 WAR for the Dodgers, but most fans only remember him swinging over a Chris Sale slider while going to one knee, thus ending the 2018 World Series. To say the Orioles have not reaped many benefits from the deal might be understating it. Dean Kremer has -0.3 career WAR in 16 career games. Zach Pop has -0.3 WAR in 32 games, but he is a Miami Marlin now. Breyvic Valeria has -0.2 WAR in 124 at-bats but has since become a Toronto Blue Jay. We are still waiting for Yusniel Diaz and Rylan Bannon to make a big-league appearance. Again, this is how general managers get fired.
I am going to reserve judgment on the deals from the trade deadlines of 2019 and 2020 because one has to allow the prospects in the deal time to play out their careers. Looking back at this bit of history has made me a firm believer in always taking the major league talent while gambling on knowing the prospects to deal from the farm system. Prospect development is no sure thing, and clubs shouldn’t allow an uncertain future to affect their chances for tangible results in the current season.