In an MLB season unlike any other, it was only fitting that the sport experienced a trade deadline unlike we’ve come to expect in recent years. Some of the biggest moves in advance of the Aug. 31 deadline were made by the Padres, Marlins and Blue Jays, while big market contenders like the Yankees, Dodgers and Astros remained largely quiet.
Teams that have found themselves with a strong shot and making the postseason for the first time in years appeared more eager to make deals, while longstanding contenders used to success year in and year out appeared to take a more risk-averse approach. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five biggest winners and losers from the last few days of trade action, or in some cases, inaction:
San Diego Padres: There’s a clear consensus across the baseball world that the Padres are the biggest winners from the deadline, and it’s certainly a well-earned honor. San Diego was not only the most active team in the days leading up to it, but also clearly the most successful — two things that don’t always go together. General manager A.J. Preller, who’s known for his often aggressive trading approach, swung six deals involving 26 players in the days leading up to the deadline, addressing a number of key areas of need for the team.
In total, 10 players (including one to be named later) were added by the Padres. The headliner is Mike Clevinger, one of the top pitchers in the AL for the last several seasons, who was acquired in a nine-player blockbuster with the Indians on deadline day and immediately takes over as the ace of San Diego’s pitching staff. The team also bolstered what’s been a poor offensive group of catchers with the additions of Austin Nola (SEA) and Jason Castro (LAA), acquired a potent bat in Mitch Moreland (BOS) and strengthened the back end up its bullpen with Trevor Rosenthal (KC) among its many moves. The team gave up nearly a third of its top 30 prospects in the deals, so there’s certainly some risk involved, but that’s something you can — and should — do when you’ve got one of the best farm systems in baseball and a real chance to compete for the first time in years.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays’ deadline deals haven’t received quite as much attention, as they didn’t include a player of the caliber as Clevinger, but they have the potential to be really impactful. The team made a total of five deals during trade deadline season. On the offensive end, Toronto added first baseman/designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach from Seattle and the versatile Jonathan Villar, MLB’s stolen base leader, from Miami. Villar in particular figures to fill an important role in the infield for the next few weeks until shortstop Bo Bichette returns from injury.
The most important, needle-moving upgrades for the Blue Jays were undoubtedly to its rotation. The addition of Robbie Ray from Arizona is a low-risk, potentially high-reward move. The former All-Star pitched to a 3.96 ERA in the last five seasons entering 2020 and has consistently struck out more than a batter per inning, but control issues have clearly gotten the best of him this season, with a league-leading 31 walks in 31 innings. Taijuan Walker (acquired from SEA) and Ross Stripling (from LAD), while far from superstars, represent clear upgrades in a rotation that’s battled injuries and inconsistency behind Hyun Jin Ryu. The Blue Jays are looking more and more likely to reach the postseason this year for the first time since 2016, and GM Ross Atkins went out and acquired several helpful pieces. A job well done.
Philadelphia Phillies: No area of concern for a potential contender needed to be addressed more heading into deadline season then the Phillies’ bullpen, which has simply been a nightmare this season. Entering play on Aug. 21, Phillies relievers had posted a league-worst 8.07 ERA. The team then proceeded to add veteran right-handers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree in a deal with the Red Sox a little over a week ago before snagging reliever David Phelps in a trade with Milwaukee on Aug. 31.
Phelps, who pitched for current Phillies manager Joe Girardi from 2012-14 with the Yankees, has logged a 2.77 ERA with 20 strikeouts in two walks in 13 innings. The Phillies haven’t transformed their bullpen from worst to first, by any means, but these upgrades do make a team just outside a playoff spot significantly better.
Cincinnati Reds: The results just haven’t been there for the Reds this season, but there’s no doubting the high-end talent on that roster, particularly in the rotation, where Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray are both Cy Young Award frontrunners. The team rightly believes they still have a shot at capturing at least a Wild Card spot, and thus made two notable moves prior to Monday’s deadline, acquiring reliever Archie Bradley from the Diamondbacks and outfielder Brian Goodwin from the Angels.
Bradley has posted a 4.22 ERA — but 2.01 FIP — for a struggling D-backs team this season and has been one of the better late-inning relievers in the NL in recent years, logging 32 saves in 2019. Goodwin, meanwhile, is capable of playing all three outfield positions and hitting a respectable .242/.330/.43 with four homers, seven doubles, and 17 RBI this year.
Oakland Athletics: The A’s entered trade deadline day with the second-best record in the American League and look like legitimate World Series contenders, but that didn’t mean there weren’t a few holes that could be addressed. And while there were no blockbusters, there were a couple of very A’s-type moves, as the team added two 2019 All-Stars, Tommy La Stella (LAA) and Mike Minor (TEX), for a pretty small cost.
La Stella, an impending free agent, is hitting .265/.361/.461 with four homers, eight doubles, and 15 RBI this season. The 31-year-old is a perfect fit for Oakland in that he makes contact at a high rate, rarely strikes out and can slot in at second base, the A’s lone offensive hole this year. Minor, meanwhile, has struggled to a 5.60 ERA this season but is coming off a resurgent 2019 in which he posted a 3.59 ERA with 200 strikeouts in 208 ⅓ frames. The veteran left-hander is also coming off of six shutout innings against the Dodgers and at the very least should provide some depth for a team that’s posted a 4.84 starters ERA this year. Neither move figures to be a huge difference-maker, but the A’s really didn’t need drastic improvements.
Texas Rangers: Fair warning: Most of these losers of the trade deadline are going to be because of their inaction rather than their action, and the Rangers fit that mold more than any other team. I can’t think of a bigger surprise at the deadline then Lance Lynn staying put in Texas. Aside from Clevinger, the 33-year-old starter was seemingly the most coveted player on the market. Yet despite the need for pitching from several contenders and the Rangers’ essentially non-existent chances of making the postseason, Lynn curiously stayed put at the trade deadline.
There are a few additional reasons why the Rangers not trading Lynn seemed unwise. For one, the team clearly wasn’t afraid to sell off pieces, as infielder Todd Frazier and catcher Robinson Chirinos were dealt to the Mets while Minor was sent to Oakland. The values of Lynn and Joey Gallo, the team’s top pitcher and hitter, will likely never be higher than they are right now. The Rangers also aren’t likely to contend next year, the final year of Lynn’s contract, either, with little star power on the roster besides that pair. Given all the circumstances, it all adds up to what team beat reporter Evan Grant best described as a head-scratching deadline for the Rangers.
Cleveland Indians: I said that most of the teams on this part of the list are due to inaction — the Indians are the exception, and also likely the most controversial of my picks. I’ve seen Cleveland on lists of both winners and losers of the trade deadline, and it all revolves around the team’s return from San Diego for Mike Clevinger (as well as outfielder Greg Allen and a player to be named later). There’s no doubting that Clevinger is one of the top pitchers in the game and there’s no doubting that Cleveland got a haul for him. But was it enough?
As you can surely guess from my categorization of the Indians on this list, I think they sold a bit low on Clevinger, acquiring a large quantity of interesting prospects but no truly star prospects for a star pitcher under team control through 2022. I don’t want to be too hard on the Indians, who have a great track record of developing starting pitchers, but at some point, you have to wonder what Cleveland is doing. A clear pattern has emerged of the team developing an excess of great arms only to trade one star (Kluber, Bauer, Clevinger) away for a return that doesn’t really help the team win now. Make no mistake, the addition of outfielder Josh Naylor is not insignificant, and the Indians will be contenders the rest of the way, but they dealt one of the top pitchers in the game without significantly improving upon a group of outfielders that’s hit .186/.283/.289 this year.
New York Yankees: Now we’re back to the inaction theme. No contender — perhaps maybe the Rays — enters September more thoroughly banged up throughout the roster than the Yankees, who’ve slipped into second place in the AL East with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, James Paxton and Zack Britton among the several key players sidelined. Some of the injuries are pretty concerning. And the team made zero moves at the deadline, with GM Brian Cashman insisting there were no “sensible” offers.
The Yankees are far from doomed, to be clear. This is still one of the best rosters in the American League. But with the final stretch of the season now here, the team is without great starting pitching depth behind Gerrit Cole, counting on continued production from Brett Garder and relying on the likes of Jordy Mercer and career .195 hitter Tyler Wade at shortstop. I’m puzzled that the Yankees, of all teams, would decide to leave so much to chance.
Atlanta Braves: This one is pretty simple. The Braves had two extremely obvious holes approaching the trade deadline, and they didn’t properly address either of them. Atlanta third baseman have hit just .217 this season, but the team didn’t make an addition there. The much bigger need was in the rotation, where the team has really no reliable pitchers outside of NL Cy Young candidate Max Fried. The Braves added lefty Tommy Milone, who didn’t make it out of the third inning in his first start for Atlanta, but that was it. There are a few somewhat intriguing arms that could turn things around or return to full health in the weeks ahead, but I have real doubts about the Braves’ ability to make a deep postseason run given their rotation problems.
Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers entered play on Aug. 31 one game back of St. Louis for the second spot in the NL Central and a half-game ahead of the Reds in the division standings. But Milwaukee took a much different approach than Cincinnati. Instead of adding to an offense with the worst batting average of any major league team that’s scoring the second-fewest runs per game in the majors, or adding to a rotation with questions behind Brandon Woodruff, the team as mentioned shipped reliever David Phelps to Philadelphia. And that’s it. This explanation is pretty simple too: the Brewers are within easy striking distance of a playoff spot but showed no urgency in improving prior to the final month of the season.