Biggest Takeaways from the 2013 MLB Trade Deadline
If the trade deadline seemed quieter than in years past, it's because it was. Only 61 players, not including a few players-to-be-named-later and some draft picks, were traded in the month of July compared to 100 in 2012 and 87 in 2011.
A shallow trade market for hitters complicated things, as well as high asking prices from non-contenders and several teams on the cusp of playoff contention not yet ready to give up. Some non-moves were questionable—I put together a list of my top eight yesterday—and we're still trying to gather all the answers as to why the lack of trade activity.
For now, here are four things that we can take away from this year's trade deadline.
Everyone Is a Contender
The two wild-card spots that were added to the playoff format in 2012 are certain to give at least a handful of teams a better shot of playing meaningful baseball in August and September. It also decreases the number of "sellers" and increases the number of "buyers" at the trade deadline, creating a tough market with less players available and more teams interested in the same players.
Fifteen teams were still above .500 and within striking range of a playoff spot heading into the final day of July. Another few teams refused to believe that they're just not good enough to get back above .500 and make a run at a playoff spot.
The only teams we can say were truly "sellers" in July were the Cubs (Scott Feldman and Alfonso Soriano), White Sox (Jesse Crain, Jake Peavy and Matt Thornton), Astros (Bud Norris, Justin Maxwell and Jose Veras) and Angels (Alberto Callaspo and Scott Downs). Hard to make a trade when only four teams are selling. And even those teams held on to players who had been rumored to be on the trade block.
Even if we just list the notable free agents-to-be on the sub-.500 teams, it's hard to figure out why so many weren't traded.
Marlon Byrd. Dan Haren. Raul Ibañez. Josh Johnson. Tim Lincecum. Javier Lopez. Kendrys Morales (pictured). Michael Morse. Mike Pelfrey. Hunter Pence. Oliver Perez. Carlos Ruiz. Joe Saunders. Chase Utley. Michael Young.
That's a pretty good group of players. The return would've been more than a fringe prospect or two. Maybe the incredible 2012 late-season runs of the Phillies and Brewers gave teams hope that anything is possible and parting with a key player would hurt their chances of a historic comeback.
The Phillies were 48-57 after the trade deadline, 12 games back of a playoff spot and without Pence and Shane Victorino, who had just been traded. They finished with 33 wins in their final 57 games to reach .500 and, while they finished seven games back of a playoff spot, they had closed to within a few games by mid-September. If anything, they made things interesting for their fanbase.
During that same span, the Brewers were an even better story with 36 wins in their final 59 games to get within five games of a playoff spot after sitting at 47-56 and 12 games out on July 31st.
Both are nice stories. But the ending was fairly realistic. It's nearly impossible to earn a playoff berth when you're that far back at the end of July.
Phillies Don't Do Five-Year Plans
As Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. reminded us a couple months back, he doesn't "do" five-year plans. But he probably needed one, as pointed out at the time by David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News.
If Amaro has devised a five-year plan since making those comments, his lack of activity at the trade deadline certainly didn't show any sign of that. Unless the plan is to continue on the current path until he loses his job sometime in the next year or two. Then there wouldn't be a need for a five-year plan, and the lack of trades makes sense, right?
In Amaro's defense, maybe he did set an asking price for Utley that was in line with the impressive season he's having (.840 OPS, 14 HR in 79 games) and no one came close to matching it. Maybe he feels like they'll have a better chance of re-signing him or signing him to a contract extension if he stays on the team through the end of the season.
And it at least appeared as though Michael Young was close to being traded, with the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers all mentioned as suitors on deadline day. But the 36-year-old, who is having a solid season with a .751 OPS, is still a Phillie instead of contributing to a team in the playoff race.
Amaro reportedly turned down an offer from the Yankees in which they would pick up the remainder of Young's salary ($5 million) and send Double-A closer Tommy Kahnle to the Phillies, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
Within the same story, Heyman says the Yankees were also told that catcher Carlos Ruiz (.589 OPS, HR in 49 games) wasn't available. Why? Maybe they want him around to work with some of the young pitchers on the way from the minors, including Ethan Martin, who will make a spot start today. Whatever the reason, if the Yankees were willing to pick up any of Ruiz's remaining salary (est. $1.6 million) and offer anything in return, it's hard to believe it didn't happen.
Even if the Phillies decided that a Cliff Lee or Jonathan Papelbon trade wasn't the right move in July 2013 because it would take away too much from the 2014-2015 teams, saving a few million by trading away Ruiz and Young and acquiring a package of prospects and saving a lot more by trading Utley couldn't have hurt.
It's pretty clear that keeping them around doesn't help the 2013 Phillies team much aside from a few more wins. I can't say I understand the logic.
Price Tags Were High for Buyers...Except for the Orioles
Like so many baseball fans who were disappointed at what ended up being a pretty quiet trade deadline, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wonders why so many teams weren't able to do what the Orioles did. They added three pitchers, all popular targets on the trade market, and didn't give up a whole lot to acquire them.
Acquiring reliever Francisco Rodriguez and starting pitchers Scott Feldman and Bud Norris didn't cost the O's any of their best prospects. And yet, so many other teams weren't able to pull off deals while so many players who appeared to be on the trade block stayed put.
While Rosenthal writes that he understands if the Pirates didn't want to overpay for White Sox outfielder Alex Rios (pictured), who is owed $12.5 million in 2014 and would've likely cost the team one of their top five prospects. But not ending up with David DeJesus or Nate Schierholtz of the Cubs is a disappointment in that neither would add much to the Pirates' payroll in this season or next, and it's unlikely that the Cubs were asking for one of the team's elite prospects.
In the case of the Rangers, another team who was left empty-handed in their quest to add offense, Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas doesn't agree with the notion that the acquisition of Matt Garza is pointless without an offensive upgrade. If you've read any of my recent work, you already know that I disagree. That pitching staff is championship-caliber, but the offensive deficiencies could cause them to miss the playoffs.
As is the case with the Pirates, acquiring Rios or even Hunter Pence of the Giants might have been a risky overpay. But acquiring Schierholtz or Marlon Byrd of the Mets shouldn't have cost more than one or two prospects in the 10-20 range of their farm system. And in Texas' deep system, that is still a pretty good acquisition for the Cubs or Mets.
On the other hand, when a team like the Mariners that seemingly has three potential impact bats available for the best deal and they stand pat, it makes it hard for a buyer to buy. General manager Jack Zduriencik, whose team was nine games back of a playoff spot going into July 31st, cited the reason for not trading any free agents-to-be was to keep the team together, according to Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times.
Zduriencik also said he thinks it's harder to re-sign a player once he is traded away. But with Justin Smoak locked into the first base spot in 2013, is there really a need to try and re-sign Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse to fill the designated hitter spot? That's where each fits best on any roster, as does fellow free agent-to-be Raul Ibañez. And what about Jesus Montero, who also appears destined for that role if he can ever hit enough in the majors?
We'll never know what goes on behind the scenes of a big league organization but the fact that there was so little movement amongst hitters is perplexing, to say the least. There is no reason why Byrd should still be a Met and Michael Morse should still be a Mariner.
Red Sox Apparently Have Talent in the Lower Minors, Too
It's no surprise that the Red Sox landed, arguably, the top starting pitcher available on the trade market in Jake Peavy (pictured). What is a surprise is that they did it without surrendering any of their top prospects.
For weeks, I've raved about how much elite talent the Sox had in the upper level in the minors and how they could easily land one or two impact players at the deadline. If there was a team that could've landed Cliff Lee, it was the Red Sox. If there was a team that could've traded for Giancarlo Stanton, it was the Red Sox. Ditto for any other elite player who wasn't mentioned prominently in trade talk.
The emergence of starting pitchers Anthony Ranaudo, Drake Britton and Brandon Workman to go along with Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, who came over in last August's blockbuster deal with the Dodgers, have helped boost the Sox from a middle-of-the-pack farm system—they were ranked 16th coming into the season by Baseball Prospectus—to a top-five system in baseball.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts was already considered an elite prospect but now he's proving that he's a lot closer to the majors than had been anticipated. He's also one of the primary reasons the team felt comfortable in dealing defensive whiz Jose Iglesias in the deal that brought them Peavy.
The three lower-level prospects in the deal, however, are relatively unknown but with apparently enough potential that the White Sox were willing to trade a top-of-the-rotation starter with at least another year of team control—Peavy is signed through 2014 and has a vesting player option for 2015.
Frank Montas and J.B. Wendelken, two hard-throwing right-handers, were having success in Low-A while shortstop Cleuluis Rondon, known more for his defense, wasn't showing much with the bat for short-season Lowell.
The fact that the Sox were able to acquire Peavy without surrendering one of their upper-level talents speaks volumes of just how deep of a farm system they possess. And heading into the offseason, they'll probably be able to utilize their starting pitching depth to add more talent to the major league roster or possibly add more to the minors.
Here's a look at the starting pitching options for 2014:
1. Jake Peavy
2. Jon Lester
3. Clay Buchholz
4. John Lackey
5. Ryan Dempster
6. Felix Doubront
7. Brandon Workman
8. Allen Webster
9. Anthony Ranaudo
10. Rubby De La Rosa
11. Matt Barnes
12. Drake Britton
I'm guessing that 29 general managers in the league are very jealous of the stack of chips Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington will have heading into the offseason. They say you can never have enough pitching. But if there was ever a team that had enough pitching, it might be the 2014 Red Sox.