Though the majority of the action occurs in the waning moments of the MLB trade deadline, there is an advantage to striking the market early. Besides the obvious benefit of having the new acquisition(s) for more games, forcing the action can often dictate how other competitors behave as the deadline approaches.
While big fish such as David Price and Troy Tulowitzki have yet to move, contenders have executed several potentially impactful deals within the past week. None of these moves are necessarily transformative, but they could make a difference in the margins and, subsequently, the standings.
Given the plethora of tight races around the league, simply upgrading a position from replacement level to average could add a couple of invaluable tallies in the win column. Looking at three of the more prominent recent trades, let's examine the consequences each of these moves could have.
Peavy to Giants
Moving from Fenway's bandbox dimensions to the spacious AT&T Park is undeniably a positive outcome for Jake Peavy, a notorious fly-ball pitcher. Among qualified starters, Peavy's 41.4 percent fly-ball percentage ranks 11th in the majors.
Some of those fly balls will now turn from doubles off the Green Monster to outs, so that in itself should make Peavy a one- to two-win pitcher the rest of the season.
That's an important upgrade for San Francisco, as ace Matt Cain has been beset by struggles and injuries this year. With Cain on the disabled list, Yusmeiro Petit, with his 4.99 career ERA, took the mound every fifth day.
Even with an appalling 1-9 record at the time of the trade, the peripherals suggested lousy luck for Peavy:
Don't let Jake Peavy's 1-9 W-L fool you. He'd gotten 2 runs or fewer of support in 8 straight starts and had an AL-low run support average.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 26, 2014
While positive regression should aid Peavy's Giants tenure, the Red Sox are hoping for some of the same in 2015. The reigning world champs have floundered amid poor performances and injuries, and general manager Ben Cherington recently conceded that the Sox have waved the white flag on their title defense.
The two prospects Boston received, starting pitcher Edwin Escobar and relief pitcher Heath Hembree, could aid in a bounce-back next year. While Hembree is a major league-ready middle reliever, the 22-year-old Escobar is the centerpiece of the deal.
As FanGraphs' Tony Blengino suggests, Escobar could slot into the back end of the Red Sox rotation as soon as next season:
Escobar has an above average fastball for a lefty, his changeup flashes above average, and his slider should be an average pitch at the major league level. He has struggled mightily against the opposite hand this season, for the first time in his pro career. If he can overcome this, he should be a contender for a rotation slot in Boston as soon as next spring. He could be what they thought they were getting in Felix Doubront, a solid mid-rotation starter.
Considering that the Sox were unlikely to keep Peavy after 2014, that's not a bad return. While the Giants got an important rotation upgrade to keep pace with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox got to add to their treasure trove of pitching prospects, making this deal a relative win-win.
Grades: B+ for Giants, B for Red Sox
Headley to Yankees
Following an astounding 7.2 WAR season in which he led the National League in RBI, Chase Headley seemed destined to become a cornerstone for the San Diego Padres. But the third baseman has failed to match his breakout 2012 campaign, forcing the Friars to sell him for far less value than they could have extracted two years ago.
Headley has always struck out more frequently than he has walked, but his putrid 0.28 BB/K ratio in 2014 ranks 26th-worst among all qualified hitters, alongside the likes of Jordy Mercer and Chris Carter. Headley's .238 average and 93 wRC+ (park-adjusted measure based on weighted on-base) are both the lowest of his career.
Still, even with Headley's offense at seven percent below league average (based on the wRC+ metric), the New York Yankees believe that his peripherals suggested some positive regression. Per John Harper of the New York Daily News, Yankees GM Brian Cashman hinted that the trade was analytics-fueled:
“We noticed his hit velos have really jumped,” he said. “And obviously his success has jumped.”
You can bet the increase in “hit velos,” or the speed of the baseball coming off Headley’s bat, was more significant to Cashman than the batting average or any other results-based numbers because it got to the heart of the matter: Headley was hitting the ball harder.
To Cashman's credit, Headley's arrival in the Bronx has paid immediate dividends. The third baseman hit a walk-off winner in his pinstripes debut and is 8-for-23 during his first week as a Yankee. In fact, the walk-off in his first game put Headley in some historic company:
Chase Headley is the first Yankee with a walk-off RBI in his first game with the team in 71 years! (Roy Weatherly - 1943) via @EliasSports— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 23, 2014
There is little to write home about for the Padres, who received career minor leaguer Yangervis Solarte and future reliever Rafael De Paula. Neither made the Yankees' preseason top-10 prospects list, according to ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required), making this a poor return for someone who was recently a borderline MVP candidate.
Grades: B for Yankees, C- for Padres
Soria to Tigers
The Detroit Tigers are almost certain to cruise to their fourth consecutive AL Central title, but that is no longer the goal in the Motor City. After reaching at least the ALCS in each of the past three years, the Tigers appear all-in for their first World Series since 1984.
Detroit's annual bullpen issues came to roost this year after offseason acquisition Joe Nathan flamed out en route to a 5.73 ERA. Bruce Rondon also tore his UCL in the spring, and though setup men Al Albuquerque and Joba Chamberlain have had nice seasons, the Tigers bullpen ranks 23rd in the majors in WAR.
Joakim Soria immediately becomes the class of the pen. His 1.12 FIP, which ranks second among all qualified relievers behind Aroldis Chapman, highlights the excellent season he had in Arlington. Fox Sports analyst Gabe Kapler shared his detailed and effusive scouting report on Soria at the time of the trade:
However, Soria's true impact will come in the postseason. Though he might be worth a win or two in the regular season, Soria will be pitching extremely high-leverage innings in October, when previous Detroit relievers have floundered.
Which trade will make the biggest impact the rest of the season?
For the Rangers, getting pitchers Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel was a nice return for someone they originally signed to a meager two-year, $8 million deal. Knebel should be in the Rangers bullpen later this year, as he posted a whopping 11.42 K/9 ratio over 8.2 innings in Detroit earlier this season. The 20-year-old Thompson has a chance to develop into a starter with a wipeout mid-80s slider, though his fly-ball tendencies could be trouble in the Texas heat.
Ultimately, both teams fulfilled their goals through this trade, which should have important ramifications in the immediate and long-term future.
Grades: A- for Tigers, A- for Rangers
*All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.