Early Regrets from the 2014 MLB Trade Deadline
No matter what profession a person may have, everyone, at one point or another, asks himself a simple question: "What if?"
"What if I had pushed for that promotion at work?" "What if I had asked Emily out in eighth grade?"
In the case of general managers of MLB teams, the question takes a slightly different approach. "What if I had traded Player X earlier—could I have gotten a bigger return?" "What if I had been more receptive to offers on Player Y?"
Hindsight is both a blessing and a curse. While it forces us to face our regrets head on, it offers a chance to learn from those decisions, hopefully allowing us to avoid making the same ones in the future.
For the teams that follow, those regrets will prove to be far more painful than anyone realizes, both in 2014 and beyond.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Not Trading for Another Established Starter
Imagine, if you will, that it's Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
After winning the series opener behind a spectacular performance from Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers dropped Games 2 and 3 to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Manager Don Mattingly goes to fill out his lineup card, and in the pitcher's spot he picks...who, exactly?
Kevin Correia? Dan Haren? Roberto Hernandez?
Not only are those three people who have never been in my kitchen, but they're about as far down the list of pitchers a manager would want on the mound in a playoff game as they can possibly get.
It didn't have to be this way, of course.
The Dodgers were steadfast in their refusal to part with any of the team's three best prospects: center fielder Joc Pederson, shortstop Corey Seager or left-handed starter Julio Urias.
Seager, especially, would have been difficult to part with, given the team's need for a shortstop after the season. Even if Hanley Ramirez re-signs with the Dodgers, it'll be as the team's starting third baseman, as he simply can't handle shortstop any longer.
"There was no trade where I was thinking, 'Wow, we should have done that,'" Colletti told the Los Angeles Times' Steve Dilbeck. “Cost on the prospect side exceeded where we saw as the value.”
Without question, it was a severe seller's market and, as such, the cost of doing business was steep. And no, the Dodgers had no way of knowing that, only days after the deadline passed, an injured hip might end Josh Beckett's career, according to Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com, while a torn ACL would end Paul Maholm's season.
But this isn't a Dodgers team—or fanbase—that's going to be satisfied with a division crown and early exit from the playoffs. It's World Series or bust in Los Angeles—and by the team's inaction at the deadline, the odds of things going bust are better than they should be.
Philadelphia Phillies: Allowing Ruben Amaro Jr. to Continue as the Decider
Whatever you do, don't point the finger at general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. for the Philadelphia Phillies' failure to do anything at the trade deadline.
Don't you dare do it. For as he told CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury, it's not his fault:
I’m not necessarily disappointed. I’m more surprised that there wasn’t more aggressive action from the other end. We have some pretty good baseball players here. Our goal all along was to try to improve the club and there really wasn't a deal to be made that would help us do that.
I just don’t think the players that we were being offered were players who were good enough to help us.
In no scenario were we asking for players that were their top prospects. We were not looking for exorbitant paybacks, so to speak. We were looking for players that would help us, but I think we were very reasonable in the discussions that we had. Frankly, I don’t think the clubs were aggressive enough for the talent we have on our club.
Take your pick as to how you want to respond to that. I'd suggest your best options are to borrow a line from one of two iconic movie characters: Austin Powers' Dr. Evil or Dazed and Confused's Slater.
Either one fits.
It's hard to believe that teams weren't offering quality packages for any of the players on Philadelphia's roster. That includes Cole Hamels, a pitcher who would have garnered at least a decent return regardless of whether Philadelphia picked up any of the roughly $104 million that remains on his deal.
The more likely scenario, one that was widely reported by both CBS Sports' Jon Heyman and USA Today's Bob Nightengale, is that Amaro absolutely did ask for players who were a team's top prospects—and not just one.
Amaro's delusion when it comes to valuing his own players has popped up even after the deadline, with one American League executive recently telling The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, “The Phillies are just unreasonable in their demands.”
"The deadline was not an indictment of Ruben Amaro’s inability to trade. Instead, another damning commentary on flawed roster he constructed."
The current mess in Philadelphia is one that Amaro created himself. Nobody forced him to hand out long-term deals that would pay players in their mid- to late 30s as if they were still in the prime of their careers.
Eventually, someone is going to have to begin cleaning up that mess. That someone should have been given a chance as the trade deadline approached.
Tampa Bay Rays: Selling Low on David Price
David Price is a franchise player—and the simple fact is that the Tampa Bay Rays didn't get a potential franchise player back in exchange for him.
The Rays did just that when they flipped Wade Davis and James Shields to the Kansas City Royals before the 2013 season, landing a four-player package that included 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers. But for Price, one of the three or four best pitchers on the planet?
A mid-rotation arm in Drew Smyly, a middle infielder with shaky defense and legitimate questions about whether he can hit major league pitching and a toolsy shortstop who might be ready to contribute in 2018.
It's fair to wonder whether general manager Andrew Friedman was delirious—or perhaps slipping in and out of consciousness—when this all went down.
Upon hearing the return that Tampa Bay received in the three-team deal that shipped Price out of town, ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required) wrote the following:
I'm floored that this is all the Rays got for David Price -- as are some of the execs I've talked to so far -- and I can't imagine that the return this winter would have been any worse. The three-way trade that sends Price to Detroit, Nick Franklin, Drew Smyly and Tigers prospect Willy Adames to Tampa, and Austin Jackson to Seattle, nets out as an outstanding move for the Tigers and a solid exchange for the Mariners. But for Tampa Bay, it may end up as a huge missed opportunity to restock their system.
The most damning—and accurate—part of Law's assessment? His last line: "But for Tampa Bay, it may end up as a huge missed opportunity to restock their system."
We saw the team's seemingly never-ending pipeline of young pitching run dry this season, with the next wave of impact arms still another year or two away. Tampa Bay's best position prospect, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, is hitting a whopping .207 with a .548 OPS at Triple-A.
Clearly, the farm system needed an influx of talent, preferably players who can contribute in 2015.
That the Rays flubbed their chance to bring in that talent will go down as the biggest regret in team history—and the biggest stain on what has otherwise been a sparkling career for Friedman.
Texas Rangers: Not Taking Advantage of a Lost Season
Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was presented with a unique opportunity as the deadline drew near: the chance to rebuild retool on the fly.
He didn't even make an attempt to travel down that path, and it's a decision that he'll ultimately regret.
Take, for example, Adrian Beltre. The All-Star third baseman is still performing at an incredibly high level, and there was no shortage of teams looking for an upgrade at the hot corner. But he's also 35 years old, has 17 years of wear and tear on his body and, sooner rather than later, is going to start breaking down.
With only one year remaining on his contract and stud third base prospect Joey Gallo working his way through the team's minor league system, moving Beltre would have brought the Rangers back a nice package of talent, one that included some of the young pitching the team desperately needs.
Could the Rangers still move Beltre over the winter? Sure. But a team would pay more to have Beltre's bat in the lineup for two playoff pushes than it would for one.
Then there's the team's middle infield situation, which remains crowded moving forward.
Elvis Andrus' contract and mediocre performance made dealing the former All-Star shortstop difficult. But the team still has three talented youngsters—Rougned Odor, Luis Sardinas and the currently injured Jurickson Profar—and only one spot to play them at.
With no expectations of contending in 2014, Daniels could have moved Odor or Sardinas in a deal, either by themselves or as part of a package, to bring in more reinforcements for 2015 and beyond.
Toronto Blue Jays: Making Only One Inconsequential Move
All due respect to Danny Valencia, who has quietly hit .296 with an .803 OPS since the beginning of 2013, but his acquisition isn't the move that is going to propel the Toronto Blue Jays into the playoffs.
It's a point that wasn't lost on All-Star right fielder Jose Bautista, who vented his frustration to the Toronto Star's Brendan Kennedy:
Of course it’s a little disappointing that we somehow weren’t able to get anything done, but everybody around us that’s in contention . . . somehow figured it out.
We’re in a position where we’re in striking distance with not many games left and we could’ve used a little boost, just like some of the other teams went out and got some additions. It’s not that you don’t feel your team is good enough, it’s just that everybody does that at the deadline, figures out a way to improve the roster. We just somehow didn't.
That "little boost" Bautista speaks of would have been helpful for a starting rotation that is fading fast.
Only two starters, J.A. Happ (4 GS, 1.71 ERA) and Marcus Stroman (5 GS, 2.18 ERA), have pitched to an ERA below 4.60 in the season's second half. The ace of the staff, Mark Buehrle, continues his downward spiral, with a 7.04 ERA and 2.17 WHIP over his last five starts.
Landing the likes of Jon Lester or David Price wasn't going to happen, but surely the Blue Jays could have made a move for a second-tier arm.
Someone like the Chicago White Sox's John Danks, for example, would have bolstered the back end of the rotation and provided insurance for when—not if—Happ starts pitching like, well, J.A. Happ.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are current through games of Aug. 10.
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