Under-the-Radar MLB Trades That Will Have Big 2nd-Half Impact
Somehow, some way, the non-waiver trade deadline has finally come and gone. It felt like it would never happen, but baseball fans can finally look forward to another exciting stretch run into October.
But the deadline did provide plenty of talking points, as stars like Troy Tulowitzki, Johnny Cueto, David Price, Cole Hamels and Yoenis Cespedes all were involved in blockbuster deals. However, there were also a handful of under-the-radar moves that will end up impacting the playoff race.
Over the next few slides, we'll identify six deadline transactions that slipped through the cracks. These players may not be superstars, but they could be a team's missing link.
Take Mike Leake, for example. With multiple top hurlers swapping clubs, Leake's move to San Francisco doesn't have the same luster. But his style fits perfectly in AT&T Park. Elsewhere, the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates desperately needed Brandon Moss and Aramis Ramirez, respectively, to help fill holes left by injury.
Those are just a few of the names we'll touch on. Which underrated move do you think will have the biggest impact in the second half? What other acquisitions will pay dividends over the final two months? Make sure to let your voice be heard in the comments section below.
Here we go!
Aramis Ramirez to the Pittsburgh Pirates
OK, let's preface this by saying the Pittsburgh Pirates didn't trade for Aramis Ramirez circa 2004.
In fact, Ramirez doesn't look like a viable contributor at all on paper. The 37-year-old is hitting just .236 with an on-base percentage below .300 in 2015. Ramirez has also seen a significant decline in his hard contact percentage and a similar spike in his soft contact rate.
So wait, an aging veteran with an obviously declining skill set could be a difference-maker for a Pirates team with World Series aspirations?
Maybe, maybe not. But what Ramirez will do is give manager Clint Hurdle lineup versatility and experience off the bench, both of which are vital come October.
Last month, the injury bug hit the Pirates. Josh Harrison (thumb) and Jordy Mercer (leg) both landed on the disabled list around the same time, leaving a void on the left side of Pittsburgh's infield. Hurdle was able to slide Jung Ho Kang into the shortstop position, but third base remained a concern.
Enter Ramirez and his 2,145 career games. He'll get a majority of the playing time at third while Harrison and Mercer are out and will get reps at third and first when they return.
Ramirez will also be motivated by the opportunity to play in his first Fall Classic.
“I think from a personal standpoint, I've done everything in this game,” Ramirez told Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I've never won a World Series. I've been in the playoffs three times, but I've never won a World Series. It's tough to win, but now I have the opportunity to compete.”
The Pirates didn't need much fixing at the deadline, but injuries forced their hand. Ramirez is a perfect stopgap, capable of turning back the clock and being a dynamic offensive force any given week. Pittsburgh will rely on his experience and leadership down the stretch, which makes him all the more valuable.
Shane Victorino, David Murphy and David DeJesus to the Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels had to make a move for an established bat at the deadline. So who would it be? Justin Upton? Carlos Gonzalez? Carlos Gomez?
Well, none of those, actually. The Angels discovered that a deal of that magnitude would require one of their top prospects to be involved. For a franchise with limited organizational depth, being conservative, in this case, was the correct move.
Although the Angels weren't able to snag one of those impact hitters, their tumultuous front office did a fantastic job adding three veteran outfielders on the cheap.
L.A. grabbed Shane Victorino, David Murphy and David DeJesus before the deadline to give manager Mike Scioscia options in an underachieving lineup. Despite monster seasons from Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, the Angels rank 14th in runs scored after leading MLB in 2014.
With Victorino, Murphy and DeJesus, the Angels are getting three players having vastly different seasons.
Victorino has played in only 36 games, missing most of the first half with injuries. On the other hand, Murphy enjoyed a phenomenal start to 2015 with the Cleveland Indians (.296/.344/.437), while DeJesus continued to chug along as a replacement-level hitter.
Yeah, there's no Upton or Gonzalez in that group. But the Los Angeles offense needed depth, and that's what it got.
Between L.A.'s new outfield trio, there is a nice blend of speed, defense and on-base percentage. It gives Scioscia various lineup options, injury insurance and versatility with his late-game substitutions.
Again, these moves are minor and probably won't be the reason L.A. wins the American League West. But considering their prospect situation and organizational needs, the Angels did very well to improve their club.
Brandon Moss to the St. Louis Cardinals
When Matt Adams suffered a severe quad injury earlier this season, it became a foregone conclusion that the St. Louis Cardinals would add a veteran first baseman to the fold.
And while the Cards may have bought low on Brandon Moss, the 31-year-old was the right fit at the right time for a team in need of an offensive jump-start.
“We’ve got a valuable weapon to help us spark our offense a little bit,” manager Mike Matheny told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The fact that he’s been a production guy at a time in baseball when production is low. Obviously he has power and the ability to drive in runs, and both of those we’re not afraid to add.”
Matheny wasn't joking about Moss' production. From 2012 to 2014, Moss mashed 76 homers and drove in 220 runs while with the Oakland A's. He was an extra-base machine during his time there, ranking eighth in MLB in isolated power (.249).
Moss isn't without flaws, and those manifested themselves during his time with the Cleveland Indians, as he slashed .220/.296/.427 in the first half. Like many power hitters, he's prone strike out and has done so over 26 percent of the time throughout his career. He's also cost his teams minus-20 defensive runs saved at first base in 247 career games.
Despite his struggles in 2015, there's still reason for optimism. For one, Moss has a 123 wRC+ outside of Progressive Field this season, where he struggled mightily (56 WRC+). He's also hitting .260 against left-handed pitching.
With Adams and now Matt Holliday (strained quadriceps) out of action, St. Louis had to add some thump in the middle of the lineup. If Moss, who currently has 15 home runs and 50 RBI, can replicate his offensive form from just a season ago, the Cardinals will be hard to beat come October.
Gerardo Parra to the Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles still have work to do to make up ground in the American League playoff picture (six games back in the AL East, one back in the wild-card race), but acquiring the hottest position player on the market certainly can't hurt their efforts.
Gerardo Parra has built a reputation as a solid player with fantastic defensive skills. In 2013 alone, Parra saved a whopping 41 runs in the outfield for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Elite defensive skills and the ability to play all three outfield positions would have been enough to make Parra a coveted asset at the deadline.
Throw in a career year at the dish, and Baltimore might have added the biggest impact player available.
Parra is slashing .328/.370/.518 with nine homers, 31 RBI and nine steals in 2015. The 28-year-old ranks second among major league outfielders in average, eighth in OBP, fifth in slugging and seventh in wRC+. Very quietly, Parra is having a better season than stars like Jose Bautista, Adam Jones and Yoenis Cespedes.
Baltimore left fielders rank 19th in WAR this season, which is where Parra figures to get most of his playing time. He's a significant upgrade over the likes of Steve Pearce and Travis Snider, which is why MLB.com's Richard Justice was a big fan of the move:
The O's are hanging in despite poor production from the corner outfield spots. They viewed one more bat as critical to their chances of making a run at another postseason berth. With Chris Davis now playing right field, Parra is a very solid addition to the lineup. Given Baltimore's pitching and core lineup, the Orioles should not be counted out. General manager Dan Duquette has a history of making under-the-radar moves that pay off big. This could be another.
Is Parra suddenly much better than his .280/.330/.408 career averages? Probably not. But he's playing like it in 2015, and the O's are hoping to ride Parra's best-ever season to another playoff berth.
Mark Lowe to the Toronto Blue Jays
It's hard not to love what the Toronto Blue Jays did at the deadline. General manager Alex Anthopoulos pushed all his poker chips to the center of the table, acquiring Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and Ben Revere.
Those moves are receiving most of the attention around the league, and rightfully so—Tulo and Price are legitimate game-changers, while Revere provides Toronto with a dependable table-setter.
But Anthopoulos made an additional move that, while not as flashy, could positively impact the Jays in a similar way.
Toronto snagged reliever Mark Lowe on deadline day from the Seattle Mariners for a trio of players (Jake Brentz, Nick Wells, Rob Rasmussen). Lowe has allowed just seven earned runs all season and boasts an ERA of 1.70.
He has enjoyed various success throughout his major league career, but that's nothing like the season he's putting together in 2015. Lowe's varied his usage rates this year, throwing his slider close to 50 percent of the time. By throwing his heater fewer times, he's also picked up over two miles per hour on his fastball from 2014.
A tweak in strategy has paid dividends for Lowe. His strikeout and ground-ball percentages are way up, while his walk rate has declined. At 32, Lowe has finally figured out what works best for him and has developed into one of the top late-inning options in baseball.
With the additions of Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins, a suspect Toronto bullpen has the chance to become one of the team's biggest strengths. Lowe, Hawkins, Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez, Liam Hendriks and Brett Cecil will provide depth and production at the end of games.
It's understandable to drool over Toronto's more glamorous acquisitions, but the addition of a reliever like Lowe cannot be overlooked.
Mike Leake to the San Francisco Giants
Impending free agent Mike Leake fit the mold of a likely trade candidate, but with Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto and David Price switching cities, his move to San Francisco hasn't garnered as much attention.
But Leake, and his recent run of success, is an important addition for the defending World Series champions.
Over his last four starts, Leake has allowed just two earned runs in 30 innings. The right-hander went eight innings in three of those contests, while allowing no more than four hits in each of them.
But what makes Leake such a perfect addition for the Giants is the way his game translates to AT&T Park.
Pitching in the hitter-friendly confines of the Great American Ball Park, Leake's biggest asset was creating ground-ball contact. In 2015, Leake's 51.5 percent ground-ball rate ranks in the top 20 of major league starters.
If Leake can succeed in that bandbox in Cincinnati, imagine what he's capable of in a much more pitcher-friendly park? With the stadium swap, Owen Watson of FanGraphs believes San Francisco could become the beneficiary of Leake's best-ever production:
He’ll now move from one of the most hitter-friendly parks to one of the most pitcher-friendly, with his ground-ball and limited swing-and-miss skill set lending itself well to the spacious nature of AT&T Park. His total effectiveness (considering he has had to pitch around half of his innings at Great American Ballpark) should cause us to wonder if the Giants might be in store for an even better performance than we’ve seen out of Leake the past few years.
He also fills a huge void in the San Francisco rotation behind Madison Bumgarner and Chris Heston. Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong have each battled injuries and inconsistencies over the past year, which doesn't bode well for a run at the National League West crown.
The San Francisco braintrust knew that and pounced on a hurler who personifies what it wants its starters to do. Leake is a strike-thrower capable of providing the Giants with quality innings down the stretch.
With anticipated improvement, the Giants might have acquired one of the top hurlers on the market. Considering his relatively modest cost (Keury Mella and Adam Duvall), Leake is arguably the most underrated acquisition of the deadline.
Stats are courtesy of FanGraphs and are accurate as of Aug. 2.