Big 2019 MLB Trade Deadline Mistakes on the Cusp of Going Down

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJuly 22, 2019

Big 2019 MLB Trade Deadline Mistakes on the Cusp of Going Down

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    A hot streak could give the Giants second thoughts about trading Madison Bumgarner.
    A hot streak could give the Giants second thoughts about trading Madison Bumgarner.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The elimination of waiver deals has upped the ante for all 30 MLB teams to successfully handle July 31's trade deadline. This pressure, combined with jam-packed standings in both leagues, will lead to difficult decisions.

    Will .500 clubs in the wild-card mix throw in the towel, make an impact addition or simply watch from the sidelines? These squads must walk a particularly fine line to honor their best interests.

    As a result, they're also in the most danger of making a regrettable maneuver. For a cautionary tale, consider the Pittsburgh Pirates trading Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz for Chris Archer last summer. After finishing in fourth place at 82-79, they have watched Glasnow and Meadows (when healthy) shine in featured roles.

    When everyone looks back on this deadline, some squads are bound to experience a Gob Bluth moment. Let's take a look at some potentially huge mistakes teams are in danger of making. 

Contender Overpays for Robbie Ray

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    Robbie Ray is becoming a highly desired trade target.
    Robbie Ray is becoming a highly desired trade target.Norm Hall/Getty Images

    In a seller's market, contenders and pretenders alike will line up around the block for a young starting pitcher under team control. The Arizona Diamondbacks are in the perfect position to take advantage by landing a grand haul for Robbie Ray.

    Last week, MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi suggested the 27-year-old southpaw is a more desired trade option than former playoff hero Madison Bumgarner. The Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros are reportedly interested. MLB Network's Jon Heyman added the New York Yankees to the list of suitors.

    All four teams harbor legitimate championship aspirations. Houston has the lowest rotation ERA of the bunch at 3.92, which ranks sixth during 2019's long-ball surge.

    That gives Arizona all the leverage in shopping Ray, who has recorded a 3.92 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 117 innings. He's arbitration-eligible in 2020, so the Diamondbacks are wise to test his worth now despite remaining in the wild-card hunt with the NL's third-best run differential.

    Anyone paying for Ray's strikeout mastery, however, must overlook the glaring flaws. He has yet to throw 175 innings or more in a single season, making him a better fit for a team like the Yankees who flaunt a stacked bullpen. More concerning, he has walked a whopping 10.5 percent of batters faced throughout his career.

    Much like Archer last year and Sonny Gray the year before, Ray's age and affordability could coerce a team into paying an ace cost for mid-tier production. Giving up elite young talent in hopes of landing the pitcher who posted a 2.89 ERA in a breakout 2017 would be a significant miscalculation.

Everyone Overlooks Nicholas Castellanos

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    Nicholas Castellanos has not drawn much trade buzz prior to the deadline.
    Nicholas Castellanos has not drawn much trade buzz prior to the deadline.Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    In hindsight, the Detroit Tigers have already erred by waiting until this summer to move Nicholas Castellanos. The pending free agent would have drawn a far juicier return following (or during) a 2018 campaign in which he hit .298/.354/.500 with a career-high 130 weighted runs created plus (wRC+). 

    According to MLive.com's Evan Woodbery, trade talks have simmered for so long that Castellanos is dubious of a deal getting done. 

    "I wouldn't be shocked if I don't get traded," Castellanos said. "Everybody thought I was going to get traded last deadline. Everybody thought I was going to get traded this offseason. There were some people saying I was going to go in spring training. So at this point, I'm not looking forward to anything. I think that's the best place to be."

    The 27-year-old outfielder has faded back to previous norms in 2019, batting .284/.342/.480 with a 115 wRC+ that's just a tad above his 110 career clip. When paired with 11 home runs and putrid defense, he's no longer poised to attract significant trade interest.

    To that end, the hot stove has been eerily quiet. Clear sellers, the Tigers have every motivation to take what they can get unless they're confident in working out an extension. Per Woodbery, they're unlikely to extend Castellanos a qualifying offer, which would eliminate any compensation should another team sign him in free agency.

    Some team—perhaps even a fringe contender looking for a modest upgrade—should capitalize on the situation.

    Although 2018 now stands out as an outlier, not much has changed drastically in his profile. In fact, he's making more contact (76.4 percent) with more fly balls. He's kicked into gear since the start of June (125 wRC+), and he's decimated lefties this season to the tune of a 1.090 OPS. 

    Castellanos has fallen under the radar, but he's a valuable batter who likely can be had at a reasonable cost.

Padres Trade Hunter Renfroe or Franmil Reyes

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    The Padres continue to shop Hunter Renfroe despite his improvements offensively and defensively.
    The Padres continue to shop Hunter Renfroe despite his improvements offensively and defensively.Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    The San Diego Padres may be the most interesting team to watch before the deadline.

    While they could easily jump from last place to second in the NL West, they're not catching up to the Los Angeles Dodgers. That makes buying an unlikely outcome, but they don't necessarily need to sell either. Given the strong emergences of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack—and another crop of prospects led by the recently recalled Luis Urias and Adrian Morejon on the horizon—they could instead make a move with 2020 contention in mind.

    Whichever path they choose, they shouldn't trade Hunter Renfroe or Franmil Reyes just to clear a starting spot for Wil Myers.

    Per ESPN's Jeff Passan, the Friars have attempted to move both outfielders "for the better part of a year now."  

    Trading Renfroe would have made sense last summer, when he looked like a relatively replaceable source of power who derived most of his strength against lefties. This season, however, he has clubbed 19 of 28 home runs against righties. His .341 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) ranks fifth behind those of Christian Yelich, Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger and Pete Alonso.

    He's also playing better defense, generating a career-high 12 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) after offering six in the previous two seasons combined. Although still not someone who will reach base with much regularity, he's now essentially Khris Davis—after all, he's hitting .247—with a better glove. 

    In his first full season, the 24-year-old Reyes has already registered 26 home runs. Per Statcast data courtesy of Baseball Savant, his .378 expected weighted on-base average (wOBA) exceeds those of Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant and Alex Bregman.

    That's not to say both sluggers must be untouchable. The circumstances would change, for instance, if the Padres could use one as leverage to land a front-line starting pitcher under contract beyond 2019 a la Trevor Bauer or Marcus Stroman.

    Yet it would be a mistake to move Renfroe or Reyes simply to get Myers into the lineup. He's easily the highest-paid of the trio, but the 28-year-old is also hitting .216 with 0.1 WAR and an abhorrent 36.0 strikeout percentage. 

    Salaries aside, Renfroe and Reyes are more crucial to San Diego's bright future.

Streaking San Francisco Giants Don't Sell

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    The red-hot Giants could now try to send off Bruce Bochy and Bumgarner on a high note.
    The red-hot Giants could now try to send off Bruce Bochy and Bumgarner on a high note.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The San Francisco Giants seemed like MLB's most obvious seller for months. They trotted out a lackluster roster in a retooling year that featured valuable pending free agents Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith.

    They're suddenly 2.5 games away from a wild-card spot after winning 15 of their last 18 games. 

    This hot streak could nix plans to sell. According to ESPN's Buster Olney, they may even shift into "measured buyers."

    San Francisco's front office could be inclined to let Bruce Bochy play out his 13th and final year as manager of the Giants with one final gasp. Bumgarner was also a pivotal piece to the franchise's three championships during the past decade. Per NBC Sports' Alex Pavlovic, he still thinks the Giants have a chance to go for a fourth.

    "If we manage to keep this going and sneak in [the postseason], I don't think anyone will want to match up with us," Bumgarner said after throwing nine innings in Thursday's extra-innings win over the New York Mets.

    A storied history and their recent run make for compelling a case for the Giants to ride their momentum through the deadline. However, the cold numbers suggest this still isn't a smart play. 

    While the Giants garnered plenty of offense at Miller Park and Coors Field, they still rank 28th in team OPS. Right as he started to turn around a slow season, Evan Longoria went down with plantar fasciitis. That leaves Pablo Sandoval, Austin Slater and Mike Yastrzemski to shoulder the offensive burden.

    It would take a historic collapse for the Dodgers to cede control of the NL West, so the Giants must contain their sights to a hectic wild-card race. As of Sunday, the Miami Marlins are the only team more than six games removed from the race.

    Given the crowded competition, FanGraphs still only gives San Francisco a 5.8 percent probability of reaching the postseason. Those chances aren't good enough to forgo the much-needed influx of young talent general manager Farhan Zaidi can attain by selling Bumgarner and Smith.

Rangers Keep Mike Minor for Playoff Push

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    Mike Minor has expressed his displeasure over trade speculation.
    Mike Minor has expressed his displeasure over trade speculation.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Along the same lines as San Francisco, the Texas Rangers are only on the periphery of the wild-card hunt. While they're at least over .500, they're also too far behind the Houston Astros to take the division.

    Unlike the Giants, they have dropped seven straight games and 13 of their last 17. Their odds of reaching the postseason have dropped to a minuscule 0.5 percent on FanGraphs.

    As a result, according to Morosi, the likelihood of Texas trading Mike Minor is on the rise. He may not like it, but it's the right move.

    Per USA Today's Scott Boeck, the flourishing lefty voiced his frustration over constant trade chatter.

    "We've been playing well all season," Minor said. "Anytime that we lose a couple games, they're supposedly ready to deal guys when we have two-and-a-half months left in the season."

    In the second season of a three-year pact, Minor has amassed a 2.86 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 129 innings. The contract bolsters his trade value, even if his 4.09 fielding independent pitching (FIP) suggests he's pitching similarly to how he has his whole career (career 3.91 FIP, 3.83 ERA).

    Conversely to San Francisco's dilemma, a cold spell might have saved the Rangers from standing pat or buying. That's not set in stone, however, especially if they reverse their fortunes this week. Passan also speculated that moving to a new stadium in 2020 could factor into their decision. They might want to keep him to increase their chances of contending next year. 

    Minor's value will never be higher, so now is the time to act. 

A Mediocre Team Goes All-in

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    The Reds could try to make a push behind the streaking Yasiel Puig rather than shopping him.
    The Reds could try to make a push behind the streaking Yasiel Puig rather than shopping him.Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Only seven teams are more than seven games removed from a playoff spot. One of the others is bound to get overzealous and shove their chips to the center.

    This is more likely to occur in the NL, where every club besides the Dodgers, Marlins and Atlanta Braves has 44-54 wins. One stellar week has the Giants reconsidering a previously inevitable path. What if the typically aggressive organization goes in the other direction in hopes of sending off Bochy on a high note?

    Although well below .500, the Pirates, Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies and New York Mets are one big week away from a similar conundrum.

    The Reds spent the winter aggressively adding players on expiring contracts. They also have the run differential (plus-27) to inspire confidence in a late-season surge. Yet shopping Tanner Roark, Scooter Gennett and even the scorching-hot Yasiel Puig would still be the more prudent move. 

    An ill-timed injury to Zack Wheeler jeopardized the Mets' top trade option. It may now be a relatively quiet deadline in Flushing, but let's just hope they don't do anything foolish like deal their top prospects for a 36-year-old with five years left of an enormous contract and a relief pitcher on the heels of a career year. 

    Pittsburgh likely learned its lesson from last year. Getting swept by San Francisco at home should dash Colorado's dreams of playing its third consecutive Wild Card Game. If San Diego makes a blockbuster, it'll be with 2020 and beyond in mind.

    Then again, it's not rational to expect every team to act rationally. This wide-open playoff picture could cloud someone's judgment into making a misguided move. 

           

    Note: All advanced statistics, updated as of Sunday, are courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.