6 Ways MLB Teams Can Still Make Impact Moves Post-Trade Deadline
In years past, the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline always brought about a flurry of activity on the trade market, but it was a misnomer.
Through revocable trade waivers, contenders still had another month to add pieces for their stretch run, while teams on the fence between buying and selling had additional time to choose their path.
Not this year.
Offseason rule changes eliminated the August waiver trade window and effectively made the July 31 deadline a hard cap on MLB trades.
However, there are still ways for a contender to bring aboard more talent once the calendar flips to August in the form of in-house moves and outside additions.
Ahead we've highlighted six remaining avenues for impact moves to be made in August. Examples from the 2018 season are included for context along with a look at who might fit the bill this year.
The High-Profile Waiver Claim
While teams can no longer make August trades, they can still claim players on waivers.
This time of year, teams may place a player on waivers in hopes of another team claiming him and in turn taking on his salary. Undesirable multiyear deals and players set to reach free agency on non-contending teams are the most likely candidates to be placed on waivers over the season's final two months.
The Chicago White Sox claim of outfielder Alex Rios from the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009 when he still had five years and $59.7 million left on his contract is the most notable example of a significant contract being moved in a straight waiver claim.
As far as recent examples of straight waiver claims in August, the St. Louis Cardinals claimed veteran Tyson Ross on Aug. 5 last season after he posted a 4.45 ERA in 22 starts with the San Diego Padres. The move gave the Cardinals some rotation depth and opened up more innings for the Padres to assess their young arms down the stretch.
The most obvious waiver claim candidate is Miami Marlins second baseman Starlin Castro.
The four-time All-Star has a dismal 70 OPS+, and his $16 million club option for next year is a lock to be bought out for $1 million. However, he's just a year removed from posting a 104 OPS+ with 46 extra-base hits, and a move to a contender could jump-start his season. Meanwhile, the Marlins would gladly take the salary relief and welcome the opportunity to insert top prospect Isan Diaz as the everyday second baseman.
It's hard to see anyone taking on the $16.5 million owed to Ian Kennedy next year, but he's been excellent out of the Kansas City Royals bullpen with 20 saves in 23 chances and a 3.32 ERA and 10.8 K/9 in 43 appearances. Perhaps a non-contender with payroll space could claim him and then look to flip him during the offseason. Eating some of his salary to make him a more attractive trade chip could be an outside-the-box way to essentially buy a few prospects.
If someone thinks reliever Kelvin Herrera will return to form next season, he's under contract for $8.5 million with a $10 million club option in 2021. He has a 7.36 ERA on the year and is currently sidelined with an oblique strain, but a tough stretch in May skewed his numbers and his track record speaks for itself.
Others to Watch: DH/OF Hunter Pence (TEX), OF Melky Cabrera (PIT), OF Adam Jones (ARI), IFs Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer (DET), IF Neil Walker (MIA), 1B Yonder Alonso (COL), OF Curtis Granderson (MIA), SP Ivan Nova (CWS), SP Trevor Cahill (LAA)
The Promotion of a Top Prospect
The most impactful rookie call-up over the final two months last season was not a prospect who saw his name littered all over leaguewide top-100 lists.
Instead, it was Oakland Athletics outfielder Ramon Laureano, who had been acquired from the Houston Astros during the offseason in an under-the-radar prospect swap.
The 24-year-old made his MLB debut on Aug. 3 and went on to post 2.1 WAR the rest of the way. He hit .288/.358/.474 with 12 doubles and five home runs in 176 plate appearances and also played stellar defense in center field, shoring up a major area of need for a contending Oakland team.
A splashy outside addition can be great, but oftentimes the answer is already in-house in the form of a prospect who just needs an opportunity to prove himself.
Aside from the impending return of Sean Manaea, the Oakland Athletics pitching staff could also get a boost from top prospect A.J. Puk, who is on the return trail after Tommy John surgery last April. Whether he is slotted into the starting rotation or used as a multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen similar to how the Milwaukee Brewers deployed Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff a year ago, Puk has the strikeout stuff to make a difference.
Slugger Kyle Tucker has earned another look from the Houston Astros after falling flat in his brief debut last season. The 22-year-old has a .905 OPS with 27 home runs at Triple-A.
The Atlanta Braves called up a number of their top young arms as last season wound down, so it's not out of the question to think we could see Ian Anderson make his MLB debut in September.
Infielder Gavin Lux is absolutely raking in the upper levels of the minors for the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting .356/.423/.628 with 21 home runs in 88 games on the year. That includes a ridiculous .465/.542/.901 line in 24 games at Triple-A, and if that continues, he may force the team's hand.
Diminutive right-hander Deivi Garcia has climbed two levels to reach Triple-A for the New York Yankees, and he could help in some capacity down the stretch with stuff that would play up out of the bullpen.
San Francisco Giants lefty reliever Sam Selman is an under-the-radar name to know. The 28-year-old has a 1.15 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 47 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, and he could debut in a high-leverage role.
Those are just a few names to keep an eye on. No one would have predicted Laureano would be the guy last year, so you never know.
The Return of an Injured Player
Hyun-Jin Ryu was sidelined with a groin injury last May after making just six starts. He eventually found his way onto the 60-day disabled list, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were likely unsure what, if anything, to expect from the left-hander in the second half.
It took some time, but he finally returned to the mound on Aug. 15 and provided the staff with an immediate shot in the arm. He posted a 1.88 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with 53 strikeouts and just five walks in 52.2 innings to close out the season. That was enough to earn him a spot in the postseason rotation, and he made four more starts in October. Not bad for someone who was a complete unknown at midseason.
Who will be this year's version of Ryu?
The return of Luis Severino may ultimately determine how far the New York Yankees make it this season.
The 2018 Cy Young candidate has been sidelined since spring training, originally with rotator cuff inflammation and then with a Grade 2 lat strain. Manager Aaron Boone recently told reporters that he is "close to being on a mound," though he still has a long rehab trail ahead.
Reliever Dellin Betances (lat strain) and slugger Giancarlo Stanton (PCL strain) are also on the comeback trail for the Yankees.
After trading Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati, the Cleveland Indians will be even more reliant on a return to form by Corey Kluber as they look to chase down the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central standings.
The two-time Cy Young winner has not pitched since May 1 when a line drive back up the middle resulted in a broken bone in his right forearm. He'll face live hitters for the first time on Saturday after throwing a bullpen session this past Monday, according to Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com.
There are also two prime candidates who reside in the Bay Area in Oakland Athletics left-hander Sean Manaea and San Francisco Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto.
Manaea underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last September, cutting short a breakout year that saw him post a 3.59 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 160.2 innings to emerge as the ace of the Oakland staff.
He already has five minor league rehab starts under his belt, and he allowed three hits and two earned runs with eight strikeouts in six innings in his most recent Triple-A outing. Barring any setbacks, he could be in Oakland next month.
As for Cueto, he made five starts in March/April and four more in July last year, posting a solid 3.23 ERA before undergoing Tommy John surgery in early August. He faced live hitters for the first time last week and could be closing in on a rehab assignment.
Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters: "I love the progress he's made. I'm not going to be surprised to see him pitch in September."
Both of those pitchers could prove vital in their respective teams' pushes for wild-card berths.
The Return of a Demoted Player
After a 30-homer campaign in 2017, Domingo Santana was pushed into a supporting role when the Milwaukee Brewers added Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to the outfield mix during the subsequent offseason.
He saw sporadic playing time over the first three months of the 2018 season before he was optioned to Triple-A on June 23, and he stayed in the minors until rosters expanded in September.
Upon returning, Santana emerged as a major weapon off the bench, hitting .409/.458/.909 with six extra-base hits in 24 plate appearances in September/October serving almost exclusively as a pinch hitter.
In a similar situation in 2016, Yasiel Puig spent all of August in the minors and then returned to post a .900 OPS with four home runs and 11 RBI in 65 plate appearances through the end of the regular season.
Who could emerge from a minor league demotion to make a stretch run impact this year?
The easy answer here is Clint Frazier, who posted a 121 OPS+ with 11 home runs in 209 plate appearances before he was shipped to Triple-A once a banged-up New York Yankees outfield returned to full strength. However, he still has no clear path to playing time barring another injury.
Instead, we'll go with Atlanta Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz as the one to watch.
An All-Star in 2018, Foltynewicz struggled to a 6.37 ERA in 11 starts before he was optioned to Triple-A on June 23—coincidentally the same day Santana was optioned last year.
The 27-year-old has a 3.86 ERA in 10 starts since being demoted, and he's been throwing particularly well of late with a 1.13 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 16 innings over his last three starts.
He could return with a vengeance to help the Braves secure another NL East title.
Others to watch: C Austin Barnes (LAD), RP Kyle Barraclough (WAS), RP Ryan Brasier (BOS), OF Nick Williams (PHI)
The Signing of an Available Free Agent
While the bulk of free-agency activity takes place during the offseason, there are always a few gems unearthed during the season, usually in the form of veterans who are designated for assignment and unclaimed on waivers.
Greg Holland is the perfect example of an August free-agency success story. The three-time All-Star signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 2018 season but was shelled to the tune of a 7.92 ERA in 32 appearances before he was finally released on Aug. 1.
The Washington Nationals scooped him up in free agency six days later, paying him a prorated portion of the league minimum for the remainder of the season, and he rewarded them with a pristine 0.84 ERA and 10.5 K/9 in 24 appearances the rest of the way.
The Chicago Cubs found similar bullpen help in the form of left-hander Jorge De La Rosa. He signed on Aug. 10 after being released by the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 4. and posted a stellar 1.29 ERA in 17 outings for the Cubs down the stretch.
It's tough to predict who will be dumped into free agency this month. Underperforming veterans on non-contending teams who are set to reach free agency at season's end are prime candidates. Holland and De La Rosa fell into that category.
Among currently available players, San Francisco Giants castoff Nick Vincent is a name to monitor.
The 33-year-old had a 2.25 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 24 innings over his first 14 appearances before running into trouble. His ERA spiked to 5.58 over his next four outings, and then he went on the disabled list with a pectoral strain on May 29.
He was finally activated from the 60-day injured list Sunday and promptly designated for assignment, so unless someone claims him in the next few days, he'll hit the open market. If a return to health means a return to form, he'd be a welcome addition to any contender's relief corps.
The Loophole on the August Trade Market
The elimination of August waiver trades has turned MLB trade season on its ear, forcing teams to make a decision between buying and selling a month earlier than in previous years.
However, there is a loophole.
While no player on a team's 40-man roster can be traded after the July 31 deadline passes, players on minor league contracts can still be traded freely, as has always been the case.
That could leave teams scouring the Triple-A ranks for players who could potentially help at the MLB level.
Those trades would still need to be completed and the player added to his new team's 40-man roster before Aug. 31 in order for him to be eligible for the postseason roster.
Veteran lefty Fernando Abad is one player contenders in need of bullpen help could target. The 33-year-old signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants during the offseason, and he's posted a 2.82 ERA with 51 strikeouts and just four walks in 44.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He last appeared in the majors in 2017, logging a 3.30 ERA in 48 appearances out of the Boston Red Sox bullpen.
Catcher Rene Rivera moved to contenders via August waiver claims in 2017 and 2018, and he's currently playing at the Triple-A level with the New York Mets on a minor league deal. If a need for catching depth arises in August, he could be a contender's top target.
Utility man Ryan Flaherty is batting .277/.382/.492 with 19 doubles and 16 home runs for the Cleveland Indians' Triple-A affiliate on a minor league pact. He earned a spot on the Atlanta Braves' postseason roster just last year.
There's not a sexy move to be made here, but these players can provide the kind of incremental improvement that makes a difference in a tight playoff race.