Each MLB Team's Most Boneheaded Decision of 2019

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 20, 2019

Each MLB Team's Most Boneheaded Decision of 2019

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    For instance, the Dodgers turning a blind eye to their bullpen struggles.
    For instance, the Dodgers turning a blind eye to their bullpen struggles.John McCoy/Getty Images

    With trade season over and the postseason still a good distance in the future, now is a perfect time to second-guess decisions Major League Baseball teams have made in 2019.

    Specifically, we've attempted to pinpoint each team's most boneheaded choice since the season properly began with spring training. We focused on how contenders might have improved their presents and how rebuilders might have improved their futures through things like trades, prospect call-ups and general handling of players.

    Is the term "boneheaded" too harsh for some of these? Absolutely. Are we taking things for granted in some cases, particularly with trades? That too. And are we playing the role of Captain Hindsight? Guilty as charged.

    Nevertheless, we shall proceed division by division with our finger-wagging.

American League East

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    Baltimore Orioles: Trading Mike Yastrzemski

    In light of the 115 games they lost in 2018, it's really no great outrage that the Baltimore Orioles are on pace for 111 losses this season. Indeed, that's actually a step forward.

    Yet if the Orioles are going to take additional steps forward, they need as much young, controllable talent as they can get their hands on. It's therefore a shame they let Mike Yastrzemski go in a March trade with the San Francisco Giants.

    Could the Orioles have anticipated the .874 OPS and 16 homers Carl Yastrzemski's grandson has put up in 72 games with the Giants? Probably not. But they still probably should have read more into the .801 OPS he posted in 94 games for Triple-A Norfolk last year.


    Boston Red Sox: Leaving Their Bullpen Alone

    There's certainly more behind the Boston Red Sox's regression from last year's romp to 108 wins and a World Series championship than just their frequent bullpen malfunctions. 

    Still, it's perhaps the one problem they might have avoided. If not for ol' friend Craig Kimbrel, they could have signed Adam Ottavino or Zack Britton off the free-agent market. Failing that, they could have added an impact reliever or two (or three) ahead of the deadline.

    Instead, the Red Sox have basically let it ride with their bullpen. It's as if they haven't even noticed its MLB-worst-tying 51 percent conversion rate on save opportunities.


    New York Yankees: Leaving Their Starting Rotation Alone

    The New York Yankees aren't in the same regrettable boat as the Red Sox. You can tell by their American League-best record of 83-43.

    It's nonetheless hard to ignore the sorry state of New York's starting rotation. It's been a man down ever since Luis Severino injured his shoulder in spring training, and it's been slumping to the tune of a 5.67 ERA since the first of June.

    But rather than sign Dallas Keuchel or trade for any number of available stars at the deadline, the Yankees have done nothing. Maybe that isn't hurting them now, but that's liable to change in October.


    Tampa Bay Rays: Leaving Their Right-Handed Slugger Need Alone

    The Tampa Bay Rays are on track for 94 wins and a wild-card berth, and their biggest problems mainly have to do with injuries. 

    It is notable, however, that the Rays were looking for an impact right-handed slugger over the winter. That mission was still active ahead of the deadline, and the team was even tied to Nicholas Castellanos, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

    Yet the Rays ultimately settled on a deal for Jesus Aguilar, who followed last year's 35-homer outburst with only nine long balls in 2019. That could backfire when the Rays find themselves in need of more power in the postseason.


    Toronto Blue Jays: Mishandling Ken Giles

    Unlike their fellow rebuilders in Baltimore, the Toronto Blue Jays did well in trades of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, Daniel Hudson and Eric Sogard.

    The Blue Jays would have done even better if they'd moved righty reliever Ken Giles, who went into the deadline with a 1.54 ERA and a rate of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Trouble was, he developed elbow inflammation at the worst possible time.

    But could that have been avoided? Maybe if Giles had spent more time on the injured list the first time his elbow put him there on June 12. Given that he was back as soon as June 20, it's fair to wonder if the Jays sabotaged both his elbow and his trade value by rushing him back.

American League Central

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    Chicago White Sox: Keeping Jose Abreu

    The Chicago White Sox are rebuilding and Jose Abreu is a free agent at the end of the year, so one logical course of action would have been for them to trade him.

    But whether it was because there simply wasn't a market for the three-time All-Star slugger or because the White Sox placed too high a value on his intangible qualities, Abreu stayed put on July 31.

    The White Sox could still make good on their commitment to Abreu by extending him, but Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reported that won't happen. That raises a question about the true strength of said commitment, plus another about the possibility of him spurning the White Sox in free agency.


    Cleveland Indians: Keeping Corey Kluber

    It sure seemed like the Cleveland Indians wanted to trade Corey Kluber over the offseason. And according to Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin of The Athletic, they had a chance to do so as late as March.

    Instead, the Indians kept the two-time Cy Young Award winner only to watch him put up a 5.80 ERA before a line drive broke his arm on May 1. They couldn't have anticipated the line drive, but Kluber's fallen strikeout rate and fastball velocity might have led them to anticipate the decline that preceded it.

    Because Cleveland ended up getting a good deal on Trevor Bauer, perhaps all's well that ends well. Alternatively, perhaps the Indians might have made a similar trade with Kluber earlier and avoided being at the mercy of him returning to form for the stretch run and October.


    Detroit Tigers: Keeping Matthew Boyd

    The Detroit Tigers began the season in need of trade chips for the sake of advancing their rebuild. Then came Matthew Boyd to the rescue with a 2.85 ERA and 88 strikeouts through his first 12 starts.

    But then Boyd slipped with a 5.28 ERA and 15 homers allowed over his next 10 outings. The Tigers nonetheless insisted on getting a ransom for him and his three remaining years of club control. According to George A. King III of the New York Post, they even asked the Yankees for Gleyber Torres.

    It's no wonder the Tigers failed to move the left-hander. All they can do now is hope he can reclaim his once mighty value, lest a golden opportunity officially fall by the wayside.


    Kansas City Royals: Keeping Whit Merrifield

    The Kansas City Royals made some trades ahead of the deadline but none seismic enough to make a real impact on their improving farm system.

    A trade of Whit Merrifield would have done the trick. The 30-year-old's All-Star selection in July was arguably overdue, as he's quietly been one of baseball's top second basemen since 2017. He's also signed to a team-friendly $16.25 million contract through 2022.

    According to Levine, however, the Royals were demanding "three MLB-ready players" for Merrifield. They might have actually moved him if they'd set their sights a little lower. While they might still get a haul for him in the future, his age puts the timeline of his prime at some risk.


    Minnesota Twins: Not Adding Better Pitching

    The Minnesota Twins have bent but not broken as the leaders of the AL Central. They mainly have the unparalleled power of their offense to thank for that.

    Where the Twins are weaker is on the mound. There's a drop-off in talent in their rotation after Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, and there's a similar problem in their bullpen underneath Taylor Rogers.

    The Twins might have fixed either or both problems by going all-in at the trade deadline, but they settled on low-risk deals for Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson. Although they may still win a division title, they'll have nothing to fall back on if their offense cools down with the weather in October.

American League West

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    Houston Astros: Not Calling Up Yordan Alvarez Sooner

    The Houston Astros are a first-place team with an AL-best plus-179 run differential, and nobody went more all-out at the trade deadline than they did. They therefore offer little to gripe about.

    Save for maybe the timing of Yordan Alvarez's promotion. The Astros didn't call him up until June 9, by which time he had already more than earned his ticket to The Show with a 1.184 OPS and 23 homers for Triple-A Round Rock.

    The Astros are obviously fine where they are, but they might be sitting even prettier if Alvarez had more time to build on a rookie season that so far includes a 1.110 OPS and 19 homers in 54 games.


    Los Angeles Angels: Keeping Kole Calhoun

    The Los Angeles Angels went into the deadline as a winning team with needs to fill, so it makes sense on paper that they didn't sell. 

    But between Tyler Skaggs' tragic death and their handful of free-agent flops, the Angels' postseason odds were practically nil at the deadline. Their wisest play would have been to load up for the future by cashing in valuable short-term assets.

    Kole Calhoun, for instance, went into deadline day with an .807 OPS and quality right field defense as selling points. The Angels' decision not to trade him—or seemingly to even shop him—now lines them up for a difficult decision regarding his $14 million option for 2020.


    Oakland Athletics: Mishandling Khris Davis

    The Oakland Athletics arguably should have installed Liam Hendriks as their closer sooner than June 22, but the bigger mystery of their 2019 season involves the status of Khris Davis.

    After leading MLB with 48 homers in 2018, Davis has slugged only 17 homers in 104 games this season. He did a stint on the IL with hip and oblique injuries in May, but the slugger told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that a sore hand is doing more damage to his power.

    The A's haven't gained anything by allowing Davis to play through the pain. Without his usual power, after all, he's worse than a replacement-level player. A long stay on the IL might do him some good.


    Seattle Mariners: Keeping Domingo Santana

    Whether the Seattle Mariners even had the right plan for 2019 is fair to argue, but they're at least going to emerge from this season with a top-10 farm system.

    The Mariners might have added even more to their system if they'd found a taker for Domingo Santana, who went into deadline day with an .822 OPS and club control through 2021 among his credentials. According to Heyman, at least two clubs were interested in him.

    Granted, Santana's sore elbow might have been the main reason he ultimately stayed put. Regardless, the Mariners must now hope that he remains a trade asset into 2020 or 2021, or that they can put a contender together in time for the latter season.


    Texas Rangers: Keeping Hunter Pence

    The Texas Rangers were only 53-54 going into deadline day, so they arguably should have moved Mike Minor and Lance Lynn while both starters had peak value.

    We won't go quite that far. Maybe the Rangers haven't been altogether good this season, but they've been consistently competitive. They might just form a contender around Minor and Lynn next season.

    Still, they should have traded Hunter Pence while he was fresh off a surprise All-Star selection and working on an .899 OPS. Even if the Rangers re-sign him for 2020, he's more likely to be the injury-prone, unproductive player he was in 2017 and 2018 rather than a shiny trade chip all over again.

National League East

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Atlanta Braves: Not Signing Dallas Keuchel Sooner

    It wouldn't seem like signing Dallas Keuchel to a one-year deal has made much of a difference for the Atlanta Braves. The Braves were winning at a .587 clip before his debut on June 21, and they've improved only to .588 since then.

    Yet Keuchel has been more or less as advertised. The 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner has a 4.39 ERA overall, but his ERA drops to 3.48 if you remove his eight-run stinker against the Miami Marlins on August 8. 

    There also appears to be more of a semblance of order to Atlanta's rotation now that Keuchel is aboard. The Braves could have achieved that earlier by signing Keuchel sooner, but it seems they cared more about saving a few bucks and a draft pick.


    Miami Marlins: Keeping Caleb Smith

    The Miami Marlins quietly did very well at the trade deadline. They loaded up their rapidly improving farm system with prospect luminaries like Jesus Sanchez, Jazz Chisholm and Lewin Diaz.

    Perhaps the only way the Marlins might have done better is if they swapped out one of their bright young starters for an additional haul of prospects. Specifically, Caleb Smith offered a 3.43 ERA and 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings at the time, plus club control through 2023.

    By not moving Smith, the Marlins pinned their hopes on either trading him later or him remaining an ace long enough to be part of a contender. Both are risky propositions.


    New York Mets: Sticking with Edwin Diaz

    Even more so than Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz seemed to be the New York Mets' big prize in their blockbuster trade with the Mariners last December. He was coming off an MLB-high 57 saves and a 1.96 ERA, and his club control ran all the way through 2022.

    In actuality, Diaz has been one of the worst relief pitchers in baseball. Through 52 appearances, he's rocking a 5.32 ERA with 11 home runs allowed in 47.1 innings. 

    The Mets nonetheless waited until recently to demote Diaz as their closer. At the least, they should have been more proactive about that. At the most, a demotion to the minors might have been (and might still be) the best thing for Diaz.


    Philadelphia Phillies: Mishandling Jake Arrieta

    The low-hanging fruit here is the Philadelphia Phillies' decision to sign Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract in March. But since he hasn't been a total flop, we'll give that a pass.

    More baffling than that is the Phillies' handling of Jake Arrieta. Per Rosenthal and Matt Gelb of The Athletic, the Phillies knew he was pitching with a bone spur in his elbow even before it became public on July 7. Yet he's only now having surgery for it.

    Rather than trust that Arrieta at "85 percent" was their best option, perhaps the Phillies didn't have to let the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner rack up a 4.64 ERA before he finally couldn't take it anymore. They also could have acquired better insurance at the deadline than Dan Straily.


    Washington Nationals: Neglecting Their Bullpen

    To the Washington Nationals' credit, they didn't leave their bullpen alone on deadline day. They added Daniel Hudson, Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias in trades with the Mariners and Blue Jays.

    But while each was a nice low-risk addition, the state of Washington's bullpen clearly required a more aggressive repair job. It went into deadline day with an MLB-worst 6.02 ERA.

    Fast-forward several weeks, and ace closer Sean Doolittle is on the IL and Nats relievers have a 6.24 ERA in August. The Nationals hold a wild-card slot anyway, but it's hard to see their pen as anything other than a massive liability for the stretch run and beyond.

National League Central

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    Chicago Cubs: Neglecting Their Bullpen

    From their abysmal road record to their disappearing-and-reappearing offense, there's so much about the Chicago Cubs' 2019 season that defies explanation.

    But if there's one aspect of the Cubs' season that's tangibly flawed, it has to do with their approach to a bullpen that's even more mediocre than its 4.16 ERA would indicate.

    Yet they waited until June 7 to sign Kimbrel to a three-year deal. And allthough his 6.75 ERA through 12 appearances made it clear that more was needed, the Cubs only went bargain-bin shopping at the deadline for Derek Holland and David Phelps. The end result is yet another pen that looks like a postseason liability.


    Cincinnati Reds: Not Calling Up Aristides Aquino Sooner

    The Cincinnati Reds have a plus-21 run differential, but they're seven games below .500 because their offense simply hasn't kept up with their pitching. 

    Things might look different if the Reds had called up Aristides Aquino sooner. All he's done in 18 games since August 1 is post a 1.271 OPS and 11 homers, which is unknown territory for such an inexperienced player.

    Because Yasiel Puig had a firm hold on right field before he was traded, the Reds would have had to play Aquino out of position at either left field or center field. But in retrospect, doing that should have been favorable to letting his 28 homers for Triple-A Louisville go to waste.


    Milwaukee Brewers: Not Trusting Keston Hiura Sooner

    We would scold the Milwaukee Brewers for not calling up Keston Hiura sooner. But since he had only played 38 games at Triple-A when he first got the call May 14, that's not the problem here.

    Rather, the issue is that the Brewers waited until June 28 to slot Hiura in as a member of their everyday lineup. They'd previously been sticking with Travis Shaw despite his .548 OPS. Hiura, meanwhile, had already put up a 1.088 OPS at San Antonio.

    Sure enough, Hiura has hit the ground running with a .325 average and 1.010 OPS over his last 42 games. Had the Brewers chosen to trust him sooner, they might not still be playing catch-up in the NL Central.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: Keeping Felipe Vazquez

    There might not have been a more sought-after reliever at the deadline than Felipe Vazquez. And according to Rosenthal, the Pittsburgh Pirates went into deadline day actively listening to offers.

    At the time, the lefty boasted a 1.87 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 43.1 innings. Teams were also presumably interested in his team-friendly contract. Add it all up, and he was worth a staggering haul in a trade.

    Yet the Pirates kept him despite being well south of .500 at 47-60, and they've only gotten worse with a 4-13 output since July 31. They might still trade Vazquez, but his value may only diminish as he gets closer to the end of his deal.


    St. Louis Cardinals: Leaving Their Lineup Alone

    Most contenders went into the deadline in desperate need of pitching, but not the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Despite an "improvement" to a .764 OPS in July, the Cardinals offense went into deadline day with just a .725 OPS and 4.6 runs per game overall. All things accounted for, they rated as one of the worst offensive clubs in the National League.

    But rather than make a move for an impact hitter or two, the Cardinals basically did nothing. That hasn't kept them from moving into first place, but there's little question about where their Achilles' heel for the stretch run and October is located.

National League West

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    Arizona Diamondbacks: Keeping Robbie Ray

    The Arizona Diamondbacks played the deadline as well as any .500-ish team could have. Mainly through their trade of Zack Greinke, they set themselves up for the future without blowing up their present.

    This leaves us little choice but to pick nits, but we're thinking Robbie Ray also should have exited Arizona on deadline day.

    Ray is under the D-backs' control through 2020, and he's been a strikeout machine with an 11.8 K/9 since 2016. But since his 3.95 ERA in that span marks him as more of a mid-rotation starter than an ace, the Snakes might have been better off capitalizing off interest from the Yankees, Astros and Brewers (per Heyman) than they were in keeping him.


    Colorado Rockies: Trading Mike Tauchman

    The Colorado Rockies were playing well early on, but a 17-34 skid since June 21 has effectively killed their season.

    Just as it was in 2018, offense has been the Rockies' biggest weakness in 2019. They simply haven't had enough depth around Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story and David Dahl.

    In light of the .915 OPS that Mike Tauchman has compiled with the Yankees since joining the team in a March trade, it's hard not to wonder if he might have made a difference if he'd stayed with the Rockies. Perhaps they too quickly disregarded the .959 OPS he put up at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2017 and 2018.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: Neglecting Their Bullpen

    With an 82-44 record and a plus-210 run differential, the Los Angeles Dodgers have two strong claims to the honor of baseball's best team. And they generally look terrific on a daily basis.

    So long, of course, as you don't focus on their bullpen. Its 4.18 ERA isn't terrible, but it's no accident that it has drastically damaged the club's overall win probability. There isn't much depth underneath veteran closer Kenley Jansen, and even he's struggled this season.

    Despite all this, the Dodgers' solution at the deadline was to trade for lefty specialist Adam Kolarek. To repeat a familiar refrain, such a disappointing haul may not be a problem now, but it could be a big one in October.


    San Diego Padres: Keeping Kirby Yates

    It was never likely that the San Diego Padres would contend this season, so it's good enough that Manny Machado hasn't been a disaster and that Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack have blossomed into stars.

    The Padres also added a big piece to their already sizable cache of young talent in the Bauer trade, which netted them well-regarded outfielder Taylor Trammell. Next to everything else they already have in place, 2019 should prove to be a key step toward legit contention.

    Still, it's fair to ask if the Padres should have traded ace closer Kirby Yates. He'll still be around next season, but his 1.02 ERA and 8.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio as of deadline day elevated his value to a level it isn't likely to see again.


    San Francisco Giants: Keeping Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith

    The San Francisco Giants were better than the sum of their parts even earlier in the year, and then they planted themselves in the NL wild-card race with a 17-3 run between June 30 and July 23.

    Even then, however, the Giants were facing overwhelmingly long odds of making the postseason and practically impossible odds of winning the World Series. Throw in the less-than-awesome state of their farm system, and they had real reasons to sell Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith and others.

    Ultimately, "others" went, while Bumgarner and Smith stayed put. The Giants have naturally cooled with an 11-12 record that puts them on track for a future in which they miss out on the postseason and potentially lose both pitchers to free agency.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.