Every MLB Team's Most Boneheaded Decision of 2020
As in all other walks of life, 2020 has been anything but normal for Major League Baseball. And yet one constant is that teams have had to make a lot of decisions throughout the course of the year.
We're here to second-guess one for every team.
To clarify, we only considered choices made by clubs' front offices since the calendar turned from 2019 to 2020. This covered signings and trades that were (or in some cases, weren't) made as well as how and when key prospects were promoted. We tried not to rely too heavily on hindsight, but there were quite a few cases in which we simply couldn't help ourselves.
We'll proceed in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Starling Marte Trade
The Arizona Diamondbacks are in last place in the National League West mostly because of injuries (i.e., Madison Bumgarner) and disappointing performances (i.e., Ketel Marte).
Arizona thus can't be faulted for selling at the trade deadline, and it did reasonably well in trades of Starling Marte and Archie Bradley. And yet even a good trade can be made for the wrong reasons, and that's the case with the D-backs' trade of Marte to the Miami Marlins.
Per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Snakes traded Marte because they weren't planning on picking up his $12.5 million option for 2021. Which is odd, considering Marte is a star-caliber center fielder who had an .827 OPS at the time.
While one can argue Arizona sold high on Marte, it was really about pinching pennies.
Atlanta: Not Promoting Ian Anderson Sooner
Atlanta is more or less comfortable in first place in the NL East even though its starting rotation has been decimated by injuries, poor performances and an opt-out.
But if the club's leadership can be faulted for anything, it's waiting until August 26 to call on Ian Anderson to help out.
Though he's only 22 years old, the right-hander came into this year fresh off a campaign in which he had a 3.38 ERA in 26 starts at Double-A and Triple-A. Those numbers and his scouting report—he presently ranks as MLB.com's No. 38 prospect—practically screamed "major league-ready."
Anderson has since lived up to that billing, posting a 1.64 ERA with 27 strikeouts through four starts. Had he gotten the call in, say, late July or early August, he might have similar numbers over a larger body of work.
Baltimore Orioles: Not Cashing In Alex Cobb
The Baltimore Orioles were playing so well early on that it was possible to imagine they would buy at the deadline for a possible playoff run.
After the team cooled off in August, trade chips Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro inevitably made their way out the door. It was easy to presume Alex Cobb would too, but he stayed put.
This may be because there simply wasn't enough interest in the veteran right-hander. But it's hard not to wonder if the Orioles are partly to blame for that, as they might have shopped Cobb more aggressively while he was pitching well early.
In any case, Cobb has since spent time on the injured list and gone into a slump. His $15 million salary for 2021 and 5.29 ERA as an Oriole may make him untradeable in the future.
Boston Red Sox: The Mookie Betts Trade
The passing of time has made the Boston Red Sox's decision to trade Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers look better.
Still, that's no excuse to let the Red Sox off the hook for doing such a cynical deal in the first place.
At least on paper, the team they had at the time looked like a legit contender for the American League East title. They didn't know Price would opt out because of the coronavirus pandemic or that fellow ace Chris Sale would need Tommy John surgery.
There's also the basic reality that the Red Sox traded Betts—who ranks second to Mike Trout in rWAR since 2015—ostensibly just to avoid the luxury tax. A team with pockets as deep as theirs should have no business being so desperate to save money.
Chicago Cubs: Settling for Steven Souza Jr.
Especially considering that Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are a below-average offensive trio, it's impressive that the Chicago Cubs are in first place in the NL Central.
And yet there's room to nit-pick how the Cubs constructed their roster. They spent very little in free agency, and while they've scored on low-risk deals with Jason Kipnis and Jeremy Jeffress, their $1 million deal with Steven Souza Jr. didn't pan out.
Souza struggled in 2018 and didn't play in 2019, so it's not the biggest shock that he put up just a .591 OPS in 11 games before he was released this month.
Had the Cubs spent more money on, say, Nick Castellanos, their offense wouldn't be suffering such an extreme shortage of production from the right side of the plate.
Chicago White Sox: Not Promoting Dane Dunning Sooner
The Chicago White Sox had some trouble finding their footing. But since August 16, a 22-5 run has elevated them to the top of the American League.
In the middle of it all has been top prospect Dane Dunning, who debuted August 19 and has a 2.33 ERA over five starts.
Because Dunning missed all of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, the White Sox weren't necessarily wrong to delay his debut. But during a campaign that's otherwise been so spectacular, questioning whether he should have been called up sooner is the best we can do.
Cincinnati Reds: Burying Aristides Aquino
The Cincinnati Reds had trouble scoring runs in 2019, but they got a ray of hope for 2020 when Aristides Aquino became a mainstay in their lineup August 1.
Aquino became the fastest modern player to reach 13 home runs, and he finished with 19 in only 56 games. So despite his swing-and-miss issues, he seemed to have cemented himself in Cincinnati's plans for the following year.
Not so much, as it turned out. After the Reds inked Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama, Aquino found himself on the outside looking in even after the NL adopted the designated hitter for 2020.
At least the Reds had reasons to sideline Aquino. But at this point, it's fair to wonder if they would be doing better than a measly 4.0 runs per game if he had more than just 36 plate appearances.
Cleveland: The Mike Clevinger Trade
Cleveland has subsisted on its pitching in 2020, so of course the biggest deal that the club made at the deadline involved sending one of its best hurlers out of town.
That was the trade that shipped ace right-hander Mike Clevinger and outfielder Greg Allen to the San Diego Padres for a package of players that was more about quantity than quality. Unlike last year's trade of Trevor Bauer, there was no Franmil Reyes or Yasiel Puig coming back to Cleveland.
Maybe this will work out for Cleveland in the long run, but it's not in the short run. The club has lost seven in a row since September 8, during which it's been outscored 46-22.
Let this be a lesson: Unless you're planning on upgrading a major weakness, don't subtract from your biggest strength.
Colorado Rockies: Releasing Jake McGee
Back in the 2017-18 offseason, the Colorado Rockies attempted a high-priced experiment in which they spent $106 million on relievers Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw.
The idea was to build a sort of superbullpen, yet anything but that materialized. Davis, McGee and Shaw combined for a 5.41 ERA in 2018 and then a 6.00 ERA in 2019. Though they held on to Davis, the Rockies acknowledged defeat with McGee and Shaw and released them in July.
Well, go figure that McGee subsequently caught on with the Dodgers and is now rocking a 2.81 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 16 innings. Not so coincidentally, he's pitching with vintage velocity.
Should the Rockies have seen such a rebound coming? Maybe not. But given that the shortened 60-game schedule figured to spare pitchers from having to save their bullets, maybe they should have.
Detroit Tigers: Not Cashing In Jonathan Schoop
After losing 114 games in 2019, the Detroit Tigers ought to be pleased with their 21-26 record this season.
They especially have to like what they've seen from building blocks Jeimer Candelario, Victor Reyes, Willi Castro, Spencer Turnbull and, to a degree, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. What's more, there's plenty more talent in the club's farm system.
The Tigers might have added still more talent to said system if they'd been a more aggressive seller at the deadline. It's especially odd that they didn't rent Jonathan Schoop, who had an .870 OPS and eight homers as of deadline day.
It now seems as if the Tigers read too much into a winning streak that propelled them over .500 by September 1. They've since lost 10 of 14, rendering their decision to keep Schoop an obvious misfire.
Houston Astros: Sitting Out the Trade Deadline
By deadline day, the Astros were five games over .500 and in no immediate danger of slipping out of second place in the AL West. As such, the club's James Click-led front office let the deadline pass without making any major moves.
Well, the Astros are just 5-10 in September and facing a challenge from the Seattle Mariners for the AL West's second playoff spot.
Though their depth issues weren't as obvious at the time, Houston's slip has laid bare what certainly existed in the days before the deadline. Whether it's now or in October, the club's failure to address them could be its doom.
Kansas City Royals: Not Cashing In Greg Holland
Not unlike the Tigers, the Kansas City Royals have had a surprisingly non-terrible year despite being in the middle of a rebuild.
Also like the Tigers, however, the Royals may be lamenting not doing more for their rebuild at the deadline. Though they at least moved reborn closer Trevor Rosenthal, they failed to likewise cash in Greg Holland.
Holland's numbers didn't quite jump off the page like Rosenthal's, but he nonetheless went into deadline day with a 3.00 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 18 innings. When combined with his cheap one-year contract, he looked like obvious trade bait.
Perhaps the Royals kept Holland because the interest in him simply wasn't there. But because relievers are always in high demand at the deadline, it's hard to believe the interest in him was at or near zero.
Los Angeles Angels: Sticking with Jo Adell
The Los Angeles Angels came into 2020 with high hopes, but they stumbled out of the gate and are now well out of the AL playoff race.
All the Angels can do now is look forward to the future, but that's where yet another concern has developed: Jo Adell's first taste of the majors has been a disaster.
The Angels had the right idea initially, but they may be doing more harm than good by continuing Adell's on-the-job training. After all, it's not as if they can chalk up his struggles to bad luck while he's sitting on 49 strikeouts in only 121 plate appearances.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Sitting Out the Trade Deadline
The Los Angeles Dodgers don't have much cause to feel worried, as their 34-15 record casts them as the best team in MLB.
The Dodgers were especially hot as of deadline day, at which point they were five games up on the San Diego Padres in the NL West. It's little wonder, then, that the Dodgers sent pitcher Ross Stripling to the Toronto Blue Jays and made no other moves.
But this is not to say the Dodgers couldn't have added anything at the deadline. If they wanted to bolster their World Series odds, they might have deepened their pitching staff or even added an impact bat.
Their decision to stand pat isn't looking so good right now. Their 4-5 run since September 5 has allowed the Padres to creep to within two-and-a-half-games—and surely raised doubts about the aforementioned World Series odds.
Miami Marlins: Not Promoting Sixto Sanchez Sooner
Atlanta won the NL East title in 2018 and 2019, so it's not surprising to once again see it atop the division.
After their 105-loss season in 2019, certainly more surprising is the Miami Marlins' stance in second place. They had a coronavirus outbreak in late July and early August, but they're being driven by a young and talented starting rotation.
None of their hurlers has made as big an impression as Sixto Sanchez. In five outings, he's allowed only six runs and struck out 29 batters with only five walks.
Before this, Sanchez dominated at Double-A in 2019 and entered the year as one of baseball's elite prospects. So especially in the context of Miami's temporarily halted season, we have to ask: Why the heck wasn't he called up before August 22?
Milwaukee Brewers: Not Cashing In Josh Hader
The Milwaukee Brewers have never really been out of the NL Central race. But mainly by way of their generally inept offense, they've never really been in it either.
Understandably, the Brewers considered all their options at the trade deadline. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, one of them was trading ace closer Josh Hader.
Because Hader didn't allow so much as a hit through his first nine appearances, Milwaukee's price for him was rightfully described as "bananas." Yet the Brewers had some subtle reasons to sell high, as Hader is operating with lesser velocity and a much higher walk rate.
These issues have come back to bite Hader, as he's allowed seven runs on six hits and five walks in his last seven outings. If he can't fix what ails him, his value may only depreciate further over time.
Minnesota Twins: Sitting Out the Trade Deadline
The Minnesota Twins are still another contender that sat out the trade deadline, though their reasons to do so qualify as "fair enough."
After smashing a record 307 home runs and winning 101 games in 2019, an air of underachievement hung over the Twins, as they went into deadline day with a 20-15 record. They could reasonably believe things would get better, especially after Josh Donaldson recovered from his latest calf injury.
Cut to now, and the Twins are 10-4 in September and pushing for first place in the AL Central. To this extent, letting the deadline pass without making any moves has worked out.
The catch, though, is that they're still playing second fiddle to the White Sox. If the Twins fail to overcome them now or in October, they'll regret not being more assertive at the deadline.
New York Mets: Their Handling of Yoenis Cespedes
There was a point early in the season when the New York Mets looked like a genuine World Series contender, but much has gone awry as the team compiled a 21-27 record.
Only so much of this can be blamed on decisions made by the Mets' Brodie Van Wagenen-led front office. The team's issues have more to do with injuries, subpar performances and two opt-outs.
Yet it's fair to criticize how the Mets handled the first of those opt-outs. Though the story of Yoenis Cespedes' opt-out is a complicated one, the Mets didn't need to briefly present a missing persons case to the media.
All that did was create confusion and a mild sense of panic, resulting in the sort of vaguely embarrassing story that's all too typical of the Mets.
New York Yankees: Sitting Out the Trade Deadline
The New York Yankees began the season as a leading World Series contender and initially lived up to the hype by winning eight of their first nine games.
Things went south in August. As it did in 2019, the injury bug began picking off various Yankees stars. They lost seven straight from August 18 to 28, giving rise to expectations that they would go all in on adding at the deadline.
But when the dust cleared, the Yankees had added nobody. For general manager Brian Cashman, that was a simple matter of price tags being too high.
Maybe that's true, but the Yankees should be sparing no expense in the pursuit of their 28th championship. Factoring in the club's 10-year World Series drought and the thin ice underneath their feet in the AL playoff race, their unwillingness to make any trades borders on being inexcusable.
Oakland Athletics: Settling for Mike Minor
The Oakland Athletics aren't the best team in baseball, but their five-and-a-half game lead over the Astros makes them the safest division leader in either league.
The A's do have one obvious weakness, though. Their pitching staff has put up a rock-solid 3.63 ERA, yet their rotation has mustered only a 4.65 ERA and 0.2 WAR.
To fix this, Oakland's only maneuver at the deadline was to buy low on veteran left-hander Mike Minor in a trade with the Texas Rangers. That was a good idea, and he was last seen turning a corner with seven shutout innings in Seattle on Monday.
Even still, the A's might regret not adding another starter. Because right now, it doesn't bode well for their World Series odds that Chris Bassitt has been the only consistently reliable member of the rotation.
Philadelphia Phillies: Not Trading for a Starting Pitcher
Unlike some of the other contenders we've talked about, the Philadelphia Phillies were admirably aggressive in using the trade market to address their biggest weakness.
The Phillies notably added needed arms to their bullpen with deals for Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree and David Phelps. Though these guys have yet to pan out and the club's bullpen still has an MLB-worst 7.00 ERA, at least the Phillies tried.
But while they were at it, they also should have looked into acquiring a starting pitcher. Because while Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are doing well with a 2.43 ERA, all other Phillies starters have a 5.45 ERA.
If that issue persists, the Phillies will have more than just their bullpen to blame for yet another disappointing season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Not Promoting Ke'Bryan Hayes Sooner
It's hard to look at the Pittsburgh Pirates and see a team that should be any better than it is.
Upon taking over in November 2019, general manager Ben Cherington moved the club into a rebuild that resulted in Starling Marte going to Arizona. More trades should have followed this summer, but Pittsburgh's trade chips lost value via injuries and inconsistent performances.
In such a disastrous season, all the Pirates can do is look to the future. To this end, really the only valid complaint is that it took until September 1 for them to call up top prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes.
He's been primarily known for his defensive chops, but his bat has done the talking to the tune of a .965 OPS and six extra-base hits in 12 games. If nothing else, promoting Hayes sooner would have given Pirates fans something to watch for.
San Diego Padres: Not Using Adrian Morejon in Relief Sooner
Truth be told, it's hard to find anything to hold against the San Diego Padres.
Their 32-18 record puts them in line for their first winning season since 2010 and their first playoff berth since 2006. Yet they clearly aren't content to merely snap those streaks, as their huge haul at the trade deadline outfitted them with enough depth to potentially win their first World Series title.
But if we must pick a nit, we'll suggest the Padres could have used top prospect Adrian Morejon in relief sooner. He didn't make his first appearance out of the pen until August 31, and he's since racked up six scoreless innings in three appearances.
Before all this, Padres relievers were struggling with a 5.20 ERA. Not that it would have mattered all that much, but Morejon might have helped push that figure southward.
San Francisco Giants: Sticking with Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval
For a team that's more or less rebuilding, the San Francisco Giants sure are funneling a lot of playing time to veterans.
This has been a good thing in some cases, as Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria and Johnny Cueto are more than holding their own. But in the cases of Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval, the Giants simply wasted too many plate appearances.
Otherwise, the offense has been a pleasant surprise in scoring five runs per game with a 113 OPS+. Those numbers (and, in all likelihood, the team's record) would be even better if the Giants had never signed Pence and Sandoval or simply released them sooner.
Seattle Mariners: Not Cashing In Kyle Seager
Right now, the Seattle Mariners are going strong with a 9-4 record since August 30.
Yet they're still on the outside looking in at the AL playoff field. And even if they make it in, they're almost certainly not getting to the World Series, much less winning it.
As such, there's little point lamenting that the Mariners traded Taijuan Walker, Austin Nola and Taylor Williams ahead of the deadline. If anything, they erred in not pushing things even further by trading Kyle Seager.
At least one team was interested in him, and he had some value at the time by way of an .819 OPS. That value has since evaporated, as he's collected only six hits since August 31, so he and his $18.5 million salary for 2021 are likely back to being unmovable.
St. Louis Cardinals: Sitting Out the Trade Deadline
The St. Louis Cardinals are another leading contender that shrugged at the deadline, though they at least had the excuse of not really knowing what they even had, much less needed.
The deadline came mere weeks after the Cardinals returned from a two-week pause resulting from a coronavirus outbreak. As general manager John Mozeliak said, "As the team we planned, we've only been together for five games, and internally we're asking ourselves, 'Who are we? What do we look like?'"
What the Cardinals did know, however, is that their outbreak would require them to play more games than most down the stretch of the 2020 season. Even now, they still have another 15 contests to check off through September 27.
Knowing this, it wouldn't have hurt for the Cardinals to at least load up on depth pieces.
Tampa Bay Rays: Not Going Bigger at the Trade Deadline
The Tampa Bay Rays certainly aren't strangers to making big trades. But when they do, they're typically on the selling end.
When they buy, the Rays typically aim for low-risk targets that they might eventually squeeze high rewards out of. So it went this year, as they played it cool by trading away Jose Martinez and trading for Brett Phillips and Cody Reed. The latter two were once well-regarded prospects.
But at the same time, the Rays' 31-17 record has them in first place in the AL East and on a path that could lead to the World Series. What's more, they're sitting on MLB's top farm system.
So if ever there was a year for the Rays to pursue a blockbuster deal or two, this should have been it.
Texas Rangers: Not Cashing In Lance Lynn
In the person of ace right-hander Lance Lynn, the Texas Rangers held maybe the most desirable trade chip of any team ahead of the trade deadline. And from the sound of things, everyone wanted him.
Yet he ended up staying put.
From the perspective of other teams, this happened because the Rangers simply wanted too much for Lynn. Which is understandable from their perspective, as he went into deadline day with a 1.93 ERA plus another year still left on his contract.
But even if it would have required them to lower their ask, the Rangers may regret not moving Lynn. His value can only regress from where it was at the deadline. Assuming it does, the Rangers will have to upgrade their 24th-ranked farm system in other ways.
Toronto Blue Jays: Playing It Safe at the Trade Deadline
The Toronto Blue Jays came into 2020 with designs on contending, but even they probably didn't figure they'd be neck-and-neck with the Yankees in the AL East come mid-September.
Yet this eventuality was apparent even in August, when the Blue Jays were rising as the Yankees were falling. By the deadline, specifically, the Jays were breathing down the Yankees' necks after winning 11 of their last 14 games.
Rightfully, Toronto bought with trades for Robbie Ray, Ross Stripling and Jonathan Villar. But these were merely buy-low trades, which presumably had to do with the front office not wanting to prematurely blow up its No. 4 farm system.
But in retrospect, that's a shame. The Jays effectively prioritized future World Series runs, when in reality the one they're looking at now deserved at least one leap-of-faith blockbuster.
Washington Nationals: Not Doing More to Replace Anthony Rendon
Perhaps nobody contributed to the Washington Nationals' World Series run in 2019 more than Anthony Rendon, who had a 1.010 OPS in the regular season and three huge home runs in the postseason.
So when Rendon walked as a free agent in December, the Nats had some important shoes to fill. Yet they dragged their feet in doing so, ultimately settling on an approach that asked Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro and Eric Thames—each of whom signed after the new year—to replace Rendon in the aggregate.
Though not the reason, their failure to do so is certainly a reason the Nats have fallen into last place in the NL East. Combined, Cabrera, Castro and Thames have only a .691 OPS and 11 home runs.
If the Nats could go back, they'd probably take their chances on Nick Castellanos or, even better, Marcell Ozuna.