The 8 MLB Teams That Blew It at the Trade Deadline
If you thought the Thursday night megadeal in which the Washington Nationals shipped Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers was going to be the end of the stakes-raising at the MLB trade deadline, goodness were you mistaken.
Dozens of deals went down Friday, each one seemingly bigger than the last, culminating in Kris Bryant heading to the San Francisco Giants just before the 4 p.m. ET deadline as part of an incredible National League West arms race (the San Diego Padres got both Adam Frazier and Jake Marisnick, and many feel that wasn't anywhere near enough to keep pace).
MLB fans haven't said "blockbuster" this many times in a single day since making plans to pick up a Nintendo 64 copy of Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball from their local rental stores back in 1998.
But while big trade after big trade was announced, not every team was a big winner.
In fact, about a quarter of the teams in the big leagues badly botched this late July window of opportunity to get better, either immediately or in the future.
One team of note that will not appear on this list is the Chicago Cubs. They dealt Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Craig Kimbrel and Javier Baez, emphatically waving a white flag on the 2021 season. But at least they got an impressive return for their fire sale, particularly both Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer in the Kimbrel deal. What they got from the New York Yankees for Rizzo (Alexander Vizcaino and Kevin Alcantara) was also solid.
Other teams (Washington and the Texas Rangers) that hit the reset button didn't get anywhere near as much back. But at least they wisely steered into rebuilds.
The same surely cannot be said for the Colorado Rockies.
Coming into the 2021 campaign, there was one in-season transaction we all thought was a lock: Colorado trading Trevor Story before the deadline.
The Rockies were never expected to compete for a playoff spot, and they haven't. They are 15 games below .500 and have no hope of making the postseason. And after they traded Nolan Arenado in February, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that they wouldn't re-sign Story when he becomes a free agent this offseason.
Yet as an incredible number of major deals trickled in over the 24 hours before the deadline, Story never got dealt.
Neither did Jon Gray, who is in the last year of his contract and pitching pretty well by Colorado standards (3.67 ERA).
Both players surely had some value on the open market, especially Story. Even in what has been a down year compared to his previous three, the shortstop has 13 home runs and 17 stolen bases with a career OPS of .860. Put him on a team with something to play for, and maybe he turns things around in a big way.
But perhaps Colorado was aiming too high and got hung out to dry when the Nationals, Cubs and Rangers went into fire-sale mode, oversaturating the market with star players.
Now, all they'll get when Story signs a megadeal elsewhere is a compensatory draft pick.
On the one hand, we should probably grade the Seattle Mariners on a curve. They haven't made the playoffs since 2001, so this whole "try to get better at the trade deadline" concept is a new one.
On the other hand, you don't need to be an annual buyer to know it's not a great idea to improve a division rival that is ahead of you in the standings.
And yet, that's exactly what the Mariners did when they traded Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero to the Houston Astros for Joe Smith and Abraham Toro.
Graveman had a 0.82 ERA and 10 saves and was clearly the most reliable arm in the Seattle bullpen, and relief pitching is perhaps the only thing that's kept Houston from running away with the AL West. And while Toro has homered in each of his first two games with the M's, they gave away their closer for a 37-year-old with a 7.48 ERA and a third baseman who was triple-slashing .193/.276/.350 in 308 career plate appearances.
It might have made some sense from a buy low/sell high perspective if general manager Jerry Dipoto hadn't acknowledged it didn't make much sense as a stand-alone deal.
Really, what doesn't make sense is the pair of trades the Mariners made, as they also got closer Diego Castillo from the Tampa Bay Rays for Austin Shenton and JT Chargois. In summation, they traded a closer and a late-inning reliever for a young third baseman and a middle reliever...and then traded a third base prospect and a middle reliever for a closer. And in the process, they helped a division rival.
To their credit, at least they now have a potential long-term solution at closer. Graveman will be a free agent this offseason, while Castillo won't hit free agency until after the 2024 season. However, it was still a head-scratching pair of moves.
We'll need to wait at least a few years to find out whether the Nationals blew it at the trade deadline, but one thing's for darn sure.
They blew it up.
Closer Brad Hand was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. Primary setup man Daniel Hudson was dealt to San Diego. Top slugger Kyle Schwarber was shipped to the Boston Red Sox. Jon Lester is on his way to the St. Louis Cardinals. Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison were relocated to the Oakland Athletics. And in the blockbuster of all blockbusters, the Nationals sent both Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers—who are evidently content to spend almost $100 million more than any other team to ensure they are the favorites to win it all.
And in return for eight of their best and most expensive players, the Nationals got a boatload of prospects.
The most noteworthy of those 12 minor league acquisitions were catcher Keibert Ruiz and pitcher Josiah Gray, both of whom are in the top 50 of MLB.com's prospect rankings.
Prior to that, the Nationals had only two top-100 prospects, so at least they improved one of the worst farm systems in baseball. And most of the players they traded will be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. Considering they are eight games below .500 and nowhere close to playoff position, getting anything in return for those expiring contracts has to be considered a win.
Speaking as a Nats fans, though, trading Turner hurts. Not only is he having an awesome season (.322 BA, 18 HR, 21 SB), but he is still arbitration-eligible (aka under team control) for one more season before he will hit free agency after 2022. His salary for that 2022 season is going to be a big one (he's making $13 million this year, and that will surely increase), but trading him makes it feel like Washington has not only given up on this season but on next season, too.
Of course, the prospect haul from Los Angeles would not have been anywhere near as impressive without Turner in the deal. But that doesn't make it any easier to stomach.
Before the Cubs and Nationals decided to burn it all down and enter rebuild mode, the Rangers looked like the team with the most intriguing assets. Starting pitcher Kyle Gibson and slugger Joey Gallo were All-Stars this season. Ian Kennedy has 16 saves with a 2.51 ERA, and basically everyone needs bullpen help. And to that end, Joely Rodriguez is an intriguing, relatively inexpensive left-handed reliever.
But the Rangers didn't need to sell.
By no means am I suggesting Texas could compete for a playoff spot this season, but Gibson, Gallo and Rodriguez are all under team control through 2022. With the exception of doing whatever it took to move free agent-to-be Kennedy, the Rangers didn't need to force anything if they didn't like what they were being offered.
Nevertheless, they sent Gallo, Rodriguez and cash to the Yankees for a bunch of good-not-great prospects and then shipped Gibson, Kennedy, pitching prospect Hans Crouse and cash to the Philadelphia Phillies for Spencer Howard and two prospects (Kevin Gowdy and Josh Gessner) who weren't ranked in the top 30 in the Phillies farm system, per MLB.com.
If Howard—a former top prospect who has struggled in MLB—pans out, the second trade won't look bad. As is, though, it's almost impossible to argue that the Rangers won either trade, even for a team with nothing to play for this season.
St. Louis Cardinals
In early July, I did my darnedest to come up with one realistic trade every MLB team should make, and the Cardinals were the toughest team for which to find a reasonable idea. I suggested trying to trade Adam Wainwright in what may well be the almost-40-year-old's final season. That did not go over well. But for a team with a nearly $170 million payroll, minimal tradeable assets and a feint playoff pulse, at best, there's not much that can be done.
Rather than ride it out and hope for the best in 2022, though, the Cardinals made two of the most nonsensical moves of the day, acquiring J.A. Happ from the Minnesota Twins and Jon Lester from the Nationals.
They didn't give up much in either deal. All told, the outgoing list of names was minor league pitcher Evan Sisk, MLB pitcher John Gant and MLB outfielder Lane Thomas.
But giving up anything for Happ and Lester makes no sense, particularly for a team that is already overrun with expensive players in their mid- to late 30s.
Happ is almost 39 years old and has allowed more earned runs (74) than any other pitcher this season. Lester is 37, has a 5.02 ERA and has made just two quality starts in his last 13 appearances.
Happ and Lester will both be free agents after this season, too, which means a team that is 9.5 games back in the National League Central traded three players under the age of 30 for two struggling veterans who won't be under team control three months from now.
It's not a franchise-altering disaster but just a bizarre pair of decisions.
The Cincinnati Reds were stuck between a rock and a hard place.
They're seven games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and five games behind the San Diego Padres for the National League's second wild-card spot. Translation: Close enough to make a push but far from a lock to reach the postseason even if they finish strong.
Their farm system isn't terrible, but it isn't great either. And this is not a deep-pocketed franchise. That means they couldn't very well buy assets with cash, and they would have needed to further deplete an already mediocre pipeline if they opted to go the "buying" route.
Option B was selling high on Nick Castellanos and Wade Miley, which I think they probably would have done if they had known how much the other National League contenders were going to bolster their rosters at the deadline.
Miley is under contract through 2022 and is in the middle of the best season of his career. Outside of Max Scherzer, he likely would have been the top starting pitcher on the market if the Reds had been willing to move him. And while Castellanos is pseudo-signed through 2024, the right fielder has the option to opt-out this winter and almost certainly will in light of what has been an MVP-caliber season. He too would have fetched a pretty penny.
Instead, the Reds went with Option C, which was doing basically nothing.
They picked up a couple of middle relievers earlier in the week but nothing compared to what the Mets, Braves, Phillies, Brewers, Giants, Dodgers and Padres all did before the deadline. By neither buying nor selling, they more or less sealed their fate as a team that will finish roughly .500 and miss the playoffs before losing their biggest star to free agency.
Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays
The race for first place in the AL East was already going to be an intriguing one, but it is going to be incredible theater for the next two months following the lack of moves made by the teams up top.
The Boston Red Sox are in first place, with the Tampa Bay Rays 1.5 games back. A little further back but still within striking distance are the New York Yankees (8.5 GB) and Toronto Blue Jays (9.5 GB).
The two teams in that second tier went all in at the deadline. New York added Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo to improve their slugging woes and picked up Joely Rodriguez and Andrew Heaney to provide some pitching depth. Toronto got one of the best starting pitchers on the market in Jose Berrios, and it bolstered a dreadful bullpen in picking up Brad Hand.
And Boston and Tampa Bay didn't do much of anything.
The Red Sox picked up an injured slugger (Kyle Schwarber) and a reliever who can't seem to get anyone out lately (Hansel Robles, 4.91 ERA). The Rays traded closer Diego Castillo for an infield prospect and a middle reliever (JT Chargois) for...reasons?
(Tampa Bay did trade for Nelson Cruz back on July 22, which was a big splash. But in the final 72 or so hours of deadline madness, the Rays were mighty quiet.)
Both teams could have used an upgrade to the starting rotation, and the Red Sox definitely could have benefited from adding a first baseman. Neither of those things happened, though, so get ready to watch New York and Toronto close that gap.
Statistics and records current through the start of play on Friday.