Re-Ranking MLB's Divisions After Hyperactive Trade Deadline
A few days have gone by since Major League Baseball's 2021 trade deadline came and went on Friday, but it was so wild that there are still a few housekeeping items to attend to.
For instance, reassessing where the league's six divisions stand after so many arrivals and departures.
Because the trade deadline rush began in earnest with the Tampa Bay Rays' acquisition of Nelson Cruz on July 22, that was where we set our cutoff. Otherwise, we simply looked at what each division's good teams gained and what its bad teams lost.
Let's count 'em down.
6. American League Central
Key Arrivals: RHP Craig Kimbrel (CWS), 2B Cesar Hernandez (CWS), RHP Ryan Tepera (CWS), CF Myles Straw (CLE)
Key Departures: 2B Nick Madrigal (CWS), RHP Codi Heuer (CWS), 2B Cesar Hernandez (CLE), LF Eddie Rosario (CLE), RHP Phil Maton (CLE), OF Jordan Luplow (CLE), LHP Daniel Norris (DET), LHP Danny Duffy (KCR), RF/DH Jorge Soler (KCR), DH Nelson Cruz (MIN), RHP Jose Berrios (MIN), LHP J.A. Happ (MIN)
As if the Chicago White Sox didn't already have a strong enough hold on the American League Central, the last week before the deadline saw them fill a major need and further upgrade what was already arguably baseball's best pitching staff.
By adding Cesar Hernandez, Chicago filled Nick Madrigal's injury-vacated shoes at second base with a Gold Glove winner who's already smacked a career-high 18 home runs. Then came Craig Kimbrel, who currently has a 0.47 ERA, and Ryan Tepera, who actually got an MVP vote in 2020 and is still going strong in 2021.
Of course, the big problem with the AL Central prior to the deadline was that the White Sox were the only serious contender. That's not only still the case, but there's also less opposition in their way within the division now.
Though Cleveland and the Kansas City Royals parted with some key players, nobody had an exodus of talent quite like the Minnesota Twins. Without Nelson Cruz and Jose Berrios, especially, they don't stand much of a chance of keeping their already bad intra-division record (23-30) from getting even worse.
5. National League Central
Key Arrivals: 2B/3B Eduardo Escobar (MIL), RHP John Curtiss (MIL), LHP Daniel Norris (MIL), RHP Mychal Givens (CIN), RHP Luis Cessa (CIN), LHP Justin Wilson (CIN), LHP J.A. Happ (STL), LHP Jon Lester (STL), 2B Nick Madrigal (CHC), RHP Codi Heuer (CHC), INF Michael Chavis (PIT)
Key Departures: RHP John Gant (STL), 3B Kris Bryant (CHC), 1B Anthony Rizzo (CHC), SS Javier Baez (CHC), RHP Craig Kimbrel (CHC), RHP Ryan Tepera (CHC), RHP Trevor Williams (CHC), OF Jake Marisnick (CHC), 2B Adam Frazier (PIT), RHP Richard Rodriguez (PIT), LHP Tyler Anderson (PIT), LHP Austin Davis (PIT)
If there was a division that was hit particularly hard by the trade deadline, it's the National League Central thanks to the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates.
In response to a 12-27 slide that all but killed their contention chances, the Cubs jettisoned their three best position players and two best relief pitchers. That's all well and good for a farm system that had previously ranked in the middle, but it's no great surprise their expected wins trendline has cratered.
As exemplified by the fact that Bryan Reynolds is still in town, the Pirates didn't go quite as wild. But sans Adam Frazier, who was just an All-Star, and Richard Rodriguez, who's quietly pitched to a 143 ERA+ since 2018, they don't look better now than they did beforehand.
Elsewhere in the division, the Milwaukee Brewers did well to add All-Star slugger Eduardo Escobar, but they otherwise made only marginal improvements. Since the same is also true of the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, the division's losses ultimately weigh heavier than its gains.
4. National League East
Key Arrivals: SS Javier Baez (NYM), RHP Trevor Williams (NYM), RHP Kyle Gibson (PHI), RHP Ian Kennedy (PHI), SS Freddy Galvis (PHI), RHP Richard Rodriguez (ATL), LF Eddie Rosario (ATL), LF Adam Duvall (ATL), RF Jorge Soler (ATL), RHP Josiah Gray (WAS), C Keibert Ruiz (WAS), OF Lane Adams (WAS)
Key Departures: RHP Spencer Howard (PHI), RHP Bryse Wilson (ATL), C Alex Jackson (ATL), RHP Max Scherzer (WAS), SS Trea Turner (WAS), LF Kyle Schwarber (WAS), C Yan Gomes (WAS), INF/OF Josh Harrison (WAS), LHP Brad Hand (WAS), LHP Jon Lester (WAS), RHP Daniel Hudson (WAS), CF Starling Marte (MIA), LF Adam Duvall (MIA)
Elsewhere on the topic of once-great contenders who blew it up in spectacular fashion, the Washington Nationals might have outdone even the Cubs at the deadline.
Though All-Stars Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber were the headliners of Washington's fire sale, don't forget Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison and Brad Hand were also having solid seasons in the capital. So in a span of about a week, the Nats went from having a shot at a .500 season to having basically no shot.
The Miami Marlins also damaged their fortunes by trading their two best outfielders, Starling Marte and Adam Duvall. But they at least got a fascinating lottery ticket back in the person of former top prospect Jesus Luzardo, and there were otherwise plenty of gains elsewhere in the division.
Though the Mets landed the biggest star (Javier Baez), the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta did them one better by adding more depth. Accordingly, they actually chipped away at the Mets' chances of winning a division race that's slightly more interesting than the one in the NL Central.
3. American League West
Key Arrivals: RHP Kendall Graveman (HOU), RHP Phil Maton (HOU), RHP Yimi Garcia (HOU), CF Starling Marte (OAK), C Yan Gomes (OAK), INF/OF Josh Harrison (OAK), LHP Tyler Anderson (SEA), RHP Diego Castillo (SEA), INF Abraham Toro (SEA)
Key Departures: CF Myles Straw (HOU), INF Abraham Toro (HOU), LHP Jesus Luzardo (OAK), RHP Kendall Graveman (SEA), LHP Andrew Heaney (LAA), LHP Tony Watson (LAA), OF Joey Gallo (TEX), RHP Kyle Gibson (TEX), RHP Ian Kennedy (TEX)
Prior to the deadline, the AL West was a division with four contenders and an interesting last-place team. Now it's one with four contenders and a less interesting last-place team.
Sans Joey Gallo, the Texas Rangers are now without an outfielder who's both a Gold Glover and one of baseball's foremost sluggers. Kyle Gibson, meanwhile, just made his first All-Star team, and Ian Kennedy had a 2.51 ERA at the time of the trade.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Oakland Athletics put the Houston Astros on notice by adding a star (Marte) and two useful depth pieces (Gomes and Harrison). Yet the Astros did what they had to by adding to their bullpen, so it's no great wonder that they still have a 90 percent chance of winning the division.
What would have really made things interesting is if either the Seattle Mariners or Los Angeles Angels made an aggressive play. Instead, the Mariners were understandably protective of their substantial prospect capital, while the Angels wisely opted not to overestimate their practically nonexistent playoff odds.
2. National League West
Key Arrivals: 3B Kris Bryant (SFG), LHP Tony Watson (SFG), RHP Max Scherzer (LAD), SS Trea Turner (LAD), LHP Danny Duffy (KCR), 2B Adam Frazier (SDP), RHP Daniel Hudson (SDP), OF Jake Marisnick (SDP)
Key Departures: C Keibert Ruiz (LAD), RHP Josiah Gray (LAD), RHP Mychal Givens (COL), 2B/3B Eduardo Escobar (ARI), RHP Joakim Soria (ARI)
Regarding the NL West and the trade deadline, maybe the biggest shocker is that the Colorado Rockies didn't trade shortstop Trevor Story or right-handers Jon Gray and German Marquez.
But while that's not a good thing for the team's future, it is a good thing for its standing within the NL West down the stretch. The Rockies should at least be able to stay ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were the worst team in baseball even before they shipped their top slugger to Milwaukee.
As for the NL West's three superpowers, let's take a second to acknowledge that the San Diego Padres scored a darn good player when they dealt for Adam Frazier. He came to San Diego as a .324 hitter and a versatile defender.
Yet it says a lot about the big moves of the San Francisco Giants (Kris Bryant) and Los Angeles Dodgers (Max Scherzer and Trea Turner) that the Padres' chances of winning the NL West have plummeted since last week. In some order or another, they seem destined to finish atop the National League.
1. American League East
Key Arrivals: DH Nelson Cruz (TBR), OF Jordan Luplow (TBR), LF Kyle Schwarber (BOS), LHP Austin Davis (BOS), OF Joey Gallo (NYY), 1B Anthony Rizzo (NYY), LHP Andrew Heaney (NYY), RHP Jose Berrios (TOR), LHP Brad Hand (TOR), RHP Joakim Soria (TOR)
Key Departures: LHP Rich Hill (TBR), RHP Diego Castillo (TBR), RHP Luis Cessa (NYY), LHP Justin Wilson (NYY), SS Freddy Galvis (BAL)
Because it was the only division in baseball with four teams above the .500 mark, the American League East was already the envy of MLB even before the deadline.
Well, the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox are even better now after adding Nelson Cruz and Kyle Schwarber, respectively. The former is baseball's top home run hitter since 2014, while the latter recently enjoyed a historic home run binge before hurting his hamstring.
Yet neither the Rays nor the Red Sox improved as much as the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. With Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, the Yankees added the left-handed thump they sorely needed. The Blue Jays simply needed pitching, so getting two guys with five combined All-Star nods (Jose Berrios and Brad Hand) was huge.
Regardless, each of these four teams now has at least a 30 percent chance of making the playoffs. And while the Baltimore Orioles are nobody's idea of a contender, they maintained a certain relevance by refusing to make like the Cubs or Nationals. To wit, Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins and John Means are still in town.