The MLB trade deadline is one of the most anticipated off-the-field “events” each season. When you come within a week of the July 31st non-waiver cutoff, that’s when the fantastical deals and stunning swaps begin to evolve, potentially altering the landscape in the pennant races and World Series quests.
Case in point, the Chicago Cubs acquired lights out fireballer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees on Monday. While the Cubs were already one of the favorites to win it all, GM Theo Epstein smells blood. He doesn’t want to risk the continuation of Chicago’s 107-year title drought on shaky relief pitching.
Instead, Wrigley’s front office is going for the jugular with the often unhittable Chapman. They’re paying a price, despite no guarantee of Chapman’s services beyond 2016. In return, the Yankees get 4 players, including MLB’s top shortstop prospect, Gleyber Torres.
This is the type of “all-in” deal that most people like to see. Risk a bit of the future on increasing your odds of winning now (and maybe next season). The deadline becomes such an exciting and satisfying time when clubs search out true game changers for the stretch run and the playoffs.
That’s where this list of 5 potential trades comes into play. You’ll see a bevy of smaller deals that solidify back ends of the rotation, middle relief, and bench bats. Those are necessary to win championships too, but they don’t grab you like the acquisition of a former Cy Young candidate or a perennial All-Star.
These are the types of trades that get you excited. They aren’t likely to happen, but it would sure be fun…
San Francisco Giants Acquire Closer Wade Davis from the Kansas City Royals
To the surprise of some, the Giants are leading the NL West by 2.5 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Santiago Casilla, San Fran’s current closer, just turned 35 years old and isn’t the type of hammer you’re looking to swing at the end of a playoff team’s bullpen.
Since 2014, Davis is 18-3 with a 0.99 ERA, 0.849 WHIP, and a 3.96 K/BB ratio. In 172 innings over that span, the 2-time All-Star has allowed just 3 HR (Casilla has 4 allowed this year) while striking out 218. Over the past 2 years, Davis has given up only 1 earned run in 25 postseason innings to go with 38 punch outs.
Casilla has blown 5 saves this season already, allowing at least one base runner in 20 of his last 26 outings. Bringing in a proven shutdown arm for intense, pressure-packed 9th innings in September and October is a huge edge. Davis has been through it all and flourished.
It also will help the Giants bullpen overall, as it has been rather unsteady as a whole. Bumping Casilla back into high leverage situations in the 7th and 8th innings will be a boost, giving San Fran a chance to pick its spots when to use the rest of the relievers situationally.
The Royals actually have a club option on Davis for 2017 at $10 million ($2.5 million buyout), so Kansas City and San Francisco would need to figure out exactly what he’s worth for the year-plus. The Giants could work out an extension if they’re so inclined. On the flip side, the Royals could decide to just roll with Davis for now and look at their options again down the road.
Los Angeles Dodgers Acquire Outfielder Ryan Braun from the Milwaukee Brewers
While their longtime rival wants to add relief arms, the Dodgers outfield needs an elite stick to help out the club’s offense. Some might wonder why they wouldn’t nab a high-end starting pitcher with Clayton Kershaw out, but their hurlers have been fine overall, sitting 1st in the NL in WHIP (1.114) and 4th in ERA (3.51).
On the other hand, Los Angeles ranks 19th in runs per game in baseball, and the outfield collectively is 26th in weighted on-base average (wOBA), a great catch-all statistic to measure offense.
Yasiel Puig is banged up again (and maybe on the trade block), Andre Ethier isn’t close to coming back from an injury, and the Dodgers have been rumored to be looking at some big names in a deal – like they often are. Braun, a California kid, feels like the perfect type of splash that would help L.A. push toward the top of the division.
Braun, a 6-time All-Star, enters Tuesday hitting .323 with a .382 OBP, .520 SLG and a .902 OPS. He is currently 22nd in wOBA (better than any Dodger) and 24th in weighted runs created plus (wRC+), where only Corey Seager tops him by a few spots in the rankings.
Factor in Braun’s career numbers at Dodger Stadium, and L.A. fans would start to salivate: .346 AVG, .419 OBP, .644 SLG, 1.063 OPS, 9 HR, 28 runs and 33 RBI in just 26 games in southern California. Plus, Braun is under contract through 2020 with a $4 million buyout on a mutual option in 2021.
Considering his production, Braun’s contract isn’t restrictive going forward, particularly for the loaded Dodgers. There is certainly enough talent in L.A.’s farm system to offer to Milwaukee, fitting the needs of both clubs that have extremely different strategies right now.
Boston Red Sox Acquire Starting Pitcher Sonny Gray from the Oakland A’s
The Red Sox are destroying the baseball, but trail the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East by 2.5 games. Boston leads MLB in most offensive categories, including runs/game, AVG, SLG, OBP, OPS+, doubles and wOBA. Holding them back is a pitching staff that is 19th in ERA and league average at best in other areas.
The rotation owns a 4.64 ERA (21st in MLB) and have had 10 different hurlers start a game this season, with 6 of them sporting an ERA over 6.00 in sporadic innings. Boston snagged Drew Pomeranz from the San Diego Padres to help, but in his first 2 starts he allowed 7 runs in 9 frames, including a 3-inning stint in his debut.
Gray hasn’t been himself this season, sporting a 5.49 ERA while allowing more than 10 hits and 3 walks per 9 innings. In his first three years, Gray went 33-20 with a 2.88 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. Last season he finished 3rd in AL Cy Young voting thanks to a 2.73 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and a pair of complete game shutouts.
In making this deal, the Red Sox are banking on Gray’s 2016 campaign thus far being a slight bump in the road. They’d probably believe a move to a contending team with a passionate fan base would also help his mental psyche. Additionally, Gray is under team control through 2020, so he would be seen as a building block as well.
If Beane doesn’t see Gray going back to his earlier form, the deal makes sense now. But, he could be getting rid of a Cy Young candidate for 75 cents on the dollar if Gray bounces back later this year (or next), meaning he missed out on a bigger haul. Both teams would be risking assets, but the Sox are in a position to do just that.
Texas Rangers Acquire First Baseman Wil Myers from the San Diego Padres
Myers has had a terrific season, named to his first All-Star team thanks to 20 HR, 63 RBI, 65 runs and an .837 OPS through 97 games. Playing almost exclusively at first base this season has helped him stay healthy and cash in on his offensive potential.
While the Rangers lead the AL West by 3.5 games, most people can’t figure out how they’re doing it. First base and DH haven’t been as productive as one would like to see. Mitch Moreland, the main man at first, ranks 23rd in wOBA (minimum 300 PA) with a .229 AVG and a .297 OBP.
Prince Fielder, who is now out indefinitely with an injury, handled a majority of the DH duties. He was dead last at his position in AVG (.212), SLG (.334) and wOBA (.276). Fielder has missed a ton of games since joining Texas, and he’s still owed $24 million per season through 2020.
Acquiring Myers gives the Rangers a high-impact bat to play either spot, creates added flexibility based on starting pitching or circumstance, and it gives them protection over the next 4 seasons. Aside from Fielder’s injuries, Moreland is a free agent at the end of the year, so he may me moving on in 2017.
With Myers not able to be a free agent until 202o, some might wonder why the Padres would move him now. First, Myers’ value may never be higher, and you run the risk of him getting hurt again or struggling to the point people think this year is a fluke. After all, he had just 27 HR in his previous 235 games.
Secondly, the Padres aren’t close to competing right now. They’d be best served continuing to recoup top prospects in order to build for the future, something that was set back a couple years by their transactions 2 winters ago when they gave up plenty of young talent in trading for guys like Myers, Matt Kemp and Craig Kimbrel.
Houston Astros Acquire Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez from the Colorado Rockies
After a mind-boggling rough start, Houston took off and now trail the Rangers by just 3.5 games. While the pitching has been strong (3.73 ERA – 2nd in AL), the offense has been about league average. Outside of George Springer (22 HR, .871 OPS), the outfield has been a huge disappointment, ranked 25th in MLB OPS and wOBA.
Bringing Gonzalez over instantly gives their bats a boost. Among all outfielders, Gonzalez is 5th in wRC (70), 9th in OPS (.919) and 9th in wOBA (.388). His 20 HR, 65 runs and 60 RBI would provide a much-needed bat in the lineup, and it pushes Colby Rasmus to the 4th outfielder role, where he can be a power lefty off the bench.
While there are always concerns about how Rockies hitters will fare outside of their 81 games at Coors Field, Gonzalez has been solid overall on the road. Last season he hit 16 HR and posted a .758 OPS as a visitor. Plus, Minute Maid Park is also hitter friendly, so he’s got that going for him
Gonzalez, who was named to his 3rd All-Star team this year, is under contract through next season, so he wouldn’t be just a rental for this year. The Astros could hang onto him for a 2017 run, try to extend him at some point, or even trade him elsewhere at next year’s deadline.
For the Rockies, it’s really time for them to start dealing away all their assets aside from Nolan Arenado, Jon Gray and Trevor Story. They’ve been stuck in the trap of being not horrible enough to tear it all down, but not good enough to ever contend. Moving Gonzalez would help put them on the fast track to relevancy once again.