Quality arms in demand
As usual, there was some high drama as baseball’s trade deadline approached on Monday. Here’s a look at some storylines that stole the headlines. Yankees rebuild their farm system The Yankees started 2016 with three players on MLBPipeline.com’s top-100 prospects list. It ended July with seven, thanks to some shrewd deals by general manager Brian Cashman.
The first big deal came when the Yankees dealt closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for 19-year-old shortstop Gleyber Torres (No. 26 overall). That trade also included outfielder Billy McKinney, a former top-100 prospect whom MLBPipeline now ranks as New York’s 15th-best prospect. The Yankees may have landed a bigger haul for Andrew Miller. Trading their ace left-handed reliever to the Indians netted outfielder Clint Frazier (No. 24), the first high school position player picked in the 2013 draft, and 20-year-old lefty starter Justus Sheffield (No. 95).
New York also acquired pitcher Dillon Tate from Texas when it traded Carlos Beltran. Tate, the Rangers’ fifth-best prospect, was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Add to that middle infielder Jorge Mateo (No. 27), outfielder Aaron Judge (No. 32), catcher Gary Sanchez (No. 39) and outfielder Blake Rutherford (No. 64), and the Yankees may now have the best collection of top-end prospects in the game. Arms can be expensive As usual, teams were desperately trying to acquire pitching. Starting pitchers who changed teams included Wade Miley (Seattle to Baltimore), Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea (San Diego to Miami; the Padres received starter Jarred Cosart in return), Lucas Harrell (Atlanta to Texas), Drew Pomeranz (San Diego to Boston) and Rich Hill (Oakland to the Dodgers). At the end of June, Atlanta also traded starter Bud Norris to the Dodgers, and weeks before that, the Padres sent James Shields to the White Sox.
Teams selling off were hesitant to move starting aces in July. Of those traded, only Pomeranz (this year) and Shields (2011) have ever been selected to an All-Star Game, and Shields, who is 34 and has a 5.17 ERA since the Sox got him, isn’t what he once was.
On the other hand, teams weren’t as shy about moving their better bullpen arms. Chapman was one of the game’s most highly sought closers, and Miller, a lefty, may have been the game’s most coveted set-up man. Pittsburgh traded Mark Melancon to Washington. Since 2014, Melancon has converted 114 of 123 save chances, with a 1.95 ERA and 171 strikeouts in that span. The Brewers also dealt their top two relievers, closer Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith, to Texas and San Francisco, respectively. The Smith trade netted a nice haul in lefty Phil Bickford (No. 65).
Some of these trades illustrate the wide spectrum of the perceived value of closers and late-inning relievers.
The Pirates, just four games out in the Wild Card standings at July’s end, didn’t get anything close to what the Yankees got in return. They added 24-year-old Felipe Rivero, who has a 3.64 career ERA in 99 MLB innings but is regarded as a talent that Pittsburgh can develop, and Taylor Hearn (No. 28 in Pirates’ system), a 21-year-old Single-A starter-turned-reliever who’s hit 99 on the radar gun.
It may also be telling that the Pirates feel they can replace Melancon with Tony Watson. He has just five career saves but has been excellent across his career — a 2.64 ERA in 363 MLB innings.
Meanwhile, the discrepancy between what the Reds netted for Chapman in December and what the Yankees got for him two weeks ago is staggering. Chapman’s winter value was at an all-time low because of an impending suspension for domestic abuse. Still, the Reds’ return in that deal was only reliever Caleb Cotham (a 7.40 ERA this year before a season-ending injury) and prospects Rookie Davis, Tony Renda and Eric Jagielo. None is a top-100 prospect, though Davis (No. 8) and Jagielo (No. 24) are among the Reds’ top-30 prospects.
Yes, Chapman, with a fastball that has touched 105, is a sexy addition that unquestionably makes the Cubs’ bullpen better. But how much can he improve Chicago in the closer’s role over Hector Rondon? If Chapman has a hand in the Cubs winning a World Series, the team’s fans won’t care. But if that doesn’t happen, and Chapman walks in free agency after this year, the team will always wonder if it gave up too much for a two- or three-month rental. A softer market for position players The market for position players was soft through July, but exploded on the Aug. 1 deadline date.
The biggest names to be moved through July’s end were Melvin Upton (San Diego to Toronto) and Matt Kemp (San Diego to Atlanta). No highlevel prospects were exchanged — Toronto dealt Hansel Rodriguez, now the Padres’ 20th-rated prospect — and Atlanta’s deal offered the Braves a chance to rid themselves of Hector Olivera, who was also suspended for domestic violence.
On Aug. 1, the Mets, who saw Yoenis Cespedes sidelined with a right quad strain, acquired Jay Bruce from the Reds. Bruce, 29, has been a regular in Cincinnati since 2008. The key piece coming back was Dilson Herrera, the 22-year-old second baseman who’s been up and down from the Majors, and was formerly regarded as a top prospect.
Beltran’s trade to Texas helps the Rangers compensate for the perpetually injured Shin-Soo Choo in right. Beltran (.304/.344/.546) has a 1.045 OPS vs. right-handers.
Perhaps the biggest deal came less than an hour before the deadline, when Texas acquired catcher Jonathan Lucroy, the top catcher on the market, in the Jeffress deal. Texas traded its No. 2 and 3 prospects in center fielder Lewis Brinson (21) and right-hander Luis Ortiz (63).
The Cubs are hoping hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman will play a pivotal role in the postseason.