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MLB Trade Deadline: Grading every deal

The July 31st trade deadline was full of the expected and unexpected, just as it should be. Each deal is graded with analysis for the teams involved.


Every sports fan has a pseudo holiday associated with their sport. Whether it’s the start of March Madness, the Super Bowl, NBA Free Agency, it’s always a single day. For baseball fans, it’s July 31st – that day is the non-waiver trade deadline. If you care about Major League Baseball then you look forward to the slew of deals, and the constant twitter updates that come with it. 2017 did not disappoint, so let’s not waste our precious time and analyze these things already.

Reminder: This focuses on only deals from yesterday’s deadline. Grades based on team need/value.

Diamondbacks acquire SS Adam Rosales from the Athletics for RHP Jeferson Mejia

This deal was made largely out of dire necessity. In the wake of Ketel Marte’s mother tragically passing, the DBacks, who also lost Chris Owings to the 60-Day DL with a broken finger, needed a low-risk move for an immediate hole. Rosales, who has played for the A’s in parts of five seasons, was a candidate to be designated for assignment as Chad Pinder approaches his return from a hamstring injury. The 34-year-old Rosales is hitting .234/.273/.346 in 223 plate appearances, appearing at shortstop for the majority. This decision was practically made for the Diamondbacks and timed up well for Oakland.

Mejia, who the D’Backs acquired from the Cubs in 2014 as part of the Miguel Montero deal, is a 22-year-old reliever who was recently demoted to short-season ball. Control has been an issue as he has posted a 5.90 ERA in 21 relief appearances this year.

Diamondbacks: B

Filled a team need for cheap with position flexibility.

Athletics: C

Low risk but low reward for the deal – probably a deal that will never affect the big league club.

Brewers acquired RHP Jeremy Jeffress from the Rangers for RHP Taylor Scott

Acquired as a part of the deal that sent Jonathan Lucroy to Texas in 2016, Jeffress is headed back to the NL – where he’s had the most success. Jeffress, 29, has a 5.31 ERA in 39 relief appearances for the Rangers this season in a disappointing Texas bullpen. He made his major league debut with the Brewers in 2010 before being moved to Kansas City that offseason. Jeffress also played for Toronto before Milwaukee brought him back as a free agent two years ago. Third time is the charm I suppose.

Taylor Scott, 25, is 4-6 with a 2.34 ERA in 42 appearances for Double-A Biloxi. As an older prospect, he brings some potential to a farm system deeply in need of pitching.

Brewers: C+

This one isn’t going to move the needle much as Jeffress hasn’t been the same pitcher in 2017. The hope here is that he can harness his former self in a comfortable place.

Rangers: D

Doesn’t move the needle much, especially when you consider how much was given to acquire both Lucroy and Jeffress in 2016. Not the Rangers best moment.

Orioles acquired SS/2B Tim Beckham from the Rays for RHP Tobias Myers

With JJ Hardy on the 60-Day DL and very few organizational options, the Orioles and Rays made a move that probably means nothing either way. Beckham, 27, was the first overall pick of the 2008 draft but could never quite live up to his billing. He’s a lesson that sometimes scouts just flat out whiff. He has, however, provided nearly league-average offense in a somewhat limited role with the Rays over the past three seasons, hitting a combined .245/.299/.421 with 26 homers in 783 plate appearances (96 OPS+). He’s merely a stopgap for a long-term solution in Baltimore.

Myers was a 6th round pick for the O’s in 2016. He’s currently pitching against older competition in short-season Class-A and is making the necessary strides, with a 3.94 ERA and a 35-to-6 K/BB ratio through 29 2/3 innings.

Orioles: B-

A deal for a placeholder will never make a franchise move the needle for its fan base, but there’s certainly worse than Beckham in this situation.

Rays: C

This grade reflects the failed outcome of Beckham – what a shame. The return here works though as Myers is just 19 and has potential as his age catches up to his competition.

Pirates acquired RHP Joaquin Benoit and cash considerations from the Phillies for RHP Seth McGarry

Not much to say about this one. Interesting that the Pirates sell Watson then make this move. Benoit, a 16-year veteran, has pitched in 44 games for Philly this year, posting a 4.07 ERA in 42 innings, he has also 43 batters while only walking 16. Pittsburgh will be his eighth team in a long career.

Seth McGarry had a 1.34 ERA in 31 games for Class-A Bradenton this season. He was selected in the eighth round of the 2015 draft from Florida Atlantic and has plenty of bullpen potential in the future.

Pirates: D

A deal for Benoit doesn’t make much of a difference or make much sense here really.

Phillies: B

Getting anything back for Benoit, in a down year, is worth noting. The return here is multiple years away, but McGarry can be on a 25-man roster someday.

Diamondbacks acquire RHP David Hernandez from the Angels for RHP Luis Madero

Hernandez has been excellent, 2.23 ERA with 9.2 K/9, 2.0 BB/9. He has a 47.3 percent groundball rate through 36 1/3 innings that yields some quality potential the Diamondbacks wanted/needed down the stretch. He’s been hiding on Los Angeles’ second team, and his former team took notice. He’s a free agent at season’s end and is only owed $293K the rest of the way. He will pitch some vital innings down the stretch as Arizona looks to solidify its Wild Card slot.

The 20-year-old Madero has struggled through 49 1/3 innings between Rookie ball and Class-A this season. He has been beaten around to the tune of a 5.69 ERA while working as a starter. Although, the underlying stats do favor Madero as he currently carries a 47.8 percent groundball rate and an 8.3 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 slash.

Diamondbacks: B

A bigger name could have been had, but the draw of a cheap reliever with experience and good numbers in 2017 only helps.

Angels: A-

Their franchise didn’t want to sell, but flipping an aging Hernandez coming up on Free Agency for a young arm with solid potential is a staple of franchise success.

Astros acquired LHP Francisco Liriano from the Blue Jays for OF Nori Aoki and OF Teoscar Hernandez

Liriano, who is still owed about $4.48 million this year, is on the move again. This deal seems more impactful on the surface, but I’m not sure it will have much of a presence when the season approaches the playoffs. All indications are that the Astros view Liriano’s poor season as a blip on the radar due to his maintained velocity, and effectiveness against left-handed hitters. Through 63 plate appearances this season, left-handed opponents are batting just .230/.254/.361 against Liriano. He has a 17-to-1 K/BB ratio in those matchups and has his fastball sitting at 93 mph this season. Spare him some innings of work and we may see an even more effective form of Liriano.

Aoki, 35, has batted .272/.323/.371 through 224 plate appearances this season. He hasn’t been as effective as he has needed to be to stick in Houston’s lineup consistently. He’s under club control through the 2018 campaign via arbitration, but his future is less than certain with the Blue Jays. He is probably not on the roster after this season because of his arbitration figure risk.

The 24-year-old Hernandez, ranked ninth among Houston midseason top 30 prospects, is ready for an MLB re-run. The Astros clearly deemed him expendable given their wealth of outfield talent between Josh Reddick, George Springer, and others. Hernandez is hitting .279/.369/.485 with 12 homers and 12 steals through 347 Triple-A plate appearances this year and has some quality MLB bats under his belt.

Astros: B+

Astros gave up expendable pieces for the risk of Liriano out of the pen. Granted it works, they have made a deal that can help them down the stretch. If Hernandez develops, we will point back to this deal in the coming years.

Blue Jays: A-

The return earned by Shapiro for a struggling Liriano is well done. The prize isn’t Aoki, it’s Hernandez who has the ability to turn into a quality corner outfielder for a franchise deprived of young talent.

Indians acquired RHP Joe Smith from the Blue Jays for LHP Thomas Pannone and INF Samad Taylor

This move may not have been what a starving Indians fan base wanted, but it will be effective. Smith, 33, is on an affordable $3 million contract and has effectively lowered his ERA to 3.28 and his FIP to 2.31 in 2017. Smith was enjoying a career year prior to landing on the DL. He was serving as Robert Osuna’s set-up man and will fit in nicely as a high-leverage right arm for the Indians.

Cleveland needs another strong arm for its already-elite bullpen. The Indians bullpen ranks third this year in fWAR (4.9), second in FIP (3.38), fourth in strike out rate (26.8%) and fourth in batting average against (.221). The Indians now have an effective third bullpen arm in a way Brian Shaw couldn’t quite handle. Shaw’s workload has been astronomical the last few seasons and it has begun to show. Smith will be able help in the late innings leading up Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

Toronto gets back two quality prospects from the Tribe, albeit neither are on the midseason top 30 lists. Thomas Pannone is a 23-year-old starter at AA in the midst of an excellent year, with a 1.96 ERA in 110 innings between AA and High-A. Taylor is an 18-year-old second baseman who was drafted in the 10th round last year and played in short-season A-ball this year. His numbers have been good — a 133 wRC+ in 130 PAs — but given his age and distance from the majors, it’ll be a few years before he is in a position to project with any confidence.

Indians: C+

It’s no secret the Indians had their hopes set higher than this for the deadline, as they had an eye on Zach Britton of Baltimore and Brad Hand of San Diego. The return being sought for those relievers appears to have simply been too high. Nonetheless, Indians fans will come to appreciate Smith in his return to Cleveland.

Blue Jays: B+

Although on the surface the return here may appear to be minimal, the Jays fans will take note of Pannone quickly in their system, as he has 2018 arrival possibilities. Taylor is a long term play, but his low-A ball debut has shown plenty of promise.

Dodgers acquired LHP Tony Cingrani from the Reds for OF Scott Van Slyke and C Hendrik Clementina

The Dodgers are looking for lefties in the pen, although this isn’t the name many had in mind. The 28-year-old Cingrani has posted a pedestrian 5.40 ERA on the year, but his underlying numbers are solid: posting 9.3 K/9 with 2.3 BB/9. The glaring issue on his stat line is the home run ball: Cingrani is allowing 3.47 per nine, with 29% of the fly balls he permits leaving the yard – which isn’t helped by playing in Great American Ballpark.

Although Cingrani has been poor against lefties this year, that figures to balance back out somewhat as he has limited lefty hitters to a .218/.305/.407 slash over his career (including this year’s poor results). Cingrani is affordable for the Dodgers moving forward, and he is under arbitration control for two more years.

Van Slyke, 31, has a future that is not clear if he will have a spot on the roster. This is seen as more of a filler to balance out Cingrani’s owed salary. The prize here for Cincinnati was surely to add the twenty-year-old Clementina. Hailing from Curacao, the catcher is slashing .370/.439/.554 in a small vacuum of just 108 plate appearances.

Dodgers: B+

This grade is heavily due to what little they gave up. Cingrani’s name isn’t common amongst the novice fan, but put a player of Cingrani’s talent in a winning situation and he may flourish. The talent is surely there.

Reds: D

At a deadline when I presumed the Reds would be doing much more, this is disappointing. There was a time when Cingrani was labeled as a top prospect starter in the Reds system. Cingrani isn’t a star, but he is the type of bullpen arms that winners covet, and the measly return here is just a bad look.

Dodgers Acquire LHP Tony Watson from the Pirates for RHP Angel German and INF O’Neil Cruz

The 32-year-old Watson has a 3.66 ERA, 6.8 K/9, and 2.7 BB/9 in 46 2/3 innings this season. Since being relegated from the close role – where he was a major let down, he has a 2.79 ERA, 15 strikeouts and six walks in 19 1/3 innings. That’s a marked improvement from the disaster that was happening early in the year. In a deep bullpen, Watson will be a lefty specialist as he has allowed a .294/.360/.525 line against right handed hitter this year. Watson has had some success against them in the past, but the Dodgers will limit his full innings.

Cruz, 18, was batting .240/.293/.342 with 110 strikeouts and 28 walks while playing shortstop and third base for Class-A Great Lakes. Ranked as the 17th best prospect in the Dodgers system, he is noted for having great size and a chance to have a power bat down the line.

German, 21, shows solid promise as a relief pitcher. He has had a 1.91 ERA, 10.1 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 2017. With a fastball in the mid-90’s, it makes sense for the Pirates to buy low on a project like this.

Dodgers: B+

Same grade as the Cingrani deal. The Dodgers know they need left-handed bullpen help and this deal makes sense for them. Quality left handed relievers on your 25-man post season roster are always valuable. Watson’s overall value probably comes if he can get some righties out as well.

Pirates: C-

This deal was a bit surprising for the Pirates who have had a nice July and sit just 5.5 games out of the NL Central. It sends a message to the franchise, clearly, but getting back a top 20 prospect helps.

Nationals acquired RHP Brandon Kintzler from the Twins for LHP Tyler Watson and international pool money

Brandon Kintzler joins newly acquired Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, both obtained July 16 from the Oakland Athletics, in the back of the bullpen. He is in the midst of a career year and brings a 2.78 ERA and 1.15 WHIP to the Nationals’ needy bullpen. The deals transformed the Nationals’ biggest weakness into a perceived strength, and can only help the Nationals expand their NL East lead. The Nationals began the week with a 13-game lead despite a 5.07 bullpen ERA, worst in the NL.

The Nationals acquired Kintzler for 20-year-old left-handed pitching prospect Tyler Watson and $500,000 in international bonus pool allocation. Watson has a 4.43 ERA in 14 relief appearances in Single-A this season.

Nationals: A

This is a low-risk deal that brings some solid trust to the back end of a battered bullpen. This move couldn’t have been done better, or more timely, by the Nationals.

Twins: D+

A weird shift for the franchise that looked like it wanted to buy for a playoff push just two weeks prior. Evidenced by the Jaime Garcia trade to the Yankees, the Twins thought better of their knee-jerk buyers approach, and quickly sold what they could. They just didn’t get much here.

Red Sox acquire RHP Addison Reed from the Mets for RHP Jamie Callahan, RHP Gerson Bautsita, and RHP Stephen Nogosek

Boston adds the top rental reliever on this year’s market. Due to the disastrous performances of Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith, Reed, who is earning $7.75 million before hitting free agency, will become the Sox’ setup man for closer Craig Kimbrel.

Reed came to New York in 2015, but that one took place at the end of August. He became a pleasant surprise that blossomed into quite a bit more for the Mets, who tendered him contracts for the ensuing two campaigns. The 28-year-old posted 142 innings of 2.09 ERA ball, backed by 9.9 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9. Though he hasn’t run up quite as many strikeouts this year as last, Reed is actually generating swinging strikes at a better clip (12.6%). He’s slid well into the closer role with the suspension of Jeurys Familia, but his value clearly won’t be in that role in Boston.

In exchange for one of the top relievers in the Majors, the Mets got right handers Jamie Callahan, Gerson Bautista and Stephen Nogosek. All three ranked among Boston’s top 30 prospects, according to MLB.com.

Trading for prospects was not something the Mets anticipated when they began the season with high expectations. The deal came during a critical period as Sandy Alderson attempts to get the franchise back into contention next year after a season mired in unmet expectations. The expectations here are that the Mets can rebuild on the fly, and keep the fans coming out for a contender as the cross-town Yankees seem to be established for years to come.

Red Sox: A-

The Red Sox did well here to address a serious need without selling more than they could afford. Reed will be a steady presence in a bullpen in desperate need.

Mets: B-

Tough to feel like much is going positive for the Mets in 2017. This deal helps get a group of young arms in a system that could use them, but between this and the Lucas Duda deal, it feels like the Mets are working toward a tear down in the coming years. Hopefully the AJ Ramos deal indicates otherwise.

Yankees acquire Sonny Gray from the Athletics for OF Dustin Fowler, IF Jorge Mateo and RHP James Kaprielian

I made note of this potential trade in my column on Sonny Gray’s suitors last week. The package was off by a couple pieces, but the big names here – Fowler and Mateo – were the key pieces I could sense. Gray, 27, excelled from 2013-15, posting a 2.88 ERA over 491 innings. 2016, however, was a lost year for Gray as he endured multiple DL stints. Gray is back to his usual numbers in 2017 with a 3.43 ERA in 16 starts, as well as his best strikeout rate since his rookie year. Gray, being the biggest prize of the 2017 trade class, is under club control through 2021, and is a piece the Yankees needed to solidify their rotation.

This risk here comes from both sides, and the theme to the risk is injury. Gray’s worst season is directly tied to injury, and the same can be said of the return from the Yankees. Fowler, 22, suffered an open rupture in his right patella tendon during his debut that resulted in season-ending surgery. Fowler is ranked as the Yankees 4th best prospect, and will likely make his first MLB plate appearance in 2018 as a member of the Athletics.

Mateo, 22, is the second best Yankee infield prospect behind Gleybar Torres. Splitting time between center field and shortstop, Mateo uses his 80-grade speed to maximize his athleticism on the field. Promoted to Double-A within the last month, Mateo has performed well with a .300/.381/.525 line in 140 plate appearances.

Kaprielian, 23, was drafted 16th overall out of UCLA by the Yankees in 2015.  He suffered a flexor tendon strain last summer that eventually led to Tommy John surgery in April of this year. Viewed as one of the prize pitching prospects in the Yankees system, the success of Kaprielian’s recovery will probably be the key to this trade’s success from Oakland’s end.

Yankees: A

Yes, plenty was given up to accomplish this Gray deal, but at the end of the day prospects aren’t guaranteed, and the positions given up were those that show blocked paths to the Majors in the coming years. Arms like Gray’s, mixed with club financial control, don’t happen often. Well done Brian Cashman.

Athletics: A

The haul here feels fitting on every level. They know 2017 is probably a lost cause, even with better play of late. These three prospects give the A’s potential impact players arriving over the next 3 years, just when Billy Beane and Co. need them most.

Dodgers acquired RHP Yu Darvish from the Rangers for 2B/OF Willie Calhoun, RHP A.J. Alexy and IF Brendon Davis

In the deadline’s last minute surprise move, the market’s top rental starter makes the move out west. The rich continue to get richer. Darvish, 30, has only managed a 4.01 ERA on the year — he’s still rolling with 9.7 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. He has, more importantly, provided 137 innings over 22 starts — putting him on pace to approach or top 200 innings for the first time since 2013. His health has always been the biggest and most crucial issue.

Darvish has been hurt by the fly ball this year. He has allowed 1.31 homers per nine on a 15.0% HR/FB rate. But he’s still managing a typical 11.9% swinging-strike rate, working in the zone more than ever. Something is slightly off with Darvish, and it may be as simple as tipping his pitches, as was reported last week. The Dodgers are getting a true ace here, and a lovely second starter after Kershaw in the coming playoffs.

Willie Calhoun is the highest-rated prospect in this deal. The 22-year-old is a left-handed hitter who shows big promise at the plate as a power hitter. He has posted an outstanding .298/.357/.574 batting line — with 23 home runs and just 49 strikeouts against 36 walks — over his first 414 plate appearances at Triple-A. Although it is unclear where his position ends up, the best guess is in the outfield. He may well end up being a DH, but if the bat is this good he will find a way, somewhere.

The other two prospects moved here are nothing to scoff at. Alexy is a 19-year-old right handed pitcher who was taken in the 11th round of the 2016 draft. He has advanced to the Class A level, where he has a 3.67 ERA with 10.5 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 through 73 2/3 innings. Plenty of room for growth left, his upside is high and the Rangers like his delivery.

Davis, 20, was a fifth-round selection in 2015. Seen as a raw and athletic talent, Davis has a lot of developing to do. He recently earned a promotion to High-A after slashing .245/.357/.403 with eight long balls — with 107 strikeouts but also 47 walks — through 367 plate appearances at Class A Great Lakes.

Dodgers: A

I’m of the belief that when you have the chance to make something special happen, you do it – no matter the cost. This is especially true when you have both a deep farm system and pockets. With Kershaw’s back injury, the Dodgers refuse to let starting pitching be the blamed reason for the near 30-year World Series drought to continue. This move will pay off in the end.

Rangers: A+

This kind of return for a rental starter is why the compensation can never quite match the right deadline deal. Getting these three prospects back, especially Calhoun, will always be better than a selection after the 2nd round of the draft had Darvish walked away at season’. Barring more trades from the active Rangers, expect all three of these young players to play for the Rangers in the coming years.

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Jake Burns

Columbus, Ohio native who is passionate about Cleveland sports and the game of baseball. Muskingum University Graduate in 2011 with a degree in English/Journalism.

MLB Trade Deadline: Grading every deal

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