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MLB trade deadline winners and losers: Dodgers go for it all, Cubs make a hard decision

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For two days, Major League Baseball turned into a frenzied superstar swap meet. 

A record 10 All-Stars from earlier this month are on new teams all of a sudden, reflecting a wide open state of play that enticed a few teams to load up for high-stakes pennant races and two other recent champions to break the glass and slam the self-destruct button.

When the dust settled, it was the wildest trade deadline in recent memory. Here’s who came out ahead, and who didn’t.

Winners: Los Angeles Dodgers

Everyone expected the defending champs to be the best team in baseball. They haven’t been that so far, record-wise, as they trail the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. They were still an absolute force to be reckoned with, favored to win it all.

Then they added Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, the best pitcher and best position player who moved at the trade deadline. In the process, they fended off the San Diego Padres from snagging Scherzer.

With a system as deep as the Dodgers, trading pitcher Josiah Gray and backstop Keibert Ruiz to the Washington Nationals felt imminently reasonable for Scherzer and a year-and-a-half of Turner. When, a day later, the Toronto Blue Jays gave up a comparable prospect package for good-but-not-great Twins starter Jose Berrios, it hit home just how sweet a deal this was for general manager Andrew Friedman and company.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 28: Will Smith #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers races into third base with a two-run RBI triple against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the third inning at Oracle Park on July 28, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Dodgers catcher Will Smith will try to help a stacked team catch the San Francisco Giants. His presence allowed the team to part with a prospect who brought back Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Losers: Stressed out Mets, Phillies and Braves fans

The division that refuses to make anything easy continued apace. 

Atop the NL East, the New York Mets added the biggest name in Javier Baez. But on the same day they found out Jacob deGrom suffered a setback and won’t be back until September, they did little to substantively improve their pitching. Baez is exciting, and his eventual pairing with Francisco Lindor will be enjoyable, but it’s not clear he’s a difference-making hitter at the moment.

Down in Philadelphia, the second-place Phillies traded their best pitching prospect for a fine reliever and the starting pitcher no one is really sure will help.

The hobbled Atlanta Braves did the most at the deadline, but it consisted largely of turning gaping holes into competence. That is significant, if not thrilling.

The result will likely be a frustrating nail-biter of a race that earns the winners the right to stare down Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer in the playoffs. Good luck.

Winners: Cubs fans born tomorrow

Look, this was a day of pain for Chicago Cubs fans who watched the three players most identified with their drought-ending 2016 World Series title get unceremoniously shipped out to contenders in a 24-hour span.

It was coming for a while. When Theo Epstein resigned over the offseason, a new era was clearly in the offing. It remains shocking, however, that not a single one of the Anthony Rizzo-Kris Bryant-Javier Baez triumvirate was spared or at least kept around in hopes of reaching a long-term deal. Cubs fans who savored 2016 and believed it would be the start of a long-lasting run may never get over the disappointment of the reality that ensued.

However, it’s also clear that Cubs fans who can compartmentalize, or who are picking up the team from a post-Billy Goat point of view may come to appreciate the day new president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer ripped off the Band-Aid.

The talent they extracted for in-demand players like Craig Kimbrel could quickly bring a new era of joy to Wrigley Field. Nick Madrigal, who is out for the year with a hamstring injury, will immediately be an exciting talent at second base in 2022. Outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, who came over from the Mets in the Baez deal, is a player worth dreaming on.

It won’t be pretty for the rest of the season, but by setting sentimentality aside once they set the course, the Cubs likely made the future far, far brighter.

Washington Nationals' Juan Soto looks on during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
It's unclear what supporting cast Juan Soto can expect with the Nationals next year. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Losers: Washington Nationals

They will not be stressed out at least. Nationals fans suddenly have very little to watch except Juan Soto highlights.

Their dramatic teardown also netted intriguing talents — two of whom will likely debut with the team soon — but it felt far less thought out than the Cubs’ decision. Trading Scherzer became an obvious step given the team’s place in the standings. The call to toss in Trea Turner — who could help the team compete in 2022 — does not seem warranted based on the prospects who came back, and winds up feeling unnecessarily bleak.

A team that has one of the four or five crown jewels of the sport in Soto should not be kneecapping whole seasons because a tough extension decision might loom. Even when they recently won a World Series.

Winners: New York Yankees

You can’t say GM Brian Cashman didn’t go for it. A team that seemed to be sleepwalking toward disappointment got a huge infusion of talent and personality with Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo.

The AL wild-card race is going to be a barnburner, and the Yankees put themselves in a hole, but they have a great chance at bashing their way into October.

Losers: San Diego Padres

For a little while Thursday, it appeared A.J. Preller and the Padres were going to be the darlings of aggressive dealing once again. Then the Dodgers stole their thunder and Max Scherzer all at once. On Friday, the San Francisco Giants took the big swing and brought in former NL MVP Kris Bryant as the first explicit acknowledgment that yes, they think they can do this.

Stuck in third place, it’s difficult to envision the Padres avoiding the wild-card game. Now they have to hope they can escape it and get a proper showdown with the big, bad Dodgers.

Losers: Colorado Rockies

Shortstop Trevor Story is still on this dismal Colorado team for the last two months before he hits free agency, and he summed it up well to the Denver Post: “I’m confused and I don’t have really anything good to say about the situation and how it unfolded.”

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