Trade deadline winners and losers: The Price of doing business

Jeff PassanMLB columnist

The craziest trade deadline day ever saw 12 deals, 37 players exchanged, two draft picks flipped, the reigning World Series champions completely overhaul their roster, the Red Sox and Yankees agree on a deal, the Tigers and A’s try to one-up each other, a fake Twitter account actually nailing the biggest trade of the day hours before its real-life version broke the news and the introduction of a mysterious man named Ralph.

Everyone who followed along with the chaos was a winner. As for the teams that did and didn’t do the dealing Thursday, here are the winners, losers and a special category for one particular team.

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Detroit Tigers: Not only does Dave Dombrowski have the finest head of hair in any room he frequents, he may well have the largest set of stones, too. To swoop in among the rest of the teams with larger troves of assets than his and steal David Price out from under them was classic Dombrowski. As Tigers general manager, he now has traded for Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Price, among others. He saw what happened earlier in the day, knew he needed to get aggressive, gave up a low-cost starter, his starting center fielder and a high-end prospect, and got the best pitcher on the market. That’s why he’s one of the very best at what he does.

Oakland A’s: And you thought they were done with Jeff Samardzija. Like Dombrowski, A’s GM Billy Beane cares not about prospect rankings, about five-year plans, about little more than what’s happening between now and the end of October. So to go out and get Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes, at the cost of Yoenis Cespedes and a draft pick, was an absolute masterstroke, an all-in gamble that is so very worth it. These A’s can win the World Series. This was Beane’s attempt to change one word in that sentence: from “can” to “will.”

Acquiring Jon Lester makes the A's even scarier. (Getty)
Acquiring Jon Lester makes the A's even scarier. (Getty)

Jon Lester: From the 2014 Red Sox season to Oakland Coliseum, Lester goes from one of baseball’s worst festering dumps to its absolute finest. The A’s are the place to be, and a tremendous place for the free agent-to-be to ply his trade for perhaps three months before teams stumble all over themselves to pay him $150 million. Great defense. Humongous field. Excellent chance at a third ring. He couldn’t ask for much more.

Boston Red Sox: So, this is how you overhaul a team in one day. Give GM Ben Cherington and his lieutenants this much: they got creative Thursday. First was acquiring Cespedes, whom they’ve got for next season before he hits free agency, and then flipping John Lackey and his league-minimum deal for 2015 to St. Louis for a pair of players the Cardinals were down on, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. They got a pitching prospect in Eduardo Rodriguez from Baltimore for Andrew Miller and finished the day by sending Stephen Drew to the Bronx in a salary dump. And they’re not done, not by a long shot, not with all their young arms and surplus of usable bats. Winter is coming. It won’t be quiet.

New York Yankees: This is not the sort of team worth giving up top prospects, and the Yankees avoided doing that while improving enough to give them a shot at the second wild card – or, if Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow turns out to be OK on Monday, an AL East that didn’t see much improvement. The Yankees’ was incremental, with Martin Prado providing outfield help and third-base insurance for A-Rod, and Stephen Drew fortifying second base. They sent Peter O’Brien and his massive power to Arizona, which is a nice chip but an ill fit, since he’s not a catcher and Paul Goldschmidt won’t give up first base anytime soon.

Atlanta Braves: They didn’t have much money to spend and didn’t want to give up a Jose Peraza or Lucas Sims, so Atlanta worked in the margins, like it does so well, fetching Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell from the Cubs. The Braves desperately have needed a lefty reliever, with rookie Chasen Shreve their only option there, and Bonifacio is the sort of super-utility/pinch runner every contender could use.

Washington Nationals: Asdrubal Cabrera isn’t the player he used to be, but he’s a better option at second base than Danny Espinosa, and the price of soon-to-be-25-year-old infielder Zach Walters wasn’t terribly prohibitive. Ryan Zimmerman’s torn hamstring could keep him out for the rest of the regular season, meaning the Nationals needed to make a move, and this was the right kind.

Houston Astros: Perhaps Jarred Cosart turns into the sort of groundballer who can live with middling control and negligible command, in which case the read on this deal is wrong. Until then, though, procuring prospect Colin Moran and outfielder Jake Marisnick is a big bet on upside for a team that needs some good news considering its recent travails.

Ralph: Forget the Tigers and A’s. Ralph was the true winner of the deadline.


Drew Smyly was part of the package the Rays received for David Price. But was it enough? (AP Photo)
Drew Smyly was part of the package the Rays received for David Price. But was it enough? (AP Photo)

Tampa Bay Rays: They get their own category because it’s unfair to judge them now when their return for David Price – starter Drew Smyly, infielder Nick Franklin and prospect Willy Adames – is so dependent on the future. Just as was the case with the James Shields deal, the Rays mortgaged today for tomorrow, a business model they’ve practically perfected through the years. And while past performance does not buy them praise, it does buy them the benefit of the doubt, especially with Smyly a potential mid-rotation starter, Franklin a power-hitting middle infielder and Adames a wild card that could hit. Executives are criticizing the return, as they’re wont to do, and Tampa Bay’s ultimate fortunes – not a year or two down the road but five – more than anything will prove whether they got enough for a legitimate ace with another year of control.


Los Angeles Dodgers: These are the Dodgers, the money kings, the talent titans, the group that has done a remarkable job of developing talent around all the cash. So for the Dodgers – the best team in the National League – to hold on dearly to their prospects while other elites around the game went for it this season ran against what should be their mindset: win every year. This would not be mortgaging the future, not with a future bathed in money and by still hanging on two out of Joc Pederson, Julio Urias and Corey Seager. The Dodgers of Kershaw-Greinke-Price/Lester-Ryu would have been the sort of monster this team should endeavor to be annually.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Dodgers, minus the money. Pittsburgh’s player-development system is a machine. At some point, it comes time to cash that in for a run, and considering the NL Central remains up for grabs, the Pirates were the anti-A’s and anti-Tigers, missing an opportunity that was theirs.

Philadelphia Phillies: Speaking of missed opportunities, the entire Ruben Amaro era has turned into one. As Cleveland showed in getting rid of Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera, here is what you do with impending free agents: trade them. And when you have players of value, and your team is in last place in great need of a talent infusion, here is what you do likewise: trade them. Today, the Phillies still have Marlon Byrd and Kyle Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins and Antonio Bastardo, all of whom fall into the previous categories, not to mention Cole Hamels, one of baseball’s best pitchers. To blame other GMs for not wanting to give up more was the very definition of cluelessness from Amaro, whose poor read on value is evident by the disastrous contracts handed out under his watch and the mess of a team he fields on a daily basis.

Was the John Lackey trade too shortsighted for the Cardinals? (AP Photo)
Was the John Lackey trade too shortsighted for the Cardinals? (AP Photo)

St. Louis Cardinals “Crazy,” one Cardinals player said at the trade that brought in Lackey. Not the deal itself so much as the timing; that’s what happens when a team unloads two players thought to be future assets in the midst of a crack at the pennant. It’s a bold move by GM John Mozeliak, certainly, though one focused squarely on the short-term without a massive amount of upside. Yes, Lackey at $500,000 next year – thanks to a clause in his contract that gives him a minimum salary due to his Tommy John surgery – is the single best bargain in all of baseball. They’re trading Craig at his nadir, though, and even if it opens up a slot for Oscar Taveras, it’s atypical of the Cardinals. And Kelly, at his best, is a similarly effective pitcher to Lackey, and with plenty of control left.

Baltimore Orioles: Already the Orioles have left-handers Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland in their bullpen. Certainly Andrew Miller has been great, but to give up potential starter Eduardo Rodriguez to a division rival for maybe 20 innings from a reliever doesn’t exactly reek of a value buy. Baltimore could’ve used some catching help, too, though perhaps they’ll find that during August in a non-waiver deal.

Toronto Blue Jays: Every AL contender aside from the Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels made deals, and the Angels are a far better team than Toronto. So goes life with payroll restrictions, though to be fair, the Blue Jays’ roster of nearly $140 million includes some stinkers ($15 million-plus in dead money to Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero), so to blame ownership and not at least cast some aspersions on a front office that didn’t get depth to help with injury issues wouldn’t be fair.

Seattle Mariners: Leave it up to the Mariners to be in a trade for David Price and not get him. They’d long targeted him, and instead of landing Price, Seattle settled on a pair of outfielders. Austin Jackson’s OPS+ this season is 99. Chris Denorfia’s is 78. That’s not an upgrade. That’s settling for mediocrity.

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