The 2023 Major League Baseball season has entered August and you know what that means. Well, many things, but in this space I’m referencing the coming and going of the MLB trade deadline. It was moved to Aug. 1 from the traditional July 31 this time around — commissioner Rob Manfred can now place it anywhere from July 28-Aug. 3 — but it was still done in time for any August games.
I’m now tasked with picking winners and losers from this trade deadline. Easy and obvious caveats apply, as always, such as the unpredictability of baseball and the subjectivity of one person assigning winners and losers, but we’re all smart enough to know those in advance, right?
Winners: Astros and Justin Verlander
Heading into the spring, I had the defending champion Houston Astros ranked No. 1 in MLB power rankings despite having lost Justin Verlander to free agency. The rotation they planned to have without him, however, has fallen apart due to injury. Both Lance McCullers Jr. (flexor tendon/bone spur surgery) and Luis García (Tommy John surgery) are done for the season while José Urquidy has been dealing with shoulder woes. Plus, Framber Valdez is currently struggling and Cristian Javier hasn’t broken through like many believed he would.
Despite the struggles with the rotation health and in several key areas on offense, the Astros entered Monday at 60-47 and only a half-game out of first place.
Meantime, Verlander leaves whatever was going on with the Mets this season and we know he’s comfortable in Houston. We know the city of Houston is plenty comfortable with him, too. The start of the reunion will be fun.
More importantly, the Astros now have every piece they need to repeat as champs. They just need several players to play better and a morale boost never hurt matters in that department.
The state of baseball in the state of Texas is top notch. The Rangers hit the deadline leading the AL West by a half-game and also having grabbed some upgrades to their rotation. Lefty Jordan Montgomery is a very solid mid-rotation guy while Max Scherzer might just have a little left in the proverbial tank here after a scenery change.
Even with the Jacob deGrom injury, the Rangers front office has never strayed from making contention in 2023 an absolute priority. Keep in mind former player Chris Young (the tall pitcher, not the outfielder) is the general manager and three-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy is managing. These guys know how players think and feel. Of note:
The Rangers haven’t made the playoffs since 2016 and the front office operated with urgency to end the relatively minor drought. It’s a thing of beauty when that happens.
We can never be sure exactly what all the trade talks entailed, but I suspect there was some level of “prospect hugging” going on here with Mike Elias and his front office. I just feel like sitting 65-41, first place in the best division in baseball and the best record in the American League, means the future is right now.
Before we get any nonsense, let me be clear about something: The Orioles can still absolutely win the World Series. I’d be a fool to suggest otherwise.
My issue is that it’s so hard to win it all and the Orioles — who did do something (as we’ll get to in a minute) — very likely could have sold around the margins of the loaded farm system in order to augment their chances of winning the World Series in the near future. There are two major reasons to have a stockpile of prospects. One is to help the MLB roster and we’re seeing the fruits of that labor right now. The other is to use the prospect stash as currency to obtain established MLB talent and we haven’t yet seen that. Elias came from the Astros’ front office, which was the one that acquired Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole leading up to World Series appearances.
My big concern with the Orioles’ rotation is as follows:
- Dean Kremer is less than six innings from his career-high MLB workload and is showing signs of fatigue.
- Tyler Wells is 10 innings past his career high and is showing signs of fatigue.
- Kyle Bradish is nearing his career high.
- Kyle Gibson is Kyle Gibson.
- Grayson Rodriguez is a rookie who has been inconsistent.
It sure would’ve been nice to insert some starters in there who have some 180-inning seasons under their belts in the last few years, right? I’m not just talking about finishing the season. I’m talking about going through October. That should be the goal. I don’t think the front office operated like it is.
The last several years have been so frustrating for Flaherty, who once finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting. There’s been drama around the catcher position in St. Louis this season, too. He has a ton of talent and is only 27 years old. It’s probably great to get out of that situation and start fresh with a legitimate contender for Flaherty, who was traded to the Orioles from the Cardinals.
Also, he does have a 180-inning-plus season under his belt! It happened in 2019 and he hadn’t topped 100 since until this year, but he’s done it before.
I really wish the Orioles would’ve been able to grab another, established starter (Verlander or Dylan Cease or Eduardo Rodriguez, just to name a few examples), but it’s entirely possible Flaherty throws like an ace the rest of the year with his new setting and a front office that has a knack for figuring pitchers out. This is why I only slapped a “slight loser” on the Orioles.
The Reds have rotation issues and they didn’t do anything to shore those up. Immediately, a division leader doing nothing to shore up its greatest weakness gets slapped with the “loser” label and I have no regrets on that.
I do, however, want to insert some context which makes it a little less bad here.
First off, the Reds rebuild looks like it’s pointing more toward 2024 than 2023 in several ways. They aren’t like the Orioles because the Orioles’ breakout started last year. The Reds’ breakout didn’t start until June. OK, late May. The point remains. The Reds are leading the division, yes, but they would still have to deal with powerhouses in the NL like the Braves and Dodgers. The Orioles have the best record in the AL, so you could argue they are the powerhouse.
Further, the Reds are getting back Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo this month. While the rotation would still look capable of some extreme inconsistency, those two won’t get to the end of the year overworked the way the Orioles’ arms will. Those two returning from injury might also allow the Reds to be creative with Andrew Abbott and not have him run out of gas.
We could squint our way to a Greene-Abbott-Graham Ashcraft-Lodolo rotation (or however you want to order it) making the Reds a dangerous October underdog.
Then again, they could also miss the playoffs due to not addressing the rotation here at the deadline.
Titans of baseball? The Evil Empire and one of the most impactful teams of the 2000s?
The Red Sox entered Tuesday 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot and the Yankees were 3 1/2 out. They both barely tinkered at the margins.
Pretty weak effort. Then again, they’re both pretty weak in 2023, so I guess it lines up correctly.
The Twins entered play Tuesday in first place by one game over a team that decided to be a seller in front of the trade deadline. They added no bats to an sub-par offense. It’s possible the Twins just didn’t like any available trade candidates — and we know bats weren’t too plentiful on the market — but it just looks like malpractice, given their circumstances.
I suppose there’s an argument to be made that the Twins will be a token AL Central playoff team and then just get bounced in the playoffs, which means they shouldn’t even bother to play for the rest of this season and should instead build for the future. That is absolute garbage. It was just two years ago that the playoff team with the worst record won the whole tournament. Just get in and you never know what happens, especially with a rotation capable of getting really hot and carrying the team.
Instead, they sat on their hands. Remember, the Twins haven’t won a playoff game since 2004. They’ve lost 18 straight playoff games. If they can hold off the (other) dreck in the AL Central, it looks like it’ll be 20 after this October.
Winner: Mets fans
Look, they desperately needed an escape hatch from the nightmare that this season has been. After watching their favorite team win 101 games last year only to end up a wild-card spot and then lose in the first round, Mets fans were treated to a pretty great offseason. Things went south quickly in the spring, notably when Edwin Díaz fell injured during a World Baseball Classic celebration.
The team started 14-7, but since then it’s just been a total disaster. In offloading Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and others, the Mets stockpiled some excellent prospect talent and also probably cleared the way for a smarter spending spree in the next offseason or two.
As such, the rest of this season, Mets fans can watch games without feeling stress and instead can hold onto the positives.
How does this sound, Mets fans? Get glimpses of things that provide hope while not worrying about the bad now the current season is finally put to bed. And get excited about the next wave of talent coming to Citi Field, whether it’s prospects or outside-organization additions.
That’s nice and relaxing for now, huh? The Mets fans really won something in 2023. Finally.
I’m required by Baseball Media law to mention Shohei Ohtani as he relates to the trade deadline. He was not traded, obviously. Instead, the Angels decided to try to win with him. A novel concept, I know. And I said that mockingly, but there are plenty of people out there who think it was foolish for the Angels to not trade Ohtani. Maybe they are right.
Maybe they aren’t.
What we know is the Angels are only three games out of a playoff spot. That’s awfully close. Trading Ohtani would’ve done the following things:
- Waived the white flag on this season.
- Very likely burnt the bridge with Ohtani, preventing them from signing him in free agency.
- Thrown away a lot of club revenue in terms of ticket and merchandise sales the rest of the season.
- Brought back a big package of prospects.
The people who thought the Angels should trade Ohtani focus heavily on the latter bullet-point there. It’s entirely possible the Angels would’ve gotten something like five prospects back in a deal and those five prospects would’ve been franchise-altering. Was it likely, though? We’ve seen lots of superstars traded and the examples of those trades directly leading to future success a few and far between. I recently went through. If you want to go back through that entire list and find the players traded for the superstars, be my guest. If you do and you’re honest with yourself, you won’t find a compelling argument that the numbers were on the side of an Ohtani trade from the Angels’ perspective.
Instead, holding onto Ohtani and trading for other players means:
- The Angels still have the best player in baseball.
- They added Lucas Giolito, C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk.
- They have a shot to make the playoffs.
- They already had a bad farm system and made it even worse.
- Ohtani could end up signing with someone else after the season.
If the Angels make a deep playoff run and find a way to retain Ohtani in free agency, they won the hell out of this trade deadline. If they go on an extended losing streak and then he walks in free agency, they lost this deadline. If it’s something in between, who the hell knows.
Regardless, it’ll be fascinating to monitor as it all unfolds.