The MLB Trade Deadline has been at the center of the baseball conversation for weeks, but all that time, not to mention all the deals made in the days before the Deadline, did not stop all sorts of wild, dramatic trades being made in the last 10 minutes. It’s the way the Deadline should be.
Trades do not necessarily have to be a zero-sum game: Both teams can benefit from making a swap. But these things also do not happen in a vacuum: What you do, compared to what your rivals do, matters. With the stretch run just around the corner, this is the last chance to load up. You want to be one of the winners.
So, who are the winners at this Deadline? Here are seven teams that stand out.
The Rangers probably belong on the winners list, and you can certainly argue they should be, but they probably don’t feel like winners now that they have to deal with Justin Verlander again. It always felt a little weird not having Verlander in an Astros uniform, and now he’s back, precisely when the Astros need him the most: The Astros’ rotation feels complete in a way it hasn’t all season. They had to give up two of their best prospects (Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford) for Verlander, but with the amount of money the Mets are ponying up, and the way Verlander is pitching right now, it was surely not a difficult decision.
The Rangers are obviously better with Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery (by the way, of all the pitchers traded at the Deadline, the one with the highest 2023 FanGraphs WAR is Montgomery), so they’re hardly losers here, but the fact remains: They had the chance to put away the semi-middling Astros for months now, they didn’t … and now the Astros have Verlander back.
The Rays’ incredible start to the season led to a big division lead that, little by little, eroded until the Orioles made it go away entirely, largely because the team, thanks to injuries, began to run out of starting pitching. But bringing in Aaron Civale — who, concerns about his underlying peripherals aside, has been terrific this year — gives them quality innings at the time they need it most.
How big a winner you consider them may depend on how much you think of the 2023 St. Louis Cardinals who, may we remind you, were on the most disappointing teams in baseball this year. The teams battling the Rays for the division title, the Orioles and the Blue Jays, brought in a total of five Cardinals: Jack Flaherty (Orioles); Paul DeJong, Jordan Hicks, Génesis Cabrera, Chris Stratton (Blue Jays). Maybe those guys pay off. But you certainly can see why the Rays would trust Civale a lot more.
One month ago, if you’d have asked the question, “What team will get the best hitter available at the Deadline?” it’d be difficult to find anyone who would have chosen the Cubs. But Jeimer Candelario — who, we remind you, has a World Series ring with the Cubs (he played five games for them in 2016 before being traded to the Tigers for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson) — might be the biggest bat who ended up shifting teams, and he plays a position (third base) where the Cubs desperately needed help.
And of note: The Brewers and (especially) the Reds went very small at the Deadline. Neither looks that much better today than they looked last week. The Cubs sure do. They’ve got an uphill climb to catch those two. But they’ve got the best run differential in the NL Central and are red-hot. They’ve given themselves a chance.
The Padres aren’t catching the Dodgers, so they’re not the biggest beneficiaries of the Dodgers’ frustrating inability to bring in much rotation help. But they also have seven games left against the Dodgers — including four this weekend — and, more to the point, the Padres look as primed as anyone in the National League Wild Card race to make a run.
They’ve been underachievers all year, but the underlying numbers say this team is better than their record … and they’ve been hot, and getting healthier, lately. Their Deadline reinforcements — including Ji-Man Choi, Rich Hill, Scott Barlow, and Garrett Cooper — weren’t splashy, but they’ll be helpful, particularly Barlow, a big bullpen arm they need. Maybe the Padres will fight their way into the playoffs and maybe they won’t. But one thing is clear: They’re the one team no one wants to face in October if they make it.
The NL Wild Card race is unbelievable right now, so you can be forgiven if you didn’t realize that the Marlins hold the third spot and No. 6 seed at this point. This is not a spot the Marlins often find themselves in, so you have to give them credit for doing their best to make the most of it. This team needs offense, badly, and Jake Burger and Josh Bell will give them power they desperately need. (Wouldn’t it be something if Bell does for the Marlins after this year’s Deadline what everyone thought he would for the Padres after last year’s?) Throw in the bullpen adds of David Robertson and Jorge López, and they’re as well-positioned as they’ve been in many a moon. The Marlins are making a run at it. Good for them.
OK, OK, OK: So this year didn’t turn out the way anybody wanted it to. But now that it has fallen apart, isn’t what Steve Cohen and the Mets are doing exactly what every team’s fans should want their owners to do? It’s extremely difficult to get the sort of young prospects the Mets brought in — it’s remarkable how rarely it happens anymore — so it requires spending money. And that’s what the Mets did: They folded, cut their losses and got the best value they could out of a losing hand.
Would people have rather the Mets not traded Max Scherzer and just let him exercise his opt-out next year and leave for nothing? Spending money isn’t just about buying short-term free agents: It’s about deploying it in ways that help your team in the long term too, and the likes of Luisangel Acuña (Scherzer trade), Marco Vargas (Robertson), Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford (Verlander) should help them a lot down the road. No team bolstered its farm system fans more this week than New York did.
Mets fans can lament what went wrong this year. But they don’t have to be stuck on it: The team is moving on, smartly, and so can they.
The Angels are better because they have C.J. Cron, and Randal Grichuk, and Lucas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez, and Dominic Leone. But the real reason they’re a winner is that they get two more months — at least! — to get to watch Shohei Ohtani. We’ll see how it turns out for them in the standings. But no matter what: Angels fans get to watch that guy, every night, in a pennant chase. That sounds like a winner to me.