Early Trade Deadline Re-Assessment: AL East
It has only been a little over five weeks, so it’s too soon to judge with finality how this year’s trade deadline maneuvers will play out. That said, we’re already half of the way through the period — the regular season portion, at least — for which rental players were acquired. Even players with future control are usually added first and foremost for their immediate contributions (though there are some exceptions). It’d be awfully premature to say anything conclusive about the prospect side of any deals, but we do now have some additional information with which to work.
So, that’s why we’re going to take a glance back over our shoulders at the moves (and major non-moves) that organizations made in the run-up to this year’s trade deadline. We already covered the AL Central and NL Central; now we’ll go to the American League East …
The Yankees did their shopping ahead of time, as it turned out. They first picked up Cameron Maybin (link) and Kendrys Morales (link) early in the season. Maybin’s stunning productivity has obviously been a boon for the Yanks, who’ve weathered countless injuries with a slew of surprise performances.
Over the summer, the New York club ultimately replaced Morales with Edwin Encarnacion in a mid-June swap and went on to pick up pinch runner extraordinaire Terrance Gore in a minor move. The Encarnacion deal gave the Yankees another fearsome slugger on a roster chock full of them. He has missed some time and hasn’t been at his absolute best, but still carries a strong .246/.320/.514 slash in 194 plate appearances with the club. Young pitching prospect Juan Then has had a nice showing since moving to the Seattle organization in the EE deal, reaching the Class A level and throwing a combined 48 1/3 innings of 2.98 ERA ball with 48 strikeouts and 13 walks.
That all seemed to be prelude to a bigger deadline strike. Surely, the thinking went, the Yanks would be ready to do whatever it’d take to fully load their roster in an attempt to win the World Series for the first time since 2009. Pitching, particularly of the starting variety, was obviously in need. As it turned out, the Yankees held pat on deadline day. While they nearly landed a big relief arm in Ken Giles, they ultimately decided to roll the dice on internal options.
So, are there any regrets? The Yanks are cruising in the division, so in that sense it’s hard to argue with the way the line was drawn. But the club doesn’t feature an imposing postseason rotation. It may be supposed that the team will try to make up for the lack of high-end starters with a fearsome relief mix, but that’s still somewhat dependent upon the recovery of injured hurlers Luis Severino and Dellin Betances. The uncertainties were well-known in the run-up to the trade deadline, so the Yankees are sleeping in the bed they made. There’s immense talent on the roster, but it’ll be interesting to see if the quiet deadline ultimately haunts the club.
There weren’t any headline-making moves, but that doesn’t mean the Rays weren’t busy at the deadline. The organization’s mid-season acquisitions didn’t jump-start a run at the Yanks, but have subtly altered their array of talent and helped the club stay out in front of the AL Wild Card race.
Parting with Nick Solak helped clear the deck on the position-player side while bringing in interesting righty Peter Fairbanks. Both have turned in impressive initial showings at the MLB level — 78 plate appearances of .949 OPS hitting and 5 1/3 innings of pitching with just one earned run — and could play significant roles on their respective new clubs in 2020.
The Rays then sent out Hunter Wood and Christian Arroyo for faraway outfielder Ruben Cardenas and $250K of international signing capacity. This seemed primarily to be a roster-clearing move, but it cost the team a cost-efficient reliever who has turned in solid results on both sides of the swap. That’s also what happened with lefty Adam Kolarek, who has made 17 scoreless appearances since being traded to the Dodgers. Outfielder Niko Hulsizer, acquired in return, remains a long-term project. In another roster-management deal, outfielder Joe McCarthy went to the Giants for youthful pitching prospect Jacob Lopez. The former has struggled at Triple-A; the latter hasn’t appeared in any game action this season before or after the deal.
Having parted with Solak and Arroyo, the Rays turned around and added a veteran in the same essential utility mold. Eric Sogard has hit well since coming down to Florida, turning in a .284/.348/.431 slash in 112 plate appearances. Indeed, he’s out-slashing fellow acquisition Jesus Aguilar, who’s hitting competently but hasn’t returned to his slugging ways since coming from the Brewers. That deal, too, saw a big-league-capable hurler leave the Tampa Bay org, though Jake Faria hasn’t yet distinguished himself in Milwaukee.
That was all prelude to the team’s biggest swap. Solid reliever/opener Ryan Stanek was packaged with quality outfield prospect Jesus Sanchez in exchange for righties Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards. The long-term key to this deal is Sanchez, who hasn’t yet turned on the jets but is seen by some as a future regular. Despite his relatively high-profile role in Tampa Bay, nobody has missed Stanek, who has struggled since moving south. Any thought of what has departed has been overwhelmed by what the Rays have gotten back. Richards has been excellent in a Raysian swingman sort of role, throwing 19 1/3 innings of 2.33 ERA ball. And Anderson? He has quietly racked up two strikeouts for every one of his 15 innings pitched with nary a free pass. Anderson is already 29 years of age, but his remaining control rights — he won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2022 — look to be quite valuable.
Not unlike their bitter New England rivals, the Red Sox acted early and then went quiet. But the situations weren’t the same: there was greater need in Boston, but also less cause to press the issue given the team’s perilous place in the standings.
It had been hoped that acquiring veteran Andrew Cashner would represent a low-cost means of shoring up a leaky Red Sox pitching staff. He was intended to start, with Nathan Eovaldi heading to the bullpen. As it turns out, both have pitched poorly while spending time in both starting and relief roles.
There’s no question that adding to the bullpen would’ve boosted the chances for the Red Sox. It’s tempting to believe that a bold strike might even have jolted a turnaround. But the Boston organization had largely played its cards in the offseason. Ultimately, a roster weary from the prior season’s World Series run just wasn’t up to the task. It’d be hard to say a different deadline approach would likely have changed the outcome.
It was always clear how this deadline would go for the Blue Jays, who’ve almost fully turned over their roster over the past few years and are now looking to build around premium young talent. It remains a bit surprising that the club couldn’t find a home for Justin Smoak and Freddy Galvis — the latter ultimately departed via waiver claim — but the Jays did swing several sell-side deals.
First came the surprising Marcus Stroman swap. It was all but inevitable he’d be moved, but the destination came as a surprise. Some observers were underwhelmed by the return, but the Toronto organization seemed excited to add pitching prospects Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson. So far, so good. Kay turned in seven quality outings at Triple-A and recently made his MLB debut, with eight strikeouts against three walks and two earned runs on the board over 5 2/3 solid frames. And the 18-year-old Woods Richardson has thrived after receiving a promotion to the High-A level, compiling 28 1/3 innings of 2.54 ERA ball with 9.2 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9.
The Jays also dealt away another once-featured hurler in Aaron Sanchez. He went with fellow righty Joe Biagini to the Astros in exchange for outfielder Derek Fisher. This has the feeling of a trade that could be a complete non-factor in the long run … or one that could turn out to be quite significant in retrospect. Sanchez showed a brief spark but is now down for the year with a shoulder injury, while Biagini has struggled badly. Fisher will get a longer look, but the former first-rounder has struggled to a .167/.277/.403 slash to this point in his Blue Jays tenure.
One more righty went out the door in the swap that sent veteran reliever Daniel Hudson to the Nationals. Unlike the other two deals, this was a classic rental scenario. It’s anyone’s guess what the team will get out of 23-year-old Kyle Johnston, the hurler added in return. He took a sharp turn for the worse upon arriving in his new org, allowing 22 earned runs with a terrible 13:20 K/BB ratio in 19 2/3 innings of action, but will have a chance to go back to the drawing board in the upcoming offseason.
It turned out to be quite the quiet deadline for the Orioles. On deadline day itself, the club simply shipped Dan Straily to the Phillies in a minor move. Before that came only the aforementioned Cashner deal, which brought in a pair of 17-year-old Venezuelans. Elio Prado and Noelberth Romero. Those recent signees continued to play in the Dominican Summer League after the trade; whether they’ll ultimately deliver value to the Baltimore organization won’t be known for quite some time.
So far as the O’s were concerned, the most notable aspects of the deadline were the moves not made. It seemed that reliever Mychal Givens would draw interest, as he was carrying strong peripherals despite an ugly ERA. No doubt the Orioles received offers, but they ultimately elected to hold him in hopes that he’d boost his value. That’s just what has happened so far: opposing hitters have mustered only seven singles and two walks against him over his past 13 appearances, during which time Givens has racked up 19 strikeouts.
Otherwise, the non-moves weren’t terribly surprising, but there are a few of note. There was never much of a build-up surrounding young outfielder Trey Mancini. It’ll be interesting to see whether that occurs this winter. He’s also an extension possibility. The O’s also elected to hang onto infielders Hanser Alberto and Jonathan Villar. Both have hit quite well since the deadline, are on track to be tendered contracts, and could be traded away at any point moving forward.