The trade deadline was somewhat quiet this year around baseball, but all the contenders in the American League East made at least one move to improve their teams as they enter the final two months of the season. Here's how the AL East standings look as of the morning of August 1st:
|Boston Red Sox||65||44||.596||--||--|
|Tampa Bay Rays||64||44||.593||0.5||+4.5|
|New York Yankees||56||51||.523||8.0||3.0|
|Toronto Blue Jays||50||57||.467||14.0||9.0|
The Red Sox and Rays are in a tussle on top of the AL East for the division crown. The Rays' tremendous 21-5 July vaulted them to contention for the title and also gave them a solid lead for the Wild Card. The Cleveland Indians' recent seven-game winning streak helped them pass the Orioles for a slim lead on the second Wild Card spot, so the Fightin' Showalters have yet another team to surpass in their hopes for a second straight playoff berth. The Texas Rangers are tied with the O's at half a game behind the second Wild Card, and the Yankees sit a few games back of them, as well. The Blue Jays are playing baseball, or so I hear.
So with the race as tight as it is, how did the Yankees and their rivals fare at the deadline?
Boston has one of the best offenses in the league thanks to their .272/.344/.438 triple slash. All three stats rank among the top three in the AL, and they lead the league with 248 doubles and 83 stolen bases. Their starting pitching has been above-average, but they sustained a tough blow when Clay Buchholz and his 41 ERA- went down with a neck and shoulder injury. A trip to Dr. Andrews fortunately did not end in surgery, but he's still only throwing from flat ground and is not close to returning to the rotation. John Lackey is likely pitching above his actual abilities, and both Ryan Dempster and Jon Lester have been just mediocre in the rotation with a league-average ERA-, so GM Ben Cherington sought pitching help at the deadline.
It took until July 30th, but the Red Sox landed the biggest pitching arm on the market in Chicago White Sox starter Jake Peavy. To do so, they sent away BABIP-crazy rookie shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Detroit Tigers and three A-ball minor leaguers to the White Sox. Boston sold high on Iglesias, who was starting to cool down in July, and they can replace him with the likes of Stephen Drew, Brock Holt, and perhaps 20-year-old top prospect Xander Bogaerts. Boston also acquired righty reliever Brayan Villareal from the Tigers, who has struggled this year, but pitched to a 53 ERA- in 50 games last year. He might be able to help the bullpen, but the focus of trade is obviously on Peavy.
The former Padres ace and 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner has been dogged by all kinds of injuries since 2008 and has only made 30 starts in a season once since that '07 season. 2012 was a comeback year for Peavy though, as he was named an All-Star, pitched 219 innings to a 79 ERA- and 87 FIP-, and ended with 4.4 fWAR. A fractured ribcage had him on the DL earlier this year, and in 13 starts, he has regressed to a 101 ERA- and 98 FIP-, roughly Lester and Dempster's numbers. Peavy still has terrific control though; his 1.9 BB/9 would rank him seventh in the league if he had enough innings to qualify. Park factors will also likely help his season, as he's moving from one of the easier places for righties to homer to one of the more difficult parks. Thus, his 1.6 HR/9 should regress to his career norm of 1.0.
Although Peavy's numbers this year are not overwhelming, he should improve in Boston, and if healthy, he provides rotation stability for minimal prospect cost. The "if healthy" is a dangerous clause with Peavy, but the cost was worth the risk. Even if they don't get Buchholz back, a playoff rotation of Peavy/Lackey/Doubront/Lester inspires more confidence than Lackey/Doubront/Lester/Dempster.
Yes, the Rays were active at the Trade Deadline! Believe it!
Well, they were active in a tentative sense of the word. They acquired an injured pitcher. On July 29th, the White Sox sent All-Star righty reliever Jesse Crain to the Rays in a complicated deal. Chicago's return will be either a player to be named later or cash considerations, and if Ken Rosenthal is correct, then it will not be contingent on Crain's performance with Rays as originally rumored.
The bullpen has been a weakness for the Rays this year, as Fernando Rodney's crash to Earth has brought the team's bullpen ERA- to 97, 10th in the league. Lefty Alex Torres has been nothing short of phenomenal, allowing an unreal one run in 33 innings (0.27 ERA) with a 10.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9, but even with Joel Peralta's 77 ERA-, the group has been mediocre outside of his performance. In fact, their bullpen ERA outside of Torres is 4.28, higher than all AL teams except the Mariners and Astros. They needed more than one stalwart, and they got him for a very low cost.
Crain has basically been a righthanded Torres this year, allowing just three earned runs in 36 2/3 innings for the White Sox, striking out 11.3 per nine innings with a 2.7 BB/9. He's already been worth 2.0 fWAR out of the bullpen, and his peak ERA- since 2010 is 73; the man is consistent. He could be huge for the Rays, but his health is in question right now. He strained his shoulder on June 29th to land on the DL, and he has not been able to throw a bullpen session yet. It's unclear when exactly he will return, but since the Rays got him for such a small cost, it's hard to criticize the move by GM Andrew Friedman. With a pitching staff that was due to get better and the league's most productive position players by fWAR, the Rays are in a good position to make a run for the title anyway, even if Crain can't return.
It's a new era for Birdland, as a team that was consistently a seller for 15 years is now a buyer. Like Boston, Baltimore's offense has been mostly good, so they sought to improve their pitching staff in July since several of their surprising pitching assets from last year have come down to Earth in 2013. Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, and Wei-Yin Chen all had ERA-s below 100 last year, but all except Chen have taken a big step backward. The bullpen that had a league-best 72 ERA- last year now has an 89 ERA-. So in July, the Orioles made three moves for pitching:
1) July 2: Traded disappointing prospect Jake Arrieta and former shutdown reliever Pedro Strop (broken by the Yankees last year) to the Cubs for starter Scott Feldman and minor leaguer Steve Clevenger.
3) July 31: Traded Baseball America's #6 preseason Orioles prospect, Triple-A outfielder L.J. Hoes, 19-year-old A-ball starter Josh Hader, and a 2014 round A competitive balance pick to the Astros for starter Bud Norris.
The Orioles added some arms to their pitching staff at the cost of a pair of washed-up prospects and a pair of promising Top 10 prospects (in addition to Hader, who has a 2.45 ERA in 113 2/3 minor league innings). They were definitely moves by GM Dan Duquette to gamble some future assets on this current squad in contention. It's hard to blame him for wanting to improve a team that is undoubtedly going to be in the heat of the playoff race come September, but those were some tough prospects to give up for a couple league-average starters and a veteran reliever who didn't sign this year until mid-April.
Feldman has been up-and-down in his five starts since the trade last month. He had pitched to an 89 ERA- in 15 starts with the Cubs, but so far, that has not translated to the AL. Remember, this is the same guy who had a 117 ERA- in over 120 innings last year the AL with the Rangers. It's far from certain that he will get much better with the Orioles. "K-Rod" recaptured his dominant form in half a season with the Brew Crew, pitching to a 1.09 ERA with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. It's been a long time since he was in his prime with the Angels as their closer, even though he's only 31. (Weird.) As previously mentioned, he was such a question mark in the off-season that he was not signed until mid-April, and he as an unsightly 110 ERA- pitcher last year in Milwaukee. Nonetheless, if he can step into the role Strop excelled in last year, then he can certainly be an asset to the O's bullpen. 2012 was the first truly bad season of K-Rod's career anyway, so perhaps it was just a blip on the radar. If not though, the Orioles just forfeited a very nice prospect for an inconsistent reliever who has never been good at limiting walks.
The biggest piece acquired was Norris, a 28-year-old starter in his fifth season with the lowly Astros. Houston took advantage of a weak starting pitching market after Peavy to make Norris a hot commodity since he is only in his first year of arbitration. At the moment though, Norris is merely a league-average pitcher. He had a 100 ERA- in 2011 which ballooned to 119 last year before returning to normal in 21 starts this year.
Yesterday, Tanya pointed out that Norris has struggled in open-air stadiums this year; he has a 6.31 ERA in seven open-air starts against a 2.99 ERA in 14 starts at retractable roof stadiums like his old home in Houston, Minute Maid Park. This park factor is not just a small sample size 2013 thing though--in 58 career games in open-air, he has a 5.04 ERA. He will have to improve that with his home games now at Camden Yards. The fact that lefties have a higher propensity to homer at Camden Yards compared to Minute Maid Park doesn't help the righty Norris much either.
Nonetheless, Norris will likely help the Orioles at least a little bit. Mark Brown at Camden Chat nicely summed it up:
[Norris] is just about league average, and in that sense it will represent a significant improvement over Jason Hammel... Is this a blockbuster trade? Let's be real: Norris is not a blockbuster piece to acquire. However, neither Hader nor Hoes were top pieces to give up, and Norris should be a very real upgrade to one of the biggest areas of weakness for the Orioles. The starting rotation should be stronger with him than it was without him, and for Dan Duquette, that was enough to make the trade.
Much has been made around these parts about the Yankees' woes on offense, most notably from the right side of the plate. By the end of play on July 25th, the Yankees' righthanded hitters ranked as the worst righty offense of all time by Baseball Prospectus's True Average stat. Overall, the offense was also the fourth-worst Yankee offense by True Average since 1950, barely trailing the '68 team for third. They needed some kind of boost, even a small one. They got that boost by reacquiring an old friend.
On July 26th, they traded High-A pitcher Corey Black to the Cubs for 1999-2003 Yankee Alfonso Soriano, a veteran with flaws, but one whose righthanded power potential was badly needed. Soriano has a roughly league-average 101 wRC+ this year, and against lefties, he is hitting .285/.319/.515 with nine doubles and seven homers, numbers not far off from his career triple slash of .275/.345/.517 against them. Soriano is never going to be a guy who walks very much, but that's the least of the Yankees' problems right now against southpaws. Soriano's return complemented by that of lefty masher Derek Jeter and home run threat Curtis Granderson should jolt the Yankees' offense, which is basically on life support.
The Yankees could have done more at the deadline to improve their offense, but there truly did not appear to be much out there. GM Brian Cashman described it as "an offensive offense" market, and it's hard to debate that considering the fact that Soriano was probably the biggest bat moved around the deadline. Selling teams seemed to be asking for too much for their flawed hitters, from Michael Young to Marlon Byrd. The Yankees will need their returning injured players to at least get their offense to around league-average. If they can at least do that, then the team can continue its unlikely run at a playoff spot. At just a few games off the Wild Card, they are far from out of it.
Well, that didn't work. Anyone up for some Timmy Ho's? Wonder how the Leafs are looking this year...