The terms "winner" and "loser" certainly significant gravitas, even if it's all relative. Every year, countless baseball sites will post articles about the winners and losers of the trade deadline shortly after the fact, even though it is often nigh-impossible to make such judgments at the time. A perfect example is 1987--the Tigers acquired well-regarded starting pitcher Doyle Alexander to boost their rotation down the stretch since it was only average after ace Jack Morris. He would not be a free agent until after the '88 campaign, and all they had to send to the Braves to get him was a 20-year-old 22nd round draft pick who had a 5.68 ERA and 1.644 WHIP in 21 starts with Double-A Glens Falls.
In the short-term, the move worked like gangbusters. Alexander caught fire in the season's final month and a half, pitching to a 1.53 ERA and 3.20 FIP in 11 starts while the Tigers went a league-best 34-18 to overtake the Blue Jays and Yankees for the '87 AL East crown with 98 wins. Since baseball can be a cruel, cruel game with absurd playoff outcomes, they promptly fell in five games to the 85-win Minnesota Twins, who were outscored by 20 runs during the regular season. Nonetheless, it was Detroit's last playoff appearance for almost 20 years, so one could reasonably argue that it still worked out since at least trading for Alexander gave that crew one last shot. The only problem? That seemingly lousy pitcher in Double-A was named John Smoltz, who just entered the Hall of Fame.
Even the best writers can only make so precise a judgment shortly after the fact. Furthermore, it is hard to discuss more than three "winners" or "losers" without running too long, so there will be some tough omissions. (The Yankees in particular don't land in either category, given how much they likely needed to protect young assets given the aged MLB roster, and yet how little they helped a division-leading team.) With all those caveats out of the way and fully acknowledging that this post could be easily mocked years from now, here are my picks for the winners and losers of the 2015 trade deadline.
Toronto Blue Jays
As Tanya wrote yesterday, the Blue Jays were far and away the most active AL East team at the trade deadline, bringing in the two best pure talents available this year: starter David Price and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Price is one the top three southpaws in baseball, and there is no more skilled shortstop when healthy than Tulo. Furthermore, GM Alex Anthopoulos added outfielder Ben Revere and supplemented the bullpen with relievers Mark Lowe and the ageless LaTroy Hawkins. There's no getting around the fact that Anthopoulos emptied some serious assets from the farm system to bring these players aboard, most notably Daniel Norris and Jeff Hoffman while also assuming a risky contract in Tulowitzki at the expense of a decent shortstop already on board, Jose Reyes. This could very well end up being the most costly trade deadline in Blue Jays history (Norris is already doing his part to make them regret it).
On the topic of Blue Jays history though, the franchise has not made the playoffs since "A Whole New World" was on Billboard's Top 100. Of all teams that needed to take a risk to reach October baseball, even if they were a few games behind the Wild Card, Toronto simply had to try. Hell, Anthopoulos might be GMing for his job anyway. Even if he had done nothing and the Blue Jays missed the playoffs while keeping their young arms, he might have been fired anyway--it wasn't that long ago that ownership was wooing Orioles GM Dan Duquette to be their president. Go for it, you crazy hosers, and may you finish well behind the Yankees.
In the shocker of the year, the Astros have rebounded faster from being the laughingstock of baseball than anyone could have ever imagined. They were the worst team in the game for three seasons a row, dropping over 100 games year after year, going through a tumultuous sale and rebuild while switching leagues in the process and "improving" to 92 losses in 2014. They currently sit in first place in the AL West, three games ahead of the pitching-starved Angels, who would have been classified as "losers" of the deadline, but were not because they simply had nothing to trade. Give credit to GM Jeff Luhnow--he could have stood pat behind the logic that the team was succeeding ahead of schedule and that it wasn't worth it to sacrifice assets for a year that might have been classified as a simple "pleasant surprise."
However, Luhnow and his team definitely realize that their fans have been more than patient in their decade without October baseball since their sweep at the hands of the White Sox in the 2005 World Series. The past few seasons have been incredibly trying for them (they couldn't even watch them at times), and to not improve the club when they were in a great position to make a run at the playoffs would have been tough to handle. So Luhnow made the first big trade of the deadline by acquiring Scott Kazmir from the Athletics, and then swooping in when the Mets' trade for Carlos Gomez embarrassingly fell through (costing them a shot at a "winners" tag) to pick up Gomez as well as starter Mike Fiers. Luhnow lost a couple of Top 100 prospects in Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana, as well as impressive catcher Jacob Nottingham, but the Astros have young talent beyond them. They could handle the prospect loss, and they went for it. Good for them.
Punchline GM Ruben Amaro is going to go down in history for turning one of the National League's elite franchises of the late 2000s into a cellar dweller in a remarkably fast period of time. The Phillies won 102 games in 2011. They haven't finished over .500 since then, and just four years later, they are the worst team in baseball. Amaro might not be long for Philadelphia, but from a perspective purely with its gaze on the future, he (or whoever is pulling the strings right now, be it Pat Gillick or Andy MacPhail) has brought in a very nice crop of talent since the end of the 2014 season. After dealing Marlon Byrd and franchise icon Jimmy Rollins in the off-season for some solid pickups, he acquired pitcher Nick Pivetta for Jonathan Papelbon, who everyone knew was desperate to leave Philly.
Then, at long last, Amaro traded ace Cole Hamels, who has pretty much been on the market since the Phillies began their descent. The Rangers took him, and in exchange for also helping Texas take some near-deadweight off their payroll in Matt Harrison, they acquired three exciting instant Top 100 prospects: pitcher Jake Thompson, outfielder Nick Williams, and catcher Jorge Alfaro. They have been described as "boom or bust" types, but if even one of those three goes "boom" in the Hamels return, Phillies fans should be stoked. Suddenly, the Phillies' system has the aforementioned prospects in addition to recently-promoted starter Aaron Nola, popular 2015 draft pick Cornelius Randolph, and dynamic shortstop J.P. Crawford, MLB.com's 6th best prospect in baseball. Watch out.
The 2015 season has been nothing short of a cruel tease to the long-neglected Padres fans. Last year was probably the worst in franchise history, from the awful product on the field to the loss of two legends in Tony Gwynn and Jerry Coleman. New GM A.J. Preller burst onto the scene with eye-popping moves that caught the eyes of baseball fans everywhere, bringing aboard Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, James Shields, and more in a thrilling off-season that concluded just before Opening Day with the trade for closer Craig Kimbrel. The subsequent four months of baseball have not gone according to plan, and on July 31st, the Padres sat seven and a half games out of a Wild Card spot with numerous ahead of them.
Thus, there were several rumors leading up to the deadline that Preller was planning a fire sale to bring talent back in exchange for assets like Kimbrel and Upton (non-Bossman edition). Yet at the end of it all, the only trade that actually happened was reliever Mark Rzepczynski coming over from Cleveland. Yee-haw. Preller reportedly declined a few intriguing offers, and at the end insisted that the Padres were still contenders. Uh-huh.
This franchise is the worst. Jeffrey Loria is terrible. Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez badly need to be rescued from that cesspool. With the team a disappointment again, Marlins executives (which, reminder, put its completely inexperienced GM onto the field to replace manager Mike Redmond back in May) understandably traded most of their even remotely decent assets. Since the Marlins are an embarrassment of an organization that should probably have been contracted the moment their stadium's hideous finances were revealed, they blew it again. Let SB Nation's Grant Brisbee explain:
Garbage organization. Traded their best assets for salary relief. Traded away a competitive balance pick for salary relief. Will do nothing with the money saved except rub all over the franchise's metaphorical corpulent, bloated, soulless body. They certainly won't give it to their young players.
Steve Cishek, Mat Latos, Dan Haren, and a competitive balance draft pick are all gone for not much of a return at all. Tom Koehler, Martin Prado, Justin Bour, and Carter Capps are still there, even though they each probably could also have been reasonably dealt for upgrades. Hooray for the Marlins. Hoo-friggin'-ray.
Like the Astros, the Cubs saw their young talent produce ahead of schedule and suddenly find themselves in the heat of the hunt, albeit not on top of their division since the St. Louis Cardinals are running away with the NL Central. Nonetheless, this franchise that has struggled so badly ever since they last made the playoffs in 2008 is chasing a Wild Card spot and could have used improvements to their outfield and up-the-middle position players. Again like the Astros, they had some extra prospects who they could have dealt. They acquired the inconsistent Haren and called it a deadline.
After six years of struggles and a slow rebuild highlighted by tremendous talents like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs fans should probably have had at least something more encouraging than a 34-year-old starter outperforming his peripherals. Perhaps Theo does not see a lot of value in potentially going to just one Wild Card playoff game and losing. Maybe he's right. It's probably difficult to justify that to weary Cubs fans, though.