The MLB Hot Stove had been anything but this month, with only a couple of blockbuster deals in the books prior to a flurry of activity over the last 48hours. The feeling of malaise leading up to this year’s non-waiver trade deadline is magnified when compared to the feeding frenzy that took place a year ago. Players like David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, and Joakim Soria were all dealt for prospects — and those moves were all from just one team!
Players have still changed jerseys, though. We gawked at the price for Drew Pomeranz two weeks ago, questioned the morality of an Aroldis Chapman trade a few days earlier, and marveled at Brian Cashman’s work on Sunday. However, save for another Jonathan Lucroy trade, that might be it for blockbuster deals in 2016.
That doesn’t mean this July has been without substance. Several other moves have flown under the radar, but are worth mentioning because they could have a significant impact, either on this year’s playoff race or when prospects reach their ceilings down the road.
Toronto acquires Melvin Upton Jr. and a lot of money
Between the remainder of his 2016 contract and the eight-figure sum he is due in 2017, Melvin Upton will make somewhere in the neighborhood of $23 million over the next 16 months. Through a shrewd bit of negotiation, the Blue Jays will only be on the hook for $5 million of that estimated sum, and all it cost them was a 19-year-old lottery ticket named Hansel Rodriguez. Rodriguez, a 2014 international signee out of the Dominican Republic, has put up some solid numbers this season, but is a long-term project with a big fastball and iffy secondary stuff.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays received a major discount on an athletic outfielder who has played at a three-win pace over the past two seasons. Upton has hit a passable .252/.299/.431 with 16 home runs and 20 stolen bases this season, and is moving to a hitter-friendly home ballpark where his offensive numbers may improve. Upton joins a crowded outfield (hellooooo platoon splits) but could earn more playing time next year if Jose Bautista and/or Michael Saunders depart this offseason.
Or not. It’s not like the Jays are picking up the tab.
Miami deals for Andrew Cashner, Colin Rea
What originally looked liked a small trade for a rental quickly ballooned into a seven-player deal between the Marlins and Padres. Heading to South Beach are righthanders Andrew Cashner, Colin Rea, and Tayron Guerrero, while San Diego’s haul consists of Carter Capps, Jarred Cosart, and prospects Josh Naylor and Luis Castillo. With Cashner set to hit free agency and Rea already on the disabled list, this could quickly snowball into a massive overpay for the Marlins, who all but emptied their prospect tank in this move. Naylor, a bat-first prospect drafted 12th overall in 2015, is holding his own in full-season ball at 19 years old, and Castillo is having a nice season in High-A ball.
Miami’s aggressiveness could pay off, though. Cashner has put up great numbers now that he is throwing his slider harder and more often, and the Fish desperately needed someone behind Jose Fernandez and Adam Conley in the rotation. They are currently a game ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card race, and Cashner could be the stabilizing influence that helps them get to the postseason. Rea is under club control for five more years, but has had a rough 2016 season, including trouble finding the strike zone.
Seattle deals Joaquin Benoit for Drew Storen
It’s hard to decipher what the Mariners and Blue Jays were thinking with this deal. Both Benoit and Storen have had success in the past, but have fallen on hard times in 2016. Benoit’s walk rate has skyrocketed this season, while his strikeout rate has stayed pleasantly high for a 39-year-old that hasn’t lost much zip on his fastball. The Jays have already turned Jason Grilli into a useful piece this year — a necessary find given their lack of options behind closer Roberto Osuna — and are hoping they can do the same with Benoit. The stuff is there; he just needs to find the strike zone again.
Storen, on the other hand, is a puzzling acquisition for the Mariners. Unlike Benoit, he is having no trouble finding the strike zone. If anything, he’s finding too much of it, as he has allowed six home runs and 19 extra base hits in 34 2/3 innings this season. Sure, a change of scenery might help both pitchers — Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto even dropped the “change of scenery” line in his press release — but the third-place M’s have little to gain here; Storen is a free agent at the end of the season.
Yankees bring Tyler Clippard back home
It seems odd that the Yankees would bring in a major league reliever within minutes of trading away their second closer in as many weeks, but there are a few viable explanations for this move. For one, the Yankees are short a couple bullpen arms now, and giving all of those innings to young arms isn’t always in a team’s best interest. The company line is that the Yankees still believe they can compete in 2016, but adding Clippard may just be a case of shrewd asset management. If he performs well, the Yanks could trade him again in the offseason or next July. Plus, if he is the one racking up saves, it saves them a few dollars on Dellin Betances’ pending arbitration raise this winter.
Giants spend big for Eduardo Nunez
“All-Star Eduardo Nunez” is a phrase I thought I’d never hear in my lifetime, but here we are. Nunez hit .321/.347/.489 for the Twins prior to the All-Star break, and had already matched career highs in home runs and stolen bases. However, a breakout like this was never going to last, and Nunez already appears to be on the downswing. He hit just .240/.268/.317 in July and only has three home runs since June 8. There could still be some pop there, however, as Nunez has a .142 ISO over the past three seasons in Minnesota. While he’s not a particularly good defender, he has played multiple positions in the past and can fill in for the injured Matt Duffy or Joe Panik, who missed a month due to a concussion.
What does a utility infielder with some pop cost? A decent starter prospect in lefty Adalberto Mejia. The 23-year-old Mejia was recently promoted to Triple-A ball after posting a 3.18 FIP and 0.99 WHIP in 11 Double-A starts this year. His proximity to the major leagues was likely a big draw for the Twins, who will be hoping to compete in the next couple seasons as their young core matures. The Giants could have used a similar pitcher as they search for consistency behind the big three in their rotation, but Mejia is still a year or so from contributing at the major league level. Instead, they will have to hope that Nunez can stay productive in the tough offensive environment that is AT&T Park.