On July 31, the St. Louis Cardinals sat four-and-a-half games out of first in the NL Central and seven and a half-game out of the second Wild Card spot. FanGraphs’ playoff odds gave them a 7.6 percent chance to win the division and a 16.9 percent chance to claim a Wild Card spot. Due to their precarious status at the trade deadline, the Cardinals did nothing. They did not embrace a seller’s path by dealing free-agents-to-be Lance Lynn, Seung-Hwan Oh, or Zach Duke. Nor did they acquire anyone who may boost their playoff odds this season. In the baseball world’s buyer-seller dichotomy, the Cardinals decided to abstain.
On July 31, the
Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sat roughly 8 billion games out of first in the AL West and five games out of the second Wild Card spot. FanGraphs' playoff odds gave them a 0.0 percent chance to win the division and an 7.6 percent chance to claim a Wild Card spot. Due to their precarious status at the trade deadline, the Angels decided to sell, dealing reliever and free-agent-to-be David Hernandez for pitching prospect Luis Madero, a 20-year-old right-hander in Low-A ball. They did not sell off any of their other impending free agents, such as Cameron Maybin (currently injured), Yunel Escobar, Ben Revere, Yusmeiro Petit, or Bud Norris. Nor did they acquire anyone who may boost their playoff odds this season. In the baseball world’s buyer-seller dichotomy, the Angels kinda sorta decided to sell.
On July 31, the Baltimore Orioles sat six-and-a-half games out of first in the AL East and four-and-a-half games out of the second Wild Card spot. FanGraphs' playoff odds gave them a 0.4 percent chance to win the division and a 3.8 percent chance to claim a Wild Card spot. Due to their precarious status at the trade deadline, the Orioles decided to buy, acquiring impending free agent starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and infielder Tim Beckham. They did not sell off any of their impending free agents, or relief aces Zach Britton and Brad Brach. Nor did they add anyone significant, all apologies to Messrs. Hellickson and Beckham, who will substantial boost their playoff odds this season. In the baseball world’s buyer-seller dichotomy, the Orioles kinda sorta decided to buy.
Does any of this matter? Not matter in the sense that we are all hurtling at an indeterminate rate toward an impending doom in which baseball is irrelevant; but do any of the decisions made by these three teams matter within the closed universe of Major League Baseball? Did any of these three teams get any closer to winning a championship, either this season or in future seasons?
The Cardinals had the best chance to benefit by making an addition, and in Lynn they had a trade chip that could have netted them a solid prospect hall. Yet it’s easy to see why the Cardinals took the path of least resistance. It’s difficult to give up on a season, and perhaps the offers the team received for Lynn were not promising enough to justify giving up on the rest of this season. On the other hand, the fallout from trading top prospects for a high-end rental like Yu Darvish and subsequently missing the playoffs would have repercussions years down the road.
While the Angels did make a deadline deal, their path is hardly any different than the Cardinals. If the difference between having David Hernandez pitch the seventh inning instead of Blake Parker or Keynan Middleton or Cam Bedrosian or whomever else ends up being the difference between making or missing the playoffs, then I’ll personally travel around and shake the hand of every person who read this article.
It also takes something good to get something good in a trade. Perhaps Luis Madero is a diamond in the rough and three years from now we’ll look back at the David Hernandez trade as the one that jumpstarted a new era of Angels baseball. But just as losing Hernandez will likely have no impact on the Angel’s playoff hopes this year, it’s likely Madero’s greatest claim to fame will be that he was once traded for David Hernandez.
The Angels now have three years and two months left to challenge for a championship while Mike Trout is still on their team. Losing Hernandez doesn’t hurt their chances of doing so, but Madero isn’t exactly moving the arrow the other way, either.
The Orioles are working on a timetable of their own. Manny Machado hits free agency after next season, and while he’s no Mike Trout, he’s the Orioles’ best player, and without him they are looking at a roster composed of Jonathan Schoop and a whole lot of nothing.
Adding Hellickson and Beckham isn’t pushing the Orioles much closer to the playoffs this season. It’s not that the moves are totally illogical. Hellickson is better than whatever fifth starter the Orioles were using; Beckham has a few years of team control remaining and is a nice upgrade over incumbent shortstop Ruben Tejada. But they are marginal moves, and the Orioles need more than marginal improvement to make up the ground necessary for a playoff birth this season.
To acquire the pair, the Orioles traded away minor league pitchers Garrett Cleavinger and Tobias Myers. In other words, the Orioles parted with their own versions of Luis Madero. Sure it’s possible that one day we’ll look back and wonder how Dan Duquette could be so stupid as to trade future superstar(s) Cleavinger and/or Myers in exchange for back-end roster filler. More likely, however, is this is the last time you or I think about Cleavinger or Myers ever again.
Three teams: one buyer, one seller, and one abstainer. And as it turns out, there was no right or wrong answer. Transactions made at the margins are always likely to produce marginal results. But while the Cardinals, Angels, and Orioles didn’t add much to their World Series odds, now or in the future, there’s still something to be said for not going backward.
Jeremy Klein is a writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @papabearjere.