This won’t go down as the worst baseball trade deadline — that would be 2005 — nor, clearly, the best. It just might be remembered, however, as the most surprising.
And when you surprise people, for better or worse, you produce unexpected ripple effects.
Those effects began rippling the minute the deadline struck last Wednesday, and some will flow at least through the offseason — and quite likely longer than that.
So let’s discuss how some of those unanticipated actions or inactions will impact this and future seasons:
1. Greinke, Cole, the Astros and the Yankees.
The Astros’ shocking, last-minute acquisition of Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks gives Houston a monster starting rotation featuring a front three of Justin Verlander, Greinke and Gerrit Cole, plus left-hander Wade Miley in the fourth slot. It also presents the ’Stros with some tough financial calls.
With Verlander set to earn $33 million each of the next two seasons and the Astros set to pay Greinke about two-thirds of the $64 million he has coming over that same period, that’s more than $50 million per year just for two starting pitchers. Throw in the fact that beloved homegrown outfielder George Springer can become a free agent after next season.
Will there be anything left in the till for Cole, who will be a free agent this winter? And can the Yankees — who, you might have heard, didn’t acquire any starting pitchers at the deadline — capitalize on this development? I’m betting no on the former, maybe on the latter.
The 28-year-old Cole, a Scott Boras client, can be a free agent after this season. The Yankees drafted him out of high school in 2008, 28th overall, only to see him choose UCLA instead and wind up getting popped first overall by the Pirates three years later. The Yankees pursued Cole as a trade target in the 2017-18 offseason, a pursuit in which they lost out to the Astros.
Can the Yankees finally land Cole, who certainly seems to fit their profile in terms of his ability to miss bats? If necessary, will they finally engage in an old-school bidding war, which they have largely avoided in recent years? (The Giancarlo Stanton trade doesn’t really count.)
Cole, having tallied spectacular back-to-back seasons since joining the Astros, has earned the right to ask for a package starting with a 2.
2. Wheeler, Bumgarner and the qualifying offer.
At the All-Star break, the Mets’ Zack Wheeler and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, both walk-year starting pitchers, looked like slam dunks to get traded, and therefore avoid receiving the qualifying offer this winter, as per the Basic Agreement’s rules. Then the Mets and Giants went on runs to creep onto the periphery of the playoff race, and both stayed put.
Both now look like sure bets to receive the qualifying offer — a one-year contract, paying about $18 million — for 2020, and both probably should give that offer serious consideration. Non-elite starting pitchers saddled with the qualifying offer (think Alex Cobb, Yovani Gallardo, Lance Lynn, Ervin Santana and most recently Dallas Keuchel) generally have not fared well in free agency.
Concerns about Bumgarner’s mileage and Wheeler’s durability and consistency surely limited teams’ trade offers, and those concerns would grow in free agency with draft compensation attached. While the duo gets another eight weeks and maybe more to showcase themselves — and Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen even spoke the other day of wanting to keep Wheeler around for the long term — sitting here now, accepting the qualifying offer looks like a realistic option for both.
3. Bauer, the clubhouse and the Reds.
Let Trevor Bauer’s wacky week remind the nerds among us — I’m three-quarters nerd myself — that even the most analytically inclined teams, a tier that certainly features the Indians, don’t shrug off culture and character issues.
Bauer’s final throw as an Indian wound up being his hurl over the center field wall at Kauffman Stadium, which prompted his veteran manager Terry Francona to privately express — and then publicly share, upon Bauer’s trade to Cincinnati— his concerns about that action. It was very fair and remains so to wonder whether Bauer could handle life as a Yankee.
As for the Reds, their losing record this season belies their positive run differential, and Bauer, Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray can front their 2020 starting rotation. Pretty good, especially when you consider how winnable the National League Central has been this season. Don’t sleep on them as an early bet for next year.
4. A better September?
The elimination of the August trading period did work in one sense: Fewer teams have fully drawn the white flag on this season. Will that lead to more competitive action the rest of the way?
Consider that last September, eight teams posted winning percentages over .600 and 10 teams — one third of the industry! — went under .400. That’s way too many mailed-in ballgames. Stupid tanking.
Even if a team like, say, the Padres is out of the race, will they be motivated enough to keep playing hard to try to set a tone for next year? How about the Diamondbacks, who held onto Robbie Ray and traded for Mike Leake even as they dealt Greinke?
Correlating directly to that: Attendance. Major League Baseball would love to boast of an increase in total attendance after reporting drops each of the prior three seasons. The Astros, who started the weekend down over a thousand per game from last year, figure to get a bump from the Greinke trade.
The Nationals and Giants, down 4,000-plus and 5,000-plus respectively, should see considerable upticks if they consider their rises of late. And the Mets, boasting one of the game’s best and most loyal fan bases, are already up this year and can climb even higher if they keep winning.