Yesterday, baseball went on the kind of run that everyone in Las Vegas hopes to go on. When the morning began those of us unfortunate enough to be tied to our Twitter accounts were awakened by Alex Speier’s report that Jon Lester had been traded to the Oakland A’s. A moment passed before I read the next tweet which read “…for Yoenis Cespedes”. It was the kind of swift kick in the butt that the trade deadline needed.
What followed over the next 7 hours were teams responding, teams waving the white flag, teams staying pat and teams deciding that they weren’t going to dip their toe in these crazy waters.
We will get to the New York teams in a minute. But there’s much to learn about the changing landscape these days when Detroit and Oakland are the two teams waging war and raising armies in the North and the South, shooting out warning shots undoubtedly in preparation for their matchup in the ALCS. After the Lester trade was finalized, I imagine Detroit CEO, GM and overlord of the car making province Dave Dombrowski reading the report on one of his sports apps and looking up at his team and muttering some phrase equivalent to “let’s get busy boys.”
The Tigers then made a huge trade in a three team swap to pick up the ace that had a reported 8.9% chance of being traded. The Tigers picked up their Scherzer insurance. The Mariners got an everyday center fielder. The Rays got their bundle of team controlled prospects that will undoubtedly lead them on their second run. Much of the surprise is somehow on the Rays side. Most thinkers of baseball believe they could’ve received an equivalent trade in the offseason. Why settle now in the midst of a race the Rays are quickly getting themselves back into?
One can never seem to doubt Andrew Friedman, but looking at the landscape this move can only lead one to believe that he saw his team incapable of sustaining such a run over the month of August and September and decided to cash out now. But did they cash out with the biggest hand they could’ve had? Who knows? Drew Smyly has produced the best numbers of his career. Nick Franklin has been shuttled between Triple A and the major leagues but has potential. A most dangerous adjective that can lure GM’s into a trap. Then there’s Willy Adames, the SS who is 18 years old and has shown an advanced bat for his age. Those three shouldn’t net a David Price but this is the reality in which the Tampa front office operates in. They must always keep an eye to four years from now while maintaining what they have today. In a market that is not advantageous and doesn’t offer the revenue stream to change their thinking, they must always look ahead rather than gaze at the now.
But not Billy Beane. Ol Billy decided when he traded away his best prospect to land two starters from the Cubs that this would NOT be the year that he stands pat and looks ahead. This year he was putting his chips to the middle of the table. Ultimately these moves will be judged by the end result in October but one can only applaud Billy as he makes his run at that championship he has so cleverly tried to get by selling his home made lemonade in his stand while he competes with the big boys in all things beverage. By trading Addison Russell his star SS, he made an announcement to the world that he was going for it. When he traded Jon Lester for home run darling Yoenis Cespedes he made sure to remind us that he was dead serious about his aspirations. Lester represents about as sure a thing in the playoffs as you can get. A hired gun bought for a single reason: to pitch those games that the Oakland A’s have never been able to win. The Game 5’s and Game 7’s that Oakland has had to rely upon lesser talented players. Now they have a bona fide tried and true ace that has been there and done that. Again, his trades will ultimately be looked at through the prism of October results, but we should all applaud Billy the kid for deciding to take out the twin guns and fire away.
Of course if you’re Dave Dombrowski and you have a pitcher who decided to reject a 6 year $144 million deal the writing is in the stars. When Max Scherzer decided to say no to an extension offer, the wheels had to start turning for GM Dave Dombrowski. He has an aging owner who wants to win now and is willing to spend money but doesn’t have the endless pockets the Yankees do and at some point you get the sense that with each start, Scherzer is pricing himself into a different stratosphere. Don’t take for granted Mike Illitch’s will to spend to keep a championship capable roster. But with David Price in tow, they can weather Scherzer’s departure. But this is also about Rick Porcello’s advancement as a pitcher. The Tigers bet on Porcello getting better when they dealt Doug Fister to the Nationals. Now that his stats have all shown a major jump, one has to wonder if Detroit looks at those stats as an unsustainable leap from a pitcher who doesn’t project as a front line starter. For me, this is also a Rick Porcello insurance move. In case these stats are unsustainable, they have enough frontline starting pitching to help Porcello toil away and figure things out. The Tigers have been stubborn about his development and it seems as though they will see this to the absolute end before they give up on him.
The Red Sox are an interesting case. They sent away Jon Lester and John Lackey in separate deals that netted them serviceable major league players. So it wasn’t a total destroy and rebuild like in 2012, but it bears a striking resemblance. When the Red Sox traded away all their horrible contracts to the Dodgers they took advantage of a team with new ownership desperate to make a splash. Now, there are no bad contracts, but a ton of young players the Sox brass are hoping will develop enough to become a core that can be competitive at a decent price while having the financial flexibility to add star players to support them. I can’t be totally sure that the two moves were with an eye toward the future or making sure to have pieces in 2015. The A’s were smart to trade Cespedes, a star borne out of the Cuban craze that has produced two legit superstars in Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu. Cespedes, if you will remember had the amazing scouting tape that made him a cross between Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio and Ken Griffey Jr. But he hasn’t had the kind of career that Puig and Abreu have. Aside from the two home run derby titles and the occasional amazing display of the gun from the outfield, Cespedes has been a clean up hitter in name only. Yes, he has a year left on his contract, but if the Sox catch lightning in a bottle, they have inserted themselves into the Cuban pipeline of talent by bringing in one of their better prospects. We won’t get a good idea of where the Sox’s thinking is until the offseason. If they make a run at Lester, who can be a free agent and is well liked by both Boston’s fan base and by the ownership group, this will be a huge win for the Sox. But based on earlier negotiations, the Sox have a price in mind for their staff ace and won’t go beyond that number.
The NL East all made incremental moves with one team making the most interesting one. I’ve always been jealous of how ruthlessly efficient the Miami front office is. Historically, they haven’t mastered sustained success, rather banking on their scouting and farm development to give them a good nucleus and then building through some major splashes, much the way they attempted to do so in 2012. Then as soon as they win, they get out blaming a public that doesn’t support the team to give them revenue streams to spend. But when Miami sent a few well thought of prospects for Jared Cosart, it was the kind of low level go for it move with a look towards the future for both teams operating with a time frame in mind. Cosart is a former number one pick and no matter what the circumstances are that led to his trade from the Astros, its always a good bet to trade for talent. Changing his surroundings may allow Cosart to start over and reach his potential. If they manage to tap into Cosart’s potential, they could have added another frontline starter to a rotation that includes Jose Fernandez. In a vacuum let’s presume that when Fernandez comes back next year, he will need a majority of the season to get back into the form we saw from him last year. Cosart will enter a rotation with Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi, gives them enough young talent to slowly build the same way they built their championship teams. This is the kind of move that won’t immediately pay dividends but ultimately is the kind of forward thinking move that sets the table for a major run in a year or two. Smart.
So what if anything can the local teams learn from all of these moves? The Mets and the Yankees operate in two different tax brackets. The Yankees, did the smart thing at the trade deadline. Rather than sacrifice their top prospects, they dealt from their endless welt of cash. Nowadays, prospects are the currency of choice for GM’s, but that’s a matter of circumstance. It just so happens that the Yankees can and can’t be begrudged for operating from that advantage. So rather than make earth shattering moves which GM Brian Cashman is expected to always do, they made incremental moves to add depth. If the A’s taught us anything its that having depth at IF and OF can always be a plus. Having multiple options for a roster that is riddled with older players who are getting injured way too often, how is adding Martin Prado, Chase Headley, Chris Capuano, Jeff Francis, Stephen Drew, David Huff, and Brandon McCarthy for cash, Vidal Nuno, C Peter O’Brien, Yangervis Solarte, Rafael DePaula, Kelly Johnson and a player to be named later. To recap, they got a guy who was asking for $15M a year this offseason, a former Gold Glover, a player who was the centerpiece of the Justin Upton trade, for a guy they were going to option, a guy who’s hot start they parlayed into someone useful and a bunch of other pieces that were ultimately expendable. That’s called making the most of what you have and more importantly recognizing what you don’t have. They have enough talent, that once healthy, they know they can piece together a run.
But the Yankees also operate in a changing landscape. There aren’t enough legit superstars in mid prime entering the free agent market that the Yankees can devour like they used to. Teams are starting to be smarter about the Super-2 status and convincing prospects with potential to give up one or two years of their free agency in exchange for financial security. Thus, free agents are entering free agency on the opposite side of 30. Not only that, the Yankees aren’t the automatic suitors for the in their prime stars, anymore like they used to be. The Dodgers with their new ownership group, the Tigers with an owner who’s advanced in both age and desperation to win a title, the Angels with a threatened Artie Moreno, and of course the Boston Red Sox.
Playing in New York comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Cashman operates from the must do something mandate where its not just about the number of moves but the number of moves that make a splash. So every offseason the Yankees will be linked with the biggest free agents and during the trade deadline the best trade chips are also somehow linked despite the Yankees not having the treasure trove of prospects with which to deal from. The Yankees will never be in rebuilding mode. Not with a new stadium that needs to be paid for. Not when the team seems to be entering a deep decline with the final member of the Core Four retiring. If anything this calls for an even more aggressive show of force by the Yankee front office. A moment to puff out the chest and remind everybody who the Yankees are. So naturally for those fans who looked at the Yankees tenuous position and thought they would just pack their bags and call it a season, just don’t know how the machine works. It never stops. Or rests. It continues manufacturing a relentless mentality to chase what may be out of their grasp.
The Mets however, have had to operate from a different point of view. Though they call New York home as well. Though they have a brand new ball park as well. They compete with the monolith Yankees and against a reality they would rather not admit to the public because of what the feared reaction from the public is. However, the Mets have always made the mistake that the public won’t understand: they’ve been with you this long stupid, they will continue to ride with you through this crap too. With their finances a big question mark to everyone but the Wilpons’ accountants, the Mets have cut costs, and payroll since 2006, their last playoff run, to sit comfortably in the middle of the pack; a weird place for any team from NY to be in. The Mets do however have something the Yankees don’t: young, high end, cost controlled pitching. The Mets could have made a move to send a signal to the landscape that they were ready to overtake the Yankees but one thing is clear: they aren’t ready. Not that they couldn’t make a run to the postseason or the 90 win goal GM Sandy Alderson set. But the Mets also didn’t make a panic trade to make a run that nobody thinks is a guarantee. What the Mets can take away from this deadline from the other teams is this: that they aren’t ready to trade for a David Price or Jon Lester. But they are also close enough to be realistic. This may not be the year, but they are close to making the kind of moves that send shockwaves throughout baseball and announce themselves as legit contenders.