In what was one of the most active trade deadlines in recent history, some 45 major leaguers changed hands in shaping what the stretch run for playoff spots will look like. Below, we look at how the contenders’ chances at World Series glory were affected when the dust settled.
A buyer’s market
If there was any single factor shaping the 2018 trade deadline, it was the fact that buyers were in control. In addition to shifting trends that saw returns on rental players bringing less-valuable assets than in previous seasons, the lack of contending teams, particularly in the American League where only six teams seemed to have a shot at the playoffs meaning there were fewer clubs competing for the services of free agents-to-be.
With selling teams seeking to maximize those returns, and some buyers as interested in setting up for 2019 as the 2018 stretch drive, the deadline’s final hour was an intense one.
When the pieces were finally in place, all-star names like Chris Archer, Brian Dozier, Jonathan Schoop, Tommy Pham and Kevin Gausman had moved. What was left was a playoff picture that saw every competing team improved in some way, a fact that left some further from the goal than when trade season began.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The odds-on favourite to reach the World Series from the NL coming into the season, the Dodgers started slowly before ascending to their customary perch atop the NL West before the All-Star break.
LA added perhaps the two best position players who moved approaching the deadline, fortifying their offence (especially against lefties) with Manny Machado and Brian Dozier. Their lone other addition was John Axford, who will fortify the back end of their bullpen.
The Dodgers have to be considered favourites to reach the World Series. Presuming they’ll face the Astros, Red Sox or Yankees, Los Angeles would be a decided underdog, but the reality is that the NL field is weak enough that LA’s additions have to make them enough of a favourite to survive that gauntlet to make bettors embrace their chances in a best of seven series to win it all.
In short, LA is our most likely World Series loser but gets there often enough to have better odds than any of the three AL juggernauts of actually winning the thing.
The reality is Houston traded for the best reliever moved this season (along with another power arm in Ryan Pressly), fortifying what some erroneously considered the team’s weakest spot. Houston is probably baseball’s best team now, buoyed by last year’s experience and while both Boston and the Yankees stand as formidable potential opposition, the addition of those bullpen arms has to make them as formidable as any team in 2018.
New York Yankees
This is a tough placement considering the Yankees are still likely to be history’s most-loaded wildcard team.
Still, New York added major pieces in JA Happ, Zach Britton and Lance Lynn, and Britton is particular is noteworthy as he adds to what was already the best bullpen in MLB.
We saw a year ago how the Yankees’ powerful ‘pen could serve as a powerful force in the wildcard game; if they get through that meatgrinder, the Bronx Bombers will have a real shot at toppling any other team in the tourney.
Leaving the trade deadline in a dead heat with the Phillies, Atlanta did more to improve than its NL East counterparts. They added quality starters with upside in Kevin Gausman and outfielder Adam Duvall while shoring up an already solid bullpen that was showing cracks in recent weeks.
The Braves have to be seen as the favourites to win the East now, probably for the first time all year.
GM Neal Huntington added two key pieces--both for 2018 and onwards—by adding starter Chis Archer and one of the strongest bullpen arms who moved this year in Keone Kela.
While Archer is the more-obvious upgrade, Kela in particular, is interesting, reinforcing the reality of the Pirates’ strategic shift in recent months in terms of prioritizing bullpen development and trading for high-strikeout arms. This approach should improve the team for playoff-style baseball and the wildcard game in particular.
As of August 1st, Arizona sat atop the NL West, half a game ahead of Colorado and the Dodgers. That’s the good news.
The bad news is the Dodgers are surging and added more than Arizona could, leaving the DBacks looking vulnerable despite making four major league additions.
Starter Matt Andriese improves the back end of the DBacks’ rotation but will be a non-factor in the playoffs; infielder Eduardo Escobar has miraculously found power this year, though there’s no certainty that will last; and bullpen additions Brad Ziegler and Jake Diekman are experienced but flawed.
The moves look like they’re designed more to tread water than climb out of the ocean of mediocrity and that leaves Arizona out of our improved odds section.
Seattle have won more than they’ve lost this season despite not scoring more runs than they’ve allowed. It’s a formula that’s worked out despite logic, but now the Oakland A’s are surging to compete with the Mariners for the second AL Wildcard and Seattle may be in trouble.
The Mariners did add this deadline with three new bullpen arms and centerfielder Cam Maybin joining, but Seattle’s biggest addition (closer-turned-setup man Alex Colome) happened earlier in the year and these moves, while shoring up the weaker roster spots, don’t suddenly make the Mariners a team that you’d project for their present record.
Chicago still has a reasonable shot at the World Series; only the Dodgers look truly superior on paper in the NL, but the Cubs’ (strategically correct) abuse of the farm system left the team on the outside looking in where major acquisitions were concerned this time around.
Chicago did add three arms--Cole Hamels, Brandon Kintzler and Jesse Chavez--and still have a solid chance of emerging from the NL playoffs, but the Dodgers’ improvement makes Chicago a longer shot to emerge than before.
Boston Red Sox
Boston only made two additions. Starter Nate Eovaldi, who bolsters the back end of the rotation and may be added to the bullpen come playoff time and second baseman Ian Kinsler, who joins the Sox on a real hot streak.
Boston has the majors’ best record and has performed at a level seldom seen in recent decades, so there wasn’t much to improve on, but with Houston and the Yankees making more-impactful additions, one has to wonder if the failure to execute the stated plan of adding bullpen help might cost the Sox come playoff time.
Adding Jeurys Familia a week before the deadline was a quality move that makes Oakland’s bullpen strength, but a failure to add more (notably starter Mike Fiers, who was rumoured to be Oakland-bound) leaves Oakland treading water.
The Indians shored up their previously-weak bullpen in the weeks leading up to the deadline, but only managed to add platoon centerfielder Leonys Martin on Tuesday and it wasn’t enough.
That the AL’s big three teams all made bigger additions only compounds the troubling truth of this stat: Cleveland’s been outscored 177-224 by teams above .500 (including a 5-9 record against New York and Houston… they haven’t played the Red Sox yet), suggesting that when they run up against superior competition in the playoffs, they’ll be in trouble.
Philadelphia Phillies - In a dead heat with the Braves, Philly added less. Catcher Wilson Ramos offers potential, but he’s hurt now, and the results of that deal are unpredictable and Asdrubal Cabrera was the only other addition of consequence. Philly still has a shot at the NL East crown, but the deadline has to be seen as a small step back.
Milwaukee Brewers - The Brewers were already in need of a starter in the week heading into the deadline and lost reliable Brent Suter to injury for the season.
In need of immediate starting help, Milwaukee added third baseman Mike Moustakas (despite already having capable 3B Travis Shaw), then added second baseman Jonathan Schoop, a nice value play. In other words, they added quality pieces in the wrong areas failing to shore up an area of real need.
In a virtual dead heat for both the NL West and wildcard races, Colorado only added reliever Seung Hwan Oh. With both NL West rivals doing more, Colorado’s odds have lengthened.