2011 Trade Deadline Winners and Losers

So many deals have gone down in the past 24 hours that it would be impossible for me to provide detailed analyses of all of them in a timely fashion. Instead of only getting one or two analyses done today, I thought I’d condense all my thoughts into a slightly more concise format.

If you’ve got any more specific questions about certain aspects that I don’t touch on here, feel free to ask in the comments.

And without further ado, here are my thoughts on the winners and losers of 2011’s MLB Trade Deadline.

Winner: Brandon Allen and the Oakland A’s. The A’s have had good relief pitching and poor power output for many years now, so it made a ton of sense for the club to deal from a position of strength to fill a position of need, trading reliever Brad Ziegler to Arizona for 1B/OF Brandon Allen and reliever Jordan Norberto. While Ziegler is a nice pitcher, he’s 31 and isn’t good against lefties, making him the sort of luxury the A’s don’t need as they try to build. Allen, on the other hand, could be Oakland’s next Jack Cust–a longtime Triple-A masher acquired on the cheap who can put up a few years of excellent hitting. Maybe he won’t, but it was a worthwhile risk to take.

Winner: Kansas City Royals. I like Mike Aviles, but he certainly has flaws, and he just as certainly wasn’t a part of the Royals’ future plans. And, at nearly 30 years old, he really shouldn’t be. The Royals sent Aviles to the Red Sox for Yamaico Navarro–a very similar player to Aviles, except six years younger–and Kendal Volz, a decent relief prospect. The Royals have now received four young players in July in exchange for two infield pieces they had no use for–Aviles and Wilson Betemit.

Winner: Joe Wieland, Robbie Erlin, and the San Diego Padres. The Padres have long shown they can build great bullpens for very little money, so the loss of setup ace Mike Adams shouldn’t sting much–not that this rebuilding team really needed him for the next year and a half. For that, the Padres get two exciting young pitchers who could contribute at some point in 2012. Wieland and Erlin, on the other hand, get to move to the non-DH league and from Texas’ foreboding park to San Diego’s pitcher’s paradise.

Winner: Houston Astros. Ed Wade probably won’t be around next year, and he takes a lot of insults from bloggers and the media, but he did what he needed to do at the deadline–dump the best players from his atrocious MLB team and acquire a bushel of young talent. That’s the only way the Astros will return to relevance, and it was long overdue. In picking up Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Brett Oberholtzer, and six other players for Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, Houston has finally committed to building from within, something that should get easier in the future once they move on from Drayton McLane’s ownership and get an owner willing to go over slot in the draft with some regularity. Whether Wade is around or not, he executed solidly here.

Winner: Washington Nationals. In exchange for two months of Jerry Hairston, Washington picked up an interesting prospect in Erik Komatsu. Yes, Hairston was hitting decently this season, but he’s had so many false starts in his career that it’s a coup to get a bona fide prospect in exchange for renting the utilityman. Komatsu could turn into a good starting outfielder–he rips lots of doubles, can steal 20 bases, and walks more than he strikes out. And yet…I also say…

Winner: Milwaukee Brewers. I don’t think I can remember a championship run that’s this all-in, at least from a small-market team, in my lifetime. At this point, it’s pretty much a lock that Milwaukee’s going to need to rebuild like crazy in 2013, so the team might as well try to get their hands on every useful player they can for this year and next, especially since they’ve got a close NL Central race to win. And Hairston has the virtue of not being Yuniesky Betancourt, so while Komatsu could go on to have a nice career in Washington, the Brewers could really use the upgrade given their kamikaze goals.

Winner: Seattle Mariners. This is another rebuilding team that, well, rebuilt, shipping out starters Doug Fister and Erik Bedard for a ton of young players, including lefty Charlie Furbush, outfielders Trayvon Robinson and Chih-Hsien Chiang, third baseman Francisco Martinez, and another supposedly highly-regarded player to be named. There’s no question that rebuilding is never a sure-fire solution, but taking the chance on it is better than constantly being in denial and acquiring players that only marginally upgrade a poor team.

Loser: Texas Rangers. The Rangers acquired two excellent relievers–Koji Uehara from Baltimore and Mike Adams from San Diego–but gave up an unbelievable amount to get them.

Since relievers don’t pitch very many innings in a season, they aren’t that valuable, and their performance can vary wildly from year to year. It’s also not difficult to find them on the cheap–Adams is just a few years removed from being picked off the scrap heap himself. That means that it’s silly to overpay for relief pitching, because it’s usually not difficult to find and you never know quite what you’re going to get.

Adams already comes with questions about how he’ll adapt to the DH league, not to mention exchanging Petco Park for the Rangers’ hitter-friendly stadium. And even if he and Uehara live up to the highest of expectations, they’ll only add about 3.5 WAR combined in the year and a half they’ll be with Texas. That’s certainly helpful, particularly to a bullpen that’s been below replacement level collectively this season, but hardly justifies the trade of Tommy Hunter, Chris Davis, Joe Wieland, and Robbie Erlin.

For one thing, Hunter’s a solid established pitcher on his own. In 266 1/3 career innings, he’s been worth 2.6 WAR, which means he adds a win every 100 innings. That’s not at Uehara or Adams’ level, but Hunter’s also a starter by trade, and he’s under team control for over twice as long–he’s probably a better pitcher than Colby Lewis, not to mention most of the Texas relievers. Uehara isn’t replacing the worst pitcher on the Rangers–he’s replacing one of the better ones, so the 1.5-2 wins he “adds” over replacement is basically cut in half, because he’s being evaluated compared to Hunter.

The trade of Hunter and Davis for Uehara was at least defensible–Davis has frustrated Texas to no end, and Uehara is a nice upgrade for a win-now mentality, plus the team had good pitching depth in the minors to buoy the staff down the road. But with the trade of Wieland and Erlin for Adams, lots of that depth goes down the drain.

Wieland and Erlin have had big years in High-A and Double-A, and they’re the sort of well-rounded pitching prospects that look like locks (by pitching prospect standards) to evolve into solid major league pitchers. It wouldn’t come as a shock for one of them to establish themselves in San Diego while Adams is still pitching for the Rangers. The Rangers’ once-formidable minor league pitching depth has now taken major hits at two straight trade deadlines, and few of the acquisitions they’ve made, including Cliff Lee last year, seem to have panned out. Flags fly forever, but if the Rangers can’t get that World Series championship in the next two years, these moves will look awful.

Loser: San Francisco Giants. Obviously, the Giants’ shortstops were hitting awfully this year, but the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera isn’t going to help that–he’s hitting .244/.277/.321. To acquire Cabrera for two months, San Francisco gave up Thomas Neal. The outfielder may not be a future star, but he’s a decent athlete with some pop in his bat who is already in Triple-A. The fact that the Giants gave up anyone of consequence for such a poor player makes this deal a real head-scratcher.

Loser: New York Yankees. From a pure baseball-ops perspective, Brian Cashman did the right thing in holding on to his top prospects and sitting tight at the deadline. But this team is now officially relying on Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon to be 40% of their rotation the rest of the way. Given that Garcia hasn’t thrown over 157 innings in a season since 2006 (and 60+ innings just once in that span!), and Colon hasn’t topped 100 innings since 2005, it’s a big risk to expect both pitchers to still be healthy, let alone effective, in innings 150-200.

That’s a risk worth taking in any other market, but the Yankees are a beast of their own, and it’s thus surprising to see them come up empty-handed here, particularly in the wake of missing out on Cliff Lee this past offseason. They missed out on Ubaldo Jimenez this deadline and couldn’t even convince the Astros to part with Wandy Rodriguez…supposedly at least partially because of hangups about Houston needing to pay some of Rodriguez’s contract. Again, given the market at the deadline, Cashman made the right decision in terms of total value, but given that the Yankees are “champions or bust” every season, the club’s deadline inactivity no doubt hinders that all-consuming organizational objective.


Obviously, there were other moves and non-moves, most notably the Jimenez mega-deal, but I feel like most of the rest of the teams came out even. The Indians took a risk on Jimenez that may or may not pay off. If he’s the 2009-10 Jimenez, the prospect package they sent away is underwhelming; if he can’t find that form again, then they overpaid. Credit them for a clear win in the Cabrera/Neal trade, though. The Red Sox took a risk on Erik Bedard, but didn’t give up that much, and Bedard is a good pitcher when healthy. Again, that’s the sort of move that can really work or really backfire, a category which the Rafael Furcal trade falls into as well. The Jason Marquis trade was reasonable–Zach Walters is exactly the sort of solid-not-great prospect who can be dealt straight-up for a rental. There’s not a whole lot to say about the Pirates’ acquisitions of Derrek Lee or Ryan Ludwick. The Braves and Phillies picked up Astros outfielders Bourn and Pence for bigtime prospect packages, but both teams dealt from such areas of strength that the overpay in overall talent was reasonable. The Tigers paid a high price for Fister, but they’re big-market enough for that to be acceptable–they’ve continued to win in spite of thin farm systems for several years now. And while the Diamondbacks gave up an intriguing player in Allen, they’ve got Paul Goldschmidt coming to take Allen’s place, and Ziegler’s the sort of situational guy who can provide some real value in the NL.

There’s no doubt that some of the winners will turn out to be losers in the end, and vice versa–baseball is unpredictable. But just after the dust has cleared, this is how I see the moves stacking up. One thing that really struck me about this deadline as opposed to past years is how few really one-sided trades there were. Except for the Rangers’ acquisitions and the Orlando Cabrera deal, nothing really jumped out to me as a “wow, this team got fleeced” deal. And even the Rangers’ moves weren’t necessarily that awful on their own–it’s the combination of them that irks me more than either of them individually. Perhaps GMs or getting smarter, or maybe I’m just more even-handed in my analysis these days. It’s probably a little of both.

Thank you for reading this nearly 2000-word diatribe. It will be interesting to see what comes of this year’s flurry of late-July moves.

Tags: Brad Ziegler Brandon Allen Charlie Furbush Chih-Hsien Chiang Doug Fister Erik Bedard Erik Komatsu Hunter Pence Jarred Cosart Jason Marquis Jerry Hairston Joe Wieland Jonathan Singleton Koji Uehara Michael Bourn Mike Adams Mike Aviles Orlando Cabrera Robbie Erlin Thomas Neal Trade Deadline 2011 Trayvon Robinson Ubaldo Jimenez

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