When Trade Deadline Day ended, the Detroit Tigers had the last three MVP and last three Cy Young Award winners, the Oakland Athletics had one of the best post-season pitchers in history, and the landscape reflects that in the American League, the Tigers and the Athletics clearly utilized the market reality that the future is overvalued, the present is undervalued, and everyone else is hoping to get lucky in an ALDS series to submarine an A’s-Tigers ALCS.
But while the present may be undervalued, teams are clearly more careful in their self-evaluations. In a season when David Price, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Yoenis Cespedes and Huston Street have been traded, the one player in the Baseball America mid-season Top 50 prospects that has moved is shortstop Addison Russell, who went to the Cubs for Samardzija. But when one studies the philosophies of two of the best of the post-Pat Gillick generation, Dombrowski and Beane share one common trait: neither worries about what he’s giving up, each focuses on what he is getting for his team.
Dombrowski has traded for two Cy Young Award winners, Max Scherzer and David Price. He has traded for Miguel Cabrera, HOF. He, Al Avila and David Chadd were unafraid to go over slot in the old draft system to sign Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin, then trade them for Cabrera, and Thursday’s deal for Price will require some adjustments in the everyday lineup, but trading Austin Jackson, Drew Smyly and a top prospect shortstop in Willy Adames does not seem a steep cost for a David Price. Scherzer, Price, Justin Verlander…and we’re not even talking Rick Porcello.
Beane, of course, got this trade season started by moving his best prospects, Russell and Billy McKinney, to get Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, then as Hammel struggled through four starts in which he allowed 20 runs in 17 innings edged in to grab Lester. This is how Beane thinks: Lester is 6-4, 2.11 in 11 post-season starts. He can run out Lester, Sonny Gray, Samardzija and Scott Kazmir in front of one of the game’s best bullpens, which increases Oakland’s chances of finishing first, which is a huge advantage over having to survive a play-in game, which leads them to being able to win the ALDS, knowing that Oakland has won one deciding post-season game in the Beane years.
Billy doesn’t worry about the fact that players and fans alike love Yoenis Cespedes, HR Derby and energy champion. The Athletics are built for their ballpark with pitching, and with a bunch of interchangeable parts from all-star Josh Donaldson to Stephen Vogt who play without fear, without restriction. “Look at Vogt’s splits,” Beane said yesterday morning. Indeed, his .396 OBP and .911 OPS against righthanded pitching is better than the numbers Cespedes has put up against righties. Jonny Gomes’ .834 OPS against lefthanders is better than Cespedes. Sam Fuld can get on base as the centerfielder with Craig Gentry out another three weeks and Coco Crisp struggling with neck issues.
Let your head spin for a moment and think what it means for the Orioles to now have Andrew Miller and Zach Britton coming out of the Baltimore bullpen in an ALDS series, especially the way Buck Showalter can spin bullpens…Beane doesn’t think that way. Yesterday, he was speaking at a charter school program with Grant Hill in Houston. Normally, he takes deadline day to go fly-fishing.
As if we didn’t know how smart, relentless and creative Dombrowski and Beane have been the last decade. Oh, all the national television attention this weekend will be on the Red Sox and Yankees—15th and 10th in their league in runs—while the Mariners-Orioles and Brewers-Cardinals are the significant series, but living in the past through the East Coast seeing-eye egg is baseball’s lingering case of shingles.
The National League landscape is different. The Dodgers believe they are a post-season team in 2014, but want to maintain their three man future core as they approach their transition point. The Cardinals traded for two veteran starters—Justin Masterson and John Lackey, who has pitched the clincher in two different World Series—and made room for Oscar Taveras to prove that he is more Mike Trout than Andy Marte.
The Orioles play the hardest of any American League team, and when their dance with the Red Sox for Lester went nowhere Wednesday (“we couldn’t do it without trading Kevin Gausman, and that isn’t happening,” said one O’s official), they amped up on Miller, the best reliever on the market. Seattle, in line for a play-in spot, got better with Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia, knowing Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are on their way and that in one game, Felix Hernandez matches up with anyone, in any park, in any league, in any era. The Yankees filled smartly with Stephen Drew, although he’s never played a professional game at second base, and Martin Prado; when that deal was made, several Braves players texted one another about the feeling that he is one of the best teammates they’ve ever known.
The Blue Jays tried, and could not add pitching. The Royals tried, as well, and then Thursday night lost Eric Hosmer; they seem cursed as James Shields heads to free agency, but the fact that Hosmer, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon—first base, DH, left field—have 20 homers between them is the curious tale of what hasn’t evolved in Kansas City. We hear shouts that Dayton Moore should have traded for Alex Rios, who has four home runs. Uh, no. The Reds, who after last night’s umpiring gift have scored 27 runs in 13 post-break games, could not fix an offense, and the Phillies…it was as if they were caught unaware of the deadline, then had Cliff Lee go down again Thursday night with $45.8M left on his contract. Sure seems like a mining disaster.
In time, what happened when the Marlins and Astros talked was one of the most fascinating deals. On Wednesday, one Marlins official said, “we looked into Lackey and Lester and quickly pulled out because they made no sense. We focused on young starters.” And got Jarred Cosart from Houston along with infielder Enrique Hernandez and minor league outfielder Austin Wates for two really interesting prospects in third baseman Colin Moran and outfielder Jake Marisnick.
In 2013, when the ‘Stros had the first pick in the draft, they seriously weighed Moran versus Mark Appel. They love Marisnick’s athleticism and energy. Cosart is another young power arm to add to a staff of young power arms, but the Astros made a very good deal that by 2016 should make an impact, while the next month they can watch Appel and Moran in double-A.
But that is all about prospects and future. Jon Lester against Max Scherzer and Jeff Samardzija versus David Price in Game Two in the ALCS is the present, and what the present means to the Athletics in Oakland and the Tigers in Detroit cannot be overstated, or overvalued. Yes, we all know that the last player traded at the deadline to earn a World Series ring was Marco Scutaro with the Giants, but with all due respect, Marco Scutaro isn’t Jon Lester or David Price. When Dombrowski and Beane are with their families Sunday morning, chances are they won’t be worrying about what they traded, only Price and Lester and the well-being of those families.