Peter Gammons: Trade deadline thoughts from Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN—The drive here, that begins with the Turnpike from Cataumet to Stockbridge, gave time to think about Jeff Bagwell being inducted into the Hall of Fame, which means he and Frank Thomas, born on the same day and both losers (as well as Mo Vaughn) to Dave Staton in the 1988 Cape League Home Run Hitting contest, who the morning he was drafted in the fourth round by the Red Sox homered over the screen in a college all star game and a prospect in 1990 who was an aberration; the Astros acquired him when the Red Sox, in a panic, traded him for a middle reliever, where today middle relievers like Tommy Kahnle are the centerpieces of trade deadline deals that become critical pieces in the world of post-season bullpen usage.

It was time to think about the day Adrian Beltre stands at the podium with the HOF attached to his name. A time to think about preparing to stand at that podium in 2005, listening to Jerry Coleman’s great speech and getting a message on my Blackberry that, after all, Manny Ramirez was not going to be traded to the Mets.

That was one of the last times the Cooperstown ceremony coincided with the July 31 trade deadline; this Monday, many owners and executives who come to stand for Bud Selig’s induction will get the 4:01 PM EDT update on the final transactions. On this Thursday morning, Billy Beane was still sifting through Sonny Gray offers—some (like the Yankees and Brewers) real, many others he claimed were TwitterWorld fiction. Jon Daniels was doing the same, per Yu Darvish, 6-9, 4.01. Jeff Luhnow was weighing reliever vs. starter and apparently sticking to the longterm vision that starting with outfielder Kyle Tucker and pitcher Forrest Whitley, there are five or six core prospects he is not going to trade, while having restocked his organization with extraordinary young talent Brian Cashman weighed a Theo Epstein get-in-the-left-lane move to try to win now.

Epstein has already done that by trading one of his most prized prospects, Eloy Jimenez, for Jose Quintana. Mike Hazen pulled out and grabbed J.D. Martinez when his contending D’Backs were hitting .213 against lefthanded pitching.

Essentially, the remaining major trades have been for bullpens. Cashman traded a former no. 1 pick in Blake Rutherford, two A level players and took money in Todd Frazier and David Robertson to get Kahnle and his gaudy strikeout numbers; the five middle relievers the Yanks have leading to Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman have a combined 1.84 ERA with a 125-34 strikeout-walk ratio, in case you’re thinking about an Indians-Yankees ALCS, or the Astros are thinking about playing either team.

The Nationals traded for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. The Rockies got Pat Neshek. The Mariners got David Phelps. The Royals traded a top A level prospect (Esteury Ruiz), Matt StrahmTravis Wood, and cash for Ryan Buchter, Trevor Cahill and Brandon Maurer. The Brewers went for Anthony Swarzak. Next to Quintana, the below-the-fold deadline starter deal was Minnesota getting Jaime Garcia.

We get it. The Red Sox, Yankees, Royals, Rays, Twins and, theoretically even the Indians, are in it for two first place and two wild card spots in October; if the Royals and Rays get hot, again, don’t think the happiest place on earth, Fenway Park, won’t get a tad testy as the Patriots win one, then two, then three…

It is a very tough call for the Astros. It is a tough call for the Nationals, who after big trades for Adam Eaton and now the relievers. Have to decide whether or not to get in on Gray an uncertain Stephen Strasburg and an injured Joe Ross. It’s a tough call for the Dodgers, with Clayton Kershaw’s back issue (although the rest could make him invincible come October). The Athletics have fielded proposals from the Braves and, yes, the Padres on Gray.

The Orioles have the green light from Peter Angelos to trade Zach Britton, for whom the Astros might at least think out their position, but Dan Duquette believes the O’s can be good in 2018, and, hey, his future is never fully clarified. We know the Giants would like to move pitching payroll. We know Cincinnati wants to rebuild, Texas wants to carefully reboot, the Tigers are in reconstruction mode.

So, in this year when trading teams hope their Larry Anderson(s) will bring them another Jeff Bagwell, Britton, Brad Brach, Justin Wilson, Brad Hand, Addison Reed, AJ RamosTony Watson and Raisel Iglesias will bring high requests in deals from those still looking for relievers, from the Astros and Red Sox to the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Indians and Rays.

And we get that, two games under .500 with a negative run differential and a near impossible wild card position after a tough week in San Francisco, the Pirates hopes for 2017 are flickering. “We will see what makes sense,” says Neal Huntington. That means he’ll look for the kinds of deals he made at last year’s deadline: getting Ivan Nova (the Bucs’ only starter with an ERA under 4.00) for Tito Polo, and Felipe Rivero for Mark Melancon.

Look ahead to 2018 and the Pirates will have Gerrit Cole, Nova, Jameson Taillon, Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams and kids like Mitch Keller on the rise. Andrew McCutchen’s .877 OPS can carry over, Josh Bell is going to hit 20 homers, they’ll have Starling Marte for a full year, Elias Diaz has shown he can catch and Austin Meadows and Kevin Newman may be ready to help by June.

Beginning this weekend, the Pirates’ next 18 games are against sub-.500 teams, a time to grow their young pitchers and ride Marte, even if he cannot think about a play-in game. Then, even if they don’t sniff the wild card, they can take a winning record into the post-season and continue to build, with eyes not on rebuilding (they are already down 4,000 a game at home), but on a realignment. If Taillon and Glasnow are what they think they are, Nova and Kuhl in the four and five holes in the rotation is a pretty good rotation, especially with Rivero at the end and their ability to cobble together bullpens.

The worst place to be on this week is chugging up the hill mumbling “I think I can, I think I can…” The reminder has to be that what’s important isn’t the hill, it’s the course of the franchise, the players’ belief in the people above them and the credibility they have in their fanbase and on-air partners. We get that Atlanta ownership wants some now for their ballpark; everyone sees the pre-season face on the billboards. Dansby Swanson, sits several days a week.

It just isn’t that easy.

Comments

  1. Doug Smith says:

    Peter,

    Love the articles. Thanks for you insights.

    It isn’t that easy to win now without a youthful base, such as the one Atlanta is building as we speak. But veteran players are more and more getting marginalized and are the type of players that a team needs to win . Prime examples, Cubs John Jay, Astros Josh Reddick, Rockies Gerardo Parra the list goes on of veteran free agents that nobody wants. Literally no team wanted Dexter Fowler last year. The Cubs gave him an incentive laden contract as a gift. I think we the notion of World Series or bust the veterans are getting short changed and to a degree the fans because the play drops considerably when you put in Lewis Brinson instead of Martin Prado, no knock on Brinson whom I think will be good.

    I believe baseball is all about making the playoffs and hope you have a David Murphy stretch or a Jeff Weaver start for many of these clubs that are on the periphery of the playoffs. I think the only thing worse than the “I think I can mentality” is the “I think I can’t mentality”.

    anyways keep on keeping on, Peter, your a titan in the baseball world in my book.

    Doug