Trade Deadline Dust Settles as AL Central Has New Names and Look for the Future
Bob Toth | On 07, Aug 2017
The trade deadline bar in Cleveland was set to unexpected highs last season, as the Indians trended against the company line and made a big splash on the trade market when they acquired reliever Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees for four prospects, including a pair of top minor leaguers in Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. The team also had a proposed deal in place for Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy in what would have been considered another giant and uncharacteristic deal. Frazier is now in the big leagues and making an impact in the Bronx, but Miller’s value throughout the second half and the postseason of last year and so far this season borders on immeasurable.
Those hoping for a second consecutive year with a deadline blockbuster were disappointed as the Indians made a minor move to strengthen their bullpen, adding right-handed reliever Joe Smith from the Toronto Blue Jays for Double-A starter Thomas Pannone and short-season second baseman Samad Taylor. Throughout the trade period, the Indians had been linked to several of the biggest names available, including a pair of starting pitchers in Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish and southpaw reliever Zach Britton. The club was also reportedly in on outfielder J.D. Martinez before Detroit dealt him to Arizona for a small collection of middle infield prospects.
Injuries to Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall may have helped push for an offensive upgrade, while the injuries to Boone Logan and Miller make the Britton pursuit make all the more sense. But in the end, only Smith joined the Tribe.
Did the Indians need to do more than they did? Possibly. Their play immediately after the All-Star break left a sour taste and the logjam of teams at the top of the AL Central at the time made nothing a certainty. But given the current construct of the roster, it was hard to find ways to build around the present without subtracting contributing pieces on the team already or sacrificing big names who will be integral to the future.
With suspect hitting from in-house catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, dealing a guy who has shown hitting proficiency in Double-A backstop Francisco Mejia made little sense. Adding an outfielder would have forced someone out of that jam of names on the roster, including Michael Brantley, Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, Austin Jackson, and Bradley Zimmer. Abraham Almonte was already optioned out (only later to return).
Adding to the rotation was tough as it was, as the five-man staff was set to get back Danny Salazar, and while no one could predict what he, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, or Mike Clevinger could do over the course of the next couple of months, sending one to the already-crowded bullpen or optioning Clevinger did not seem to be proper solutions (and the club will still face this issue later in the season when Tomlin returns a clean bill of health).
That bullpen, already with Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Nick Goody, and Miller when healthy, only had one, maybe two, spots to upgrade. Leaving a spot in the hands of an optionable arm, the Tyler Olsons and Shawn Armstrongs and Ryan Merritts and Adam Plutkos of the Columbus world (but no Kyle Crockett?), helps the relief corps function as closer to a nine- or ten-man staff at one time, instead of being locked in at seven or eight.
A bench bat would have been nice, and given the production of Eduardo Nunez since his trade from the San Francisco Giants to the Boston Red Sox, he would have been an intriguing player to pursue given his speed and versatility. Erik Gonzalez was not irreplaceable on the roster, given his demotion to Columbus to make room for Kipnis’ return, but a player with more flexibility offensively and defensively than a Giovanny Urshela could have helped the club out.
The Indians were active in waiver trades last season, pickup up Coco Crisp for the stretch run. It is not out of the question that they will be monitoring options moving forward throughout August, as they have already added reliever Diego Moreno from Tampa Bay on waivers at the end of July and inked free agent lefty Craig Breslow to add some extra arms to the relief depth chart for the rest of the year.
The AL Central as a whole did far more subtraction of its Major League talent than addition. Both Chicago and Detroit were in sell mode, while Kansas City was by far the most active in making moves to benefit its squad for this season. The Minnesota Twins played both sides, initially adding before a late losing streak led to subtraction of one of the pitching pieces picked up during the final week of July.
After trading off Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in December, there was little question that the White Sox would be looking to cut salary and experience for youth and an eye towards the future in July. They did exactly that, shoring up the farm system even more after previously strengthening it with additions of the highly touted Yoan Moncada, Luis Alexander Basabe, Victor Diaz, Michael Kopech, Dane Dunning, Lucas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez from the Sale and Eaton hauls.
The White Sox got the trading period started early just after the All-Star break, dealing left-handed starter Jose Quintana to the Chicago Cubs for four minor leaguers – Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete, Matt Rose, and outfielder Eloy Jimenez, one of the top prospects on the minor league landscape.
The moves continued as less than a week later, they sent third baseman Todd Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the New York Yankees for veteran reliever Tyler Clippard and three minor leaguers (Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo, and Blake Rutherford). They moved two more relievers – Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings – to Milwaukee and Tampa Bay, respectively, for minor leaguers Ryan Cordell and Casey Gillaspie. In their final move, outfielder Melky Cabrera stayed in the division, sent to Kansas City for Andre Davis and A.J. Puckett.
The White Sox may be done with the moves now, as the bulk of their available talent has been relocated.
The Tigers may have had the goal of a trip to the playoffs in their minds at the start of the season, but the team struggled to get going and instead was churning water in the division, unable to catch Minnesota, Kansas City, or Cleveland for any length of time.
By the end of June, they began to get younger, dumping struggling closer Francisco Rodriguez. Following the All-Star break, they dealt free-agent-to-be outfielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for three middle infield prospects – Sergio Alcantara (21 years old), Jose King (18), and Dawel Lugo (22 and on the 40-man roster). On deadline day, they subtracted veteran catcher Alex Avila, who was performing near career-best levels, and left-handed reliever Justin Wilson, sending the pair to the surging Chicago Cubs for minor leaguer Isaac Paredes and Jeimer Candelario, as well as a player to be named later and cash. Paredes is 18 and has worked exclusively on the left side of the infield, while the corner infielder Candelario was set to be added to the Tigers roster on Monday for his Detroit debut.
The team could remain active in the August trade period, as Justin Verlander has already gone unclaimed in revocable waivers, allowing the Tigers to negotiate with any team, including some reported conversations with Houston. The difficulty in moving a Verlander type, however, is that his numbers do not make the $28 million that he is owed over each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons very palatable. Other guys with big dollars attached to them, like Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmermann, or Victor Martinez, have not performed at a high level or are simply owed far too much over the next few years for teams to gamble on.
Minnesota was in a curious place prior to the deadline, close enough to buy, but also with a young team that had started to show signs of slowing after spending the majority of May and half of June in the top spot in the AL Central. They attempted to catch lightning in a bottle with veteran additions like Dillon Gee and Bartolo Colon, looking for experience to improve a rotation hit by injuries and some ineffectiveness. They added left-handed starter Jaime Garcia and catcher Anthony Recker from Atlanta for Huascar Ynoa entering the final week of the month, but the club dropped six of the final seven games in July (including three on walk-offs) and instead flipped Garcia to the New York Yankees for right-handed starting pitcher Zack Littell and left-hander Dietrich Enns. They also traded closer Brandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals, who were in the process of trying to add all the relievers, for left-handed minor league pitcher Tyler Watson and international bonus slot money.
The flip of Garcia may prove worthwhile for the Twins. Ynoa, a 19-year-old right-hander out of the Dominican Republic, has made just eight appearances in his third season of pro ball, posting a 0-1 record with a 4.28 ERA between Elizabethton and Danville of the Appalachian League.
By comparison, Littell is 15-1 this season combined between High-A and two different Double-A stops with a 2.20 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP while averaging 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his fifth pro season. Enns, 26, is on the 40-man and was 14-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 26 games last season in the minors. He has made just nine appearances this season, going 2-2 with a 2.10 ERA.
There is little the Twins would be expected to do in waiver trades.
The Royals may have been the most surprising of the buyers at the deadline, only for the reason that all season long, they had been expected and essentially advised to be selling off pieces that they could not afford to re-sign after the season. They started the season in horrible shape, going 7-16 in April while being outscored 100-63, increasing the discussion of a fire sale, but threw water on the blaze with a 15-14 May, a 17-9 June, and a 16-10 July.
Kansas City has been able to inch within games of the top spot, but has not been able to overtake Cleveland after Minnesota fell back to the middle of the pack. The big June that got them back into the race could prove costly in their future, however, if the Royals are not able to take over the Central or sneak into the playoffs with a Wild Card berth and make a deep run into October.
The Royals were purging salary for youth back in December, trading closer Wade Davis for Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler. They added starting pitcher Nate Karns from the Seattle Mariners in a trade for outfielder Jarrod Dyson and signed free agents Brandon Moss and Jason Hammel over the winter.
Still seeing themselves in the mix in the AL playoff race, they bought instead of sold, holding onto names like Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Jason Vargas, all of whom are free agents after the season. They added starter Trevor Cahill and a pair of relievers, Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer, from the San Diego Padres for big league relievers Matt Strahm and Travis Wood and 18-year-old minor league middle infielder Esteury Ruiz. They also re-acquired Cabrera from the White Sox, bringing him back to KC after spending 2011, his best all-around offensive season, with the club.
It was one big roll of the dice for the Royals. If they find a way to make the playoffs and give it a good showing, maybe the price of not dealing their biggest trade chips can be rationalized. But to some very real degree, the Royals will sit back and watch at least one, maybe more, of their significant contributors to their recent success leave for a pay day and all Kansas City will have to show for it is the unsold jerseys of the player(s) in its team shop.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images