The 2023 Major League Baseball season has entered August, and you know what that means. Well, many things, but in this area I’m referring to the coming and going of the MLB trade deadline. It was moved to Aug. 1 from the traditional July 31 this time — commissioner Rob Manfred can now place it anywhere from July 28-Aug. 3 — but it was still done in time for any games in August.
I am now tasked with picking winners and losers from this trade deadline. As always, slight and obvious caveats apply, such as the unpredictability of baseball and the subjectivity of one person assigning winners and losers, but we’re all smart enough to know them ahead of time, right?
Winners: Astros and Justin Verlander
Heading into the spring, I had the defending champion Houston Astros ranked No. 1 in the MLB power rankings despite losing Justin Verlander to free agency. However, the rotation they planned to have without him has fallen apart due to injury. Both Lance McCullers Jr. (flexion/spur surgery) and Luis García (Tommy John surgery) are out for the season, while José Urquidy has been dealing with shoulder issues. Plus, Framber Valdez is currently struggling and Cristian Javier hasn’t broken through like many thought he would.
Despite the struggles with rotation health and in several key areas on offense, the Astros entered Monday at 60-47 and just a half game out of first place.
Meanwhile, Verlander is leaving what ended up being the Mets this season, and we know he’s fine in Houston. We know the city of Houston is very comfortable with him as well. The start of the reunion will be fun.
More importantly, the Astros now have every piece they need to repeat as champs. They just need more players to play better and a morale boost never hurt the cause in that department.
The state of baseball in the state of Texas is top notch. The Rangers hit the deadline leading the AL West by a half and also had some upgrades to their rotation. Lefty Jordan Montgomery is a very solid mid-rotation guy, while Max Scherzer might just have a little left in the proverbial tank here after a scene change.
The Rangers also addressed the bullpen (Aroldis Chapman and Chris Stratton) via trade while addressing the catcher depth (Austin Hedges).
Even with the Jacob deGrom injury, the Rangers front office has never wavered from making contention in 2023 an absolute priority. Remember, former player Chris Young (the tall pitcher, not the outfielder) is the general manager and three-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy is managing. These guys know how players think and feel. Note:
The Rangers haven’t made the playoffs since 2016, and the front office worked quickly to end that relatively minor drought. It’s a beauty when it happens.
We can never be sure exactly what all the trade talks entailed, but I suspect there was some level of “prospect hugging” going on here with Mike Elias and his front office. I just feel like sitting 65-41, first place in the best division in baseball and the best record in the American League means the future is right now.
Before we get any nonsense, let me be clear about something: The Orioles can still absolutely win the World Series. I would be foolish to suggest otherwise.
My problem is it’s so hard to win it all and the Orioles – who did it something (which we’ll get to in a minute) — very likely could have sold around the margins of the loaded farm system to increase their chances of winning the World Series in the near future. There are two main reasons to have a lead inventory. One is to help MLB list, and we’re seeing the fruits of that labor right now. The second is to use the outlook stash as currency to achieve established MLB talent, and we haven’t seen that yet. Elias came from the Astros’ front office, which was the one that bought Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to World Series appearances.
My big concern with the Orioles’ rotation is as follows:
- Dean Kremer is less than six innings shy of his career-high MLB workload and is showing signs of fatigue.
- Tyler Wells is 10 innings past his career high and showing signs of fatigue.
- Kyle Bradish is approaching his career high.
- Kyle Gibson is Kyle Gibson.
- Grayson Rodriguez is a rookie who has been inconsistent.
It sure would have been nice to insert some starters in there who have some 180-inning seasons under their belts in the last few years, right? I’m not just talking about finishing the season. I’m talking about going through October. That should be the goal. I don’t think the front office worked as it is.
The last several years have been so frustrating for Flaherty, who once finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. There has also been drama surrounding the catcher position in St. Louis this season. He has a ton of talent and is only 27 years old. It’s probably nice to get out of that situation and start fresh with a legitimate candidate for Flaherty, who was traded to the Orioles from the Cardinals.
He also has a 180+ inning season! That happened in 2019, and he hadn’t topped 100 since until this year, but he’s done it before.
I really wish the Orioles would have been able to grab another established starter (Verlander or Dylan Cease or Eduardo Rodriguez, just to name a few examples), but it’s entirely possible that Flaherty throws as an ace the rest of the year with his new surroundings and a front office that has a knack for figuring out pitchers. That’s why I only hit a “little loser” on the Orioles.
The Reds have rotation issues and they did nothing to support them. Immediately, a division leader who does nothing to shore up his biggest weakness is slapped with the “loser” label, and I have no regrets.
However, I would like to insert a context that makes it a little less bad here.
First, the Reds rebuild seems to point more toward 2024 than 2023 in several ways. They’re not like the Orioles because the Orioles’ breakout started last year. The Reds’ breakout didn’t start until June. Okay, end of May. The point remains. The Reds lead the division, yes, but they would still have to deal with NL powerhouses like the Braves and Dodgers. The Orioles have the best record in the AL, so you can make a case for them is the powerhouse.
Additionally, the Reds get Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo back this month. While the rotation still seems capable of extreme inconsistency, those two won’t come to the end of the year overloaded like the Orioles’ arms will. The two returning from injury could also allow the Reds to be creative with Andrew Abbott and not run him out of gas.
We could see a Greene-Abbott-Graham Ashcraft-Lodolo rotation (or however you want to order it), making the Reds a dangerous October underdog.
Then again, they could also miss the playoffs due to not addressing the rotation here at the deadline.
Titans of baseball? The Evil Empire and one of the most influential teams of the 2000s?
The Red Sox entered Tuesday 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, and the Yankees were 3 1/2 out. They both barely tinkered in the margins.
Pretty weak effort. Then again, they’re both pretty weak in 2023, so I guess that rings true.
The Twins entered play Tuesday in first place, one game over a team that decided to be a seller before the trade deadline. They added no at-bats to a sub-par offense. It’s possible the Twins just didn’t like any available trade candidates — and we know the bats weren’t too many on the market — but that just seems like mismanagement, given their circumstances.
I suppose there’s an argument to be made that the Twins will be a token AL Central playoff team and then just get bounced in the playoffs, meaning they shouldn’t even bother playing the rest of this season and instead must build for the future. It’s absolute garbage. It’s been just two years since the playoff team with the worst record won the entire tournament. Just come in and you never know what’s going to happen, especially with a rotation capable of getting really hot and carrying the team.
Instead, they sat on their hands. Remember, the Twins haven’t won a playoff game since 2004. They’ve lost 18 straight playoff games. If they can hold the (second) deck in the AL Central, it looks like it will be 20 after this October.
Winner: Mets fans
Look, they desperately needed an escape hatch from the nightmare that this season has been. After watching their favorite team win 101 games last year only to finish with a wild card spot and then lose in the first round, Mets fans were treated to a pretty good offseason. Things went south quickly this spring, especially when Edwin Díaz was injured during a World Baseball Classic party.
The team started out 14-7, but since then it’s just been a total disaster. By relieving Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and others, the Mets stockpiled some excellent prospect talent and likely also paved the way for smarter spending in the next offseason or two.
As such, for the rest of this season, Mets fans can watch games without feeling stressed and can instead hold on to the positives.
How’s that sound, Mets fans? Catch glimpses of things that give hope while not worrying about the bad, now that the current season has finally been put to bed. And get excited about the next wave of talent coming to Citi Field, whether it’s prospects or additions from outside the organization.
It’s nice and relaxing for now, huh? The Mets fans really won something in 2023. Finally.
I am required by the Baseball Media Act to mention Shohei Ohtani as he relates to the trade deadline. He obviously wasn’t traded. Instead, the Angels decided to try to win with him. A new concept, I know. And I said that mockingly, but there are plenty of people out there who think it was foolish for the Angels not to trade Ohtani. Maybe they’re right.
Maybe they aren’t.
What we do know is that the Angels are just three games out of a playoff spot. It is very close. Trading Ohtani would have done the following:
- Dropped the white flag this season.
- Most likely burned the bridge with Ohtani, preventing them from signing him.
- Thrown away a lot of club revenue in the form of ticket and merchandise sales for the rest of the season.
- Brought back a large package of leads.
The people who thought the Angels should trade Ohtani focus heavily on the latter point there. It’s entirely possible that the Angels would have gotten something like five prospects back in a deal, and those five prospects would have changed franchises. Was it likely though? We’ve seen many superstars traded, and the examples of those trades directly leading to future success are few and far between. I recently went through. If you want to go back through the entire list and find the players traded to the superstars, be my guest. If you do, and you’re honest with yourself, you won’t find a compelling argument that the numbers were on the side of an Ohtani trade from the Angels’ perspective.
Instead, it means holding on to Ohtani and trading for other players:
- The Angels still have the best player in baseball.
- They added Lucas Giolito, CJ Cron and Randal Grichuk.
- They have a chance to make the playoffs.
- They already had a bad farming system and made it even worse.
- Ohtani could end up signing with someone else after the season.
If the Angels make a deep playoff run and find a way to keep Ohtani in free agency, they won the hell out of this trade deadline. If they go on an extended losing streak and then he goes in free agency, they missed that deadline. If it’s something in between, who the hell knows.
Regardless, it will be fascinating to watch as it all unfolds.