The American League East will likely make history this year as the only division to boast five winning teams since realignment following the 1993 season.
Still, Major League Baseball’s trade deadline showed that this long-vaunted circuit is still upside down.
After Tuesday evening’s deadline at 6 p.m., the best player added to the division didn’t go to the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, nor the big-money Toronto Blue Jays.
Instead, the Baltimore Orioles added St. Louis Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty, a crucial veteran arm for a young pitching staff, is hitting a familiar wall even as the Orioles stretch their record to an AL-best 66-41.
It has been a sensational rebuilding – in both display and dominance – for a club that lost 110 games just two years ago. And it marks their first trade deadline as a regular buyer in seven years, one that developed into a win-win.
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By signing pending free agent Flaherty, the Orioles get much-needed relief for a rotation that is without struggling ace Tyler Wells, who was optioned to the minor leagues to preserve his innings for later in the season.
And they managed to get Flaherty in exchange for Class AAA infielder Cesar Prieto and pitchers Drew Rom and Zack Showalter, keeping the blown chips of a storied farm system intact.
Orioles’ playoff odds – currently 90.6% per FanGraphs – perhaps hinted at a deeper deadline investment. But with about 20 teams still in contention, a very tight seller’s market suggested to general manager Mike Elias that Flaherty would be the best thing Baltimore could do.
“We think this team has what it takes to go deep,” Elias said after bringing Flaherty into the fold. “We think it strengthens us and gives a lot of security and a boost to a rotation down the stretch.
“We were prepared to implement every corner of our farm system within reason to make acquisitions. We made a calculated value exchange of what we’re losing and what we’re getting back, with an appropriate weighting of 2023 or 2024.”
That’s in stark contrast to most of their division mates, some of whom did virtually nothing.
‘Not worth it’
Credits Tampa Bay Rays: A club that started 13-0 and 27-6 before being hit by pitching injuries flipped a top prospect (first baseman Kyle Manzardo) to Cleveland for Aaron Civale, who should flourish in the Rays’ rotation.
Kudos to the Toronto Blue Jays: Still hanging on to the No. 3 wild card, they traded to the St. Louis closer Jordan Hicks, and when All-Star shortstop Bo Bichette came up with a sore knee Monday night, the Cardinals added shortstop Paul DeJong just hours later.
So about the Red Sox and Yankees.
Boston, at 57-50 and 1½ games out of the wild card berth on Wednesday, added utility infielder Luis Urias from Milwaukee.
New York, at 55-52 and 3½ games out of the money, cleaned up the White Sox trade and came up with reliever Keynan Middleton.
Yes, the market was that cruel. But it’s also clear that the divisional superpowers were wondering how much to pour in this season as they were midway between buyer and seller.
“It wasn’t a deep deadline in terms of options,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman saidwho also noted that the potential return if the Yankees were turned into a seller was “not worth it.”
“Given the opportunities coming our way… this was the best game for us with the team we had.”
Taking their hacks
That doesn’t completely eliminate the Red Sox and Yankees from the playoffs. But the grim indicators just keep coming.
As Cashman spoke to reporters at Yankee Stadium, the Rays picked on $162 million Yankees acquisition Carlos Rodon, striking him out early in a 5-2 victory. It was Tampa Bay’s second win there in as many nights, and on Wednesday they can clinch the season series by completing a sweep.
That would effectively add another game to the Rays’ 9½-game lead over New York; Baltimore leads the Yankees by 11 games now. Sure, Boston and New York have wild-card lottery tickets, but don’t count the stakes on it.
It is therefore not surprising that the quietest deadline came from the largest markets. It might have been even higher down in Baltimore, where the Orioles were reportedly in the running for future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, who was traded back to Houston.
“We came very close to things,” says Elias. “We took some very big swings.”
The ones that more typically suit their division brethren.