BY J.A. SCHWARTZ
Most of the attention around the trade deadline is rightfully focused on the teams that are in contention for a playoff berth, and whose roster machinations in search of the perfect combination of talent and opportunity drives the news cycles in late July. It was wonderful theatre for fans and baseball chroniclers alike, ruminating on the various merits of the Zack Greinke trade, the Marcus Stroman deal and the fascinating Trevor Bauer/Yasiel Puig/Taylor Trammell swap, the latter being a three team collaboration.
It bears mention, however, that the teams that aren’t in win-now mode, and who trade their free agents to be, star players and bullpen pieces to those hungry teams at the top of the standings, can reap significant rewards during the deadline frenzy if they are patient.
Five years ago during trade deadline season in 2014, the names at the top of the standings were different than they are today. In the American League, the division leaders were Baltimore, Detroit and Oakland, with the Angels and Royals looming as threats. In the National League, the Nationals, Brewers and Dodgers set the pace, but the Braves, Giants and Cardinals were all in the mix. Here are some of the interesting transactions that occurred in July and August of 2014 as these teams jockeyed for roster upgrades through trades and waiver claims:
Rich Hill (4-1, 2.55), the ageless Dodgers hurler still pitching effectively at age 39, was purchased by the Angels from the Red Sox on July 1st only to be released by the team eight days later. The Yankees scooped him up on July 16th, and Hill threw 5.1 IP for the Yankees the rest of the year. The Yankees did not retain his services after 2014. With a few adjustments to his mechanics and his pitch mix, Hill would break out as a stellar starting pitcher late in the 2015 season, and has gone 25-15, 2.72 since.
On July 2nd, 2014, the Braves signed international free agent Ronald Acuna Jr. Acuna debuted in the majors at age 20 four years later in 2018, and was that season’s Rookie of the Year. Acuna has hit .291/.369/.527 with 52 HRs, 130 RBIs and 41 stolen bases thus far in his career.
The Diamondbacks traded OF Gerardo Parra to the Brewers for LHP Anthony Banda and OF Mitch Haniger on deadline day 2014. Parra amassed 446 at bats for the Brewers, hitting .312/.355/.482 with 12 HRs, 41 RBIs, and 13 steals. Parra was then traded at the 2015 deadline to the Orioles for current Brewer RHP Zach Davies, who has gone 41-30, 3.98 in his five year stint with Milwaukee. Haniger would debut for Arizona in 2016, but was traded that offseason to Seattle, for whom he has hit .271/.351/.486 with 57 HRs, 172 RBIs and 17 steals in his three year run with the Mariners.
Baltimore added LHP Andrew Miller from the Red Sox on July 31st, 2014. Miller would go 2-0 in 20 IP for the Orioles with a 1.35 ERA, striking out 34 batters and helping to lead Baltimore to the AL East title. He was equally stellar in the playoffs for the O’s, allowing no runs over 7.1 October innings. He would leave Baltimore as a free agent after the 2014 season. Who did the Red Sox receive from the Orioles for Miller ? 21-year-old LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, who has blossomed into a dependable starter for Boston, going 45-30, 4.14 in his five years with the club. Rodriguez won’t be eligible to test free agent waters until 2022.
The Angels, looking for a bullpen upgrade, acquired RHP Vinnie Pestano from the Indians on July 31, 2014. Pestano would appear in 12 games for the Angels that year, throwing 9.2 innings in the regular season and another inning in the postseason for Anaheim. He would also pitch for the team in 2015, his last season in the majors. Over the course of his time with the Angels, Pestano went 1-0, 3.38 in 21.1 IP, and he did help the Angels make the playoffs in 2014. What did those 21 IP cost the Angels ? RHP Mike Clevinger, who debuted with Cleveland in 2016 and has a 34-19 record and 3.33 ERA in his four seasons with the franchise. Clevinger has been incredibly valuable for the Tribe, and he won’t be eligible for free agency until 2023.
The headlines are filled with stories about the big names that have changed teams over the past week or so, but sometimes the parts of those transactions that barely merit a passing glance go on to develop into significant assets for the clubs who relinquished established major league talent to get them. Not all of the prospects-or international free agents-whose names are listed in the transaction columns will go on to fame and fortune. The reality is that very few of the minor league players who switched uniforms last week will end up having careers of any significance in the majors. However, when those players do ascend to the big show, they can pay incredible dividends in the seasons to come for the teams who bet on their potential.
Just five years ago, the Giants beat the Royals in an epic World Series, with LHP Madison Bumgarner playing the hero for San Francisco. The Orioles were in the playoffs, as were the Tigers and Pirates. In 2019, those same teams were trading away some of their best players to contenders, with an eye towards acquiring young prospects that might be part of their next chance at October glory. The Giants seriously entertained trading that hero, one of the faces of their franchise, before relenting and deciding he’ll remain on their roster and finish the season with San Francisco before becoming a free agent. Had Bumgarner been dealt, perhaps another little known prospect could have joined the ranks of the players who made good on their potential, and helped teams at the bottom of the standings move back towards the top.