Sunday, 04 August 2019 16:23

'MATTer of Opinion' Sports Column: 5 winners from MLB trade deadline

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The ever-entertaining MLB trade deadline nearly came and went without any blockbuster moves. Leading up to the annual last-dash day for upgrading rosters, there was a widespread belief that this would be one of the better trade deadlines in recent history given how tight most of the playoff races currently sit.


Instead, it was a relatively slow day, saved only by the last-second deal that sent Zack Grienke from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Houston Astros.

Most of the biggest trade chips like Noah Syndergaard, Kirby Yates, Felipe Vazquez and Robbie Ray stayed put. Even some lesser names like Baltimore's Mychal Givens and Trey Mancini and Toronto's Ken Giles did not change teams.

The New York Mets and San Francisco Giants also decided to stay the course and go for it this season, meaning big names like Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith and Zack Wheeler were not traded.

Despite the relatively slow day of trading, several teams came in with a plan and executed it to a tee, improving their roster and World Series hopes. These are the five biggest winners from the July 31 trade deadline and the days leading up to it.

5. San Francisco Giants fans

There were rumblings leading up to the deadline that the Giants had changed course and were planning to trade pending free agents Bumgarner and Smith. In the end, the Giants elected to keep their best starter and closer, signaling that they plan to try and make the most of their recent run and fight for the National League's final playoff spot. We'll never know how close the Giants actually came to selling their two big names, but all that matters is they kept them.

Giants fans should be happy that the front office decided to keep the group together and make a run at it. I understand the overall consensus that has swept the league is that teams with only a minuscule shot at winning the World Series should trade pieces away at the deadline instead of trying to get into the one-game playoff. There's some truth to that notion, but the Giants have been playing nearly .700 baseball for close to a month.

It's been an unexpected rise for the Giants, which should make it all the more enjoyable for the fans for the rest of the season. In addition to keeping Bumgarner and Smith, San Francisco also acquired All-Star second baseman Scooter Gennett and dumped the rest of Mark Melancon's bloated salary. Gennett might be starting to get his timing down, as he's hit .306 over the last week.

In a year from now, perhaps it will look foolish in hindsight for the Giants to have stood pat at the trade deadline. Fans, however, should be living in the here and now, and if they're able to do that, they'll have a much more enjoyable August and September than if management had pulled the plug on what has been a very exciting run. Baseball is in a better place, in my opinion, when more teams are trying to win right now instead of looking two or three years down the road at all times.

4. Atlanta Braves

The race for the NL East title could come down to which team's bullpen holds up best down the stretch. Both the Braves and Washington Nationals attempted to upgrade their bullpens, but the Braves came out with the best pickups. The Nats were hamstrung by their lack of quality prospects and financial constraints and likely only marginally improved their league-worst bullpen.

The Braves landed All-Star closer Shane Greene, solid right-hander Chris Martin and former All-Star Melancon who is having a resurgent year after finally getting healthy. This trio is much better than what the Nats were able to acquire. The Braves now have one of the better bullpens in the National League.

Picking up three quality relievers without surrendering any elite prospects makes for a great deadline for the Braves. They hold a comfortable lead in the division, but upgrading the bullpen like this should all but seal the deal and elevate them to World Series contenders.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

The news that the Diamondbacks had traded All-Star right-hander Zack Greinke to the Houston Astros broke a few minutes after the official 4 p.m. deadline, meaning the talks that led to this deal really went down to the wire. The D-Backs had been looking to get out from under Greinke's massive six-year, $206-million contract almost from the moment he signed it — not that he didn't live up to his billing as a future Hall of Famer.

Leading up to the deadline, it was obvious the Diamondbacks were interested in trading Greinke, but it looked like a long shot that they would get a deal done because of the financial constraints that come with dealing a pitcher owed over $70 million. If the Diamondbacks were going to get prospects, it appeared they would have to trade younger left-hander Robbie Ray.

Arizona was able to find a way to move the contract and acquire three of Houston's top-five prospects. Getting the Astros to take on over $50 million of Greinke's salary without sacrificing the quality of the return makes this an absolute slam-dunk for the Diamondbacks.

2. Cleveland Indians

The big speculation leading up the trade deadline centered around whether or not the Indians would deal starter Trevor Bauer. In the absence of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Mike Clevinger, the right-hander had effectively functioned as the ace and workhorse of the staff. With Kluber and Salazar on the mend, Clevinger fully healthy and young guns Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac dealing, Bauer became expendable for an Indians team desperate to upgrade their outfield. Bauer's immature meltdown in his final start in Cleveland last weekend certainly didn't help his case as a long-term asset for the Tribe.

Bauer is set to earn a big raise in arbitration from the $13 he's making this year, so it makes a great deal of sense for the Indians to trade him, antics aside. It's just incredibly rare for a contender to deal away one of their best starting pitchers at the deadline. The return package for Bauer, however, was also unprecedented. 

Outfielders Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes headlined the return package for the Indians, making them the first 20-homer duo ever acquired in the same trade in MLB history. The outfield was the most glaring weakness for the Indians at the deadline, and they went out and acquired two huge upgrades over the group they had been running out to play the corner spots The Indians played this trade deadline perfectly and made the correct decision to trade Bauer now.

1. Houston Astros

After it became evident the New York Mets weren't going to trade Noah Syndergaard, no one would have blamed the Astros for calling it a trade deadline and moving on with their pursuit of a second World Series title. Instead, the Astros pulled off the stunner of the deadline, landing All-Star and former Cy Young Zack Grienke without surrendering any of their best young bats. The addition of Greinke gives Houston the best rotation in the American League and makes them the odds-on favorite to win the pennant and return to the World Series.

In a year where offense has reigned supreme, the Astros now feature four of the top-15 pitchers in baseball measured by ERA in Greinke, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. This is now the third major deal the Astros have made to acquire a frontline starting pitcher, and the first two experienced massive upticks in performance after Houston's analytics department got a hold of them. Imagine Greinke's ever-changing repertoire and ability to spin the baseball and change speeds ratcheted up even more with analytics. Watch out, baseball.

The Astros now have the best rotation of any contender and a dominant lineup. They'll also be able to mix and match with their bullpen in the playoffs to create matchup nightmares for opposing hitters. This is how a rebuild is supposed to work. The Astros built one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, got their cheap, homegrown talent to the big leagues and then supplemented their core with big acquisitions. They were only able to take on the big contracts of Greinke and Verlander because of how well the rest of their roster was constructed.

 

Matt Harrelson is the co-host of Good Morning Sandhills, Live at 5, the RO Sports Show and ROSS Racing.