So when did Aug. 31st become the real trade deadline?
Well, why not? These days almost every veteran player clears waivers because potential claiming teams fear getting stuck with an unwanted salary, and the whole buying/selling picture is more defined with only a month to go in the season.
All of which made August a busy trade month, especially the 31st, which is the last day an acquired player can be eligible for the postseason.
But mostly the big deals were about a couple of teams righting their wrongs at the July 31 deadline.
The Tigers finally came to grips with the need for a rebuild, and got realistic about making trades to move the huge contracts of both Justin Verlander and Justin Upton.
The Astros came to their senses, realizing they had to have another quality starting pitcher if they’re serious about winning a championship. So after passing on the likes of Sonny Gray and Jose Quintana in July, their ownership swallowed hard and took on Verlander’s contract — they’ll owe him $40 million over the next two years, with the Tigers picking up $16 million.
The wild card in the mix was the Angels, who went all-in on the wild-card race by taking on the $88 million Upton is owed over the next four years — unless he invokes his opt-out at season’s end, which is a possibility.
The Angels also upgraded at second base by trading with the Braves for Brandon Phillips, whose $14 million for this season is being paid mostly by the Reds.
In any case, the big-name deals on Thursday, together with the Mets’ sell-off in recent weeks, put a new twist on the 2017 trade season.
With that in mind, here are my Top 5 impact trades from the two deadlines combined:
1. Justin Verlander to the Astros
Yep, I think this most recent trade, completed just before midnight on Thursday, will have the most impact of all, re-establishing the Astros as the team to beat in October.
It’s not that Verlander at age 34 is as good as Chris Sale or Corey Kluber, or maybe even Luis Severino. But he’s still a quality starter who has pitched to a 2.41 ERA in the second half this season, and more significantly, he fills a huge void for the Astros, whose top two starters, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, have dealt with troubling injury issues this season.
Keuchel has pitched to a 5.35 ERA in seven starts since returning from a second stint on the disabled list for what the Astros say was a neck problem, though scouts are skeptical, as whispers abound that it’s really a shoulder injury.
And No. 2 starter McCullers has been out for a month with a back problem, so without Verlander the ’Stros may well have been very vulnerable in the postseason.
2. Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals
It was actually two different trades, Doolittle and Madson coming from the A’s, Kintzler from the Twins, and together they transformed a bullpen that ranked last in the majors with a 5.07 ERA prior to July 31.
Since then the pen has posted a 3.75 ERA, 10th best in the majors, and the three late-inning guys have all pitched well. Before the trades the Nats had lost six games when leading after eight innings — none afterward.
It matters most because the Nats are loaded everywhere else, with great starting pitching and a juggernaut lineup — presuming that Bryce Harper recovers from his knee injury for October.
With a solid pen, the Nationals are set up to finally go deep into October.
3. Yu Darvish to the Dodgers
The Japanese righthander has pitched well enough, though not with real dominance in four starts in L.A., while also spending a short stint on the disabled list with a back injury.
But scouts say he is showing ace-like stuff in games when he’s been sharp, and I think he’ll be crucial for the Dodgers come October as a top-notch No. 2 starter to back up Clayton Kershaw, who just returned from the DL himself (back) to pitch six shutout innings vs. the Padres Friday night.
And while Darvish will likely be gone as a free agent this offseason, the Dodgers didn’t give up their most highly-regarded prospects to get him from the Rangers.
4. Sonny Gray, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier to the Yankees.
Of all the big trades, the Yankees gave up the most highly-touted prospects — James Kaprielian, Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo to the A’s, Blake Rutherford to the White Sox — so they have a lot at stake, though all of the pitchers will be here beyond this season.
Robertson and Kahnle have been even more important than expected, helping the Yankee bullpen absorb Aroldis Chapman’s demotion from the closer role. The deep pen could make the Yankees very tough come October, and Gray has provided a No. 2-type starter, as advertised, who could be crucial to their hopes in the postseason.
5. Tim Beckham to the Orioles
Who knew? Nobody thought much of what seemed to be a minor trade, but Beckham has been a revelation at shortstop for the Orioles, hitting .394 with a .646 slugging percentage since coming over.
As the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, Beckham had been a disappointment for the Rays, but he has sparked the O’s strong run at a wild-card spot, and looks like he’ll be a fixture for them at short in coming years.
Speaking of great trades…
Ex-Yankee assistant GM Billy Eppler’s deal for Upton didn’t make my Top 5 deadline deals, but the first trade he made upon becoming GM of the Angels, getting Andrelton Simmons from the Braves, is proving to be an all-timer.
Simmons was considered the best defensive shortstop in baseball at the time, but he has blossomed offensively, showing power this year that has translated to 14 home runs, 32 doubles, and a .787 OPS, by far the highest of his career.
Throw in his speed (19 stolen bases) and his unparalleled defense, and Simmons currently has the second-highest WAR number in baseball, behind only Jose Altuve.
Simmons is only 27 and signed for three more seasons, and to get him Eppler gave up veteran shortstop Erick Aybar and a couple of pitching prospects, Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Newcomb is 2-8 with a 4.31 ERA as a rookie for the Braves, while Ellis hasn’t developed as they had hoped.
“Newcomb has a chance to be a solid starter, but the Braves would love to have that trade back,’” a rival team executive said. “Give Billy Eppler credit. He saw Simmons as a cornerstone player and moved aggressively to get him. Not everybody thought (Simmons) would do this much offensively.”
Could Chad Green’s emergence this season as a bullpen monster lead to the Yankees to trade Dellin Betances as part of a package for a top starting pitcher?
Two scouts who have seen Green recently say he looks like a closer-in-the-making, with his 97-mph fastball that seems to explode late.
“Easy gas,” one scout called it. “His ball gets on hitters before they expect it, so there’s deception and late life. His breaking ball is only so-so, but he could close, for sure.”
Green, who has 86 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched this season, gives the Yankees great depth in the pen, and while Aroldis Chapman’s struggles are cause for concern, it could make sense to deal from strength if they need starting pitching.
And, Green aside, the Yankees could get the most value for Betances, who has two years remaining before free agency.
“Dominant bullpen arms keep going up in value,” the scout said. “You put him in with one of their position-player prospects, and you could get a quality starter.”
Dodgers fans are getting a taste of how frustrating it can be watching Curtis Granderson’s streakiness at the plate.
Though Granderson made an immediate splash in L.A. with some key home runs after the Mets dealt him, he has quickly gone ice cold.
As of Saturday, Granderson was hitting .109 for his new team, 1-for-his-last-23. As a Dodger he has five hits, four of them home runs.
As for the best of the Mets who were recently traded? Jay Bruce has four home runs, five doubles to go with an .895 OPS for the Indians.