The flurry of activity around baseball’s July 30th trading deadline was so dizzying it was difficult to initially determine which teams were winners or losers.
But after a long weekend to comprehend, and taking enough time to unleash an obligatory rant about some of MLB’s trading guidelines, we’ll try to separate the participants — and explain why the Orioles, though mostly non-participants, qualify as both winners and losers.
Not before, however, pointing out once again how embarrassing it should be for the game that so many teams are not only willing to send star players packing, but also add sufficient cash to pay their salaries. That they are willing to do so in some cases to help the receiving teams stay under the luxury tax threshold is even more nauseating.
The practice was put in place by the Texas Rangers 17 years ago when they shipped Alex Rodriguez to the New York Yankees while agreeing to pay 40 percent of his $25M annual salary. All these years and a couple of ownerships later, the teams are still using the same format, with Joey Gallo, relief pitcher Joely Rodriguez and $3 million going to New York for minor-league prospects.
It was as obscene then as it is now and only complicated by the fact that the Chicago Cubs subsequently sent Anthony Rizza and mega-bucks to New York in a similar transaction. In each case, the deal enabled the Yankees to stay under MLB’s $210 million luxury tax limit. And if you wonder why MLB would allow this practice, then you get to join the throng at the head of the class.
The Rangers and Yankees aren’t the only ones guilty here — just about every big-league team has been guilty of a practice that has become increasingly popular in the “rebuild” era. It was wrong in 2004, it’s wrong today, it will be wrong tomorrow and will continue to be wrong until commissioner Rob Manfred can work out a collective bargaining agreement that would prohibit teams from compensating players on other rosters. That should be as simple as Economics 101.
The Rangers and Yankees, of course, aren’t the only indulging in the idiotic scheme … just about every other MLB team has been involved on one end or the other — and the ones on the giving end are even more at fault than those receiving the goods. In fact, perhaps the strangest deal ever, at least the one that requires more time than I have available to try to explain was the one Cleveland made with Atlanta.
The team soon to be known as the Guardians sent outfielder Eddie Rosario and cash to the team still known as the Braves for Pablo Sandoval. Then, before he could trade his tomahawk for an Indians helmet, Sandoval was released.
Rosario was still due roughly $2.67 million of his $8 million salary while Sandoval was owed only a paltry $333,333.33. I’m guessing the trading parties took care of the excess baggage they were dumping. I’ll let somebody else figure it all out, it’s way past my pay grade.
As for the winners and losers, besides the fans in some of the affected cities of course, the Twins and Nationals appear to have gotten the best hauls among the teams “tanking” the rest of this year. Per Jonathon Mayo of MLB Pipeline, a total of 41 prospects on the respective team “Top 30” lists were involved in this year’s “Swapathon.” Only four of those, however, rank among the Pipeline’s Top 100 list — which gives you an idea of why these deals are such a crapshoot.
The Twins and Nationals each got two of those top-100 prospects, with shortstop/outfielder Austin Martin (No. 16) and right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 68) going to Minnesota and catcher Keibert Ruiz (No. 41) and right-hander Josiah Gray (No. 42) to Washington.
The Cubs got a big haul of prospect/suspect types in return for Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, but none cracked the “Top 100” list and most were in the middle of the “Top 30” from their respective former teams. Let’s not forget those three players basically formed the nucleus of a team then general manager Theo Epstein and manager Joe Maddon proclaimed a potential dynasty in the making five years ago. It’s hard not to classify Cubs fans as the big losers here.
In the eyes of many, many league observers, the Orioles are the team that suffered the most from events of the recent trading binge — only because all four of their opponents in the American League’s Eastern Division figure to be substantially stronger in the last two months of the season — especially given the fact that lefty Chris Sale is close to returning to the top of the Red Sox rotation.
It remains to be seen if the Yankees and Blue Jays improved enough to make a difference this year. Even if they did, it doesn’t look like there will be enough room in MLB’s current playoff system for more than two of the four contenders out of the East, in which case two would classify as definite losers in the eventual evaluation.
Much the same situation exists over in the National League, where the Western Division will provide both of the wild-card teams, which means one of the NL’s three highest payroll teams will be “one and done” come October, which is when we’ll find out who were the real winners.
As for the Orioles, it’s a big stretch but I put them on the lower ranks of “winners” because of their inaction, which is a definite improvement over the actions of the most recent past. The time is coming soon for the Orioles to deal with arbitration- and free-agent-eligible players — and the fact that, at least at this trade deadline, they didn’t opt for “best offers” for the likes of Paul Fry, Tanner Scott, Anthony Santander, Trey Mancini, and Cedric Mullins is an encouraging sign.
Unlike those who were dealt to the highest bidders in the last three years, there are players on the Orioles’ current roster who figure to be a part of the future. That they are still here — at least for now — is about as positive as it’s been around here for a while.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox