Amidst a move from Iowa City to Denver—with a two-week, wedding-infested layover in my native Minnesota—I watched last week’s trading deadline with a curiosity newly tinged with empathy: How many boxes would Jon Lester buy to pack up his belongings and tote them cross-country to Oakland? Would Danny Valencia’s move north of the border be a pain in the rear as a procession of U-Hauls were held up at customs? Was Justin Masterson furious that he had to throw away all of his half-used cleaning supply bottles in Cleveland and purchase them anew at a St. Louis area Target?
Was I projecting? Had the fumes from the oven cleaner clogged my neurotransmitters as I scrubbed the drip dishes in a futile attempt not to accrue a ticky-tack $20 deduction from my security deposit?
Probably. Fortunately, a wild Week That Was around Major League Baseball distracted me from certain madness.
- A furious day of trading on Thursday kicked off with an early-morning Billy Beane special: The A’s acquired Lester and Jonny Gomes from the Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes and the second pick in the Competitive Balance Round B of next year's draft. Lester moves west into perhaps the game’s best pitcher’s park. Any gains he receives from the new environment should be negated by a slight regression to the mean. The left-hander revitalized his career late last summer when he decided to attack all quadrants of the plate. I buy that as a plausible explanation for his improvement since last August, but Lester was a top-15 fantasy starter in Boston this year, and I don’t think he’ll get any better than that—even in the O.co Coliseum. I’m more optimistic about a performance improvement from Cespedes. Is it possible he’s been pressing over the last few years trying to muscle balls out of Yellowstone Park? After spraying liners all over the field in batting .292 as a rookie in 2012, the Cuban outfielder has batted just .246 since. Cespedes was a fringe top-25 fantasy outfielder at the time of the trade, and I think he’ll be top-20 or even top-15 from this point forward, taking aim at the seats above the Green Monster and running more often (Cespedes hated playing centerfield—it’s possible a move back to the corner will save his legs a bit for work on the base paths).
- The last trade of the day brought the house down. The Tigers got David Price for a stupefyingly reasonable (don’t type price, don’t type price) PRICE, relinquishing pitcher Drew Smyly, outfielder Austin Jackson and shortstop prospect Willy Adames. Smyly and Adames went to the Rays, who flipped Jackson to Seattle for infielder Nick Franklin. This trade is a net positive for the dynasty value of Smyly—heading into a superb environment for pitchers—and Franklin, who escapes an organization that stopped believing in him a year ago and is saved by another one that appreciates his defensive versatility and unorthodox power stroke. Dynasty league owners in possession of the lottery ticket Adames—a big-bodied shortstop with gap power—also must take it as a great sign that Andrew Friedman is a believer. Jackson moves to a less forgiving offensive environment, but he’s been performing below career norms; a return to the mean will negate a handful of bases Safeco steals from him. As for Price, he remains Price. I’m convinced Dave Dombrowski is a warlock: How many people get one over on Friedman? Even fans of Smyly and Franklin—I’m one of them—can’t argue that an equivalent (or better) package wouldn’t have been available over the winter, after Price could have helped the Rays steal the AL East. A rotation of Price, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello arguably makes the Tigers the World Series favorites (for the record, Bovada still has Oakland as the favorite, at 4-to-1; Detroit is 5-to-1). The biggest short-term fantasy winner as a result of this trade? Undoubtedly Rajai Davis, the burner who assumes Jackson’s every-day at-bats for now and thus must be owned in all mixed leagues. Ezequiel Carrera, who was promoted to take Jackson’s roster spot, has been mashing in the minors and should be added for speculative purposes in AL-only formats. He’s absolutely a threat to Davis’ status if he keeps hitting.
- The Cardinals moved to fortify a nicked-up rotation by buying high on John Lackey and buying low on Justin Masterson. St. Louis ponied up Joe Kelly and Allen Craig for Lackey (and prospect LHP Corey Littrell), no doubt attracted by both the veteran’s production (3.60 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 116/32 K/BB ratio in 137 1/3 innings) but also his hugely valuable $500,000 club option in 2015 that came as a result of his 2012 Tommy John surgery. I like the move for Craig (Fenway could save his career) and Lackey’s fantasy value. Will Kelly remain in the rotation long-term? Hard to know, but that question might determine the ultimate winner of this trade.
- The Redbirds also shipped outfield prospect James Ramsey to Cleveland in return for Masterson. As a general rule, pitchers traded from the American to National League often receive at least a nominal bump in fantasy value. Masterson’s initial spike is bigger than most. Cleveland couldn’t wait to dump Masterson, his 4-6 record and 5.51 ERA, and his massive platoon splits. The Indians’ Opening Day starter, disabled for most of July with an inflamed knee, went 14-10 and was named to the All-Star team last year.
Masterson’s career AL/NL splits are almost as pronounced as his splits against left-and-right-handed batters. Over his career, he’s posted a 3.14 ERA, .227 opponent’s batting average and 2.34 K/BB ratio against the National League. In many more starts against American League competition, he’d posted a so-so 4.29 ERA, .260 opponent’s batting average and 2.00 K/BB ratio. His velocity was down before he hit the shelf, and Masterson was curiously not using his sweeping slider as often as he should—were both issues harbingers of a major injury, a minor malady corrected by a month of rest, or something mental stemming from a season of frustration based on the Indians unwillingness to sign him to a lucrative extension this spring? Stay tuned. One thing we do know for sure: Masterson has pitched better than his surface-level numbers in 2014, with a terribly unlucky BABIP and strand rate. His 58.5 percent groundball rate projects well to the National League and St. Louis’ infield defense, which is a bit better than Cleveland’s.
The 24-year-old Ramsey, a Futures Game participant and the 23rd pick in the 2012 draft, has a .266 average and .368 on base percentage in 235 minor league games. He took a step forward this summer, batting .300 with 14 doubles, 13 home runs and 36 RBIs in 67 games with Double-A Springfield. T.J. House, who assumed Masterson’s rotation spot, is worth a look in AL-only formats.
- Boston wasn’t done there, with GM Ben Cherington putting the finishing touches on a superb day of rebuilding by shipping left-handed reliever Andrew Miller to the Orioles for Eduardo Rodriguez—ranked by MLB.com as the organization’s No. 3 prospect—and Stephen Drew to the Yankees for the injured Kelly Johnson. New York, meanwhile, further fortified their lineup by acquiring Martin Prado for 24-year-old catcher/first baseman/outfielder Peter O’Brien, who has banged out 33 homers in the minors this year but doesn’t like taking pitches or playing passable defense at any spot.
- In an under-the-radar swap that featured a ton of talent, the Marlins grabbed 24-year-old pitcher Jarred Cosart, rookie super utility man Enrique Hernandez and prospect OF Austin Wates from the Astros for a bounty of prospects—OF Jake Marisnick, 3B Colin Moran and RHP Frances Martes—and a 2015 compensation pick. Loved this trade for the Astros, who I think received the best value of any trade at this year’s deadline. I’ve never been enthralled with Cosart—despite mid-90s heat and a seemingly impressive arsenal, he’s unable to consistently punch out major league hitters, which makes it mighty hard to wriggle out of jams. Chalk the control issues up to his sweeping, cross-body delivery, and blame Houston’s eagerness to dump him on reported makeup/character issues (the return package didn’t hurt, obviously). Hernandez hit well in limited at-bats this year, and his trade value was never going to be higher. For the pair, Houston gets a third baseman it almost took No. 1 overall in the 2013 draft (Moran), an outstanding defensive outfielder with offensive upside, considered a five-tool talent, who was available as a buy-low because of some initial MLB struggles (Marisnick), a teenager with a big arm (Martes) and an extremely valuable draft pick next year that falls just outside of the first round. Brad Peacock returned to the rotation in Cosart’s spot—that dropoff is well worth the return.
Of course, this past week didn’t just provide us with big-name trades. Your favorite projects, back-end-of-the-rotation starters, setup men, utility guys and fourth outfielders also got to fill out USPS change-of-address online forms. Fun!
- The Cubs acquired disgruntled left-hander Felix Doubront from the Red Sox on Deadline Eve for a player to be named. Doubront wanted to start again, and he’ll get his wish amidst the desolation that is Chicago’s rotation. With arm talent and a nice 8.1 career K/9 rate, Doubront is a worthy gamble by Theo Epstein. He’s ownable in NL-only formats.
- Chicago also dumped infielder Darwin Barney on the Dodgers for pitching prospect Jonathan Martinez. Barney, a defense-first-second-and-third player, was summarily optioned to Triple-A to serve as injury insurance.
- Toronto acquired backup infielder Danny Valencia, a platoon option against southpaws, for the low-low price of Quadruple-A starter Liam Hendriks and Quadruple-A catcher Erik Kratz. Here’s a case where Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos’ ADHD worked out (it happens, MOM!): Hendriks was a waiver claim, and Kratz was a throw-in in a December trade.
- The Braves acquired utility man Emilio Bonifacio and lefty reliever James Russell from the Cubs for prospect C Victor Caratini.
- Asdrubal Cabrera was sent from the Indians to the Nationals for Zach Walters. Cabrera will take over the second base gig in Washington, kicking Danny Espinosa to a utility role, and is a decent bet to improve his performance over the last two months after struggling (perhaps due to pressing) in the first four months of his walk year. Walters shockingly turned on the power when he hit Triple-A, improving his long-term prognosis, but he isn’t currently projected as anything other than a super utility guy long-term—which is the kindest possible way to say a guy doesn’t have the chops to be an everyday starter.
- Milwaukee made an underrated acquisition when it nabbed Gold Glove outfielder Gerardo Parra—a centerfielder who has generally played in the corners for Arizona—for minor leaguers OF Mitch Haniger and LHP Anthony Banda. Parra’s disappointing season at the plate has left him just outside of recommendation for 12-team leagues, but Brewers pitchers are loving Doug Melvin right about now for putting together an defensive outfield that will rarely allow a ball to hit the carpet.
- The tricky Twins stole out-of-favor southpaw Tommy Milone from the A’s for fourth outfielder Sam Fuld, whom Minnesota claimed off waivers from Oakland earlier this year. Nice job by Terry Ryan and crew taking advantage of a situation: Milone (32-22 and 3.84 ERA over his four-year career) demanded a trade upon his demotion to make room for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, and the A’s were desperate for an outfielder after swapping Cespedes and overvalued a familiar option.
- Seattle got reserve outfielder Chris Denorfia from San Diego for OF Abraham Almonte and pitching prospect Stephen Kohlscheen. I liked the Padres’ return here. Almonte hasn’t done much in his career outside of torching Triple-A for a .300/.394/.482 line last year, but that production is nothing to scoff at.
And a few non-trade tidbits from around the majors to end this week's column:
- Cliff Lee was yanked early from his last start. The 35-year-old’s left elbow is barking again and there’s a decent chance his season is over.
- Former White Sox closer hopeful Nate Jones’ nightmare season is officially over, as he underwent Tommy John surgery on Tuesday. The 28-year-old right-hander may not throw a pitch in 2015.
- Josh Harrison is hitting 14-for-31 (.452) with four doubles, a triple and five homers over his last seven games to drive his slash line to .303/.341/.498. He's one of fantasy's true breakout stars in 2014 -- but you'll be hard-pressed to find an expert to vouch for him long-term.
- Staring down the barrel of more rehab setbacks stemming from a lingering knee injury, Eric Chavez, a six-time Gold Glover, called it a career on Wednesday.