Arms races and pennant chases: The best and worst of a crazy MLB trade deadline
If you thought the MLB trade deadline was hectic enough, 2021 took it to another level.
The elimination of a waiver deadline – typically at the end of August – added even more urgency to Friday's 4 p.m. ET deadline for teams to load up for their respective postseason runs (see: Los Angeles Dodgers) or get a head-start on their rebuilds (looking at you, Washington Nationals).
There were arms races, blockbuster deals and surprising trade partners that culminated with explosive final moments as the clock ran out.
Let's break down the winners and losers from a tumultuous MLB trade deadline:
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1. Big clubs open large checkbooks
The MLB trade deadline is always an exciting time for fans. The adrenaline kicks up another level when the big-market teams have dollars to spend. Last year, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic zapped a lot of player movement between teams.
It was not the case this season. The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers flexed their muscles financially. The Yankees acquired All-Stars Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. Both add much-needed left-handed power to the lineup. Opposing pitchers will have a difficult time facing the revamped Bronx Bombers lineup that includes Gallo, Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.
The New York Mets were not outdone. They acquired Javier Baez from the Cubs in a significant deal to upgrade their offense. Baez and Francisco Lindor prove to be a dynamic duo for the final stretch run in the NL East.
Across the country, the Dodgers also went on a shopping spree. The reigning World Series champs somehow got better with the additions of Max Scherzer and Trea Turner.
Turner brings terrific defense and is a standout hitter at the top of the lineup. Scherzer adds another frontline starter to the mix. Good luck to anyone that faces Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs.
The Yankees, Mets and Dodgers emptied their pockets for a postseason run. Could this be a precursor to sustained runs in October?
2. Rebuilding teams reset for future
The Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs finally hit the reset button, joining a slew of other rebuilding clubs. It may not seem like it now, but this is actually a good thing for both franchises.
With the lack of prospects available due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to get MLB-ready talent for the future is invaluable. The Nationals got the Dodgers’ top prospects in Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray in their blockbuster trade. Both can contribute as soon as next season. The Miami Marlins turned Starlin Marte into former top pitching prospect Jesus Luzardo. The Cubs received the highly rated Nick Madrigal in a salary dump for Craig Kimbrel.
The Texas Rangers got multiple prospects for Joey Gallo and the Pittsburgh Pirates saw immediate returns from Rodolfo Castro. He was called up after Adam Frazier was traded to the Padres. Castro looks like a star with five home runs in 24 at-bats.
Rebuilding teams like to play the long game. The chance to get future stars might provide more returns than previously expected.
3. Dark horse finally gets frontline ace
The Toronto Blue Jays didn’t need much at the trade deadline. The Blue Jays are terrific offensively with MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leading the way. However, to catch their division rivals in the AL East, the organization needed a game-changer.
Enter José Berríos.
The Blue Jays traded for the ace on Thursday. Berrios owns a 3.48 ERA and has 126 strikeouts in 20 games and immediately slots into a frontline role. He offers supreme swing-and-miss stuff in his repertoire. The Blue Jays will ask him to eat innings and team with Robbie Ray and Hyun Jin Ryu.
Will it be enough to catch the division frontrunners or hold off the Yankees? It's a question that Berrios hopes to answer with his new team.
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1. Aren't you in first place?
Sitting in first place and surrounded by teams who improved at the deadline, the Boston Red Sox were relatively silent on Friday after acquiring slugger Kyle Schwarber for a prospect on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Yankees and Blue Jays made huge additions to their respective clubs.
Schwarber is a nice piece for Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, but it doesn't answer some of the club's most glaring needs. The biggest is a left-handed hitting first baseman; Schwarber has never started a MLB game at the position.
Even with ace Chris Sale expected back sometime this year, the Red Sox could also use some more pitching talent. The team acquired RHP Hansel Robles, who helps the bullpen depth, but doesn't move the needle the way their rivals did.
2. A contender gets older, trades its closer
Let's put another AL East team on this list. The Tampa Bay Rays gave us a confusing deadline performance by bolstering their lineup with 40-year-old Nelson Cruz but also trading their closer in RHP Diego Castillo.
Cruz is undoubtedly an addition, but Castillo is a total head-scratcher. Castillo has 14 saves this year to go along with a 2.72 ERA. How does this improve a Rays team that so far has been the most formidable challenger to the Red Sox this season?
Still, the Rays have a way of surprising us every season. They might know something we don't.
3. Cellar-dwellers stand pat
The baseball world was expecting the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles – the two clubs with the worst records in baseball – to make more deals to sell off pieces to contending teams.
The Diamondbacks were able to deal Eduardo Escobar a few days prior to the deadline, but they couldn't shed much more than that as the likes of David Peralta, Merrill Kelly and Tyler Clippard remain employed in Arizona.
Likewise in Baltimore, where the Orioles might have been able to get a haul for Trey Mancini or John Means. The Orioles only move was shipping Freddy Galvis back to Philadelphia.
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Best deadline deals
Chicago Cubs trade RHP Craig Kimbrel to Chicago White Sox for 2B Nick Madrigal, RHP Codi Heuer
Who doesn't love a good Windy City trade?
This one took place with 90 minutes left before the 4 p.m. ET deadline, but it stole the show. The White Sox firmly planted their feet in the ground as World Series contenders; at the same time, the Cubs acquire an infield cornerstone of the future.
Kimbrel joins a White Sox bullpen that already includes RHP Liam Henriks, who has 25 saves and 71 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings this season. It will be interesting to see how White Sox manager Tony La Russa navigated the closer situation between Hendiks and Kimbrel, the latter of whom has 371 saves and may be a future Hall of Famer.
Heuer, a young reliever, is a nice addition but the main piece moving to Wrigleyville is Madrigal, a former No. 2 overall pick who is already a career .317 hitter through the first 82 games of his big-league career.
Madrigal is a huge get for the Cubs moving forward, especially with the departure of Javier Baez in a separate deal. Still, it doesn't cost the White Sox anything this year since Madrigal is out for the season with an injury. It's World Series or bust on the South Side.
— Richard Morin
Miami Marlins trade OF Starling Marte to Oakland Athletics for LHP Jesus Luzardo
This is a win-win trade for both the Marlins and Athletics. Marte is batting .305 this season with 23 stolen bases and a .856 OPS (on-base percentage + slugging). He fits well with the Athletics and can impact the game in multiple ways. His defense will be important within the pitcher-friendly confines of Oakland Coliseum.
The Athletics are 5 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West. This is likely a rental with Marte in the final year of his contract. However, the Athletics have the offense make some noise with playoff push.
Luzardo is a terrific acquisition for the Marlins. His numbers are down this season, but Luzardo was once viewed as a top-10 MLB prospect. He owns a career 4.79 ERA and is just in his third MLB season. The Marlins get a chance to further develop his mechanics and keep him under team control until 2026.
Should he return to form, the Marlins have a sneaky good frontline with Sixto Sanchez, Luzardo and Pablo Lopez for years to come.
— Jaylon Thompson
Chicago Cubs trade SS Javier Baez, RHP Trevor Williams to New York Mets for OF Pete-Crow Armstrong
The Mets needed to find another offensive option with Francisco Lindor sidelined. Once Lindor returns, Baez will be able to play alongside a good friend.
"If I go to free agency, I would like to play with Francisco Lindor," Baez said during an interview with Mega 106.9 FM. "I loved playing with him in the World Baseball Classic. It is the only option I would take to play second base if it is to play with him, otherwise I stay playing at shortstop."
It's the feel-good trade of the day because Baez wanted to play with Lindor. It is one of those trades that shows players can have an influence on the whole day and that chemistry matters.
— Emily Olsen