With division races tight across the MLB, 2015’s trade deadline was one of the craziest in recent years. Starting pitching was the sought-after commodity, and teams went all-out to keep pace with each other’s moves. Big contracts were swapped, and very few 1-for-1 swaps went through. Here, I analyze three trades that, in my opinion, will have the biggest impact.
Houston Acquires: Scott Kazmir
Oakland Acquires: Daniel Mengden, Jacob Nottingham
Houston was clearly going to be buyers this year. They were right on the Angels’ heels leading up to the deadline (and for most of the first half, ahead of them), surprising all of baseball. Kazmir and Johnny Cueto were the best “rental” starters on the market, meaning that the controlling team can use them August through October and won’t necessarily need to re-sign them in the offseason.
The Astros have a strong and YOUNG rotation (the average age of the six top starters is 28) but needed a reliable complement to Keuchel.
Kazmir is a proven guy who is having the best season of his career thus far (6-5, 2.24 ERA, 104 SO, 1.05 WHIP), and was the best option on the market behind Cueto. This was a safe and smart move for Houston and their playoff aspirations.
As for Oakland, Billy Beane swipes two A-Ball prospects in Mengden (RHP) and Nottingham (C). 2015 turned out to be a bust season, and yet another rebuilding project has begun.
Both prospects were in the Top 25 of Houston’s system in the preseason rankings, but Nottingham in particular has impressed since then.
He is a catcher with some offensive tools, but lacks in plate vision and arm strength/accuracy. The bat has improved since preseason, but it’s unlikely he’ll be playing catcher due to the defensive struggles. He figures to be a solid contact/utility backup at the corners as early as 2018, if Oakland does not flip him for a veteran package in the coming seasons.
Mengden has had back issues and does not own any plus pitches, but he has an all-around repertoire and good athleticism off the mound. The 3.46 ERA the 22-year-old pitched to in 88 innings between Low-A and High-A in 2015 is helped by impressive strikeout (22%) and walk (7%) rates.
He doesn’t have the velocity that a strong setup man or closer needs, so he figures to be a long reliever or back-end starter.
Kansas City Acquires: Johnny Cueto
Cincinnati Acquires: John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, cash considerations
The offense is there, but starting pitching was a major achilles heel for KC. The Royals are in the top ten for runs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, but are 29th in quality starts.
The city is itching to get back to the World Series, and the biggest hole was at the top of the rotation. Yordano Ventura had a fantastic postseason last year, and was planning to return there as the Game 1 starter, but was sent to the minors a few weeks ago.
Cueto – like Kazmir – is a rental. He’ll be a free agent after this season, and probably won’t resign. This is all about this year, and I like it.
Quality starters, especially bonafide #1s, are always a tough get on the non-waiver market. Cueto has been an Opening Day-quality pitcher for the last two years, with WHIPs under 1.1 and sub-3.00 ERAs. He throws six different pitches, all with consistent control within the strike zone. Considering his contract and his track record alone, this is the best possible deadline return for the Royals.
But it wasn’t necessary. A look at the standings will tell you that the Royals were doing just fine with a below-average rotation, because their defense and timely offense gets tons of wins.
This trade increases the championship odds even though KC was already a strong contender. So how much of its future is heading to Cincinnati? Let’s take a look at those three southpaw arms.
Brandon Finnegan is the star prospect of this deal. He has been slapped with a 55 FV (future value) score by FanGraphs.com (to put that into perspective, Kris Bryant and Bryon Buxton are tied at #1 on the FV rankings with 70 each). He was great in relief appearances in the postseason last year, but has the stamina to be a starter.
This is a good problem to have. In most cases, a great relief prospect that could turn into a starter is better than a failed starter that is forced into a long-relief role. But there are some failures in the former.
Neftali Feliz is a great example of a player that put up great stats as a closer, but failed as a starter and was never able to return to his previous form. The Royals didn’t want that to happen with Finnegan, and that’s why he was still a great minor league prospect, ready to be dealt.
The lefty will most likely get starts in Cincy next year, considering the state of their rotation. He can hit 98 mph on his fastball as a starter, which could go even higher if he comes out of the bullpen.
Cody Reed sits at a 50 FV grade, just five below Finnegan. The thing is, scouts seem to think that he will end up being the best prospect from this deal a couple years down the road. Why? He has added almost 15 mph to his fastball since his college days, and has elite athleticism with his 6’5”, 220-pound frame. He is developing his slider and changeup into plus pitches as well.
There is a higher ceiling here compared to Finnegan, and Reed will almost certainly crack the rotation as a full-time starter in a couple years.
John Lamb is the “throw-in” prospect of this deal, due to his Tommy John surgery four years ago limiting almost every aspect of his game. He has average stuff and average stamina — he’s an average pitcher at the level he is currently playing. He could end up being a long-relief man out of the bullpen eventually, but I would expect much more out of both Finnegan and Reed.
Toronto Acquires: Troy Tulowitzki, LaTroy Hawkins
Colorado Acquires: Jose Reyes, Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, Jesus Tinoco
Given the division the Rockies play in, and their records since 2010, a Tulo trade has always been a possibility. But to the Blue Jays? Their offense has been one of the best in baseball over the past few years, and improvements to the rotation and bullpen were much higher on the list. The rapid reaction to this trade included a lot of scratched heads.
Tulowitzki, despite his eye-opening stats at the plate along with plus-defense, is extremely injury prone. Why do the Blue Jays make this move? Because they must know something we don’t.
From my point of view, a trade for two top-of-the-rotation starters would have been a better move than one hitter and one pitcher. Toronto is playing .500 baseball in a competitive AL East, and it doesn’t look like the Yankees will have a Braves-esque September fallout. So a Wild Card berth is what they are shooting for here.
Jose Reyes wasn’t having a bad season by any means (.285, .322, .385), and the Jays’ pitching prospects were being held close to chest. But, GM Alex Anthopoulos believes that Tulo (and LaTroy Hawkins) is worth Reyes + three fantastic pitching prospects. Is he right? Let’s examine.
Jeff Hoffman (click on the video above to view it) was the ninth pick in the 2014 draft, and was even projected to go #1 before Tommy John surgery kicked that back down. Scouts have noted that he is similar to Jon Gray, the Rockies previous #1 pitching prospect. Both of their fastballs sit in the mid-to-upper nineties with little to no movement. Hoffman’s has shown some life at times, but is still inconsistent; though at 22 years old, that should improve.
Despite that, he has always looked comfortable and confident on the mound. At 6’4” and 185 pounds, he has a good frame that is built for longevity. It doesn’t hurt that he has pitched to the tune of a 1.86 ERA in July, tugging his overall ERA this year down to 3.28.
Hoffman was the best pitching prospect the Jays had behind Daniel Norris, and figures to make an appearance in the back of the Rockies’ rotation sometime next year.
Miguel Castro is a fire-throwing right hander out of the Dominican Republic. He was great for the Blue Jays minor league teams in his (short) time with each— in 55 total games with five teams, he posted a 2.63 ERA, 9.9 K/9, and a .188 BAA. Despite all that experience, he’s just 20 years old. Right now, Rockies fans should be more excited about this guy than Hoffman.
His fastball touches 99 with tons of movement…the changeup has greatly improved…and he projects to be a fantastic setup man, or even a 2 or 3 starter, if his command improves.
Tinoco is similar to John Lamb in the Cueto deal; his stuff is average, and was included as an upside piece. Daniel Norris would have been a much better return given Tulowitzki’s value, but the Jays couldn’t afford to give up their two best pitching prospects.
The 20 year old, like Castro, is 6’5”, and has a live fastball and decent slider. But the rest of his pitches lack command and consistency out of his hand, and those will decide whether he has a shot at cracking the starting rotation. He’ll most likely end up as a solid reliever
18 year old Washington sports fan and Penn State freshman. I'll cover the MLB, NFL, and NBA.