With Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline officially behind us, Jonah Birenbaum, theScore’s senior MLB writer, breaks down the winners and losers from this season’s final flurry of wheelings and dealings.
Loser – Washington Nationals
If the risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision, as the great biblical scholar Maimonides once put it, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is the exception. With his club, once the presumptive NL East favorite, trailing the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies by 5 1/2 games, Rizzo – who kicked off trading season six weeks ago when he acquired Kelvin Herrera – opted to do nothing Tuesday, neither selling off major assets (some of which, namely Bryce Harper, could’ve fetched a pretty penny), nor bolstering his chronically underperforming roster for the stretch run. In fairness, ownership may well have prevented him from dealing Harper, according to one report.
Now, amid whispers of discord in the clubhouse, the Nationals will have to try to dig themselves out of this hole without a suitable substitute for Anthony Rendon, who’s out indefinitely on family medical leave, and with everyday catcher Matt Wieters hitting just .143/.217/.190 in 12 games since returning from the disabled list while throwing out only three of 13 would-be base-stealers in that time. Rizzo didn’t add any rotation help, either, even with Stephen Stasburg back on the DL, providing no reinforcements for a decimated group of starters who’ve produced a 5.41 ERA over the last month. All he did, really, was make his bullpen slightly worse by trading Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs.
Winner – Philadelphia Phillies
In stark contrast to the Nationals’ bold do-nothing strategy, the Phillies – who will enter play Tuesday night with a 40.5 percent chance of winning the division, according to FanGraphs – actually did something at the deadline, landing Wilson Ramos, arguably the top catcher in the American League, from Tampa Bay for a player to be named later. They desperately need the spark, too, as the Phillies rank 10th in the National League in wRC+ (92+) this season, and have been particularly punchless of late, hitting just .236/.309/.392 over the last month.
Incumbent Jorge Alfaro is a perfectly fine catcher, to be sure, and his long-term outlook in Philadelphia remains unchanged, but Ramos is a significant short-term upgrade for the Phillies – among the 28 catchers with at least 200 plate appearances this year, his .834 OPS ranks third – and the acquisition cost was essentially nothing given his pending free agency and his current status on the DL, although he’s expected to begin a rehab assignment soon. Specifically, Ramos offers the Phillies a huge boost against left-handed pitching, as the club has struggled mightily against southpaws this year and Alfaro (75 wRC+) has been a big part of that.
Meanwhile, in nabbing left-hander Aaron Loup from the Toronto Blue Jays, the Phillies also addressed the major deficiency in their bullpen, adding a second lefty to take the pressure off rookie Austin Davis. As good as Davis has been, managing a 1.82 FIP over 16 appearances, the 25-year-old hasn’t exactly dominated same-handed hitters, who own a collective .783 OPS off him in 38 plate appearances. Loup, a seven-year veteran, has been a touch better at getting lefties out this year, holding them to a .690 OPS – and a 50 percent ground-ball rate – across 78 plate appearances.
Loser – Houston Astros
Certain distressed assets ought not to be pursued, even at the most outrageous of discounts. Such was the case, or so it seemed, with suspended closer Roberto Osuna, whom the Houston Astros acquired from the Blue Jays on Monday in exchange for Ken Giles and a pair of prospects.
Osuna’s credentials as a closer are unassailable. Since debuting with Toronto in 2015 as a 20-year-old, Osuna has accrued more WAR than all but five other relievers, crafting a 2.87 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP over 221 appearances while notching 104 saves in 124 chances. He won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 campaign, either.
On the other hand, he was arrested and charged in May after allegedly assaulting a woman, and is currently serving the second-longest suspension ever handed out under baseball’s new domestic violence policy – a punishment he opted not to appeal. Osuna is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday in Toronto, where he’s expected to plead not guilty.
Assuming Osuna is legally allowed to pitch down the stretch – he’s eligible to return from his suspension Aug. 5, but a conviction could make it difficult to obtain a United States work visa – he’ll undoubtedly make the Astros better. He’s arguably a top-five reliever, and Houston’s bullpen is already terrific. He may well help the team repeat as World Series champion. And clearly, that’s worth the moral cost of acquiring someone like Osuna for the Astros and general manager Jeff Luhnow, despite their purported “zero-tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind.”
Winner – Tampa Bay Rays
Parsing the Rays’ strategy is always difficult – you’re never really sure if they’re rebuilding or trying to compete – but the one thing they’re always on the hunt for, given their financial constraints, is surplus value. And center fielder Tommy Pham, whom they landed from St. Louis on Tuesday (along with some international bonus pool money) for three mediocre-to-okay prospects, could provide boatloads of it over the next few seasons. The 30-year-old is just one year removed from an MVP-caliber season – he hit .306/.411/.520 (144 OPS+) and accrued 6.1 WAR in 2017 – and he’s currently earning a league-minimum salary. Pham will remain under team control through 2021, too, and will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time next year.
Given the relatively low acquisition cost, the risk for the Rays here is minimal – they can always non-tender Pham if he really starts to struggle – while the upside is tremendous. If Pham, who owns a .730 OPS through 98 games this season, rediscovers his stroke, Tampa Bay would have a cost-controlled, star-level outfielder for another three seasons beyond 2018.
As such, on top of Pham potentially being a highly valuable asset, he could also help the Rays’ increasingly fresh-faced core – which no longer includes Chris Archer, who was traded to Pittsburgh on Tuesday – compete for a wild-card spot in the near future. Though the Rays are still rebuilding, in a sense, their revamped roster has been surprisingly decent, and they’ve got even more impact talent poised to contribute soon in Brent Honeywell, who’s currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, Brendan McKay, the two-way phenom selected fourth overall in last year’s draft, and Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow, the pieces acquired in exchange for Archer.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore’s senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)