Zack the Knife makes the Astros the big trade winners. Will he help make them World Series winners?
No questions asked. The Astros slipped in at the eleventh minute, practically, and not only stole the new single trade deadline show but they did the absolute most to fortify themselves for the postseason run nobody doubts is theirs this season. Barring unforeseen disaster, of course.
With Gerrit Cole looking at free agency after the season it made sense for the Astros to seek a top-of-the-line starting pitcher with at least another full season of team control to line up with (don’t doubt it) future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, so far the new ageless wonder of baseball.
So it came forth after the deadline passed that the Astros sent a quartet of prospects—good, promising, but not quite platinum-rated prospects—to the Diamondbacks for Zack Greinke, who isn’t exactly a slouch on the mound and who’s having a solid season in his own right so far.
They’ll get the rest of this season plus the final two seasons on the gigadeal Greinke signed with the Diamondbacks. The Snakes also sent the Astros a reported $24 million to help cover the rest of Greinke’s contract, on which the Astros will be responsible for the other $53 million. They’re not exactly complaining.
General manager Jeff Luhnow knew only two things about Greinke before he pulled the trigger on the big deal of the day: Zack the Knife has been a consistent pitcher who’s on the borderline of a Hall of Fame case; and, the righthander isn’t exactly one of the most combustible personalities in baseball.
“I don’t know him personally,” Luhnow told reporters, “but I think he’s not a guy that seeks the limelight, and that actually works well for us here in Houston. And slotting in with Verlander and Cole, he’s gonna not have to be the guy that’s in front of the camera the whole time.”
The Astros weren’t exactly over-occupied on doing the Greinke deal. Before that deal hit the news running Wednesday, they did a little bullpen fortification, getting Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini from the Blue Jays. The Jays also sent the Astros minor league outfielder Cal Stevenson. The Astros sent the Jays outfielder Derek Fisher.
Greinke was last seen striking out seven Yankees in five innings Wednesday. He left the park without talking to reporters, which may or may not have been an indication that he suspected or was told it was time to re-pack his bags.
On the same day, the Astros got flattened by the Indians, 10-4, in Cleveland; they finish with the Tribe Thursday before a weekend hosting the Mariners, but Greinke may not have his first Astros start until the Rockies hit town starting Monday.
“I know he’s really good. I don’t know him personally, but I’m going to get to know him,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “We acquired him because of how good he is. Certainly we expect him to be a big part of our push to win the division and keep winning into October. He’s an incredible pitcher.”
He has been, and he still is when all is said and done. His new teammates won’t disagree. “What a pickup!” Cole himself crowed. Referring to the front office, he added, “They nailed it. They did a fantastic job.”
Landing Greinke shot the Astros into being World Series co-favourites with the Dodgers at Caesar’s Palace Sports Book. But the Astros are smart enough to know Berra’s Law is immutable. Zack the Knife increases their odds of a return to the Series, but so is Andujar’s Law, as uttered by a long-ago Astro, the late Joaquin Andujar: “In baseball, there’s just one word—you never know.”
What we do know, though, is who were really the big winners and the big losers of major league baseball’s first single mid-season trading deadline.
Braves—Another starting pitcher wouldn’t have hurt them, necessarily, but what the National League East leaders really needed was a back-of-the-bullpen retooling. And, they got it, in an almost rapid fire series of deals.
They landed Shane Greene from the Tigers. They landed Chris Martin from the Rangers. They landed Mark Melancon from the Giants. As CBS Sports’s Matt Snyder observes, if the prices were too high for such reported availables as Edwin Diaz (Mets) and Felipe Vasquez (Pirates), the Braves did well enough shopping the sale aisle.
None of the new pen trio are anything near the most glittering names in the relief world, but neither are they slouches or pushovers. Changes of scenery from nowhere land to pennant contention do wonders for such pitchers, and it would be absolute gravy if the Braves get something out of Melancon resembling his final years in Pittsburgh and his only spell in Washington.
Greene, of course, was an All-Star this year and was wasted on a Tigers team in the middle of a rebuild. When the Braves can turn to him near the end of a game, either as the sure ninth-inning option or if things get a little dicey in the eighth, the sight of Greene warming up with his 1.18 ERA should be enough to make their division and the rest of the league quake.
Throw in Martin’s 10+ strikeout-to-walk ratio and 10.2 K/9 rate, and all of a sudden the Braves’ bullpen doesn’t look like it’s full of bull anymore.
Indians—So Trevor Bauer turned out to be a bigger pain in the you-know-where than his otherwise solid pitching was worth. Doesn’t mean the Indians dealt from weakness. Not with Corey Kluber on the threshold of returning from the injured list.
And the Tribe managed to address their biggest weakness in the deal: their corner outfielders weren’t hitting anywhere near the same area code as their new toys Yasiel Puig (from the Reds) and Franmil Reyes (from the Padres) put together. Add Puig’s mostly plus throwing arm in right field, and all of a sudden the Indians outfield isn’t just going to roll over and play dead.
The Indians also landed lefthanded pitching youth Logan Allen (also from the Padres), and when you consider how well they develop or re-tool starting pitching this is an upside acquisition for them, too.
But the real key was the impact bats. Puig secures them in right field for the rest of the season, and perhaps if he continues doing well enough the Indians would think of pursuing him when he hits free agency in the fall. Reyes, though, secures a DH spot for them for the foreseeable future while giving them an outfield platoon option in the bargain.
Suddenly it’s not to laugh about the Tribe’s outfield anymore.
Mets—Don’t laugh. Not only are they on a six game winning streak at this writing, the formerly left for dead Mets—and even I thought they were just awaiting the nails to be hammered into their coffin after that terrible weekend in San Francisco—are 12-7 since the All-Star break.
And maybe it’s an illusion since, aside from the Giants, they faced only real contender during the string. But they did take both games against the Twins in Minnesota, including a 14-4 blowout. All of a sudden, these Mets can play as well as they can pitch.
And while the world seemed to be sure only that either Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler would have a change of address after Wednesday’s deadline, it took the Astros landing Greinke to knock the Mets’ landing Marcus Stroman well enough before the deadline out of the park.
Maybe Stroman wasn’t thrilled at first to go to what he thought was a non-contender. And maybe someone ramped up for kicks a rumour that the Mets had ideas about flipping Stroman to the Yankees post haste for some of the Yankees’ top farm produce. But the Mets wasted no time ridding themselves of Jason Vargas—who should have been cashiered over a month earlier—sending him to the Phillies almost as soon as Stroman’s acquisition was a done deal.
The Mets rotation now looks like Jacob deGrom (who pitched brilliantly against the White Sox Wednesday night only to get his almost-usual no-decision, the poor guy), Stroman, Syndergaard, Wheeler, and Steven Matz. And with Matz putting on a deadly off-speed clinic shutting out the Pirates last Saturday night, looking as though he’s finally found the secret to pitching without the power of a deGrom or a more disciplined Syndergaard, it gives the Mets a rotation with two number-ones, a two, and a pair of threes.
Nationals—Like the Mets, the Nats were left for dead a few times before the All-Star break. Like the Mets, too, the Nats are riding resurgent, sort of: 10-9 since the break. And the Nats needed a bullpen remake in the worst way possible.
Not at the absolute rear end, where closer Sean Doolittle remains effective when he has something to save. It’s getting the games to Doolittle that caused one after another National migraine. But then the Nats landed Jays reliever Daniel Hudson and Mariners reliever Roenis Elias.
All of a sudden, the Nats seemed to find relief in the best way possible for that beleaguered bunch of bulls. And then they got really surreal—it turned out that they also got an old buddy (ho ho ho) from the Mariners, Hunter Strickland.
Strickland—who carried an almost three-year grudge over then-Nat Bryce Harper taking him deep twice in a division series, the second time awaiting whether his fresh blast straight over the foul line would leave the yard fair but misinterpreted as admiring the shot. (It flew fair into McCovey Cove.)
Strickland—then a Giant, who somehow hadn’t gotten the chance to face Harper until 2017, then entered a game with Harper leading off an inning and threw the first pitch right into Harper’s hip. Triggering Harper’s charge to the mound and the very delayed Giants pouring out of their dugout, during which pour former Nat Michael Morse’s career ended up being sealed when he collided with Jeff Samardzija and suffered a concussion.
Harper, of course, now wears the Phillies’ silks. But it would have been intriguing if Harper was still a Nat with Strickland coming aboard. Strickland’s coming back from a lat strain that disabled him for almost three months. And the Nats don’t see hide nor hair of the Phillies again until a four-game home set beginning 23 September.
By which time, the Nats may or may not be in the thick of the NL East race (the Braves suddenly started looking human enough the past couple of weeks), securing a wild card berth, or hoping they’ve got a leg up on 2020. A lot rides on the new bulls. But for now, the Nats took their number one need and addressed it respectably enough.
Red Sox—Like the Braves and the Nats, the Red Sox needed bullpen help badly. Unlike the Braves and the Nats, the Red Sox landed nothing. Not even a calf, never mind Diaz, whom the Mets were making available and who probably could have been had for a little less than they were said to have demanded for Syndergaard and Wheeler.
The Red Sox bullpen ERA in June: 4.92. The Red Sox bullpen ERA in July: 5.18. Letting some reasonably effective pieces make their ways to Atlanta and Washington instead does not portend well for the Olde Towne Team.
Dodgers—I know, it sounds funny to apply “losers” in any context to the National League’s 2019 threshing machine. But the threshing machine has one monkey wrench looming: the Dodger bullpen isn’t as formidable as it used to be.
Kenley Jansen isn’t really pitching like the Kenley Jansen of old this year. What’s behind him in the pen depends on whose description you read: mess, disaster, toxic waste dump, landfill, take your pick.
If the Mets and the Pirates were asking the moon for Diaz and Vasquez, the Dodgers if anyone had the moon to give in return. They’re loaded with prospects on the farm, and money in the vault, enough to have dealt a package of them for either reliever and still have a bountiful harvest to come.
Good luck holding leads against postseason lineups with that kind of pen. And the Dodgers won’t be able to hit themselves beyond their pen’s capability eternally. They won’t lose the NL West, necessarily, not with a fifteen-game lead at this writing, but their chances at a third consecutive World Series appearance and just one Series ring since 1988 just got a lot more thin.
Brewers—The pre-season favourites to defend their NL Central title aren’t exactly that good anymore. Losing Brandon Woodruff and Jhoulys Chacin to the injured list has left their rotation in tatters, and with the Giants yanking themselves back into the wild card play there went their ideas of maybe adding Madison Bumgarner for a stretch drive.
But they also needed some pen help, and what they brought aboard (Ray Black, Jake Faria, Drew Pomeranz) is serviceable but not quite as serviceable as what the Braves and the Nats brought aboard. The Brew Crew is liable to spend the rest of the season watching the Cardinals’ and the Cubs’ rear ends, but then with the NL Central as it’s been this year there could be a surprise in store. Could. Remotely.
Because the Brewers can’t live by Christian Yelich alone.
Twins—The AL Central leaders have gone from a double-digit division lead to looking only human at three games up on deadline day. They needed a little rotation help and a little bullpen help.
And they got only a little in the pen. Sam Dyson (from the Giants) and Sergio Romo (from the Marlins) are solid but not overwhelming. Maybe not for lack of trying, but the Indians’ blockbuster suddenly puts the Twins close enough to the Tribe’s mercy to make for a too-interesting stretch drive for them when they once looked like the division’s runaway train.
They can hit all the home runs they want, but if their pitching is compromised the Twins have a big problem coming. Like the Yankees, the Twins should have been more aggressive trade deadline players. Like the Yankees, they weren’t, for whatever reasons. And it could come back to haunt them down the stretch.
Yankees—Even Yankee haters won’t understand this one. The number one need for the injury-battered Bombers was rotation help. Especially after they’d just been flattened by the Twins and the otherwise-troubled Red Sox. And they did nothing to fix it.
The question may be why, or why not. If Bumgarner was off the market, they could have played for Stroman or for Mike Minor, even allowing for Minor’s rough July after a sterling June. They didn’t seem to play for any of the above. They didn’t even seem to be a topic if the Diamondbacks—knowing their own chances were still none and none-er—were looking to move Greinke to a contender.
And since their number one American League competition overall did land Greinke, the Yankees may ride a weakening AL East into October but they’re not liable to get past round one again, even if it may not be the Red Sox shoving them to one side this time.