The Pittsburgh Pirates had an interesting trade deadline.
On July 31, the Pirates were 52-51 and sitting four games out of the second Wild Card spot.
Nonetheless, the team decided to buy and sell, dealing closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals on July 30 in exchange for another Major League arm, Felipe Rivero. The team also picked up Antonio Bastardo and Ivan Nova on deadline day two days later.
When the Pirates made the Melancon trade, it appeared to make sense on paper.
The Pirates felt that they had other comparable options to handle the 9th inning role. In their minds, it was also advantageous to deal Melancon when he was a rental and would hit free agency at the end of the season, meaning that he would only be with them for another three months anyway.
So that's exactly what they did. The Pirates turned the right-hander into Felipe Rivero, a hard-throwing lefty that could be an immediate impact in the bullpen right after making the trade.
Rivero came with other pluses too. He is not a free agent until after the 2021 season and is much cheaper salary-wise than Melancon.
Taylor Hearn, a prospect, also came over in the deal, giving the Pirates some future value that they will be able to develop.
It's been a month since the Pirates made the trade with the Nationals, and their bullpen has not seen a significant drop off.
Since Aug. 1, the Pirates' bullpen has posted a 2.24 ERA in 76 1/3 innings pitched. This ranks second in the Majors, second only to the surging Royals.
FIP (3.78) and xFIP (3.74), however, suggest that the Pirates' bullpen has outperformed their abilities. This has led to an fWAR of 0.3, which is tied for 21st in the Majors in that stretch (coincidence or not, this ties them with the Nationals).
Closing games for the Pirates since the trade has been Tony Watson, who is 10-for-11 in saves this season. He has a 2.31 ERA and a nine-to-five strikeout-to-walk ratio over 11 2/3 innings pitched in that time. Though the peripherals suggest otherwise, he has, from the eye-test, done his job with Pittsburgh.
Rivero, too, has been great since the trade. In 15 games with the Pirates coming into Monday, he has posted a 0.64 ERA and a 22-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 innings pitched. According to FanGraphs, he has been worth 0.1 fWAR.
Melancon, though, has been even better.
The freshly-minted Nationals' closer has a 0.77 ERA and has saved all six of his attempts, begging the question, did the Pirates make the right call in trading him?
At this moment in time, it looks like a yes. As long as their bullpen continues to exceed their peripherals, the Pirates appear to have made the correct decision to deal Melancon, who was not going to be a long-term piece in their bullpen.
This is a strategy that other small market teams in contention should pursue. When a team has a veteran player that they will not be able to keep in free agency at the end of the season, trading them for other Major League talent could be one possible solution.
Obviously, with the qualifying offer system in place, as it is now, this does not need to be done with all impending free agents. Rather, this works for players who will not warrant a qualifying offer but could still provide value in the form of a trade return.
Melancon was great for the Pirates, and he would have been an important piece to carry them to the postseason. But trading him may end up leading to more good than harm going forward.
Last offseason, the Arizona Diamondbacks made a potentially franchise-altering trade.
In a deal with the Atlanta Braves, the Diamondbacks acquired right-hander Shelby Miller and minor league left-hander Gabe Speier in exchange for outfielder Ender Inciarte, pitching prospect Aaron Blair and 2015 No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson.
The D-Backs' front office faced a lot of scrutiny around the league at the time of the move, and they still do now. In fact, the team's higher-ups are considering overhauling the front office. That's not all because of this one move, but it certainly plays a role.
I'm going to go out and say it: the Braves fleeced the Diamondbacks in this trade.
Atlanta headed to Arizona last night for the beginning of a four-game series. In uniform for the Braves was Swanson; in Triple-A for the Diamondbacks was Miller after struggling mightily this season.
However, I'm going to try my best and defend this trade from the Diamondbacks' perspective.
Hindsight is always 20-20, but you have to remember the circumstances the Diamondbacks were in when making the trade.
On Dec. 8, 2015, the Diamondbacks made the biggest splash of the offseason, signing starting pitcher Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract. Still, the team felt that they needed another ace-type piece in their rotation to really contend going forward.
That led them to the acquisition of Miller, who, as General Manager Dave Stewart told the Arizona Republic, was actually a cheaper price than that of Miami Marlins' ace Jose Fernandez or Cleveland Indians' ace Danny Salazar.
Miller, from every standpoint imaginable, was an organization's dream.
He was coming off a year where he posted a 3.02 ERA and a 3.45 FIP over 33 starts. He had three years of team control, all of which would have been relatively cheap through the arbitration process. And he was the top of the rotation piece that the Diamondbacks envisioned they were missing.
I'm not saying that I'm the greatest when it comes to predictions, but I even thought that the Diamondbacks did what they needed to become a contending team when it came time for my NL West predictions.
Sure, the return was a lot. That goes without saying. But let's look at it this way.
With two new starting pitchers in the rotation, Blair became an odd man out. The Diamondbacks did not have a spot open for a big league ready right-handed starter with Greinke, Miller, Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray in the fold, all of whom they could control through at least 2018.
They also had Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley, both big league ready starting pitchers that arguably carried more upside than Blair. So where does that leave him? Blair ends up becoming a bullpen arm, working in long or middle relief. In the Diamondbacks' mind at the time, he's expendable.
Inciarte was a tougher giveaway than Blair, but even still, there was definitely some reasoning behind the move.
Arizona still had some very capable outfielders to handle their spots on the big league club. A.J. Pollock is a star, David Peralta is serviceable (perhaps even more than that after posting a 138 OPS+ in 2015) and an opening would provide a spot for Yasmany Tomas, a Cuban who they gave $68.5 million to.
Again, though Inciarte posted a .303 batting average last year with a .747 OPS and great outfield defense, he could be considered somewhat expendable based on the Diamondbacks' situation and their having of other players that do provide value in their outfield.
And it must be remembered that Pollock, who was worth 6.6 fWAR last season, has missed every single game this season due to a fractured right elbow that he suffered in Spring Training. Though he'll return soon, that loss cannot be blamed upon the Diamondbacks' front office.
The same goes for Peralta, who only played in 48 games this year due to injury. In fact, his season is over.
So the Diamondbacks traded from a position that they thought they had a surplus in, but instead got burned when two of their three starting outfielders bit the injury bug.
Lastly, though, Arizona dealt Dansby Swanson. And I'm not quite sure why. It's hard to me to try and justify why he was included, but I will do my best.
Swanson, at the time, was not supposed to be in the Major Leagues until 2017 or 2018 at the soonest. He was just drafted, and it's hard to expect a player to be up as fast as he has come up.
The Diamondbacks wanted to contend now. And Swanson was a way to get the deal done, obviously, providing the prospect value it takes to get the trade partner to say yes. To Arizona, it appeared, he wouldn't be ready for awhile, and even if they were still contending then, it's still a gamble, as it is with every prospect.
Yes, I know Swanson was the No. 1 overall pick. And that the No. 1 overall pick should be at least a somewhat valuable Major League player. (There's something to be said that the first No. 1 overall draft pick got into the National Baseball Hall of Fame just this year.) But even still, it's a risk that might not even be ready for a few years.
But without a guarantee, and the fact that they'd be getting what they thought would be a great, potentially top-of-the-rotation type starter, I can almost see where they were coming from. The Diamondbacks dealt players from places where they thought they had surpluses, and sometimes, that's the best way to carry out an organization.
Unfortunately, they got burned for it, and I'm not sure that the members of the front office will ever recover from what is shaping up to be one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history.
Kansas City Royals left-hander Danny Duffy has been superb this season.
After today's strong start against the Minnesota Twins, Duffy has everything he needs to be a true contender for the American League Cy Young award.
Whether you're a believer in sabermetrics or not, Duffy has it all.
After today's start, Duffy is 11-1 with a 2.66 ERA, 3.21 FIP and a 3.75 xFIP over 138 2/3 innings pitched this season. According to FanGraphs, he has been worth 3.2 wins above replacement. That is good for eighth-highest in the league and certainly good enough to garner some conversation, especially considering this year's "weak" class for the distinction.
Going with the more conventional stats, Duffy ranks second in the AL in ERA, first in WHIP and first in strikeout-to-walk rate.
He also ranks second in ERA+, third in FIP+ and ninth in xFIP+, adjusting his marks to park and league factors and putting it on a sliding scale where 100 is considered league average.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Duffy is that he started the 2016 season in the bullpen. The 27-year-old did not make his first start of the season until May 11 and didn't pitch past the sixth inning until Jun. 27.
Duffy had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and had not been extremely successful as a starter since, especially in 2015 when he posted a 4.35 ERA and a troubling 90-51 K/BB ratio in 128 1/3 innings pitched.
Due to injuries to Kris Medlen and Chris Young, Duffy got his first start of 2016 in mid-May and has not looked back.
From then on, Duffy has made 19 starts, pitching 120 2/3 innings. He's 11-1 with a 2.61 ERA and a 126-24 K/BB ratio. The Royals have won 16 of his 19 outings, including the last 11 in a row.
His best outing came against the Rays just a few weeks ago. Duffy went eight innings, allowing just one hit and one walk with no runs. He struck out sixteen. Yes, sixteen. That's dominance.
It is amazing how much of a transformation Duffy has made just over the course of the past calendar year, going from failed starter to reliever to spot starter to great starter to. . .Cy Young award winner? I'm all for it.
Ryan Howard is having a revival.
Over the last 30 days, he has looked like vintage Ryan Howard. You know, the slugger that averaged 47 home runs per 162 games from 2006 to 2011.
This season, Howard's been nothing more than a laughingstock in Philadelphia as he plays out the final season of his five-year, $125 million contact.
On Jun. 29, Howard was sporting a .151 batting average over 205 plate appearances, posting a .564 OPS. He did hit 11 home runs over those 62 games, putting him on a 29 home run per 162 game pace.
If it was not already, it was clear that Howard is well past his heyday. At the very least, he provided a veteran presence in the young Phillies clubhouse and did hit the occasional home run.
But in the past 30 days--more so the past two months--, Ryan Howard has been a treat for Phillies fans to watch as he finishes up his time with the team.
Minimum 50 plate appearances, Howard ranks third in the Major Leagues in wRC+ and wOBA since July 21. He's hit .360 with a 1.196 OPS in that time, swatting six home runs and driving in 15. Sure, it's a short sample, but that's a 58 home run and 143 RBI pace when extended out to 162 games.
In short, right now, Howard is hitting home runs at the same pace that he did over a full season in 2006, when he was named National League MVP.
With this great play, many are wondering whether the Phillies will want to trade Howard at the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline.
And, frankly, I don't see it happening.
Overall, Howard is a rental that a team will get for four weeks. For truly anyone, Howard won't be a starter, and while he could provide some pop off the bench, he will not garner a return that is valuable enough for me to envision the Phillies moving him.
And who would even want to deal for Howard? He just does not provide enough value for a championship caliber club, and even a middling team would likely rather use their own talent than trade for a player who is pretty much out of the game. Unless an injury gets in the way, the suitors are limited.
At this point, the Phillies probably want to just hold on to Howard. He's a legend in Philadelphia, second in career franchise home runs only to Mike Schmidt. When they likely aren't going to get anything that even resembles a return, it just does not appear to me that Matt Klentak and co. will decide to move him, especially since he and his contract will be off the books at the end of the season anyway.
Look at it this way. Klentak had the perfect opportunity to deal starter Jeremy Hellickson at the non-waiver trade deadline. A rental, like Howard, Hellickson did not seem to draw the return that the Phillies' front office was looking for. Instead, they held pat and are planning on offering him a qualifying offer at the end of the season.
If Klentak did not want to move his best trade chip at a point where his value was extremely high because he did not get the "right" return, why would he want to deal a guy that wouldn't get much of a return, if any, let alone the "right" return?
This is good from a P.R. perspective, too. While he does not have the same appeal he once did, Howard will still sell tickets. This comes into play at the end of the season, as fans should want to see his last few games in a Phillies uniform. No matter how much it sounds like Phillies fans hate Ryan Howard, it's not hard to think they won't still come out there to see him finish out as a Phillie.
Never say never, but Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard will probably still be in a Phillies uniform come Sep. 1.
On a brisk Saturday April night in Baltimore, Jose Abreu poked a single to right field off of Orioles pitcher Vance Worley.
The date was Apr. 30, and Abreu's single, scoring Adam Eaton, gave the White Sox an 8-7 lead. The run, however, was charged to Zach Britton, who took the loss.
That run was the last of its kind for Britton.
Since May 1, Britton sports a 0.00 ERA over 41 appearances. He's saved 31 straight games and has a great 46-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his 40 innings pitched.
For the season, now, Britton has a 0.54 ERA, totaling 37 saves, leading some to believe that he should be considered for the American League Cy Young award in 2016.
Britton has had a phenomenal season no matter how you look at it, but there are flaws in this way of thinking.
The Cy Young award goes to the best pitcher in each league. While there are no specifications that it has to go to a starter, since 1956 (when it was first presented), a starting pitcher has won the award in each league every year with just nine exceptions.
The problem for Britton is that he hasn't been the best pitcher in the American League. He ranks 36th among AL pitchers in fWAR (minimum 40 innings). One can't even blame that on his workload; Britton is "only" tied for third among most valuable AL relievers.
Britton has been worth just 1.8 fWAR this season, so how can we say he has been the best pitcher in the entire league?
Britton has only been worth 0.1 more wins than Kevin Gausman this season, who is 3-10 with a 4.04 ERA, 4.35 FIP and a 3.83 xFIP over 21 starts (120 1/3 innings). While I'm not quite comparing apples to apples here, who would consider giving Gausman the Cy Young award this season? Nobody.
Sure, there's the whole history aspect that goes into this argument. Britton hasn't allowed a run in 40 straight innings! Britton's ERA is historic, right? Wrong.
In 2012, Rays' closer Fernando Rodney posted a 0.60 ERA, just 0.06 runs off of Britton's current mark, in 74 2/3 innings pitched, 24 2/3 innings more than Britton.
Perhaps the biggest difference between 2016 Britton and 2012 Rodney was that Rodney was the American League's most valuable reliever, totaling 2.4 fWAR. He also saved 48 games in 50 chances, giving him all the credentials to perhaps be named Cy Young.
Long story short, Rodney finished in 5th in the voting.
Rodney aside, other Britton supporters like to argue that there has not been a starter worthy of the Cy Young this season.
Nobody has stood out, that is correct. But there are many worthy candidates, all of whom post better credentials than Zach Britton.
Jose Quintana has posted a 2.85 ERA this season, as well as a 3.42 FIP over 157 2/3 innings pitched, totaling 3.9 fWAR. Aaron Sanchez has a 2.84 ERA and a 3.29 FIP and has totaled 3.6 fWAR. Perhaps Corey Kluber could win the award again, especially with a good run down the stretch, as he has pitched to a very good 3.15 ERA and a 3.01 ERA, good for a 4.3 fWAR. Maybe even Danny Duffy could be the Cy Young. . .
There are many other, better options than Zach Britton for American League Cy Young. And by voting for the Orioles' closer, a much better, more qualified candidate is going to be snubbed.
Last Thought: Jayson Stark's idea of creating an award for the top reliever in each league that is voted on by the BBWAA would be a great alternative (MLB gives out a relief pitcher award every year, but it is not voted on by the BBWAA) to this madness that is caused by the Cy Young award, which truly is a starting pitcher's award.