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.
Like anything, the baseball trade market is all about supply and demand.
If demand is high and supply is low, especially "good" supply, then the teams with those players in demand are going to get an excellent deal.
That is exactly what is going to happen with the Atlanta Braves and Julio Teheran.
After James Shields was dealt earlier this month, the starting pitching trade market has come down to one player: Teheran. Sure, other pitchers could be moved, but at this moment in time, it appears that Teheran is going to be the hot item at the non waiver trade deadline on Aug. 1.
Teams, most notably the Boston Red Sox, are already scouting Teheran's starts, trying to get an early jump on the young right-hander. Other teams are expected to jump into the sweepstakes in the coming weeks.
The only problem is that the Braves are not interested in trading Teheran at this time.
General manager John Coppolella took to Twitter on Friday to discuss his team's plans with the fans.
Coppolella said that he does not "see us trading Teheran right now."
That is not the right mindset, especially considering the starting pitching market, or lack thereof, at this moment in time and Teheran's contract status. Both these factors give the Braves a reason to at least listen to deals on Teheran and not just rule out a trade outright.
Teheran's value could not be higher. He's having a career year, having pitched to a 2.46 ERA in 16 starts this season. While these are phenomenal results, pitching metrics such as FIP (3.68) and xFIP (4.00) suggest that Teheran is due for some regression and is more of a league-average pitcher.
In 2015, Teheran was more of that type of pitcher. His ERA of 4.04 was more in line with his FIP (4.40) and xFIP (4.19). If that's the pitcher he truly is, the Braves should want to dump him now, knowing that they could get way more than what he is actually worth in return.
Part of the reason for Teheran's success is that hitters have just a .209 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against him. This shows that he's been extremely lucky with the defense behind him, something that surely cannot be sustained going forward. Teheran's career BABIP against is .270.
An argument for keeping Teheran is his contract status.
Teheran, who is just 25, is signed through 2019 and owed just $25.3 million in future commitments. He also has an option for 2020 at $12 million with $1 million buyout.
With the Braves hoping to contend in 2017 or 2018, Teheran will still likely be there with them if Atlanta decides not to move him. However, it is unlikely he still will be pitching like an ace, the way he is now.
His contract could be looked in the other way too. Teheran has more teams salivating for him due to his long-term contract status.
This is like what happened with Cole Hamels' trade market last year. The Rangers acquired Hamels from the Phillies not to contend in 2015, but to contend in 2016 and beyond because of his long-term contract status. (Though, the Rangers did end up going on a tear in the second half of the season and made the playoffs anyway.)
By Teheran not being a rental, his market is opened up to really any team in Major League Baseball.
With his value as high as it is, and the supply of starting pitching being as low as it is, the Braves need to strongly consider shopping Julio Teheran during the trade deadline season over the next month.
It is officially six weeks away from baseball season. Pitchers and catchers began reporting for Spring Training earlier this week. Now, it is time for my divisional previews, with a new one coming out every Saturday leading up to the 2016 season. Today, I begin with the National League East.
1. Washington Nationals -- 2015 record: 83-79; Projection: 91-71
The best move the Nationals made this offseason was the hiring of Dusty Baker. Baker gives the team an identity. This is something that the Nationals lacked with Matt Williams, and the team crumbled down the stretch. With Baker, I expect the Nationals' chemistry to be improved. And with all the talent on their roster, including reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, there is no reason to believe why they can't win the division.
Washington had something of a modest offseason but made a few key moves. I really liked the acquisition of Ben Revere. He will give them a presence at the top of the lineup that they truly missed all of last season. Revere is a catalyst and should steal plenty of bases in D.C., while playing a very good center field.
The pitching staff took more of a hit this offseason with the loss of Jordan Zimmermann to the Tigers. Now at the back-end of their rotation is Tanner Roark and Joe Ross, the latter of which posted a 3.64 ERA and a 3.42 FIP in 76 2/3 innings pitched last season. I am expecting the Nationals' pitching staff to hold up, which in turn should lead them to the National League East crown.
2. New York Mets -- 2015 Record: 90-72; Projection: 88-74
The Mets are going to take a small step back this year. Their lineup is not as deep as it was at the end of last season, when they made the run into October, winning the National League. The big offseason move for them was the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes. Without Cespedes, the Mets' lineup could be an even bigger issue, as they were one of the worst offensive teams in baseball last season before their trade deadline acquisition of the Cuban outfielder.
The loss of Daniel Murphy is going to hurt the Mets more than they thought. Replacing him is Neil Walker, who they got in a trade from the Pirates for Jon Niese. I liked the move, but Murphy has slightly more offensive upside than Walker, posting a .770 OPS to a .756 OPS last season. Walker now heads to an even more extreme pitcher's park at Citi Field, while Murphy heads to a hitter's park out at Nationals Park. Lastly, the Mets cannot expect Cespedes or Michael Conforto to be as good over a full season as they were down the stretch last year.
On the other side of the ball, I love the Mets pitching staff. The only addition they made to it this offseason was the signing of Antonio Bastardo, who is a good seventh or eighth inning guy. Their starting rotation is amongst the best in baseball, boasting the likes of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Bartolo Colon. It will be hard to take two of three from the Mets, but the way to do it is to out-hit them. And that can be done.
3. Miami Marlins -- 2015 Record: 71-91; Projection: 78-84
Every year I look at the Marlins roster and wonder why this team isn't better than they are. They have some of the most exciting young talent in the Majors in Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, and Jose Fernandez. But yet this team continues to underperform year after year. So, I can't expect big things out of the Marlins anymore.
If there's one thing that is in their favor, it is the fact that they hired Don Mattingly to be their new manager. Mattingly has experience working with tough personalities in Los Angeles, notably Zack Greinke and Yasiel Puig. The Dodgers never went deep into the postseason, but Mattingly was the glue that held them together. In Miami, he will be expected to do the same.
How do the Marlins succeed this year? They need their rotation to come through. The team added Wei-Yin Chen during the offseason, but Jarred Cosart (4.52 ERA), Tom Koehler (4.08 ERA), and Edwin Jackson (3.07 ERA; no starts) to step it up. If they can, the Marlins might be able to surprise some people this year. But I wouldn't expect it.
4. Philadelphia Phillies -- 2015 Record: 63-99; Projection: 66-96
The Phillies will still be bad in 2016, but they won't be as bad as the Atlanta Braves. Philadelphia's rebuild is still in full swing, and the team should not be projected to do anything special this season other than perhaps see their top prospects begin to make their Major League debuts.
This offseason, the Phillies added three underrated pieces: Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, and David Hernandez. They aren't going to help the team during their next contending phase, but could be dangled as trade pieces at the deadline if they prove valuable. More notably, they subtracted hard-throwing closer Ken Giles to net them four prospects.
This is the first offseason for Philadelphia without Ruben Amaro Jr. since 2007-2008. Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak have done a solid job thus far as they look to make the Phillies more analytically-friendly and rebuild their core. In 2016, the Phillies may be a bit improved, but the will still be among the worst in the Major Leagues.
5. Atlanta Braves -- 2015 Record: 67-95; Projection: 62-100
The Braves, like the Phillies, are in the midst of a big rebuilding phase. This season will probably be a lost year too. Outside of Freddie Freeman, the Braves lack many top-tier players in both their lineup and starting rotation.
This offseason, the Braves have been focused on subtracting some of their talent. They traded Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels and Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The team brought in Ender Inciarte, Erick Aybar, Kelly Johnson, and Jim Johnson this offseason through trades and signings to provide depth (though Inciarte could be in Atlanta the next time they contend).
For the Braves to beat this projection, their rotation is going to have to step it up. The Braves rotation includes: Julio Teheran (4.04 ERA), Matt Wisler (4.71 ERA), Manny Banuelos (5.13 ERA), Bud Norris (6.72 ERA), and Williams Perez (4.78 ERA). If they want to finish in fourth, that rotation is going to have to outperform its 2015 result. I don't see that happening.
Using Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds, you should be able to tell who has the best chance of doing just that. Teams really should take those odds to determine whether they should be buyers and sellers because more often than not, they are right.
After games being played on July 6 last year, five of the ten eventual postseason teams had a 80 percent chance of making the playoffs or better. Every team that did have an 80 percent or greater chance of making the playoffs on this date last year did.
The team with the highest percent chance to make the playoffs on July 6 that ultimately didn't was the Milwaukee Brewers, who had a 71 percent chance to punch their ticket, but collapsed down the stretch and failed to make it.
Only three (Orioles, Royals, and Pirates) had less than a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs following action on July 6. By July 31, the Orioles were up to a 71 percent chance, the Royals were at a 17 percent chance, and the Pirates were at a 46 percent chance.
Knowing this, I will use Baseball Prospectus' current postseason predictions to determine who should buy and who should sell at the 2015 Trade Deadline.
All In (85% or greater)
St. Louis Cardinals (99.3%)
There's no reason why the Cardinals, who own MLB's best record at 54-28, should consider selling. In fact, Baseball Prospectus says that they have a 99.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, leaving just a very small chance for an extreme collapse. If the Cardinals play just .500 ball the rest of the way, that would put them on pace for 94 wins, which would definitely put them in prime position to punch their ticket to the postseason. The Cardinals have no reason to do anything but buy.
Los Angeles Dodgers (92.9%)
The Dodgers have the second-highest playoff percentage in the league, and nothing suggests that this team won't buy at the trade deadline. I predicted them to go out and get Johnny Cueto, perhaps the best pitcher available not named Cole Hamels. The Dodgers are always willing to spend money and prospects to make their team better and can easily justify doing so at the deadline.
Washington Nationals (85.6%)
The Nationals have arguably not played their best baseball yet, but still have an 85.6 percent chance to make the playoffs. They could use some reinforcements in their bullpen, but most of the additions the Nationals will be getting will be players coming back from injury, such as Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Stephen Strasburg. They may not need to make a ton of moves in July, but if they do, they have good reason to do so.
Houston Astros (84.7%)
The Astros have already shown interest in some of the top pitchers that will be available, and Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds completely backs that up. Houston's playoff percentage, at 84.7 percent, is so close to 85 percent that I had to shove them into this category. The Astros have showed that while they are a bit of a surprise, they still can win ballgames and do it over a period of time. The Astros by no means are "pretenders," as they have been able to hold a comfortable AL West lead since late April.
Should be buyers (70-85%)
Pittsburgh Pirates (81.3%), Chicago Cubs (73.1%)
The Pirates and Cubs have a case of some serious bad luck. They are playing in the National League's toughest division and would be either leading or close to leading any other division in the league. The only reason I'm wary of either of these teams buying at the deadline is because they are not division leaders and have more of a chance to collapse and fall out of the playoff race altogether. Unless they believe they have a real shot at the Cardinals (which it appears they don't), they shouldn't completely unload their farm systems to go out and get the best guy on the market.
Kansas City Royals (75.3%)
Of the three teams in this category, I am most comfortable with the Royals buying at the trade deadline due to the fact that they lead their division by a comfortable margin and need just one or two pieces to really put the pressure on the rest of the division. All signs point to the Royals making the playoffs again this year, so I would go ahead and pencil them in as buyers at the deadline.
Los Angeles Angels (64.8%)
The Angels are in a good position right now. They are playing good baseball and have shown the need for an upgrade in left field. Of the teams listed in this section, I truly believe they are the best and most complete team, so therefore they should be buyers at the deadline. The Angels could use some rotation help as well, but if they patch up a few spots, they will get into the postseason. My verdict? They should be buyers.
AL East: New York Yankees (59.4%), Toronto Blue Jays (39.6%), Tampa Bay Rays (34.9%)
The American League East division is lumped together because the division is so muddled and close that really anyone could win it. Baseball Prospectus' simulations give the Yankees the best chance to go to the playoffs out of that division, but with some rotation help, the Blue Jays are the division's best team. The Yankees and Rays should stand pat or make small moves at the deadline, while the Blue Jays should go out and make a splash for a rotation piece.
Detroit Tigers (36.7%)
With Miguel Cabrera being sidelined with his hamstring injury, I'm going to pencil the Tigers in as should be sellers, but as this team continues to try and make a run once again, they will find themselves trying to buy. The Tigers are heading towards a Phillies-esque fall, and if they don't realize that soon, it could only get worse if they decide to buy at the trade deadline in hopes for one last run at the World Series.
Maybe/Stand Pat (20-30%)
New York Mets (28.9%)
Even if the Mets added an offensive piece, I don't think that would be enough to get them to the playoffs this season. With that said, however, I could see them dealing for a guy with more than one season of control, as their young and talented pitching staff comes into their own. The Mets couldn't justify buying for a rental player, but a guy who is at least signed through 2016 could make sense.
Baltimore Orioles (28.7%)
The Baltimore Orioles have a ton of free agents at the end of the season that they probably should move. The Orioles could be one of those teams that tries to get 25-man roster guys with more years of team control in return. The Orioles could be a team that buys and sells at the trade deadline, and I would be fine with that.
San Francisco Giants (22.9%)
It's an odd year. The Giants aren't good enough to win the NL West, and considering that they have to deal with the Cubs and Pirates for the Wild Card, it will be tough for them to really make a run into the postseason. However, they still have a good core group of guys and the team has proved me wrong before. They probably should stand pat.
Shouldn't buy (Less than 20%)
Minnesota Twins (18.2%)
The Twins just aren't that good. Sure, they had a good run earlier this season, but all the numbers suggest that they were going to fall out of first in the AL Central. The Twins should really try and go for 2016, when some of their rookies will be more polished.
Texas Rangers (15.0%)
While the Rangers shouldn't buy, they probably will, as I consider them to be in a similar boat as the Tigers are in. The Rangers could legitimately contend, but they would more than a couple of upgrades, to the point where they probably shouldn't go for it this season.
Cleveland Indians (13.5%)
The Indians were a popular postseason pick prior to this season, but Baseball Prospectus' simulations show that they would need some serious luck to actually get there. The Indians shouldn't sell any pieces other than the impending free agents because my gut says that they will be back in the postseason sooner than later.
Boston Red Sox (11.8%)
The Red Sox are in a tough position right now. It might not be time for a fire sale quite yet, but it's definitely not time to go out and try and contend this season.
Seattle Mariners (7.0%)
The Mariners have had some issues staying in the race this season, and while they shouldn't sell off their entire team, they really shouldn't be buyers either.
Oakland Athletics (6.8%)
The Athletics are already shopping their pieces and it looks like they will be sellers.
Arizona Diamondbacks (6.4%)
The Diamondbacks are a team that should stand pat. They still have pieces to contend in the near future and as their pitching improves with guys coming back from injury, they could be a legitimate contender coming 2016.
Atlanta Braves (3.8%)
The Braves, especially in the offseason, have committed to becoming a selling team. They don't have any exciting pieces, but even though they have kind of surprised, they should by no means buy.
Chicago White Sox (3.2%)
The White Sox are in a tough position. They reportedly won't have a fire sale, which makes sense considering how much money they spent in free agency, but they need to get rid of Jeff Samardzija and still be planning to try again in 2016.
San Diego Padres (2.7%)
The Padres could buy at the deadline, but in all reality, they shouldn't. They've got some important games coming up that they need to win if people start seriously seeing them as contenders. Once again, they are proving that the winners of the offseason don't necessarily win during the season.
Miami Marlins (1.6%)
The Marlins shouldn't go into a fire sale, but Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Brad Hand, and other free agents at the end of the season should be gone.
Cincinnati Reds (1.1%)
The Reds have Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and possibly Aroldis Chapman available, and while they won't sell until after they host the All-Star Game, I expect it to come, as it should.
Colorado Rockies (0.2%)
I'd pull the trigger and deal Troy Tulowitzki. It's time for a real change in Colorado if they want to be relevant down the road.
Milwaukee Brewers (0.2%)
The Brewers should enter into a fire sale.
Philadelphia Phillies (0.0%)
Now, these rankings and categories don't mean that each of these teams will do as I advise. Their postseason percentages could change and perhaps an addition is all they need to do that. However, Baseball Prospectus' odds are very accurate and should not be taken lightly. Teams really should use them to determine whether they could justify buying at the deadline.
From 1995 to 2012, the New York Yankees missed the playoffs just once. They made the playoffs in seventeen of those eighteen years and won five World Series championships. The Yankees were, and still are, big spenders, and their money was able to keep them winning.
Since 2012, the Yankees strategy has built them two above-average teams (by record, at least). In 2012, the MLB postseason featured the Rays, Indians, Pirates, Athletics, and Braves, but not the Phillies, Angels, Rangers, and Yankees. Younger talent has become more of a necessity, while free agents are just additions to your nucleus, not the nucleus itself.
What really led me to writing this post was the Dodgers hiring Andrew Friedman to be their President of Baseball Operations, even after a season where they won 94 games and won the National League West division. The Dodgers hiring of Friedman speaks volumes on how they're willing to make a culture change in order to catch up with sabermetrics, something that has become very important.
The Yankees, Phillies, and Rangers have not yet to do something like that. Brian Cashman was extended as Yankees GM, Ruben Amaro Jr. is still running the Phillies further into the ground, and Jon Daniels continues to throw money at free agents that still haven't helped. And yet Billy Beane (Athletics), Chris Antonetti (Indians), and Dayton Moore (Royals) are building winning teams with a minimal payroll.
Has the window closed for big market teams?
I don't know. On one hand, you still have the Dodgers winning plenty of games with the highest payroll in baseball. They didn't go anywhere in the playoffs, but still were able to get there. However, on the contrary, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013. I don't think it is truly a question of having the money, but what you do with the money that you have.
The Dodgers are big in the international market. They signed Yasiel Puig, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Erisbel Arruebarrena to extravagant deals and still have been able to create homegrown talent in Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, and others to help take this team far. But they have been able to keep those guys with their big market (See: Kershaw's seven-year, $215 million extension).
I think the window has closed for teams that have built their team around pricey free agents. The game of baseball has turned into one of trades, prospects, and analytics, not free agents that are either on the downfall of their career or are injury prone (See: 2014 Rangers lineup). Since about 2010, teams have been better at signing guys to longterm deals during the prime of their career, rather as they get closer to reaching free agency. While this can only buy out a few free agent years, it will likely be the years that the team did not buy out when the player begins to decline or become hampered by injuries.
Take a look at Ryan Howard. Based on my calculations, through the arbitration process, Howard would have become a free agent following either the 2011 or 2012 seasons. Instead of extending Howard to a five-year deal in say, 2009, after Howard had already been one of the league's most prolific sluggers for a few seasons, the Phillies decided to wait until after the 2011 season.
Put that into prospective. Had Howard been signed to his five-year, $125 million deal back in 2009, he would likely become a free agent at the end of this season (the Phillies have a sixth year as a team option). That means Philadelphia would "only" have to deal with three terrible seasons from Howard. The Phillies did extend Howard following the 2011 season, so he is under contract through 2016, with an option for 2017. The Phillies could perhaps deal with five terrible seasons from Howard, paying him over $20 million in each and every one of them.
In short, the window hasn't closed for big market teams. But big market teams that still rely on old methods of signing contracts, giving extensions, and the traditional method of scouting will have a very difficult time contending in a major league system that has developed into a very analytical organization. So while the forward thinkers continue to thrive, the traditionalists will continue to fall. It is time for the Phillies, Yankees, and Rangers to finally change their ways.