While I’ve of course focussed primarily on the Blue Jays when discussing the upcoming trade deadline this month and the possibility of players moving around, most if not all of the 30 MLB teams will be busy in the next twelve days. some will be adding, others subtracting (albeit, with an eye to adding to their future selves.) Only a few – Oakland, Washington, for instance- are in a place where they’re not clearly buyers or sellers. Which leads us to the first big. blockbuster trade of the July madness- yesterday’s confirmation of a long-rumored deal sending superstar infielder Manny Machado to the LA Dodgers. In return, Baltimore get back 5 minor league players, a pretty hefty payback compared to most July trades. Who’s the winner?
Well, like most good trades the answer is quite probably “both.” the Dodgers greatly enhanced their chances not only of holding onto the NL West division but returning to the World Series this fall whereas the Orioles, who have nothing much to hope for in the 2018 season (at 28-69, even catching Toronto for 4th place in the AL East is a longshot and their only real objective perhaps would be to best their 1988 mark of 54-107, worst in their team history) should win down the road, assuming even one of the 5 young ‘uns turns into a reasonable major leaguer down the road.
There’s a decent chance of that, since the top name they got back was Yusneil Diaz, an outfielder from Cuba the Dodgers had spent over $30 million on so far, between signing bonuses, legal fees to get his immigration from Castro’s island approved and completed and so forth. Athlon sports noted the 21 year old was “talented” and “hit .332 in AA debut last year”. The others are two pitchers, and two infielders, neither considered sure-things but all rated as having adequate potential. A team winning less than 30% of its games is sure to benefit from even ordinary talent into its system.
For the Dodgers, the payoff is obvious. They’ve been heating up of late, finally overtaking Arizona for first in their division after winning 12 of their last 20, but at 53-43 and with only a half game lead, they’re far from a shoo-in to even make the post-season again, let alone make it back to the World Series for a second straight year. Although leading the West, if they dropped one game, they’d be behind Arizona and behind Atlanta for the final Wild Card spot. Where almost any team would benefit from a solid-hitting, smooth-gloved Machado, LA seems especially likely to see it pay off as their regular star shortstop, Corey Seager is on the DL and not likely to even return this year, recovering from elbow surgery. Since he went down, Chris Taylor’s been filling in, with so-so results. He’s hitting .253 with 11 homers and a .786 OPS and has been caught stealing more times than he’s succeeded. All the numbers are down from last year for him. He’s been of decent, but unspectacular glove in 60 games at short.
Machado will therefore keep playing SS, which he says he prefers over his past spot at third, and where he looks quite at home. So far in Baltimore this year, he’s been just a bit shy of Mark Belanger-ish with his glove at the new position, with only 8 errors but a very sharp 54 double plays turned in 91 games. He looks like a Gold Glove veteran in his first year at that spot, but even if he were lead-gloved, his bat alone would be enough for most teams to want him in the lineup every day.
So far in ’18, Machado’s en route to a career year, hitting .315, with a .575 slugging percentage and .963 OPS, all career highs. His 24 homers and 65 RBI put him on a pace to better his 2016 highs of 37 and 96. While there could be a couple of caution signs for LA to watch for ( for instance, he hits far better in hitter-friendly Camden Yard than on the road, with him hitting only .274 on the road this year and only 7 of the longballs coming outside of Baltimore) there are more reasons to be optimistic (for instance, he improves with runners in scoring position, hitting .352 in such at bats. And last year,he improved after the All Star break, hitting 60 points higher and driving in more runs despite that part of the year being 10 fewer games for him.) All things considered, he’s bound to drive in more runs for LA than Taylor … and add a spark.
It’s tough to over-estimate the effect the addition of a star to the lineup can make at the mid-summer break or just after. It shows the players their bosses have confidence in them, brings more cheering fans to the stands and in many cases brings in a new level of work ethic or enthusiasm in the dugout. Last year’s World Series champs knew it, picking up aging Justin Verlander just minutes before the final trade deadline. Justin looked rejuvenated, pitching like the 2011 MVP version of himself, going 5-0 with a microscopic 1.06 ERA in September, then continuing on to be a rock in the playoffs, with a 2.21 ERA in five starts and one relief appearance. (since joining Houston, he’s a cumulative 18-6 with a 2.09 ERA through 31 starts). There’s little doubt the Astros would not be World Champions without his addition late last year. Likewise, the 2016 World Champion Cubs benefitted no small amount by solidifying their bullpen at the end of July by bringing in fireballing Aroldis Chapman who did the best pitching of his career through August-September of that year, picking up 16 saves, striking out 46 in just over 26 innings and boasting an ERA barely over 1. He was a bit iffy for Chicago in the playoffs, but it’s highly doubtful they’d have made it to Game 7 of the Fall Classic without him.
Will the Dodgers benefit similarly come October? Well, there’s still a lot of baseball to be played and surprises always happen, not to mention more players to be traded. But I think they greatly enhanced their chances to win it all and have all but locked up the NL West again this year. I didn’t expect Arizona to hang onto the division before, now they’re going to really have to up their game- and probably their payroll via trades- to have a ghost of a chance. Going into the post-All Star period, I now see LA as being the National’s most likely champion and about on par with Boston as the likeliest to be partying come November.
My current predictions on team’s chances to be World Series champions are like this (number is percentage chance, which I arrive at by chances of winning division or wild card,then of winning the league playoffs)
LA Dodgers , Boston 17%
New York Yankees 12%
Chicago Cubs 10%
Arizona, Atlanta, Washington 4%
Seattle, Philadelphia 3%
Oakland, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Colorado, San Francisco 2%
That of course could easily change with a Cole Hamels going here or Adam Jones there! Bring on the “Second Half”!