The Major League Baseball trade deadline is often a chaotic event. Potential playoff teams scramble to add reinforcements to drive their postseason push. Teams that have fallen out of the race seek to replenish their farm systems by adding young talent to help them in future seasons.
This year’s hectic trade deadline revealed two important conclusions about the state of the league. The first is that top relief pitchers are more valuable than ever. The second is that MLB has succeeded in creating parity — each of its 30 teams now has the opportunity to make a playoff run.
The New York Yankees are the primary beneficiary of the increased demand for relievers around the league. For the first time in more than two decades, the Yankees have fallen out of contention, and thus the team elected to trade its top two relievers for prospects who can help the team in the future.
By trading Andrew Miller to the Indians and Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, the Yankees added eight players to its organization, including shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielder Clint Frazier — each of whom are ranked in the top 30 prospects in baseball by MLB.com.
The Indians and Cubs, meanwhile, each added one of the most dominant relievers in the league. The high price that each team paid demonstrates the increasing value of top closers like Miller and Chapman.
Even lesser relievers are in demand around the league. Former Pirates closer Mark Melancon was sent to the Nationals, while the Red Sox have added two relievers — righty Brad Ziegler and lefty Fernando Abad. Veteran right-handed reliever Fernando Rodney went from the Padres to the Marlins, and the Cubs added right-handed reliever Joe Smith in addition to Chapman.
The Giants acquired two left-handed pitchers — reliever Will Smith and starter Matt Moore. The Rangers added closer Jeremy Jeffress along with catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Brewers in exchange for two top prospects and also added right fielder Carlos Beltran from the Yankees. Finally, the Dodgers acquired left-handed starter Rich Hill and right fielder Josh Reddick and the Mets added right fielder Jay Bruce.
The flurry of activity surrounding relievers demonstrates their increased value around the league. Melancon, Chapman and Miller all have salaries over $10 million annually, yet their new teams were willing to add their salaries to their payrolls while also parting with prospects in exchange.
Top relievers can shorten games. Teams with a top closer can stop worrying about the ninth inning; once they hold a lead after eight innings, opponents are extremely unlikely to mount a comeback. These relievers are even more valuable in the postseason, when the increased amount of rest days allows relievers to pitch in almost every game while still remaining fresh. Thus, contending teams are eager to add these players to help drive their postseason push.
The recent trades also show the increased parity around the league. The Indians and Cubs are two long-suffering franchises, neither of which has won a World Series in the last 50 years. But now they have each established themselves as top contenders and further bolstered their championship hopes by adding a premium closer.
Meanwhile, the Marlins, which has not made the playoffs since winning the 2003 World Series, have added even more pitching on top of Rodney. Miami acquired right-handed starters Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from the Padres, along with another prospect, in exchange for four players. Rea was injured almost immediately after the trade and was sent back to the Padres for one of the prospects from the original deal, but Cashner still represents a significant acquisition.
The wisdom of these trades can be debated, as each team paid heavily by giving up top young players from the minor leagues. However, it is clear that Miami, Chicago and Cleveland, which have not been contenders recently, believe that they are ready to have playoff success. Meanwhile, the Yankees, the league’s most celebrated franchise, have seemingly given up on their season in order to rebuild for the future.
To many baseball fans, this may seem backwards — everyone is used to seeing teams like the Cubs, Indians and Marlins at the bottom of the standings. However, these teams show that any team in MLB can succeed with shrewd management.
These three teams are all different. The Marlins are built around a star pitcher in Jose Fernandez and a star hitter in Giancarlo Stanton, while the Cubs are built around a series of young hitters. The Indians, meanwhile, have a dominant starting rotation with five top right-handed starters. Despite differing styles, each team has successfully made the transition from pretender to contender, while the vaunted Yankees languish in fourth place in the American League East.
While the NBA has been completely dominated by a circle of only a few teams in the past few years, MLB has created an environment where fans of all 30 teams can have hope for the future. Baseball has changed, and this year it means that a few long-suffering fan bases can truly believe that their team may be able to make a run to the World Series.
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