We covered the National League yesterday, so let’s look at the American League’s biggest transactional headlines from a wild month of July…
Windy City Trade Winds: “Help from within” had a few different meanings for the White Sox last month, as the return of Eloy Jimenez from the injured list and Luis Robert beginning his own rehab assignment could end up being the biggest factors for the Pale Hose down the stretch. However, the Sox also found help from within the Chicago city limits, lining up with the Cubs (of all times) on a pair of trades that brought Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera into an already-solid bullpen. A prospect package of Nick Madrigal and Cody Heuer was required to land Kimbrel, but it was a steep price the White Sox were willing to pay.
Madrigal’s season-ending hamstring tear in June created a vacancy for the White Sox at second base, so once again, the Sox looked within the AL Central and picked up Cesar Hernandez from the Indians. Hernandez could be a rental player, or he might be a factor for the 2022 team considering his affordable $6MM club option for next season.
Rays On Cruz Control: It was in many ways a typical deadline month for the Rays, who both added and subtracted some key personnel in order to constantly improve the roster (and payroll) situations. Landing Nelson Cruz from the Twins was perhaps the atypical move, as the Rays took on Cruz’s $4.8MM in remaining salary, yet Cruz offers superstar-level power to the lineup. Beyond Cruz, Tampa Bay also at least looked into the likes of Trevor Story, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Bryant, Jose Berrios, and Kyle Gibson.
Lower-level trades saw Tampa add Jordan Luplow and DJ Johnson (from the Indians), Shawn Armstrong (from the Orioles), and JT Chargois from the Mariners. That same Seattle trade saw Diego Castillo head to the M’s, while the Rays also dealt left-hander Rich Hill to the Mets in yet another move. You’d think a team moving its nominal closer and a veteran starter would fall into the “seller” category, but that isn’t how the AL East-leading Rays operate.
Athletics Stock Up: The A’s focused mostly on the position player side of their roster, highlighted by the trade that brought Starling Marte from the Marlins in exchange for prized (albeit oft-injured) pitching prospect Jesus Luzardo. Miami will eat the rest of Marte’s approximate $4.57MM salary for the season, so the Athletics were willing to part with a quality young arm for essentially a free rental player who should provide an immediate jolt to the Oakland lineup. A subsequent deal with the Nationals brought even more veteran depth in Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes.
On the pitching side, the Athletics landed Andrew Chafin in a deadline deal with the Cubs, while also adding Sam Moll as further depth in an early-July swap with the Diamondbacks. While the A’s definitely fortified themselves for the wild card race and a challenge to the Astros’ AL West lead, Oakland didn’t make any rotation adds — a decision that loomed large when James Kaprielien landed on the injured list yesterday.
Rangers’ Rebuild Continues: As one of the AL’s clear sellers, the Rangers were a popular team for trade calls, and the end result was seven young players added — four from the Yankees in exchange for the power-hitting Joey Gallo and lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez, and then another trio from the Phillies for Kyle Gibson, closer Ian Kennedy, and a noteworthy prospect in righty Hans Crouse. The deal with Philadelphia netted the most notable name of the seven in Spencer Howard, who has yet to emerge after 52 2/3 MLB innings but is still considered one of baseball’s better young arms.
Texas was able to score such a haul since Gibson’s career year drew him a lot of attention, and Kennedy (a minor league signing in the offseason) bounced back from a rough 2020 to continue his late-career reinvention as a quality bullpen arm. The Rangers looked into a contract extension with Gallo, but when talks failed to extend the team’s control beyond the 2022 season, the decision was made to move the homegrown All-Star while he still held a lot of value. Time will tell if the Rangers made the right calls, yet the hope is that at least some of these seven newcomers will become building blocks of the next winning Texas club.
Twins Fall Short Of A True Fire Sale: Minnesota thought their 2021 side would be “the next winning Twins club,” except a disastrous start to the season made it apparent early that the Twins would be sellers. The team took calls on pretty much every notable veteran on the roster, but since Minnesota is looking to limit the disappointment to just one year, the Twins mostly focused on moving players only under control through 2021. The ageless Nelson Cruz was the biggest name of this bunch, as Cruz was traded to the Rays while J.A. Happ (Cardinals) and Hansel Robles (Red Sox) were also sent elsewhere.
Jose Berrios was the exception, as the right-hander is controlled through 2022 but the Blue Jays made too good of an offer for the Twins to pass up. In acquiring top prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson from Toronto, big league-ready young arms Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman for Cruz, change-of-scenery candidate John Gant from St. Louis, and even high-strikeout righty pitching prospect Alex Scherff from Boston, the Twins brought in a collection of players that could help them as early as 2022.
Yankees Load Up The Left Side: After a lackluster first half of the season and a lot of ground to make up on the Red Sox and Rays, there was some sense that the Yankees might be deadline sellers rather than buyers. Uh, nope. The Yankees added a pair of left-handed hitting sluggers (Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo) to their heavily right-handed lineup, picked up southpaw Andrew Heaney in a trade with the Angels, and also brought left-hander Joely Rodriguez from Texas as part of the Gallo trade. Just to break up the left-handed theme, righty Clay Holmes was also acquired in a deal with the Pirates.
New York had to give up a lot of quality prospects to make these trades, and also had to carve out some luxury tax space by moving Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson to the Reds. However, the Yankees were able to make these sorely-needed upgrades without moving any of their true blue-chip prospects, and they also continued their season-long quest to stay under the $210MM luxury tax threshold.
Blue Jays Win The Berrios Sweepstakes: Jose Berrios’ ability and his extra year of control made him a hot commodity on the trade market, and Toronto had to move two big prospects (Austin Martin, Simeon Woods Richardson) to get the Twins’ attention. While Berrios will help the club beyond just 2021, the Jays are similar to the Yankees in not being discouraged by a big deficit in the AL East standings, as the Blue Jays feel their powerful lineup and the benefit of actually playing in Toronto again will fuel a surge.
Since late-game breakdowns have led to a number of tough losses, the Blue Jays have prioritized bullpen additions in July. They picked up Trevor Richards from the Brewers early in the month, then added two veterans in Brad Hand and Joakim Soria to join with incumbent closer Jordan Romano in protecting late leads. Between all the trades and the injuries that led to Toronto’s bullpen predicament in the first place, the Jays’ bullpen mix is almost entirely different from their collection of relievers on Opening Day.
Who’s On First At Fenway: Kyle Schwarber’s unreal home run tear in June added to his reputation as one of the sport’s better power bats, and with the Nationals in pure selling mode, the Red Sox took advantage in landing Schwarber (probably a rental player, given his 2022 mutual option) for a solid but non-elite pitching prospect in Aldo Ramirez. Boston’s lineup will become even more dangerous with Schwarber returns from the 10-day IL, though the team reportedly intends to use Schwarber to fill its first base vacancy, despite the fact that Schwarber has played exactly one game at first base in his 10 professional seasons.
The Red Sox otherwise added bullpen depth in acquiring Hansel Robles from the Twins and Austin Davis from the Pirates, with the latter deal sending former top-100 prospect Michael Chavis to Pittsburgh and former Red Sox GM-turned-Bucs GM Ben Cherington. Like the A’s, the Sox didn’t bring in any rotation help, which stood out as perhaps Boston’s biggest need heading into the deadline. The Red Sox will be counting on Chris Sale to essentially be that midseason rotation boost, as the ace continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery rehab.
Houston, We Have A Bullpen: The Astros had a relatively quiet deadline in comparison to many of the top contenders, though with a heavy-hitting lineup and a good amount of rotation depth, Houston had arguably fewer holes to fill than most. It’s also safe to say that avoiding the luxury tax was also a chief concern, given how the Astros’ moves played out.
That left the relief corps as the Astros’ primary target. Houston brought in Yimi Garcia (from the Marlins), Phil Maton (from the Indians) and, in a surprising deal between two division rivals, Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero from the Mariners. The Astros gave up youngster Abraham Toro and veteran reliever Joe Smith to Seattle, while speedy center fielder Myles Straw went to Cleveland for Maton and catching prospect Yainer Diaz. It made for a decent but not overly substantial price to pay for bullpen upgrades, and the cost will look pretty negligible if the Astros make another deep playoff run
Trader Jerry At It Again: That aforementioned Graveman/Montero trade left some hard feelings within the Mariners’ clubhouse, considering that the surprising M’s are in the thick of the wild card race. However, GM Jerry Dipoto insisted that the move was part of a larger plan, and the Mariners indeed made some further pitching additions by acquiring Tyler Anderson for the rotation and Diego Castillo to replace Graveman in the bullpen. All in all, the Mariners made what they feel is an overall improvement to the roster, while not going overboard in dealing young talent when the team might really be looking at 2022 as its true return to contention.
Guarding Their Assets: Getting a new team name counts as a pretty big acquisition, but while the Indians aren’t out of the playoff race, their July moves were mostly geared towards saving some payroll space and preparing for a better run in 2022. Cesar Hernandez was traded to the White Sox and Eddie Rosario was dealt to the Braves, clearing some money off the 2021 books, and the Tribe also got an interesting pitching prospect in Peyton Battenfield in exchange for moving Jordan Luplow and DJ Johnson to the Rays. Losing Phil Maton to the Astros is an acceptable price for a new everyday center fielder, and Cleveland hopes it landed such a player in Myles Straw.
Royals Say Goodbye To A Franchise Staple: The Royals were undoubtedly disappointed to be deadline sellers considering their aggressive winter and their red-hot star to the season, but K.C. stuck to moving veteran rentals rather than any longer-term players (such as Whit Merrifield, who was again the topic of much trade speculation). The most notable name moved was longtime hurler Danny Duffy, who agreed to waive his no-trade protection to chase a ring with the Dodgers. Former AL home run leader Jorge Soler was also dealt to the outfield-needy Braves, ending Soler’s Kansas City tenure on the disappointing note of a rough 2021 campaign. The Royals also swung a few lower-level deals earlier in July, acquiring Joel Payamps from the Blue Jays and dealing Kelvin Gutierrez to the Orioles and Alcides Escobar to the Nationals.
Arms Leave Anaheim: The Angels had a pretty quiet deadline, perhaps befitting a team that doesn’t entirely want to sell (since stars like Mike Trout will return from the IL) but also faces a big hill to climb to truly get back into the playoff race. The Halos ended up moving a pair of impending free agents in starter Andrew Heaney and reliever Tony Watson, netting some prospects for the long term, but in the short term hampering a pitching staff that is already a weak link. In another minor deal earlier in July, the Angels dealt southpaw Dillon Peters to the Pirates.
Sellers Barely Sold: The Orioles and Tigers were seen the AL’s most clear-cut deadline sellers, yet in the end, neither team did much trading in July. Detroit’s only deal of the month sent Daniel Norris to the Brewers, while the Orioles traded Freddy Galvis to the Phillies and Shawn Armstrong to the Rays.
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