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How the Trade Deadline Affects the AL East Race

All five teams made moves before the trade deadline, but only a couple took advantage of the opportunity to improve.

The MLB trade deadline has come and gone, which is a relief to players on the block, and a disappointment to those of us who want to see trades every day of the year. With all five AL East teams making a run at the playoffs, the deadline was a unique and final chance for each general manager to shore up their rosters. While every team in the Majors made at least one trade in the past month, there is a wide range in both quality and quantity, and that applies to the AL East, as well. Here is how each of the five teams look now that August has arrived.

The Rays Do What They Do

The success of the Tampa Bay Rays is becoming something of an inevitability in baseball. After a relatively quiet offseason, Tampa jumped out to the best start of anyone. Yes, they have fallen out of first place after an 8-16 July, but the Rays are still comfortably in playoff position. On Monday they all but ensured they will make it to October by adding SP Aaron Civale from the Cleveland Guardians. The Rays have one of the best rotations they have ever put together, but the pitching staff has been hit hard by injuries. Everyone in the rotation has missed a start, and a few of them have missed much more than that. SPs Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs, and Josh Fleming are currently on the 60-Day IL, and Tampa traded RP J.P. Feyereisen in December instead of keeping him on the IL.

A decent pitcher like Civale with over two years of club control left is available because Cleveland has an even smaller budget than the notoriously thrifty Rays. With his war chest of prospects, PBO Erik Neander didn’t hesitate to send Top 100 prospect 1B Kyle Manzardo to Ohio. Unlike the Guardians, the Rays have plenty of good corner infield bats, so Manzardo was completely blocked, as Ben Clemens of FanGraphs noted. Tampa gave up a big-time player to improve the pitching staff, but this is the best kind of trade for them: one that doesn’t hurt to make.

Oh, and while they were at it, the Rays also added to a shaky bullpen. Rays develop is famous for turning around flawed journeymen, so expect RPs Adrian Sampson and Manuel Rodriguez to pitch meaningful innings down the stretch.

Redbirds to Orange Birds

The Baltimore Orioles had a necessary but plain trade deadline, only acquiring SP Jack Flaherty from the St. Louis Cardinals. Flaherty is no longer the exciting, young pitcher who raised eyebrows in 2018. He is a reliable starter with playoff experience, though, which is certainly useful for an O’s team that is thin in those categories. GM Mike Elias did not pull off a deal for the ace the team really needs, but he did shore up the team’s biggest weakness. Take your pick as to which rotation members will start in the playoffs, but Flaherty will be one of them. Baltimore needed a second, better starter, but they’ll live with what they got. It is better than what they had before.

With St. Louis holding up a “for sale” sign for everyone to see, the Orioles sent three players that are right up the Cardinals’ alley. SP Drew Rom is a low-variable back-end starter who has run into a ton of bad luck this season at AAA. He will get a shot in the Majors this season as a command guy who pitches better than his stuff indicates. 2B Cesar Prieto is an advanced contact hitter with some defensive flexibility but little power. The Cardinals have a lot of those guys who bounce around, and Prieto should fit right in. SP Zack Showalter might seem like a throw-in as the most obscure player, but the has the highest ceiling. An overslot high school pick, Showalter is shutting down Low-A lineups and makes for a nice long-term play.

While the three prospects are nice, the Orioles won’t miss them. Elias cashed in on his endless farm system depth to get a starter while keeping all of the Top 100 players. The Birds could have (and maybe should have) gone big for SP Justin Verlander or SP Eduardo Rodriguez, but Elias chose to keep the pipeline and pocketbooks intact. Even though the Orioles currently lead the division, I think the Rays become the favorites again after adding more to a better baseline roster. I was one of the few who predicted the O’s would make the playoffs, but winning the AL East will still be a tough task.

Redbirds to Blue Birds

The Orioles weren’t the only ornithological team the Cardinals called over the past few days. The Toronto Blue Jays made three different trades with the Cardinals in the week leading up to the deadline. Adding RP Genesis Cabrera last week was only a DFA move, but adding RP Jordan Hicks and SS Paul DeJong raise Toronto’s floor in a meaningful way. Both players are direct injury replacements, as CP Jordan Romano and SS Bo Bichette both went on the IL recently. With little time and huge holes to fill, the Jays gave up a lot to get two rentals. SP Sem Robberse is the headliner as a rare stable pitching prospect. Toronto signs or trades for many of their pitchers, so they might not mind.

The Blue Jays are in the thick of the Wild Card race, but they have still somewhat underperformed this season. This is a very streaky team that added two streaky players. DeJong can go on a heater and carry the team for two weeks, but then he might totally disappear at the plate for a month. Hicks has electric stuff with a fastball as high as 104, but his command often holds him back. Unlike the Orioles, making a safer play probably would have been the better move. Really, though, they need SP Alek Manoah to pitch like an ace again and 1B Vlad Guerrero and OF George Springer to hit like All-Stars.

At Least They Made a Trade

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox both came close to doing nothing, but instead they did…almost nothing. Smaller moves aren’t surprising from a Boston team that bought and sold last season to little success, but at least this year’s roster is much stronger. GM Chaim Bloom repeats how he wants to maintain the development pipeline, and sitting back at the deadline seems to be his answer.  Believing in INF Luis Urias as a bounce back candidate is a smart buy-low move, but they needed more pitching (sound familiar?). The Sox front office might honestly think the team is good enough as is to grab a playoff spot.

For some reason, GM Brian Cashman seems to think that is the case in the Bronx, as well. The Yankees were clear losers this deadline by acquiring two relievers, when the bullpen is the only good part of the roster. RP Keynan Middleton is a solid addition, the kind the O’s or Arizona Diamondbacks could really use, but he is just another sinkerballer in the Yanks’ bullpen. The real head scratcher is that they did not trade for an outfielder. It seems like the Yankees couldn’t decide whether they wanted to buy or sell, and by the time they decided to add, the clock was running out. The current lineup will not get the Yankees to the playoffs, and no help is on the way. Many fans are calling for Cashman’s head, and I don’t blame them.

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