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Mudville: September 18, 2021 12:46 pm PDT
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Trade Secrets

The best thing about the trade deadline is that it’s over.

No more reading or hearing about how one magic move is going to take a team to the promised land. From this point forward, it’s on. And finally, some GMs woke up and traded prospects for the here and now.

In many ways, though, the trade deadline is a Ponzi Scheme.

GMs who couldn’t build a winner around talented players have traded those players for prospects, gaining another player generation of playing GM, while waiting for the prospects to arrive to the major leagues.

The conveyor belt system they couldn’t build has been reloaded. Happens all the time and GMs get another life to turn it around.

That is what is going on in Wrigleyville with Jed Hoyer and the Cubs. Now we know why Theo Epstein got out. Listen, I’m not saying it’s easy to win a World Series and keep winning, but Brian Sabean somehow found a way to do it three times every other year with the Giants in 2010, 2012 and 2014. But Sabean built a scout-based organization that is still playing good baseball with some solid moves by the new front office, including the monster trade Friday of landing Kris Bryant from the Cubs.

That is a great move for the Giants who are the surprise team of 2021 and are trying to stay one step ahead of the Dodgers who made the biggest splash of the trade deadline acquiring Max Scherzer and Trea Turner for prospects.

Like I’ve said all year, the NL West is where it’s at in 2021 but there could be a big flop at the end. More on that later in The Story.

“You hold onto a couple of your best prospects, but the others you cannot be afraid to trade. You almost make it like two sets of prospects, the can’t miss prospects and the prospects who might miss.”

No one has repeated as World Series champions since the Yankees did the trick in 1998-‘99-2000. Since then the Yankees have won one World Series (2009), the same number of World Series as the Marlins (2003).

The Yankees have lost their way. They have put together winning teams but teams that could not make it to the World Series. They haven’t been back to the World Series since 2009. They are due, and please no more whining about the cheating Astros from 2017. Move on. This season, someone over in Yankee-land finally figured out it is nice to have left-handed hitters as well as right-handed hitters in the lineup. Imagine that.

Could it be that Brian Cashman is again allowing his baseball front office minds to help make baseball decisions instead of his over-reliance on the Nerds? The addition of lefty slugger Joey Gallo and the rental of Anthony Rizzo look to be solid moves and both men play solid defense. Knowing the way the Yankees think, the Rizzo deal might have happened simply because they preferred to keep him away from the Red Sox.

But the reason really doesn’t matter, Rizzo is a Yankee now and he likes to play the role of team leader – and that role is available on the Yankees. Rizzo paid immediate dividends with two home runs against the Marlins. The Yankees certainly have a chance to take the second wild card but it’s not going to be an easy playoff road after that if the Yankees make it to the wild card – and win the wild card.

“They are still a swing and miss club,’’ one scout told BallNine on Saturday, pointing to the addition of big swing with either big success or big failure in Gallo.

Anthony Rizzo

Gallo is hitting .220 this season, .200 with runners in scoring position, but he does have 25 home runs and 75 walks. And he’s a lefty. His power will play very well at Yankee Stadium. Also, with the lefty hitting Rizzo as a teammate, and this is important, Gallo may be able to gain some valuable information from Rizzo that could help him at the plate. For instance, Rizzo is on top of the plate and perhaps Gallo can move a bit closer so he is not as vulnerable to pitches on the outer half of the plate.

A lot was made about Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton being able to feed off each other as big men, big sluggers, but that never worked out and I remember Judge and Stanton both telling me they have such different swings that they are not comparable.

I have a feeling though, Rizzo could help Gallo.

Here is the problem.

The pitching only gets more precise in the postseason, and so Gallo is going to have to make more contact. The pressure is on him now that he is no longer in Texas.

Precise postseason pitching is why it is fascinating to see the additions made by the Astros and White Sox. The Astros are one of the more complete clubs in the game right now and adding reliever Kendall Graveman gives them a vital late-inning arm. He is fearless and his pitches move, and that is usually a winning combination in the post-season.

Jerry Dipoto upset his Mariners with the trade of Graveman. Part of being a successful GM is not only knowing talent, but it is knowing how to read the room, read your clubhouse and Dipoto missed badly on reading the Mariners clubhouse by trading Graveman to the team’s big rival in the AL West. That is really a miss.

If the Mariners can overcome Dipoto’s trade of Graveman that could bring the clubhouse together in a “Major League’’ kind of way. You know, the team coming together to show management they are better than management thinks they are.

Kendall Graveman

So there is that to keep an eye on the rest of the season. Dipoto created his own little soap opera in Seattle. Graveman is having a career year, 4-0 with an 0.82 ERA, but Dipoto is betting on the future by acquiring third baseman Abraham Toro in the deal.

Too often, GMs worry about the next 3-5 years instead of worrying about the next two months of the season and the postseason. It’s an epidemic in baseball. The GMs have sold the owners on the future and have forgotten about the present.

The Red Sox did trade for the Nats’ Kyle Schwarber and are ready to teach him some first base when he returns from his hamstring injury. The lefty slugger should be a big addition to that lineup. Fenway is a fun place to hit. The Nationals traded for 12 prospects in a rebranding of the team. At least in one part of Washington there are term limits.

The other competing AL East team, the Rays, made a muscular investment in ageless slugger Nelson Cruz who has to adjust to hitting indoors at home now.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said it best of a winning philosophy, noting, “Whenever you’re in a position to win a championship, and you have impact-type players that you can add, our mindset is to be aggressive.’’

That Friedman has reached that conclusion is a credit to his growth as a GM and the fact he can spend $274 million with this team. More GMs, despite their payrolls, need to think like that.

You hold onto a couple of your best prospects, but the others you cannot be afraid to trade. You almost make it like two sets of prospects, the can’t miss prospects and the prospects who might miss. I know the Twins are getting rave reviews for landing Blue Jays prospect shortstop/outfield Austin Martin in the deal for Jose Berrios, but two scouts I talked to are not as high on Martin, the former Vanderbilt star who was the fifth pick overall in the 2020 draft.

The Twins also got right-handed pitcher Simeon Woods-Richardson in the deal, a second round pick of the Mets in the 2018 draft who has been traded for a second time. Berrios owns a 3.48 ERA with the Twins this season, with 126 strikeouts and only 32 walks over 121.2 innings. The Blue Jays need starting pitching and this certainly helps as they fight for the second wild card spot with teams like the A’s, Yankees and Mariners.

The Blue Jays also addressed their bullpen woes acquiring veteran closer Brad Hand from the Nationals.

Javy Baez

You never know with trade deadline deals. I call it the Scutaro Effect.

Going back to the Giants, one of the best deals they made was on July 27, 2012 when Sabean acquired Marco Scutaro from the Rockies for Charlie Culberson on the advice of scout Lee Elder. Scutaro went on to hit .362 for the Giants the rest of the way and was the NLCS MVP, batting .500 against the Cardinals and got the winning hit in the four-game sweep of the Tigers, a 10th-inning single to center.

When the Giants acquired Scutaro, no one could have ever predicted such success.

But that is what the right Trade Deadline deal can do for a team. It can take you all the way to the World Series and win the whole thing. You just never know with these trades, you have to let them play out over time. And that is why it was nice to see so much action this trade deadline and for a change, front offices stop with all the prospect-hugging. They traded prospects.

If a trade helps you win a World Series, just like it did for Sabean or for Epstein when he landed Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees in the Gleyber Torres deal on July 25, 2016, it’s worth it.

There will be a lot to follow the rest of the way.

The Mets acquisition of Javier Baez is fascinating because all that Baez baseball energy should be appreciated by Mets fans. But it also has the potential to blow up in the Mets’ face. One scout I talked to believes Baez will be a big help to his friend and fellow shortstop Francisco Lindor in that he will take some of the pressure off Lindor, who is out with an oblique injury.

Manager Luis Rojas said Saturday of Baez, “All he talks about is winning.’’

Injuries continue to haunt the Mets and the latest Jacob deGrom setback could spell disaster for them. They made a fine pickup in pitcher Trevor Williams along with Baez in the deal for prospect centerfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong. Baez can hold down shortstop until Lindor returns and then can shift to second base. I am a Rich Hill fan too because no one wants to win as much as Rich Hill.

Lindor put it best saying he was “super excited’’ with the addition of Baez. He added “I can’t wait for him to come out here and put on a show for everybody.’’

Max Scherzer

Baez is a rental but if he has success, Steve Cohen can afford to sign him long term. Contact once again is key. Baez leads the NL with 131 strikeouts and has made 18 errors in 88 games. It appears from a distance that his baseball focus has been off all season. It’s time to get a laser focus on the job at hand. Armstrong is sidelined with a shoulder injury. He is only 19. The thing about prospects is that they remain prospects until they get the opportunity and then they have to get the job done.

Way back when, Angels manager Lefty Phillips said it best when he noted, “Our phenoms aren’t phenominating.’’

If the window for a championship is open, make the most of that opportunity.

The Cubs also traded closer Craig Kimbrel across town to the White Sox and I believe this will have a huge positive impact for the White Sox who now have Kimbrel and Liam Hendriks to close games for mad scientist manager Tony La Russa, who at the age of 76 is not about to wait around for prospects to develop.

The White Sox can glide into the postseason and set up their team the way they want it for October. Kimbrel comes with a club option so he is more than a rental as he registered 23 saves for the Cubs. The White Sox traded Nick Madrigal, who will help the Cubs in the future at second base. He is out for the season with a hamstring injury. This is a classic win-now move and good for the White Sox. Beefing up the bullpen is always a good thing. Kimbrel has something to prove as well. Over the course of his career he has 371 saves and a 2.07 ERA in the regular season but his postseason ERA is 3.68 over 20 games. He needs to be a lot better in October and is getting another chance.

Dave Dombrowski is always a win now GM and he is trying to correct years of Phillies flaws with his moves of acquiring starter Kyle Gibson and closer Ian Kennedy by trading his pitching prospect Spencer Howard. The Phillies had to do something and like the Braves they continue to hang around in the NL East simply because the Mets cannot break away. Any pitching helps and Joe Girardi needs help. The Phillies also got shortstop Freddie Galvis back because the Phillies need to catch the baseball.

I also want to point out a good shorstop move made awhile back. The Brewers beat everyone to the punch landing underrated shortstop Willy Adames from the Rays and they added Eduardo Escobar as well, two excellent moves.

And all this brings us to the Padres. Here’s a thought no one has mentioned.

The Padres had better pick it up. They are everyone’s favorite fun team to watch play with their energy, great ballpark, phenomenal fans and dugout antics but they are only three games ahead of the Reds in the loss column for the second wild card.

If the Reds keep winning and the Padres don’t make the postseason what a blow that will be to a team that as we all know from the MLB The Show commercial, has re-written the unwritten rules of baseball. Adam Frazier was a solid pickup but with the Dodgers landing Scherzer and Turner, not enough.

I do like adding Daniel Hudson to the bullpen and the Padres are Prospect Central so trading prospects really doesn’t matter. Fernando Tatis Jr. continues to have shoulder issues so a table-setter like Frazier was a solid move. Jake Marisnick gives them some outfield depth as well but these are dangerous times for the Padres.

They need to make sure they make it to the postseason for the San Diego dream to continue and to keep re-writing the unwritten rules.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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