October matters. Even when it is preceded by no games in April, May, June and most of July. Even in a season of seven-inning doubleheaders, tricked-out extra innings and a schedule made and remade in real time.
For teams like the Dodgers and Yankees, the playoffs are nearly birthright. They have a magic number when the season begins. So on the trade deadline neither felt compelled to dabble in high asking prices or act to augment rosters. Neither added players at the deadline — Los Angeles actually subtracted by moving pitcher Ross Stripling.
You know who landed the biggest starter (Mike Clevinger)? The Padres, whose postseason drought stretches to 2006, the third longest in the majors. You know who secured the best hitter (Starling Marte)? The Marlins, whose postseason drought stretches to 2003, the second longest in the majors. You know who obtained the best reliever (Archie Bradley)? The Reds, who last made the playoffs in 2013 and haven’t won a postseason round since 1995.
Hurdles always exist in completing trades. There were never more than in 2020. Teams are concerned, for example, that the season could be halted at any time due to COVID-19. That the deadline coming on Aug. 31 in a shortened season gives fewer games for new arrivals to produce an impact. That a new best-of-three first round makes the playoffs more of a crapshoot than ever.
But for a few organizations the crapshoot looks just great. It should be remembered that playing in October even with expanded playoffs in a disjointed season is a gift to many organizations.
No team pursued not only getting in, but doing something once there like the Padres. San Diego is redoing roughly one-third of its roster with nine additions in the last 72 hours up to the deadline. That included four relievers, two catchers, two depth position pieces and Clevinger.
Baseball is not the game of constant cohesion like basketball and football. But there is still plenty and the Padres are shaking up the team with one month to go. In particular, it usually takes time for catchers to assimilate with a staff and staffs have never been larger than this year. In Jason Castro and Austin Nola, San Diego is asking two new catchers to familiarize themselves on the fly.
San Diego did not give up its best prospects to get this all done, but did surrender a ton of inventory and it will be fascinating to see if that allows the Padres to become a persistent challenger to the Dodgers in the NL West or not.
Clearly, though, the 2020 trade deadline — the strangest ever — will be remembered first and foremost for the Padres’ fervor. Some other thoughts on a much more active process than was anticipated even a week ago:
1. The Rangers had one of the most desirable starting candidates last year in Mike Minor, who had a season of control left. Suitors said the asking price was just too high. Minor was retained, has pitched poorly this year and with free agency looming went to Oakland in a deal befitting his last name — minor.
Once Clevinger came off the board Monday morning, Lance Lynn was, by far, the most desirable starter on the market. He has a year of control left at a reasonable $8 million in 2021. Yet, suitors again complained about the price that the Rangers set and Lynn did not move. The Angels also did not move Dylan Bundy nor the Giants Johnny Cueto or Kevin Gausman.
2. One team that did obtain starters was the Blue Jays, who generally fall into the category of hungry for October. They made the playoffs in 2015-16 and that was the only time since winning the World Series in 1992-93. Plus, a new administration replaced the one that built the 2015-16 playoff teams and the fans were not exactly in love with this regime. So they were motivated to try to get in if possible.
Toronto, which is playing in Buffalo this year, obtained Taijuan Walker last week from Seattle, and on deadline day acquired Robbie Ray from the Diamondbacks and Ross Stripling from the Dodgers. The Yankees should get used to seeing them. Ten of the Yankees’ final 20 games are scheduled against the Blue Jays. Both teams are likely to make the playoffs, but Toronto has a real shot to grab second place from the Yankees.
3. The Yankees made no trades at the deadline. Their former manager, Joe Girardi, received one of his former Yankees, when David Phelps was traded from Milwaukee to Philadelphia. I thought Phelps was the best fit of all available relievers for the 2020 Yankees. This season the righty has been better than ever at striking out batters, inducing grounders and limiting walks.
Now Girardi gets that, plus Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman, who the Phillies already had secured. The Phillies’ bullpen has been mostly abysmal this year. But Girardi now has better pieces and a history of knowing how to manipulate relievers when he has good assets.
4. Starling Marte is an above-average player and an above-average player with a $12.5 million option is normally not a big deal. But these are not normal times. Teams are playing without revenue from fans this year and next season is sketchy. Teams and agents spoken to anticipate a lot of payroll slashing for 2021. Thus, Arizona was motivated to move Marte. The Yanks had some interest, but the Marlins landed the outfielder. This could be a precedent for an offseason in which we see more options not picked up and more non-tenders of players who would not have had that fate in the past.
5. Whether in the offseason or at the deadline, the teams that do the most to add known commodities are most often declared the winners. It will take longer to know this, but multiple executives were impressed with the long-term returns the Orioles and Mariners received while being sellers.