It’s crunch time in the 2017 MLB season. Teams just finished making some splurges (or sell-offs) at the non-waiver trade deadline and are now witnessing whether or not their moves paid off. And though there’s still the waiver trade deadline with some interesting names on the market like Justin Verlander and Jose Bautista, the non-waiver deadline is where almost all the interesting stuff happens. Mostly because it’s the big moment where teams on the fringe of contention decide whether or not to go for it.
But let’s talk quickly about trades in general. There’s mostly two reasons teams trade. One is if teams have needs and excesses that match. Something like “Hey, we have lots of pitching that you need, and you have good hitters that we need, let’s swap.” The other main reason is contenders trading to rebuilders. The team’s not contending say “Hey, you can have our best players if we can have your best prospects.” Of course, it doesn’t always work out so smoothly.
Trades are based on the idea of mutual return, but sometimes, one or more teams doesn’t get what they thought they would or doesn’t yet realize what they just gave up. Whether that’s prospects not panning out, prospects vastly exceeding expectations, or the big pieces in the deal struggling with the new team. There’s infamous examples of each of those in baseball’s history, sometimes involving future Hall Of Famers. But often it doesn’t take that long to realize that a trade was a bad idea.
We’re here to look at the top 15 recent MLB trades that already look like a bad shake.
15. Minnesota Twins Re-Trade Jaime Garcia
A very interesting thing happened with the Minnesota Twins at this year’s trade deadline. Two weeks before the deadline, the team looked to be right in the thick of the playoff hunt, only a game or two back of a wild card spot, and only five games out of a division lead. So they went out to the trade market and added a few pieces, most notably starting pitcher Jaime Garcia from the Atlanta Braves. But then their next 10 games went so badly, General Manager Thad Levine quickly changed tack to sell mode and re-traded him to the Yankees.
And if that all wasn’t crazy enough, the Twins then proceeded to quickly climb back into contention. As of now, their playoff hopes are still alive, so it’s not hard to imagine there’s a little feeling of regret in the front office that they didn’t stick to their guns and compete this season. But a small solace to them is that Garcia’s first few starts with the Yankees didn’t go so well, so it may have turned out to be for the best. Which is also why this isn’t high on the list.
14. Tony Watson “Snakes”-Bitten After Trade To Dodgers
Tony Watson for his entire career so far has been an under-the-radar great relief pitcher. While for the past few years teams like the Royals and Orioles were lauded as having great bullpens, the Pirates didn’t often get credit for having an arguably better bullpen than either of them. But their big pieces have all moved on. Mark Melancon left last year at the deadline, as did Watson this year to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a move to give their bullpen more depth. But not long after the move, we have reason to wonder if it’ll really pan out.
As a two month rental piece, and with the Dodgers’ playoff spot all but already clinched, Watson is only useful to the Dodgers to help them in the playoffs. And his early showings give us reason to believe he won’t.
13. Logan Forsythe Only Solidifies Dodgers’ Biggest Weakness
The Los Angeles Dodgers are nothing short of a juggernaut in the National League this year. They’ve rattled off three different winning streaks of at least 9 games and currently sit 18 games ahead in their division. And mind you, the two teams right behind them hold the Wild Card spots. At this point they’re even teasing breaking the 2001 Mariners record for wins in a season. The Dodgers just don’t have many weaknesses, but one of them remains a problem even after an offseason trade specifically meant to fix it.
The only field position the Dodgers were really struggling to get production from was second base, held up by the aging and declining Chase Utley. They forged a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for Logan Forsythe to replace Utley, before resigning Utley anyway. Utley rebounded slightly, but Forsythe only turned out to be even worse than Utley was in 2016. Forsythe is sporting a career high OBP and above average defense, but everything else about his play is significantly down, only assuring that second base continues to be a lone weakness for the Dodgers.
12. Mariners Dump Nate Karns And Get Jarrod Dyson
The Kansas City Royals have a problem of a mass of impending free agents after the 2017 season went into the most recent offseason with a clear goal: Get pieces to keep them afloat in the future without giving up on competing this season. Apparently they did a good job with the balancing act as they continue to be in the thick of the Wild Card race. But there are questions about the players they traded for. Like starting pitcher Nate Karns from the Mariners.
Karns has struggled to find stability, moving around many times as a prospect but not yet having a true breakout season. And the Royals, in need of starting pitching, cashed in speedster Jarrod Dyson to take a chance on Karns. But after a merely okay start to the season, he went down for Tommy John Surgery. He is still under team control for a few more years, but he hasn’t really inspired optimism. Meanwhile Dyson has been exactly as prescribed for the Mariners: A mediocre bat who makes up for it with spectacular defense and baserunning. They too are in the playoff hunt still.
11. Addison Reed Implodes Against AL Contenders
The 2017 season for the New York Mets has been a story of futility. They went into the season perhaps the single team most lauded for having an amazing starting rotation. But it quickly turned into a huge weakness when every one of them except Jacob deGrom hit the disabled list, which had them in selling mode at the trade deadline. One of their moves was to ship off interim closer Addison Reed to Boston. Even though he’s clearly second to Jeurys Familia in the Mets bullpen hierarchy, he’s no slouch. But you wouldn’t know that from his performance with the Red Sox.
So far with the Sox, Reed has allowed more earned runs than he has innings pitched. And an August 13th debacle where manager John Farrell tried to pull him mid-at-bat shows the lack of faith in him right now.
10. Steve Cishek Pushing Rays, Erasmo Ramirez Dragging Mariners
The Tampa Bay Rays and the Seattle Mariners both found themselves on the fringe of contention this year and both made a few moves to upgrade at the trade deadline. And that included a trade they made with each other. Both teams had one major weakness in their team construction. For the Rays, it was their bullpen. For the Mariners, their rotation. And they both had excess pieces to help each other and so swapped Steve Cishek and Erasmo Ramirez.
With Cishek but a half-season rental and Ramirez still having a few years of team control, you’d think the Mariners won the trade. But their performances say otherwise. Cishek has been lights out for the Rays, so far not allowing a run and only seven baserunners at all in 8 appearances for 8 innings pitched. While Ramirez has been a homer-happy pitcher, allowing 5 home runs in his first three starts for 9 runs allowed (7 earned) in 14.1 innings pitched. Which astoundingly is still an upgrade for them, but certainly not as much of one as they’ll need in the playoff hunt.
9. Dan Jennings Lit Up In Tampa
We briefly mentioned that the White Sox are one of the worst teams in the AL right now. Well, not surprisingly, they shipped off pretty much anyone they could get value out of at the deadline. And the Rays, with their bullpen woes, tried to get a piece to help themselves out. They worked out a trade for lefty reliever Dan Jennings. With the White Sox, Jennings sported a 3.45 ERA this season. His ERA so far with the Rays? 10.38. Yikes.
Now, most of that comes from one particularly bad inning against the Red Sox, but a look into his game logs reveals that it’s pretty much entirely characteristic of his performance. In ten games, he has no perfect outings where he faced more than one batter. And as a lefty specialist, he’s been called on four times to face just one batter. Two of those four times, he’s failed to get them out. He is simply not doing his job well and is a liability for the Rays’ playoff chances, not the boost they were hoping for.
8. Red Sox Dump Buchholz’s Salary On Phillies
Over the past offseason, the Red Sox famously made a blockbuster trade with the Chicago White Sox to pick up their ace starting pitcher Chris Sale, who hasn’t disappointed this season and looks primed to win a long overdue Cy Young award. This trade left them with an excess of starting pitching, and other teams came a-calling to try to pick one up. The Phillies struck a deal to get Clay Buchholz for an infield prospect. Maybe they’d hoped Buchholz could keep them respectable during a rebuilding year, but instead, he and his $13 million salary have simply been dead weight.
Buchholz made only two starts for the Phillies to the tune of a 12.27 ERA and 2.59 WHIP before requiring elbow surgery and missing likely the rest of the season, his last one under his current contract. The prospect they gave the Sox, Josh Tobias, was a low level prospect, only coming in at No. 28 in the Red Sox farm system. But even if he turns out only to be organizational depth, he’s still providing more value than Clay Buchholz did to the Phillies. The whole trade was just a waste of a prospect and 13 million dollars.
7. Royals’ Return For Wade Davis Falling Flat
One of the other moves the Kansas City Royals made in the offseason was shipping off their elite closer, Wade Davis, to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for young outfielder Jorge Soler. This had all the looks of being a steal for the Royals, as Davis had injury problems the previous year, making him a riskier piece, and Soler was an improving, promising hitter who came with 4 more years of team control. In reality? The Royals probably really wish they still had Wade Davis right about now, and they better hope Soler’s next three years go significantly better than this one did.
Wade Davis has been a perfect 24-for-24 in saves opportunities, even though his ERA is on the rise recently. On the whole he’s probably been a little less than expected, but if Davis is a disappointment, Soler’s been a disaster. On the season, he’s batted just .154 for -1.4 bWAR before being demoted to the minors. Soler basically seems to have forgotten how to hit major league pitching, and if he doesn’t figure it out again, you’re probably gonna hear about this trade for a while when sports writers talk about the Royals’ futility in future years.
6. Francisco Liriano Struggling In Houston Pen
On the subject of Wade Davis, one thing that makes him such an interesting player is that’s he probably the single best example of the recent phenomenon in baseball of converting failed starting pitchers into elite relief pitchers. It’s perhaps why teams are so willing to hang onto starting pitchers even when they’re simply not that good anymore. And it seems to be why the Houston Astros traded with the Blue Jays for Francisco Liriano even in the face of his terrible season to this point.
But it turned out putting Liriano in the bullpen didn’t fix his problems. If anything, it made them worse, as his 1.65 WHIP as a starter turned into a 2.45 WHIP as a reliever. And that’s not one bad outing inflating the number. He has allowed at least two baserunners in every relief outing so far. The experiment seems to have failed, and the Astros just gave up Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez for basically nothing.
5. Twins Trade Away Brandon Kintzler
We opened this list with an entry about the Twins giving up on their season at the deadline only to climb back into contention. They traded away Jaime Garcia only a week after trading to get him, only to possibly need his help again now that they’re back in it. But where Garcia is concerned, his disappointing outings with the Yankees at least leave the Twins with the benefit of the doubt. However, trading away one of their best relievers, Brandon Kintzler, definitely has to sting.
Because he’s in the last year of his contract, Brandon Kintzler was traded to the Washington Nationals (because of course the Nationals traded for relievers) for pitching prospect Tyler Watson. And while the Twins are nearing the end of a rebuild and will probably enjoy all the prospects they can get, you never want to throw away the chance to be competitive earlier than expected. And if the bullpen becomes an issue in their fight for a playoff spot, or worse, once they’re in the playoffs, they’re really going to regret the decision to sell after the bad run right before the deadline.
4. Pat Neshek Can’t Handle Coors Field
One of the uncertainties about any trade is whether or not the newly acquired players’ skills will translate well to a new ballpark. This is a problem unique to baseball since there are fewer rules about the designs of the fields than in other sports. So you get some parks, like Petco Park or Safeco Field, whose dimensions favor the pitcher, while other ballparks favor the hitters. Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, so drastically favors the hitter that almost every NL pitcher can bond about how much they hate pitching there.
There are some pitchers who show they can handle it, like Rockies’ offseason addition, closer Greg Holland. But others are not so fortunate, like elite reliever Pat Neshek, who the Rockies got from the Phillies before the deadline. Through 6 home appearances, Neshek has allowed a .368 average in his new ballpark, in comparison to his .200 average allowed anywhere else. That number is going to have to come down significantly for that trade to have been worth it for the Rockies, who currently hold the second NL Wild Card spot.
3. Mariners Not Smyly About Trade With Rays
The Seattle Mariners had a very busy offseason, partly because of new management coming in, trying to overhaul the system and help push the team to just its second playoff appearance in its history. And we already mentioned one trade they made with a very favorable outcome where they dumped a mediocre starting pitcher who was about to go down for a year anyway. Unfortunately, they completely counteracted any good from that trade by putting themselves on the wrong end of an even worse one.
To replace Nate Karns, Seattle worked a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for Drew Smyly, who still had two years of team control. They gave Tampa Bay young centerfielder Mallex Smith along with two prospects, only to have Drew Smyly miss the start of the season, and then suffer a setback in rehab and find out he outright needs Tommy John Surgery. The Mariners traded for two years of a starting pitcher, but are only getting one, and even that one now has a huge question mark over it. And to do it, they gave up a sophomore hitter who’s already proven serviceable in the major leagues. Not a good move, Jerry Dipoto.
2. Rays Give Up On Tim Beckham A Moment Too Soon
The Tampa Bay Rays had a few years of absolute futility before their 2008 World Series run that gave them a group of high draft picks. But they were a bit hit-and-miss. Big hit: David Price. Big miss: Tim Beckham. The Rays took Tim Beckham as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 MLB Draft, but he abjectly failed to live up to expectations. It took him far longer than expected to crack the majors, and when he did, he wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire. At this year’s trade deadline, the Rays decided to cash in on his remaining upside by trading him to the Orioles on July 31st.
And on August 1st, Tim Beckham started raking.
In a season where he was only slashing .259/.314/.407, Tim Beckham kicked off his career in Baltimore black and orange with a 12-game hitting streak, and through 14 games, Beckham is slashing .500/.517/.897. Obviously such a pace is unsustainable, but it’s still a clear sign that he finally figured things out. And whether or not the numbers are inflated that much more by the hitter friendliness of Camden Yards, the Rays have got to be kicking themselves for not holding onto him for, forget another year, just until the waiver trade deadline.
1. Brewers Steal Travis Shaw From The Red Sox
The thing about famous lopsided trades is that often, hindsight turns the star of the trade into someone who was originally supposed to be just a minor piece. This can be said of guys like Jeff Bagwell, John Smoltz, or even recently Noah Syndergaard. Last year, struggling Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Tyler Thornburg suddenly turned into an elite reliever, and the Red Sox wanted him during the offseason. But the trade already seems to be a case of this. Nobody thinks of it as the Thornburg trade. It’s the Travis Shaw trade.
Thornburg still has not actually made his debut for the Red Sox, as he quickly went down with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Meanwhile Travis Shaw proven that his slump down the stretch in 2016 was not characteristic of him, but his stellar first half absolutely was. The Red Sox were scared by Shaw’s slump, and thought they had other good options at third base, like Pablo Sandoval, but obviously that didn’t work out. The numbers speak for themselves. Brewers fWAR at third base: 3.4. Red Sox fWAR at third base: 0.1
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