Major League Baseball’s annual trade deadline has come and gone, as of 4 p.m. ET Friday.
And as teams like the San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers jockey for position in a tight National League West race, the decisions made today will have far-reaching implications for the fall.
The best player discussed as the clock ticked down was Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer, whose trade was complicated by the vagaries of the end of his seven-year, $210 million contract, and his collectively bargained right to scuttle any deal. The Dodgers are the big winners in that derby, acquiring Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner in a blockbuster trade that will net the Nationals three of L.A.’s top prospects. The Dodgers also added Danny Duffy, another starter from the Kansas City Royals.
Unlike the past, there’s no longer a one-month waiver trade period beckoning, wherein teams, with some creative maneuvering, could still land a topflight player.
The deal left the Giants, who are trying to recapture the magic that produced three World Series titles from 2010-14, shut out of the Scherzer sweepstakes, but they got reinforcements by dealing for Chicago Cubs star third baseman Kris Bryant just ahead of the deadline.
“If I was a player, I would want to play in San Francisco,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler told reporters Wednesday. “It’s a great city, and we are a pretty driven, hungry franchise with an equally hungry and driven fan base … I think any player would want to be a part of that.”
But the key to Scherzer’s immediate future was finding a team willing to pay the approximately $15 million a year he’s owed in deferred money covering the years 2015-2028. If he had remained in Washington until free agency begins with the close of the World Series, that team would have been the Nationals.
A great recent example of a last-minute waiver deadline trade was Aug. 31, 2017, when the Detroit Tigers sent star right-hander Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros.
Like this year with Scherzer, Verlander was a 10-year veteran enjoying five years of consecutive service with the same team. Under those circumstances, both Scherzer and Verlander had the right to approve or block any trade.
Verlander rejected an overture by the Dodgers, who weren’t particularly serious about obtaining him. As the witching hour approached, Verlander agreed to go to Houston in a five-player trade that had little impact on the Tigers.
“We thought the deal was dead,” Astros owner Jim Crane said at the time. “He was a little reluctant and eventually made the right decision. We got him for a couple more years, and the team’s intact.”
For the Astros, it swung the balance as they defeated the Dodgers in a seven-game World Series, though that title was later tainted by the revelation of Houston’s illegal sign-stealing scheme throughout that season, drawing fines and individual punishment from MLB.
This year has had a busy run-up to the deadline. The New York Yankees obtained lefty sluggers Joey Gallo from the Texas Rangers and Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs for a bevy of minor leaguers. The Cubs cleaned house, unloading not only Bryant and Rizzo, but pitcher Craig Kimbrel (White Sox) and shortstop Javier Baez (Mets).
The Dodgers, Padres and Giants all could have used Scherzer, who might now tip future fortunes to the Dodgers in a division tussle where 5 1/2 games separate the three teams.
Padres general manager A.J. Preller isn’t afraid to trade players. He obtained Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell from other clubs in the offseason. Last year, when the sole trade deadline was Aug. 31 because of the vicissitudes of the COVID-shortened 60-game season, Preller plucked Mike Clevinger from the Cleveland Indians.
Clevinger didn’t work out. He was hurt by the time the playoffs rolled around and is now recovering from his second Tommy John surgery.
When last Sunday Preller acquired All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier from Pittsburgh for three lower-level minor leaguers, it raised the question of whether another big deal was in the offing.
With All-Stars at third base, shortstop and second base, the Padres hardly need another middle infielder.
To be sure, Preller had explored Scherzer among other pitching options. Rumors circulated Thursday that the Padres were in the forefront of making that deal. But after Thursday night’s win over the Colorado Rockies, Preller added reliever Daniel Hudson, a consolation prize from the Nationals.
“From our standpoint we have a lot of confidence in our guys who are already on the roster,” Preller said in a recent conference call. “We’ll obviously be listening and open to what’s out there. It’s got to make sense. We know what our pitchers are capable of. We have a lot of faith in them. Pitching and defense is going to get us where we want to go.”
The Dodgers were also in the market for more frontline pitching as they try to defend last year’s World Series title won in six games over Tampa Bay.
Andrew Friedman, the club’s president of baseball operations, thought he had that problem solved this past offseason with the signing of free agent Trevor Bauer to a three-year, $102 million contract.
But Bauer is on administrative leave, as MLB and the police investigate sexual battery charges, and sources tell Sportico it’s doubtful the right-hander will pitch again this season. Clayton Kershaw is on his way back from the injured list with left forearm soreness, and Dustin May had Tommy John surgery.
Thus, the Dodgers’ much vaunted starting pitching depth had been depleted. Now at $271.7 million, their player payroll is well above this season’s $210 million luxury tax threshold and the highest in baseball history. Scherzer’s threshold hit for the remainder of the season is $10.026 million.
Don’t worry about the Dodgers. They have the money. Guggenheim Baseball Management is substantiated by a hedge fund that manages $500 billion in assets.
The two southern California NL teams have been one-upping each other since last season. The Dodgers signed Mookie Betts to a 12-year extension worth $365 million, and the Padres did the same for Fernando Tatis, buying out his arbitration and early free agency years for 14 seasons at $340 million.
The Padres traded for Darvish, Musgrove and Snell, and the Dodgers signed Bauer. The Dodgers have now countered with Duffy and Scherzer, a potential free agent and Scott Boras client. The Dodgers certainly have the wherewithal to sign the 37-year-old, three-time Cy Young Award winner, who won a World Series with the Nationals only two years ago.
The Giants, at $153.5 million, had room this year to maneuver, although they have big decisions in the offseason, what with Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto facing costly club options and Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and now Bryant becoming free agents.
They are the surprise of baseball, and at this writing still have the best record, having survived a number of key injuries with a lineup of disparate parts, utilized well by Kapler, finishing his second season running the club.
Though it wasn’t their intent coming into the season, Giants management is all in, as their trade-deadline efforts showed.
Now, like all 30 MLB teams, they will have to live with the results.
(This story has been updated throughout with details of deadline-day deals.)