The 2023 MLB trade deadline has come and gone, and the landscape of the entire league has shifted over the past few days and hours. Justin Verlander is now (again) a Houston Astro. Max Scherzer is a Texas Ranger. The New York Mets are apparently playing not for 2024 but for 2025 and 2026. The New York Yankees apparently locked Brian Cashman’s phone in a safe and forgot the combination.
It remains to be seen who truly won and lost deadline season, as we still have two months of the stretch run and all of October to settle things on the field. Still, a little kneejerk reaction never hurt anybody, so let’s run down some winners and losers from around the league.
All of a sudden, the reigning champs are looking awfully scary. Yes, Drew Spencer and Ryan Clifford are promising young prospects, and no, I don’t care about any of that — and neither do the Astros. You never know how many real shots at a World Series you’re going to get, and credit to GM Dana Brown for pouncing when it became clear that Justin Verlander was a) available and b) had eyes on a reunion with Houston. We still have some questions about bullpen depth, but this rotation looks much different with Verlander atop it, and the returns of Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve (and the emergence of Chas McCormick) have the lineup looking much more like the Astros we’re used to.
Pipe down, Mets fans. I understand that Scherzer stunk in his two biggest starts of 2022, and I understand that his inconsistency is part of the reason why he’s no longer in New York. But from a purely personal perspective, this worked out pretty well for the future Hall of Famer: After his conversation with Mets brass revealed that the team was prioritizing 2025 and beyond rather than retooling to make a run next year, he waived his no-trade clause and now gets to make another run at a championship with the Rangers. That’s a much better deal than playing out the string on a 2024 Mets team stuck in purgatory.
What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Chicago’s recent winning streak didn’t just prevent the sale of guys like Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman; it convinced GM Jed Hoyer to get aggressive, landing a bat in Jeimer Candelario that will fit perfectly in the middle of the Cubs lineup. Chicago didn’t have to dip too heavily into its farm system, either, getting significantly better while their main division rivals — the Reds and the Brewers — chose to mostly stand pat.
Look, the fact that the Mets were in a position where they felt compelled to sell at the deadline is a profound failure, one that owner Steve Cohen is paying through the nose for. But you can’t turn back time, and given where New York found itself in late July, Eppler deserves a lot of credit for how he handled the last week or so. He landed potentially four top-100 prospects — Gilbert and Clifford from Houston, Marco Vargas from the Marlins and Luisangel Acuna from the Rangers — all for pitchers over the age of 38. Yes, Cohen shelled out a lot of money to make it happen, but who cares, really? He’s got more than enough of it. Eppler completely revamped a subpar New York farm system and did it without giving up a ton of value in 2024 and beyond — Scherzer and Verlander are big names, but they’re also expensive ones, and the list of successful pitchers past the age of 40 is a very short one.
Los Angeles Angels
Will the Angels wind up claiming a Wild Card spot? I remain skeptical, even after they acquired Lucas Giolito from the White Sox and Randal Grichuk and C.J. Cron from the Colorado Rockies. But Los Angeles gave itself and its fans at least two more months of competitive baseball — and, more importantly, two more months of watching Shohei Ohtani. Maybe the prospects they parted with to make it happen will turn into Major League regulars one day. There’s a perfectly good chance they won’t, though, and that risk is more than worth the ability to say they did everything they could while they had arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport.
New York Yankees
Two months of mediocrity ensured that there really wasn’t a compelling path forward for Brian Cashman and Co. You can’t sell — you’re the Yankees, for god’s sake, and Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge aren’t getting any younger — but it’s also hard to get behind buying for a team that hasn’t shown a pulse since May. Still, the path that New York did choose — basically doing nothing, only acquiring White Sox rental reliever Keynan Middleton and Rangers reclamation project Spencer Howard — was the worst one possible. Cashman didn’t do his best to load up for a postseason push, nor did he sell and focus on the future. He did neither, leaving his team without direction moving forward.
New York Mets
Eppler deserves kudos for his maneuvering over the last week, but make no mistake: This was a disaster for New York, and not just because of Steve Cohen’s bottom line. Given Eppler’s reported response to Scherzer when the Mets GM was asked about contending in 2024, this is going to be a rebuild rather than a reload, and that’s a very far cry from where New York’s fans thought they would be this time of year.
For a while, it looked like O’s GM Mark Elias was going to sit out the trade deadline for a second consecutive year. Baltimore did eventually pull the trigger on the starting pitcher they so desperately needed, acquiring Cardinals righty Jack Flaherty just before the clock struck 6, but it’s fair to wonder why Elias and Co. weren’t more aggressive. This isn’t a plucky young team that’s ahead of schedule; this is among the very best teams in the sport, right now, one that’s been good enough to earn the support of its front office. Yes, Baltimore has among the deepest farm systems in baseball, but prospects exist to be turned into Major Leaguers, and given the cost of other, better arms like Scherzer, Giolito and Jordan Montgomery — and the fact that Eduardo Rodriguez is still in Detroit — this feels like a missed opportunity, one that could come back to haunt this team in October.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Speaking of missed opportunities. The reason Rodriguez remains a Tiger is because he used his 10-team no-trade clause to turn down a deal that would’ve sent him to the thick of a pennant race in L.A. The Dodgers eventually pivoted to Royals lefty Ryan Yarbrough, but while Yarbrough has actually pitched pretty well of late, I don’t have to tell you just how much of a downgrade that is. Now Los Angeles will fight for the National League crown with nothing but question marks in its rotation: Clayton Kershaw’s shoulder injury, Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin’s recent struggles, whether rookie Bobby Miller and Emmet Sheehan can hold up over the stretch run or whether they’ll hit the rookie wall.
Tampa Bay Rays
I didn’t mind Tampa sending top prospect Kyle Manzardo to the Guardians for Aaron Civale; the Rays desperately needed another arm, Civale is under team control for 2.5 more years and Manzardo was going to remain blocked by Tampa’s armada of young infielders. I do have concerns about Civale’s injury history — they acquired him due to injuries already suffered to starters Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen and Josh Fleming — but this is less about what the Rays did and more about what their AL rivals did. The Astros landed Verlander. The Rangers landed Scherzer and Montgomery. The O’s landed Flaherty. For a Tampa team that already seemed to be falling behind, this deadline certainly didn’t help that impression.
Of course, there’s falling behind, and then there’s sitting out the race entirely. Yes, the AL Central is a tire fire, and yes, Minnesota’s primary divisional competition (Cleveland) seems more interested in retooling than going for it. But the Twins should aspire to more than just the title of champions of baseball’s weakest division; this rotation is good enough to make a deep, deep run in October, but the team’s front office did next to nothing to give them they help they deserve.