After an action-filled deadline just 30 games into the season, rosters are set for the most open and exciting pennant race in recent years.
The headline makers were teams with playoff droughts who had good starts hoping to capitalise on this unique opportunity to play October baseball. The San Diego Padres stole the show, but the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays have also strengthened rosters which are surprisingly still competing.
Just the six trades for AJ Preller, giving his team (which is emerging from a rebuild) a major upgrade for their first playoff campaign since 2006.
The headline trade was for Mike Clevinger from Cleveland, available after breaking Covid protocols in Chicago. With a career 3.20 ERA and controllable through 2023, he is by far the best player traded at the deadline and was got without parting with any top 10 prospects. He will take pressure off struggling ace Chris Paddack and if he resolves his home run issues, Paddack and Clevinger will rival any 1-2 in baseball in the coming years.
Catching tandem Luis Torrens and Austin Hedges have new homes after producing no offence, replaced by Jason Castro and Austin Nola. Castro offers a steady presence behind the plate and league average production with the bat, whilst the versatile Nola comes during a career year (146 wRC+) and with control beyond 2020. Number 5 prospect Taylor Trammel was surrendered for Nola, but the fact that two teams have now been comfortable trading him suggests doubts about his potential.
Closer Kirby Yates will likely miss the season with elbow problems, so Trevor Rosenthal, back to somewhere near his best after a disastrous 2019 in DC, was acquired to boost a group who are in the bottom 10 in the majors in bullpen ERA. Reliever Austin Adams was also in the Nola deal, and is on the comeback from knee surgery and should add even more depth.
A massively improved roster without touching their top prospects is a huge success. They likely cannot catch the runaway Dodgers, but in an expanded playoff, their even deeper line-up makes them a team most will want to avoid come October.
The rotation is 14th in ERA, but 25th in innings pitched, which has put undue strain on their bullpen. Toronto acquired Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling for multiple players to be named later (PTBNL).
In Walker, they have a solid mid-rotation option who is making the league minimum whilst Ray has walked 31 batters in 31 innings in 2020 but is still striking out batters at a good rate.
Stripling is probably the headliner here, as he has a history of postseason success, and can pitch out of the pen or start. He has pitched to an ERA below 4 every year before 2020 in a variety of roles. His fastball has been destroyed this year, giving up 11 home runs on that pitch in just 7 starts whilst throwing it 8% more than in 2019. If the Jays can tinker with his pitch mix, they may unlock the previously effective Stripling.
Jonathan Villar was also added from Miami to add infield depth whilst Bo Bichette is on the IL and may take over at third where their current combination is worth negative WAR. The number of PTBNLs involved make it difficult to analyse the trades fully, but the new arms will improve their club and they seem like excellent bets to make the postseason.
Starling Marte was the best position player moved at the deadline, and that is reflected by the Marlins presence on this list. That they were in a position to buy is remarkable after the Covid outbreak and loss of most of their pitching staff. As the infected players continue to return, reaching the playoffs for the first time since their championship in 2003 is becoming realistic.
Marte instantly becomes the Marlins position player WAR leader and has a reasonable club option for next season. He was acquired for Caleb Smith and Humberto Mejia, both of whom became expendable with the return of Covid affected starters including Sandy Alcantara and José Ureña.
They have strengthened for 2020 and 2021 without affecting their young core and will give the clubhouse a boost in the pennant race which is wide open thanks to the poor standard of the National League.
The trade of Jonathan Villar seemed strange for a contending club, but news of Isan Diaz returning after a change of heart about opting out and the call up of top prospect Jazz Chisholm explains the move. Reports suggest the PTBNL is Griffin Conine, the son of ‘Mr. Marlin’ Jeff Conine, Toronto’s number 16 prospect whose name alone will excite Marlins fans.