Though they’ve taken somewhat different paths to get to this stage, Cleveland and the Blue Jays share a similar flare for the dramatics during the trade deadline. The two teams will face off in the ALCS beginning Friday evening.
In retrospect, Cleveland’s biggest deal was acquiring Andrew Miller to shore up their late inning relief. After Cody Allen was coming off of an incredibly dominant 2015 campaign as closer, it appeared 2016 would bring him back down to Earth. Allen’s home run per flyball rate skyrocketed from three percent to 15 percent, his strikeout rate dropped by a percentage point, and his walk rate climbed by two percentage points.
Of course, Allen was still well-above the league average overall on the season, but beyond him, Dan Otero, and Zach McAllister, Cleveland lacked some late inning prowess. And, with such a dominant starting rotation, the team could afford to focus on locking down the late innings. Enter: Miller. In exchange, the Yankees received top prospect talent from Cleveland including Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield who now rank as the top and sixth-best prospects respectively in the Yankees’ system.
While that’s a steep price, Miller is arguably the best high leverage reliever in baseball, and the way Terry Francona has deployed him in the postseason is absolutely a key reason why the team was able to sweep the Red Sox.
Interestingly though, the lineup was what seemed to need help more desperately; especially behind the plate. Not only was Yan Gomes having a horrendous season at the plate—at one point, worthy of a sacrifice to Jobu—but he also fell injured in mid-July. With Gomes out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, the sensical move would have been to try to acquire a replacement at the deadline.
Well, it wasn’t for a lack of trying, as Cleveland GM Mike Chernoff swung a deal with the Brewers to acquire arguably the most valuable chip on the trade market: Jonathan Lucroy. In doing so, Chernoff was willing to trade away four top prospects for one and a half seasons of Lucroy. However, after Lucroy reportedly asked for his 2017 option to be waived and Cleveland refused, the deal was vetoed.
At the time, it seemed like a fateful 24 hours for Cleveland and, within 48 hours, Lucroy was shipped to the Rangers for what seems like an even better package of prospects for the Brewers. In retrospect though, Roberto Perez filled in for Gomes’ absence more-than-admirably and has also played a key role in their postseason success with a .364 OBP and a home run.
By the end of the deadline then, Cleveland was left with their willingness to improve their team but only Miller really to show for it. While Miller himself is a blockbuster acquisition, folks who weren’t sold on the team’s batting lineup still had a way to criticize the team. Was this magic Napoli season really sustainable? Could Tyler Naquin really be this good of a major leaguer?
The Blue Jays deadline theatrics were more about patience than they were about making a push. Last season, on his way out the door, GM Alex Anthopoulos made deals to acquire Troy Tulowitzki and David Price at the deadline. While Price went elsewhere once he hit free agency, Tulowitzki was a long-term acquisition. While leaving Coors Field seemed to affect Tulowitzki’s bat last season, he settled into a groove in 2016, hitting 24 home runs—his most since the 2013 campaign.
This past trade deadline, and with the team firmly in postseason contention, Ross Atkins only needed to tinker with the team. Of note, they acquired Francisco Liriano, Melvin Upton Jr., and Joaquin Benoit to help out the bullpen and bench. While Benoit was hurt just before the end of the season, his acquisition no doubt helped the team hold a fleeting postseason spot down the stretch. Meanwhile, Liriano played a key role in shutting down the Orioles during a late season matchup, and in extra innings during the Wild Card game.
Circling back to Cleveland, it’s interesting then that Lucroy’s desire for the team to waive his 2017 club option was worth canceling a deal. It seems like front offices are much less willing to trade for rental players for single-season hopes, and, along with the Blue Jays, you can see why. Perhaps it takes a while for players like Tulowitzki to settle into a new environment and become the player they thought they were acquiring; after all, Price didn’t perform particularly well in last year’s postseason on his rental either.
It’s an interesting trend, and might be something that continues if teams like the Blue Jays and Cleveland continue to make October headlines. The marginal cost of a win beyond the trade deadline is certainly worth more than it is during the offseason. That’s largely attributable to the scarcity of resources; more injuries happen throughout the year, more teams believe they are in contention, more teams are looking for additions, fewer players are actually available to acquire. But it might only be worth it to acquire longer-term assets, even though teams are acquiring them for this season’s playoff push.
Rewind one short month and you have takes like these about Cleveland:
Sept. 17: Remember the date because that's when Indians' postseason dreams ended before they began. https://t.co/4fNAMyn1oi— paul hoynes (@hoynsie) September 18, 2016
The team had just lost Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco to what seemed like season-ending injuries—though Salazar may be able to rejoin the team in late October. The team that rode their rotation to AL Central supremacy had their bread and butter taken away from them.
But that’s just narrative. If we looked at the numbers, Cleveland’s lineup was as good as any in the majors. In fact, by wRC+, the slugging Blue Jays are exactly their equal.
So here we are. With the ALCS about to begin, two teams who have yet to lose a postseason game will face off Friday night in Cleveland. And midseason acquisitions from 2015 and 2016 will look to shine.