We’re currently witnessing the tremendous effects that mid-season trades can have on major-league teams as Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander dominate this postseason, but not every in-season move turns out well. Here’s our ranking of the worst mid-season trades of 2017:
The Diamondbacks needed to upgrade their bullpen as they prepared for their first postseason run since 2011, and it’s difficult to fault them for trading Madero, a 20-year-old who got hit hard in his first taste of A-ball, for Hernandez, a former member of the Diamondbacks who had a 2.23 ERA in 38 relief appearances for the Angels. Hernandez wasn’t able to sustain that success with Arizona, though, posting a 4.82 ERA while allowing four homers (compared to none with the Angels) over 26 appearances with the Diamondbacks.
Cabrera actually performed decently for the Royals, hitting .269/.303/.399 with four homers over 238 plate appearances. But the way they utilized him—playing him in right field, where he was a defensive liability, while benching rookie slugger Jorge Bonifacio and continuing to play ice-cold left fielder Alex Gordon every day—was an issue. Trading Puckett, a fast-moving 2016 second-rounder, for a rental in Cabrera proved to be a regrettable decision as Kansas City missed the playoffs.
8. Diamondbacks acquire C John Ryan Murphy from Twins for LHP Gabriel Moya
This July 27 trade was arguably the weirdest of 2017, as the Diamondbacks—who were carrying three catchers on their big-league roster and had major-league veterans Hank Conger and Oscar Hernandez catching in the minors at the time—dealt for the 26-year-old Murphy, who they promptly stashed in Triple-A before using him in five big-league games after rosters expanded in September. In return, they gave up Moya, a lefty reliever who was ranked as their No. 25 prospect by MLB Pipeline and had a 0.82 ERA with 14.0 strikeouts per nine innings in Double-A. The 22-year-old Moya joined the Twins for seven games in September and posted a 4.26 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, but his future in Minnesota looks much brighter than Murphy’s in Arizona.
By making this waiver deal on August 5, the Pirates effectively signaled that they regretted letting Rodriguez depart in free agency to the Braves last November. They took on the $7.3 million remaining on Rodriguez’s two-year deal while also giving up Joe, the 39th overall pick in 2014. Rodriguez posted a miserable .167/.276/.295 slash line with five homers in 2017, though it’s worth noting that he returned in July, way ahead of schedule, after suffering a rotator cuff injury in a January car crash that was initially expected to sideline him for the entire season. Thus, it’s very possible that he’ll bounce back after having an offseason to recover, but he’ll still be an expensive utility player on a club that has rather significant financial limitations.
To be clear, the jury’s still out on this trade for the Mariners, but it doesn’t look good for the Cardinals right now. With Leake, 29, having posted an 8.88 ERA and a 1.78 during a disastrous August, the Cardinals apparently decided that their rotation was better off without Leake—whom they signed to a five-year, $80 million contract just 20 months earlier—and dealt him to Seattle on August 30, retaining $17 million of his remaining salary while also sending international slot money to the Mariners. While the Cardinals got back Ascanio, a 21-year-old struggling in High-A, the main purpose of the move was seemingly to create bigger opportunities for highly-regarded starting prospects Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty. But with Lance Lynn likely to leave as a free agent, Adam Wainwright now 36 and coming off shoulder surgery, Alex Reyes unproven and coming off Tommy John, and Flaherty having struggled over six appearances in September, the Cardinals suddenly have a rather large hole in their rotation heading into next season, and they may have to pay another veteran starter to fill it. Leake, meanwhile, delivered four quality starts for the Mariners while allowing one run over 5.2 innings in his one start that wasn’t of the “quality” variety.
With an abundance of middle infielders including Adeiny Hechavarria, Brad Miller, Matt Duffy, Daniel Robertson, and Willy Adames, the Rays traded Beckham, the No. 1 overall pick in 2008, to Baltimore just minutes before the non-waiver deadline. Beckham, who hit for a .795 OPS with 10 homers over the season’s first three months before slumping to a .530 OPS in July, became the Orioles’ everyday shortstop upon his arrival and proceeded to rake in August, hitting .394/.417/.646 with six homers. He slumped in September, but he still finished the season with a .782 OPS and 22 homers while also proving that he can play strong defense at short. Tampa, meanwhile, got Myers, a 19-year-old lottery ticket who didn’t crack either the Orioles or the Rays’ MLB.com’s organizational top-30 prospects list. The Rays may have been itching to move on from Beckham, but in retrospect it looks like they didn’t get enough value for an everyday big-league shortstop who still has all his arbitration years remaining, and since no one stepped up at second down the stretch, they have a hole at that position heading into 2018.
4. Royals acquire RHP Trevor Cahill, RHP Brandon Maurer, LHP Ryan Buchter from Padres for LHP Matt Strahm, LHP Travis Wood, INF Esteury Ruiz, cash
The Royals had already used 11 different starting pitchers and were short on bullpen depth when they acquired a trio of Padres pitchers on July 24, looking to bolster their staff for a playoff run as they sat just 1.5 games back of the first-place Indians. They thought they’d found their fifth starter in Cahill, who had a 3.69 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in San Diego, but instead the 29-year-old struggled in three starts, went on the disabled list for three weeks, and then came back and allowed 11 runs over 12 innings of relief in September. Maurer, who had 20 saves but a 5.72 ERA and 1.19 WHIP at the time of the trade, continued to be wildly inconsistent in Kansas City, posting an 8.10 ERA and 2.25 WHIP over 26 appearances. And Buchter cost the Royals a pair of key early-August games before eventually settling down and finishing with a 2.67 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in Kansas City. Obviously, they failed to help the Royals reach the playoffs, but while Cahill is a free agent and almost certainly won’t be back, Buchter and Maurer are both under club control for multiple seasons and will have opportunities to make this trade look better than it does right now. The Royals were likely going to designate Wood for assignment soon anyway, and he continued to struggle as a member of San Diego’s rotation. Only time will tell, however, if they’ll regret giving up Strahm and Ruiz. Strahm, who turns 26 next month, missed the rest of the season after suffering a patellar tendon tear in July and has yet to establish himself as a dependable big-league starter, while the 18-year-old Ruiz is highly-regarded but spent the season in rookie ball.
In a deal that seemed puzzling as soon as it was made, the Astros traded the 24-year-old Hernandez, who was their No. 8 prospect according to Baseball America and was widely viewed as being on the cusp of becoming an everyday big-league outfielder, as well as Aoki, who’d been their primary left fielder for most of the season, for Liriano, a pending free agent. The 33-year-old lefty had struggled to the tune of a 5.88 ERA and 1.62 WHIP as a starter in Toronto, but Houston moved him to the bullpen. The experiment looked like a disaster in August as Liriano posted a 6.23 ERA and 2.19 WHIP over 8.2 innings, though he did bounce back with a 1.59 ERA and 0.88 WHIP over 5.2 innings in September. Most significantly, though, he apparently didn’t earn manager A.J. Hinch’s trust enough to be a real factor in the postseason, as he’s thrown just 1.2 innings and allowed one run during the playoffs. While the Blue Jays designated Aoki for assignment just weeks after the deal (despite his .888 OPS in Toronto), Hernandez came up and posted a .908 OPS with eight homers in 95 September plate appearances.
2. Mariners acquire David Phelps from Marlins for OF Brayan Hernandez, RHP Brandon Miller, RHP Lukas Schiraldi, RHP Pablo Lopez
The Mariners, looking to make an improbable playoff push in late July while also bolstering their pitching staff for 2018, traded four prospects (including three ranked among their top 30 by MLB Pipeline) for Phelps on July 20. While the 31-year-old Phelps’ previous starting experience gives him the ability to dominate in multi-inning outings when he’s at his best, he’s been rather inconsistent for most of his career, so it was surprising to see Seattle part with such a large package of prospects, especially since their minor-league system wasn’t exceptionally deep to begin with. Phelps made just 10 appearances with the Mariners after the trade, enduring two separate DL stints due to right elbow pain and then undergoing arthroscopic surgery on the elbow in September. Assuming they offer him arbitration, the Mariners will have him back in 2018, but he’ll have a lot of work to do if he’s going to make the trade look like a good one.
The Cubs made a bold move on the night before the trade deadline, dealing Candelario—their last remaining premium prospect—along with Paredes, their No. 10 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, to the Tigers for Wilson and Avila. Wilson, a 30-year-old lefty who was enjoying a career year as Detroit’s closer, was expected to serve as a shutdown setup man in front of closer Wade Davis. The 30-year-old Avila, enjoying a major resurgence after four straight subpar offensive seasons, was expected to serve as a reliable backup behind Willson Contreras after Miguel Montero was unexpectedly let go earlier in the season. Unfortunately for the Cubs, neither player really performed as expected. Wilson posted a 5.09 ERA and 2.09 WHIP over 23 outings and was left off the NLCS roster, while Avila was quickly cast into everyday duty after an injury to Contreras and saw his offensive numbers drop off, hitting for a pedestrian .239/.369/.380 slash line in Chicago. Avila is a free agent this offseason and is unlikely to return, while Wilson still has a year of arbitration remaining and could recover his value. Either way, though, the Cubs have now decimated their minor-league system to the point where they’ll have trouble making another big trade without giving up major-league talent.