Last MLB season, the World Series was won, large in part, due to a trade deadline deal done at the last possible second. No, this deal was not done on July 31st, but rather on August 31st, the waiver wire deadline. The last possible day for players claimed off waivers to be traded WITH eligibility for post-season play.
On August 31st 2017 at approximately 11:59 p.m Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander was traded to the Houston Astros thus changing the course of the MLB season. All Verlander did for the Astros in September was go 5-0 with an ERA of 1.06 in 34 innings pitched. His velocity was back, spin rate was up, and this carried the Astros into the post-season. All Verlander did there was win ALCS MVP as he proved to be nearly unhittable against the New York Yankees. He was the difference maker. Without Verlander, the Astros don’t win their first championship in the franchise’s history.
There isn’t likely to be a player of Verlander’s caliber dealt this August, but lets look at 3 players likely to be dealt whom could be the final piece to a championship club this season.
Due to become a free agent this winter, the veteran outfielder is hitting .258 this season with 10 home runs and 43 runs batted in. While his season walk rate and OBP (.352/11.7%) remain healthy and in line with his career averages, McCutchen is striking out this year more than ever before at a 21.0% clip (career 18.1%) and is hitting for less power (.149 ISO vs. a .192 career ISO). For those who need may need a reminder, ISO measures Isolated Power and is measured in the likelihood of a player hitting for extra bases. A player who hits a homer every at bat could have an ISO of 3.0. A player who singles every at bat would have an ISO of 0.0.
So why is it likely he will be traded? Well, August should reveal the Giants’ true fate, which is to become sellers. Currently, they are 55-54, good for 4th place in the NL West. The Giants are the definition of mediocre. Despite only being 4.5 games out of the second Wild Card position, there are five teams they would have to jump just to get to that Wild Card Game. McCutchen could fetch a decent prospect for a team not likely to re-sign him. In 2016 the New York Yankees were able to flip aging Carlos Beltran to the Texas Rangers for former 4th overall draft pick Dillon Tate (who was just used by the Yankees to help get Zach Britton) and promising RHP Nick Green who is a consensus top 30 pick for the team currently.
The Yankees surely will be monitoring McCutchen in August and could be a match if the finances can match up and Aaron Judge is slow coming back from his wrist chip fracture. Even with Judge returning, McCutchen would make a nice platoon with left-handed outfielder Brett Gardner. The Phillies and Indians will also closely monitor the Giants’ success in August as sources tell UDA that both teams were in deep talks to get the former All Star before the Giants decided to wait out the season a bit more before deciding whether or not to sell.
This seems like a no-brainer. The Cincinnati Reds are UDA sweethearts with a promising outlook going forward. This does not include the 2018 season however and Harvey could be a solid piece to sell off in August. Harvey has improved his stock with the Reds after pitching to a 7.00 ERA with the Mets in 8 games. Harvey’s K/9 has gone up, BB/9 and WHIP down, and perhaps most importantly, his velocity is starting to sit 96-98 again, which is where it was during his mid 20s as he dominated for Gotham City.
Harvey is polarizing for sure given his past but there will be plenty of teams looking for pitching in the dog days of August. In the right circumstances and coaching, Harvey could recapture some of that magic that made him one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball (think Verlander pre and post trade last season!). Harvey would be motivated to pitch in a pennant race again but perhaps more importantly to him, regain some value before he hits free agency.
Calling this season a disappointment for the 2015 AL MVP season would be an understatement. Donaldson has been plagued with injuries all season long from his shoulder to his calf (an injury that shortened his season in 2017 as well). He has only played 36 games this season and is due to make roughly $7 million the rest of the way. Even more concerning, Donaldson was just shifted by the selling Blue Jays to their 60 day DL to make roster space. All of this makes Donaldson very likely to clear waivers.
So where is the intrigue? Well, Donaldson is likely to make his way back to the field by late August after he rehabs in the minors. And, this is Josh Donaldson we are talking about here. When healthy, he would be a dynamic force to throw into the middle of your lineup. Imagine getting expected Donaldson production throughout September and October? From 2015-2017, Donaldson averaged 37 home runs and 100 RBIs a season. If he can stay healthy, paying the remainder of Donaldson’s $23 million salary would be an afterthought if he in fact can be Josh Donaldson for the first time this year. That’s all it might take.
Adding any one of these three players comes with some small risk. Picking up the remainder of Justin Verlander’s enormous contract was risky on Houston’s end last year. It has continued to payoff this season. Given their track records and overall talent, McCutchen, Harvey, and Donaldson can all be the sparks that a team needs during their playoff runs. Any one of the three in the past has shown to have the ability to carry a team for weeks at a time. No one is claiming that these guys are headed back into their primes but if no one believes that these three possess the ability to turn back the clock and reach an elite level again for a two month stretch… well just look back to last season and tell me if a change in scenery and philosophy can do a player and franchise wonders or not.