Very rarely does a trade's winners and losers include a team that was not a part of the trade.
But that's the case in the Phillies’ deal of righthander Juan Nicasio to the Cardinals for infielder Eliezer Alvarez. The Cardinals got a useful reliever as they make their push for the playoffs; the Phillies get a promising young infielder, and the Pirates got a black eye.
Nicasio was one of the better relievers in the Pirates bullpen for most of the year. Like most players he was placed on revocable waivers in August. He was claimed, but as Pirates general manager Neal Huntington explained, he was claimed by a NL playoff team that was unwilling to offer compensation for him. So the Pirates pulled Nicasio off waivers rather than let him go to a "direct competitor" for just the remainder of his salary.
But the Pirates then placed Nicasio on irrevocable waivers in the hopes that this time he would pass to an American League club instead of remaining in the National League. At this point, the Pirates knew that if he was claimed, they would get no compensation. It would simply be to clear the remaining $600,000 of Nicasio's salary and the roster spot.
The Phillies, who had top claiming priority on waivers, claimed Nicasio, pitched him twice and then traded him to the Cardinals just a week later. For the Phillies, the move is a way to acquire a prospect at a very low cost. For the Pirates, it's a sign of what could have been.
Eliezer Alvarez, 2b
Alvarez earned a spot on the Cardinals' 40-man roster last season with an outstanding .323/.404/.476 season at low Class A Peoria. In part because he's had to be added to the 40-man roster, the Cardinals pushed him aggressively to Double-A Springfield this season, skipping him over high Class A Palm Beach. He proved overmatched by the more advanced pitchers as the 22-year-old slumped to a .247/.321/.382 line at Springfield. He was slowed down by an ankle injury that cost him a month and a half of the season.
Alvarez ranked 10th in the Cardinals’ preseason rankings, but he would rank lower now (he didn't crack the Top 10 in their midseason rankings). But he's still a legitimate prospect as a second baseman with a smooth lefty swing and a strong arm. While he's focused on second base in the minors, he did play shortstop and third base in the Dominican Summer League and his arm gives him a chance to serve as a legitimate utilityman in the future.
Alvarez has already used one of his option years, which means he'll have to stick in the majors for good by 2020. He's not ready to do that yet, but he's a nice, low-cost pickup who has a chance at being a useful lefthanded-hitting middle infielder.
Juan Nicasio, rhp
Nicasio will not be eligible to pitch for the Cardinals in the postseason since he was acquired after the Aug. 31 deadline. But he should help St. Louis' attempt to make the playoffs. The Cardinals are three games back of the Rockies in the NL wild-card race. Nicasio is the typical power reliever with a mid-90s fastball and a useful slider. He's in the middle of his best season out of the ‘pen, which is good timing for the soon-to-be free agent. The Cardinals' bullpen has been one of the team's weakest links this year, so even if he'll just pitch for a few weeks, he's a low-cost addition to a Cardinals' bullpen in need of reinforcements.