Pennant Races Take Shape After Trade Deadline

The Dodgers added to their enviable pitching depth by acquiring Yu Darvish at the trade deadline. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Since the trade deadline was moved to July 31, the surest thing seemed to be the 1998 Astros. That night, Houston—in first place with a 65-44 record—and general manager Gerry Hunsicker got Randy Johnson from the Mariners. Johnson went 10-1, 1.28 in 11 starts down the stretch, and the Astros went 37-16 after the deal. They had Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Moises Alou and Billy Wagner in their primes.

Those Astros lost to the Padres in the National League Division Series, thanks to days off between Games 1 and 2 and then Games 2 and 3. That enabled San Diego to start Kevin Brown in two of the first three games. Brown, who Bagwell says “had the best stuff of anyone I ever faced,” gave up one run in each start.

When the trade deadline passed this year, the consensus appeared to be that the Dodgers are the lock that the ’98 Astros once appeared. And they might be, presuming that Clayton Kershaw is healthy in front of Yu Darvish, Rich Hill, Alex Wood and a deep bullpen led by Kenley Jansen.

Still, stuff happens. Do we know how good Darvish really is? The Cubs and Indians were on his no-trade list, and when he eventually ended up in Los Angeles with his friend Kenta Maeda, the Dodgers hadn’t given away any of their future for a rental.

The Dodgers this year are very deep. Unlike last season, they hammer lefthanded pitchers. When they couldn’t work a deal with the Orioles for Zach Britton, they added lefthanded depth to the bullpen with Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani.

Manager Dave Roberts exudes enthusiasm, his coaching staff is extremely energetic and the front office’s ability to manipulate the 10-day disabled list makes it seem as if they have a daily 35-man roster.

The Cubs added starter Jose Quintana, reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila. The Nationals added relievers Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler. The Cardinals held on to Lance Lynn and made an unsuccessful run at Sonny Gray.

We know the Yankees and Red Sox added. The Yankees had already taken on money to add relievers Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson, but then they acquired Gray and didn’t have to surrender Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres or Estevan Florial.

The Red Sox traded three young bullpen arms for Addison Reed, a pending free agent but a solid eighth-inning reliever, and utility infielder Eduardo Nunez.

What we then have is an interesting run for the American League wild card. Royals GM Dayton Moore acquired Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer for his pitching staff, then added Melky Cabrera. The Rays added slick defensive shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, first baseman Lucas Duda and relievers Steve Cishek and Dan Jennings.

In the end, the teams hardest to figure were the Orioles and Astros. Houston needs pitching. Lance McCullers Jr. has never approached 25 starts and was on the disabled list. Chris Devenski was running on fumes.

Yet they told teams they had their exclusion list when they discussed deals. Other teams understand Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley being untouchable—but Francis Martes, Derek Fisher and Franklin Perez?

Orioles people said that the Astros’ offer for Britton was “insulting” and said two players wouldn’t have passed Peter Angelos’ physicals. Houston said they were making progress on Britton until Baltimore president of baseball operations Dan Duquette didn’t return calls.

Duquette did get Jeremy Hellickson and Tim Beckham, but the Orioles, like the Tigers, are living on a bubble.

“This was a deadline where prospects definitely got overvalued,” one GM said. “So August may see some teams willing to just give away big contracts as long as they accept that they’re not getting prospects.”

Still, the Astros have never won a World Series game, let alone the Series. Remember this, Houston:

On Aug. 22, 2010, the Giants claimed Cody Ross on waivers from the Marlins. Ross won the NL Championship Series MVP, and the Giants won the World Series.

On Aug. 31, 2003, the Marlins got Jeff Conine from the Orioles and watched him hit .367 in the postseason as they won the World Series.

On Aug. 27, 1992, the Mets traded David Cone to the Blue Jays for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson, and Toronto won its first World Series that year.

So waiver-deal dreams can come true. If a team sees Jose Bautista, Jose Iglesias, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, Justin Verlander or Lance Lynn available, they should put in a claim. After all, windows don’t stay open as long as your laptops tell you.

— Find more from Peter Gammons at

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