On the surface, it made perfect sense for the New York Yankees to trade for Sonny Gray, a pitcher who would fit near the top of any team’s starting rotation. So, when the deal went down as expected Monday, it was critically acclaimed.
It was a bold move by the Yankees, who arguably won the July swap meet by adding Gray and four other key players.
Of course, ranking the winners at baseball’s trade deadline is guesswork. There are plenty of unknowns — a gray area, if you will — in predicting a player’s performance and impact on his new team in August, September and October.
Each year, there is a flurry of action at the deadline, yet the importance of most deals are exaggerated and overhyped. On a day when the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers made the biggest moves, their odds to win the World Series barely moved at all.
“I’m not going to move anything,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said, with an eye on the futures board.
Vaccaro did make one minor adjustment. After taking a $1,000 bet on the Dodgers to win the World Series at 5-2, he moved the odds to 2-1. L.A. also added a top-shelf starter by getting Yu Darvish from Texas.
“Let’s be fair about it,” Vaccaro said. “You can’t find any bargains now. Taking 5-2 on the Dodgers to win the World Series is silly.”
At the South Point, the Yankees opened and closed the day at 8-1 odds to win the World Series and 4-1 to win the American League.
At the Westgate sports book, the Dodgers’ odds to win the World Series shifted from 5-2 to 9-4, and the Yankees improved from 10-1 to 7-1.
“I think the Yankees have to be the team to beat in the AL East now,” said Dave Cokin, a longtime Las Vegas radio host and baseball handicapper.
Gray’s basic numbers (6-5, 3.43 ERA) in 16 starts for Oakland are not incredible. But the right-hander's high strikeout and ground-ball rates — 94 strikeouts, eight home runs allowed in 97 innings — indicate he’s an elite starter. Plus, he’s 27 and comes with a team-friendly contract.
The Yankees, who needed to get younger in their rotation, are building for the next few years, too. New York controls Gray for two years beyond this one. Luis Severino is the team’s ace, followed by Gray, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia.
The rotation can now go six deep, also including rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery and veteran lefty Jaime Garcia, who was acquired Sunday from Minnesota for two minor leaguers.
Another July deal with the Chicago White Sox should not be overlooked. The Yankees added third baseman Todd Frazier, who strengthens the lineup and infield defense, and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to a superb bullpen.
Meanwhile, the Houston Astros went the conservative route, and the Boston Red Sox, who trail the Yankees by a half-game in the AL East, did little to get better.
In the offseason, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman referred to the Red Sox as the Golden State Warriors of baseball. Boston general manager Dave Dombrowski shot back on Monday, calling his team “significant underdogs” to the Yankees while obviously attempting to put the pressure of expectations on New York.
“I don't know how they'll lose a game right now. They made some good moves,” Dombrowski said of the Yankees.
Cashman earns an ‘A’ for his deals, especially by gambling to get Gray from the A’s.
The Dodgers did well at the deadline, too, mainly by getting Darvish to fill a need. He fills out a rotation with Alex Wood, Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw, who’s out with a back injury. L.A. has MLB’s best record (74-31) and no serious concerns other than Kershaw’s recovery.
In the National League, the Chicago Cubs, Arizona and Washington also were winners with more subtle July deals.
The Westgate dropped the Cubs’ odds to win the World Series from 6-1 to 7-1, but Theo Epstein wisely struck early by snagging lefty starter Jose Quintana from the White Sox. Quintana is paying off, posting a 2-1 record with a 2.37 ERA in three starts for the Cubs.
J.D. Martinez, acquired from Detroit, has hit five homers in his first nine games for the Diamondbacks. The Nationals seemed to extinguish the dumpster fire in their bullpen by bringing in three quality relievers — Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler.
It was easier for the Yankees to part with three prospects to get Gray because they were selling for top prospects at last year’s deadline. The Yankees sent closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs and setup man Andrew Miller to Cleveland. Chapman and Miller each reached the World Series, and the Cubs might not have won it without Chapman.
So this is not all hype. Sometimes, deals made in late July do mean a lot in October.