Look, heading into Thursday, we knew there would be some trades in Major League Baseball. It was the last day for teams to acquire players that would eventually be eligible for postseason rosters. Generally speaking, we see moves similar to the Astros grabbing Cameron Maybin, the Yankees getting Erik Kratz or the Cubs getting Leonys Martin. Even if those players won't make the postseason roster, they add depth for break-glass-in-case-of-emergency purposes. Plus, rosters expand in September, so it's not like the additions will steal a roster spot from any current players.
We've never seen anything like that. We really haven't. Previous big names to be moved on Aug. 31:
- On-his-last-legs Fred Lynn in his age-36 season.
- Past-prime Justin Morneau. Past-prime Michael Young was traded on that same day (Aug. 31, 2013) and -- believe it or not -- that might be our biggest competition to the Justins going on Thursday.
- Far-past-prime Jim Thome.
- Mark Loretta.
- A 42-year-old Dave Winfield.
- Past-prime Bill Madlock.
- A 39-year-old Tommy John.
As can be seen, this is not hyperbole: Seeing All-Star Justin Upton and last year's AL Cy Young runner-up dealt on Thursday was unprecedented. The acquiring teams were the big winners of the day, too.
Mike Trout is a generational talent and the Angels only have so many of his prime years. They've made the playoffs just one time so far with him rostered and they were swept by the Royals in the ALDS. Sitting 69-65, they are right in the thick of the AL wild-card race. What's more, the Angels rank 12th in the AL in runs, 13th in average, 11th in OBP and last in slugging. That's with Trout hitting .327/.459/.667, too, so they desperately needed some help.
Enter Upton, who is hitting .279/.362/.542 with 29 homers and 94 RBI. That'll help, no?
The Angels weren't done, either, adding Brandon Phillips later Thursday. Phillips is 36 and definitely has seen better days, but he's slashing .291/.329/.423 with 11 homers and 10 steals this season. Second base has been a black hole for the Angels this season, too, as they've gotten a collective .196/.271/.318 line from that spot this season. This actually makes Phillips a massive upgrade.
It's unclear how manager Mike Scioscia will employ his batting order, but it'll certainly be lengthened. Trout is still The Man here, but he won't have to do so much on his own. Andrelton Simmons is having a very good offensive season, C.J. Cron is having a huge second half, Kole Calhoun has a good recent track record and Albert Pujols still has power. Now add prime Upton and a big upgrade at second base in Phillips and the Angels were big winners on Thursday.
The Astros didn't need Justin Verlander to win the AL West this season. They aren't blowing an 11 1/2 game lead in a month. They did, however need Justin Verlander.
The reality of the situation is that seasons are ultimately judged by the postseason when you get off to a start like the Astros did this year. They were 42-16 at one point. Anything less than a trip to the World Series (and probably winning it all, really) will be deemed a failure after that.
The Astros are 38-37 since that start. What's worse, they are 20-24 in the second. Worse still, they went 11-17 in August.
This was a team in need of a jumpstart. Carlos Correa is coming back from injury and that definitely helps, but the rotation is where the help has been needed.
While the Astros' rotation had a 3.82 ERA in the first half, it's been 4.79 in the second half. The starter ERA in August was 4.83.
Dallas Keuchel is a legitimate ace. Past him, though, Lance McCullers fell apart before hitting the DL. Collin McHugh is fine, but he's not exactly fear-inspiring as the number two in a playoff series. Brad Peacock is having a very good year, but he had two slip-ups in August and it makes you worry about his track record as a viable long-term starter (he's never been good in long stretches before this year at age 29). Mike Fiers can be great but also can fall apart at the drop of a hat.
Further, remember back to July 31? Many () named the Astros the biggest losers of the day because they didn't go with a killer-instinct-type add to the rotation. The players noticed. .
Add all that together and now throw in the Verlander deal getting done at the literal last minute. The feeling in the locker room is surely a total 180.
Verlander, by the way, has a 2.31 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 74 innings in his last 11 starts. He'll have a month to adjust to his first-ever team aside from the Tigers. Then it's playoff time.
Keuchel, Verlander, McHugh, Peacock could be a fine rotation. There are two bona fide, established aces at the top. Oh, and what if McCullers from the first half shows up? He's returning to the Astros' rotation next week, after all. Keuchel-Verlander-McCullers-McHugh with Peacock as a stud long reliever is something to dream on, no?
We'll see if the Verlander addition propels them to doing the same on the scoreboard enough times in October to hoist their first-ever AL pennant and/or World Series title, but for now, the Astros front office came away with a big victory.