Expensive Relievers, Unavailable Catchers, And More: This Particular Week In Baseball

The trade market for relief pitchers continues to defy reason, the universe continues to defy the Cleveland Indians, and teams get ready to change everything.

by Matthew Kory
Aug 1 2016, 5:44pm

Photo by Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to This Particular Week In Baseball, the baseball column that promises to donate 10 percent of all our proceeds to multinational corporations and conglomerates, as well as the other 90 percent too. This week we look at the trade deadline, what it has done to the rest of the Indians season, and what it will do to the rest of baseball. I could try to shoehorn another topic in here, but really, this is the time for delicious sugar-coated trade deadline candy. Let's eat.

The Triumph and Tragedy of the Cleveland Indians

Sunday was a great day to be the Cleveland Indians, but it was also a lousy day to be the Cleveland Indians. The Indians pulled off two trades that day, the first for the catcher they badly need in Jonathan Lucroy from the Brewers, and then a second for Andrew Miller of the Yankees, who is arguably the best reliever in baseball. They gave up a mint for them, yes, but consider that with both those guys... [music grinds to a halt] yes, Lucroy is still in Milwaukee. Lucroy, owner of perhaps the most meager no-trade list in baseball history, could block deals to only eight teams. The Indians were, in a confluence of events that could only happen to Cleveland and seven other teams, on that list. And so he blocked the deal.

Read More: Bizarro Trade Deadline: Four Deals That Should Happen (But Probably Won't)

Thus the Indians didn't solve their catching woes and the Brewers didn't continue their rebuild; Lucroy, who has said repeatedly that he wants to play for a contender, decided he didn't want to play for this particular contender. Lucroy's invocation of his no-trade rights doesn't mean he won't be traded though, just that he won't be traded to Cleveland. Or Seattle, DC, Anaheim, Oakland, San Diego, Minneapolis, or Detroit. This is circumstantial, but it seems Lucroy holds both the Midwest and high real estate prices in equal distain.

So Lucroy will be some other team's Big Deadline Acquisition, but Andrew Miller is going to Cleveland and the Indians bullpen will be far better for it, at least this season. Cleveland's pen has been middle of the road so far, and while closer Cody Allen has been solid, the team has lacked a reliable left-handed option; Miller solves this problem in the same way that replacing a broken bike with a Lamborghini solves the problem of "not having a way to get around town."

When they ask if you'd be up to live in Cleveland for a few years. Photo by Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland's relievers have walked the eighth most batters on a per-inning basis of any team in baseball, and Miller will help solve this problem along with most others. He walks two fewer batters per nine innings than the average Indians reliever, and he strikes out almost twice as many, which is no surprise because he does everything well, at least on a pitcher's mound. I can't speak to his baking skills. Miller makes any bullpen much better, and the Indians have him for the next two seasons at a reasonable rate of pay. He'll make the Indians better this year, and after that. Maybe not as much as Jonathan Lucroy would have, but if anyone knows beggars can't be choosers, it's Indians fans.

The Reliever Market Continues To Be Ridunkulous

The Andrew Miller deal was big because Miller is both the best reliever in baseball and signed to a reasonable contract that runs through the 2018 season. But even given those desirable traits, Miller cost the Indians a lot. Cleveland gave up their best prospect in former fifth overall draft pick and extremely good hair-haver Clint Frazier.

But wait, there's more! They also gave up one of their best pitching prospects in Justus Sheffield. But wait, there's more! They also gave up Ben Heller, one of the best relief prospects in all of minor league baseball. But wait, there's more! They gave up another minor league reliever too. But, actually, that's it. But that's four prospects, which is a huge haul for any one player, and which borders on insane for a relief pitcher. Relievers are valuable, sure, but their ability to impact both a season and a single game is minimal compared to just about every other player. They just don't play enough, and especially when comparing them to a starter's 200 innings, or a position player's 150 games played, the 60 innings that modern relievers throw per season, roughly one per appearance, is just miniscule.

That's not to say they can't be important or valuable. Clearly they can be, and clearly teams value them very highly. But it's a more controlled and limited type of value. And really, relievers are important mostly in aggregate, as opposed to individually. Just as a bad bullpen can be a fatal problem for a championship team, one reliever can't cure an entire bullpen's problems.

The Indians aren't the only team to lose track of this. The Cubs, possibly assuming there was no other way to improve their club, traded a similarly staggering group of prospects—including top-25 prospect Gleyber Torres—for a half season of Aroldis Chapman. The Red Sox, under the assumption there was a cap on the number of prospects one team could have, traded two top-50 prospects for the right to pay Craig Kimbrel $13 million a season. The Nationals, fulfilling some sort of annual Faustian bargain, just traded two high-ceiling relievers for Mark Melancon. This is what the market demands now for a good relief pitcher, and while it's pretty insane, it's also widely agreed-upon.

The simple view is that the Royals had success over the last two years in large part due to a great bullpen, and now every other team is trying to ape that formula. That may be what's happening or it may not, but either way, we know that's hardly the only way to win. There are far more examples of great starting rotations or great offenses winning it all than great bullpens. The Yankees may be pioneering a new approach to winning—building a great bullpen, and then selling it off.

Top Three Teams Of The Moment

We're revamping things a bit here in the Top Three Teams Of The Moment. Previously, this had meant "the three best teams now in baseball" but now we're going to a looser interpretation of the words. For now, the TTTOTM will feature three teams that are, literally, of the moment. They might not be the best teams, but they are the most of the moment. As we get towards the end of the season, I imagine this list will start to align more strongly with a Top Three list.

When you change your mind about throwing a pitch like halfway through. Photo by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

3. Orioles

Baltimore's starting rotation is a meal of all-you-can-eat breadsticks. You may think it'll work out by looking at it, but in the end you'll probably just feel awful. The Orioles rotation has the worst rotation of any likely playoff participant, but don't worry, O's fans, because Wade Miley is on the way! Actually, he's no better than anything they have, but at least he's a familiar hairy mid-rotation type. And yet, despite all this, the Orioles are still in first place! How? I don't know. For how long? Well, I'd have said, 'two days in April' but clearly that ship has sailed by this point. Still, with the Red Sox faltering and the Blue Jays' issues with injuries and uncertain pitching, maybe Baltimore can pull of another miracle? Honestly I can't even bring myself to end that sentence with a period.

2. Rockies

The Rockies were certainly sellers. Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon were and are daily mentions in the world of internet trade rumors, but the Rockies put together a 15-12 month of July and a nine-wins-in-11-games run to pull back within reach of .500. Is this enough to save their season? Probably not, but they are only five games out of a Wild Card with two-plus months to go. Keep winning, purple-clad warriors of hope! Let's see how much longer this train can run without tracks.

1. Tigers

No team has improved their playoff odds over the last week more than the Detroit Tigers. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Tigers chances are up 16.6 percent and that was before they won Sunday. Things may be improving too, as their remaining schedule includes:

  • Nine games against the faltering White Sox
  • 10 games against the awful Twins
  • Nine games against the post-deadline Royals
  • Three games against a Braves team that booked their October tee times in May

The Tigers may not even be that good but with opponents like that, we might not know for sure until October.

Bottom Three Of The Moment

All re-vamping mentioned above also applies here to the Bottom Three Of The Moment. Enjoy the revamped Bottom!

When you see the supernatural curse coming. Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

3. Red Sox

The Red Sox can't stop turning good pitching into bad. They brought in one of the best pitchers in baseball in David Price and he's been bad. They just traded for a pitcher with one of the best ERAs in the National League in Drew Pomeranz and he's had two mediocre starts and one horrible one. What evil might this organization wreck upon the likes of Chris Sale? The baseball world shudders to consider it!

2. Royals

Remember when the Royals won the World Series? It helps when everything goes your way, I suppose. This year there are injuries and the bullpen isn't insanely amazing, just good; Wade Davis is on the DL, which really brings those two together. The team's defense is just average, not redefining elite. The end result has been a team that is rapidly losing ground an utterly winnable AL Central. The Royals, having gone from eight out to 12 out, have lost four games in the standings in one week. The game is up, Royals fans, at least for this season. It's looking more and more like the lightning is out of the bottle.

1. Diamondbacks

Good gosh what an awful mess. This is the team that brought in Zack Greinke for over $200 million this past off-season and declared they'd be contenders. Instead they're looking at 18 games between them and division-leading San Francisco, and they're basically the Braves without a rebuilding plan. The injuries will heal up and maybe there's a run in 2017, but we're now moving away from the peak years of David Peralta, Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and Greinke. And where does the pitching come from? What we're really looking at here is the husk of a team that's going to go into hard sell mode this time next year after the current front office gets canned.

The Matchup Of The Year Of The Week

It's been a bit since we got an old-fashioned division-leader versus division-leader matchup. To be honest I didn't check to see whether that's true, but it feels like it, which is all the more reason why this week's matchup of the AL West-leading Texas Rangers visiting the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles feels essential, even though it's maybe less so when you start drilling down into the numbers. But who cares about numbers! We are dealing with feelings, and this match-up feels pretty good.

The Orioles are desperately trying to hold off the Blue Jays and, to a lesser extent at least recently, the Red Sox; the Rangers are looking to make a push, and may do so before Monday's deadline. Both teams are trying to find a starting pitcher, honestly just any starting pitcher who won't be horrible on a weekly basis. So, enjoy two division leaders bashing each other's heads in, baseball fans! This being baseball though, no team will score more than three all series long. Unless one of them gets Jonathan Lucroy. Then all bets are off.