Aug. 31 is the last day for teams to add players that they hope to use in the postseason. On this date in 2017, the Astros acquired Justin Verlander from the Tigers one month before they’d begin their playoff journey. By the end of the season, he became one of the most important players on a World Series-winning team. An Aug. 31 acquisition can matter, so let’s break down the moves made on Friday.
Indians acquire Josh Donaldson from Blue Jays
By late Friday afternoon, it was clear that Toronto was going to trade Josh Donaldson; the only question was where he would land. After being linked with the Indians, Cardinals and Braves, Donaldson is reportedly headed to Cleveland for the stretch run. Don’t expect to see Donaldson in tomorrow’s lineup, he hasn’t played since May 28 because of a strained calf, but he’s reportedly due to return to action sometime next week (and the Indians just happen to play the Blue Jays next weekend).
It’s a worthy gamble for the Indians. A free agent at the end of the season, Donaldson is one of the game’s marquee hitters when healthy. The 2015 AL MVP hit a combined 111 homers from 2015-17 and ended the ‘17 season on an absolute tear, hitting 24 homers and slashing .302/.406/.698 over the his final 54 games. The question this year has been his health. Donaldson started the season seemingly unable to throw to first base in his opening day game against the Yankees, and his production was rather paltry (234/.333/.423) in the 36 games he played before heading to the disabled list.
The Blue Jays will pick up the remaining $3.7 million of Donaldson’s salary, while the 32-year-old will play third and MVP candidate Jose Ramirez will presumably move to second base. That likely leaves second baseman Jason Kipnis, scuffling along with a .229 average and 13 homers, as the odd man out.
Even if Donaldson doesn’t return to top form, this trade is a gamble the Indians had to take. It’s a great pickup for them that only boosts their chances in the hyper-competitive AL pennant race.
Brewers acquire LHP Gio Gonzalez from Nationals
It’s a move that’s long overdue, but at least the Brewers acquired another starting pitcher. Now that Milwaukee has dipped five games behind the Cubs in the playoff race as of Friday and is clinging to the second Wild Card spot, GM David Stearns opted to bolster his starting rotation with the veteran lefty. Gonzalez had a great start to the season (a 2.10 ERA and 8.33 K/9 over 11 starts), but has been pretty dreadful since then (6.53 ERA, .304 batting average against in 16 starts). Despite his struggles, the Brewers need the help. While lefty Wade Miley has been a pleasant surprise (2.18 ERA in 11 starts), Milwaukee’s starters don’t strike many hitters out (their leader is Junior Guerra at 8.5) and none between Guerra, Jhoulys Chacin and Chase Anderson have an ERA under 3.60.
What Gonzalez can offer the Brewers is a rubber arm. One of the league’s most reliable innings eaters, Gonzalez has made at least 31 starts in seven of the last eight seasons. Having already relied heavily on the bullpen all season (we’ll talk about that more below), manager Craig Counsell can use a starting pitcher who can give top relievers Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress a rest.
Dodgers acquire RHP Ryan Madson from Nationals
Madson is a worthy boost for a tired Dodgers bullpen, but it remains unclear how healthy the 38-year-old righthander is. A year after producing a 1.86 ERA and 10.2 K/9 for the A’s and Nationals, Madson has battled injuries and ineffectiveness throughout 2018. He currently sits with a 5.28 ERA and a paltry 2.73 K/BB rate (compared to 7.44 last year) and is coming off of the disabled list due to shoulder irritation.
Despite the red flags, the Dodgers are willing to take the risk. Since he was activated from the disabled list on Aug. 20, closer Kenley Jansen has a 15.75 ERA with four home runs allowed over four appearances. Jansen allowed just four home runs in his 45 prior appearances, and a combined nine home runs over 136 regular-season games in 2016 and 2017. Even if Jansen corrects his issues, manager Dave Roberts isn’t sure how to get to him. One option is starter Kenta Maeda, an ace reliever in last year’s playoffs who has been working out of the bullpen since Aug. 14. Maeda closed out a recent 3–1 win over the Rangers, but surrendered the winning run in a 2–1 loss to the Giants in his first relief outing of the season. Another option will be Ross Stripling, who earned All-Star plaudits as a starter this season, but was moved to the bullpen after Hyun-jin Ryu returned from the disabled list. Stripling has been on the disabled list since late July with a toe injury, but is expected to return soon.
After that, few, if any of the relievers inspire confidence in high-leverage situations. Pedro Baez is loathed by most of the fan base, but he’s been the team’s best reliever in August (0.34 ERA, 11.57 K/9 over his last nine appearances). Scott Alexander was briefly offered the closer’s job in Jansen’s absence and quickly proved himself better as a situational lefty than a closer or a setup man. Righty Dylan Floro shows flashes of a shutdown righty, but has surrendered the winning run in two of his three high-leverage ninth-inning appearances. Daniel Hudson and J.T. Chargois, key components for most of the season, are currently on the 10-day DL.
The point of it all? Madson may not inspire great confidence right now, but Roberts needs all the help he can get for an inconsistent unit.
Brewers acquire Xavier Cedeño from White Sox
It’s a small move, but more proof that the Brewers plan on using an arsenal of relievers to win games late in the season. Cedeño is a journeyman lefty (167 IP over eight seasons) who is compiling a strong year in Chicago (2.84 ERA, 9.9 K/9 in 33 appearances). He’ll probably be no more than a situational lefty, but adds another layer to a bullpen that is reeling a bit since the demotion of former closer Corey Knebel. Expect Cedeño to be a seventh-inning option before the likes of Jeremy Jeffress and Josh Hader.
Athletics acquire Cory Gearrin from Rangers
Gearrin will play for his third team in 2018 and will add bullpen depth to an A’s team that may have to consider the Rays’ “bullpenning” strategy. In the last two weeks, Oakland has lost starting pitchers Sean Manaea and Brett Anderson to the disabled list. General manager David Forst conceded that the A’s are considering the “bullpenning” strategy with a dearth of available starters, so Gearrin exists as a bullpen reinforcement just in case manager Bob Melvin adopts that strategy.