7 of the biggest Trade Deadline shockers

July 31st, 2021

Well … that was something.

Once again, having one true Trade Deadline created a frantic final few days of deals. And when the dust settled, trades involving a three-time Cy Young Award winner (Max Scherzer), a National League MVP (Kris Bryant) and a two-time Reliever of the Year (Craig Kimbrel) were merely the tip of the iceberg.

We knew, from the names being discussed among executives, that this Deadline had the potential to get pretty wild. Yet we can safely say it exceeded our expectations. Here are seven storylines that we have to admit caught us off-guard.

1) The Cubs and Nats REALLY blew it up.

No half-measures here. You knew these two clubs were going to look a lot different when they faced each other this weekend. But now they are virtually unrecognizable.

Once the Nats got swept by the Orioles last weekend, it was clear Max Scherzer would be dealt ahead of his free agency, and the Dodgers were always seen as a likely landing spot. But the Nats also dealing All-Star shortstop Trea Turner, who is not a free agent until after 2022, to the Dodgers was a genuine surprise. Washington general manager Mike Rizzo moved the injured Kyle Schwarber (who had a mutual option for ’22) as well, plus pending free agents Jon Lester, Daniel Hudson, Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes. That wasn’t quite everything that wasn’t nailed down, but it was pretty close.

As for the Cubs, there had been so much speculation about extensions with Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez that it seemed unlikely they would move all three of their big pending free agents. But lo and behold, Bryant, Rizzo and Báez -- pillars of the 2016 curse-breakers -- were all shipped off, along with relievers Craig Kimbrel, Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin and starter Trevor Williams. And Kimbrel going across town, while perhaps not as shocking as it would have been had the Cubs and White Sox not made the José Quintana-Eloy Jiménez trade in 2017, was still pretty wild.

2) The Twins traded José Berríos … but didn’t totally blow it up.

At the outset, it would have been difficult to envision the Twins trading their ace in Berríos, who had an extra year of contractual control, yet not moving Michael Pineda, who is a pending free agent.

One would have assumed a Berríos deal would have been part of a larger-scale overhaul, perhaps involving Byron Buxton or Kenta Maeda or Josh Donaldson. Instead, the Twins moved three expiring assets in Nelson Cruz, J.A. Happ and Hansel Robles … as well as their best pitcher. Toronto sent them two Top 100 prospects in shortstop/outfielder Austin Martin (No. 16) and Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 68), but it will be fascinating this winter to see what this Trade Deadline tact means for Minnesota’s approach to 2022.

3) The Rockies were very, very quiet.

We’ll assume they did not get confused and think the Deadline was still July 31 this year. Rather, they refused to budge on their price tag for their most notable free-agents-to-be -- Trevor Story and Jon Gray.

Interim general manager Bill Schmidt has run the Rockies’ drafts for a long time, so he knows well the value of Draft pick compensation. And the Rox hope to extend Gray. But with an upcoming collective-bargaining agreement negotiation, there’s no telling what Story’s market or the compensation angle will look like. So this was a risky (non-)move.

4) The Braves did not sit idly by.

You could make an argument that the Yankees, Blue Jays and Phillies were all more active than many imagined, given the work that lies ahead of them in the standings. But the Braves’ activity, while not in the blockbuster realm, was still especially notable. This club has had so many things go wrong this season, including the losses of MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr. to a season-ending knee injury, ace Mike Soroka to a second Achilles tear and outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who is out with a finger injury and is also facing potential punishment for domestic violence allegations that are still being investigated. It’s unclear if he will play again this season.

But leave it to Alex Anthopoulos to still give it the ol’ college try. He landed one of the most coveted relief arms at this Trade Deadline in Pittsburgh’s Richard Rodríguez, and he also added the power bats of Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario (after having already acquired Joc Pederson earlier in the month). The Braves entered Friday with just a 9.6% chance of reaching the playoffs, per FanGraphs’ odds, so give them credit for going for it at a time when they easily could have punted or stood pat.

5) Injured dudes were key trade pieces.

Nick Madrigal had season-ending hamstring surgery, but the Cubs targeted him in their deal with the White Sox for Kimbrel. And the Cubs were similarly unafraid to bring in Mets outfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong in the deal that sent Báez and Williams to Queens, even as he recovers from surgery to repair a shoulder labrum tear.

Meanwhile, Schwarber could be back within a week or so for the Red Sox, but his hamstring issue made it no sure thing that he’d get dealt. The Braves dealt for Rosario, who has been out since early July with an intercostal strain.

6) No blockbuster for Padres GM A.J. Preller.

Well, OK, Preller did add Pirates All-Star Adam Frazier. But c’mon. That was days ago. You know how this guy operates. He doesn’t take these opportunities to add lightly.

Preller came close to landing Scherzer. He had his sights set on Berríos, too. In the end, the Friars’ only additions in the 24 hours leading up to the Deadline were for reliever Daniel Hudson and outfielder Jake Marisnick, neither of whom will serve as starting pitchers for San Diego (we don’t think). The way this all turned out only makes the Frazier deal more interesting, because it became widely assumed that Preller would move Eric Hosmer to free up at-bats in the lineup. As it stands, Frazier is a good piece, but a bit of an odd-fitting one on this club.

7) Jesús Luzardo for a rental position player.

Luzardo was the No. 12 prospect in all of MLB as of the start of 2020, and he was the A’s Game 1 starter in the AL Wild Card Series last October. He’s had a rough year -- breaking his pinkie finger after hitting his hand on a table while playing video games and pitching poorly in a relief role upon his return.

Regardless, it was stunning to see him dealt to the Marlins for a rental position player, even if that player is as impactful as Starling Marte. The Marlins picked up the remaining $4.6 million on Marte’s 2021 contract, so that certainly factored into the decision.