The first game of the 2019 World Series has begun in Dodger Stadium, and the home team is in a bit of a jam. Hyun-Jin Ryu gives up a single to the Cleveland Indians’ Francisco Lindor, a Jose Ramirez hit puts two on with one out, and coming to bat is cleanup man ... Yasiel Puig?
Can you imagine?
The odds of the mercurial slugger, a fan favorite in Los Angeles and a constant source of consternation for Dodgers coaches, making a World Series appearance in his old stamping grounds improved dramatically when Puig and San Diego’s Franmil Reyes were officially dealt to Cleveland in a three-way trade Wednesday.
“I would love to see Yasiel Puig in October,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said with a grin before Wednesday’s 5-1 win at Colorado. “That would be great. If that were to happen, I’m sure Dodgers fans would welcome him with open arms.”
For that to happen, the Indians will have to find a way past the Houston Astros, who may have positioned themselves as World Series favorites with their stunning acquisition of Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke in a deal that did not come to light until about 15 minutes after Wednesday’s 1 p.m. (PDT) trade deadline.
Until the Greinke story broke, deadline day was a dud. Most of the big names floated in trade rumors — San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner and closer Will Smith, New York Mets starters Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, and Pittsburgh Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez, the prime target of the Dodgers — stayed put.
Two of the best available starting pitchers, Marcus Stroman and Trevor Bauer, were traded to fourth-place clubs that have little chance of reaching the playoffs, Stroman going from Toronto to the Mets and Bauer going from Cleveland to the Cincinnati Reds in the deal that brought Puig to the Indians.
The National League East-leading Atlanta Braves renovated their bullpen by acquiring right-handers Shane Greene from Detroit, Chris Martin from Texas and Mark Melancon from San Francisco, Oakland made some incremental upgrades with starter Tanner Roark and reliever Jake Diekman, and Washington added much-needed bullpen help with Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland.
Most of the trades qualified as minor, the kind of deals for depth that were reserved for August until baseball cut back this season to one trade deadline. The Dodgers, who have the best record in the majors but are in desperate need of relief help, acquired little-known left-hander Adam Kolarek from Tampa Bay and utility infielder Jedd Gyorko from the St. Louis Cardinals. The New York Yankees, who lead the American League East but need one or two starters, and the defending-champion Boston Red Sox, who could use an impact arm, were essentially shut out.
Then along came Greinke.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters that he first contacted the Diamondbacks on Monday and that the buzzer-beater of a deal was completed in the final two minutes before Wednesday’s deadline.
The Astros agreed to send three of their top five prospects — first baseman Seth Beer and right-handers J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin — and infielder Josh Rojas to Arizona. The Diamondbacks are reportedly sending $24 million to the Astros to help offset the remaining $70 million on Greinke’s six-year, $206.5-million contract, which runs through 2021.
The Astros, who won the 2017 World Series after acquiring Justin Verlander that August, entered Wednesday with a 69-39 record and an eight-game lead over Oakland in the AL West.
And now they have the most formidable playoff rotation with Verlander (14-4, 2.73 ERA, 196 strikeouts, 31 walks in 151 2/3 innings), Gerrit Cole (12-5, 2.94 ERA, 212 strikeouts, 37 walks in 143 2/3 innings) and Greinke (10-4, 2.90 ERA, 135 strikeouts, 21 walks in 146 innings).
Left-hander Wade Miley is 9-4 with a 3.06 ERA and Houston added a solid No. 5 starter in Aaron Sanchez in a trade with Toronto.
The acquisition of Greinke also gives the Astros rotation insurance if Cole departs as a free agent after this season.
“Incredible day for the organization and our team,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch told reporters in Cleveland. “The energy in our room after a thing like that happens is palpable.”
The buzz in rooms housing the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers was nonexistent. If there was one consolation for the Dodgers in their trade-deadline whiff, it’s that the Braves were the only other NL contender to make significant upgrades.
And although the Indians, who have only 54 home runs from right-handed hitters, added much-needed pop in Puig and Reyes, who have combined for 49 home runs, they’re relying heavily on the return of sidelined starters Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco to remain in contention.
The combination of 17 teams either in playoff position or within five games of a wild-card spot and the reluctance of potential sellers to part with top prospects suppressed the market.
“I think the market this year didn’t quite have the supply that I think a lot of us inside the industry and a lot of people who cover the industry felt it was going to have,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “I think some of that supply dried up a little bit.”
Not for the Astros, who tapped into what seemed like a barren starting pitching market and came away with their second Cy Young Award winner in three years.
“I think he’s a Hall of Famer,” Cole said of Greinke, 35. “Just a true craftsman. His preparation is off the charts. Durability. Competitiveness. What a pickup.”