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TEXAS RANGERS
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Released RHP Tyson Ross. [9/12]

Baseball teams are not human beings, but I’d like to think that if they were, they’d be a little bit like me. See, I’m an optimist. I always have been. It’s one of my greatest strengths, and one of my biggest failings. I believe that people are fundamentally good and want to do the right thing, even though I’ve been burned so often in the past. If something is riding on a coin flip or a toss of the dice, I’m always of the mind that things will go my way.

And in baseball, this applies too: when a top prospect gets called up, I think of nothing but the best, and when a team signs an injured starting pitcher, I can’t help but picture a thrilling comeback. But one of the things I learned through Effectively Wild that’s stuck with me the most is Ben Lindbergh’s realization a few years back that oft-injured starting pitchers aren’t very likely to end up being a good return on investment. It seems like a good idea at the time, doesn’t it? “No risk!” “We can always try him in the bullpen!” Ugh.

When the Rangers signed Ross, I hoped—as they did, and against my better judgment—he’d return to some shadow of his former form. I missed the 2014-2015 Ross that ate up opposing batters, mastering his slider in the way that the best carpenters master their saws. But some part of me knew. Thoracic outlet surgery is a career-killer in the way that few other pitching injuries are, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake in all but the most unusual of circumstances. When Ross pitched in 2017, he was awful. His control, always riding the thinnest of margins, fell off the page and he walked almost seven batters per nine innings.

And nine innings was about the average length of two of his starts put together, not one. He will sign on with another team this offseason—maybe this time as a non-roster invite—and his pedigree and the memory of that perfect, wind-cutting slider will get him another chance. Maybe even another after that. Since I know better now, I will not allow myself to imagine a world where the Tyson Ross of 2015 returns to us, rising like a phoenix from the ashes. I will not hope for an unlikely miracle this time. I must not. I probably will.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Acquired RHP Juan Nicasio from Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for IF-L Eliezer Alvarez. [9/6]

I’ll skip to the end here: this is one of those stories where everything probably works out for the best. Nicasio, a good reliever who wanted to pitch for a contender, found his way to a Cardinals team that needed a bullpen boost. Though it’s late in the season, and though Nicasio is ineligible for the team’s postseason roster, he has been given the opportunity to pitch for a team just two games back (as of this writing) in the NL Central. And not just as any old reliever! Nicasio has slipped into the closer role, a move that will likely give him just enough of that “proven closer” mystique to help him earn an extra million or two in his impending free agency. If anyone involved in this deal deserved a win, it’s him.

The Phillies also win here. By picking up Nicasio on waivers for close to half a million dollars—a move that I did not fully understand at the time—they used some of their most abundant resources (money and time) to effectively buy a prospect in Alvarez. And any time you can buy a not-insignificant prospect for that kind of price, you’re making a solid move. (Especially as a rebuilding team, and especially when it comes to turning a reliever today into an infielder tomorrow.)

The Cardinals win because they got a piece they needed, albeit probably later than they would have wanted. And while one could argue that they overpaid for less than a month of a good-but-not-great reliever, they are in a position where the marginal value of a win is extremely high. If they could actually track down the Cubs and burst into a one-game Wild Card playoff, that would be a huge boost from where they stood a couple months ago, below the Brewers and the Cubs in the NL Central pecking order.

So that leaves the Pirates, who seemingly botched the Nicasio situation in every possible way. How could everything work out for the best for them? Well, not that many baseball writers were looking to hang onto their perceived mishandling of Nicasio’s situation anyway, but now that the pitcher got what he wanted and the whole mess is behind them, they did likely achieve their primary goal: getting back the small chunk of change owed to Nicasio in his last month of 2017.

General manager Neal Huntington grabbed onto a four-year contract extension since this all went down, so it’s not as if a move like this could have or would have endangered his stability at the helm of this Pirate ship. Finally, blessfully, we can all move on from writing stories about Nicasio switching teams, at least until December.

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TGT969
9/14
NH is being butchered by both the fans & the press for waiting for too long to deal Nicasio. His lame excuse (we wanted to place him with an AL contender & get nothing) sounds like a guy who's trying to save face for a cheap owner who wanted his $600,000 back in his pocket. Shame on the Pirates.