By a little after 4 p.m. ET on Trade Deadline Day -- it's Selection Sunday in college basketball for baseball front-office guys -- it had really become a back-to-the-future day for fans of the Dodgers and the Yankees. First it was the Yankees picking off Sonny Gray from the A's for three prospects, none of whom is close to being the best the Yankees have. Then it was the Dodgers, with the best record in the Majors and the best team so far, getting Yu Darvish from the Rangers. And for this one afternoon, it felt like the old days in New York and Los Angeles, like the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s when the Dodgers and Yankees played three World Series in five years, and they were the capitals of the baseball world.
You never make the Series on the last day of July, of course, even though there have been plenty of times in the past when the Yankees were declared the champs after making the kinds of deals they have made lately for Gray and David Robertson, their old closer, and Todd Frazier, and Jaime Garcia. You know the Indians will have plenty to say about all this if it's them against the Yankees in the American League Division Series in a couple of months. You better believe the Astros will still have plenty to say, even if the biggest deal they made at the Deadline was for Francisco Liriano.
And as young and deep and plain good as the Dodgers are, they still don't know how badly Clayton Kershaw is hurt or when they get him back. It's why they went for Darvish, with his 6-9 record and 4.01 ERA on a bad Rangers team, making a bet that he will raise his game now that the stakes are dramatically raised for him at Dodger Stadium. They hope that he can find his own best game, that Kershaw can come back, that they will be the best team in the National League if and when it is them against the Nationals or the Cubs -- or maybe both, one after another -- when the money is thrown on the table in October.
It is always the fun of Trade Deadline Day, seeing who steps up the way the Cubs and Indians did a year ago when both teams felt they were one star relief pitcher away from a run to the Series. Now the guy who traded them those relief pitchers -- Mr. Brian Cashman -- steps up again, just in a different way this time, because he thinks his team can make a run. A year ago, everybody was giddy talking about the future with the Yankees. Now the only future anybody cares about at the new Yankee Stadium is this one:
August, September, October, 2017.
"Our circumstances have changed in a year," Cashman told me the other day.
This was after he got Frazier and Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox, before he traded for starting pitching -- Garcia, Gray -- the way he traded away relief pitching with Aroldis Chapman (back with the Yankees after signing a big-ticket, five-year free agent contract) and Andrew Miller in July 2016. In all ways now for Cashman and the Yankees, what goes around sure has come around.
Cashman saw what everybody saw from the Indians last season once Terry Francona was able to put Miller in front of Cody Allen in his bullpen. Francona didn't have as many bullpen arms as Joe Girardi now has with the Yankees. He didn't have Chad Green, Adam Warren, Robertson, Dellin Betances, Chapman. But Francona had enough that he wasn't afraid to go to Miller in the fifth inning of the first game of the ALDS between the Indians and the Red Sox. He knew how important the game was, same as he knew how much arm Miller had. The Indians won the game, Francona managing as if he were in Game 7 of the World Series already. They ended up sweeping the Red Sox. Miller became as dominant a figure as there was in the baseball postseason of 2016.
I mentioned to Cashman the other day that he seemed to have been paying fairly close attention to the way the Indians did it last year.
He laughed and said, "I'm pretty sure everybody did."
He believes he has that kind of October-ready bullpen. But as much as CC Sabathia has pitched himself past expectations this season, Cashman really had just one star -- and that means All-Star -- starter: Luis Severino. Now he has Gray. He has Garcia behind him. The Yankees were a nightmare playoff opponent for anybody before they got Gray. Now they have him, they've got all that bullpen, they've got way more stick than the Indians had a year ago, and they have a right to think that they're the best team in their league now, whether they have the best record or not.
The Red Sox are still close to them in the standings. Boston picked up Addison Reed from the Mets, and he is a swell acquisition. But the Red Sox need more danger in the middle of their batting order. Didn't get it at the Deadline. Compared to what the Yankees have done, Reed makes it seem as if Dave Dombrowski, Boston's president of baseball operations, hit a single on Monday when he needed a big home run.
Cashman is the one who made a big-guy move on Monday. So did Andrew Friedman with the Dodgers. The Nationals got better, too, picking up the Twins' closer, Brandon Kintzler; it is a big-guy move for them, too, as their general manager, Mike Rizzo, tries mightily to turn his team's greatest weakness -- the ninth inning -- into a strength. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer already got Jose Quintana from the White Sox, while also acquiring Justin Wilson (a talented lefty reliever) and Alex Avila (who adds depth at catcher) from the Tigers.
But the Dodgers have been the best team all season long, and improved their own October prospects tremendously as long as Kershaw is healthy come October. They didn't just get Darvish on Monday. They got two left-handed relievers, Tony Watson from the Pirates and Tony Cingrani from the Reds.
In the other league, you thought the Astros would react to what has been happening with their starting pitching lately. They did not. You thought the Red Sox might simply respond to what the Yankees have been doing over the last week or so. They did not. The Red Sox got themselves a setup man at a time when the Yankees have set themselves up to not just win the AL East, but the AL itself.
It wasn't so long ago that the Yankees were in the midst of a 27-36 stretch after their 21-9 start, and there was even speculation that they might be selling again at the Deadline. Fat chance.
Cashman has now added two starters, two relievers and a home run bat at third base, and didn't have to give up the farm to do any of that. The Dodgers have added Darvish and two relievers. They win the Trade Deadline. Could mean everything. Could mean nothing by October. It's the sweet, pure fun of it all.
Fantasy Baseball every July. Stakes as real as they can be. Three-month season beginning. And the future, oh baby, the future being right here and right now.