MLB trade deadline: What AL contenders must do to stay in first

Baseball is back and the second half push to the playoffs begins. The MLB trade deadline comes in the second half as well and is Christmas in July for baseball fans. Strategy, money and moves galore (hopefully).

This period is a chance for teams to either sell off parts in order to rebuild or make the trades necessary to help their squad make it to the playoffs and an eventual push for the World Series. These are the moves the teams currently in first place for their respective divisions need to make to remain in first by July 31.

Boston Red Sox

If you follow baseball or this team at all, then you know their weakest position currently is at third base. Pablo Sandoval has been anything but useful or even available and has been designated for assignment. Also they traded away Travis Shaw who is having an excellent season for another first place team.

While everyone believes Todd Frazier is the best and only option available for trade, I would like to look at another in Nick Castellanos.

MLB trade deadline

Courtesy of: Bleacherreport.com

The Detroit Tigers are having a very disappointing season and will most likely be sellers during the trade deadline for the first time in a long time. They also have arguably one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Most of their top players are in Double-A ball and below which means they have a long time to wait to see if they develop.

To speed up the process of their inevitable rebuild, they could and should be looking to trade away as many players as possible.

Castellanos is only 25 and is under team control until 2020 which means Detroit could ask a decent return. So why would the Red Sox make this trade?

To start, they would get a solid everyday third baseman that could grow with the young players they are building around now like Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and more. Rafael Devers is still at least one or two years away and wont be able to help them win now. It is unlikely they would have to part with him to get Castellanos as well.

Castellanos has been in the league for four full years now. You know what you are going to get out of him, whereas you never truly know with a prospect. He has experience, making playoff runs with the Tigers and still has room to grow.

The Red Sox would most likely only have to give up two of their top 25 prospects, most likely ones in the teens and below. They may also throw in a PTBNL or just an extra pitcher to sweeten the deal.

Nick Castellanos would solidify the Red Sox third base problem not only for now but also for the future. Todd Frazier on the other hand may cost only one top 25 prospect but he would also be a free agent at the end of this year and has seemed to have trouble batting for average ever since he was traded to the White Sox.

Cleveland Indians

It took the Indians awhile to catch up to the Twins, but they have taken hold of first and wont let it go for the rest of the season. This team can hit and is being led by its young superstars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor while getting help from players like Edwin Encarnacion who struggled mightily to start the season but has figured it out.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: Sportsblog.com

Another strength of the World Series runner-ups is their bullpen. Their weakness? Outside of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and surprisingly Mike Clevinger, this team’s starters have struggled. Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and Josh Tomlin all have ERAs over 5.

There are many attractive options on the market for the Indians. The question will be how much are they willing to give up in order to get the starting pitching help they need?

Last year, they traded away Clint Frazier and a multitude of other prospects in order to get their stalwart setup man, Andrew Miller. That being said the Indians still have some pieces that they could trade. I highly doubt they will trade Bradley Zimmer as he is with the club now and making a solid contribution.

There are a multitude of options for the Indians to help make their second World Series run in as many years. I like Sonny Gray, but I think his asking price will be too high considering how he has pitched in the last two seasons. This leaves two options: Gerrit Cole and Johnny Cueto.

Both the Pirates and Giants respectively have been under-performing and it looks like they will have to be sellers. While Gerrit Cole is better, he and Sonny Gray have a similar problem. They are going to cost more than the Indians are willing to give.

That is why they could trade for Cueto. He has won a World Series and has been in Cy Young contention, but the Indians could get him for a bargain. He has not pitched extremely well this season and the Giants are desperate (or should be) for prospects as they have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

The Indians could give up one top 25 prospect not named Zimmer or Mejia and two others right outside their top 25 for Cueto. He would be a great pickup and if he could find his form again, he could be a top of the rotation guy to help the Indians try to make it back to the World Series.

Houston Astros

The Astros were my World Series pick back in January and I am glad that they have yet to let me down. Their lineup can hit from 1 to 8 and Keuchel and McCullers make up an amazing top of the rotation.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: SFgiantsrumors.co

Brad Peacock is finally living up to his potential, whether he is in the bullpen or the rotation. While most are looking at the rotation, and they could improve there, Peacock may actually be a legitimate option that will help them keep their first-place standing. Also, Colin McHugh should be coming off the DL soon and can help to solidify the rotation.

The Astros are missing another reliable bullpen arm. We saw how important they were in last year’s playoffs and right now the Astros have a pretty good bullpen. But if they are going to want to make a real run, they need a great bullpen.

They won’t give up what teams gave up to get pitchers like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman last season. Instead, they will go for options that are a small step down.

In steps another Giants player and someone who has been a crucial piece in their bullpen for a long time, George Kontos.

Kontos has a career ERA under 3 and he has been in many high-pressure situations, including helping the Giants win multiple World Series. While he is not a flashy pickup, he is a reliable one, and should be relatively cheap, as he’s still under team control until 2020.

The Astros would not have to part with any of their major prospects. They could easily throw the Giants one of their lower top 25 prospects and some cash or another lower level prospect with high potential.

Kontos would solidify the bullpen as the Astros head into October. His experience would help the younger Astros team and again he would cost a lot less than someone like Sonny Gray or David Robertson.

Conclusion

The trade deadline is an unpredictable time and has a major affect on the way the rest of the season and future seasons will play out. Look out for what first place NL teams needs to do in order to stay in first place.

 

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The End of Control?

At first, the idea that the control archetype could soon go extinct seems ludicrous. We are playing through an era that could be described as a Golden Age for slow, controlling decks. Reno and Kazakus have pushed Highlander archetypes to the dizzying heights of Tier Two for Warlock, Mage, and Priest. Control Warrior’s ability to punish hyper-aggressive Patches decks along with Miracle Rogue has seen it have solid, if inconsistent, win-rates. Even Anyfin Paladin sees a degree of high-level play. However, great changes are coming to the delicate ecosystem that is Hearthstone’s meta; and Control decks could be affected catastrophically.

The definition of a Control deck may differ, but most understandings of the archetype centre around one key concept; the idea of outlasting and outvaluing the opponent with a variety of flexible removal, especially hard removal, board clears, lifegain, and a few key late-game threats or other “win-condition” cards. While some may include pro-active cards and strategies, the overwhelming idea holding the deck together is to be fundamentally reactive. Combos and threats are either painstakingly slow to assemble (like Paladin’s Anyfin can Happen/Bluegill/Warleader strategy, or Reno Mage’s Antonidas/Alexstrasza strategy) or require the opponent to be out of resources or low on life to be effective (Control Warrior’s Grommash, or Renolock’s Jaraxxus). So what changes are coming that endanger these decks?

Let’s look at the Control decks currently competitive in Hearthstone’s post-Mean Streets metagame; Anyfin Paladin, Control Warrior, Control Shaman, Reno Mage, Reno Priest, and Renolock

No Reno, no way?

You can start to see a problem with the upcoming standard rotation by simply looking at the name of half decks. Reno Jackson is not just a powerful card; it’s a card that so utterly negates certain class’s long-game weaknesses that it created and is currently sustaining decks that simply wouldn’t make sense without it.

We see this in Warlock and Mage especially, with their incredible synergy with Lifetap and Ice Block respectively (alongside a lack of class healing). Reno Priest may potter along thanks to its great class heal options; but when Reno rotates out, what will happen to decks that can’t counter the incredible early-game damage capabilities of modern Aggro decks?

Perhaps more class or neutral healing will be released for these classes, but I’m not too hopeful. Class identity is a key part of hearthstone, and Team 5 have clarified their desire for certain classes like Mage and Warlock not to have access to the same level of efficient healing as others. Omni-present single-purpose neutrals seem to be going out of fashion as well, with no replacements for Antique Healbot on the horizon to shore up these class’s anti-aggro abilities in the long game.

So are classes like Mage and Warlock going to be pigeonholed into fast decks purely from lack of access to healing? Well, perhaps. A way to avoid this is to give thematic, interesting survivability tools that do not involve healing. Maybe a Molten-Giant-esque replacement to reinvigorate Handlock-style strategies, or more defensive Mage secrets á la Ice Barrier. Outlandish ideas like giving your Hero “Can’t be targeted by spells or hero powers” might help those classes survive burst. Whatever the solution, it’s clear that defense against reach and burn is key to the survival of controlling variations of these archetypes.

This also ties into the problem with Jade decks; as the Combo-based counters to these mid-range, continually ramping minions are largely restricted to these two classes.

Warlock’s healing options aren’t exactly stellar

The Rise of the Golems

The other huge challenge arising for Control from the upcoming rotation is the incredible power of Jade Decks against slower opponents. The long term power of these constantly-ramping and in many cases infinite threats can lead to absurd situations. For example, forcing Control Warrior to play an aggro gameplan, or Aggro Shaman out-valuing Renolock card-for-card well into the late stages of the game. Even in a meta overwhelmingly dominated by hyper-aggressive Patches decks, Jade cards are seeing a huge amount of play. There are two things that could lead to Jades becoming even more ubiquitous and even more dangerous to Control.

The first includes hints of an upcoming balance change to the early-game pirate package. In interviews and streams, both Ben Brode (Hearthstone’s Game Director) and Mike Donais (Principle Game Designer) have expressed concern for Small-Time Buccaneer in particular. This might not be a huge deal immediately, as aggressive non-pirate decks like Tempo Mage, Dragon Warrior, and Midrange Hunter could arrive to fill the piratical power vacuum. Things might change, however, once the year of the Kraken is over. Mainstays of these decks, cards like Flamewaker, Quick Shot, and Sir Finley Mrrglton (not to mention the entire Dragon package!) will leave; their replacements will struggle to be fast enough to catch up to the rapidly-growing Jades.

A Jade meta would be more forgiving on Mage and Warlock due to their plethora of game-ending combo options. But the matchup would remain unfavoured, other decks would likely be even worse off.

An Idol threat

This could have dire consequences for Paladin, Priest, and Warrior’s hopes of retaining late-game relevance. With the loss of Anyfin can happen, Paladin is left only with N’zoth as a way to convincingly end games. Paladin’s N’zoth package may be somewhat effective against Jade Druid occasionally. But it is unlikely to be fast enough to matter once Druid can drop consistent mid-game threats that Paladins struggle to remove. Meanwhile, Mid-Jade Shaman’s Hexes and Devolves ruin any chance of late-game success for Paladin. They could easily see themselves consistently out-valued in the early game, mid game, and late game!

Warrior, on the other hand, is losing almost all of its late-game options. Elise Starseeker and Justicar Trueheart were previously all Warrior needed to out-value almost any deck by simply removing all enemies and tanking up to a Golden Monkey finish. With the loss of those two key cards, Control Warrior will struggle against almost any deck in the late-game. Even now, Warrior struggles against any deck that isn’t pure aggro due to a lack of late-game options. Old mainstays like Ysera and Ragnaros sufficed in the old days, and can still sometimes steal games versus poorly opening Druids. However, against Shaman’s plethora of removals and constant board pressure, there seems no way that Control Warrior can do anything but lose incredibly slowly.

Control Shaman may survive, but with the loss of Elemental Destruction, Healing Wave, and Lava Shock, it seems unlikely that any future build will be distinguishable or superior from standard Midrange jade options. Priest will be in a similar rough spot to warrior, with simply no cards that can force a switch to a proactive strategy.

The key issue is that these classes have no late-game options that are powerful enough to out-tempo a ramped-up Jade Druid while not being countered by Hex and Devolve from the Shamans. Control Warrior, Priest and Paladin’s late game are in dire need of support if they are not to be forced into obscurity.

It’s hard to find late game strategies that aren’t countered by Shaman’s cheap Transform effects

Designing solutions

In order to prevent a steep decline in control’s viability, the next set of cards will need to ameliorate some of the weaknesses of existing control decks post-rotation; namely survivability for Mage and Warlock, and late-game power for Warrior, Paladin and Priest. They do not need to be so powerful as to make the decks perfect all-rounders, but they do need to be strong enough to give them a fighting chance against multiple archetypes (and particularly the power of Jade Golems).

Maybe hold off on giving great cards to Shaman for a few seasons though. Not to say a viable Control Shaman isn’t desirable, but in recent times they seem to be controlling the opponent’s face more than anything.

Title Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment and hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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Should Small-time Buccaneer get a big-time nerf?

 

The card in its current state

Small-Time Buccaneer has become arguably the most meta-warping card in the game. Warrior, Shaman and Rogue have risen on the back of its insane synergy with Patches and low-cost weapons. Meanwhile Paladin and Hunter’s lack of cheap weapons for the “pirate package” has lead to their near-extinction from the meta. This power has not gone unnoticed; in a recent IGN interview Mike Donais, principle game designer, indicated that the strength of the card was raising eyebrows at Team 5.

The card that I’m most worried about is Small-Time Buccaneer. That’d be the card I’m watching most closely.

– Mike Donais, speaking to IGN

So far, there seems to be growing community and developer desire for a rebalancing of Small-time Buccaneer to bring it in line with other one drops. But is such a change necessary? And what happens if the change makes the card unplayable, as happened with one drops like Leper Gnome?

 

Hunter is unviable without the ability to use or compete with Pirates like Small-time Buccaneer

Patching the Patches-summoner

 

The arguments for a nerf seem clear. They can be summed up as follows;

 

  • Power: The card is simply better than almost any other one drop if you have the necessary weapon synergy

 

  • Variance: While it does not explicitly contain any random effects, it massively increases the impact that your starting mulligan makes. The difference between Small-Time Buccaneer with a weapon and no Patches in hand and STB without and Patches in hand is equivalent to 5 stat points; and that’s assuming you draw it! It functions to make aggro matchups less strategic and more of a coin-flip

 

  • Aggression: Small-Time Buccaneer pushes aggro decks to become more potent than perhaps they’ve ever been. Where turn 4 or 5 lethals were previously outliers, now they can be routine against many decks. Board snowballing can happen straight from turn one and happen incredibly quickly. While the level of aggro in the meta can be a matter of taste, the lack of midrange viability outside of pirate-aggro and Reno/control is surely detrimental to those who prefer that playstyle.

 

  • Class balance: Paladin and Hunter have almost no ladder representation and few, if any, viable decks. A huge part of this is their inability to take part in or counter the swathes of Pirate decks due to their lack of early-game removal and potent, cheap weapons.

 

  • Diversity: There is no meta-viable aggressive deck that does not incorporate Small-Time Buccaneer and the Pirate package. Unless a change is implemented, it could be argued that this will crowd out other innovative aggro decks until it rotates out of Standard.

 

Are Pirates necessary to keep Jade Druid in check?

                                                                         A necess-arrrr-ry evil?

I’m not sure anyone would deny that Small-Time Buccaneer is one of the most powerful cards in the meta. However, it does have competition. Cards like Kazakus and Jade Idol, while miles slower, still have the ability to generate massive value and win games. it could be argued that Small Time Buccaneer’s power is required to prevent decks like Jade Druid and Reno Warlock, with their incredible value generation capabilities, from taking over the meta completely.

However, there are some flaws with this argument. Even greedy Renolocks can win if they draw Reno and some AOE in time. Jade Druids can hold off the aggression with a few well placed Swipes and Wraths and hide behind an Ancient of War or similar beefy taunt. While greedy control decks are indeed countered by hyper-aggressive face decks, they are arguably even harder countered by aggressive midrange. But it’s these aggressive midrange decks (in particular Midrange Hunter) that are being forced out hardest by Small-Time Buccaneer and the Pirates package. If Small-Time Buccaneer was brought down in power, then aggressive-leaning decks would likely just curve higher, play stickier minions and punish greed harder.

 

                                                                            A Smaller-time Buccaneer

 

So if we take a rebalancing as necessary, what would a weaker Small-Time Buccaneer look like? Balancing one drops is notoriously tricky. With Hearthstone’s granular nature, even a single point of stats can be the difference between ubiquity and ignominy (just ask Abusive Sergeant!) Here are a few examples of how Small-Time Buccaneer could be changed while keeping it as a decent choice for Pirate decks (if not an ever-present staple for non-pirate aggro decks)

Should only Valeera get this level of 1 drop power?

The Rogueification

 

As I and others predicted a while ago, Small-Time Buccaneer quickly became a Rogue staple. Instead of providing the aggro springboard, its reliance on an anti-tempo hero power on Turn 2 made it a board control option rather than an all-in face tool. One popular community suggestion for Small-Time Buccaneer is to restrict it to a Rogue-only class card. By making Small-Time Buccaneer a Rogue-only card, the card’s aggro potential would be massively limited. In return, perhaps Rogue class card and meme Shadow Rager could go neutral with the other Ragers.

However, this is not a perfect solution. As well as being an unprecedented way of altering a card post-release, it would also make miracle Rogue relatively strong in a time where it is already top tier, while weakening its main counters. It’s also pretty unlikely that Team 5 would alter a neutral card’s “Soul” so drastically.

 

 

 

                                          The Predictable

Hardly imaginative, but surely a likely candidate

 

One sure-fire way to reduce a card’s power is to make the good numbers smaller or the bad numbers bigger. This change simply reduces the benefit from synergy by one, making it less of a powerhouse by a significant amount. While a conditional 2/2 may seem bad compared to the 2/2 Mistress of Mixtures or Enchanted Raven, the benefit from being a Pirate cannot be discounted, considering the huge stat benefit that Patches brings.

This version would likely still see play in the exact same decks, and be just somewhat less potent. While this change may seem like an easy one, the fact that it may not shake up the meta enough to bring about significant change may be a reason to discount it. It’s worth expecting that given Team 5’s extreme infrequency in balance changes, that the changes should make a big difference.

 

 

 

 

Hits just has hard, but much less sticky

 

              The All-in

Perhaps a more divisive option would be to reduce the health of Small-Time Buccaneer to 1. No 3/1 minion for one has ever been printed (outside the cripplingly overloading Dust Devil). Reducing health would make the card far more vulnerable to pings, cheap AOE and 1 attack minions. The vulnerability would make more difference in some cases than others; Rogues, Druids and Mages would likely gain greatly from being able to hero-power it down, while Warrior and Shaman’s plethora of 1 damage options would also let them take it out with ease.

However, Hunter, Paladin, Warlock and Priest would likely still struggle, giving it a high likelihood of trading up regardless. Since Hunter and Paladin are the worst classes in the current meta, this hardly seems optimal.

 

 

 

 

 

Would this make for more tactical decision making with weaponry?

                                                                      The Situational

One of the problems with Small-Time Buccaneer is its ease of activation. Any weapon at all counts, as long as it is equipped. Making it only work with weapons with 2 or more durability would mean more tactical choices and less all-purpose power in the dream scenario (turn one Small-Time Buccaneer into turn two weapon). Warriors and Shamans would have to choose between losing Small Time Buccaneer’s buff and a weapon charge off Fiery War Axe or Jade Claws or losing the STB altogether. As well as promoting more interesting decisions, it would make early game minions in general a more potent counter to the piratical threat, as well as reducing the variance of the card by making it less polarizing between its best and worst-case scenarios.

Downsides include benefiting 3 durability weapons like Spirit claws and N’zoth’s first mate’s Rusty Hook, and the increased complexity of the card text. Like other changes, it has the potential to be not enough to dethrone the card’s dominance.

 

 

No, I’m not still upset over Warsong Commander, why do you ask?

 

The Soul of the Buccaneer
Team 5 has a history of not doing balancing by half-measures. Cards like Warsong Commander, Leper Gnome, Ancient of Lore and Molten Giant have gone from core staples to unplayable overnight. Completely reworking the mechanic to something that massively reduces the power level of the card to the point of effectively removing it from the game would not be exactly without precedent. Perhaps some would be happy to see such a change; and it would definitely have the desired effect of making the card less ubiquitous and powerful.

Though this is clearly an option, there are undoubtedly more elegant solutions out there that do not result in the effective removal of a card from the game.

 

 

 

 

 

No matter what Team 5 chooses, as long as some change does occur, the outcome is likely to be positive. Though it might not happen before the next standard rotation or perhaps even later, a bit more early-game diversity and balance is sure to be good for Hearthstone.

 

 

Thanks to hearthcards.net for the easy to use and powerful card editing tool; go check them out if you fancy making your own Small Time Buccaneers

Other images courtesy of hearthstone.gamepedia.com and Blizzard Entertainment