Ranking the top 6 architects of stretch-drive contenders
By Richard Justice
Six weeks after the non-waiver Trade Deadline, which baseball executive helped his team the most?
Ultimately, that question will be answered in October, although that's not really fair. For some, the challenge was improving their team enough just to get to the postseason. That's far different from a general manager with a first-place team and an eye on one more tweak.
The weeks leading up to the end of July were unique this season because at least 20 teams were still seriously in the mix, all thinking they were one or two moves from a magical finish.
Anyway, with 13 days remaining in the regular season, let's check out our current (and temporary) leaderboard for the men leading their team's baseball department:
1. Mike Rizzo, Nationals
We can retire the trophy right now. Rizzo's peers are playing for second place. No general manager faced more pressure to do something, and no general manager came close to delivering the way he did.
The Nationals' bullpen was baseball's worst, before he acquired Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the A's and Brandon Kintzler from the Twins. Since then, Washington's bullpen has been the National League's best, with a 3.46 ERA. The Nats also are tied with the Cubs for the NL's best record since then (27-18).
Another Rizzo acquisition, non-roster spring invitee Matt Albers, has done great work as manager Dusty Baker has stitched together a group that looks October ready.
2. Jeff Luhnow, Astros
Good thing we allow homework to be turned in late. Luhnow got an incomplete -- and that's being generous -- on July 31, and then his first-place team trudged through an 11-17 August. Luhnow was extremely disappointed that he was unable to do anything big at the non-waiver Deadline, but say this for the man: He knows how to create drama.
The Astros made the single biggest deal of the season minutes before the August 31 deadline for playoff roster eligibility when they acquired Justin Verlander from the Tigers. That deal gave Houston both an emotional and a physical boost. The Astros have won 11 of 16 since, and Verlander has allowed two earned runs in three dominant starts for his new team.
Fittingly, Verlander's seven-inning, one-run performance on Sunday sealed the American League West championship for the Astros.
3. Brian Cashman, Yankees
The Yankees already had one of baseball's most surprising teams. Was it good enough to win a World Series? Those holes in the rotation made that an open question. Cashman filled those holes -- emphatically -- with trades that added Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia to his rotation and David Robertson to his bullpen.
The Yankees have won 12 of 16 after beating the Twins on Monday, and they appear to be sprinting back to the playoffs, either as the AL East champion or the host team of the AL Wild Card Game. Their rotation is lined up nicely behind ace Luis Severino, and with Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Robertson anchoring the bullpen, the Yanks appear to be a dangerous October team.
4. Mike Hazen, D-backs
Outfielder J.D. Martinez has 24 home runs, 10 doubles and a 1.086 OPS in 52 games for the D-backs, and that's the definition of an impact acquisition. Thanks also to one of the NL's best rotations, Arizona has a 4 1/2-game lead for the NL's top Wild Card berth.
5. David Stearns, Brewers
The Brewers' trade with the White Sox for Anthony Swarzak has created a solid late-inning combination with Swarzak pitching in front of closer Corey Knebel. Stearns further deepened his bullpen by reacquring Jeremy Jeffress from the Rangers, and he also got a pair of steady veterans in Neil Walker and Stephen Vogt.
Combined with the offseason acquistions of first baseman Eric Thames and third baseman Travis Shaw, Milwaukee has been one of baseball's surprise teams and is still in the mix for both the NL Central title and the NL's second Wild Card berth.
6. Andrew Friedman, Dodgers
Friedman might still vault to the top of our class depending on how October plays out. For this club, that's all that matters. He got rave reviews at the Trade Deadline for getting right-hander Yu Darvish from the Rangers and a pair of lefty relievers, Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson.
Those trades became a secondary storyline to a mountain of losses -- 16 in 17 games, for a team that had been 91-36. Darvish has had two dominant starts, including his most recent one, and five others that were less than that. Meanwhile, Cingrani and Watson have added nice lefty depth as Los Angeles prepares for October.
If Darvish delivers and if the Dodgers end up in the World Series, please read this list from the bottom up.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.