Folks, it’s that time again!
For general managers, this is not the month to get your sleep in or take that needed vacation. First off, we’re in the stretch run of the season, meaning that postseason races are picking up. Then, you factor in that the MLB Draft now is in mid-July, and there is a lot happening from both a big-league and farm system standpoint. Of course, we haven’t even gotten to the main event.
That would be the MLB trade deadline. Normally, most sports do not feature an extensive amount of in-season trades, but, for baseball, that could not be further from the truth. Between Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kris Bryant, Zack Greinke, Manny Machado, Yu Darvish, and others, we have seen a lot of star players changed teams at the trade deadline in recent years. After all, by late July, front office generally have a strong understanding of the state of their organization moving forward, something that isn’t always true before the season. Thus, teams can be bucketed into “buyers” (teams looking to add players for a World Series push) and “sellers” (teams looking toward the future), allowing for transactions to happen via a compromise that is in the best interest of both clubs.
At the same, though, two parties coming to a compromise is much easier said than done. For contending teams, parting with players that you believe can be impactful contributors at the next level can be difficult, especially when the short-term gain isn’t guaranteed to result in a World Series championship. That being said, the real-world implications from winning a World Series championship, simply from a financial, fan happiness, and job security standpoint often make the risk worth taking, especially when targeting players where the cost isn’t overly substantial. After all, the randomness of the postseason is part of the reason it’s risky to ever make “win-now” maneuvers, but, at the same time, should you be trying to simply get into the playoffs, acquiring players who can help make that happen is very sensible. After all, just ask the Braves and Nationals!
On the other end, it’s never a popular decision to trade players away that have become fan favorites, especially if the return isn’t as strong as you’d expect; players who are pending free agents won’t likely bring a team back elite players that fans can get overly excited about. That being said, if the other result is simply letting the player leave in free agency and receiving nothing, acquiring multiple prospects who can hopefully develop into cost-controlled big-league players is the clear superior alternative. For instance, take the Angels trading catcher Martin Maldonado to the Astros. Sure, the return at the time didn’t look meaningful, but one of the pitchers they received for the veteran catcher? Patrick Sandoval. You never know where an impact player can come from, meaning that you should always be looking to do everything in your power to find one.
With there being one extra postseason spot this season, this trade deadline is particularly unique. With more teams in the race, we could see fewer trades than normal. After all, if there are more “buyers”, there needs to be enough “sellers” to match, but those two contradict one another. Thus, we may see a situation where the supply of impact players is less than normal, leading to more unique trades than normal (a la Jazz Chisholm for Zac Gallen), and perhaps a higher price paid for the most coveted trade targets. Ultimately, though, it’s a guessing game, and this trade deadline will be a tremendous teaching moment.
So, how will teams respond to a change in circumstances? Who will be on the move, and what will their current teams receive in return? That’s what we will be trying to predict here. Listed below are 17 trades that NEED to happen before this year’s trade deadline- they are the exact type of compromises that teams strive to make. It’s hard to try to identify trades that a) should happen and b) have a good chance of happening, but, today, we’re going to try to embrace that challenge! What team is going to make the trade that takes their franchise to where they want to go? Let’s figure that out!
Stats as of Thursday, July 14th
Deciphering Buyers From Sellers
Naturally, the first step toward coming to a compromise is understanding the direction of your organization. As things stand, let’s bucket each team into three categories: buyers, sellers, and teams likely to stay neutral.
Trading for star players is always the fun part of hypothetical trades, so let’s start with the buyers! Listed below is each team expected to be interested in “win-now trades”, along with their current record, playoff odds, potential needs, as well as their farm system rank, per Fangraphs:
|Team||Record||Playoff Odds||Needs||Farm System|
|NYY||62-26||100%||Next To Nothing||9|
|TOR||47-42||84.30%||SP Depth, Bullpen||22|
|BOS||47-42||66.90%||Another Bat, Pitching||5|
|MIN||49-41||63%||Pitching, Righty Bat||19|
|HOU||57-30||100%||Lefty Reliever, Catcher||27|
|SEA||47-42||51.10%||SP, Lefty Bat||24|
|NYM||55-34||99.40%||Lefty Bat, Pitching Depth||12|
|PHI||46-43||35.80%||Middle Infielder, Pitching||25|
|MIL||49-40||83.60%||CF, SP Depth||26|
|STL||48-43||48%||Lots of Pitching, Catcher||14|
|LAD||57-30||99.80%||Utility Bat, Pitching Depth||11|
|SD||50-41||80.80%||More Offense, Bullpen Depth||13|
Now, let’s take a complete 180-degree turn, shifting our attention to the teams most likely to trade players at the trade deadline:
What about the teams that are in a bit of a holding pattern? The trade deadline is going to be particularly difficult for these organizations, and will say a lot about their direction moving forward:
|Team||Record||Playoff Odds||Most Likely Course of Action|
|CHW||43-45||46%||Make Small Upgrades|
|TEX||41-45||3%||Buy For Next Year, Trade Bullpen Arms|
|MIA||43-45||7%||Shop Pitching Depth For Offense|
That was fun, right? Now, how about we go the hypothetical trades themselves? I mean, what’s better than contemplating a thousand different trade possibilities at any random part of a day? For many fans, this is the exact time of the season they have been waiting for, and for good reason. Even if no team is acquiring Shohei Ohtani or Mike Trout, trust me, there will be still be more than enough exciting trades to make this trade deadline stand out. Speaking of which, here they are!
Trade #1: Cardinals Get Exactly What They Need
- Cardinals Receive: SP Frankie Montas
- A’s Receive: SP Matthew Liberatore, 1B/OF Alec Burleson, OF Joshua Baez
When analyzing the teams ranked in the bottom-eight in starting pitcher skill interactive ERA (SIERA), one of the most predictive ERA estimators, one team stands out as being different from the rest:
- 30th: Royals
- 29th: Nationals
- 28th: Rockies
- 27th: Orioles
- 26th: Tigers
- 25th: A’s
- 24th: Cardinals
- 23rd: Pirates
I think it’s fair to say the Cardinals have much different goals than the rest of the teams on this list. Between Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas, St.Louis has gotten a strong 3.3 Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR). The rest of the rotation? 0.3. This is extremely problematic, and with Dakota Hudson sporting an ERA (4.00) more than a run below his SIERA (5.17), this could eventually turn out to bite them.
Of course, this changes if they make a move for a starting pitcher. Fortunately for them, there are multiple pitchers on the trade market that make perfect sense for them. At the top of the list? Frankie Montas, who before being sidelined with a shoulder injury, was in the midst of a career season. Among qualified starters this season, the 29-year-old ranks 8th in SIERA and 11th in K-BB ratio, and if you take away two games he left early due to injury, is averaging well over six innings per start this year. For a Cardinals pitching staff that struggles mightily in the K-BB ratio department and also has a bottom-ten bullpen SIERA, the quality and durability Montas could give them immediately makes them the ace of their staff.
There is more to this, though. See, this isn’t just a trade St.Louis would be making for this year, but next year as well. After all, they should be getting Steven Matz and Jack Flaherty back in the fold later this season, but with Adam Wainwright likely to retire and the team already short on pitching depth, the rotation is certainly the area of their roster that needs the most overhauling. Simply add Montas to the group, and, suddenly, it doesn’t look much of an issue. Really, it’s impossible to overstate how much they could use a pitcher of his abilities.
Plus, there is added upside of Montas entering a new organization. With one of the league’s best splitters (.221 xwOBA allowed, 32% whiff) and an impressive vertical fastball (.286 xwOBA allowed, 28.2% whiff), Montas features a two-pitch mix that can allow him to thrive in north-south fashion, with a slider that he struggled with last season, but has performed much better (.280 xwOBA, 39.3% whiff) this season. Simply from a pitch diversity standpoint, mixing a sinker and cutter is fine, yet both pitches aren’t as effective in missing bats, while they are relatively redundant with his other offerings. Now, St.Louis is generally a sinker-heavy organization, but a lot of that has to do with the pitchers they have targeted, perhaps more than a developmental strategy themselves.
Playing behind St.Louis’ defense, which ranks in the top-ten in Outs Above Average (OAA) with exceptional outfield defense, as well as in a ballpark with the third-best park factor for pitchers, per Baseball Savant, Montas could easily put himself in the Cy Young running for next season. That high range of outcomes isn’t available for many pitchers that can be acquired on the open market, and the Cardinals need to take advantage of that, especially if this is the cost. For Oakland, as they continue the roster teardown that started this offseason, this is the time to get the best possible package for Montas, and this is likely the type of return they can expect; a consensus top-100 prospect (Liberatore), a well-performing offensive producer in Triple-A (Burleson), and a recent second-round pick with clear untapped upside (Baez). We’ll see where Montas ultimately lands, but it’s harder to think of a more optimal spot for him than this.
Trade #2: Rays Make a Splash
- Rays Receive: C Willson Contreras, Cash
- Cubs Receive: RHP Seth Johnson and 2B Jonathan Aranda
Compared to the last few seasons, the Rays find themselves in a much different position. Rather than aiming to win the AL East, as they’ve done in each of the past two years, Tampa Bay is simply going to need make certain they make the postseason. Considering a division title is a distant possibility, it may not be sensible to go “all-in” on a rental player. That being said, all you need to do is get to the dance, and, right now, Tampa needs to make sure they’re in position to show off their tango.
Ranked 14th in baseball in weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+), the Rays have essentially been a league-average offense this season. That being said, with Wander Franco, Manuel Margot, and Mike Zunino all on the injured list for an extended period of time, they’re lacking any reliable source of power, while they also rank in the bottom-ten in terms of getting on base. Simply by weighted on-base average (wOBA), they’ve been the sixth-worst offense this season, which correlates with them also ranking in the bottom-ten in runs scored. Add it all together, and this is a team that needs an impact offensive force to get to where they want to go.
A specific culprit for Tampa Bay? Their catchers, who have the sixth-lowest wRC+ in baseball, as well as the lowest walk rate (2.3%) and highest strikeout rate (32.9%). With a return for Mike Zunino not likely, Tampa Bay pretty clearly needs to something about their catcher situation. Luckily for them, the perfect player is available for them. Really, could Willson Contreras have drawn up a better way for his contract year to go? The 30-year-old currently is setting career-best marks in wRC+ (141), strikeout rate (20.9%), and on-base percentage (.377). Outside of Alejandro Kirk, he’s been the best offensive catcher in all of baseball.
The key change? Performance against breaking balls. After struggling mightily against them (.287 xwOBA, 45.1% whiff) in 2021, Contreras is making much more contact against breaking balls (33.2% whiff) in 2022. Other developments? More aggression on the first pitch and in the zone overall, as well as more in-zone contact. There are no data points suggesting that Contreras can’t keep this up, with THE BAT X projecting him for a strong 128 wRC+ the rest of the way. If anything, since that comes with a 24.1% strikeout rate, I’d bet the over on that wRC+.
The Rays may have acquired catching depth with Christian Bethancourt, but the 30-year-old profiles more of a part-time player at the position who’ll platoon against lefties. Thus, he’ll be able to platoon with Josh Lowe, with current designated hitter Harold Ramirez shifting to the outfield in games Bethancourt plays. That leaves Contreras as a direct replacement over their current catcher situation. Simply put, for Tampa Bay to make the postseason, they need some offensive reinforcements, and it’s hard to find a better one available than Contreras.
Plus, the Rays are also in a unique situation of having a deep roster, leading often to a 40-man roster crunch. Thus, in Seth Johnson and Jonathan Aranda, they can offer the Cubs two players that can be big-league players for them next season and offer a lot of intrigue, but perhaps don’t have any path to opportunity in Tampa Bay. That certainly sounds like the definition of a win-win maneuver to me! Now, it’s time for the Rays to show off their moves on the dance floor.
Trade #3: Mariners Shock The World
- Mariners Receive: SP Luis Castillo
- Reds Receive: RHP Matt Brash, OF Kyle Lewis, RHP Michael Morales
As of May 20th, the Mariners were ten games below .500, and looked to be out of the postseason race. For a team running a 20-year postseason drought, there certainly was an urgency for them to turn things around leading to several “win-now” moves this offseason. Consequently, those early struggles were massively disappointing; the drought seemed likely to stretch to 21 years.
Of course, that was before Seattle decided to win 16 of their last 19 games, vaulting them into the thick of the AL wildcard race. At this point, considering the circumstances, it’d be uncalled for to not try to do what it takes to end that postseason drought. With a lineup ranked 8th in wRC+, that certainly doesn’t have to come via many offensive improvements; the dichotomy between their wRC+ and runs scored per game (24th) should shift in their favor eventually. On the other hand, their starting rotation ranks in the bottom-ten in fWAR, with no team overachieving their FIP more than them. Especially with them sending George Kirby down to Triple-A to monitor his workload, the Mariners could face problems down the stretch should an upgrade not be made in the rotation. Thus, it’s time to come out of nowhere by reeling in a notable fish.
See, with a core of young players established, this isn’t just an organization that is trying to win this year- they want to position themselves for a very productive season next year. Thus, in terms of their starting rotation, a controllable pitcher at the right cost is the perfect fit for them, which ought to draw them to Luis Castillo. Coming off of a “down year” for his standards in 2021, Castillo dealt with a shoulder injury that delayed him for a month, and he struggled initially upon coming back. On May 20th in Toronto, however, he started to recapture his old velocity, and the results have been fantastic:
- 3.36 SIERA, 26.4% K, 7.5% BB, 18.9% K-BB, 50.3% GB
By now, Castillo is comfortably sitting 97-98 MPH with his fastball, which, as our own Aidan Resnick points out, plays even better than that velocity due to other characteristics. No starting pitcher in baseball has a higher whiff rate with fastball than Castillo, and, as the season has gone on, he’s relying on it more than ever. Now, we’re talking about a pitcher who can succeed in multiple ways, depending on the opponent, but, most importantly, is about to pound the zone, get whiffs, and induce plenty of ground balls. That’s a pretty strong combination, to say the least.
A front three of Robbie Ray, Castillo, and Logan Gilbert? Sign me up for that! Add George Kirby next year to that mix, and you suddenly have one of the league’s better pitching staffs, which puts them in position to end their postseason drought this year, with the possibility to accomplish more next season. It also helps that this is a team with the depth in their farm system to make a move like this that satisfies both parties, particularly since the Reds, who are in a heavy rebuild and are clearly cutting payroll, have no reason not to move him to the highest bidder. I’m a bit skeptical that this return would do it, but that also depends on what Cincinnati is looking for- quantity or depth. I wouldn’t rule out this trade involving outfielder Kyle Lewis, who has shown offensive prowess but may not have a long-term spot in Seattle, but it ultimately comes down to the Reds’ evaluation of Matt Brash. Regardless, though, this is a pairing that isn’t expected, yet perhaps it should be. After all, never discount president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto.
Trade #4: Twins Poach The Reds For Another SP
- Twins Receive: SP Tyler Mahle
- Reds Receive: RHP Matt Canterino, 2B/3B Spencer Steer, OF Matt Wallner
By now, I’m sure we’re all aware of the star power the Twins bring to the table offensively. While perhaps not an exact replication of the “Bomba squad”, Minnesota ranks in the top-five in wRC+, combining top-ten power with clear on-base skills (top-five). With a lineup that can compete with the Yankees and Astros, you’d expect there to be more buzz about them making a run for the American League pennant. For now, though, one deficiency is holding them back.
That would be their pitching staff. Although the Twins’ surface-level numbers are strong in the rotation, they only rank 20th in starting pitcher SIERA, and also rank below-average in K-BB and strikeout rate. Meanwhile, with no pitcher at the top able to eat innings for them whatsoever, they’ve been reliant on a six-man rotation with a lot of injury risk, making them quite fragile down the stretch. Thus, someone who can front the top of their rotation is a must, and has been what they have been lacking since the start of the season. Reports already have them in the thick of the Luis Castillo sweepstakes, though, should they come up short, there’s another pitcher who can offer similar value, albeit for a cheaper price.
In fact, it was just last season where Tyler Mahle was actually more valuable, per fWAR, than Castillo. Since the start of 2021, Mahle has pitched 272.1 innings, posting a strong 3.82 SIERA and 18.4% K-BB through that span. Over his last ten starts, he’s been roughly compared (3.49 SIERA) than Castillo, while Eno Sarris’ pitching+ model actually slightly prefers Mahle; his combination of above-average “stuff” and plus command leads to a very stable profile. Add in his historically wide home/road splits, and it’s very likely a team believes they can get the most out of him outside of Cincinnati.
This season, we’ve seen Mahle reshape his cutter and slider, and has established a pretty clear plan of attack with those pitchers; sliders down and away to righties, backdoor cutters to lefties. Most importantly, though, he’s decreased the usage of his slider in favor of more splitters, which is a perfect complement to his vertical fastball. If anything, he’s become a better pitcher against lefties than righties because of his arsenal, but, regardless, the upside is through the roof here. As a fly-ball heavy pitcher, going to Minnesota, who has a favorable pitchers ballpark for home runs per Baseball Savant park factors, as well as Byron Buxton manning center field, would be a very strong fit for him, and I’m sure the organization would be salivating to add him to the mix.
The Reds and Twins already did business this offseason in a trade that sent Sonny Gray to the Minnesota from Cincinnati; he has been the only pitcher in Minnesota’s rotation to post a SIERA under 4.00. I’d add Joe Ryan to the mix in terms of reliable starting pitchers, but it gets very thin after that; this is something that is likely to be true for next season with multiple pitchers set to have their contracts expire, notable considering this isn’t an organization that has historically been successful reeling in free agents. Thus, a pitcher like Mahle, who has an extra year of control after this season, becomes very appealing. We’ll have to see how he progresses from his current shoulder injury, but all signs are positive in that regard; he’s still very likely to be traded by the deadline. For the sake of all sides, the Twinkies would be quite the fit.
Trade #5: Padres Get Creative
- Padres Receive: OF Ramón Laureano and RP Lou Trivino
- A’s Receive: INF Eguy Rosario, LHP Adrian Morejon, RHP Reiss Knehr, LHP Robert Gasser, OF/DH Brent Rooker, RP Steven Wilson
Well, this is a splash! At the end of the day, don’t discount anything from Padres president of baseball operations AJ Preller.
It’s been a very productive season for the Padres, who are well set up for the postseason, and stand to get superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. back to the lineup soon. Considering they rank below the league average in wRC+, that is a major deal, but it won’t solve San Diego’s problems on their own. Sure, the team has gotten strong contributions from Jurickson Profar, who has been 15% above league average and worth two wins above replacement this year. The rest of the team, though? 0.6 fWAR. That’s not ideal, and assuming Nomar Mazara’s batted-ball luck (.397 batting average on balls in play/BABIP) eventually regresses negatively, that hole will loom even larger.
A specific problem for San Diego this season? Hitting for power. The Padres rank bottom-five in the league in barrel rate and isolated power (ISO), offsetting how strong they’ve been from a plate discipline standpoint. Unfortunately, when it comes to adding power to their lineup, a lot of the options are corner players, which don’t fit with their current roster construction. Hence, why they need to get creative here.
It’s natural to assume that once a player reaches his arbitration years, his time in Oakland is as good as done. Given the team’s current direction, though, it’s hard to see them not looking to capitalize on the two-and-a-half years of club control that Ramon Laureano has left remaining, and for good reason- there should be plenty of suitors. Since debuting in 2018, the 27-year-old has a career 118 wRC+, which is right where he’s at this season, and would exceed 4 fWAR per season on a 600-plate appearance basis. This season, we’ve seen him cut down on the amount of pitches he is swinging at outside the zone (25.2%), leading to him drawing more walks and cutting down strikeouts, which could be the last piece towards him becoming a true offensive force.
With a 10.8% barrel rate this season, Laureano’s power is clearly there, giving the Padres something they’ve been lacking. The offensive prowess he brings would be a major upgrade over what they currently have in the outfield, and he’d easily be able to patrol right field for them. Considering some of their payroll limitations, acquiring a player who should be reasonable affordable in arbitration over the next two seasons, as well as a reliever in Lou Trivino who has quietly performed well (3.12 SIERA) this season and could add depth to their bullpen, would be perfect for them. Sure, this is a team with World Series aspirations, but given the construction of their roster, this is a team that would like to continue to keep their window open to compete for that championship as soon as possible. With as much upper-level depth as they still have to satisfy Oakland’s demands, they have the means to make it happen without hampering their long-term future. We can likely count on some sort of offensive performer being added to the Padres. Who will it be? That’s all a mystery, but Laureano ought to be the #1 target.
Trade #6: Mariners Make One More Big Move
- Mariners Receive: OF Andrew Benintendi
- Royals Receive: RHPs Levi Stout and Taylor Dollard
You could assume the Mariners, in this scenario, would settle with acquiring a high-end starting pitcher, whether it be Luis Castillo, Tayler Male, or another option. However, this is Jerry Dipoto we’re talking about! Compared to the Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays, Seattle has the easiest projected strength of schedule of the bunch, per Fangraphs, opening up a clear path to end the postseason drought that continues to plague them. While controllable players to keep their window extended is most sensible, this “rental” outfielder should be of great consideration.
With Julio Rodriguez manning center field, Jesse Winker coming back from suspension, and Dylan Moore (119 wRC+) having a very productive season, the Mariners wouldn’t seem to be in need for an outfielder on the surface. What they do need, though, is another offensive producer to add to the mix. Unfortunately, second baseman Adam Frazier (75 wRC+) hasn’t been able replicate the magic he had last season, but, as things stand, there aren’t any other healthy options available. Nevertheless, with Moore able to shift to second base, an opening is created in the outfield, where Andrew Benintendi can fit in immediately to round out an already strong lineup.
Known for his early-career surge with the Red Sox, including a five-win season for the 2018 World Series champions, Benintendi is certainly a well-known player who’ll always be very popular in Beantown. That being said, with just a 100 wRC+ between 2019 and 2021, his offensive production took a notable hit, while he didn’t have the defense to compensate for it. This season, though, it has been a much different story; Benintendi currently boasts a 127 wRC+, and has already been worth more fWAR (2) as he was in 2021. In a contract year, the 27-year-old is positioning himself quite well for a multi-year contract, but with the Royals out of the race, it’s almost a certainty he’ll have to keep this up with a new team for the final few months.
The key for Benintendi certainly hasn’t come from hitting for power- his 4.5% barrel rate ranks in the 17th percentile and is the lowest for a full season of his career. What he does do, however, is get on base at a high level. By swinging at far fewer pitches outside the zone compared to career average (22.4%) while swinging at more pitches in the zone than league average (73.3%), Benintendi features some of the best plate discipline in the league, leading to a strong combination of a 10.2% walk rate and 14% strikeout rate. Although it’s very unlikely he continues to support a.365 BABIP, his even sprays and batted-ball trajectory have allowed him to run high BABIPs in the past. ZiPs projects him for a .332 BABIP for the rest of the year, which would still leave him with a .354 on-base percentage for the rest of the year if the plate discipline metrics hold up. Add in some power improvement getting out of Kansas City, and a wRC+ around 120 with slightly above-average defense in the outfield should be the expectation.
That should appeal for a lot of teams, particularly the Mariners, who can trade away two pitching prospects that soon need to be added to the 40-man roster, something Seattle may not be able to do given some of the questions regarding both of them. For Kansas City, they get multiple pitchers who don’t walk batters to work with, and they can cover for some of their fly-ball tendencies in the ballpark they play in. Benintendi certainly isn’t being linked to the Mariners, but, sometimes, the scariest force is the one that works in silence. Hopefully, that holds true for Jerry Dipoto here.
Trade #7: Red Sox Make Their Own Move For a Bat
- Red Sox Receive: 1B Josh Bell
- Nationals Receive: RHPs Connor Seabold and Durbin Feltman
It’s been quite a strange season for the Red Sox, who have experienced a lot of turbulence to get to their current record. They are right in the middle of the postseason hunt, but they’ll have to fight off multiple competitive teams in their division, as well as the surging Mariners, which won’t be an easy task. As a result, per Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe, the team is projected to be “cautious buyers” at the trade deadline. In other words, don’t expect them to be competing in the sweepstakes for Frankie Montas or one of the Reds pitchers. Rather, similar to last season, finding players at a more affordable trade cost will be the focus.
Speaking of last year, Boston solved their dilemma at first base by acquiring Kyle Schwarber from the Nationals, and, this season, they’ll go back to D.C. to add an upgrade to their lineup. Although Boston has a top-ten lineup based on wRC+, it’s been a top-heavy lineup for the most part that falls off towards the bottom, with one player unfortunately not performing at the level they need. That would be Jackie Bradley Jr., who has mustered just a 55 wRC+ and a -0.6 fWAR, which aligns with the struggles (35 wRC+, -1.6 fWAR) he had last year as well. A reunion with Andrew Benintendi would make sense in that regard, but what if there was a more creative way to go about it?
Right now, the Red Sox have been platooning Franchy Cordero at first base, and with his underlying offensive numbers standing out, he’s someone Boston should be looking to keep in their lineup consistently against right-handed pitchers. Considering his defensive metrics in the outfield have been satisfactory, a clear solution would be to allow him to take the role that Bradley Jr. has had (platooning with Christian Arroyo in right field), paving the way for the Red Sox to acquire one of the top offensive performers available for trade- first baseman Josh Bell.
After slugging 37 home runs in 2019, it appeared that Bell, a former top prospect, had finally come into his own. Since then, though, he hasn’t quite been able to recapture that power; in fact, his current 7.2% barrel rate ranks in just the 41st percentile. Yet, he’s on pace for a career offensive season, and has already been worth more fWAR last year. So, what gives? For starters, we’ve seen Bell strike out (13.6%) at a career-low rate, which, when you add in a double-digit walk rate, has helped create his current .380 on-base percentage. Now, with most of these gains coming in terms of making contact out of the zone, we can wonder about the long-term stability of these contact improvements, but this is till a hitter projected by ZiPs for a 138 wRC+. At the very worst, he’s someone who’d add to Boston’s strengths in terms of getting on-base (top-five in OBP), but someone with his power ceiling always has the chance of going on a month-long tear, which could be exactly what the Red Sox need.
Considering the lack of teams who could use a first baseman/designated hitter type, the trade cost for Bell perhaps won’t be as steep as one may think. For Washington, they secure a pitcher in Connor Seabold they can immediately give a chance to in their rotation, as well as a reliever in Durbin Feltman who could do the same in their bullpen. For them, simply trying to look for an MLB-ready contributor who simply needs an opportunity to shine, as they did with Lane Thomas, would be extremely sensible, while Boston can more than afford to part ways with them given their surprising amount of pitching depth. Considering that Boston has a lot of reinforcements in the rotation coming back from injury, it’s possible they simply look to plug the one loose hole in their lineup, and they can do so in a very affordable manner. That’s right up chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom’s alley; if this isn’t “cautious buying”, I don’t know what is!
Trade #8: The Boomstick Heads Back To Minnesota
- Twins Receive: DH Nelson Cruz
- Nationals Receive: 2B Edouard Julien
This would be a feel good story, wouldn’t it? Even if his time in Minnesota was short, the two-and-a-half seasons Nelson Cruz played with the Twins made quite the impression on their fanbase, to the point where the decision to trade him to the Rays at last year’s trade deadline was a very tough moment for the organization. Now, it’s time for them to turn the tables.
Considering Cruz is 42 years old, currently has a below-average 94 wRC+, and also has a negative fWAR (-0.2), you’d assume there wouldn’t be significant trade interest in him. Yet, that only tells a small portion of the story. Cruz is still hitting essentially half of his batted balls 95 MPH or harder, is still barreling balls at a strong rate (11.4%), and is drawing walks at a double-digit rate. An 11.9% home run/fly ball rate and .122 ISO is far too low for him, and positive regression should be expected.
Plus, at the very least, there should be some appeal with Cruz simply based on one quality- his ability to crush lefties. At the moment, there’s a rather sizable gap between his expected weighted on-base averages (xwOBA) versus lefties and righties:
- xwOBA vs LHP: .407
- xwOBA vs RHP: 333
It’s natural for a right-handed hitter to perform better against left-handed pitching. Statistically, breaking balls have generally been Cruz’s kryptonite, but, now, fastballs have become a problem- he has struggled mightily specifically against fastballs up and away, which he’s more likely to see against right-handed pitchers. For any team looking to add a right-handed hitter to match with a lefty, Cruz is a very sensible fit, with a return to Minnesota being in all parties’ best interests.
Between Luis Arraez, Max Kepler, Alex Kiriloff, and Nick Gordon, the Twins feature four hitters that generally only play against right-handed pitching. That places a lot of pressure on the team’s depth players to be able to carry the fort against lefties, and no hitter available for trade does that better than Cruz. Simply as a part-time player, he offers plenty of value and lineup depth for the Twins, with the ability to be more than that as well. Plus, for a current below replacement-level player, the cost to acquire him would be practically zero, particularly since the last-place Nationals have no reason not to trade him. Simply for the sake of smiles, this needs to happen, but it makes a lot of baseball sense as well. Really, I can’t see a case for either team not doing this trade.
Trade #9: Brewers Find Stability In Center Field
- Brewers Receive: OF Michael A. Taylor
- Royals Receive: INF Freddy Zamora and RHP Abner Uribe
If there is one given in Milwaukee, it’s that they are going to pitch at a high level. Overall, the team ranks in the top-five in SIERA, and that’s with Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta missing considerable time. When it’s all said and done, you’re looking at one of the most front-loaded rotations with a very deep bullpen, setting them up nicely for the stretch run.
As a result, Milwaukee should be able to focus on upgrading their position player core. Most specifically, center field has been a key problem for them. After ranking 29th in center field fWAR in 2021, the Brewers ran it make with the same cast, shuffling Lorenzo Cain and Tyrone Taylor up the middle. Yet, Cain struggled and was let go, while Taylor has been a below league-average hitter with poor defensive metrics. Consequently, they once again rank in the bottom-ten in center field fWAR, and desperately need to find some sort of answer at a premium position.
While he may not be the most exciting player available at the trade deadline, Michael A. Taylor is still someone who ought to draw interest from contending teams. After serving as a 2 fWAR player for the Royals last season, the 27-year-old has drastically improved offensively this season, featuring a 107 wRC+ and .340 on-base percentage. The key? Improved plate discipline. Taylor’s 23.7% strikeout rate, 10.2% walk rate, and 13% swinging-strike rate are all the marks of his career, while he’s making more contact on fastballs than ever. Whatever the reason, he’s having more success on elevated fastballs than ever before, which speaks to some adjustment that was clear made.
Plus, even if Taylor’s current defensive metrics aren’t ideal, he’s been in the 92nd percentile or better in outs above average over the previous three full seasons he’s played when the metric was available. On a year-to-year basis, defensive metrics can be volatile, but it’s pretty reasonable to assume that Taylor remains a very strong defender. At the very least, THE BAT X projects him for a 94 wRC+ the rest of the season, though that’s also assuming his current contact gains don’t hold up. Most likely, you’re getting similar offense in center field to what they currently have, yet with far superior defensive prowess. A starting center fielder for one-and-a-half years at an affordable price would be a strong get for the Brew Crew, who’ll look to get the most out of a pitching staff built to make a Workd Series run.
Trade #10: Blue Jays Add Needed Rotation Depth
- Blue Jays Receive: SP José Quintana
- Pirates Receive: RHPs Adam Kloffenstein and Trent Palmer
When you’re a rebuilding organization, there should be two goals when it comes to filling out roster: give opportunities for young players, but also target players who can easily become coveted trade in-season targets. So far, the Pirates have been able to accomplish both of those objectives, and, now, they’re about to be rewarded for those efforts.
After previously emerging as one of the league’s more reliable workhorses and making the All-Star team, it’s been a bit of a bumpy road for José Quintana as of late. Look no further than between 2019 and 2020, where he pitched just 73 innings, and while his peripherals (3.85 SIERA) were still strong, it mainly come out of the bullpen and with a 6.16 ERA. Considering the underlying success, though, giving a chance in the rotation to him always was a sensible decision, and the Pirates have capitalized.
In 17 starts this season, Quintana, with a 4.00 SIERA, has been very productive this season, and that’s including a very slow start to the season- he has a 3.74 SIERA and 16.4% K-BB in his 11 starts. His ability to induce ground balls, miss bats, and limit walks all at league average rates or better leads to a strong combination that allows him to serve as a #4 starter for a playoff team, which is exactly what he’d be in Toronto.
The Blue Jays, losers of eleven of their last seventeen, have gone from solidified playoff team to having to claw off the Red Sox, Rays, and Mariners to secure a wildcard spot. On the surface, the Blue Jays have been a top-ten rotation in terms of SIERA, but that doesn’t certainly tell the whole story. While Kevin Gausman (3.7) and Alek Manoah (2.1) have been worth 5.8 fWAR this season, the rest of the rotation a minuscule 1.2 wins above replacement. Sure, you can bet on Jose Berrios getting back on track to round out a strong top three, while Ross Stripling has been a pleasant surprise. That being said, with the struggling Yusei Kikuchi (-0.5 fWAR) currently on the injured list, Toronto is essentially utilizing a bullpen game every fifth day, and that’s gone about as poor as you could have imagined. By no means do they need to splurge on a top-tier ace, such as Montas or Castillo, particularly given how thin their farm system has become. Still, they do have a clear need for a depth #4/#5 starter, and that’s exactly what Quintana can be for them. Heck, in a. five-game series, him and Stripling piggybacking off another would make for a strong game-four combination, though, for now, the focus is getting in the dance. To do so, something has to be done in the rotation.
Trade #11: Blue Jays Add Another Arm
- Blue Jays Receive: RP Daniel Bard
- Pirates Receive: INFs Miguel Hiraldo and Samad Taylor
Generally, when you’re an aspiring World Series contender, ranking in the bottom-ten in earned runs allowed per game is no bueno, to say the least. Unfortunately, that’s where things currently stand, and while nits can be picked in the rotation, it all comes back to pitchers who come in after them.
Rather, the blame in this case would fall on a bullpen that is in the bottom-five in fWAR. Meanwhile, between Jordan Romano, Mimi Garcia, Adam Cimber, and David Phelps, the Blue Jays do have four reliable righties in their bullpen, albeit none that specifically thrive when it comes to inducing ground balls; it’s not a situationally-sound bullpen. Well, that’s until Daniel Bard enters the mix.
Being a relief pitcher in Colorado may easily be the most challenging task in baseball, and, last year, that got the best of Bard, who wasn’t able to hold his role pitching in high-leverage situations for the Rockies. This season, however, has been a completely different story, thanks in large part to some major pitch-mix changes:
- Sinker: 14.6% to 51.6%
- 4-Seam Fastball: 33.9% to 1.5%
It can be very difficult for four-seam fastballs to get the ride they need to be successful in Colorado, while Bard’s fastball wasn’t vertical as is. Thus, the move to a sinker was very wise, and it’s paying off. Not only is his sinker is inducing an absurd 76.9% ground ball rate, but he’s sporting a very strong overall 56.1% ground ball rate allowed, while also limiting barrels (3.7%) like few other relievers. Doesn’t that sound exactly the type of reliever the Blue Jays should be on the lookout for?
Considering he’s a 37-year-old pending free agent, there isn’t any reason for the Rockies to hold onto Bard. If they do eventually reach that conclusion, he’ll surely draw interest from multiple contenders, but no team needs his strengths from a situational standpoint more than Toronto. While I’m sure there will be pressure on the Blue Jays to make a splash, yet simply attacking their pitching staff with smaller moves keeps their limited farm system intact, and still gets them the upgrades in run prevention they desperately need. Now, we’ll just have to wait and see what route they choose.
Trade #12: Dodgers Make Small, But Needed Move
- Dodgers Receive: UTIL Brandon Drury
- Reds Receive: RHP Carlos Duran and OF James Outman
It’s easy to forget, before becoming the juggernaut that they are now, the Dodgers were a team that did a lot of “mixing and matching”, leveraging platoons and versatility to put together the most optimal lineup on a daily basis. Thanks to the star power on their roster, this is no longer the case, but it may time for them to go back to their roots here.
See, with Chris Taylor on the injured list for an extended period of time due to a fractured foot, Los Angeles already immediately has a hole to fill in their lineup, but they’re also losing a substantial amount of positional versatility that made Taylor such an important part of their roster. Meanwhile, Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy have struggled mightily against left-handed pitching, while Hanser Alberto has yet to be the lefty masher they were hoping for. Hence, there was a need to acquire a versatile, right-handed bat, even before Taylor’s injury.
There have plenty of surprising breakout performances this season, but one that has to be at the top of that list is what Brandon Drury has been accomplish in Cincinnati this season. A lifelong 81 wRC+ hitter coming into this year, Drury had been worth negative 1.1 fWAR in the four years prior, only receiving 100 plate appearances in one of those seasons. Nevertheless, the Reds clearly saw something with him, and, now, they’re being rewarded tremendously. Drury’s 2.3 fWAR is already more than five times that of his previous career fWAR total, while he’s been a dominant offensive performer with a 137 wRC+. Even if he doesn’t have ideal strikeout or walk rates, neither are a liability, and when you add his quality of contact (12% barrel rate, 44.4% hard-hit rate), it’s clear that he’s well deserving of his overall numbers.
In fact, with just a 7.7% swinging-strike rate and 20.1% whiff rate, it’s fair to wonder if Drury’s current 22.5% strikeout rate may go down. Regardless, he’s very likely to continue to continue to serve as an above-average bat, while he experience playing all infield positions and the outfield. Simply as someone who can fill in for Bellinger or Muncy against lefties, he’s a tremendous fit, but add in his versatility and ability to replace what Taylor brings in the short term, and he’s exactly what the Dodgers need. Come postseason time, this would be a player they would be grateful to have aboard.
Trade #13: Phillies Find Late-Inning Stability
- Phillies Receive: RP David Robertson
- Cubs Receive: LHP Erik Miller and RHP Andrew Schultz
If there is one reliever that seems to have consistently fallen under the radar during his career, it has to be David Robertson. For his career, the 37-year-old has a very impressive 2.68 SIERA, including a two-year stretch (2014 and 2015) with a SIERA under 2.00. After pitching just 18.2 innings between 2019 and 2021 due to injury, him signing with the Cubs wasn’t a move that garnered much publicity. Surely, though, that won’t be case for a move involving him very shortly.
Going back to his limited time with the Rays in 2021, Robertson has posted a 3.08 SIERA with a very strong 31.9% strikeout rate. By now, Robertson’s three-pitch mix (cutter, curveball, slider) has been a staple for him, and his cutter velocity (93.3 MPH) is actually nearly a full MPH harder than his previous career-high mark. Both breaking balls possess a whiff rate over 42%, while his cutter has been generally difficult to barrel up. Put it all together, and you have a pitcher who strikes an exceptional amount of batters out, induces plenty of ground balls (48.7%), and also has zero platoon splits whatsoever. That’s the type of reliever who ought to coveted at the trade deadline.
By now, the Phillies’ bullpen woes are well-known- they rank in the bottom-half of the league in reliever SIERA and lack a trusted late-inning arm for them. Meanwhile, they also lack much of the way in terms of reliable lefty relievers, making Robertson, a reliever who generally has reverse platoon splits, even more valuable. Finally, for once, interim manager Rob Thompson can take a deep breath in a high-leverage situation, while Philadelphia can have someone to complement what has been a very productive rotation this season. Will this be what gets the city of Brotherly Love some postseason baseball? It certainly will help!
Trade #14: Red Sox Add an Underrated Reliever
- Red Sox Receive: RP Joe Jimenez
- Tigers Receive: SS Matthew Lugo and LHP Jay Groome
Time for some more “cautious buying”! If Boston truly feels confident about their rotation with the returns of Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, James Paxton, Michael Wacha, and Rich Hill from the injured list, it’s very easy to imagine them looking elsewhere to strengthen their prowess in terms of run prevention.
To be fair, Boston’s bullpen does rank middle-of-the-pack in most advanced metrics, and also stands to benefit from the return of Garrett Whitlock. That being said, the team ranks in the bottom half of the league in terms of innings pitched by their starters, and there’s no guarantee their currently injured starters will be able to provide them with substantial length. Hence, the need for a less top-heavy bullpen.
If you want an example of the volatility of relievers, look no further than Joe Jimenez, who has experienced quite a bit of turbulence starting in 2018:
- 2018: 3.14 SIERA, 29.2% K, 8.2% BB
- 2019: 3.41 SIERA, 31.9% K, 8.9% BB
- 2020: 4.10 SIERA, 21.8% K, 5.9% BB
- 2021: 4.74 SIERA, 27.1% K, 16.7% BB
In 2018, Jimenez was worth 1.4 fWAR. Between 2019 and 2021? Negative 0.4 fWAR. After last year’s struggles, it wasn’t a given he’d be on Detroit’s opening day roster, but I’m sure the team is quite glad they maintained faith in him. In 33.2 innings, the 27-year-old has struck out 33.3% of the batters he has faced while walking just 5.9% of them, resulting in an impressive 2.34 SIERA. In fact, both SIERA and K-BB (27.4%) peg him as a top-20 reliever this season, and he’d certainly be a terrific addition for any postseason team.
At the end of the day, though, questions around Jimenez will certainly swirl around his wide variability in performance. Fortunately, there are signs of legitimate change for the right-hander. For starters, his fastball is back to possessing the same amount of vertical ride (2.4 inches above average) it had in 2019, and the same goes for the velocity (95.6 MPH) of the pitch. Meanwhile, he’s also getting more extension (6.8 ft) than normal, and is getting the chases (32.8%) he’s used to getting while pounding the zone (53.8%). Eno Sarris’ predictive pitching+ model (112.3) thinks quite highly of Jimenez as someone who can combine an above-average arsenal (115 stuff+) with the ability to command it (106.4 command+) at a high level, leading to the dominance we’ve seen this season- teams should be inclined to believe in this uptick in performance.
Plus, for what it’s worth, Jimenez does come with an extra year of club control, giving Boston extra flexibility. If you’re the Tigers, capitalizing on Jimenez’s peak value makes a lot of sense, even if they believe that this is the true version of him moving forward; his value to a postseason contender for this year such as Boston is much higher. Regardless, this is certainly a pitcher who deserves greater recognition on a larger stage.
Trade #15: Cards Capitalize on Tigers’ Reliever Purge
- Cardinals Receive: RP Michael Fulmer
- Tigers Receive: SP Andre Pallante
We’ve really gone full circle here, haven’t we? Back in 2017, Michael Fulmer was seen as one of the league’s rising young starters, to the point that general manager Al Avila reportedly turned down offers including Alex Bregman and Javier Baez for him. Unfortunately, injuries and various struggles have plagued him since then, but the right-hander has gotten the last laugh this season.
What do you do when you’re no longer fit to be a starting pitcher? Transform yourself into a high-octane reliever, of course! Fulmer has allowed just seven earned runs in 33.1 innings this season, and while his peripherals (4.02 SIERA, 12.5% K-BB) don’t back that 1.89 ERA up, there appears to be a legitimate method to his madness. See, as a reliever, you have more freedom to specialize with one specific pitch, as opposed to a having a diverse arsenal. Clearly, Fulmer has gotten that memo, throwing his slider 63.5% of the time. Why is that important? Well, because it’s a fantastic pitch! The slider’s current run value (-11) is fourth-best in all of baseball, and second only behind Camilo Doval among relievers. Opposing hitters, meanwhile, are slugging just .157 against it, which is an astonishingly low rate. No hitter has yet to barrel it up this season, and, by the eye test, it’s easy to see why:
Now, batted-ball data can be fickle for pitchers, so perhaps this is all a flash in the pan. That being said, his 31.9% whiff rate points to potential positive regression with his strikeout rate (24.3%), and he wouldn’t be the first pitcher to overcome middling K-BB numbers due to the trajectory of the contact (weak pop-ups) that he’s inducing. Ideally, a pitcher of this prototype ends up with a team with a pitcher-friendly ballpark behind a strong outfield defense.
What team meets that criteria better than St.Louis? The Cardinals rank in the bottom-ten in bullpen SIERA, and, outside of Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos, are as thin as it gets. Considering Busch Stadium has the sixth-lowest park factor for home runs, per Baseball Savant, and have a very strong outfield defensive core with Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, and Tyler O’Neill, this is the perfect place for Fulmer to shine. There is a clear pathway for the Cardinals to overtake the Brewers in the NL Central and make a postseason push. Now, it’s up to them to find necessary upgrades in both the rotation and bullpen, with Fulmer sticking out as a clear target. After all, what pitcher wouldn’t want to work with some of the devil magic that always seems to be cooking in St. Louis?
Trade #16: Astros Partake in Tigers’ Reliever Purge
- Astros Receive: RP Andrew Chafin
- Tigers Receive: RHPs Alex Santos and Shawn Dubin
For a team that has struggled as much as they have, it’s remarkable that the Tigers have built as strong of a bullpen as they have. Yet, here we are, and Detroit has the third-best reliever fWAR, setting them up nicely to cash in on tremendous years from several of their relievers. Interestingly, a lot of these players have been developed from within, but, certainly, this isn’t Andrew Chafin’s first rodeo.
Signed to a two-year contract this offseason, Chafin, 32, has been exceptional, posting the sixth-best SIERA (2.66) among left-handed pitchers in 27.2 innings pitched. Whether it’s missing bats (34.5% whiff, 30.3% K), limiting walks (7.3% BB), or inducing plenty of ground balls (52.2%), he can honestly do it all, and it’s all thanks to a slider with the third-highest whiff rate (60.5%) in baseball with a remarkable .077 weighted on-base average allowed this season. At this point, it’s very likely he opts out of the $6.5 million he’s owed for next season, and for good reason- he’s in line to certainly exceed that contract next offseason.
When you’re allowing the fewest amount of runs in baseball and have the second-best wRC+, there aren’t exactly going to be many “needs” that you need to fill at the trade deadline. If there’s one area the Astros could look to address, however, it’s lefty reliever. Currently, the team has no active left-handed reliever, and while that’s a very small nit to pick, it’s something that certainly could prove useful situationally in the postseason. After all, this isn’t simply a team trying to dance. Rather, they’re trying to be the prom king, and to do that, there’s no reason not to look to address any minor hole that can be reasonably filled. With Chafin aboard, all I can say is: watch out.
Trade #17: Mets Make Underrated Move For Lefty Bat
- Mets Receive: OF David Peralta
- Diamondbacks Receive: RHP Mike Vasil
Generally, “breakouts” are expected of ascending young players, as opposed to established veterans. However, in a day and age where coaching and player development has never been better, we’re seeing players make substantial changes at all different ages. Case in point, David Peralta.
After being a below-league-average hitter (93 wRC+) with little power (.144 ISO), Peralta seemed to be a player trending downwards as he headed into his age-34 season. Instead, the opposite has been true. Peralta was cited with making some adjustments to his swing prior to the start of the season, and it’s clear he’s a completely different hitter:
- Ground Ball Rate: 54.9% to 32.4%
- Barrel Rate: 5% to 11.9%
- Swinging-Strike Rate: 9% to 12.7%
From this, a rather quick conclusion can be surmised that Peralta seems to be gearing for more power, and it’s worked; his underlying numbers have all improved substantial. Now, with a 101 wRC+, he hasn’t experienced the gains that he may have thought he’d seen by now, but all signs point to him deserving better than his current numbers; his .276 BABIP is extremely low on his standards. At this point of his career, Peralta (.272 xwOBA) likely shouldn’t start against lefties, but as a platoon bat against righties (.360 xwOBA), he offers a lot of utility for a contending team.
That’s where the Mets come into play. President Sandy Alderson is on record saying the team is looking to upgrade at designated hitter, but with JD Davis, projected for a 118 wRC+ by ZiPs, in the fold as a talented right-handed bat, New York truly just needs a left-handed hitter to complement him. Enter Peralta in the fold. Not only is he still a strong outfield defender (4 outs above average) who can spell Mark Canha, Brandon Nimmo, and Starling Marte down the stretch, but he fits perfectly into a lineup that needs more firepower against righties. Meanwhile, after trading away prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong for two months of Javier Baez last year, you’d hope the team would be more reluctant to deplete an already thin farm system. Hence, why Peralta, a rather affordable acquisition who can provide similar value to pricier available hitters, would be an ideal option for them. Sometimes, the best moves are the ones that fly under the radar, and that could clearly happen here.
Photos by Icon Sportswire)Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on twitter)