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The trade deadline – the crucial line of demarcation looming over the MLB season, has come and gone. Franchise-changing (and career-changing) decisions were made, all predicated on one simple question: Are we in or are we out? The trade deadline is a time of sleeplessness and presumably a lot of heartburn for MLB general managers. The trade is an art form in itself, and this week or so of heightened activity is when the GMs make their money.
The teams that deem themselves in the hunt for a World Series, the “buyers,” have to weigh the chances (and the worth) of a single championship versus mortgaging their future by sending promising young prospects out the door, perhaps even to be haunted by them in the opposite dugout someday.
Look no further than last year’s Braves as an example of the trade deadline’s impact for a buyer. They were under .500 at the deadline and had just lost their young superstar outfielder, Ronald Acuna Jr, for the rest of the season. They easily could have cashed out then and called it a season. Instead, they swung several major trades to beef up their bullpen and outfield, and went on a run to win a World Series despite having the worst regular-season record of all teams in the postseason.
On the other end of the spectrum, the “sellers” have to confront a concept that should be foreign to any competitor: accepting defeat. They essentially wave the white flag on a lost season, and usher in a miserable final two months with disinterested fans and generally poor play on the field in the name of a brighter future.
That is the usual order of things. However, a larger playoff field seems to have encouraged more teams to try and just find pieces that fit, even if that means making a deal with another likely playoff team. It was a very eventful deadline, nonetheless.
Like the NFL Draft, assigning trade deadline “grades” is pretty en vogue at the moment. Let’s reserve judgement until at least the end of the year, though, and simply take a look at the most significant trades made for what they are, starting with the crown jewel of the deadline and arguably the most valuable player traded away in decades: Juan Soto.
Padres get: OF Juan Soto, 1B Josh Bell
Nationals get: LHP Mackenzie Gore, OF Robert Hassell III, SS C.J. Abrams, OF James Wood, RHP Jarlin Susana
To call this is a whopper of a trade doesn’t do it justice. A haul like the one the Nationals just got is rare, if not, unheard of. Of course, a player of Soto’s caliber, age and contract status, all in one package, being available by trade? That is also pretty much unprecedented.
Soto still has two more “arbitration years” left on his contract, which makes him much more than a one-season rental. It also isn’t another massive contract they have to commit to for a decade with Fernando Tatis Jr. ($24.2 million/ year) and Manny Machado ($30 million/ year) on the books through at least 2029. Essentially, Soto is here to help the Padres challenge the Dodgers for the NL West and a playoff run for the next three years, and GM A.J. Preller has options beyond that.
We talked about the generational talent that Soto is a lot two weeks ago, so I’ll move on to Josh Bell, who is also no slouch. The 2019 All-Star is hitting .301 with 14 homers and 57 RBI this year. He will provide a bit more pop at the plate over Eric Hosmer, who was dealt to the Red Sox.
That all being said, what the Padres sent the Nationals is being heralded as perhaps the single greatest return in trade deadline history. Abrams was the number one prospect in San Diego‘s system and ranked ninth in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline.
“All five of these prospects the Nationals got could be All-Stars,” said The Athletic’s Jim Bowden on Sirius XM’s Mad Dog Radio.
It takes quite a trade to make deals like the following a couple of “Oh, yeahs.”
The Padres also added infielder Brandon Drury’s 20 home runs from the Reds, and have the desirable problem of trying to find him at-bats in an infield including Bell, Jake Cronenworth, Tatis and Machado. It seems likely he’ll be taking some time from Wil Myers at designated hitter while providing depth. The Padres lineup is loaded.
They also made an unusual swap of closers, shipping Taylor Rogers, right-handed reliever Dinelson Lamet and a couple of prospects off to Milwaukee for Josh Hader. It’s an interesting deal considering Hader and Rogers are currently ranked first and second for saves in all of baseball. Hader’s ERA was a minuscule 1.82 before two bad outings in mid-July ballooned it to 4.50. He appears to have returned to form since.
Yankees add OF Andrew Benintendi (from Royals), OF Harrison Bader (Cardinals), SP Frankie Montas and RP Lou Trivino (Athletics)
The Yankees seemed to be a candidate to land Soto when news broke over the All-Star break that he was being shopped. That didn’t pan out, but the Bronx Bombers have still significantly bolstered their already crowded outfield with two top-notch gloves and bats that don’t have a ton of pop, but will get on base and help ease the Yankees’ high strikeout rate.
Benintendi is an excellent contact hitter (.308 batting average in 2022) and was a Gold Glove winner in left field last year. It’s a decent deal for three minor league pitching prospects. The Bader trade is a bit of a head-scratcher, though. He is currently on the injured list with plantar fascitis. He is expected back well before the end of the regular season to take over in center field for Aaron Hicks. What is surprising is that the Yankees sent left-handed starter Jordan Montgomery to another contender, St. Louis, to acquire him.
Montgomery was holding down the Yankees’ third spot in the rotation, and is a strange piece to move with Luis Severino on the injured list until mid-September. He is 3-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 21 starts this year. The Yankees did add Montas and Trivino, who have been languishing in Oakland. Montas was 4-9 in 19 starts despite a 3.18 ERA with the abysmal A’s.
The argument could be made that GM Brian Cashman is positioning the club to win in October, not August and September. It’s a bold strategy, though, as their 11-game lead in the AL East is likely safe, but they only lead the Astros by three for the top seed in the AL. Montas is used to playing in front of a disinterested average crowd of about 17,000 (third worst in baseball) in Oakland. It will be interesting to see how he responds to a raucous Yankee Stadium in the middle of a pennant race.
Astros bring in C Christian Vasquez (Red Sox), OF/1B Trey Mancini (Orioles), and RP Will Smith (Braves)
The Vasquez trade was one of the strangest of all. He isn’t an All-Star, but is a solid defensive catcher with an above-average bat for the position, hitting .278 with eight homers and 42 RBI on the season. His eight years of major league experience would clearly be valuable to a team like the Red Sox that are only two games out of the wild card as of press time. Instead Vasquez brings that value to Houston as they attempt to chase down the Yankees.
Mancini is of a similar ilk to Vasquez. He isn’t a massive splash in the trade market, but should be a solid role player/ depth piece playing first base or a corner outfield spot. He adds a little power from the right side of the plate (.267 average and 11 homers on the year), and likely some hunger for a postseason run after six frustrating seasons in Baltimore.
Smith adds another left-handed arm to the bullpen, coming from Atlanta in exchange for Jake Odorizzi.
Braves add RP Raisel Iglesias (Angels), OF Robbie Grossman (Tigers), SP Jake Odorizzi (Astros)
Speaking of Odorizzi, he at the very least adds some depth to an already solid rotation in Atlanta. He could supplant Ian Anderson as their fifth starter over the last two months.
Iglesias and Grossman are both somewhat lottery tickets for the Braves– low risk, high reward. Iglesias hasn’t been quite as effective during a dream season gone bad in Los Angeles. The gas-throwing righty has recorded an ERA under 3.00 five times in his career, though, and will have less asked of him in Atlanta. He figures to be the Braves’ top set-up man with Kenley Jansen firmly entrenched at his previous role of closer.
Grossman has not played well this year in Detroit, but if anyone deserves some credit for finding outfielders, it’s GM Alex Anthopoulos after his outstanding 2021 trade deadline. The Braves hope Grossman is rejuvenated by a return to a contending team and continues his penchant for drawing walks, which would make him a serviceable replacment for the injured Adam Duvall.
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