For the intrepid general manager, winning the MLB trade deadline is a relatively straightforward proposition. There are exceptions, but generally aggressiveness is hailed, while passivity is panned.
Once the deadline passes however, the real consequences of moves begin to be felt. And while the overall ramifications of a given trade can take a long time to come into focus, for contending clubs the short-term judgment isn’t hard to pin down. The question is simply whether or not the players you acquired help you to get into the playoffs.
The San Diego Padres won this year’s trade deadline by near-universal agreement. They added a generational talent in Juan Soto, bolstered their lineup with a pair of big bats in Josh Bell and Brandon Drury, and seemingly plugged a major hole in the back of the bullpen by landing one of the game’s premier closers in Josh Hader.
The most important word in that previous paragraph is “seemingly” because the pitcher the Padres acquired from Milwaukee looks very much like Hader in appearance, but his performance has been unrecognizable from the reliever who had dominated the National League for 5½ years prior to the trade.
Over his first seven outings for the Padres, Hader gave up 12 runs in 4⅔ innings, or four more than he gave up all of last season. Even after Hader’s first Padres save Wednesday night, it’s translated to a 19.06 ERA and a general feeling of horror whenever he has emerged from the bullpen.
Add to that so-so performances from Drury and Bell and the Padres’ massive deadline haul suddenly doesn’t look so triumphant. There is still time for all of these players, including Hader, to turn things around, but the thing about these moves for contenders, there isn’t any time to waste.
The Padres’ chances of getting into the postseason bracket have dropped by about 10% since the deadline, and instead of gearing up to challenge the mighty Dodgers in October, San Diego has to be more concerned with fending off Milwaukee for the sixth playoff slot in the National League.
These deadline stories remain a work in progress, but a month after the last major deals of the season, it’s a good time to check in with how they are working out.
To do that, I calculated a version of my AXE rating for every player acquired via trade by a contending team during this year’s trading period.
This version of AXE is based on comparing the numbers produced by players for their new clubs to the performance of all other players who have changed teams during the season. A bit more emphasis on contextual results (win probability added and championship probability added) has been introduced for this purpose, and only players on contending teams have been listed. Some players with little to no impact have been filtered out.
Jackpot! Acquisitions that have been huge wins
Jordan Montgomery, St. Louis Cardinals (127.2 AXE): This has nothing to do with Montgomery’s AXE score, but it is illustrative: Montgomery has won more games during his first month with the Cardinals than he did during the first four months of the season with the Yankees. St. Louis has him throwing more four-seamers and attacking the upper part of the zone and the end result has been transformative.
Luis Castillo, Seattle Mariners (120.1): Castillo has posted nearly identical ERA and WHIP figures for Seattle as he did for Cincinnati, and that’s a very good thing. Under the hood, he has been even a little more dominant, with an uptick in strikeouts to go with a downtick in walks.
Juan Soto, San Diego Padres (118.4): Soto still hasn’t returned to the MVP-level performance we’ve come to expect from him, but comparing him to himself is a high bar. Since joining San Diego, Soto has put up a .413 on-base percentage. The Padres haven’t been able to catch fire, but it’s not Soto’s fault.
Acquisitions that have helped … a lot
Reese McGuire, Boston Red Sox (113.4): The Red Sox have slipped out of the playoff race but if that wasn’t the case, the acquisition of McGuire would be getting more attention. McGuire has hit .370/.386/.463 since arriving from the White Sox. It’s not the kind of performance that can be sustained, especially for McGuire, but it’s this kind of lightning-in-the-bottle outburst contending general managers are looking for at deadline time.
David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies (111.6): The back of the Phillies’ bullpen has been battered by injuries so just imagine how dire this group might look if not for Robertson. Robertson, whose first stint with the Phillies was wrecked by injury, has allowed just two runs over his first 11 outings.
Chris Martin, Los Angeles Dodgers (111.4): Four runs, 12 ⅓ innings, 15 strikeouts, zero walks. Of course Martin has gotten rolling since coming to the Dodgers. He hasn’t been used in that many high-leverage spots yet but he’s certainly positioned himself to take on a more important role. Indeed, he picked up his first save as a Dodger in an extra-inning win over Miami on Monday.
Noah Syndergaard, Philadelphia Phillies (109.9): Syndergaard has been even less Thor-like for the Phillies than he was with the Angels. But even without the huge strikeout numbers he used to compile, Syndergaard has raised the floor of the Phillies’ rotation, something sorely needed in the wake of Zack Wheeler‘s injury.
Andrew Benintendi, New York Yankees (109.1): Benintendi’s batting average has unsurprisingly regressed since his trade from Kansas City, but he has helped stabilize the Yankees’ outfield with his all-around play. He has been particularly sharp when slotted in as Aaron Boone’s leadoff hitter, posting a .314/.359/.486 in nine starts in that role.
Raisel Iglesias, Atlanta Braves (109.0): Iglesias has been lights-out since coming to Atlanta, allowing just one run over his first 10⅔ innings for the Braves. He has transitioned nicely into a setup role in front of Kenley Jansen while remaining capable of closing out a game if Jansen falters or needs a day off.
Others: Anthony Bass, Toronto Blue Jays (107.5); Scott Effross, New York Yankees (107.0); Tyler Mahle, Minnesota Twins (106.7); Daniel Vogelbach, New York Mets (106.4); J.D. Davis, San Francisco Giants (106.1); Tommy Pham, Boston Red Sox (106.1); Lou Trivino, New York Yankees (105.7); Carlos Santana, Seattle Mariners (105.7); Jose Siri, Tampa Bay Rays (105.4)
Acquisitions that have helped … a little
Joey Gallo, Los Angeles Dodgers (103.6): Talk of the Dodgers “fixing” Gallo are probably premature. He has hit better in L.A. than he did for the Yankees, but that bar was really low. He has had some nice moments though while showing good patience and playing well in the field.
Christian Bethancourt, Tampa Bay Rays (103.8): Bethancourt hasn’t hit well but his early defensive numbers for the Rays are strong. And when we’re talking defense, we’re also talking about the 0.1 bWAR he has posted as a mop-up pitcher with a mid-90s fastball. He has chipped in with two scoreless frames in that role.
Jorge Lopez, Minnesota Twins (102.6): Lopez had a couple of rough outings initially, but has settled in to become the bullpen complement to Jhoan Duran the Twins sorely needed. Overall, Lopez’s FIP for Minnesota (2.85) is better than it was in Baltimore (3.00).
Trey Mancini, Houston Astros (101.5): Mancini’s swing has proved to be conducive to aiming at the Crawford Boxes, as expected, but virtually all of the value he has produced for Houston has come via his six post-trade homers. Overall, he has hit just .208 with a .253 OBP for the Astros.
Others: Edmundo Sosa, Philadelphia Phillies (104.2); Christian Vazquez, Houston Astros (103.8); David Peralta, Tampa Bay Rays (103.4); Michael Fulmer, Minnesota Twins (103.0); Robbie Grossman, Atlanta Braves (102.2); Will Smith, Houston Astros (100.4)
Acquisitions that haven’t helped … at all
Taylor Rogers, Milwaukee Brewers (99.5): Rogers has been so-so for the Brewers, transitioning to a setup role in back of new Milwaukee closer Devin Williams. His 3.97 ERA speaks to a continuation of the struggles he had during the latter part of his time in San Diego, but most of the damage against Rogers came in one bad outing. If he can avoid the clunkers, perhaps Rogers can entice Craig Counsell to give him more save opportunities to save wear and tear on Williams. There ought to be plenty to go around, as the Brewers play a ton of close games.
Brandon Drury and Josh Bell, San Diego Padres (95.1 and 93.9): Drury hit a grand slam in his first game for the Padres but since that contest has hit .198/.229/.330. Meanwhile, Bell started off ice cold in San Diego but has been picking up the pace over the past eight or nine games. With the Padres no longer able to hope for a late-season lightning strike in the form of Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego badly needs this duo to start producing at the same time.
Jake Diekman, Chicago White Sox (94.5): Diekman has pitched poorly for Chicago, a disappointment considering he was the White Sox’s lone deadline pickup. That’s made worse by the fact that he was traded for McGuire, who has hit so well for the Red Sox.
Whit Merrifield, Toronto Blue Jays (92.9): While the initial concern over Merrifield’s acquisition by a Canada-based team centered around his vaccination status, the focus should probably have been on the fact that he’s just not had a very good season. His 82 OPS+ for Kansas City was way under his career mark of 106 entering the season. So far for Toronto, it has been 56.
Others: Brandon Marsh, Philadelphia Phillies (99.7); Mitch White, Toronto Blue Jays (99.6); Chris Stratton, St. Louis Cardinals (99.0); Jake Odorizzi, Atlanta Braves (97.7); Darin Ruf, New York Mets (96.7); Eric Hosmer, Boston Red Sox (96.2); Sandy Leon, Minnesota Twins (92.8); Matt Bush, Milwaukee Brewers (92.2)
Ouch! Acquisitions that have been worst-case scenarios
Mychal Givens, New York Mets (90.0): The Mets need pitchers to step up in the bridge innings, getting the ball from the starters to lights-out closer Edwin Diaz. Givens seemed capable of helping in that role when he was brought in from the Cubs, but has given up 12 runs (11 earned) over his first 13 appearances for New York.
Frankie Montas, New York Yankees (87.4): There’s still plenty of time for this deal to work out, but right now, the Montas trade looks like a disaster. He’s 0-2 with a 7.01 ERA over his first five starts for the Yankees, but that’s only part of it. The second item against the deal is Montgomery’s star turn for the Cardinals. Would they have traded Monty if they’d known this is what they’d get from Montas? Also, part of the package going to Oakland for Montas was young righty JP Sears, who has a 2.53 ERA over four starts for the A’s, the last of which was a quality start against New York. Again, Montas was a highly sought-after player at the deadline for a reason and he could turn things around at any moment. But right now, the best part of this deal for the Yankees is that reliever Lou Trivino, who has been solid, was part of their return.
Josh Hader, San Diego Padres (78.5): Well, no need to pile on a player who has to be questioning himself. For Hader, these haven’t been questions of velocity or spin decline, but problems with location and movement. Hopefully it really is just some mixed-up mechanics as has been reported, but it is really hard to watch right now. Hader vacillates between not being able to find the strike zone or throwing them right down Main Street. The Padres better hope Hader doesn’t need an offseason to get all this straightened out.