2022 MLB trade deadline grades: Breaking down the Juan Soto deal, a perplexing Yankees decision and more
The MLB trade deadline has come and gone. Led by Juan Soto, a barrage of stars changed places, while several eyebrow-raising names stayed put. Now it's time to sift through the rearranged teams as the dust settles and see who came out ahead.
For each major deal, we broke down the pieces on the move and the logic behind the trades. As always, baseball is hard to predict, so what looks like a C+ trade now could easily turn into an A+ trade with a swing adjustment or a new pitch.
Padres acquire Juan Soto, Josh Bell from Nationals for 1B Luke Voit, pitcher MacKenzie Gore, SS C.J. Abrams, OF prospects Robert Hassell III and James Wood, pitching prospect Jarlin Susana
There’s a lot to unpack here — a lot of names, a lot of dollars, a lot of future years to consider — but then again, there’s also very little.
The San Diego Padres swapped a lot of uncertainty for one huge sure thing: They will have Juan Soto for three full-fledged runs at the city’s first World Series, and can pop him into a stunningly fun lineup alongside Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. Over 2 1/2 years, they will have exclusive negotiating rights to try to keep him in San Diego and emblazon their logo on his eventual Hall of Fame plaque, if things keep rolling. In the world of what we actually know today, the only logical accounting of this deal is that A.J. Preller and the title-hungry Padres took advantage of a compromised Washington Nationals organization worried more about its sale price than the product on the field.
The deal wasn't without drama. First baseman Eric Hosmer was originally part of the transaction, but vetoed his inclusion through his no-trade clause. He was eventually shipped to Boston while Luke Voit was added to the Nationals' haul.
From the moment Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo put Juan Soto on the market, he was signing up to lose a significant trade. From the moment he and the Lerner family ownership group drew a red line at paying Soto — a 23-year-old megastar who could be the best hitter in baseball in a decade — less than $30 million a year, they were choosing the whims of a roulette wheel over the best chips in the house. They are doing that because of money, because of that uncertain ownership situation, because of whatever, but the outcome is the same: They are giving up at least 2 1/2 years of a generational talent, and any opportunity to bask in the untold glories of all the years after that.
So keep that in mind. We also must wade into the details. Technically, the Nationals did this for a package of young players who could help them contend again in a few years.
Abrams and Gore have already reached the majors, with varying results. Abrams can make contact, but lacks strong pitch selection and power. He’s extremely fast, and figures to tally plenty of stolen bases, but his defense is questionable at shortstop, and he may wind up moving to a less valuable outfield spot.
Gore, a lefty starter who uses a very high leg kick, was an elite prospect a few years ago before losing his control, but he has rebounded and looked strong this season in his first MLB exposure. There’s a chance he’s a top-of-the-rotation starter, but also significant risk that he winds up something less exciting, like a relief ace or an oft-injured back-end rotation piece. Oh, and he’s only six months younger than Soto.
The most certain MLB contributor in this deal might be Hassell. He’s only 20 and playing in High-A, but scouts are certain he can hit. Meanwhile, the moonshot prospect is the 6-foot-7 Wood. He’s even younger — still 19 — but has wowed scouts in his first taste of professional ball. In 50 games of A-ball this year, he has 10 homers and 15 steals with a .337 batting average. He's also several years from helping Washington. Susana is a similarly far away prospect who packs promise but little pro experience.
If there’s any credit to be given to the Nationals, it should be for taking on Gore and Abrams, who could provide immediate excitement, and for not diminishing their return by including Patrick Corbin’s contract.
Still, as we’ve learned from deals like the one that sent Miguel Cabrera to Detroit, or the two that landed Mike Piazza in New York, it’s incredibly difficult to match the value of a star as good as Soto. Young baseball players don’t develop exactly as you expect, or as you hope. ZiPS, a projection system at FanGraphs, forecasts that Soto will be worth 18.3 WAR over the next 2 1/2 years. For any individual player headed back to the Nationals, it would be an incredible outcome if they were that good over six or seven years — roughly the career of Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who has made two All-Star teams and won a batting title.
Giving up on a Soto extension this early facilitated a greater prospect return than they otherwise would have managed, sure, but it also preemptively snuffed out any chance of keeping the most promising player the franchise has ever known. That’s all before you consider that the Nationals, for the second straight year, tossed in their second-best trade chip alongside their best one without gaining any clear benefit from it. Bell is a switch-hitting first baseman walloping the baseball this year — to the tune of a .301/.384/.493 line that is almost as good as Soto’s. He’s under contract only for the rest of the year, but plenty of teams could have used his bat.
This entire deal smacks of convenient ledger manipulation for an ownership group about to cash out. Under the cover of a 2019 title and Soto rejecting a non-serious extension offer, they will market the franchise to prospective buyers as one with fewer financial obligations and one huge PR landmine absorbed. For that audience of one, maybe it’s a winning deal to have a bad team and no Juan Soto, since it won’t be their fault.
For the audience of many Nationals fans, it won’t ever be a winning deal. I don’t know if generations of them will rue the day they made this trade. There are too many factors involved in the burgeoning legend of a 23-year-old’s career, much less in the amoeba stages of a 19-year-old’s. If they don’t regret it, it will be by virtue of cosmic accident, not intelligent design.
Cardinals acquire starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery from Yankees for center fielder Harrison Bader and a player to be named
Well, let’s start with the part that makes sense: The Cardinals needed more reliable starting pitching, and Montgomery is a very reliable starter. Combined with Jose Quintana, acquired Monday, the Cardinals lengthened their list of starters in typical Cardinals fashion, focusing on low-key veterans. You could argue, given the strength of their position player prospect group, they would have been better off swinging bigger for a frontline starter, but Montgomery nonetheless gives them a rotation that better suits a playoff contender.
Bader is a great defender, but the Cardinals have a boatload of capable outfielders, including Dylan Carlson. Carlson, who has a brighter outlook long-term with the bat, will probably continue playing center field every day as he has since Bader went down with a foot injury.
On the Yankees side, I will profess to complete confusion. Consummated in the minutes before the deadline, the deal originally looked like a warning shot, a signal that the Yankees were about to upgrade their starting rotation again, perhaps with the Marlins’ Pablo Lopez. Instead, this deal stood alone, and one of their rotation stalwarts left the Bronx.
When they traded for A’s starter Frankie Montas on Monday, one of the biggest pitching prizes of the deadline, it seemed clear that GM Brian Cashman and the front office were padding the pitching staff to withstand attrition. Luis Severino is currently hurt, and the team is relying on Domingo German. Nestor Cortes has never pitched this much in a major-league season. Jameson Taillon is not without injury concerns. Adding Montas and turning Severino’s eventual return into a luxury instead of a necessity made a ton of sense. Simply swapping Montas in for Montgomery represents an upgrade, sure, but not a dramatic one.
Bader is currently out with a foot injury and may not factor into the Yankees’ plans until the playoffs, if at all. That contingency is clear from the player to be named included in the deal. So, the Yankees gave up a significant cog in their pitching machine for a chance that Bader might step in and play strong center field defense in October, allowing Aaron Judge to remain in right field. I know I would have rather had the pitching insurance.
Phillies acquire starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard from Angels for outfielder Mickey Moniak and outfield prospect Jadiel Sanchez
Phillies acquire outfielder Brandon Marsh from Angels for catcher prospect Logan O’Hoppe
We’re going to lump these two trades together, as they sort of work in concert. At least for the Phillies.
Having surged back into the wild-card picture since firing manager Joe Girardi, the Phillies had a few major holes, with center field being perhaps the most glaring. Moniak, their No. 1 overall draft pick, has established he is not the answer, or at least won’t be any time soon. His career major-league batting line, in admittedly limited playing time, is a horrendous .129/.214/.172. Maybe someone, like the Angels, could take the time to turn Moniak into a more fully baked product.
The Phillies didn’t have the luxury of time. They need someone who can capably man center field right now, and Marsh can do that. It’s a creative solution from the Phillies' front office. Marsh is a young player only 163 games into his MLB career — it’s surprising the Angels moved him — who will be more valuable playing center than he was flanking Mike Trout. He strikes out way too much, but packs enough punch (eight homers so far this year), to plug into a lineup every day if he’s playing good defense.
O’Hoppe, a good catcher prospect, may help the Angels soon, but he’s not a superstar talent and the Phillies are set at catcher with J.T. Realmuto.
Finally, there’s Syndergaard. The longtime Mets star will return to the NL East fracas after a post-injury sojourn in Anaheim. He doesn’t have the strikeout stuff of his earlier days — his fastball runs about 94 mph and his once-daunting slider is neutered at 84 mph — but he’s using his sinker and changeup to miss barrels and post some solid results. If I were the Phillies, I’d be worried that his 3.83 ERA won’t hold up amid regression and less pitcher-friendly confines. Then again, they didn’t give up much to get him, so it’s a chance worth taking.
Phillies acquire relief pitcher David Robertson from Cubs for pitching prospect Ben Brown
A longtime Yankees closer has found a second wind with the Chicago Cubs this year at age 37. It’s a vintage performance — plenty of strikeouts with the ball staying in the yard thanks mostly to a cutter that still sits 93 mph.
For the rest of the season, Robinson is as good a bet as any to provide effective innings late in the game. His fairly steady track record, when healthy, should provide some reassurance to a Phillies team that seems to keep stumbling into the worst years of every relief pitcher’s life.
Brown, the prospect heading back to Chicago, has shown potential, but he’s a 22-year-old in High-A who stands a clear cut (or two) below the cream of the Phillies’ pitching crop. Grabbing some quick relief help without really changing the face of the farm system is an easy yes for GM Dave Dombrowski and company. The question is whether this — in conjunction with a swap for Angels center fielder Brandon Marsh — moves the needle for a team on the playoff bubble.
The Cubs are probably just as pleased to have netted anything from signing an aging Robertson to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. If Brown can sustain anything like the blistering strikeout rate he has shown this year, he’s a good arm for the future.
Twins acquire relief pitcher Michael Fulmer from Tigers for RHP Sawyer Gipson-Long
Let's start with the last move in a series. The Minnesota Twins completed their pitching staff renovation by plucking Fulmer from the division rival Detroit Tigers. The former AL Rookie of the Year has found a nice second act as a reliever, leaning heavily on a dominant slider.
Unlike Tyler Mahle and Jorge Lopez, Fulmer is a rental set to hit free agency after the season. As a result, the price was much lower. Gipson-Long is a strike-throwing starter, but he’s pitching in the lower levels without many hints of huge stuff. The Twins got much-needed help without giving up a player they’ll lose too much sleep over.
The rental aspect was a reality for the Tigers, but it feels like they might have found a taker who could've provided a higher upside prospect.
Twins acquire starting pitcher Tyler Mahle from Reds for INF prospects Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, pitching prospect Steve Hajjar
The Twins scooped up Mahle, a starter from the Cincinnati Reds who was the best pitcher left on the “definitely moving” pile heading into deadline day. He’s not going to factor into the Cy Young conversations, but Mahle has shown consistent strikeout abilities, even when the top-line numbers have sometimes wavered.
This year represents one of those unstable periods, with a 4.40 ERA that is only slightly better than league average, but underlying numbers suggest he’s pitching just as well as he did the last two years, when ran a 3.72 ERA that was 27% better than league average. Getting him to a more friendly ballpark in Minnesota, in front of a better defense, might snap Mahle into a pretty good No. 3 starter package, or slightly better. The other perk to Mahle is that he won’t become a free agent until after 2023, a quality the Twins favor even though it may not really get their middling rotation over the hump in either season.
Because he was in demand after Luis Castillo and Frankie Montas moved, the Twins paid a pretty hefty price for that possibility. Likely a first baseman, Encarnacion-Strand has been extremely impressive this year, rocketing into Double-A on the strength of serious power and improving strikeout rates and changing scouts’ minds about his potential. Steer could be a top 100 prospect in the game going into 2023.
The Reds have to be happy with how they played their cards — extracting huge returns for their two top pitchers over the past week. It’s a stark difference from the offseason sell-off that left many scratching their heads.
Twins acquire closer Jorge Lopez from Orioles for Yennier Cano, 3 pitching prospects including Cade Povich
The Orioles, who have surged into the wild-card race after years of ineptitude, traded their closer. Jorge Lopez is a 29-year-old reclamation project made good, a failed starter who found success in a sinker this season and will now go try to help shore up the Twins bullpen. He’s struggled a bit this month, but he’s a worthwhile addition for Minnesota. A Lopez-Fulmer-Jhoan Duran back end is certainly better than what they started the week with.
Much of the conversation around this deal is about whether the Orioles front office has betrayed its team and its fans by moving Lopez when they are just 2 1/2 games from a wild-card spot.
In a more perfect world, yeah, the Orioles probably forgo some of the marginal gains from trading Lopez and, more prominently, longtime fan favorite Trey Mancini. They rally around the young team making strides and they ride out 2022 for what it is, a surprisingly fun season that probably won’t end in a playoff appearance, but maybe!
What GM Mike Elias has done is stay the course, a less feel-good tactic that we all should have seen coming given his Astros background. While the Mancini deal felt particularly tough on the clubhouse and a player who has given his all to Baltimore for many years, I can’t fault the Orioles as much for striking while the iron is hot on a relief pitcher like Lopez.
Relievers are, almost uniformly, here today and gone tomorrow. Yes, Lopez could be under team control for several more years, but it’s hard to be confident he will be good next month, much less in 2024. He hasn’t been the Orioles best reliever over the LAST two months — that would be either Cionel Perez or Felix Bautista.
In the grand scheme of building a fun, winning baseball team, I see a strong case for letting Mancini ride out a thrilling year. But trading Lopez probably won’t hurt this year’s team much, and taking some bets on young players could help the Orioles when they’re truly ready to win.
As for those young players: Cano is a 28-year-old who throws hard from a low arm slot. He hasn’t been able to command his pitches in a brief taste of the big leagues, but put up good numbers at Triple-A. Povich is likely the real prize in the deal, a 22-year-old left-handed starter who has achieved a velocity uptick since being drafted last June. The other two arms have yet to pitch in real affiliated games, so you can view them as lottery tickets.
Astros acquire catcher Christian Vázquez from Red Sox for 2 minor leaguers
Houston had a bit of a conundrum with its catcher position. The Astros deeply value Martin Maldonado’s defensive capabilities and leadership position within the team. They clearly don’t want to totally displace him. But they have been getting abysmal offense from their backstops — like MLB-worst offense.
Vázquez, who has been better than average with the bat, solves that without demanding everyday at-bats in a DH slot already occupied in Houston. He’s also a better defender than Cubs star Willson Contreras. Because he’s set to become a free agent after the season, Vázquez only cost Houston a couple mid-level hitters with limited upside — infielder Enmanuel Valdez and outfielder Wilyer Abreu. Valdez may be more interesting of the two, as he has continuously torched minor-league pitching despite lacking a clear defensive home.
In selling Vázquez months before he was due to hit the market, the Red Sox are trying to thread a needle between their fading position in the standings, their still real chances at making October, and the opportunity to snag a few young players from a catcher-needy contender. Was it worth disrupting the pitching staff and severing the relationship with a player who had been in the organization since 2008 for a couple lotto tickets? Well, maybe only in theory. We’ll see if the prospects can change people’s minds.
Red Sox: C-
Yankees acquire starting pitcher Frankie Montas, relief pitcher Lou Trivino for 4 prospects, including pitcher Ken Waldichuk
There were only a couple true top-of-the-rotation starters on the market this summer, and the Yankees wanted one to add to their already strong rotation. In Frankie Montas, they got one.
The erstwhile A’s right-hander has been the spitting image of a No. 2 starter the past two seasons, flinging splitters and two different hard fastballs. It’s a smart upgrade for a Yankees teams with ambitions to beat the stacked Houston Astros and reach the World Series again.
It looked like good injury insurance on Luis Severino, who is out until at least mid-September, until the Yankees turned around and dealt Montgomery.
It seems like the Yankees originally wanted Luis Castillo before pivoting to Montas, but they weren’t willing to beat Seattle’s eventual winning offer, which included elite shortstop prospect Noelvi Marte. The price for Montas was also steep, and clearly pinned to the Castillo return, but it did not involve prized Yankees middle infield prospects Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza. Instead, Ken Waldichuk will be the crown jewel of this deal for Oakland. The Yankees’ best pitching prospect, he has taken huge leaps forward over the past two years and tallied strikeouts at breathtaking rates. He’ll probably be ready to contribute next year, but there remains some risk that he might not have the control or arsenal to go through a major-league lineup as much as you’d like for a real starter. He will be joined by pitching prospects JP Sears and Luis Medina and second base prospect Cooper Bowman.
For the A’s, Montas was one of the last surefire pieces to be sold who could help restock their farm and it seems they landed some players with very high potential, if also a good deal of pitcher-related risk.
Yankees: B+ in a vacuum, C+ after the Montgomery deal
Astros acquire first baseman Trey Mancini, prospect in 3-team deal that sends OF Jose Siri to Rays, pitching prospects to Orioles
Trey Mancini, the Orioles mainstay, will spend the final few months of his contract with the Astros. A hitter who can reach his power without striking out too much, he’s a great fit for Houston. He’ll also likely get a power boost from Minute Maid Park.
The Astros sent tantalizing but unpolished outfielder Jose Siri to the Tampa Bay Rays as part of the three-team deal. He seems to have too much swing and miss in his game to be relied upon, but the Rays nonetheless plan to give him a shot in center field for now. A spectacular athlete, he does play solid defense and hit the ball very hard when he connects. Tampa will undoubtedly test out some adjustments to see if they can cut down his strikeouts. Tampa is currently holding a playoff spot and needs position player backup amid a rash of injuries. Constantly juggling a 40-man roster crunch, the arms they gave up to take a flier on Siri look pretty appealing, but it is the sort of position the Rays put themselves in by constantly developing excess talent.
The Orioles grab one pitching prospect from each other team involved — the headliner being Seth Johnson from the Rays. He’s about to have Tommy John surgery and could miss all of next season, but his progress over the past two years hints at a mid-rotation starter who could help the Orioles in their contention window. It must be said that moving Mancini — a team leader and fan favorite who overcame cancer — is not really in line with the positive momentum on the field in Baltimore these days. The morale effects are always going to be much tougher to gauge than the prospect values, but in this case they at least sent Mancini to a playoff team where he might launch the next phase of his career.
Padres acquire relief pitcher Josh Hader from Brewers for relief pitcher Taylor Rogers, outfielder Esteury Ruiz, pitcher Dinelson Lamet and pitching prospect Robert Gasser
OK then! The NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers have shipped off their closer to San Diego. Weird, huh? Only a little bit.
Hader is undoubtedly one of the game’s best closers. He throws 97 from the left side and pairs it with a diabolical slider. He routinely ranks among baseball’s best strikeout pitchers. He also may not have been the best reliever on the Brewers. His 4.24 ERA this year is a product of a little bit of rough luck and a little bit of inconvenient truth: When hitters DO hit the ball against him, it goes a long way. He is prone to allowing homers, 1.85 per nine innings this year.
Setup man Devin Williams — who announced his dominance by winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2020 — will likely assume closer duties for Milwaukee. He’s running a 1.59 ERA this season, somehow in line with his 1.72 overall ERA since the start of 2020. Thanks to a mind-blowing changeup known as the “Airbender,” Williams isn’t prone to those homer problems. In fact, he hasn’t allowed one all year. So in moving Hader and getting back Rogers, the Brewers aren’t likely to suffer much drop-off in their bullpen.
What they add is more talent in the prospect ranks, and likely on the immediate major-league roster. Esteury Ruiz, 14 games into his MLB career, could play a role in their outfield right away. He’s a serious on-base machine who can run — he stole 23 bases in 28 games in Triple-A before his promotion — but may not hit for much power. Lamet, who has been frequently injured, could also factor into their playoff race if he gets right.
Now, all of that doesn’t change the fact that the Padres will be thrilled to have Hader. If he pitches to career norms, he gives them a lockdown closer for two playoff hunts and secures a spot that San Diego had waffled on. Rogers, acquired just this past offseason, logged 28 saves with a 4.35 ERA in San Diego and Statcast metrics largely backup up the thought that he was being hit a bit too hard for comfort.
In the end the deal is about surplus and need. The Brewers had a surplus of relief pitching, so they moved their biggest, flashiest name to a team with some surplus young talent and an uncertain closer situation. It's not the first time these two teams have made what amounts to a challenge trade — the deal that sent Trent Grisham to the Padres and Luis Urias and Eric Lauer to the Brewers is still playing out.
Mariners acquire starting pitcher Luis Castillo from Reds for 4 prospects, including SS Noelvi Marte
The first big deal of the season saw Castillo, perhaps the most impactful pitcher available, head to Seattle. He’ll slot in atop the Mariners' rotation and try to pitch them into their first playoff appearance since 2001. It’s an all-in move from famously active Mariners executive Jerry Dipoto, but it could still pay off in 2023, as Castillo will remain under team control for one more season as the Mariners’ young core matures. Getting the best pitcher on the market is certainly a win, but it’s worth noting that the rotation — already fortified by an offseason signing of Robbie Ray — wasn’t Seattle’s greatest area of need. And it came at a significant cost.
As the Reds continue a (fairly cynical, seemingly hair-trigger) rebuild, this will go down as by far the biggest move to date. In return for Castillo, the Reds landed a premium prospect in shortstop Noelvi Marte, another young shortstop who may now be a top-100 talent in Edwin Arroyo and two pitchers — Levi Stoudt and Andrew Moore — who their solid pitching development team can work with. Marte is the prize here, ranked as the No. 11 prospect right now by FanGraphs and No. 12 by Keith Law. He’s only 20 years old and looks like a solid infielder with a robust body who will hit for average and power, a star in the making even if he eventually moves to third base. Prospects as acclaimed as Marte don’t move very often these days. Extracting him for a very good but not Cy Young-winning pitcher is a win for the Reds.
Yankees acquire OF Andrew Benintendi from Royals for 3 prospects
Sometimes pivots are very obvious. In this case, the Yankees are admitting defeat on their Joey Gallo acquisition and leaning into an outfielder who takes a diametrically opposed approach. Benintendi, the former Red Sox mainstay, makes consistent contact, hits doubles and plays solid defense. The Yankees will pop him into the top of the lineup and move on after dealing Gallo to the Dodgers on Tuesday.
The issue with Benintendi is his refusal, thus far, to get vaccinated against COVID-19. If and when the Yankees play key games against the Toronto Blue Jays in Canada, Benintendi won’t be allowed to go unless he changes his mind on getting vaccinated.
In return, the Royals snagged three pitching prospects: Beck Way, T.J. Sikkema and Chandler Champlain. If you’re going to take on any organization’s young pitchers, the Yankees are one of the best choices. The Royals gave up very little to get Benintendi a few years ago, so while FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen says none of these pitchers projects as more than a No. 4 starter (Sikkema), the Royals did well in the exchange.
It remains to be seen whether Kansas City’s player development team can help them keep progressing. The Royals' recent track record does not inspire confidence.
Mets acquire DH Daniel Vogelbach from Pirates for relief pitcher Colin Holderman
The Mets needed another home run threat to add to Pete Alonso, preferably a left-handed one. Vogelbach checks those boxes, and gets on base to boot. New York’s lineup has plenty of contact ability, so Vogelbach’s three-true-outcomes approach isn’t a problem here. He probably shouldn’t be their only lineup upgrade, but he’s a good start.
Holderman emerged quickly as a quality bullpen arm capable of working more than one inning. It’s possible the Pirates see some greater potential as either a back-end reliever or as someone who is a tweak or two away from starting.