MLB trade deadline winners and losers: Juan Soto, the Astros, and the playoff race that just got more fun

Whatever you like in a baseball transaction, this MLB trade deadline probably had you covered. Unprecedented megadeal for an established superstar who can’t rent a car? Check. Straight-up challenge trade between two teams who know what they’re doing? Check! A no-trade clause redirect that spawns obvious ripple effects for multiple players? Also check. And trades that make you say “huh?” Mark, that as a check.

A slow-building trade season exploded into fireworks Tuesday when the San Diego Padres unloaded their farm system to acquire 2 1/2 years of Juan Soto and one stretch run of Josh Bell in a historic blockbuster. With quality pitchers like Luis Castillo and Frankie Montas also on the move, the deadline reshaped some of the 2022 season’s running storylines and reinforced others. It produced winners, and it produced losers. Here are a few of those, as we see them now.

Winner: Juan Soto

A bit lost in the shuffle of the implications for the Padres and Nationals was the upshot of the trade for Soto himself. The past few weeks seem to have been understandably tough on a player who didn’t ask to be traded, to be uprooted from the organization he has called home since his teenage years. The next few days and weeks might be tough on a personal level, too — no one likes moving. But the next 2 1/2 years probably got considerably brighter when Washington decided to accept San Diego’s offer.

Soto will no longer wonder whether the team surrounding him is in it to win it. He will not wonder if the front office is willing to dish out monster extensions. He likely won’t have to worry about whether he will get a chance to play in October. He’s now back in the somewhat familiar position — remember how the 2019 Nationals looked?! — of being a bright star in a jaw-dropping constellation of bright stars. He’ll take the field alongside Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., behind Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove and others.

It’s possible his long-term future will remain unresolved until the winter after 2024, but it won’t be front and center like it has been on a moribund Nationals team. No, until then, he’ll have the best possible distraction: Winning baseball games and chasing a World Series.

Also, I’ve heard the weather is nice in San Diego.

Wanna race? Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. is one of many stars who could factor into a tight NL playoff hunt. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Wanna race? Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. is one of many stars who could factor into a tight NL playoff hunt. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Winner: The NL playoff race

So, it’s not because of Soto, but the NL playoff races got some additional juice at the deadline. The Phillies plugged some glaring holes with reliever David Robertson, starter Noah Syndergaard and center fielder Brandon Marsh. The Cardinals added two reliable starting pitchers in Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana. The Giants declined to sell off Carlos Rodon. The Brewers moved on from Josh Hader to add a little intrigue to an otherwise similar looking roster.

And the Mets and Braves made some tweaks as they prepare to race for the NL East crown, with the Braves making more of a dent than the division-leading Mets.

All of it adds up to a race with more teams trying than there are spots, and more trailing teams with the goods to catch up, or at least threaten.

Loser: The AL playoff race

Pretty much the opposite happened in the American League. The leaders fortified their positions — most notably the Twins bolstering their weak pitching staff — while the potential challengers sat on their hands. The Cleveland Guardians did next to nothing while the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles sold a couple pieces.

What we have are three pretty distinct tiers:

Any of those three also-rans could leap up and get someone, perhaps a team struck by the injury bug. But none of them made much of an effort at upward mobility this week.

The most interesting race might be the Seattle Mariners against their own history. Trying to end a dreadful playoff drought, Seattle went out and got the best pitcher who moved in Castillo. They are in the second wild-card spot (out of three, remember) and should be more than equipped to hold onto it if the universe doesn’t intervene.

It could make for a dazzling set of playoff series, but right now the AL’s set of contenders look too rigidly defined for much in the way of thrilling September baseball.

Winner: Houston Astros

The Astros are playing for October, per usual. Dealing from an extreme position of strength, they managed to quietly address everything they needed to do without giving up much at all.

Incoming are Trey Mancini, the Orioles mainstay who fits their offensive philosophy and may have upside thanks to a more friendly park, and Christian Vazquez, a catcher from the Red Sox who has serious defensive bonafides to pair with Martin Maldonado’s. Also joining is Will Smith, the left-handed reliever from Atlanta, who they got by flipping Jake Odorizzi, a starting pitcher who already figured to be the odd man out as Lance McCullers Jr. prepares to return from injury.

Instead of a story about the Yankees playing at a record pace, the season has evolved into a march toward a Yankees-Astros showdown.

Both teams made smart moves to steel themselves for that clash, but the Astros covered their bases more seamlessly than a Yankees team that gave up starter Jordan Montgomery after adding Frankie Montas.

Loser: New York Mets

The Mets got Jacob deGrom back Tuesday night, which is absolutely a win (even if it was in a loss). The rest of their deadline left something to be desired. After a light show of an offseason, Billy Eppler didn’t really leverage owner Steve Cohen’s immense willingness to spend. He went for a bargain bin solution at DH, with a Daniel Vogelbach-Darin Ruf platoon, and didn’t get a big-league lefty reliever.

The elephant in the room for the Mets’ deadline was Willson Contreras, a catcher who could have dramatically improved their offense at the position or simply plied his trade at DH if James McCann returned from injury playing better, or if Tomas Nido was a better fit defensively. As it turns out, no one got Contreras from the Cubs, but it’s hard not to wonder whether the Mets should have tried harder to find an offer that changed their minds.

Winner: Joey Gallo

Last season’s most disastrous trade deadline acquisition was so bad that just getting out of New York was a victory.

The Yankees acquired Gallo last year and have since seen him hit .159/.291/.368 with 12 homers in 140 games. Gallo is maybe the most pure three true outcomes player in baseball, but that level of empty at-bats made him the prime target of ire for Yankees fans. The treatment left him calling his time in the Bronx “rock bottom.”

A Gallo trade was a foregone conclusion after the Yankees acquired left fielder Andrew Benintendi, and he found a favorable landing spot. The Los Angeles Dodgers are well-known for their ability to overhaul talented but flawed players, and Gallo certainly fits that bill.

The Dodgers believe in Gallo enough they traded away competent bench bat Jake Lamb to make room for him, and now we’ll see if Gallo can find any of the hot streaks that made him an All-Star in Texas.

Loser: Luke Voit

Being on the Padres sounds like a fun experience right now. Being on the Nationals sounds like the opposite.

Thanks to one Eric Hosmer, Luke Voit has gone from the former to the latter. Hosmer was reportedly part of the initial Soto trade, but understandably declined to waive his no-trade clause. Hosmer ultimately landed on the Boston Red Sox, but the Padres went and swapped out Hosmer for Voit in the trade.

Voit is now set to replace Josh Bell as the Nationals’ starting first baseman, which is a grim way to spend his last two months before free agency.

Winner: Cincinnati Reds

Trading away good players isn’t fun, but it can undoubtedly bear fruit. The Reds ripped off the Band-aid of the rebuild in painful fashion over the winter, but held on to Castillo and Tyler Mahle in the rotation. That turned out to be a prudent move from GM Nick Krall.

He wound up with two of the three best starters on the market, and got full value for them. The shiniest prize is Noelvi Marte, a shortstop who came over from the Mariners and is one of the 15 best prospects in baseball. That’s a hard type of talent to get (when you’re not trading Juan Soto), and he got it alongside several other promising youngsters.

Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras waved what he believed was goodbye to fans after a game at Wrigley Field. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras waved what he believed was goodbye to fans after a game at Wrigley Field. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) (Chicago Tribune via Getty Images)

Loser: Chicago Cubs

The Cubs … did not have a fruitful trade deadline. In a similar mid-rebuild stance, the Cubs somehow failed to find a package they liked for Contreras, their longtime catcher who will reach free agency at season’s end. The trade speculation was so fervent around him that Wrigley Field essentially bid him farewell last week. Turns out, he’ll be back!

At least for a couple months. After that, they may make him an offer to stay, but the intent of trading him was clearly there. It raises questions about how other teams view his defense, and about whether the Cubs missed an opportunity somewhere along the line.

At the bare minimum, they could still make him a qualifying offer and recoup a draft pick if he leaves, but even that may not be an appealing prospect if other teams don’t view him as a star catcher.

Loser: Colorado Rockies

Speaking of inactivity. Another year, another trade deadline goes by with the Rockies doing absolutely nothing.

Colorado was the only MLB club to not make a single trade at the deadline, which is perplexing given they very clearly should be selling at 46-58 in a stacked NL West. They extended closer Daniel Bard instead of dealing him, which you may have missed amid the Braves locking up actual superstar Austin Riley. The Rockies, as ever, were in their own world.

Then again, this is the team that gave the versatile Kris Bryant $182 million to be their everyday left fielder, so maybe we should stop being surprised.

Loser: The Lerner family

One MLB team entered the trade deadline with Juan Soto, a different team exited the trade deadline with Juan Soto. It is borderline impossible to call the former team anything but a loser, even more so when you look at the broader history.

The Lerner family, which has owned the Nationals since 2006, once employed Soto, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg all at the same time. Their collection of top-line talent was enviable across baseball.

Then Harper left, when the Lerners weren’t willing to meet his $330 million price. That was fine, they still had plenty of other All-Stars, as evidenced by their World Series title the following year. Then Rendon left the next season while the team held onto Strasburg. Then they cut bait on Turner and Scherzer, and now Soto.

The Nationals at least learned their lesson and extracted more value as the process of an outgoing star became more familiar, but it’s hard to deny that a hallmark of the Nationals under the Lerners, who are reportedly in the process of selling the team, will be great players leaving.

Maybe the prospects netted for Soto will turn out to be All-Stars, but there is no other kind thing to be said about the Nationals’ leadership at this point.