neil (Neil Paine, acting sports editor): One of the most hyped MLB trade deadlines in recent memory is in the rearview mirror, and now we get to sift through the fallout. To help with that, I’ve gathered Brian Menéndez and Robert O’Connell, two of our esteemed FiveThirtyEight baseball contributors — guys, welcome!
Brian (Brian Menéndez, FiveThirtyEight contributor): Happy to be a part of this!
Robert (Robert O’Connell, FiveThirtyEight contributor): Likewise!
neil: First things first, we obviously have to talk about the long-awaited Juan Soto Megadeal, which finally arrived Tuesday when the San Diego Padres sent a ton of talent to the Washington Nationals for Soto and Josh Bell. With that deal in the books, how much of a World Series threat are the Padres now that they have Soto and Bell (and Josh Hader and Brandon Drury, with Fernando Tatís Jr. returning from injury soon)?
Robert: I don’t have them as the class of the National League or anything, but they’ve moved from having a marginal shot to being in the mix, I think. The offense before was just so thin behind Manny Machado, and now that top of the order, at least, can hang with anyone’s.
(Just as an aside, that’s one of the amazing things about Machado’s year to this point. The Padres needed health and didn’t get it from their franchise player, and Machado has been great enough to keep them afloat until the deadline-day cavalry arrived.)
neil: Manny is criminally underrated in the MVP odds.
Brian: I think there are a few ways to look at the big trade for the Padres: First, you can hoard all the prospects you want and hope that one of them becomes Juan Soto, or you can go out and get Juan Soto, and I take the latter every time.
Second, with the trade, this team now severely lacks depth and requires health in order to really compete. But I think they are clearly better this year, and it certainly helps that the San Francisco Giants have taken a step back, so the Padres have a much clearer path to the postseason. And as far as Hader goes, he is definitely an upgrade over Taylor Rogers, who was great for the first two months and pretty bad for the last two. Hader’s skills are still there, but the run prevention tanked.
So I think for this year and however long the Padres have Soto, this was a really good deadline, assuming he and their core are on the field!
Robert: Yes, adding Soto was a great move for the Padres and moves them into that puncher’s-chance contention circle. Bell is such a great add, too. FanGraphs’ wins above replacement has him only 0.1 behind Soto!
neil: It’s kind of crazy that Bell was set up all year to headline his own trade … and then became a second banana in a historic deal.
Robert: Maybe A.J. Preller just wanted his own version of Scherzer/Turner ’21.
Brian: Acquiring Bell might be an underrated part of all of this.
Robert: Totally agree, Brian, especially given how SD has been starved for offense. Bell would be an upgrade at first for a lot of contending teams … for them, he’s a godsend.
Brian: Bell replaces the Eric Hosmer/Luke Voit platoon and adds a roster spot, being that he is a switch hitter with no significant lefty/righty split this year. Bell essentially makes room for Drury.
Robert: It’s my own sensibility, but yeah, I love the aspect the switch-hitting brings, just in and of itself, in postseason play. When the reliever usage gets wild, it’s great just to be able to have him turn around.
I’m wondering this … do either of you have a ready parallel for a team going deep into the postseason with, like, first-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-best hitters who hadn’t played for them at all through July?
neil: That’s an EXCELLENT question. This Padres team in October (yes, assuming it makes the postseason) will be so different from what it was for the majority of the season.
Robert: Another thing that has me thrilled if I’m a Padres fan: Folks are rightly pointing out that Soto’s been great even in a down year, which this certainly has been. But he’s on a tear lately, maybe seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Since July 1, he’s slashing .324/.515/.662, and that last Nats game was a perfect Soto send-off. Three walks and a bomb off of Max Scherzer.
Brian: Right now the Padres sit in the second wild-card spot in the NL, looking up at the Atlanta Braves (who have had a good deadline in their own right), so right now I have two questions:
1) Are the Padres better than the Braves?
2) Do they take the top spot when it’s all said and done?
I am not sure where I stand on either, honestly.
Robert: I think they’ve closed the gap, but I’d still go with the Braves to hold onto that spot (or even come back and take the NL East).
Robert: Neil, are you factoring in the Tatís return?
neil: Of course!
Robert: I worry about what Tatís will look like when he’s back, given how protracted the rehab was.
neil: That’s fair. But mainly this debate really underscores how deep the playoff field is going to be in the NL. We have a couple of superteams in Atlanta and San Diego that aren’t even going to win their divisions, most likely, and will probably face off in the first round.
Brian: I think you clearly give the edge to San Diego for offense, so it’s a matter of whose rotation and bullpen you like better and I lean ATL for both.
Robert: Yeah, I still really like Atlanta’s rotation, agreed. And let’s not forget Austin Riley might be the best hitter on either team in a series between them!
Brian: I can see Spencer Strider being completely unhittable. And the Braves just added Raisel Iglesias to the pen as well.
Robert: But yes, this all kind of highlights how great these deadline deals were for San Diego, that these are even conversation points.
Robert: Because without these deals, their plan for matching up with Atlanta would essentially be “pitch Joe Musgrove all the time and hope Machado and Tatís break records.”
neil: Right, exactly. It brought that potential 4-versus-5 first round matchup from a clear nod to the defending champs to basically a toss-up.
Brian: For deals like the Soto trade, there can sometimes be the feeling that the team acquiring the marquee player gave up too much and is sacrificing its future, but I honestly don’t feel that way about this one.
Robert: Those two years on Soto’s deal after this one, and the fact that it lines up so well with Machado’s late peak, make me not all that worried about it from San Diego’s perspective.
The Padres bought themselves three years of contention, at least. Like you said, Brian, let’s say MacKenzie Gore and some of those young hitters REALLY pan out. Three years of contention would be an absolute best-case scenario!
neil: And Brian, you made an excellent point earlier — you stockpile prospects specifically hoping they turn into Soto (and knowing they probably won’t). So they turned a bunch of potential-Soto lottery tickets into a bona fide actual Soto, which is a pretty good deal.
Robert: I’m bummed for baseball and Nats fans that Washington is trading a 23-year-old with Ted Williams numbers.
The one silver lining is that Soto will be back playing October baseball. He’s not only one of the game’s great young players, but he’s such a captivating postseason figure — the way he works ABs, combined with the ability to hit opposing aces’ best stuff.
Brian: Don’t forget the Soto Shuffle!
Robert: The absolute best.
So it’s a nice consolation prize to likely get to watch him in October again. (Especially as another generational figure goes into the “managing chronic back pain” portion of his career without a postseason win. 😞)
Robert: Just curious from both of you: Are we in an enlightened age where “having played together for more than five minutes” truly doesn’t matter? Or is there any concern about some ineffable difficulty in jelling as a team?
neil: I kinda feel like San Diego’s new guys match the Padres’ general attitude and swagger, for whatever that is worth.
(“Organizational Swagger” should be a metric, lol.)
Brian: Right, I think Soto is the perfect fit for the team that is already in San Diego.
I hope they all swing at 3-0 fastballs with seven-run leads, haha.
Robert: Just ALL those guys coming in, and important ones too. Bell, Drury, Hader, Tatís returning. It would be the all-time weirdest and most backloaded championship DVD.
(If they still make those.)
Championship, uh, large-format NFT.
Brian: The 2019 World Series was Soto’s coming-out party, but at the same time the national baseball audience may still not understand just how good Soto really is. We are talking about him having a “down year,” and he has a 151 weighted runs created plus.
Robert: And I really think that number will climb as he plays games that matter again. He seems like the sort of player who would miss those.
It’s not a deep statistical cut, but I just stare every time I see the career OPS+ number that goes around for him: 160 for his career in his age-23 season. The list is Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols … and Juan Soto.
Imagine having a 151 wRC+ while running a .243 BABIP!
Robert: The Savant sliders also tell us nothing is really wrong, haha.
neil: A motivated and luckier Soto is scary for sure.
OK, so it sounds like we all basically agree that the Padres came away from the deadline looking really good. But other than San Diego, which team improved itself the most at the deadline?
Brian: I think the Yankees are the next clear winner — they got better and they also got Bader. (Pun intended.)
neil: Haha, but in all seriousness I really liked the Yankees’ moves as well. On top of an already-dominant team — albeit slightly less dominant in recent weeks — they added Harrison Bader and Andrew Benintendi in the outfield, Frankie Montas to the rotation and a couple of bullpen arms too. (Plus they offloaded Joey Gallo.)
Brian: FWIW, I am low-key really in on Gallo as a Dodger. His K-BB skill set is largely unchanged, so it’s not like his tools have degraded. My hot take is that Gallo has the highest post-deadline WAR with his new team besides Soto.
Robert: Wow, that is a good one.
neil: I agree he’ll benefit from a change in scenery. Because playing in Yankee Stadium just seemed to really mess with his swing and his confidence. I predict Benintendi won’t have the same problems.
Robert: I love Benintendi for the Yankees. Just plugging a great contact guy into a homer-heavy lineup before the playoffs, always a fun addition in those tense innings.
(Though the fact that Benintendi has an OBP one point higher than his slugging percentage is, well, not ideal even for the staunchest disciples of pure hitting.)
Brian: Meanwhile, the Phillies got Noah Syndergaard just before the deadline. I really like what the Phillies have done. They didn’t really need top-end talent, but I think they did well to address most (if not all) of their needs.
neil: I agree. They plugged a lot of their weaknesses, and this is a team that is known for having strong strengths and weak weaknesses.
Brian: Center field was the big one, and they addressed that in Brandon Marsh. Edmundo Sosa adds depth in the infield and gives them a plus defensive replacement. David Robertson should be great in the bullpen, and while I don’t love Syndergaard this year, they don’t need him to be a top-of-the-rotation guy.
Robert: With the Phillies, I also love the inversion of the usual deadline patterns: have the mashing stars for the long haul, build out the “baseball team” element later.
“Homers’ll get us through July, when we learn how to pick up a rolling baseball without turning our ankles on it”
Brian: I think a lot of teams raised their ceilings, but I would say that the Phillies did well to raise their floor.
neil: I wanna throw another team out there that I think had a nice deadline: the Minnesota Twins! They added both starting and relief pitching, and somehow swung not one but TWO in-division trades on Tuesday.
Brian: The Twins were one of my under-the-radar deadline winners for sure! I am a big fan of Tyler Mahle.
Robert: Neil, you dropped a note in the channel before our chat saying the Twins actually added the third-most net WAR per 162 games of any team at the deadline — even if none of their players will be cutting Fox promos for the postseason.
|Team||Make Playoffs||Win World Series||Added||Lost||Net|
Brian: The Twins’ odds as a division winner went up a lot this deadline.
Robert: FanGraphs still had the White Sox as the favorites to come out of the Central on Wednesday, but maybe if the Twins’ moves don’t make them a postseason monster, they can help them get there.
Brian: The White Sox also still have a big Tony La Russa problem. The Guardians were quiet as well.
neil: Yeah, the White Sox did basically nothing to lay any claim to that division. The Twins, by contrast, went for it.
Brian: I was surprised to see the Orioles part with closer Jorge López, so that was another great move for Minnesota.
neil: It was sad to see the Orioles punt on their Cinderella playoff bid (which you recently wrote about, Brian!).
Not terribly surprising, just because it was going to be an uphill battle (9 percent playoff odds the day after the deadline), but still sort of disappointing.
Brian: I didn’t expect them to be buyers, and trading Trey Mancini was always going to happen, but I did figure that López would be around next year.
Robert: The Mancini inside-the-park homer was a nice capper to that stretch. But yeah, he was going to move.
neil: So nice!
Brian: Josh Lowe’s face would disagree.
Mancini was low-key a great pickup for Houston. … Between addressing first base and catcher (adding Christian Vázquez as well), the Astros got scarier even as other contenders grabbed all the headlines.
Robert: They were an excellent team getting next to zilch from two spots. Upgrading those to pretty good is huge for them, and in keeping with their “very few flaws anywhere” recent postseason history.
(Competitively, if not ethically.)
Brian: Will Smith is a great pickup too, and the Astros still have that magic to get more out of pitchers.
Robert: Brian, what was your take on that Odorizzi-Smith swap?
Brian: I think in this case, both teams were trading from a position of depth. Houston was going with a six-man rotation, and with Lance McCullers Jr. coming back, someone needed to go. And Atlanta is just behind Baltimore for best bullpen by FanGraphs WAR. Now it looks like the Braves could be the ones moving to a six-man rotation.
neil: It’s interesting to see those two teams trade, coming off just playing each other in the World Series. But it feels like a lot of contenders decided to make significant improvements this deadline, despite the fact that the Dodgers and Yankees consume a TON of World Series odds. Is the theory that the expanded postseason means you just gotta get in and get hot?
Brian: I think teams realize more than ever that all they need to do is get there, and then anything can happen.
Robert: I do think some of the richer and better teams try to spend their way past that. It felt like what the Dodgers were trying to do last year, beat the “anything can happen” math. But then anything did happen, and Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler drove Atlanta to a title.
Another interesting component to this is that the AL byes are pretty well set with the Yankees and Astros, but the Mets and Braves are fighting for that NL one. I would think that would matter to teams quite a bit, and I would also think that another bat might have helped the Mets rest easier in that regard.
Brian: I would have said the Mets had a disappointing deadline, but I think Mychal Givens saved it a bit.
Robert: I still think the Mets’ trades at the deadline have been disappointing. A Steve Cohen team felt poised for a bigger splash than relief help and a platoon DH.
neil: Certainly they have been a bit outshined by some of the teams they usually compare themselves to — the Yankees, the Phillies, etc.
Robert: But there is one obligatory comment that we must make, on a Trade Deadline Chat Extravaganza™. A lot of people are talking about a lot of pickups. But (and nobody has ever been so clever as to phrase an injury return this way before) I think the Mets may have won the deadline by re-adding one Jacob deGrom!
neil: That is a good point, for all of the talk by Mets fans about not doing enough at the deadline. (Which I haven’t fully heard yet but am sure exists.)
Robert: He started Tuesday night and looked good, so I’m assuming the Mets won the game and we can pretty much pencil them in to sail through the rest of the year to World Series glory? Right? *checks box score* Ah, well …
Brian: On a different note, I’m going to throw out another under-the-radar deadline winner: the Tampa Bay Rays.
I know they were one of the contenders for Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, and he would have made things way better for them. But David Peralta, Jose Siri and Garrett Cleavinger (knowing what the Rays can do with unheralded relief pitchers) are all solid gets.
Robert: Losing the Brett Phillips laugh is worth -100 WAR in my personal spreadsheet, but I hear your case.
Brian: Yeah, that was a tough one with the Rays fan base for sure.
I read that Ji-Man Choi was rumored to be part of a bigger deal with Houston as well, which would have possibly included José Urquidy. If that had happened, the fan base would have imploded.
Robert: That would be tough for the St. Pete faithful to forgive!
Btw, I’m really surprised Contreras didn’t go anywhere. Before Soto became a possibility, he was THE name of this deadline. Shocked that he’s staying put.
neil: Yeah, what happened there with the Cubs? Both Ian Happ and Contreras are staying in Chicago.
Robert: I know some contending teams balk at bringing in a catcher late in the season, and that Contreras is not history’s most perfect defensive backstop.
But still, for that bat to be available and not to go anywhere, especially for a power-light team like the Mets … I’ll have a hard time not seeing a Contreras-sized hole in their lineup this October.
neil: I agree, Robert — given the Mets’ poor hitting (and just terrible WAR in general) from catcher, a guy like Contreras seemed like a nice potential match.
Robert: Similar to Contreras, J.D. Martinez also seemed likely to move at points and has stayed put.
neil: The Red Sox as a whole seemed … confused this deadline.
Brian: I think the Red Sox have been confused this whole month tbh.
neil: Haha. Fair!
But what do you guys think of the whole “Are you a buyer or a seller? … Yes.” strategy?
Robert: Is that where we see the strongest effect of the expanded postseason? A team like Boston not knowing whether to buy or sell?
For what it’s worth, I think the Red Sox might put a real challenge to the “we just have to get in” theory, if they make it. Because I don’t see any chance there.
Brian: The Red Sox are a strangely top-heavy team, so I figured they would trade some pieces but try to get some major league-ready pieces back to stay competitive in the short term. Even a few years removed from Dave Dombrowski’s tenure as GM, Boston still has the quintessential Dombrowski stars-and-scrubs type of roster.
I didn’t really think Rafael Devers would go, but I thought there was a good enough chance J.D. or (especially) Nathan Eovaldi would.
neil: Sometimes I think teams can get too clever for their own good. The fence-straddling deadline thing feels like an example of that.
By contrast, one team that I admired for making an unapologetic splash in the trade market was the Seattle Mariners.
Robert: Right, we haven’t talked about them adding Luis Castillo yet!
Brian: That was so long ago! Four whole days before the deadline, haha.
Robert: It’s hard for me to parse this too strategically, I’m just excited the M’s are in buy mode. Even if Julio Rodriguez’s IL stint took some of the wind out of the sails there.
Brian: Castillo was a great get for them. As a Seattle resident, we love to see it!
neil: It has to happen for Seattle one of these years, right? Right??
Robert: I would hope so!
Brian: A rotation of Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby is going to be fun down the stretch.
neil: Just to tack on a couple of other teams that I think came out ahead this deadline — the St. Louis Cardinals really bolstered their rotation with Jordan Montgomery and José Quintana, while the Toronto Blue Jays improved their pitching and grabbed the versatile Whit Merrifield (who I have to assume will finally get vaccinated).
Brian: Or just be a road warrior, lmao.
neil: The Kyrie Irving of baseball.
Robert: My first reaction was “Is there some other, more public-health-conscious ‘Whit Merrifield’ I don’t know about?”
neil: Hey, different expectations playing for the Blue Jays versus the Royals (in a lot of ways).
Robert: So we’ve talked about the Padres moving up a weight class, and all of the various trades. But really, we’ve missed THE crucial question: In what playoff round, and via what confluence of weird breaks between now and then, will the Twins fail to register a win against the Yankees in a postseason series?
Robert: I’m seeing it as: They go on a magical run, Luis Arraez becomes the sport’s sweetheart and then Aaron Judge hits five homers against them in an ALCS sweep.
Brian: It all depends how you have the Astros and Yankees ranked for the rest of the year. The Yankees have a better record on the season overall, but since May 1 the Astros have the better record.
neil: The Yankees’ 4D chess move will be to drop to the No. 2 seed so they can face the 3-versus-6 winner in the second round, knowing the Twins will be the No. 3 seed.
Brian: That is exactly where I was going with this!
neil: Forecast model: 100 percent chance of a division series win.
One last thought I had is just the inverse of the “teams pushing to get in the playoffs” idea. I’m wondering if the top clubs really are internalizing the smart-baseball concept, that it’s not about stacking the deck for one season but ensuring you’ll be at the table every year.
Brian: I mean, half the league is run by Rays and Astros brain-drain at this point — for better or worse — so I think that is a completely fair point!
neil: That’s true. It’s not just about rentals in many of the biggest swaps anymore.
Robert: With a bunch of extra teams getting in the playoffs now, the contenders seem to know that there’s no amount of star power that can make them bulletproof.
Brian: I think the perfect example of Robert’s point is the Brewers’ deadline. They traded Hader, but more than made up for it by getting Taylor Rogers and Dinelson Lamet (projects) and Matt Bush (a solid Hader replacement).
Robert: But that also made the Padres’ strategy really refreshing. Even if they don’t win anything, it’s still fun to see a club go the old-school “get everybody” approach.
neil: You gotta appreciate that. The Padres might be the only deadline team ever whose fan base unequivocally cannot say they “didn’t do enough.” They did ALL the things.
Brian: Every team wanted Soto, but they all also probably had a line they knew they wouldn’t cross. Whereas we know Preller doesn’t care about that line, haha.