It’s crunch time for MLB front offices. The 2022 trade deadline is approaching at 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday. It’s the last chance for contenders to bolster their playoff hopes and the last chance for also-rans to make moves to help their future prospects. In some cases, it’s a chance to decode the intentions of teams sitting on the fence.
For each major deal between now at Tuesday’s deadline, we’ll break 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.
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’s good injury insurance on Luis Severino, who is out until at least mid-September, and it may become something similar for potential regression if breakout star Nestor Cortes tires or regresses down the stretch.
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.
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.
It also aligns with Padres executive A.J. Preller’s aggressive, star-seeking stance. The Padres are rumored to be heavy players in the Juan Soto sweepstakes, and they didn’t give up anything here that would change that. The move will look worse if he doesn’t add to his position player group, as Ruiz had been a factor in shoring up a weak outfield.
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 try to offload Gallo before the deadline. 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.