MLB Trade Deadline: Grading the Biggest Swaps

This year's MLB Trade Deadline was as wild as ever, but which teams came out the biggest winners?

Max Scherzer
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 29: Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches during Game One of the doubleheader between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday, July 29, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

This year’s MLB Trade Deadline was nothing shy of absurd. A handful of teams feel great about where they’re at as we enter the home stretch, which encouraged them to go for it. After years of teams seeming more reluctant to part with prospects, all of that suddenly went out the window. Like any deadline, some deals will play out great for teams and others may be regrettable. Let’s take an early look at which way some of these deals can go.

Dodgers Get Scherzer and Turner

Dodgers: A++
Nationals: C+

Speaking of absurd, how about this trade. I’ll be honest, I didn’t like this one for baseball as a whole. The LA Dodgers have done an incredible job drafting and developing talent to put themselves in a position to make moves like this, but they are now $42 million over the luxury tax. The next largest sum over the threshold is the Red Sox ($3 million), but that’s for another time.

When it comes to the move itself for the Dodgers, it’s impossible not to love what it means for their chances to defend their title. You add a first-ballot Hall of Famer to a staff that already has another first-ballot Hall of Famer in Clayton Kershaw (IL), plus Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin (IL). Assuming Kershaw and Gonsolin return healthy, that is one scary rotation.

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Offensively, the Dodgers’ lineup looks like an All-Star team. Corey Seager returns just in time to join Trea Turner in the middle infield, and Mookie Betts should be coming off of the IL soon. When your biggest hole in your lineup is a 25-year-old former MVP in Cody Bellinger, you are probably in good shape.

Meanwhile, the Nationals were able to get two very valuable pieces for the future with right-hander Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz, but the two complementary pieces were a bit underwhelming. Gerardo Carrillo has a huge arm with undeniable stuff, but comes with a good deal of reliever risk. The fourth piece, Donovan Casey, is an athletic outfielder who is enjoying his best season in professional baseball. However, he is 25-years-old in Double-A and still punches out 30% of the time.

Gray will immediately slot into the Nationals rotation as a projectable arm with No. 2 upside, and Ruiz is big league ready as well. Ruiz has enjoyed a power surge this year in Triple-A, slashing to a ridiculous .311/.381/.631 with 16 home runs in 52 games. There’s no doubt that those numbers are incredible, but you’d expect them to garner a better wRC+ than 140 (40% above average). The reason why Ruiz’s wRC+ isn’t higher is because the average OPS in the hitter-friendly Triple-A West is roughly .820.

Again, Gray and Ruiz are great pieces, but I am surprised the Nationals couldn’t strong arm the Dodgers into including Gavin Lux. Especially when you consider the fact that Trea Turner has a year of control and has hit .327 over his last 155 games with 30 homers and 33 stolen bases, as well as Max Scherzer’s contract deferral until 2028.

Yankees Snag Joey Gallo

Yankees: A
Rangers: B+

The Yankees needed two things really, really badly: A competent left-handed bat and a decent defender in the corner outfield. Brian Cashman killed two birds with one stone by trading for Joey Gallo from the Rangers. Gallo is no stranger to the strikeout (32 K%), but is well acquainted to the long-ball as well, mashing 25 homers in 97 games this year.

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The former LSU Tiger also leads the league in walks with 73, aiding him to an impressive .374 OBP. A Gold Glove winner in 2020, Gallo’s defense will surely be an upgrade over Miguel Andujar and the other shaky options the Bronx Bombers have deployed out there. With the power that Gallo possesses, he may be able to miss hit balls over the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees also acquired some bullpen depth in the form of lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s numbers on the surface don’t look great (5.93 ERA, 1.61 WHIP), but he is tough on left-handed hitters (.176, 30 K%). The 29-year-old will likely be deployed mostly for left-on-left match-ups, which should help set him up for success.

The return was strong for the Rangers, who kicked in money to maximize it. Rather than going with one or two big fish, Texas opted to go with four solid pieces with varying floors and upside. It was the right move for a team with a subpar system.

RHP Glenn Otto, 2B Ezequiel Duran, INF Josh Smith and INF Trevor Hauver all have individual intrigue, with the most former closest to big league ready. One of many to make a major jump in the Yankees’ system this year, Glenn Otto added a slider, which is now his best out pitch, and saw his fastball velo tick up. Already possessing plus command, a true three-pitch mix of the heater, slider and curve really plays up for Otto. The 25-year-old right-handed pitcher projects as a really solid No. 4 starter with a chance to be an average No. 3 if his stuff continues to progress.

INF Josh Smith has been one of the biggest risers in the Yankees’ system since being drafted 67th overall in 2019. Smith has produced a ridiculous .327/.451/.633 slash line with 9 homers, but has benefited from playing through Low-A and High-A as a 23-year-old this season. The hit-tool and approach seem to be legit and Smith’s above average tools across the board give him a shot to be a solid big league shortstop.

INF Ezequiel Duran and INF Trevor Hauver can really swing it. The Duran comp will either make Rangers fans happy or evoke some frustration, but I see some Rougned Odor in Duran. Big-time power from second base, offset by a questionable hit tool and questionable defense put a lot of pressure on the power production, but Duran has major juice.

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Hauver has been great since he debuted with the Yankees this year. The former ASU Sun Devil has a track record of hitting in college, so I do take the Low-A numbers with a bit of a grain of salt. Especially when you consider the fact that a majority of his homers came in the first couple weeks of the season. Hauver’s another very offensive-dependent prospect, but if he can handle upper-level pitching the same way he has in Low-A, there could be a solid big league bat in there.

A really important part of this deal for the Yankees is the fact that the Rangers covered Gallo’s salary for the remainder of the season, allowing Cashman to make more moves and stay under the luxury tax threshold. Such as acquiring Anthony Rizzo.

Mets Add “El Mago”

Mets: B-
Cubs: A

The Mets had long been tied to the Cubs in trade talks, as many assumed Queens could be a destination for third baseman and outfielder Kris Bryant. Instead, the Mets added the electric Javi Baez, who already homered in his first game at Citi Field.

Baez has undeniable power along with an unrelenting propensity to strikeout. The 29-year-old is pacing the league with 133 K’s, threatening Mark Reynolds’s single-season record of 223 punchies. A flashy defender who has been great with the glove in stretches, Baez has struggled at shortstop this year with a career high 18 errors already.

With Francisco Lindor on the shelf, Baez is a much needed stand-in at shortstop and can slide to third when the fellow Puerto Rican returns. Baez’s speed, power, defensive versatility and energy make him a great fit for Queens, even if there are some holes in his game. Add on the postseason experience, and it’s understandably why the Mets would want to bring him in. Trevor Williams also comes over to New York in the deal to provide pitching depth, but he was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.

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On the Cubs side of things, they made out like bandits. The only way I can make sense of parting with last year’s first round pick, Pete Crow-Armstrong, is if Javier Baez has already verbally agreed to an extension with the Mets. The last time the Mets traded a recent prep High School outfielder who showed well in the start to his professional career, it didn’t go so well. That’s not to say Crow-Armstrong is Jared Kelenic, but the reports were great on PCA before the season, and his ridiculous athleticism really shined through in just the handful of games he played before being lost for the year with a shoulder injury.

PCA is a plus defender in center with plus speed and a great feel to hit from the left side. He may be three or so years off with the injury, but so are the Cubs. To get a 2020 first-round pick for an impending free-agent is a great deal in my book.

Jays Get Their Arm With Jose Berrios

Twins: A
Blue Jays: B

There’s no doubting the Jays desperately needed an arm. Robbie Ray has been a great story, Alek Manoah has catapulted through the system and enjoyed success in the big leagues, and while Hyun Jin-Ryu has not been pitching to his elite form, he has still been solid and reliable. Outside of those three, you could call the drop off a cliff, with no reinforcements in sight besides an injured Nate Pearson.

Inspired to upgrade from Ross Stripling and Steven Matz, the Blue Jays paid a premium for Jose Berrios, who is in the midst of the best season of his career. The 27-year-old is pitching to a 3.48 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and a career best 3.94 K-BB ratio.

Berrios’s career-best performance and another year of control made him one of the more valuable assets on the trade market. The Blue Jays were not deterred by the price, coughing up top prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson. Martin, a consensus top 50 prospect, has been steady in Double-A slashing .281/.424/.381.

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The fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft, Martin was viewed as the most advanced hitter in the class with questions around where he would play defensively and what his power output would look like. Not much has changed as Martin has backed up the hit tool, but has not done much to encourage a belief that even average power will be a part of his game, and is still looking for a position to call home. Martin is a great piece, but I believe that the prospect rankings have him a bit higher than teams may.

The shocker for me was seeing Simeon Woods-Richardson in the deal. The right-handed pitcher has been a bit up-and-down this year, tossing to a 5.76 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in Double-A. The important note on Woods-Richardson is that he is the youngest starting pitcher in Double-A and is still racking up more than 13 K’s per-nine innings.

Woods-Richardson has had strong command in the past, so his 5.2 BB/9 could be a matter of trying to be too careful with a tighter strike zone. With Martin already in the deal, and Toronto’s limited pitching prospect depth, including such a projectable young arm in the deal seems like a bit of an overpay. If Berrios had more than one year of control after 2021, maybe the price would be more justifiable.

Rizzo Switches to Pinstripes

Yankees: A
Cubs: B+

Remember that whole thing about the Yankees needing left-handed hitters? Well, they doubled-down on solving that problem by grabbing veteran first baseman Anthony Rizzo in return for outfield prospect Kevin Alcantara and pitching prospect Alexander Vizcaino.

Rizzo has already made his presence known for the Yankees, homering in each of his first two games in pinstripes. Luke Voit’s inability to stay on the field left the Yankees without a consistent answer at first base. Enter Rizzo, who also balances out a lineup that can strikeout a ton with his 15% K-rate, while also serving as one of the premiere clubhouse guys in the game.

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Given that Rizzo is a rental set to hit free agency after this season, his value was somewhat limited. With that in mind, the Cubs came away with a lot of upside. At just 19-years-old, Alcantara is 6 foot 6, 188 pounds with plus speed and plus plus raw power. While there’s a wide range of outcomes, the sky is the limit for the Cubs’ new centerfield prospect, who is still far away from the big leagues.

Vizcaino has been on the IL the entire season with arm discomfort and is close to returning to the bump. At 24-years-old without pitching above High-A, there are some fair reservations around the right-hander. However, his fastball touches 97 with movement, along with a wipeout changeup. There’s definitely a good deal of reliever risk with Vizcaino, but he’s a big arm.

If your return is limited by the fact that your asset is a rental, going for upside is the right move. There isn’t much more upside in the Yankees’ system than a player like Alcantara, and Vizcaino is no slouch either.