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Sneaky MLB Trade Deadline Pickups Primed to Impact AL and NL Playoff Races

Sneaky MLB Trade Deadline Pickups Primed to Impact AL and NL Playoff Races

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    Amed Rosario is already making an impact in LA.

    Amed Rosario is already making an impact in LA.Michael Owens/Getty Images

    Sometimes it’s the smaller trades that end up making the biggest impacts. Heck, let’s call it “The Steve Pearce Effect” in honor of the quiet pickup-turned-World Series MVP from 2018.

    Thus, we’ve highlighted eight sneaky trades made by contenders ahead of Tuesday’s deadline that have the potential to have outsized influence in the American League and National League playoff races.

    There’s no defined barometer for what separates “big” trades from “small” ones, so we kept things simple. Any trade that didn’t involve Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Lucas Giolito or the best hitter (Jeimer Candelario) or closer (David Robertson) to get moved was fair game.

    Starting with four pitcher-centric trades and ending with four hitter-centric trades, we’ll proceed in an order that makes narrative sense.

Aaron Civale to the Rays

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    Tampa Bay's Aaron Civale

    Tampa Bay’s Aaron CivaleNuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

    Date: July 31

    The Trade: Tampa Bay Rays get RHP Aaron Civale; Cleveland Guardians get 1B Kyle Manzardo

    Rays starting pitchers have been one of the injury bug’s favorite snacks this year, and this week it took potentially its biggest bite yet. Shane McClanahan, the club’s left-handed ace, went on the injured list Thursday with tightness in his forearm.

    So, the trade the Rays made for Civale? Yeah, it looms even larger now.

    Though not the most accomplished pitcher moved at the deadline—again, literally Max Scherzer and literally Justin Verlander—Civale might have been the hottest. After returning from a nearly two-month stay on the IL on June 2, the 28-year-old put up a 2.24 ERA in 11 starts.

    There are signs of unsustainability in that stretch, including how he struck out only 50 batters in 64.1 innings. He nonetheless grades as a top-tier command artist with above-average stuff.

    It would also be like the Rays to look for something that Civale might do better. For instance, either his sinker (.250 AVG) or his four-seamer (.267 AVG) might be better off in his back pocket.

Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton to the Rangers

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    Texas' Jordan Montgomery

    Texas’ Jordan MontgomeryAP Photo/LM Otero

    Date: July 30

    The Trade: Texas Rangers get LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Chris Stratton; St. Louis Cardinals get LHP John King, INF Tommy Saggese and RHP T.K. Roby

    The Rangers’ deal for Scherzer was a seismic event that split the Mets apart and put the rest of the MLB world on high alert that they mean business in Texas.

    And then, a day later, the Rangers traded for a better starting pitcher.

    We’re being facetious, but only sort of. Whereas Scherzer arrived in Arlington with an ERA+ that qualified him as just 2 percent better than the average pitcher, Montgomery was consistently about 25 percent better than average in his two half-seasons in St. Louis.

    The 30-year-old southpaw is also hot. His last 11 starts for the Cardinals yielded a 2.47 ERA, and he kept it rolling with six innings of two-run ball in his Rangers debut on Friday.

    That the Rangers also got Stratton was a nice bonus. He’s no closer, but a high-spin reliever who can go multiple innings at a time is something the Rangers bullpen badly needed after posting a 6.32 ERA in July.

Jorge López to the Marlins

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    Miami's Jorge López

    Miami’s Jorge López AP Photo/Marta Lavandier

    Date: July 26

    The Trade: Miami Marlins get RHP Jorge López; Minnesota Twins get RHP Dylan Floro

    Elsewhere on the topic of contenders with less-than-trustworthy bullpens, the Marlins have 22 blown saves with just a 57 percent conversion rate.

    Though the task of fixing this issue will mainly fall on Robertson, López’s ability to help in a big way is not to be underestimated.

    It’s been a rough ride for the 30-year-old over the last year or so. After making the AL All-Star squad last July, he struggled after the Baltimore Orioles sent him to the Twins and he was unable to put it behind him this year. He put up a 5.00 ERA in 29 outings before going on the IL for the sake of his mental health.

    Though López has a 5.11 ERA in 12 appearances since he was activated, he still boasts 92nd percentile velocity and he’s recently been reacquainting himself with a sinker that, for whatever reason, had gone missing after it was a big part of his success last year.

    In other words, we’re bullish that the good Jorge López will show up again.

Paul Sewald to the Diamondbacks

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    Arizona's Paul Sewald

    Arizona’s Paul SewaldSteph Chambers/Getty Images

    Date: July 31

    The Trade: Arizona Diamondbacks get RHP Paul Sewald; Seattle Mariners get INF Josh Rojas, OF Dominic Canzone and INF Ryan Bliss

    The Diamondbacks have also had a hard time getting consistent relief pitching. Their bullpen has a 4.44 ERA and is in the red in the win probability added column.

    As such, dare we say it should have registered as a bigger deal when they traded for one of the best relievers in baseball?

    There are multiple ways to see Sewald as befitting of such praise, starting with his results. His two-plus seasons with the Mariners saw him put up a 2.88 ERA with 12.4 strikeouts and just 2.9 walks per nine innings.

    Then there’s what’s under the hood this year, including a 1.94 expected ERA that puts the 33-year-old on the same level as Josh Hader and just below that of Félix Bautista. Ask his Baseball Savant page what he’s good at, and it’ll answer, “Only everything.”

    Which is to say the Diamondbacks have an actual closer now. Though not a solution to all their problems, it’s a solution for a big one.

Tommy Pham to the Diamondbacks

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    Arizona's Tommy Pham

    Arizona’s Tommy PhamDavid Berding/Getty Images

    Date: August 1

    The Trade: Arizona Diamondbacks get OF Tommy Pham; New York Mets get SS Jeremy Rodriguez

    Either this is a Diamondbacks stan account, or they really did do that well at the deadline.

    Our vote is obviously for the latter. Because the Snakes really did need Pham just as much, if not more, than they needed Sewald.

    Headlined by All-Stars Corbin Carroll and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., their outfield makes the grade as a good one. But it’s imbalanced in its left-handedness on offense, with Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy generally doing more harm than good with the hacks they’ve taken.

    Hence why Arizona needed the 35-year-old Pham’s right-handed stick, which has mainly been useful in mashing left-handed pitching over the years. We’re talking an .846 OPS for his career and an .863 OPS this year.

    Of course, Pham need not be used strictly as a platoon hitter. He’s indeed earned more playing time with the way he’s been swinging it, as he came to Arizona with a .933 OPS over 44 games since May 28.

Amed Rosario to the Dodgers

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    Los Angeles' Amed Rosario

    Los Angeles’ Amed RosarioRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Date: July 26

    The Trade: Los Angeles Dodgers get SS Amed Rosario; Cleveland Guardians get RHP Noah Syndergaard

    As for the team the Diamondbacks are chasing in the NL West, who knows what kind of Jedi mind trick the Dodgers pulled on the Guardians to get them to take Noah Syndergaard?

    The Dodgers brought the former flamethrower on as a reclamation project only to watch him post a 7.16 ERA in 12 starts. It was sad to the point of being uncomfortable, especially when “Thor” himself started openly lamenting the pitcher he’d become.

    Not to let him off the hook, Rosario had posted minus-0.2 rWAR by the time this trade went down. He was batting only .265 and playing defense that could only be described as putrid.

    However, he was warming up. In 41 games leading up to the trade, the 27-year-old hit at .310 with 11 doubles and two each of triples and home runs.

    Rosario has already picked up where he left off by going 7-for-21 with two doubles and a home run in his first six games as a Dodger. The .217 average they got from their shortstops before he arrived should only be going up.

Paul DeJong to the Blue Jays

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    Toronto's Paul DeJong

    Toronto’s Paul DeJongMark Blinch/Getty Images

    Date: August 1

    The Trade: Toronto Blue Jays get SS Paul DeJong; St. Louis Cardinals get RHP Matt Svanson

    The Blue Jays didn’t need a shortstop until, suddenly, they did after MLB hits leader Bo Bichette left Monday’s game and went on the IL with patellar tendinitis on Tuesday.

    It’s funny to think that if either event had happened just 24 hours later, the Jays might not have traded for one of the more intriguing players on the block.

    If nothing else, DeJong will provide Toronto with a defensive upgrade while Bichette is out. The gap between the two in Outs Above Average is 13 units wide.

    What could really make things interesting is if DeJong, 30, also breaks out a good stick. Lest anyone think this idea is overly couched in the 30 home runs DeJong hit four years ago, he had notably put up a solid .766 OPS away from Busch Stadium prior to the deal.

    If so, DeJong will at least allow the Jays to weather the storm while their best player is out. Afterward, they might have to find ways to keep getting him in the lineup.

Carlos Santana to the Brewers

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    Milwaukee's Carlos Santana

    Milwaukee’s Carlos SantanaDavid J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Date: July 27

    The Trade: Milwaukee Brewers get 1B Carlos Santana; Pittsburgh Pirates get SS Jhonny Severino

    The Brewers are in first place in the NL Central very much in spite of their offense, particularly where first base is concerned.

    Rowdy Tellez was 16 percent worse than the average hitter when he was healthy, and the cavalcade of nondescript dudes who manned first after he first went on the IL on July 4 did little to improve the situation.

    Enter Santana, whose bat should heat things up at the cold corner.

    The 37-year-old can always be relied on to draw walks if nothing else, but he’s at his best when he also has his power stroke working. So it was in his last 40 games with the Pirates, in which he slugged .493 with nine home runs as his exit velocity crept up and up.

    Once Tellez comes off the IL—which should be in mid-August—either he or Santana can slide into a designated hitter spot that also needs upgrading. It’s produced 0 rWAR in its own right this year.

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.



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