MLB trade season is upon us.
While the best player in baseball is staying put, a frontline starter has already joined Shohei Ohtani on the Los Angeles Angels, which knocked over the first big domino by dealing for Lucas Giolito.
The action is sure to ramp up before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET deadline, as a whopping 20 teams entered this weekend less than five games out of a playoff spot. That can blur the line between buyers (AL, NL) and sellers — a few clubs might operate as both — but also tempt some teams to dangle their superstars. Juan Soto or Nolan Arenado, anyone?
Here’s a rundown of all the swaps thus far, along with grades and analysis for the bigger transactions from FOX Sports MLB writers Rowan Kavner, Jake Mintz, Jordan Shusterman and Deesha Thosar.
Angels get Randal Grichuk, C.J. Cron from Rockies
Grichuk: .312/.367/.502, 8 HR, 123 OPS+
Cron: .259/.300/.473, 11 HR, 96 OPS+
Who else was involved: The Angels are sending right-handed pitcher Jake Madden (No. 8 on MLB Pipeline’s list of top 30 team prospects) and left-handed pitcher Mason Albright (No. 28) in exchange for Grichuk and Cron, two of the Angels’ former first-round MLB Draft picks in 2009 and 2011, respectively.
Rangers landing Jordan Montgomery from Cardinals
Key stats: 6-9, 3.42 ERA, 121 IP, 108 SO, 1.248 WHIP
Who else was involved: Texas is also acquiring reliever Chris Stratton while sending left-handed reliever John King and prospects Thomas Saggese, and infielder, and Tekoah Roby, a right-handed pitcher, to St. Louis.
What it means: It’s not often that one trade can actually serve as a realistic blueprint for another, but it’s hard not to look at the recent White Sox trade of Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López to the Angels for catching prospect Edgar Quero and left-hander Ky Bush as an obvious parallel for a Montgomery deal if St. Louis chose to package him with a reliever like Stratton. You can debate about the long-term value of each of the players, but as far as performance this year goes — and the fact that all of these players are slated to hit free agency this winter — Chicago’s deal undoubtedly helped set the standard for the kind of return expected for a package of Montgomery and Stratton. That is, the return needed to include considerable prospect value.
For Texas, this acquisition is very simple. I wrote in my deadline preview of the AL contenders’ needs that the Rangers should be seeking “multiple pitchers who can reliably record outs in Major League Baseball Games.” Well, here you go. The acquisition of Max Scherzer might be the bigger splash, but with Nathan Eovaldi just hitting the IL again, the need for quality innings from every part of the pitching staff is as dire as ever. Montgomery has been one of the few consistent arms for St. Louis this season and is setting himself up nicely for a handsome payday this winter. Texas will hopefully get more from him than the other two lefties in its rotation in Martín Pérez and Andrew Heaney, both of whom have seriously regressed after stellar 2022 campaigns. Stratton is a spin-rate god whose numbers never quite match his raw stuff, but is certainly capable of helping stabilize the sixth and seventh innings for manager Bruce Bochy.
With fire-balling reliever Jordan Hicks off to Toronto, this leaves right-hander Jack Flaherty and perhaps shortstop Paul DeJong as the other Cardinals rentals likely to move in the next 48 hours.
With the Giolito/Lopez deal as the benchmark, I think St. Louis did similarly well in acquiring depth and upside in this trade. In one deal, the Rangers dealt away two of the five selections they made in the shortened 2020 draft, each of whom was drafted out of high school that year. Saggese — pronounced suh-JAY-see — is the real prize here. A fifth-round pick in 2020 out of a Southern California high school, Saggese has comfortably performed at each level he’s been assigned to the past three seasons, including an .894 OPS this year as one of the youngest everyday players in the Double-A Texas League. He’s mostly played second and third base but is capable at shortstop, as well, profiling similar to the likes of the Cardinals’ Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan. With Marcus Semien and Corey Seager each locked in for the long haul, and rookie Josh Jung establishing himself as a franchise cornerstone at third base, Saggese was best utilized as trade bait for Texas’ aggressive push for a pennant this season. Fellow Double-A infielder Luisangel Acuña had the same fate and was dealt to New York for Max Scherzer.
Roby, Texas’ third-rounder in 2020, has been on the IL with a shoulder issue since early June but was holding his own as one of the younger pitchers in Double-A, just as he did a year ago as a 20-year-old in the high-A South Atlantic League. His stuff isn’t overpowering, but he possesses a deep arsenal and a lot of the traits you’d want to see in a pitcher that could fit in the middle of a rotation someday. With Cards general manager John Mozeliak’s stated intention of overhauling St. Louis’ pitching apparatus, this is a logical piece to include in a deal like this.
Finally, King is noteworthy for having been originally included as part of the Joey Gallo trade to New York two summers ago, but the Yankees were unsure about his medicals and ultimately substituted Joely Rodríguez for him at the last minute. He was a reliable lefty out of the bullpen for the past two seasons for Texas, but struggles this season have sent him back to Triple-A where he currently remains. Under contract though 2026, King now has a chance to re-assert himself as a solid middle relief option in St. Louis. — Shusterman
Blue Jays adding key reliever Jordan Hicks
Key stats: 3.67 ERA, 41.2 IP, 59 SO, 1.512 WHIP
Who else was involved: Toronto is sending right-handed pitching prospects Sem Robberse and Adam Kloffenstein to St. Louis.
What it means: The St. Louis sell-off has begun. This may be a new experience for Cards fan, so let me explain. Teams that expected to contend, but instead fell short of expectations during the season’s first four months, tend to trade away their impending free agents at the trade deadline. That is what the Cardinals have begun to do.
The trading of Hicks is an admission of failure, the first official transactional recognition that the 2023 Cardinals stunk up the farm. That in itself is noteworthy for a franchise that hasn’t pushed the midsummer eject button in over two decades.
The return is pretty good for two months of a volatile reliever set to hit the open market. Robberse is a Dutch-born starting pitcher who has pitched impressively well as a 21-year-old in Double-A and was one of Toronto’s reps in the recent Futures Game. He profiles as a back-end starter who gets outs with guile and command instead of electric stuff. Kloffenstein was also in Toronto’s Double-A rotation, but looks more like an up-down yo-yo guy compared to Robberse.
Two big-league controllable starters for two months of Hicks is a great get, but the main story here is that St. Louis is swallowing its pride and planning for tomorrow. Huzzah.
While the departing flamethrowing reliever had a roller-coaster tenure under the Gateway Arch, the 26-year-old has looked much better of late. Since May 8th (an arbitrary cutoff date I chose to make him look good), Hicks has allowed just six earned runs in 26 appearances. He’s limited the walks during that stretch (a big problem for him) without sacrificing for strikeouts.
Hicks throws harder than everyone on planet earth except Jhoan Duran. His average fastball is 101 mph (that’s 162.544 kmh for you Jays fans). Hicks remains an incredibly volatile player, but with Jordan Romano on the IL, Toronto picks up a guy who could catch fire/stay hot to become a core figure in the Jays’ bullpen, as they continue clawing for a wild-card spot. Robberse feels like a steep price to pay for Hicks, a player who could turn into an unusable pumpkin at any time, but that’s the market, I guess. — Mintz
Blue Jays grade: B
Cardinals grade: A-
Rangers to acquire Mets pitcher Max Scherzer
Key stats: 9-4, 4.01 ERA, 107.2 IP, 121 SO, 1.189 WHIP
Who else was involved: Shortstop Luisangel Acuña, the Rangers’ third-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline and Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr.’s younger brother, in a 1-for-1 deal. The deal hit a snag for several hours Saturday evening due to its complex structure, which involved Scherzer waiving his no-trade clause, customary review of the involved players’ medicals and the Mets sending a large amount of money to Texas in order to help cover all but $22.5 million of Scherzer’s remaining contract, including the $43.3 million player option for 2024 that he reportedly opted into as part of the trade.
Rangers reach an agreement to acquire Max Scherzer from Mets
What it means: Rather than keep the most expensive roster in MLB history together and pursue a long-shot run at a wild-card spot, Mets GM Billy Eppler — and owner Steve Cohen — have made their intentions for this deadline clear. In short, the only way to make the most out of this brutally disappointing season is to make significant moves to improve the team’s future outlook. Evidently, trading away pending free agents like David Robertson was not enough. Moving off Scherzer helps add more potential impact talent to a farm system that desperately needs revitalization.
That, too, comes at a major cost. For the richest owner in baseball, the bill — which is reportedly a whopping $35 million-plus — was well worth the opportunity to further build the Mets’ farm system. To be clear, this was not a deal meant to shed money off the books for the sake of financial flexibility. It was an opportunity to essentially acquire top-end talent through a uniquely expensive vehicle, which in this case is paying someone a lot of money to play for another team.
Forget the financials, though: What is Texas actually getting in Scherzer right now? This is a team clearly all-in on pursuing a pennant, with the three-time Cy Young winner obviously expected to team with Nathan Eovaldi and front the Rangers’ rotation for the stretch run — a development spawned by Scherzer’s former Mets teammate Jacob deGrom being sidelined for the year following Tommy John surgery.
The risk may have been mitigated financially for Texas, but Scherzer — with both his injury history and signs of slight decline this year — cannot be considered a sure thing at this stage. He’s still capable of delivering dominant outings, but if the Rangers are expecting him to dominate post-trade to the degree that he did two years ago with the Dodgers, they might be sorely disappointed. If anything, the move is another reminder of just how all-in this organization is on winning right now. It might not work, but you gotta respect it. — Shusterman
Mets grade: B
Rangers grade: C+
Astros acquire White Sox reliever Kendall Graveman
Key stats: 3.48 ERA, 44 IP, 42 SO, 1.205 WHIP
Who else was involved: Chicago received minor league catcher Korey Lee, ranked fifth on MLB Pipeline’s list of top Astros prospects.
Dodgers acquire White Sox starter Lance Lynn, reliever Joe Kelly
Lynn: 6-9, 6.47 ERA, 119.2 IP, 144 SO, 1.462 WHIP
Kelly: 4.97 ERA, 29 IP, 41 SO, 1.310 WHIP
Who else was involved: Chicago received minor league pitcher Nick Nastrini — ranked ninth on MLB Pipeline’s list of top Dodgers prospects — minor league pitcher Jordan Leasure and outfielder Trayce Thompson.
What it means: The Dodgers are betting on their ability to extract the most out of players having down years. All four of their deadline additions have played below replacement-level in 2023 but have demonstrated past productivity and cost relatively little to acquire.
Like the Kiké Hernández deal, their latest move brings back a known commodity and fan favorite who was part of their 2020 World Series club. A mercurial talent, Kelly hasn’t experienced the same level of success he enjoyed with the Dodgers in 2020 (1.80 ERA) or 2021 (2.86 ERA) since joining the White Sox. He sports a 5.59 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over the last two years, both career highs for any stop in the reliever’s 12-year career. He has dealt with groin and elbow injuries this season that have limited him to 29 innings in 2023.
The Dodgers had expressed interest in Lynn for years, but this season is unlike any in the past for the 2021 All-Star, who has a career-high 6.47 ERA. Lynn and Kelly are similar, however, in that their struggles are juxtaposed with an incredible ability to miss bats.
Kelly’s strikeout rate the last two years are the best of his career. While he’s actually throwing harder this year at 35 years old than he did last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go back to using his curveball more often in Los Angeles. Lynn’s struggles are more confounding. He has allowed more homers and earned runs than any pitcher in baseball this season — and it’s not particularly close — while getting more whiffs than ever before.
It’ll be easier to judge these moves once we find out how much more the Dodgers do in the coming days. They desperately needed to address their pitching staff at the deadline, so the floor-raising fliers make sense. If Lynn finds his past form, he has the talent to start postseason games. Plus, he has a club option in 2024, making him potentially worth more than the typical rental. The Dodgers are betting this reclamation attempt goes better than it did with Noah Syndergaard, who was just dealt to Cleveland for Amed Rosario.
What do the Astros do at trade deadline? Is Blake Snell on the move?
The White Sox, meanwhile, continue doing the necessary work of restocking their farm after getting two of the Angels’ top prospects back for Lucas Giolito earlier this week. In this deal, they turned two scuffling major-leaguers into multiple members of the esteemed Double-A Tulsa pitching staff. Nastrini, a top-10 Dodgers prospect and 2021 fourth-round pick, has struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings at every stop while improving upon the command issues that plagued him at UCLA. Leasure sports a 3.09 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 35 innings at Tulsa. — Kavner
Dodgers grade: B
White Sox grade: B+
Marlins acquire Mets ace reliever David Robertson
Key stats: 2.05 ERA, 44 IP, 14 SV, 48 SO, 1.000 WHIP
Who else was involved: New York received infielder Marco Vargas and catcher Ronald Hernández, ranked 18th and 21st, respectively, on MLB Pipeline’s top prospects list for Miami.
What it means: If ever there was a sign that the Mets are sellers at this deadline, general manager Billy Eppler made sure nobody would miss it. Word spread that Robertson was traded to the Marlins — the Mets’ NL East foe sitting just ahead of them in the wild-card race — mere minutes after they sat through a 90-minute rain delay, broke a tied game, and managed to beat the basement-dwelling Nationals. Congratulations on the win, but we’re selling, the front office broadcasted. Try again in 2024.
Ken Rosenthal on the latest trade deadline rumors on the Mets, Padres
Robertson is one of the top relievers on the trade market, and the Mets in exchange received a pair of interesting minor-league position players. That is in part a puzzling return for the Mets, seeing as how they deeply lack upper-tier arms. Rather than trade Robertson for more pitching, the Mets acquired a pair of teenagers. While it’s worth noting they’re rated a bit more favorably by FanGraphs, it’s surprising the Mets didn’t wait at least a few more days to field superior offers. The deadline itself is still five days away, and Robertson was their best trade asset.
The Marlins, a half-game back of Cincinnati and Philadelphia in a tight NL wild-card race, just gained a proven veteran closer with playoff experience who has been terrific this season. Suddenly, their bullpen looks much improved with Robertson joining another new high-leverage right-hander in Jorge López, whom they acquired from Minnesota earlier this week. The Marlins found the right-handed balance they needed in the relief corps to complement lefties A.J. Puk and Tanner Scott. Plus, Miami earns bragging rights for being on the contending side of an intradivision trade. — Thosar
Marlins grade: A
Mets grade: B-
Brewers trade for Pirates first baseman Carlos Santana
Key stats: .235/.321/.412, 12 HR, 53 RBI, 98 OPS+
Who else was involved: Pittsburgh netted 18-year-old shortstop prospect Jhonny Severino.
Angels land RHP Lucas Giolito from White Sox
Key stats: 6-6, 3.79 ERA, 121 IP, 131 SO, 1.223 WHIP
Who else was involved: The Angels also added a valuable bullpen piece in Reynaldo López. In exchange, they sent Chicago their Nos. 2 and 3 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline’s rankings: catcher Edgar Quero, a top-100 prospect by most outlets, and left-handed pitcher Ky Bush.
The Angels going for it with Shohei Ohtani is the right move
What it means: You can put those Ohtani trade rumors to bed. Mere hours after FOX Sports’ Tom Verducci reported that Ohtani would not be dealt at the deadline, the Angels went into buy mode and acquired arguably the most coveted starting pitcher on the market. It’s a move the Angels would only make if they planned to push for their first playoff berth since 2014 — and to keep their two-way superstar for whatever lies ahead.
While it always seemed like a long shot that Ohtani would be dealt, it wasn’t entirely out of the question when this month began. Their pitching staff bolstered, the Angels’ move all but assures Ohtani will finish out his contract year in Anaheim before becoming the most coveted free agent in baseball history this winter.
And if Giolito helps the Angels play meaningful baseball in October, it will be a move well worth the cost. — Kavner
Angels grade: B+
White Sox grade: A-
Guardians send SS Amed Rosario to Dodgers for RHP Noah Syndergaard
Key stats: Rosario: .265/.306/.369, 3 HR, 40 RBIs, 89 OPS+; Syndergaard: 1-4, 7.16 ERA, 55.1 IP, 38 SO, 1.446 WHIP
Twins swap reliever Jorge López for Marlins reliever Dylan Floro
Key Stats: López: 5.09 ERA, 35.1 IP, 27 SO, 1.274 WHIP; Floro: 4.54 ERA, 39.2 IP, 41 SO, 1.487 WHIP
Dodgers bring back Red Sox OF/IF Kiké Hernández
Key Stats: .222/.279/.320, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 60 OPS+
Who else was involved: Boston received reliever prospects Nick Robertson and Justin Hagenman.
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