Which Teams Improved the Most at the Trade Deadline?

Juan Soto
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Another trade deadline has come and gone, and I must say, this one was more exciting than I expected. I didn’t see the Yankees, Astros, or Dodgers making huge splashes, given that all three are in a daunting position both for first place in their divisions and a first-round playoff bye. There were also relatively few short-term rental options available; Juan Soto, Frankie Montas, and Luis Castillo, among others, could always be traded, but with none of them free agents after this season, teams could also pull them back if they didn’t like the offers. Meanwhile, players like Willson Contreras, Ian Happ and Carlos Rodón stayed put, also to my surprise. By and large, though, we had a whirlwind of a 48-hour period leading up to the deadline.

So, who won and who lost? That’s a bit of a loaded question, because the definition of winning and losing varies depending on each franchise’s goals. A contending team improving, a rebuilding team getting worse but acquiring a stable of prospects, or an indolent team only re-signing its 37-year-old closer are all things that can be considered a win in one way or the other. But we’re here to do some hardcore ranking, so let’s look only at who improved themselves the most in 2022.

To keep this all science-y rather than a somewhat arbitrary exercise, I first projected the entire league’s rest of season in ZiPS and then repeated the exercise with all trades since July 19 unwound. Since some teams primarily got overall playoff boosts and some teams saw improvement mainly in terms of World Series gains, I took each team’s rank in both categories and then ranked everyone by the harmonic mean of those two ranks.

Winners

1. San Diego Padres (+6.8% playoffs, +3.5% World Series)

If you’re surprised by this one, then you clearly hadn’t followed any of the news over the last week. And were out of internet range. With a box on your head and your fingers in your ears. And a brass band was marching around you 24 hours a day, playing all your least favorite Sousa tunes.

Adding Soto to the roster would have been enough to put the Padres here single-tradedly, but they also made a significant upgrade at first base by bringing in Josh Bell, and even Brandon Drury is a useful role player. ZiPS actually thinks that head-to-head, the Padres are a stronger team than the Dodgers! Actually catching Los Angeles remains a nearly insurmountable challenge of math, but the Friars have strong odds of avoiding last season’s disappointing denouement.

2. Minnesota Twins (+7.4% playoffs, +0.2% World Series)

Jorge López, Michael Fulmer, and Tyler Mahle are certainly less earth-shattering acquisitions than many of the names here. What benefits the Twins is that these additions were all targeted to exactly the places on the roster where they needed a boost, and with the White Sox and Guardians doing a whole lot of nothing in a very tight race, the competition didn’t do anything to minimize Minnesota’s benefit. ZiPS still thinks that the Twins are overmatched if they get into the playoffs, but their chances of reaching the postseason look quite a bit stronger. And in the worst-case scenario, aka the Yankees once again trouncing the Twins and sending them packing, the silver lining is that the latter will have won a series first to get there!

3. Seattle Mariners (+4.2% playoffs, +0.9% World Series)

As with the Padres, the division is still out of reach without a miracle, but Seattle has the talent to lock up a wild card spot fairly quickly. Castillo is a huge boost to the rotation, and Matthew Boyd and Jake Lamb at least provide additional depth. But yes, this ranking is mostly about Castillo. That boost may be even bigger when we look at 2023, but that’s a little beyond the purview of this particular exercise.

4. New York Yankees (+0.0% playoffs, +0.8% World Series)

Adding Montas, Andrew Benintendi, and Lou Trivino and sending out Jordan Montgomery in exchange for Harrison Bader doesn’t move the Yankees’ needle really at all for the next two months, but it would take a stunning fall off a cliff to lose the division. The upgrades do manifest themselves come playoff time, when Bader is expected to be healthy and the direct benefit of upgrading from Montgomery to Montas can show itself. These were “tidying up” transactions, but good ones that accomplished that goal.

5. St. Louis Cardinals (+6.7% playoffs, +0.0% World Series)

The bump in playoff probability, combined with little change in World Series winning odds, may seem counterintuitive here, but ZiPS sees the gains made here in terms of depth — more about making the Cardinals’ talent base wider rather than necessarily taller. In other words, the rotation with the addition of Montgomery and José Quintana is much improved, but when you look at playoff starters, where ZiPS still sees a return for Steven Matz and Jack Flaherty, the changes are relatively minor. Also, in a short series, ZiPS sees the consequence of the outfield switcheroo, with the loss of Bader being a bigger deal. And for what it’s worth, the computer does like the Cards’ deadline better than Milwaukee’s.

Losers

1. Chicago White Sox (-4.9% playoffs, -0.8% World Series)

The White Sox have definite holes and did nothing to fill them, while the Twins took the opposite approach. Improvements made by the Mariners, Rays, and Blue Jays are also a downward drag on the AL Central teams in scenarios in which they don’t take the division. It’s no less likely than before that zero wild card spots will go to AL Central teams, so the two teams watching the Twins do something are the big losers here. Chicago outranks Cleveland in this case because ZiPS thought the former was the better bet to make the playoffs of the two.

2. San Francisco Giants (-9.6% playoffs, -0.5% World Series)

The Giants had a very weird deadline, hanging onto Rodón and Joc Pederson but trading away Boyd and Darin Ruf. San Francisco isn’t really that much worse than it was last week, but the NL East teams, the Cardinals, and the Padres all improved their positions relative to the Giants. There’s still technically a slim hope of them surprising; ZiPS sees it as more likely than last year’s 107-win total! And while it won’t make them better this year, I hope the Giants use these months to try to convince Rodón on the value of agreeing to stay in return for a hefty extension.

3. Cleveland Guardians (-9.1% playoffs, -0.5% World Series)

Cleveland tumbles for the same reasons that the White Sox do, so there’s no reason to belabor this particular point. I did like the small pickup of Ian Hamilton, who I think deserves an extended look in a major league bullpen — something that he may get with the Guardians. But that’s a 2023 thing, so no credit here!

4. Philadelphia Phillies (-2.5% playoffs, -0.2% World Series)

ZiPS would have liked to see the Phillies more aggressive at the deadline than they were. David Robertson and Noah Syndergaard help, but it’s hard to move the needle with the former simply because the team’s bullpen is far less dreadful than in recent years, and the Syndergaard of 2022 is less the God of Thunder and more the God of Moderately Humid Weather.

5. Baltimore Orioles (-3.6% playoffs, -0.1% World Series)

The truth of the matter is that ZiPS would project the Orioles to have worse playoff odds even if they had hung onto López and Trey Mancini. The O’s always needed an awful lot to go right for them and a disaster for the top wild-card contenders, but the Mariners, Rays, and Blue Jays all improved their rosters. To my friends in Baltimore, don’t fret; bigger years are coming, and September is the peak of crab season!

And for those who just want to see the big ol’ chart with everyone, here you go!

ZiPS Projected Standings – Before and After Deadline
Team Div. After Playoff After WS After Div. Before Playoff Before WS Before
Arizona Diamondbacks 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Atlanta Braves 20.3% 98.2% 7.5% 18.2% 98.0% 7.0%
Baltimore Orioles 0.0% 3.9% 0.0% 0.0% 7.5% 0.1%
Boston Red Sox 0.0% 34.9% 1.3% 0.0% 31.4% 1.2%
Chicago Cubs 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Chicago White Sox 49.3% 59.5% 2.5% 52.2% 64.5% 3.3%
Cincinnati Reds 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Cleveland Guardians 21.3% 30.7% 0.6% 26.5% 39.8% 1.1%
Colorado Rockies 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Detroit Tigers 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Houston Astros 98.2% 100.0% 16.4% 98.7% 100.0% 16.9%
Kansas City Royals 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Los Angeles Angels 0.0% 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.3% 0.0%
Los Angeles Dodgers 93.8% 100.0% 9.3% 98.5% 100.0% 12.4%
Miami Marlins 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.2% 0.0%
Milwaukee Brewers 39.5% 77.3% 3.2% 48.3% 78.6% 3.2%
Minnesota Twins 29.4% 40.4% 0.9% 21.3% 33.0% 0.7%
New York Mets 79.4% 99.9% 14.9% 81.6% 100.0% 15.6%
New York Yankees 96.8% 100.0% 14.2% 96.8% 100.0% 13.4%
Oakland Athletics 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Philadelphia Phillies 0.2% 38.3% 1.2% 0.2% 40.8% 1.4%
Pittsburgh Pirates 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
San Diego Padres 6.2% 92.9% 7.5% 1.5% 86.1% 4.0%
Seattle Mariners 1.8% 90.9% 7.2% 1.3% 86.7% 6.3%
San Francisco Giants 0.0% 6.3% 0.2% 0.0% 15.9% 0.7%
St. Louis Cardinals 60.5% 87.1% 5.3% 51.7% 80.4% 5.3%
Tampa Bay Rays 0.0% 43.6% 1.7% 0.0% 41.8% 1.7%
Texas Rangers 0.0% 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.2% 0.0%
Toronto Blue Jays 3.2% 95.9% 6.1% 3.1% 94.9% 5.9%
Washington Nationals 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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MikeSmember
4 months ago

“The White Sox have definite holes and did nothing to fill them, while the Twins took the opposite approach.”

This has been largely true since the end of the 2021 season. The manager doesn’t do anything to cover up those holes either.

Last edited 4 months ago by MikeS
Jorge Soler vs Train (UNEXPECTED)member
4 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

Hard to see a hole when you’re nodding off in the dugout

Luy
4 months ago

Better in the dugout than behind the wheel!