Who Changed Their 2023 Fate the Most at the Deadline?

Max Scherzer
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that’s the end of that. The trade deadline has come and gone, and whatever teams have is, well, whatever they’re going to have for the stretch run. My colleague Ben Clemens has already done the traditional look at the winners and losers of the deadline, so now it’s the turn of ZiPS, as I do every year afterwards. This is a very targeted look, in that ZiPS isn’t really looking at whether teams did a good job on a general level, only how the deadline affects their 2023 chances. So a team like the Mets ranking at the bottom isn’t a reflection on their competence, but how the deadline changed their postseason probability.

The methodology is simple. I project the rest of the season (after the games on August 1) both with the current rosters and if I undid every single trade made in the final two weeks of the trade period. I’ve included the projections for playoffs, division, and World Series for each of the 30 teams, with the default sort being playoff probability.

ZiPS Trade Deadline Projection Changes
Team Div% Before Change Playoff% Before Change WS Win% Before Change
Texas Rangers 33.4% 31.7% 1.7% 77.6% 71.2% 6.4% 4.7% 3.6% 1.0%
Chicago Cubs 33.0% 31.5% 1.5% 46.2% 41.8% 4.4% 2.6% 1.9% 0.6%
Houston Astros 60.5% 58.3% 2.2% 89.8% 86.0% 3.7% 11.8% 9.8% 2.0%
Milwaukee Brewers 47.5% 46.3% 1.2% 59.4% 55.7% 3.7% 2.4% 1.8% 0.5%
Minnesota Twins 74.2% 70.9% 3.3% 74.4% 71.1% 3.2% 3.0% 3.3% -0.3%
Philadelphia Phillies 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 62.6% 59.8% 2.8% 2.7% 2.5% 0.3%
Los Angeles Dodgers 72.3% 70.8% 1.4% 97.2% 95.4% 1.8% 13.0% 13.0% -0.1%
Cincinnati Reds 18.4% 19.2% -0.8% 28.9% 27.5% 1.4% 0.3% 0.3% 0.1%
Tampa Bay Rays 40.6% 40.1% 0.5% 95.4% 94.3% 1.1% 8.2% 7.6% 0.6%
Miami Marlins 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 29.4% 28.4% 0.9% 0.5% 0.5% 0.0%
Baltimore Orioles 51.2% 50.1% 1.1% 96.8% 96.1% 0.7% 7.3% 6.7% 0.6%
San Diego Padres 3.2% 3.0% 0.2% 40.5% 40.0% 0.5% 3.5% 3.4% 0.1%
Arizona Diamondbacks 4.4% 4.0% 0.3% 45.5% 45.3% 0.2% 2.0% 2.1% 0.0%
Toronto Blue Jays 7.5% 8.7% -1.3% 69.8% 69.8% 0.0% 4.9% 5.2% -0.3%
Kansas City Royals 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Oakland A’s 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Washington Nationals 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Colorado Rockies 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Atlanta Braves 99.9% 99.9% 0.0% 100.0% 100.0% 0.0% 23.8% 25.2% -1.4%
Chicago White Sox 0.0% 0.1% -0.1% 0.0% 0.1% -0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Pittsburgh Pirates 0.1% 0.3% -0.1% 0.2% 0.4% -0.2% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Detroit Tigers 2.3% 2.6% -0.3% 2.3% 2.6% -0.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Los Angeles Angels 1.8% 2.6% -0.8% 13.0% 13.6% -0.7% 0.5% 0.6% -0.1%
Boston Red Sox 0.3% 0.4% -0.1% 13.4% 15.2% -1.8% 0.3% 0.4% -0.1%
San Francisco Giants 20.1% 22.2% -2.0% 81.0% 83.6% -2.6% 5.4% 6.3% -0.9%
St. Louis Cardinals 0.9% 2.7% -1.8% 1.6% 4.3% -2.7% 0.1% 0.3% -0.2%
Cleveland Guardians 23.5% 26.5% -3.0% 23.7% 26.8% -3.1% 0.5% 0.8% -0.3%
New York Yankees 0.5% 0.7% -0.2% 18.0% 21.3% -3.3% 0.7% 1.0% -0.3%
Seattle Mariners 4.4% 7.5% -3.1% 25.9% 31.8% -5.9% 1.5% 2.3% -0.8%
New York Mets 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 7.4% 16.8% -9.4% 0.4% 1.3% -1.0%

The winners start with the Rangers, with an important caveat. ZiPS still slightly prefers the Astros, on the strength of their pickup of Justin Verlander, but adding Jordan Montgomery and Max Scherzer were two thumbs up in the projections. As for that caveat: this is actually the smallest playoff projection change for a team on the top of the chart in all of the years that I’ve been doing this. I prefer Texas’ acquisitions to Houston’s, but adding Verlander and Kendall Graveman does lessen the impact of the Rangers’ moves. It also amuses me a little that both their topline acquisitions were Mets, meaning the Mets were like the antagonist in a movie that sells weapons to both sides in a war.

The Cubs rank next because ZiPS really likes Jeimer Candelario. Just like the Rangers lost some of their gain by Houston doing stuff, the Brewers were also relatively active in getting Mark Canha, Carlos Santana, and Andrew Chafin. Some of the improvement in both teams comes from sweeping up some of the crumbs left in St. Louis’ rapidly diminishing playoff chances.

After the Astros and Brewers come the Twins, and I think them ranking this highly is a good way to highlight what felt like a lackluster trade deadline. Minnesota is the fifth most-improved team, at least in terms of making the playoffs, but its World Series chances actually went down. Basically, the Twins tread water, but that results in a significant improvement solely because the Guardians went backwards. ZiPS now has a 24% chance that the winner of the AL Central will have a losing record. The NL Central teams did enough that ZiPS only gives that a 1% chance of happening in that division. In the battle of the moribund middles, the NL Central edges the AL Central in effort made.

The Phillies improved with Michael Lorenzen and the Marlins with David Robertson and Jake Burger, but both franchises were hampered by the fact that even if they had acquired Shohei Ohtani, they’d still need a tremendous collapse from the Braves to win the division. They can only add wild card probability, which means that their World Series chances move less than they would if they played in, say, one of the Central divisions.

The Orioles and Rays both improved marginally and largely cancelled out their gains. This was an unusually quiet deadline for a wide-open AL East.

At the bottom come the Mets, which everyone should expect. That’s not to say they did a poor job, but they intentionally threw in the towel on their 2023 chances, and we’re measuring, well, the towel. The Cardinals are in a similar boat.

I won’t share that kindness for many of the other teams at the bottom. While the Mariners were fading out of playoff contention, even if you accept that they shouldn’t have made big acquisitions and try to reverse that, I’m disappointed in their retooling. I’m not sure why Teoscar Hernández and Tom Murphy are still there, and I find the return for Paul Sewald to be rather underwhelming. The Guardians literally made their roster worse, and if they actually play AJ Pollock, you can argue the Giants did the same.

That the Angels appear on this list has to be rather embarrassing. Lucas Giolito was a nice start to the trade deadline season, but while his acquisition — or a pitcher of similar value — was probably necessary, it wasn’t sufficient to get them into the thick of the playoff hunt. The Angels have managed the odd feat of rostering C.J. Cron both before and after he was actually good, and Randal Grichuk’s “big” season in Colorado is basically that of a league-average corner outfielder, which is above what the expectations for him are the last two months of the season.

In the end, I think some of the issues of this deadline is that there just weren’t any teams truly willing to push all their chips. Even the larger moves were simply value-based ones rather than wild gambles; the Astros and Rangers snagged their Mets pitchers with good prospects, but that was because the Mets were willing to cover huge chunks of the freight for their veteran aces. Some of this is the general long-term trend towards conservatism in front offices, and some of it is driven by the fact that playoff spots get easier and easier to land (and I’m sure that MLB will try again to expand playoffs during the next CBA fight). In a very real sense, this deadline is as much about the players who weren’t traded as the ones who were.

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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8 months ago

2023-2025= 4th or 5th place for the Mets and Yankees every year. Buying titles doesn’t work anymore.

Carson Kahla
8 months ago

Tell that to the Rangers

8 months ago
Reply to  Carson Kahla

what have the rangers won?

8 months ago

It’s necessary but not sufficient.

8 months ago
Reply to  shultz

Yup that’s the best way to put it. It’s very hard to go to the WS without spending, but even if you spend the odds are against you making the WS.

There definitely is a theoretical tipping point where if an owner is willing to spend X amount of dollars, the team can be good enough to overcome all the randomness and injuries and regression risks that may happen in a season. But that amount is much more than what any owner is capable of realistically spending.

8 months ago
Reply to  baubo

I think an advance sabremetrics can make is to find a better way to value wins; there is no ‘arbitrage free’ framework which can reduce a win to a universally agreed dollar amount.

The focus on the ‘marginal value’ of a win per player obscures the reality that each team values a win differently, and not just in the context of the current season’s records or objectives.

8 months ago
Reply to  shultz

That’s an interesting question. I am trying to think of a teams recently that has won a championship without spending a reasonable amount of money, either to extend the window of a core or to get free agents, and I am blanking.

The Astros in 2017 and 2015 Royals might actually fit, but I’m not confident in that. Aside from that, the closest one I can think of are the Braves in 2021, who had a pretty big payroll but almost all of it was tied up in extensions for guys who would have been under team control anyway.

Aside from them…you might have to back before the strike in 1994.

OddBall Herrera
8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

If you expand the inquiry to teams that were IN the World Series rather than simply won, there are a more (Guardians, Rays x2, Rockies, Royals x2)

The way I see it, if you are in the Series , whatever you did amounted to a championship level team and the last few games simply didn’t go your way

8 months ago

The spending floor for being WS competitive seems to lie at around 50% of the first spending cap, plus/minus 10%.

The wildcards muddy the waters and reward “frugality” with the cheaper goal of postseason play but “crapshoot” luck has its limits. C.f., 2016.

Smiling Politelymember
8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I would count the Rays of 2020, even if they lost (you could argue that a higher payroll still matters there, but in a short series, once you’re there, it’s as much as dice roll on health and fatigue as anything else)

8 months ago

I think the 2020 Rays was greatly aided by the shortened season. The attrition issue that their pitchers tend to face didn’t truly come into play in 2020.

Smiling Politelymember
8 months ago
Reply to  baubo

Eh, it didn’t help/hurt them anymore than it helped/hurt anyone else. If they’d performed poorly, you could just as easily say the opposite, which makes me feel like this is a post-facto explanation. And it’s not like the favored-Dodgers were harmed by it.