Nationals OF Juan Soto; Photo via David B. King
The August 2nd MLB Trade Deadline is rapidly approaching, leaving many teams with tough decisions about the pieces that will help them most in 2022. 2021 saw the once-powerful Chicago Cubs sell off their sought-after pieces to the rest of the league, creating one of the most exciting trade deadlines in recent history. The environment in the MLB in 2022 has many teams itching for playoff spots. Teams with no business making a push this year possess many outstanding talents that may land them some competitive prospects, and teams with a fighting chance in 2022 are looking to bolster their lineups for the best possible chance when October rolls around. This trade deadline is shaping up to be another exciting one, as many of the league’s top talents, including Juan Soto, are likely to be shipped off to different teams. The National League contenders featured in this article will be evaluated based on their most pressing needs and names of talented players across the league will be assigned to them (one player per team mentioned). Predicting the landing spots of guys at the deadline is something that baseball fans live for. This evaluation of contenders hopes to replicate that excitement for fans and put all of the National League’s contenders into one, centralized spotlight.
New York Mets
Starting in the NL East, the Mets are having a very successful season in 2022. The surprise about this New York team has been their success despite missing a key arm in Jacob deGrom. The entirety of the league knows how shaky deGrom has been when it comes to his health. When Jacob can stay on the field, he is easily a Cy Young favorite. Unfortunately, his on-field time has been extremely low the past couple of years. The Mets have a very solid starting rotation already, featuring names like Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt. The key to the Mets’ success in the final months of the regular season is going to be adding another arm to the starting rotation. This arm should be Frankie Montas of the Oakland Athletics.
The Mets front office knows how Jacob deGrom’s last couple of years have played out for them. By securing Montas for the rest of 2022, they build on top of an already-dominant rotation while also keeping room for deGrom to come back and add to this monster of a pitching staff. With a 3.18 ERA and a lovely 88th percentile ranking in chase rate in 2022, Montas provides a ton of excitement for any rotation in the league. The projected rotation after adding Montas and getting deGrom back would be deGrom, Scherzer, Montas, Bassitt, and Carlos Carrasco/Taijuan Walker. Having an abundance of starting pitchers is an incredible investment for the Mets at this point, especially considering their luck with the starting staff in the past. Montas would slide in perfectly and be a valuable addition to New York’s postseason run.
The Braves, coming off their historic World Series victory season in 2021, find themselves right back in the race for the NL East. After starting slow, the Braves capitalized on the Mets slipping in the standings and now are just 3 games back of the top slot in their division. Offensive prowess is not hard to come by when looking at Atlanta, as they feature many impressive bats in their lineup. Olson, Riley, Swanson, Acuna, and rookie Michael Harris II all add impressive stat totals to this team (all have above 2.0 fWAR, as well). What the Braves need is a jolt to their starting staff. If the Mets end up adding another starter, the Braves should seriously consider following them down that path by going for Pablo Lopez of the Miami Marlins.
Pablo Lopez is an outstanding young arm on the Marlins, putting up a 3.03 ERA and finding himself in the 86th percentile in chase rate. This 26-year-old has nasty stuff. Atlanta has a history of getting success out of young starters, pulling quality starts from Ian Anderson in the postseason, and nurturing Spencer Strider’s rookie-of-the-year type season in 2022. Lopez would benefit from this move as well, seeing as he does not have to leave the division where he has had his success. The Braves, after adding this arm, should consider sending Charlie Morton to the bullpen. Morton is not having his most successful season this year, posting a 4.34 ERA in 20 games in his age-38 season. Morton, as a veteran, would take this role in stride and transition to a place in the bullpen, which could spark a streak of success due to the change of pace for him. Adding Lopez benefits the entirety of the Braves team, and Atlanta should heavily consider adding him to their young pitching rotation.
The Phillies require some offensive sparking. The huge blow to their lineup of Bryce Harper going down early in the season has not been ideal for this team. The pre-season predictions of the Phillies being a “home run or nothing” team are further backed up by the performances of players like Kyle Schwarber with a .201 average and 31 home runs. Philly desperately needs another OF bat. Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs should be the target for the Phillies.
While nowhere near a Bryce Harper replacement, Happ would provide the value that can hold the Phillies over until Harper can return. He is hitting an impressive .282 with an OPS of .812 (good for a 127 OPS+). Happ is having a great season with the Cubs. It is obvious that the Cubs are willing to deal their best players out in a heartbeat, so he is sure to be on the move. Being a switch hitter, too, Happ could easily find himself playing every day with the Phillies. This trade would take a lot of pressure off of the Philadelphia outfield as they wait for Harper to heal. Furthermore, Ian could man the outfield while keeping Harper at DH as he eases back into full-time MLB play. Happ does not have to be a long-term signing for the Phillies, but could easily provide a ton of short-term value as they look to sneak into a wild card spot.
Moving to the NL Central, the Brewers are poised to take the division crown once again. However, the Cardinals are not far behind them in the standings. As this trade deadline approaches, the Crew needs to make a splash. Josh Bell of the Washington Nationals is the type of bat that the Brewers could benefit from. As a switch hitter with a ton of raw power, Bell is a piece that many teams will be competing for. The Brewers have been known for their outstanding pitching in the last couple of seasons but have never been the team to shine with the bats. Josh Bell could be the beginning of that offensive success that the Brew Crew has been searching for.
Bell is slashing .302/.387/.490 in 2022 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs. Combined with his switch-hitting ability, Bell certainly is a piece that Milwaukee could be excited to land. Bell hardly strikes out and has outstanding expected offensive percentiles, falling into the 97th for xBA and 84th for xSLG. The season being produced by Bell is no fluke; the Brewers should capitalize on his success to add to their already established team. Rowdy Tellez could be someone who would benefit from being platooned in the DH spot with Andrew McCutchen. Bell would slot in as the full-time 1B, pushing Tellez into a beneficial matchup-based role in the lineup. In any case, Bell is the ideal addition to this Brewers squad.
St. Louis Cardinals
A ton of exciting rumors surround the Cardinals as the 2022 trade deadline looms overhead. The rumors involve one superstar in particular: Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals. The Cardinals have a very exciting future ahead of them, as their minor league system is regarded as one of the game’s best. However, with the emergence of Juan Soto as this year’s blockbuster trade deadline candidate, the Cards are faced with a big decision. Does this team trust their player development, or do they take a chunk out of their farm system to acquire a generational talent in Juan Soto? St. Louis has a lot of appealing prospects to send back to Washington to make this trade happen. Even some young major leaguers, like Dylan Carlson or Lars Nootbar, could headline a trade for Soto.
The Cardinals have not been the team that they have wished to be in the last couple of seasons, notably losing a very winnable game to the Dodgers in last year’s wild card game. Juan Soto is the guy that the Cards need. With a great OBP of .400 this year and 20 home runs, the Cardinals would be silly not to put down a great offer for Soto. After signing guys like Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, the team is seemingly one good move away from making their presence known in the playoffs. Getting Juan Soto is the move they need to make.
Soto supercharges any environment he plays in. Cardinals fans dream of a power and on-base combination guy like Soto, but they would not find him starting in the outfield too often. Soto sits in the 1st percentile (among the worst in the league) in outs above average. The Cardinals outfield is regarded as one of the best in the business, with all 3 primary starting outfielders taking home Gold Gloves in 2021. If Soto ends up here, it will be interesting to see how he is deployed on the field. No matter how he is utilized, Soto moving to St. Louis would shake the baseball world and provide the splash that could send the Cards deep into October.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Shocking absolutely no one, the Dodgers are back at the top of the NL West. After failing to capture the crown last season, this team seemingly turned a corner and discovered their old, dominant ways. While it is hard to look at this LAD lineup and point out any flaws, their starting rotation is a cause for concern. One of their best pitchers has been veteran Clayton Kershaw, which is not ideal. This type of success from an older veteran is certain to fade, especially considering his October tendencies. Guys like Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson are also having good years for the Dodgers. However, fans of the game will be quick to point out the lack of trust the Dodgers have in these two. Tyler Mahle of the Cincinnati Reds could be the piece that fully solidifies a deep run for the Dodgers in 2022.
The Dodgers, simply put, make pitchers better. They have shown this skill in the last couple of years and are ready to do it again with an arm like Mahle’s. Mahle had a rough first half with the Reds but has shown recent improvement. 107 strikeouts in 98.1 innings is something that makes teams excited. The Dodgers could easily tap into Mahle’s strikeout stuff and make him into a fantastic middle-rotation guy. Mahle also has experienced a deal of bad luck in 2022, having an xERA of 3.30 with an actual ERA of 4.49. With Mahle being 27 years old, the Dodgers can look to extend his contract if they like what they get out of him. Pitching carries clubs in October; the Los Angeles Dodgers have a good chance to make it far this year if they add a dominant arm like Mahle to their arsenal.
San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres find themselves in the shadow of the Dodgers, again. The Dodgers, with their seemingly infinite amount of money, are sure to make another splash at this year’s trade deadline. Baseball fans remember last year when Max Scherzer was seemingly ripped out from under the Padres by the Dodgers last year. This year, the Padres are going to make sure this doesn’t happen. Although Jorge Alfaro is having his best offensive season as the catcher for the Padres, they find themselves caught in a lack of offensive power without Tatís. Wilson Contreras of the Chicago Cubs could very realistically be a target of the Padres.
Austin Nola, the other side of the catching platoon in San Diego, is not having a great season. The trade to send Contreras to SD could easily be done with Nola, some low-level prospect(s), and cash. With Contreras joining the already impressive Alfaro (who has a 116 OPS+), the catching position would receive a huge boost. In the 98th percentile of Max Exit Velocity and the 92nd for HardHit%, Contreras is tearing it up this season. The 30-year-old all-star would feed off of San Diego’s electric atmosphere and cause a ton of exciting moments behind the dish or at DH for the rest of 2022.
San Francisco Giants
As the Giants have fallen to 48-50, their playoff chances have also dipped to a measly 22.5%. The Giants need a change soon if they want to have any sort of fighting chance when the end of the season rolls around. An easy change that the Giants could address at this deadline is their defense. Giants fans know how much their lackluster defense has been killing them in 2022, as they rank 27th-worst in the league when looking at errors per game. Ramon Laureano of the Oakland Athletics fits the mold of the Giants needs this season.
Laureano is known for making outstanding plays throughout his career; most famously, his double-play in center field against the Angels in 2018 that featured a throw from the centerfield warning track to first on the fly. Laureano could be caught up in the old “not trying because my team is bad” era of his career. A change of scenery would arguably be helpful. As for his defensive metrics this year, his sprint speed is in the 58th percentile, Outfielder Jump in the 87th, and his Outs Above Average in the 12th (explained by his lack of effort in the Colosseum?). The Giants could use a tough, defensive-heavy guy like Laureano. Ramon is not exactly desired by a ton of teams, making the chances for the Giants securing him even higher. He can be a fighter for any team he is on, possibly pushing hard enough to send the Giants into another playoff spot.
The 2022 MLB season has proven itself to be nothing short of exciting. Win streaks, near-perfect games, and incredible power seasons by some players highlight this current season. With the trade deadline staring contending teams in the face, clubs are forced to make moves that will hopefully spark another fantastic postseason race. The names mentioned in this article are not going to be the only ones on the move, as much more talent lies untapped in today’s game. The aforementioned contenders making the moves outlined in the paragraphs above certainly would help them succeed, but it is certainly not going to pan out the exact way described here. However the deadline ends up happening, 2022 is sure to see many talented players on the move in order to push contending teams over the edge and far into October baseball.