Ah, the trade deadline. It’s simultaneously one of the most stressful and most fruitful times of year for teams, fans, and writers. I didn’t sleep a lot in the days around the deadline — it seemed like there were always more deals coming down the pike. And yet here I am, a month later, reliving those days. And you’ll probably read it, too, because you want to know who won the deadline. Forget grades and prognostications and promises of future production. Which guys have delivered the most value to their teams so far?
I gathered up the performance of all 63 players who have appeared for a new major league club after being traded at the deadline. I took a liberal approach to defining “deadline” – I included Aroldis Chapman, for example, despite him being traded in the middle of July. I excluded everyone who hasn’t played in the majors, and considered only their statistics on the team they were traded to. Spencer Howard didn’t make the cut because he never appeared for the Yankees, and Paul DeJong’s San Francisco misadventures won’t cost the Blue Jays (though his Toronto misadventures will cost them plenty).
Yes, I know that this isn’t an exact accounting of who did best at the deadline. I’m excluding prospects on purpose. Plenty of people have opined on that, and plenty more will in the years to come as those young players climb the minor league ladder. What I’m interested in is who improved their fate the most right now, in 2023. With half of the post-deadline slate now in the books, we can take a look at which teams’ deadline moves have paid off in aggregate, and which teams would like a mulligan.
My methodology in determining the top teams was pretty simple. First, I just added up the WAR accrued by deadline acquisitions. Take the Rangers, for example, who top these rankings. They acquired Max Scherzer (1.2 WAR), Jordan Montgomery (1.0 WAR), Chapman (0.5 WAR), Chris Stratton (0.1 WAR), and Austin Hedges (0.0 WAR). That’s a combined 2.8 WAR added at the deadline, easily the most value added by deadline acquisitions.
Or take the Angels, the other side of the coin. They acquired (and then divested themselves of) Reynaldo López (0.3 WAR), Dominic Leone (-0.1 WAR), Lucas Giolito (-0.3 WAR), and Randal Grichuk (-0.5 WAR). They also added C.J. Cron (-0.2 WAR), though he’s on the IL and thus wasn’t waived with the rest of the gang. That’s an aggregate -0.7 WAR “added” at the deadline – the Halos’ reinforcements were comfortably worse than replacement level, although “comfortably worse than replacement level” is a sadly common descriptor of the team’s call-ups of late anyway.
That’s one way of looking at how players traded at the deadline have done: in a rough sense, it’s their talent level over the past month. But you could also look at what has actually happened when they’ve pitched or batted by looking at Win Probability Added. In the long run, you’d expect these two to track, but in the short run, I feel like WPA better captures whether the acquisitions have actually worked out so far on the field.
Using that criteria, the Rangers have still done the best. Their acquisitions have provided a net 2.2 WPA, less than their raw WAR but still really impressive. Given that they’re a game back in the AL West, these seem like pretty monumental additions.
On the other side of the coin, the Angels are again bringing up the rear. It’s much worse than that raw WAR total, too; their deadline acquisitions have racked up a brutal -2.6 WPA. In other words, not only have those additions played poorly, but they played poorly in big spots. To put it mildly, that’s not how you’d draw it up at home.
Other leaders include the Dodgers (0.5 WAR, 1.2 WPA), Astros (0.9 WAR, 0.4 WPA) and Mariners (0.6 WAR, 0.4 WPA). And the Royals weren’t even trying to add for a playoff run, but Cole Ragans catapulted them towards the top of the standings anyway. The Cubs are a strange one – 0.2 WAR but 1.3 WPA. On the bottom of the pile, the Marlins must be raging – their deadline acquisitions have added 1.1 WAR, the second-best mark in the league, but negative 2.0 WPA, second-worst. That’s almost entirely due to David Robertson’s ghastly -2.2 WPA in Miami. Ouch. The Guardians are down there, too, with -0.5 WAR and -0.5 WPA. Amusingly, so are the White Sox, who were sellers but who got a few major league parts back in the process.
Here’s the entire list of teams, sortable for your own enjoyment:
WAR and WPA Added at the Trade Deadline
|Team||WAR Added||WPA Added|
Of course, this misses players who got traded away from teams. Take the Guardians, for example. Their additions have been bad, sure. But they also traded away Josh Bell (0.6 WAR, 0.8 WPA) and Aaron Civale (0.8 WAR, 0.1 WPA). The Rangers added a lot of pitching, but they subtracted Ragans, who’s been nearly as good as the name brand starters the team went out and got. If you combine the two, you get a list of team net gains and losses. Here’s that list:
Net WAR and WPA Added at the Trade Deadline
|Team||Net WAR||Net WPA|
I love that the Dodgers climbed the list by ditching Noah Syndergaard, who also weighed the Guardians down to the point that they released him. Now Cleveland is trying to climb back into the playoff race by claiming several players from the Angels, one of the few teams whose deadline acquisitions have panned out worse so far. It’s an amusing circle of unfortunate circumstances, if you ask me.
I’m not sure this is a great way of analyzing who made the best trades at the deadline. A month of baseball is just not enough time to figure that out. You can decide poorly and get rewarded, or decide wisely and get punished. Any of a million possible realities could have occurred after these trades happened. But in this reality, I wanted to know who did the best, and I think that the answer is just the Rangers.
If you wanted to, you could expand this analysis to include the players who lost their jobs as a result of deadline trades. Montgomery and Scherzer had to take someone’s spot in the rotation, after all. But then we’re getting back into the realm of hypotheticals, because we can’t say exactly how those players who got replaced would have done. I suppose we could look at how the players who replaced anyone who got traded away did. The Guardians, for example, have played Kole Calhoun in place of Bell frequently, and he’s been just as good.
To be honest with you, though, that gets far enough into speculation that I’m going to stop here. If you’re wondering which teams got the best players at the deadline, we may never know. But if you’re wondering which teams’ deadline pickups have been playing best, it’s the Rangers. Here, for your perusal, is a list of all the players I considered for this exercise:
WAR and WPA of Traded Players
|Player||Team||Old Team||Post-Trade WAR||Post-Trade WPA|
|Jake Burger||Marlins||White Sox||1.1||0.6|
|Génesis Cabrera||Blue Jays||Cardinals||0.5||0.8|
|Keynan Middleton||Yankees||White Sox||0.3||0.3|
|Reynaldo López||Angels||White Sox||0.3||-0.2|
|Enrique Hernández||Dodgers||Red Sox||0.1||0.3|
|Luis Urías||Red Sox||Brewers||0.1||0.2|
|Joe Kelly||Dodgers||White Sox||0.1||0.1|
|Lance Lynn||Dodgers||White Sox||0||0.2|
|Jordan Hicks||Blue Jays||Cardinals||0||0|
|Nick Robertson||Red Sox||Dodgers||0||-0.1|
|Kendall Graveman||Astros||White Sox||0||-0.1|
|Ji Man Choi||Padres||Pirates||-0.2||0.1|
|Trayce Thompson||White Sox||Dodgers||-0.2||-0.4|
|Korey Lee||White Sox||Astros||-0.3||-0.2|
|Lucas Giolito||Angels||White Sox||-0.3||-1.1|
|Paul DeJong||Blue Jays||Cardinals||-0.9||-0.8|
Also, for anyone hoping this would be a Five Things column instead of a recap of the trade deadline, rest assured that it will return next Friday. To be honest, I’ve been watching a lot of tennis this week – the US Open is my favorite tournament of the year – and combining two weeks around holidays is easier from a scheduling perspective on my end. But don’t worry, Elly’s arm and Tommy’s heroics will probably be making an appearance.
Note: This article was updated to add two players who the Royals acquired in deadline deals, and the analysis of the Rangers’ deadline has been updated to include the impact of trading away Cole Ragans.