The 23 best deals of the '23 Trade Deadline

August 2nd, 2023

There were dozens of trades in the days leading up to the 2023 Trade Deadline, which is, remember, the only deadline. (Prior to 2019, there was also an August trading period.) As we’ve done in the past, we’ve attempted to rank the biggest moves, based on some level of statistical subjectivity, but also in terms of impact on this year’s playoff races, and, to be honest, whatever wow factor might be present.

Two notes: Since we had to draw the line somewhere, only trades since July 27 will be mentioned here, so we’re not including the Dodgers moving early for Amed Rosario and Enrique Hernández. Also, just like every year, there are a million minor trades for relievers; only the most impactful will make this list.

1) Rangers acquire P Max Scherzer from Mets for Minor League IF Luisangel Acuña

A living legend no-doubt Hall of Famer gets moved from history’s most expensive and disappointing team for the younger brother of the all-but-certain National League MVP, and that team kicks in more than $35 million to do it? Scherzer, 39, may not be Washington-era fire breathing Scherzer anymore, but he’s still Max Scherzer, and this trade has a little bit of everything.

Texas has spent most of the last few seasons acquiring as much talent as possible no matter the cost -- it was just two years ago, coming off a 102-loss disaster, that GM Chris Young admitted “I think that we have needs everywhere."

This represents further commitment to winning right now, so long as you look at Scherzer as an above-average starter, and not the top ace he once was, and are not worried about the struggles he’s had in the postseason each of the last two seasons. If that sounds more negative than it should, it’s a reflection of what he is at 39, but he’s also clearly an upgrade on, say, Martín Pérez, Andrew Heaney, or Dane Dunning -- especially given Nathan Eovaldi’s health concerns. (They also traded for starter Jordan Montgomery, as you'll see below.) They're more likely to get to and win the World Series than they were a week ago.

For the Mets, this signals the all-but-official end of what was all-but-official anyway: The 2023 season, so highly anticipated and highly regarded, has been a failure. That said, the way you feel about the white flag being raised depends a little on how much you buy into GM Billy Eppler’s assertion that “It’s not a fire sale … this is just a repurposing of [owner] Steve [Cohen’s] investment in the club,” which Scherzer seemingly didn't agree with. Instead of just saving money by requiring Texas to pay all of Scherzer’s salary, the Mets chose to purchase nearly ready talent in Acuña, who is not some years-away low-level teenager, but, as a 21-year-old tearing up Double-A, could be seen in Queens as soon as next season.

2) Astros acquire P Justin Verlander from Mets for Minor League OFs Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford

Once Scherzer left, it seemed much more likely that Verlander wouldn’t want to stick around for an increasingly uncertain 2024. While the Mets now have a massive set of questions to answer about next year’s starting rotation -- which now consists of Kodai Senga, José Quintana, and a whole lot of uncertainty -- they’ve certainly managed to convert the money they had sunk into Scherzer, Verlander, and David Robertson into considerable talent. That's especially true given that Gilbert and Clifford would have been Houston’s Top 2 prospects in next week’s updated MLB Pipeline rankings. If they couldn't use that money to find wins in 2023, then they're certainly using it to try to find wins for future years.

There’s also the question of what, exactly, Houston is getting, for the very high price they paid. (One which wouldn't have been paid if they'd just re-signed him for money last winter, to be sure.) Verlander won the AL Cy Young Award last year, true, and there’s nothing wrong with a 3.15 ERA, yes, but he’s hardly without blame for New York's high-profile collapse. And at 40, there are some big red flags here in terms of missing bats.

That said, the Astros were just a half-game behind the Rangers at the time of the trade, and given the considerable injuries to their rotation, they badly needed another arm if they wanted their sixth consecutive full-season division title. He will, certainly, be an improvement. The question is just if he's Justin Verlander -- and if the Astros are making decisions in the way we're used to.

3) Angels acquire P Lucas Giolito and P Reynaldo López from White Sox for Minor Leaguers C Edgar Quero and P Ky Bush

When the Angels said they wouldn’t be trading Shohei Ohtani, the logical next step was: OK, then get him some help. Hours later, that’s exactly what they did, reinforcing a thin pitching staff with a pair of rentals. Neither were pitching at their best this season, which is what makes this one so intriguing; as rentals, and as players who are here entirely to propel Ohtani into the playoffs, they have to perform better, right now, right away.

But maybe that’s unfair. The Giolito of the last two years (26% strikeout rate, 4.44 ERA) is simply not the Giolito who received Cy Young support each year from 2019-’21 (31% strikeout rate, 3.47 ERA), and that’s not likely to reverse itself in the next few weeks. It might not have to, though. The Angels have reached this point largely because the stars-yet-no-depth approach simply hasn’t worked, and expecting a solid-to-good start once every five days is a valuable thing for a team that cannot afford to give away any games at all. (Not to overlook López, a flamethrower who struck out six of the first 12 batters he faced as an Angel.)

It’s an upgrade. Not a cheap one, because the White Sox did quite well in acquiring well-regarded prospects Quero and Bush for the last few weeks of impending free agents in a lost season. But an upgrade, nonetheless.

4) Blue Jays acquire P Jordan Hicks from Cardinals for Minor Leaguers P Adam Kloffenstein and P Sem Robberse

The Toronto bullpen was already pretty solid, but a minor need for another arm became more urgent when star closer Jordan Romano struggled to get through the ninth inning against the Angels on Friday and subsequently went on the IL with a back injury. Despite the fact that Hicks has one of the strongest arms in the game -- his sinker averages 100.5 mph -- he’s never quite piled up the whiffs like you’d expect, because his game is more “get weak contact” than “blow hitters away.” He has managed to find more strikeout stuff this year, however, seeing that K-rate go from 24% to 31%.

Romano is not expected to miss a great deal of time, so there’s a version of the Toronto bullpen that goes Romano / Hicks / Erik Swanson / Trevor Richards / Tim Mayza as the top five, and that has the potential to be tremendous. The Jays already had the second-best bullpen ERA and the third-best bullpen swing-and-miss rate. To that, they’ll add one of the most electric arms in the game. Not bad. Not bad at all.

5) Rays acquire P Aaron Civale from Guardians for Minor League 1B Kyle Manzardo

Perhaps the most interesting trade of the Deadline, in that the Guardians were a half-game out of first place at the time of the trade, yet decided to deal away their best starter despite a rotation that’s tattered by injuries. Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, and Cal Quantrill are all out, forcing them to rely on rookies Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams, and Xzavion Curry. (And, for some reason, Noah Syndergaard.) Instead of adding badly needed depth to make a run at the division, they … subtracted their best starter in Civale, who is also under control for the next two years.

It seems clear that this is a sell-high move on an oft-injured starter in recognition that a team that’s 11th-best in the AL in winning percentage probably isn’t going far, half-game out or not. (Civale’s 2.34 ERA is great, but most advanced ERA estimators view his performance more in the 3.50 to 4.50 range this year, and he’s never thrown even 130 innings in a season. He also missed two months already with an oblique injury this year.) It gains them the well-regarded Manzardo, who posted a 1.043 OPS at two levels last year, though he was at .783 in his first crack at Triple-A this year before he injured his shoulder.

It’s the opposite for the Rays, who badly need pitching help due to injuries to Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen, and others, and had many other first-base options, both now and in the near future.

6) Rangers acquire P Jordan Montgomery and P Chris Stratton from Cardinals for P John King and Minor Leaguers P Tekoah Roby and IF Thomas Saggese

With all the resources the Rangers have poured into the 2023 season, the fact is that their starters over the last week of July included reliever Yerry Rodríguez (career 7.90 ERA) and swingman Cody Bradford (12 career games through July 30). With Jacob deGrom and Jake Odorizzi out for the year, Nathan Eovaldi on the shelf, and everyone else showing signs of wear, the Rangers' rotation cumulatively had an ERA north of 5.00 for July.

Enter Scherzer, obviously, but also enter Montgomery, who posted a 3.31 ERA in 32 starts for the Cardinals since they acquired him from the Yankees last year. Though he hardly has Scherzer’s track record, he might not be meaningfully less effective than his new teammate right now, and Texas now has two veterans you can feel comfortable starting a playoff game with. For what it’s worth, don’t sleep on the well-traveled Stratton, who has a 4.36 ERA that belies how well the various ERA estimators (3.06 FIP, 3.89 xERA) have suggested he’s performed.

7) Angels acquire 1B C.J. Cron and OF Randal Grichuk from Rockies for Minor Leaguers P Mason Albright and P Jake Madden

Back in February, we highlighted how the Angels were finally trying to add depth around their stars, as opposed to trying to build the entire plane out of stars, and while that obviously hasn’t gone all according to plan, it was a solid enough idea, and this move furthers that strategy. Grichuk functions as an immediate corner outfield replacement for Taylor Ward, who is likely to miss considerable time after being hit by a pitch on Saturday, an injury that made outfield a desperate need considering Mike Trout and Jo Adell are both injured.

Like Grichuk, Cron was originally drafted by the Angels, and like Grichuk, Cron won’t by himself move the needle to put the Angels into the playoffs. But Grichuk fills an outfield spot that was suddenly a big problem, and Cron helps reinforce a first base position that had been a complete disaster, ranking 25th in OPS. If either can be merely league-average bats, then that’s an upgrade over what they were expecting otherwise. 

And as for the Rockies? Notoriously conservative at the Trade Deadline, generally prone to trying to keep free agents or dealing them for little, adding two low-level pitchers to an organization always desperate to find arms in exchange for a pair of veteran rentals represents a move worth making.

8) Cubs acquire 3B Jeimer Candelario from Nationals for Minor Leaguers IF Kevin Made and P DJ Herz

Last winter, the lowly Tigers non-tendered Candelario after a down year, leaving him available for Washington to scoop up on a one-year deal. Call that a successful gamble, because after a quality stretch as a National (128 OPS+ and good enough defense to rank as a top-five third baseman this year) he returns to the Cubs, for whom he played briefly in 2016-’17 before being dealt to Detroit. He’ll join a somewhat-crowded-but-flawed group at 1B/3B/DH in Chicago, and he’ll help; what this did more than anything was show the Cubs were buyers, and that Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger wouldn’t be on the market.

9) Marlins acquire IF/DH Jake Burger from White Sox for Minor League P Jake Eder

Last winter, there was plenty of talk about how the Marlins badly wanted to add contact above all else, and they certainly did that by trading for Luis Arraez. Of course, it hasn’t worked; Miami entered deadline day having scored the fifth-fewest runs in the Majors, only a slight improvement on last year’s third-fewest runs scored. Enter Burger, who had overcome numerous injuries to finally make his mark in the Majors to hit 25 homers for the White Sox this year and post a top-25 hard-hit rate. He can stand all around the non-shortstop infield, and aside from Arraez, there’s absolutely no one irreplaceable on the dirt currently; only the Nationals had fewer homers in the NL, so Burger's power will be absolutely welcomed.

Of course, that the White Sox were willing to trade a feel-good success story who can’t be a free agent until after 2028 tells you a little something, and there’s no shortage of red flags here; he’s a below-average fielder; his .279 on-base percentage is well below-average; he’s hit .173/.253/.470 over the last two months. Throw in a 32% strikeout rate and he’s the Anti-Marlin in lot of ways, which isn’t a bad thing given their total lack of power, but it’s also possible that the White Sox viewed this as found money, turning a pre-season question mark into a well-regarded 24-year-old Double-A starter who could be in Chicago as soon as next year.

10) D-Backs acquire P Paul Sewald from Mariners for IF Josh Rojas, IF/OF Dominic Canzone, and Minor League IF Ryan Bliss

Arizona’s somewhat unexpected run to playoff contention this year had begun to hit the skids, as the D-Backs had lost 18 of 26 before beating the Giants on Monday night. Much of that was due to a bullpen that had posted a 6.04 ERA in July, and so it was no surprise they’d attempt to add some help. What was somewhat surprising was that the Mariners would be willing to move Sewald, who was a scrap-heap pickup from the Mets three years ago before transforming himself into one of baseball’s better relievers. Sewald isn’t set to become a free agent until after 2024, and Seattle had won eight of their last 11 games to at least keep themselves on the fringes of playoff contention. It's a clear upgrade for Arizona, and a somewhat surprising one for the Mariners.

11) Dodgers acquire P Lance Lynn and P Joe Kelly from White Sox for OF Trayce Thompson and Minor Leaguers P Nick Nastrini and P Jordan Leasure

In case anyone was wondering how much concern teams put into inflated ERAs, note that the Dodgers acquired a 6.47 ERA (Lynn) and a 4.97 ERA (Kelly), because they looked under the hood and saw a whole lot to still like about each pitcher. (Much more on that here.) If neither pitcher is likely to be a star, remember that what Los Angeles really needed was some veteran depth to help them get to the playoffs, given that their rotation has been so tattered by injury (and a down season from Julio Urías) that they’ve been forced to go with a majority-rookie rotation for the last few weeks. Given that the Dodger rotation has had its highest ERA in nearly 80 years, it’s hard to criticize any attempt to improve.

12) Orioles acquire P Jack Flaherty for Minor League IF Cesár Prieto and P Drew Rom

The less said about the latter half of Flaherty’s St. Louis tenure the better, as his 2019 peak devolved into injury and inconsistency, leading to a 4.12 ERA over the last four years. As an impending free agent, his departure always seemed assured, though it’s difficult to make the case that he’s the top-tier starting pitcher Baltimore really needed for a playoff push.

But he’s been better lately, with a 3.45 ERA over his last dozen starts, and the appeal here is seeing whether the Baltimore pitching machine can try to find some version of the old Flaherty. Here’s the concern, though:

If the O's can figure out how to help him reverse that and/or find some semblance of his former success, it'll benefit not only Baltimore but Flaherty as well, given that he has an extremely uncertain free agent case on the upcoming market.

13) Padres acquire P Rich Hill and 1B Ji Man Choi from Pirates for P Jackson Wolf, 1B Alfonso Rivas, and OF Estuar Suero

It wouldn’t be a Padres Trade Deadline without San Diego doing something both entertaining yet somewhat confounding, and “trading for 43-year-old Rich Hill” certainly qualifies. But the more interesting name here is Choi, long an underrated bat (114 OPS+) who has crushed righties (.810 career OPS) so long as you keep him away from lefties (.584 OPS); he has also, in a very limited amount of playing time due to injury in 2023, posted a career-best hard-hit rate. He’ll be a welcome add to an underperforming Padres offense that has the second-weakest 1B/DH production in baseball.

14) D-Backs acquire OF Tommy Pham from Mets for Minor League IF Jeremy Rodriguez

Amongst the wreckage of the 2023 Mets season, one bright spot was Pham, who had his best season in years (126 OPS+) with some impressive Statcast metrics to match. Now on his sixth team since 2019, he’ll go to an Arizona club that you wouldn’t have thought would have needed outfield help, given the young talent they have there. But Lourdes Gurriel’s All-Star first half has entirely collapsed, and young bats Alek Thomas, Pavin Smith and Jake McCarthy have shown flashes while failing to prove they’re ready to be in the lineup every day. It’s a good, veteran fit for a team that needed the bat.

15) Brewers acquire OF/1B Mark Canha and cash from Mets for Minor League P Justin Jarvis

Canha was more decent than impactful for the Mets this year, as his .245/.343/.381 line came out to a league-average 102 OPS+. If that does not sound terribly exciting, we agree, but “decent” would be a massive improvement for a Milwaukee team that has a worst-in-baseball -- by a lot -- .564 OPS from its right fielders. (The 29th team, Cleveland, is way up there at .616.) Right field is exactly where he’s likely to play, and he’s projected to be the third-best Milwaukee hitter the rest of the way. If that says more about how badly the Brewers needed a competent bat than how good Canha is, well, it’s still a big deal to have added him.

16) Marlins acquire P David Robertson for Minor Leaguers IF Marco Vargas and C Ronald Hernández

Robertson has had a very good year, but as a 38-year-old impending free agent, the Mets cashed in 20 or so innings in a season that no longer matters in order to get a pair of promising teenagers. The success rate on “promising teenagers” isn’t high, but there’s plenty to like about both, especially Vargas. Robertson didn't necessarily fill a huge need for Miami, yet given the club's position -- essentially tied for a Wild Card spot -- every lead not blown is going to matter. It’s a good deal for Miami today. It’s a good deal for the Mets of tomorrow.

17) Marlins acquire 1B/DH Josh Bell from Guardians for IF Jean Segura and Minor League prospect IF Kahlil Watson

As soon as the Guardians traded for Manzardo, knowing that Josh Naylor was one of the few Cleveland hitters actually performing, it seemed clear that Bell would be finding a new home. It just didn’t seem like it would be this quickly, because after Bell failed to hit for the Padres last summer (.587 OPS), he didn’t do a whole lot for Cleveland this year either (.701 OPS). He’s all but certain to bypass his opt-out, meaning that Miami got him for a season-plus, for better or worse -- and at the cost of Watson, the No. 16 overall pick in 2021, who has struggled to begin his pro career. (Segura, who had a .556 OPS in Miami, is expected to be released by the Guardians.)

In order to make room at first, well …

18) Padres acquire 1B/DH Garrett Cooper from Marlins for P Ryan Weathers and Minor League P Sean Reynolds

… the Marlins traded away one of their current first basemen in Cooper, who had been a solid enough bat for Miami for the last four years before sinking to a more league-average bat this year. That he and Choi are going to San Diego tells you a lot about how the Padres felt about their current situation at those spots. Weathers, for what it’s worth, is still just 23 despite having made his Major League debut in the 2020 postseason, though he’s yet to find success, posting a 5.73 ERA. He’s worth the add, though the Bell/Cooper musical chairs seems like a swap that won’t have much effect either way.

19) Blue Jays acquire SS Paul DeJong for Minor League P Matt Svanson

It’s been clear for weeks that the Jays would be looking for a right-handed hitter, and it was most likely that hitter would be an outfielder. Of course, then Bo Bichette injured his knee the night before the Deadline, and while the severity isn’t fully clear, it made Toronto suddenly need to pivot to adding infield depth. DeJong has had a wildly up-and-down career ever since hitting 30 homers in an All-Star 2019, even finding himself back in the Minors for a large stretch last year, but despite his flaws, he continues to play solid defense (his +8 Outs Above Average rates in the top dozen shortstops and is an upgrade on Bichette, at least with the glove).

Ultimately, “good defensive shortstop with some amount of pop [13 homers this year]” isn’t the player the Jays thought they’d be getting. But until there’s more clarity about Bichette, it might be exactly the kind of player they could end up needing.

20) Rangers acquire C Austin Hedges from Pirates for international bonus pool money

The Rangers have, by WAR, the third-best catchers in baseball. Of course, most of that value came from All-Star Jonah Heim, who is out indefinitely with a wrist injury, and suddenly, the Rangers needed some help behind the plate to support Mitch Garver and Sam Huff. Hedges might just be baseball’s most extreme player, in that he is an incredibly well-respected defensive backstop, rating as tied for the best in that department by Statcast numbers, but he’s an all-but-unplayable hitter, with a 28 OPS+ this year and a 55 OPS+ for his career. Fortunately for the Rangers, they have plenty of offensive firepower to work around that.

21) Padres acquire Scott Barlow from Royals for RHP Henry Williams (SD No. 10 prospect), RHP Jesus Rios

In 2021-’22, this would have been a huge deal, as Barlow had a 2.30 ERA as Kansas City’s closer. But this year, that’s a 5.35 ERA, in part because he’s had some trouble throwing strikes. That said, advanced estimators like Statcast’s xERA don’t think it’s quite that bad -- up from last year’s 2.96 to this year’s 3.82 -- though there’s an obvious decline in velocity from 95.3 mph to 93.6 mph to this year’s 92.7 mph. He’ll serve as a depth piece for the Padres, and they’ll have him if they want him for 2024 as well before he’s eligible for free agency.

22) Giants acquire OF AJ Pollock and IF Mark Mathias from Mariners for PTBN or cash considerations

It’s difficult to imagine a more Giants Move than acquiring a veteran righty outfielder having a poor season (Pollock hit .173/.225/.323 for Seattle) only to watch him come up with huge hits down the stretch or in October, but only if you remember Pat Burrell or Cody Ross or, to some extent, 2020-’21 Darin Ruf. Given how left-handed and injured the Giants outfield has been, it’s not at all hard to see Pollock being slotted in at just the right moments, and using his career .838 OPS against lefties to produce some meaningful hits.

23) Braves acquire IF Nicky Lopez from Royals for P Taylor Hearn

Are there more meaningful trades we didn’t include? Sure. (Yes, we see you, Milwaukee adding Andrew Chafin and Carlos Santana.) But despite the relatively low wattage here (Lopez has a .604 OPS, Hearn a 10.29 ERA), this one demands to be recognized, just because Atlanta managed to swipe an elite defensive infielder for the cost of … well, basically nothing. That’s not a swipe at Hearn so much as an understanding that Atlanta had acquired him for only cash on July 24, then, after one ineffective outing, swapped him for Lopez. It’s the kind of very-under-the-radar move you won’t remember until Lopez comes up with a big hit or a great defensive play in the playoffs. It’s the kind of Braves Move that often seems to end up paying off big.