As the clock ticks down toward the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, potential buyers have a couple of options. They can patch holes and fortify the edges of the roster with low-key depth moves. Or they can go big.
Perhaps even Shohei Ohtani big. It's far from clear that the Angels will trade the two-way superstar, but it seems they might consider it if the team falls out of another postseason chase. And keep this in mind if the clear AL MVP Award frontrunner is in fact moved: No player has ever won MVP after changing teams during the season.
While an Ohtani deal at the Deadline might be unprecedented in some ways, trades of stars at this time of year do happen. Some of MLB’s biggest names have moved during Deadline season over the years, including Hall of Famers such as Rickey Henderson (1993), Greg Maddux (2006) and Ken Griffey Jr. (2008). But what if we put the focus on the season in question, rather than the player’s entire body of work?
Since the Trade Deadline moved from June to July 31 in 1986, there have been 28 players who have been dealt between July 1 and the Deadline during a season in which they produced at least 5 wins above replacement (WAR), per Baseball-Reference, a list that includes Juan Soto a year ago. This does not count players who were either traded before July (such as Henderson in 1989, Mike Piazza in 1998 or Carlos Beltrán in 2004), or during the now-defunct August waiver period (Justin Verlander in 2017).
Picking from among that stellar group of July acquisitions, here are 13 of the best seasons by players traded in the midst of Deadline season, listed in reverse chronological order.
2021: SS Trea Turner and SP Max Scherzer (Nationals to Dodgers)
Turner: 6.5 WAR (2.5 with LAD) | Scherzer: 5.9 WAR (2.7 with LAD)
Yes, that's two players in a single trade who earned their way on to this list. Turner and Scherzer became a stunning package deal headed from Washington to L.A. on Deadline Day 2021. The Dodgers, who had an unexpectedly tough fight on their hands from the Giants in the NL West, needed reinforcements. And they got them. All Turner did was bat .338 with a .950 OPS, 10 homers and 11 steals over 52 games while sliding to second base in deference to Corey Seager. Scherzer was perhaps even better, posting a 0.78 ERA over his first nine starts in Dodger Blue and finishing the season with a 2.46 ERA. It didn't net the Dodgers another division title (despite their 105 wins), but the club knocked off San Francisco in the NL Division Series, while Turner (fifth in NL MVP voting) and Scherzer (third in NL Cy Young voting) received postseason awards consideration.
2018: SS/3B Manny Machado (Orioles to Dodgers)
6.1 WAR (2.5 with LAD)
The Dodgers, who came up one game shy of a championship in 2017, were making another run but had lost Seager to a season-ending injury. The Orioles were on their way to a 115-loss finish, with Machado a pending free agent. So a deal was struck on July 18, with the 26-year-old Machado batting .315/.387/.575 with 24 home runs, having just made his fourth All-Star appearance. Machado continued to produce in L.A., but struggled in a World Series loss to Boston. He then became the Dodgers’ division foe, signing a 10-year deal with San Diego.
2015: OF Yoenis Céspedes (Tigers to Mets)
6.2 WAR (2.1 with NYM)
This was the third time Céspedes was traded in the span of exactly one year. In this case, it was part of a winding Deadline saga that famously involved the Mets’ Wilmer Flores crying on the field. When the dust settled, though, Céspedes (and Flores) were on the Mets, who quickly went from two games behind the division-leading Nationals to first place, ultimately running away with the NL East. Céspedes slugged .604 in 57 games with New York, finished with 35 homers and helped the club reach the World Series before re-signing that offseason.
2015: SP David Price (Tigers to Blue Jays)
6.3 WAR (2.6 with TOR)
This was also the second straight Deadline that saw Price on the move, after he went from Tampa Bay to Detroit in 2014. This time, the left-hander joined a big postseason push in Toronto, which also added Troy Tulowitzki on the way to its first October berth since winning the 1993 World Series. Price was just as terrific with the Blue Jays (2.30 ERA) as with the Tigers (2.53), and his new team won nine of his 11 starts. The playoffs went less smoothly for Price, but he finished as the AL Cy Young Award runner-up before signing with Boston as a free agent.
2010: SP Cliff Lee (Mariners to Rangers)
5.1 WAR (1.6 with TEX)
Lee was also a Deadline trade piece in 2009 (Cleveland to Philadelphia) and really could be on this list for either season. The left-hander reached the World Series both times, helping push Texas there in 2010 with three dominant wins in the ALDS and ALCS (24 innings, 13 hits, two runs, one walk, 34 strikeouts). Lee finished 2010 as the MLB leader in complete games (seven), FIP (2.58), WHIP (1.00) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (10.3) before signing back with the Phillies as a free agent.
2008: OF Manny Ramirez (Red Sox to Dodgers)
6.0 WAR (3.5 with LAD)
Things had turned sour for Ramirez in Boston, despite his 274 home runs and two World Series rings there. The Dodgers, trailing Arizona in a close NL West race, were willing to risk the potential headache to land an elite hitter as part of a three-team trade that also involved Pittsburgh. Just how good was a motivated Manny? He finished fourth in the NL MVP Award voting despite playing only 53 games for L.A. So it goes when you post a 1.232 OPS and help your team to a division title. Ramirez crushed the ball in the playoffs, too, then re-signed with the Dodgers in the offseason.
2008: 1B Mark Teixeira (Braves to Angels)
7.8 WAR (3.7 with ATL)
Only a year earlier, Atlanta had paid a heavy price (including shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus) to pry Teixeira from Texas but then missed the playoffs. In 2008, Atlanta found itself in sell mode but got what was ultimately a disappointing return for Teixeira. The first baseman went wild after the trade, batting .358/.449/.632 with 13 home runs for a 100-win Angels club that nonetheless fell to Boston in the ALDS. That was it for Tex’s tenure with the Halos, as he left for the Bronx in free agency.
2008: SP CC Sabathia (Indians to Brewers)
6.7 WAR (4.9 with MIL)
Yes, that’s a third trade from 2008 alone. It’s hard to be better as a midseason acquisition than Sabathia, who came over early in July and wound up finishing fifth in the NL Cy Young Award race and sixth in the MVP race. The Brewers, who hadn’t made the postseason since 1982, won a close NL Wild Card chase behind Sabathia (11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and seven complete games). The Brewers went 14-3 in his outings before the lefty departed for the Yankees as a free agent. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, the trade cost the club a prospect named Michael Brantley.
2002: 3B Scott Rolen (Phillies to Cardinals)
6.4 WAR (2.8 with STL)
Rolen’s time in Philadelphia had ended acrimoniously, despite the fact that the third baseman was enjoying his sixth straight productive season in 2002, making his first All-Star team. With the 27-year-old set to become a free agent, Philly sent him to St. Louis, where he joined forces with Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds to form the “MV3.” Rolen finished 2002 with an .860 OPS, 31 homers, 110 RBIs and the fourth of his eight Gold Glove Awards. Before the end of the regular season, he signed an eight-year extension to remain with the Cardinals.
1999: 2B Randy Velarde (Angels to A’s)
7.0 WAR (2.8 with OAK)
This list consists of a bunch of big names -- and Velarde. A 19th-round Draft pick in 1985, the infielder carved out a 16-year MLB career but was never an All-Star and only got 400-plus plate appearances in a season five times. Needless to say, 1999 was a career year for Velarde, who was already 36 years old. Even if that WAR figure was a bit inflated, Velarde batted .317 (.333 for Oakland), set personal bests with 16 homers and 24 steals and played stellar defense. The A’s, however, came up short of a playoff berth.
1998: SP Randy Johnson (Mariners to Astros)
5.8 WAR (4.3 with HOU)
Johnson was having -- by his standards -- a so-so 1998 season in Seattle, going 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA and 10 starts with at least six runs allowed. But the Big Unit was still an elite pitcher, and one due to reach free agency at season’s end. Unable to work out a contract extension, the Mariners traded him just before the Deadline to the Astros. The lanky lefty proceeded to go 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA the rest of the way, with 116 K’s in 84 1/3 innings. Unfortunately for Houston, Johnson took a pair of hard-luck losses as the club fell to San Diego in the NLDS. He then signed with Arizona and won each of the next four NL Cy Young Awards.
1997: 1B Mark McGwire (A’s to Cardinals)
5.2 WAR (2.0 with STL)
By the summer of 1997, Oakland was headed for a fifth straight losing season, while McGwire was a pending free agent. That led to a deal with St. Louis, where the slugger and his 34 home runs were reunited with former A’s manager Tony La Russa. Big Mac made it a smooth transition, blasting another 24 big flies to go along with a .684 slugging percentage in just 51 games with the Cardinals. Before season’s end, McGwire inked an extension to remain in St. Louis, setting the stage for the city to host the 1998 home run record chase.