Admittedly, we had some concerns about this bit of midseason theater known as the Trade Deadline when the expanded postseason format was announced earlier this year.
It had seemed, with more teams in the mathematical mix, the buyers would be many and the sellers would be few, which means the price tags would be punitive at a time when teams place high value on their prospects. And a rather uninspiring pending free-agent class would only further add to the likelihood that the Deadline would be a dud.
But baseball will surprise you, and so will the Deadline. Tuesday’s Trade Deadline brought about what might well go down as the biggest blockbuster of all time. And it brought plenty of other intrigue.
Here are 10 things that caught us off guard … and, um, the Padres are prominently involved.
1. The Nationals really did it. They traded Juan Soto
Yeah, sure, within the context of the last couple weeks, this wasn’t some great shock. But just imagine being told at the start of the season -- or even two months ago, when Nationals GM Mike Rizzo publicly proclaimed, “We are not trading Juan Soto” -- that the 23-year-old superstar would be with a different team by season’s end. And that he would be teammates with Fernando Tatis Jr., one of the young, magnetic superstars with whom he is often grouped in conversation.
Though the pandemic might make it seem otherwise, 2019 wasn’t really all that long ago. In the time since the Nats won it all, Soto, Max Scherzer and Trea Turner have all been dealt; Anthony Rendon left in free agency; and Stephen Strasburg has pitched just 31 1/3 innings.
History tells us the odds are significantly stacked against the Nats getting full value for Soto. But his decision to turn down their extension offer and a pending ownership sale hung over this franchise and led us to one of the biggest blockbusters of all time. And even if you were convinced the trade was going to happen -- and that A.J. Preller’s Padres, who were among the industry favorites to land Soto from the beginning of process, would be the ones to get him -- that Soto and Josh Bell were sent out in the same deal was certainly a surprise.
2. The two Major League saves leaders were traded … for each other
Though a Josh Hader swap had been speculated on for quite a while -- on account of his rising arbitration price tag and its effect on the Milwaukee budget -- it was still a surprise to see it actually happen. But that was merely the first big pact the Padres unleashed upon us in this trade season. Hader’s 29 saves at the time of the deal were closely followed by the 28 posted by … Taylor Rogers, one of the pieces that moved to Milwaukee for him.
Had that ever happened before? No, of course not. It’s completely nuts.
A year ago, the Cubs hardly kept anybody. This year, they kept two guys who had seemed guaranteed to change hands.
The emotions were strong when Contreras played what everybody assumed was his final home game at Wrigley last week, but the market for his services was simply not as strong as some fans might have assumed. Teams were wary of his defense and the adjustment to a new pitching staff, though of course his bat is capable of boosting a lineup in a hybrid DH role, at the least. Instead, he’ll play out the remainder of his contractual control on the North Side. And remember, because there is not going to be an international Draft, the qualifying offer system remains intact, which means the Cubs can give Contreras a QO this winter and reap Draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere. The value of that -- as compared to whatever trade offers the Cubs received this week -- surely affected the front office’s thinking.
As a productive switch-hitter and versatile defender under control through next season, Happ was a hotter commodity in this market. But the Soto deal with San Diego, which was one of the teams pursuing Happ, helped gum up the works, and ultimately a deal did not get done. Don’t be surprised if Happ comes up in trade talks again this winter.
4. Crickets from the White Sox and Guardians
We could pick apart the moves and motivations of many a club here, but the AL Central race is the only one in which three teams entered Deadline day within three games of each other. And while one of those teams -- the first-place Twins -- got the memo about this opportunity to improve, the Guardians and White Sox were surprisingly silent.
(Well, OK, Cleveland did make a Triple-A swap for pitcher Ian Hamilton, and the White Sox had acquired Jake Diekman on Monday, but forgive us if we thought there might be more).
The White Sox have underperformed, while the Guardians have exceeded expectations. Both are within a whisker of a Twins team that significantly improved its pitching staff with Tyler Mahle in the rotation and bullpen additions Jorge López and Michael Fulmer. The division wasn’t decided at the Deadline -- far from it. But the Twins’ path to the postseason looks a lot clearer now.
5. A Trevor Rosenthal trade ... in 2022
Rosenthal was the relief darling of the Deadline in 2020, when the Royals sent him to San Diego amid a big bounceback year. He went on to sign with the A’s as a free agent prior to 2021, but never pitched for them because of multiple injuries, including thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. He hasn’t pitched this year, either. The Giants just signed him as a free agent to a one-year, $4.5 million deal less than two weeks before the Deadline.
So this was not a guy high on the trade radar. But as the Brewers rebuilt their bullpen in the wake of the Hader trade, they brought Rosenthal along for the ride.
6. The reigning pennant winners made a trade with each other
You don’t see this every year. The Astros acquired reliever Will Smith from the Braves for starter Jake Odorizzi. Smith had slid down the Braves’ bullpen depth chart this season as his struggles mounted, but he was electric last October, pitching four scoreless innings and getting the final out in the World Series against the Astros. They must have remembered.
Odorizzi pitched just 2 1/3 relief innings in that Fall Classic, but he’ll give Atlanta veteran starting depth.
There were bigger trades, sure, but this was one of the most interesting -- a pure Major Leaguer-for-Major Leaguer swap involving two players who simply weren’t widely expected to be on the move.
In the end, both the Yankees and Cardinals addressed needs. Montgomery, with a 3.69 ERA and 4.9 percent walk rate, is a very solid addition to a St. Louis rotation in need. And Bader’s Gold Glove helps a Yankees team that has prioritized defense this season and has had to use Aaron Judge in center field. (Although Bader is currently on the IL, and it remains to be seen when he will return.)
Even after the Frankie Montas acquisition, the Yankees were not expected to subtract from their stash of starters, and the Cards weren’t expected to deal from their Major League roster unless it was in a blockbuster deal for Soto.
8. The Braves added another Los Angeles-area closer
First, Atlanta signed Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ all-time saves leader, in free agency prior to 2022. Now, they’ve landed Raisel Iglesias -- the Angels’ closer for the last two seasons -- at a Deadline in which he was not necessarily an obvious trade candidate.
9. Joey Gallo to the Dodgers
This is not a criticism of the deal; it’s just a fact that the Dodgers weren’t high on our list of fits to take a gamble on Gallo, who will try to rebound from a miserable .159/.291/.368 slash in the Bronx. Though Chris Taylor’s current absence due to a foot fracture does create opportunity for Gallo in the short term, Taylor is expected back in mid-August, and it’s going to get crowded then.
Gallo, a pending free agent, could find most of his at-bats off the bench.
10. Eric Hosmer was traded twice on the same day
The veteran first baseman had the right to reject his inclusion in the Soto swap, and he did just that. So San Diego turned around and sent him to the Red Sox, who weren’t on his no-trade list, for a couple prospects, including infielder Max Ferguson, Boston’s fifth-round pick from 2021.
Alas, the Padres were unable to move the money attached to Hosmer (about $46 million through the end of 2025). But we’d say they still had a pretty good day.