The Trade Deadline saw a number of clubs make big splashes to improve their rosters for the stretch run, but other playoff contenders plotted a different course, opting instead to stand pat or make tweaks around the margins.
For the teams in the latter group, this means more of an onus will be on the players who were on the roster pre-Deadline to step up.
Each of these clubs has one holdover in particular who has become more important in the wake of the Deadline, whether it’s someone who hasn’t lived up to expectations, someone returning from injury or a young player who is being counted on to step into a crucial role.
Here are the biggest X-factors for eight contenders that were quiet at the Trade Deadline.
José Berríos, RHP, Blue Jays
While the Blue Jays acquired second baseman/outfielder Whit Merrifield and pitchers Anthony Bass, Zach Pop and Mitch White at the Deadline, their haul pales in comparison to the moves some of the AL’s other top contenders made. Thus, it's on last year's big trade acquisition, Berríos, to get back on track.
Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah are arguably as good as any starting pitcher duo in the AL, but the rest of the team's rotation has been an issue, with Hyun Jin Ryu out for the season and Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi combining for a 5.06 ERA. Berríos showed signs of progress in July (3.00 ERA, 6.0 K/BB ratio), but he gave up five runs over 3 2/3 innings against the Twins on Friday and has allowed more earned runs (68) and homers (24) than any other AL pitcher this season.
Lucas Giolito, RHP, White Sox
Widely regarded as one of the AL’s top teams entering this season, the White Sox have spent much of the year treading water but are still firmly in the AL Central race, making their Trade Deadline inactivity surprising. While several key Chicago players are having underwhelming seasons, perhaps no one has been as disappointing as Giolito, considering the preseason expectations.
After earning AL Cy Young votes in each of the previous three years, Giolito has put up a 5.06 ERA over 19 starts in 2022, including five starts in which he allowed five earned runs or more. A stretch-run turnaround from Giolito could give the White Sox the edge they need to claim their second straight division crown.
Nolan Gorman, 2B, Cardinals
The Cardinals were one of the finalists for Juan Soto, but after the superstar outfielder landed with the Padres, St. Louis came out of the Deadline without adding a bat to go with its acquisitions of pitchers José Quintana, Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton. That could be problematic for an offense that is heavily reliant on All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, who have combined for nearly one-third of the team's extra-base hits and more than 39% of their home runs.
We could go with Dylan Carlson here, given he was reportedly one of the pieces the Cards were reluctant to part with in a Soto package and is now cemented as the team's starting center fielder after St. Louis dealt Harrison Bader to the Yankees, but Gorman has a better chance to become the third offensive star the team needs. The rookie infielder has been solid this season, producing 12 homers and a 117 OPS+ in 221 plate appearances, but St. Louis is counting on him to do more.
Wander Franco, SS, Rays
Formerly MLB’s No. 1 overall prospect, Franco was so impressive as a rookie that the Rays signed him to the largest deal in franchise history ($182 million over 11 years) last November. This was supposed to be the year the 21-year-old ascended to superstar status, and for a while, he looked to be doing just that, hitting .331/.355/.525 with 14 extra-base hits over his first 28 games. However, he ran into a slump in May before missing nearly a month with a right quad strain, then played only 13 games before going on the IL again with right wrist discomfort.
Tampa Bay added outfielder David Peralta at the Deadline, but with all of the team’s injuries, it’s imperative that Franco comes back strong.
Dustin May, RHP, Dodgers
Like the Cards, the Dodgers reportedly took part in Soto trade talks and were linked to some of the top available starting pitchers. However, the biggest move the team ended up making was a trade with the Yankees for struggling outfielder Joey Gallo -- a far cry from a year ago, when Los Angeles dealt for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner.
The Dodgers lead the NL in runs scored per game (5.27) and have allowed fewer runs per game (3.23) than any MLB club, so they might have enough to win it all as is. But May’s return from Tommy John surgery could give the rotation an insurance policy in case Clayton Kershaw (on the IL with a back injury) deals with further injury problems, Walker Buehler (on the IL with a flexor tendon strain) suffers a setback or one of their surprising breakout arms (Tyler Anderson and Tony Gonsolin) fades down the stretch. Armed with a 100 mph sinker, May had an eye-popping 13.7 K/9 through five starts before his injury last year.
New York added veteran righty Mychal Givens at the Deadline (along with hitters Daniel Vogelbach and Darin Ruf), but the club still appears to be an arm or two short in the bullpen. That could change with the returns of Trevor May and Megill, who replaced deGrom in the rotation earlier this season but will pitch out of the ‘pen when he returns from a right shoulder strain. Megill had a 2.43 ERA and a 9.7 K/9 over his first six starts this year and could fill a valuable role as a multi-inning relief weapon.
Freddy Peralta, RHP, Brewers
The Brewers won the NL Central title last season on the strength of an elite rotation led by Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Peralta. The club’s starting staff hasn’t been nearly as good behind Burnes this year, and Milwaukee also just traded All-Star closer Josh Hader to the Padres in a Deadline stunner. But with Woodruff returning to form after a slow start and Peralta back from the injured list, the club could once again ride its trio of aces to a division title.
Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta have combined to post a 2.71 ERA with 963 K’s over 748 innings since the beginning of 2021, even factoring in Peralta's lackluster performance (4.46 ERA) to date in 2022.
Amed Rosario, SS, Guardians
Cleveland was eight games above .500 with an average of 4.69 runs scored per game through June 22, but the club has put up just 3.82 runs per game since, going 18-24 in that span. The Guardians are tied with the Nationals for the second-fewest home runs hit (85) in the Majors this season, and only 38 of their big flies have come from someone not named José Ramírez, Josh Naylor or Andrés Giménez.
It might seem odd to point to a player with 50 career homers over 644 games as a potential solution for the team's power woes, but Rosario has shown a lot more thump lately. After producing eight extra-base hits with zero homers in his first 49 games this season, the 26-year-old has recorded 24 extra-base hits with seven dingers in his past 51 games, slashing .326/.358/.519 during that time. He has gone deep three times since the calendar flipped to August, including a career-long 450-foot blast on Wednesday.