MLB execs poll: Biggest surprise? Who will move at Deadline?

May 11th, 2022

The opening month of the 2022 season is officially behind us, and while there are still nearly five months remaining in the 162-game grind, the first four-plus weeks have provided some intriguing storylines to watch. polled two dozen front-office executives with a number of questions to gauge what we’ve learned to this point in the season.

Note: Executives were free to skip any questions they chose not to answer, while some also provided multiple answers to some questions.

Which player or team has been the biggest surprise?

Taylor Ward, Angels (5 votes)
Eric Hosmer, Padres (3 votes)
Twins (3 votes)
The NL West (1 vote)
Rockies (1 vote)
Angels (1 vote)
Brewers (1 vote)
Carlos Rodón, Giants (1 vote)
Eric Lauer, Brewers (1 vote)
Garrett Whitlock, Red Sox (1 vote)
Joe Ryan, Twins (1 vote)
Ryan Helsley, Cardinals (1 vote)
Seiya Suzuki, Cubs (1 vote)
Steven Kwan, Guardians (1 vote)
Rays (1 vote)
Willy Adames, Brewers (1 vote)

When play began on Monday, Ward led the American League in all three slash-line categories (.364/.490/.675), also ranking first in walks and OPS+. Not bad for a 28-year-old drafted in the first round in 2015 who slashed .230/.305/.388 in 159 career games from 2018-2021.

As one AL general manager pointed out, Ward accumulated a total of 0.1 fWAR over his first 534 career plate appearances; in just 96 plate appearances this season, Ward has a 1.9 fWAR, tied for fourth-highest among all big league hitters.

“First-rounder to afterthought, but he never stopped hitting [in the Minors],” another AL GM said. “Now he’s being given an extended run in the big leagues at age 28 and he’s running with the opportunity.”

As an AL assistant GM noted, “He’s been the best offensive player on a team with Mike Trout. He’s on another planet right now.”

Hosmer was the only other player to receive multiple votes thanks to his .350/.425/.520 slash line entering Tuesday.

“After all the trade talk and basically being told, ‘We can’t pay someone enough of your salary to take you,’ he has just gone out and raked,” an AL assistant GM said.

The only team to receive multiple votes was the Twins, who finished the first month 18-11, good for a three-game lead in the AL Central.  

“They’re the only team in the division over .500 right now,” an AL assistant GM said before the Guardians inched over the break-even mark on Monday night. “After some bold post-lockout moves, signing [Carlos] Correa and trading [Josh] Donaldson and [Taylor Rogers], they’re playing good baseball and taking advantage of the White Sox stumbling out of the gate.” 

“I didn’t quite know where they were heading with the moving pieces of the offseason,” an NL GM said. “I think they’ve constructed a solid team with real variance due to some of their trades and signings, as well as [Byron] Buxton maintaining some health up to this point.”

Which player or team has been the biggest disappointment?

Red Sox (8 votes)
Reds (5 votes)
Joey Votto, Reds (3 votes)
Phillies (3 votes)
Marcus Semien, Rangers (2 votes)
White Sox (1 vote)
Rangers (1 vote)
Nelson Cruz, Nationals (1 vote)
Trevor Story, Red Sox (1 vote)

The Reds entered Tuesday with the worst record in the Majors (6-23), and while Cincinnati received five votes in this category, many executives didn’t have great hopes for the team after its offseason moves.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, opened with a 10-19 record, leaving Boston in last place in the AL East. Having made the postseason last fall, Boston’s first-month performance has been somewhat startling, earning them eight votes.

“With the roster they have and the payroll they are able to utilize, their lack of offensive production and bullpen issues is really surprising,” an NL assistant GM said.

Added an AL assistant GM: “They had a blah offseason and haven’t done anything on the field to impress me.”

The Red Sox won 92 games last season, then signed Story as a free agent this winter. While Story received one vote himself, his slow start was a factor in Boston “winning” this category.

“I didn’t expect him to struggle offensively,” an AL GM said. “With the team struggling, it’s magnified.”

The Reds’ terrible start can be attributed to a number of factors, but three executives pointed at Votto’s lack of production as the biggest disappointment from the first month.

“He has no help on that team, so that has crushed him,” an AL assistant GM said. “He was cut loose from the dock and he’s just floating down the Ohio River all alone.”

An NL GM who tabbed Votto and Nelson Cruz as his choices said he has “admired the greatness and longevity for both of these guys, so I suppose this is more disappointment that they’re showing they’re human.”

Semien, who signed a seven-year, $175 million deal with the Rangers this offseason, was the only other player to receive multiple votes.

“Huge contract, he’s almost 32 years old and he’s already trending in the wrong direction,” an AL assistant GM said. Added another AL AGM: “That contract is looking really scary right now.”

The Angels will finish __ this season

Second place/AL Wild Card/87-90 wins (12 votes)
Third place/in the Wild Card race/82-86 wins (7 votes)
Out of the playoffs (1 vote)

More than half of the respondents predicted a return to the postseason for Mike Trout and the Angels, whose most recent playoff appearance was a three-game sweep at the hands of the Royals in 2015. 

“The Angels will finish behind Houston in a Wild Card spot,” an AL assistant GM said. “While I don’t think they have enough pitching or roster depth to hold off the Astros, they are all in; [GM] Perry [Minasian] will be aggressive in upgrading every opportunity he gets.” 

Among those who believe the Angels will fall short of the postseason, that lack of roster depth was mentioned by more than one executive.  

“They have premier high-end talent, but they have depth issues all around,” an AL GM said. “They could find themselves in trouble with one or two injuries.” 

“The Astros are the best roster and the Mariners will ultimately end up outperforming them over the summer,” an NL assistant GM said. “The biggest wild card for the Angels is their health; if that goes their way, my third-place prediction would be wrong.”

Who is the best team in the AL East?

Blue Jays (9 votes)
Yankees (7 votes)
Rays (7 votes)

The AL East has been a three-team race through the first month of the season, and based on the responses, this could be one of the most interesting divisions in the game over the next five months.

The Blue Jays edged the Yankees and Rays by two votes apiece, but none received a majority among the participating execs.

“Toronto is the best team in the AL East,” an AL assistant GM said. “The offense is too much, they are fearless and they have an unfair advantage of teams having to come in there undermanned due to having unvaccinated players. Every win counts.”

“I believe Toronto is going to rally and be the strongest team,” another AL AGM said. “Their offense has yet to click, yet they are winning games [despite] playing below their talent level.”

The Yankees have won only one division title during Aaron Boone’s first four seasons as manager, but New York owned the best record in the AL after the first month of play, raising expectations around the league.

“Their starting pitching, particularly [Nestor] Cortes, is probably better than it gets credit for,” an NL GM said.

“They are firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball, including defense, which has been a hole for a while,” an AL AGM said.

The Rays received credit from one AL AGM for being “Deep, resourceful and well-managed,” while multiple execs cited Tampa Bay’s depth as one of its greatest strengths.

“Their depth makes them resistant to injuries and a very difficult team to match up against,” an AL GM said.

Who is the best team in the NL West?

Dodgers (24 votes)

Think about this: All five NL West clubs boasted winning records after one month of play, the only division that could make that impressive claim.

Yet every one of our respondents chose the Dodgers as the class of the NL West, making Los Angeles the lone unanimous response in this year’s poll.

“The Dodgers have the most complete roster in baseball, not just the NL West,” an NL assistant GM said. “The division is going to be competitive all season, but it would be difficult to pick against their roster and their ability to add payroll during the year if they choose to do so.”

“It’s the Dodgers and it’s not really close,” an AL AGM said. “They already have a run differential +50 ahead of any other NL West team.”

Though the Dodgers received every vote, a few execs mentioned the Padres as a potential threat to Los Angeles this season.

“They have the most productive starting pitching, bullpen and lineup,” an AL GM said of the Dodgers. “They are the most balanced team in the game. The Padres have a chance to give them a run for their money because they are hungry, their starting pitching is good and their lineup in interesting.”

Who will be the biggest name moved prior to the Trade Deadline?

Frankie Montas, Athletics (8 votes)
Luis Castillo, Reds (7 votes)
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox (5 votes)
Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox (2 votes)
Aaron Nola, Phillies (1 vote)
Bryan Reynolds, Pirates (1 vote)
Nelson Cruz, Nationals (1 vote)
Joey Gallo, Yankees (1 vote)
Juan Soto, Nationals (1 vote)

Predictably, Montas headlines this list, as many around the game had expected him to be traded before the season began.

“Someone will need pitching and Oakland will be dealing in a lopsided sellers’ market,” an AL assistant GM said.

That pitching market will also likely include Castillo, who was activated from the injured list on Monday after missing the opening month.

“Castillo will be the most prominent player traded at the Deadline in what may amount to one of the most significant class of starting pitchers to be traded at a Deadline,” an AL GM said.

Boston’s inability to agree to an extension with Bogaerts -- combined with the club’s poor start -- could make the shortstop one of the most prominent names on the trade market this summer.

“If they can’t extend him, Boston will get overwhelmed by a club,” an AL executive said. “And they can slide Story to shortstop.”

Of the five players who received a single vote, none stood out as much as Soto, who isn’t slated to become a free agent until the end of the 2024 season.

“As painful as it would be, trading Soto will be too enticing,” predicted one AL GM.

Who has been the most impressive rookie this year?

Jeremy Peña, Astros (6 votes)
Joe Ryan, Twins (5 votes)
MacKenzie Gore, Padres (4 votes)
Julio Rodríguez, Mariners (3 votes)
Seiya Suzuki, Cubs (3 votes)
Steven Kwan, Guardians (2 votes)
Bobby Witt Jr., Royals (1 vote)

Peña has made a seamless transition as Carlos Correa’s successor in Houston, starting his Major League career in impressive fashion.

“With zero prior MLB plate appearances, Peña had big shoes to fill as an everyday shortstop on a contender,” an AL GM said. “He has looked up to the task.”

“He has hit the ground running,” an AL assistant GM said. “He’s displaying elite-level defense at shortstop along with power production at the plate after not being included on most Top 100 lists.”

Peña narrowly edged out Ryan, who was acquired by the Twins last summer in the Nelson Cruz trade with the Rays.

“He’s pitching like a front-of-the-rotation starter,” an NL executive said. “He looks like a Trade Deadline steal.”

Added an NL assistant GM: “The dude just doesn’t get hit.”

Rodríguez was one of a number of high-profile prospects to make Opening Day rosters, and while he has struggled at times against big league pitching, he led the league with 10 stolen bases after the first month of the season.

“He’s playing a plus center field, he’s among the fastest players in the big leagues and he hits the ball really hard,” an AL assistant GM said. “He’s going to get better and better and better.”

Suzuki’s performance during the first month prompted one executive to proclaim him “the real deal,” while Witt Jr.’s slow start didn’t stop one AL AGM from tabbing him as “the best athlete in the game.”

Who is the best team in baseball? 

Dodgers (23 votes)
Mets (1 vote)

Just as they did in the “Best of the NL West” question, the Dodgers were the runaway choice as the game’s best team. This one, however, was not unanimous, as one executive chose the Mets as baseball’s best club. 

“It’s tough to pick anyone but the Dodgers, who have basically held the title of ‘best team in baseball’ for the last decade,” the AL assistant GM said. “That said, the Mets have gotten off to a great start even without arguably their best player in Jacob deGrom. They have talent and depth across the roster, and they’ll be especially dangerous if they can shore up their bullpen.”

Two other executives who voted for the Dodgers gave the Mets an honorable mention. 

“From a talent standpoint, it’s the Dodgers,” another AL AGM said. “But I think the Mets have a chance to continue with something special and pull it off.”