11 trades that weren't a big deal -- until October

July 29th, 2023

When the Cubs traded away four players to the Yankees in July 2016 for Aroldis Chapman, it wasn't far-fetched to assume the season would end with a Trade Deadline acquisition recording the final out in the World Series.

And that ended up being the case. Just not in a way anyone expected.

Five days before the Cubs got Chapman, Chicago quietly dealt two prospects to the Mariners for swingman pitcher Mike Montgomery. A little more than three months after those trades, Montgomery threw the pitch that broke the Cubs' World Series curse while Chapman watched from the dugout.

While the move for Montgomery didn't garner the headlines of the Chapman deal, it ended up being just as important in Chicago's quest for a World Series title. With that in mind, we went through the past 11 postseasons and picked out a player from an overlooked trade who made an impact that October.

2012 Giants: Marco Scutaro
Acquired with cash from Rockies for Charlie Culberson

Marco Scutaro’s postseason run with the Giants started on an underwhelming note. After being acquired by San Francisco at the Trade Deadline (and being overshadowed by the subsequent trade for Hunter Pence), Scutaro batted .362 in 61 regular-season games with the Giants. But that regular season success didn’t carry over to the start of the postseason, as Scutaro batted .150 in the NLDS.

And then the NLCS happened.

Scutaro recorded a record-tying 14 hits against St. Louis in the NLCS, helping power the Giants back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Cardinals in seven games. Scutaro batted .500 for the series with four RBIs, two walks and only one strikeout while recording five two-hit games, one one-hit game and one three-hit game. His biggest hit was a two-run double in the second inning of the Giants’ 6-1 win in game six.

While Scutaro cooled off in the World Series, he drove in the game-winning run in the 10th inning of Game 4 to secure San Francisco’s World Series win.

Scutaro ended up playing two more seasons with the Giants, and was named an All-Star in 2013, batting .297 with 31 RBIs. Culberson played two years in Colorado, and has since spent time with the Dodgers, Braves and Rangers.

2013 Cardinals: John Axford
Acquired from Brewers for a player to be named later (Michael Blazek)

The Cardinals’ acquisition of Axford is the quintessential overlooked Trade Deadline deal. It involved a middle reliever (Axford lost his role as the Brewers’ closer at the beginning of the season), occurred at the August waiver Trade Deadline (remember that?) and involved a player to be named -- a staple of any trade that will immediately be overlooked.

While this trade barely moved the needle, it helped the Cardinals in October. After throwing well for St. Louis in September (1-0, 1.72 ERA in 10 1/3 innings), Axford was nearly perfect in the postseason, allowing one run across 5 2/3 innings.

Axford left St. Louis after 2013 and played six more seasons for seven different teams. Blazek spent parts of four seasons with the Brewers and last appeared for the Nationals in 2019.

2014 Giants: Jake Peavy
Acquired from Red Sox for Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree

In 2013, the Red Sox acquired Jake Peavy in a massive three-team, seven-player deal that was the talk of the Trade Deadline. In 2014, Peavy was on the move again -- just without the fanfare. As Boston was in the process of bottoming out after its 2013 World Series win, it shipped Peavy across the country to a Giants team that was in a neck-and-neck battle with the Dodgers for the NL West crown.

While Los Angeles ended up winning the division, Peavy pitched well for the Giants, going 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 12 regular-season starts. Peavy turned it up a notch in the NLDS opener, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Nationals for his first postseason win. Even though Peavy finished the postseason with three rough starts, his fiery start against Washington set the tone for another year of even-year domination from the Giants.

Peavy spent two more seasons with the Giants and finished his Bay Area tenure with a 3.97 ERA in 308 innings. Escobar pitched two innings for Boston and also appeared for the D-backs, while Hembree spent parts of seven seasons with Boston.

2015 Mets: Addison Reed
Acquired from D-backs for Miller Díaz and Matt Koch

Like Axford, Reed was a former closer who was quietly dealt to a contender at the August waiver Trade Deadline. After going all in at the July Trade Deadline by dealing for veterans Yoenis Céspedes, Tyler Clippard, Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, the Mets shored up their bullpen by dealing for Reed, who started the year as Arizona’s closer.

Reed was nearly unhittable in the regular season (1.17 ERA with a save in 15 1/3 innings) before actually being unhittable in the NLCS, tossing two perfect innings in the Mets’ sweep of the Cubs.

Even though Reed faltered in the World Series, the right-hander ended up becoming a key piece of the Mets’ bullpen and even served as the team’s closer for part of 2017. Reed finished his three years in New York with a 2.09 ERA in 142 innings. Díaz never appeared in a Major League game, while Koch appeared in four seasons with Arizona and threw 4 1/3 innings with the Mariners earlier this year.

2016 Cubs: Mike Montgomery
Acquired with Jordan Pries from Mariners for Paul Blackburn and Daniel Vogelbach

Montgomery being on the mound for the final out of the World Series wasn't part of Joe Maddon's plan. After Chapman surrendered a game-tying home run to Rajai Davis in the eighth inning and Carl Edwards Jr. struggled in the 10th, Maddon went to Montgomery for the iconic final out.

Montgomery was a bit of a Swiss army knife for Chicago in the regular season (he made 12 appearances out of the bullpen and started five games), but settled strictly into a bullpen role in the postseason, where he put together an 11-appearance run that will forever stick in Cubs lore.

After being lights out in the NLDS and having a hiccup in the NLCS, Montgomery allowed one run over 4 2/3 innings in the World Series.

Montgomery stuck in Chicago for parts of three more seasons -- serving as both a reliever and starter -- before being traded to the Royals.

2017 Dodgers: Tony Watson
Acquired from Pirates for Oneil Cruz and Angel German

For the third time, a team is on this list because it bought low on a former closer.

Watson, who had a 2.68 ERA, 7.9 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 over seven seasons with Pittsburgh, was knocked out of the Pirates’ closer role that June, thus making him expendable. But with Kenley Jansen set as the Dodgers’ closer, Watson thrived in a setup role. He did not allow a run in nine of his 11 postseason appearances

While the Dodgers would probably want Cruz back, Watson ended up being the final piece of Los Angeles' bullpen puzzle, although they would ultimately fall to Houston in seven games.

2018 Red Sox: Steve Pearce
Acquired from Blue Jays for Santiago Espinal

Pearce only needed four at-bats to become the stuff of New England legend. After being limited to 76 regular-season games due to injuries, Pearce reached another level in the Fall Classic, mashing three home runs and tallying seven RBIs in the final two games of the series.

After going hitless in the first three games, Pearce clubbed a game-tying home run in the eighth inning off Jansen in Game 4. In his next at-bat, he hit a three-run double in the ninth inning to increase Boston’s lead. A day later, he clobbered two home runs in the decisive Game 5 and was named World Series MVP.

While Espinal blossomed into a solid, versatile player for the Blue Jays, Pearce’s magical run made the trade worth it for the Red Sox.

2019 Nationals: Daniel Hudson
Acquired from Blue Jays for Kyle Johnston

Another reliever. Sensing a trend here? Hudson was a bit of an unknown when he arrived in the nation’s capital (he was averaging 4.3 walks per nine innings in Toronto), but turned into a different pitcher with the Nationals.

Hudson started his postseason run with a dramatic save in the Nationals' comeback win in the Wild Card Game and finished it with a perfect ninth inning that secured the first World Series win in Nationals history.

Despite missing Game 1 of the World Series to witness the birth of his third daughter, Hudson recorded four saves, one hold and one win in 9 2/3 postseason innings.

2020 Rays: Brett Phillips
Acquired from Royals for Lucius Fox

While Phillips only had one at-bat in the World Series, he certainly made it count.

Facing Jansen with a 1-2 count and two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4, Phillips lined a hit to center field that set off one of the oddest sequences in baseball history. Chris Taylor booted the ball in the outfield, Will Smith couldn't handle the relay throw at the plate and Randy Arozarena fell while running home but eventually scored, a calamity of errors that ended with Phillips celebrating in center field.

2021 Braves: Joc Pederson
Acquired from Cubs for Bryce Ball

The 2021 Braves are a case study in how to remake an outfield on the fly. Five days after star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his ACL, the Braves swung a deal for Pederson to play a corner outfield spot. Two weeks after that, the Braves dealt for outfielders Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario.

While Pederson was the only member of that foursome not to start in Atlanta's postseason opener, he made his presence felt with a pinch-hit opposite-field home run in Game 1 of the NLDS.

That homer kicked off a frantic NLDS for Pederson, who batted .429 with two home runs and five RBIs in Atlanta’s series win against the Brewers. He added one final ‘Joctober’ moment with a 454-foot home run against his former team in the NLCS.

He wasn't the only outfield acquisition to make his presence known in the postseason. Rosario was named NLCS MVP after he batted .560 with 14 hits, three home runs and nine RBIs in the series while Soler was named World Series MVP after he slugged three home runs in the Fall Classic -- one of which put the Braves on top for good in the decisive Game 6

2022 Phillies: Brandon Marsh
Acquired from Angels for Logan O’Hoppe

The Phillies entered the 2022 Trade Deadline as a good but not great team that had a glaring hole in center field.

Enter Marsh, acquired in the Phillies' second Deadline deal with the Angels after they linked up for a trade for starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard earlier in the day. Along with providing strong defense in center field (he was worth 7 Outs Above Average in 2022, which was the 17th best mark among outfielders), he also proved his worth in the batter’s box, hitting .288 with an OPS+ of 118 in 41 games with the Phillies.

That set the tone for an exciting, albeit inconsistent, postseason that helped him become a household name in Eastern Pennsylvania. After going 2-for-5 in the Phillies’ Wild Card Series win over the Cardinals, he picked up his first signature moment as a Phillie when he staked them to an early lead in Game 4 of the NLDS.

And while that home run was followed up by an 0-for-13 showing in the NLCS, he still provided strong defense in center field, highlighted by his nice running catch in Game 3 of the series. He got back to his long ball ways in the World Series, cranking a solo home run in Game 3 of the World Series to extend the Phillies’ lead. 

Marsh has emerged as the Phillies’ center fielder of the future (he entered the ‘23 Deadline on pace for a career-high in OPS+), while O’Hoppe has impressed in his short stints with the Angels but is currently on the 60-day injured list.