9 options for a power bat at the Deadline

July 26th, 2022

So you’re a contender, or at least you think you might be one. You’re looking ahead to the postseason and how your lineup might square up against the best pitching in the land. You’re wondering if you need a power bat, and the answer is: Yes, you do need a power bat. That’s because, despite the myth that power doesn’t play in October and small ball wins pennants, power plays extremely well in the playoffs. How could it not?

We explored this in great detail in 2020, but the short version is that because pitching gets better -- not only do the worst pitching teams go home, but the surviving teams use their best pitchers more aggressively -- offense goes down, and so the thing that’s guaranteed to score at least one run becomes even more important.

To put it in stark numbers, teams that outhomer their opponents have won 77% of the time in the regular season since 2020 ... and teams that have done that have won 90% of the time in the postseason. You might remember seeing last postseason that teams that hit more homers went 25-2; you definitely remember that Jorge Soler did not win World Series MVP for his sacrifice-bunting skills.

So yes, you could use some power, even you, Yankees, because despite leading the Majors in homers and slugging, you’ve got some places to potentially improve at shortstop, outfield and behind the plate. For everyone else? You do, too. But where can you find it? The obvious answer here might be “trade for Juan Soto,” but that’s less about “adding slug” and more about “acquiring a future Hall of Famer who is only 23 years old.” The secondary answer is “trade for Willson Contreras,” though in-season trades of top catchers are extremely rare.

For some more attainable options, we have some ideas. (If you’re not slugging at least .400 right now, you don’t count. Sorry, Nelson Cruz and Jesús Aguilar.)

All stats through Sunday.

Josh Bell, 1B, Nationals
Free agent after 2022

Bell is the most obvious choice here, because he’s having a very good year (.305/.388/.496, a 145 wRC+) on a Nationals team going absolutely nowhere, and given that he’s a free agent following the season, he’s almost certain to be moved. Since he’s a switch-hitter, a competent defensive first baseman and that every team has the DH now, it wouldn’t be hard to find some teams that would be pleased to get him.

But: What version of Bell are they getting? We have to admit there’s a little about Bell’s season that’s confounding to us, because he appears to have traded in some power -- his 40.7% hard-hit rate is considerably down from last year’s 52% -- for contact. His 14% strikeout rate is excellent, and it would be his best full-season mark.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, obviously. It’s clearly working for him. But given that his BABIP is .328, much higher than it’s ever been, and his barrel per batted-ball rate is lower than it’s been since 2018, we lean toward siding with a projection system like THE BAT that suggests he’ll be about 20% better than league average for the rest of the year, as opposed to the nearly 50% mark he’s running right now.

Which is to say: Not as good as he’s been, yet still quite good, and definitely a worthwhile add for contenders with weakness at DH or 1B.

Potential fits: Astros, Mariners, Cardinals, Brewers, Rays, Blue Jays

Christian Walker, 1B, D-backs
Free agent after 2024

Probably our early favorite for “trade that goes unnoticed but has a large impact,” Walker is easy to dismiss because he’s hitting .206 for a last-place team that most people don’t pay close attention to. The 22 homers should tell you a little about the power he possesses, but mostly, there are just a ton of positive indicators that show he’s been a lot better than that low average would suggest.

For example, consider this trio of skills. Walker’s walk rate (13%) is better than average; his strikeout rate (19%) is better than average; his barrel rate (a metric that shows hits with perfect combos of exit velocity and launch angle) is downright elite. If you put all of that together, combine the quality of contact with the strikeouts and walks, you get a hitter who rates as one of the 25 best, hitting like he’s Kyle Tucker.

And yet: the .206 average. You don’t win games based on what “could have happened,” right? For one thing, most winning teams don’t worry too much about a hitter’s average; for Walker, they’ll focus on the fact he’s 15% better than league average overall, with some potential for more. They’ll focus on the fact that there’s evidence that almost no hitter has found less good fortune on his hits than he has.

They’ll take all that into account, note that he’s a very good defensive first baseman, and that he’s not even a free agent until after 2024, and there’s going to be more interest here than you might think -- perhaps even from teams looking ahead to next year.

Potential fits: Astros, Brewers, Rangers, Giants, Red Sox, Mariners

Trey Mancini, 1B/OF, Orioles
Free agent after 2022

Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/OF, Orioles
Free agent after 2026

Let’s lump these two O’s together, because if Baltimore is still within shouting distance of an AL Wild Card spot – they’re just 3 1/2 games out entering Monday – then the team may decide not to move anyone at all, potentially upending the trade market.

While the profiles here are somewhat similar -- righty/righty 1B/OF/DH types -- there’s plenty to separate them. Mancini, 30, will be a free agent this winter, and he’s having the same kind of year he always has, which is to say he’s going to end up with around 20 homers and be 15-20% better than average. (He might be happy to escape the newly configured Camden Yards, which has cost him five homers this year.) Of course, given all that he went through in beating cancer to return to the Orioles, any trade decision here would be about more than just baseball.

Mountcastle, on the other hand, is younger (25), further from free agency (following 2026) and more powerful, which is why we don’t actually think he’s going here. He’s included just so we can share this incredible fact: If you go pull up the barrels per plate appearance leaderboard, basically asking “who makes ideal contact the most often when they come to the plate,” you’ll find a list headlined by seven monster sluggers -- your Stantons, Ohtanis, Judges, etc -- then somewhat surprisingly Gary Sánchez ... and Mountcastle, at 11th overall.

Potential fits: Same as Bell for Mancini, anywhere for Mountcastle, but we think they both stick in Baltimore unless the O's completely collapse this week.

DH/OF J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
Free agent after 2022

You wouldn't think the Red Sox would be sellers, but after a disastrous series against the Blue Jays -- and injuries to Chris Sale and Rafael Devers -- sank the team to .500, fifth in a three-team AL Wild Card chase, you wonder if they might at least consider it. The problem is that Martinez himself has been banged up, missing the entire Toronto series with back spasms, though it's not considered serious, and he'll be on the field again well before the Deadline.

Martinez, 35 in August, is a pure rental, since this is the final year of the five-year deal he signed with Boston prior to 2018. A disappointing short 2020 aside, he's done nothing but hit, posting a massive 173 OPS+ for a title winner in '18, then marks of 139, 126 and 132 in the three full seasons since. The underlying metrics remain strong -- 88th percentile in barrel rate is nothing to sneeze at -- but they also paint a pretty clear picture that his peak was from 2014-18, and he's now well into his second act of something like the softest decline phase ever.

While Martinez can theoretically stand in the outfield, he has not touched his glove once this year, making him almost entirely a DH play. It's at this point that we'd like to point out that Seattle is getting one of the weakest DH performances in the history of baseball.

Potential fits: Mariners, White Sox, Brewers, Rays

Patrick Wisdom, 3B, Cubs
Free agent after 2026

If it sounds like these guys are all going to be 1B/OF/DH types, well, yes, that all fits the profile. But if you’re trying to move a little up the defensive spectrum, allow us to recommend Wisdom, a late-bloomer type who has hit 45 homers over the past two years for the Cubs. He’s not exactly a great defensive third baseman, but he can play there, as well as first and the outfield corners, even briefly appearing in center field. Consider him an off-brand Kris Bryant in that way. Extremely off-brand.

Still, if you’re looking for power, big, loud, raw, top-end power, Wisdom has it. Go back to May 27, 2021, the day he made his first start as a Cub. Since then, his 45 homers are tied for 13th most in baseball; his .482 slug is similar to J.D. Martinez or Carlos Correa. You want hard-hit rate? He’s in the 93rd percentile, better than Ronald Acuña Jr. Barrel rate? 95th percentile, top 15 in baseball, better than Bryce Harper or Pete Alonso.

You know what comes with all that, too. Strikeouts. So many strikeouts, more than anyone else since that May date of last year, and honestly by a lot. It’s the reason that someone who hits the ball that hard has a “mere” 109 OPS+, making him somewhat above average but hardly a star. It’s the ultimate taking the good with the bad, really.

Despite the fact that he’s turning 31 next month, Wisdom is years away from free agency, so there’s neither urgency for the Cubs to move him nor much expectation he’ll be on their next good team. But for contending teams who can live with the whiffs, a high-powered defensively versatile bench bat could be a nice October add.

Potential fits: Mariners, Brewers, White Sox

Ian Happ, OF, Cubs
Free agent after 2023

Happ turns 28 in August and won’t be a free agent until after 2023, so the Cubs don’t have to trade him -- and they might not. But with Chicago still far away from contention, it might consider it, because Happ, who made his first All-Star team this year, would be an intriguing trade piece. With a 126 OPS+, he’s doing his usual “be average or above” routine that he always does – he’s never been worse than a 102 OPS+ or better than a 131 OPS+, but the shape of it is a little different this year.

That’s because Happ, who once ran unacceptably high strikeout rates -- 34% of the time in his first two seasons in 2017-18, and 29% as recently as last year -- has cut those whiffs down to 21%, more or less league average. Yet where he was once running very high hard-hit rates, that’s down to league average as well. It’s less of a "loud" package as it once was, and more of a solidly competent one.

If that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, it’s still valuable, because the outfield trade market -- Soto aside -- is thin, and the switch–hitting Happ, a top-30 slugger among outfielders, might be the best one traded.

Potential fits: Guardians, Padres, Braves, Brewers, White Sox, Yankees if they move Joey Gallo

David Peralta, OF, D-backs
Free agent after 2023

You normally wouldn’t think of Peralta as a big power threat, because he’s usually not one. Sure, he had what now seems to be a flukish 30-homer season in 2018, but otherwise, in eight other years in Arizona, he’s never even hit 20. He’ll turn 35 years old in a few weeks. We didn’t originally plan to include him.

Except, when we looked at his Baseball Savant page, checking out his Statcast percentiles -- these run 0-100, like “Madden” video game ratings -- we noticed this:

All of a sudden, after what looked like years of decline, Peralta is hitting the ball hard again. This isn’t a fluke, either, because it’s coming with considerably more swing-and-miss -- his 25% strikeout rate would easily be a career high -- and just look at how he’s suddenly lifting the ball.

If an aging hitter in his mid-30s trying to reinvent himself with power in the air sounds a bit like Matt Carpenter, well, it’s sure working in the Bronx. For his part, Peralta claimed he had to “swallow his pride” and rebuild his swing, working with Houston’s Michael Brantley. For Arizona’s part, while it might be difficult to bid farewell to a player with the third-most games played in team history, trading away 35-year-old impending free agents is exactly what rebuilding teams ought to be doing.

Potential fits: Same as Happ

Brandon Drury, IF, Reds
Free agent after 2022

It’s been a tumultuous few years for Drury, who has bounced from Arizona to the Yankees to the Blue Jays to the Mets to the Reds since 2017. Signed to a Minor League deal, Drury made the team as a backup, then put himself into the All-Star conversation by posting a .278/.336/.528 first-half line (130 OPS+) with 18 homers, taking over the everyday third-base job.

For the Reds, this is a no-brainer, to turn a non-roster invite into a mild trade return. For everyone else, the question is “how real is this?” given Drury’s past struggles. Drury himself would likely chalk it up to a change in approach; as he detailed to The Athletic in June, he spent the winter of 2020-21 rebuilding his swing, and he did manage to slug .476 in limited playing time for the Mets last year.

His underlying metrics are more “above average” than “spectacular,” at least if you look at a hard-hit rate that’s in the 68th percentile and a barrel rate that’s in the 80th, but those are also good indicators that he’s really hitting it hard, not just benefiting from Cincinnati’s cozy home field. (Though he’s doing that, too.)

For a World Series contender, Drury is probably not an everyday starter. But a player who can play third, second, first and outfield, and potentially slug while doing it? That’s the kind of bench bat that comes up big in October.

Potential fits: Mariners, Dodgers, Phillies, Mets