Law: Under-the-radar MLB trades worth noticing from Phillies, Reds, Mets and more
Some quick notes on a few more trades from Tuesday’s deadline. I haven’t covered every single trade that happened, focusing on ones that included prospects or that I otherwise found interesting.
Twins get: Tyler Mahle
Reds get: Spencer Steer, Stephen Hajjar and Christian Encarnacion-Strand
Mahle has had a bit of bad luck this year, although his underlying numbers are about the same as ever, with his FIP of 3.60 actually the best of his career to date. He’s changed his pitch mix slightly, using his splitter more and slider less, with both pitches slightly less effective than in previous seasons, with the velocity down on his slider about 2 mph. He did miss a couple starts in July with a sore shoulder but seemed fine in his return, and should be able to give the Twins some league-average work out of the rotation, where only Sonny Gray has a FIP below 4 on the year.
Steer has been one of the bigger breakout hitters in the minors this year, as the 24-year-old has 20 homers and a .361 OBP with just a 17 percent strikeout rate between Double and Triple A. He’s played all three skill positions in the infield, mostly playing third base this year. He looks like he’ll be a regular as long as his defense holds up at third or second, with a high floor as a utility infielder thanks to the power and high contact rates, especially off fastballs. Hajjar is a 6-foot-5 lefty with a fringy fastball and below-average breaking ball, but gets some boost from his size and does show a 55 changeup. He’s had trouble getting lefties out in High A this season and missed a few weeks with a shoulder strain. Encarnacion-Strand was the Twins’ fourth-rounder last year and has continued to hit for surprising power given his short swing, with 25 homers already between High A and Double A. The iffy plate discipline he showed in college hasn’t held him back so far in pro ball. He’s probably an average defender at third in the long run, but could end up at first if not.
Padres get: Brandon Drury
Reds get: Victor Acosta
Drury mashes lefties and has had a solid comeback year for the Reds, helped by their homer-friendly ballpark. He can back up at all infield spots other than shortstop or maybe just flat-out replace Wil Myers, who has been awful at the plate when he’s played this year. Acosta is a toolsy 18-year-old shortstop with plus speed and a plus arm, likely to stay at the long-term position, with a high-contact approach that should yield strong batting averages without much power. He’s still far more tools than skills, needing time and reps in pretty much every area, but with the upside of an above-average regular at shortstop or, failing that, in center. He’s hitting .243/.346/.360 in the Arizona Rookie League.
Phillies get: Noah Syndergaard and Brandon Marsh
Angels get: Logan O’Hoppe, Mickey Moniak and Jadiel Sanchez
This was technically two deals, Marsh for O’Hoppe, and Syndergaard for Moniak and Sanchez. Starting with the one-for-one swap, I mean, if I were a sarcastic sort of fellow, I might say that the Phillies trading Marsh means that they’ve discovered defense. I find the trade more interesting for the Angels, as Marsh was a homegrown position player, a rarity in that system, and still has some upside at the plate in both power and contact, although at 24 his window is closing. They swapped him for Logan O’Hoppe, a hard-hitting catcher from a Long Island high school who has gone from a 23rd-round pick to a possible everyday guy who is having a great season in Double A at age 22. He’s solid behind the plate, with little doubt he stays there, and should be a 15-20 homer guy with some on-base skills and high contact rates. I’d rather have O’Hoppe.
Syndergaard hasn’t shown his pre-Tommy John stuff or form this year, with velocity well below its 2019 levels on all of his pitches, less movement on his two breaking pitches and what at least seems like worse command. It might come back next year, but he’s a rental for the Phillies and is probably just rotation insurance in case Zach Eflin doesn’t return when eligible in late August. Moniak is a four-A guy at this point, a 24-year-old corner outfielder with fringy power and huge trouble hitting offspeed stuff, not doing enough damage against right-handers to even be a platoon guy. He’s going to play close to home, if that’s worth something. Sanchez has even less value, as he’s old for Low A and not hitting, while he’s limited to the outfield corners.
Phillies gets: David Robertson
Cubs get: Ben Brown
Oh, the irony. The Phillies signed Robertson to a two-year deal before 2019 and got 6.2 innings out of him – not even good ones. He’s back, and the 37-year-old is having his best year since 2018, making up for lost velocity by using a cutter as his fastball, then going to that curveball for whiffs. I saw Brown pitch for High-A Jersey Shore a few weeks ago and was impressed by the Long Island native, as he’s got a 94-97 mph fastball that’s very hard for hitters to square up, with three secondary pitches but nothing above average year . He’s 6-foot-6 but doesn’t make full use of his height with his stride or extension, so there could be even a little something more to gain on that end.
Blue Jays get: Whit Merrifield
Royals get: Max Castillo and Samad Taylor
Merrifield was a three-and-a-half-win player in 2019, mostly off his bat, and in 2021, with more value from his glove; but he’s been below replacement level this year at age 33, hitting .240/.290/.352 while playing average to slightly above-average defense at second. Santiago Espinal has actually outhit Merrifield this year, and way out fielded him, but Merrifield could take Cavan Biggio’s spot on the bench, providing more defensive value and speed without losing anything else. The Jays didn’t give much up, though. Castillo is a middle reliever at best, a righthander with some deception but a below-average fastball, and hitters hit the pitch hard. Infielder Samad Taylor was left off the 40-man last winter, but could end up a capable extra infielder, although he’s more of a second/third base guy rather than a true utility man who can handle shortstop.
Mets get: Darin Ruf
Giants get: JD Davis, Carson Seymour, Thomas Szapucki and Nick Zwack
Two quick thoughts here. One, it is pretty remarkable that the Giants turned Ruf, who got nearly 800 plates with the Phillies over five years before washing out and going to play in Korea, into someone who’d get a positive return in a trade. He’s still just a platoon bat who can mash lefties and doesn’t have any value on defense; but still, if you’d said back in 2019 that the Giants would get a couple of interesting players in return for Ruf by this point, I would have scoffed. Of the players coming back, I’m most intrigued by the 23-year-old Seymour, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who touches 100 mph but had huge walk rates for Kansas State, so he went undrafted in 2020 and the Mets got him in the sixth round in 2021. They’ve slow-played it with him this year, starting him in Low A for seven starts and moving him up to High A in late May, but he’s not walking many guys and has shown no platoon split, even reducing his walk rate as the season has gone on. I said at the draft he might just have to be a reliever because of the control issues, but at this point I’d leave him as a starter and push him to Double A.
(Photo of Darin Ruf: Kelley L Cox / USA Today Sports)