Just about every time there’s a season of player movement, something happens that catches pretty much everyone off guard. Like last year when Max Scherzer-to-the-Padres seemed like a done deal and then all of a sudden he was heading to the Dodgers, with Trea Turner coming along for the ride. Or when the Rockies signed Kris Bryant this offseason.
It’s hard to predict these types of things. But rest assured that the teams involved in the public rumor mill aren’t the only teams working the phones trying to make things happen. Just because a rumor isn’t being reported doesn’t mean talks aren’t being had.
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It’s probably a fool’s errand, but here are three trades that might seem surprising, but actually make a lot of sense for both teams involved.
Parents trade for Shohei Ohtani
What’s expected to happen: The Padres are a contender for Juan Soto, and they’re seen by some as the favorite to make it happen. San Diego general manager AJ Preller is one of the more aggressive front office executives in the sport, and the Padres’ farm system is stocked with premium prospects. That’s the only combination that could even possibly land Soto. And last year’s collapse down the stretch looms large in the decision-making process; trading for Soto would help make sure that doesn’t happen again. And having him around for the next three postseasons? The Padres might just get that first World Series title.
As for Ohtani, he’s not really expected to be moved right now.
Why this makes sense: Left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft and worked his way up to the bigs in 2022. He had a stellar start to his big league career, rolling up to 1.50 ERA in his first nine outings . His ERA from him at the moment is n’t great, but that’s mostly because of a pair of disastrous starts in July; in 10 of his 13 starts, Gore allowed three or fewer runs. But he left his most recent outing with an elbow issue, which is never a good sign. Gore was seen as a possible piece of the Soto puzzle, but now that’s obviously in question.
The price for Ohtani would be ridiculous, but a slight notch down from Soto. Only two postseasons vs. three postseasons? The difference, maybe, between including Gore and not including Gore? And if the Padres really are solely focused on getting into the postseason and winning in October, wouldn’t adding Ohtani be just as good — or better — as adding Soto? Throw Ohtani at the top of the rotation with Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish? Add him in the lineup mix with Manny Machado and a soon-to-return Fernando Tatis Jr.?
Yeah, that’s intriguing. If the Padres have enough to be considered the favorites to land Soto, they have enough to be in the Ohtani conversation. The could absolutely make the Angels an offer they would be silly to refuse.
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Willson Contreras traded to Houston
What’s expected to happen: Contreras will be traded, there’s no doubt of that. He’s a free agent after the season, and no matter how much he wants to stay with the Cubs, it sure seems obvious that the Cubs are not interested in paying their fan-favorite catcher to stick around after this season. And most of the trade focus and speculation has centered around the Mets, in a package deal that also sends reliever David Robertson from Chicago to New York. And that one certainly does make sense. And the Astros are expected to make a move to get a bat, but a lot of that talk has centered around a first-base upgrade — Yuli Gurriel is showing his age from him — and a player such as Josh Bell.
Why this makes sense: Here’s the thing: Astros pitchers love having Martin Maldonado behind the plate. He’s earned a reputation as one of the best catchers in the sport when it comes to working with a pitching staff, and there’s no denying the impact he’s made in that area. But he’s not just bad at the plate, he’s downright anemic. In his past 199 games dating back to the start of the 2021 season, Maldonado’s batting average is .171 and his on-base percentage is .259. This year, his on-base percentage of him is just .235.
His OPS+ the past two years is 59. Remember, that statistic is set up so 100 is league average, and every point on either side of 100 is a percentage point better or worse than a league-average player. So Maldonado has been 41 percent worse — as a hitter — than other AL hitters. In the 2021 postseason, Maldonado went 6-for-46, a .130 average to go with a .196 on-base percentage. At some point, does that outweigh what he brings behind the plate?
The Astros shouldn’t — and wouldn’t — relegate Maldonado to the bench for a league-average hitter. But Contreras isn’t a league-average hitter. His OPS + from him this year is 134. That’s a huge, enormous jump up from Maldonado’s 61 OPS + this year. If they have a chance to put together a package that brings Contreras to Houston, they should make it happen.
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Braves trade for JD Martinez
What’s expected to happen: Nobody’s really sure whether the Red Sox will sell at this point. Xander Bogaerts said he’s basically been told that he won’t be traded ahead of his opt-out clause at the end of the season. But the club has a lot of free-agents-to-be, including Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi, Enrique Hernandez, Christian Vazquez and Michael Wacha. If the Sox do drop a few more games between now and the Aug. 2 deadline, and if they decide to start trading folks, Martinez will be high on the list of several teams. Especially the Mets, who crave the type of batter who can mash left-handed pitching. Martinez has a 1,051 OPS vs. lefties this year (.767 vs. right-handers). It’s almost too perfect.
Why this makes sense: For starters, Atlanta trading for Martinez would keep the Mets — a rival division — from landing Martinez. That’s fun for the Braves. But with Adam Duvall and his broken wrist out of the equation in Atlanta the rest of the season, the Braves have a need for a right-handed bat, too. Martinez would be a big upgrade over the production Duvall provided before getting hurt (.677 OPS, 12 homers). And, yes, he can only basically be the DH, which means defensively-challenged Marcell Ozuna would have to play in the field when Martinez is in the lineup. Or maybe better yet, Ozuna and his 86 OPS+ from him would just sit the bench in favor of Eddie Rosario, who is 5-for-15 since the All-Star break.