The calendar has flipped to June, and more than one-third of the season is in the rearview mirror. While there’s still plenty of time for the standings to change in dramatic fashion — just ask the 2022 Phillies or 2019 Nationals — the “early” portion of the season is a bit behind us. As the weather heats up and playoff pictures begin to take a more definitive shape, the baseball world inherently turns its focus to a few things: the looming All-Star Game, the upcoming amateur draft and, of course, the annual trade deadline.
June trades of note are admittedly rare — particularly over the past ten years or so — but we’re fast approaching the portion of the season where trade needs, potential trade candidates and many other deadline-adjacent minutiae begin to crystallize. It’s common for fans of rebuilding and/or underperforming clubs to begin to wonder just what sort of returns their favorite team might be able to eke out for veteran players with dwindling club control.
Some of the most common questions we’re asked in chats at MLBTR these days center around what a team might be able to get for a certain player — rentals in particular. Names like Lucas Giolito, Cody Bellinger, Jordan Montgomery and Jeimer Candelario were just a few readers asked me about this past week. To be clear, it’s not a given that all or even any of those specific names will change hands in two months’ time (or sooner), but it’s obviously a hot topic that’s on people’s minds.
As such, it only seemed natural to take a look back through recent history and look at some high-profile trades of rental players and see which panned out the best for the team selling off the veteran player in question. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll roll out a look at the ten “best” returns for rental players in recent trade deadline history.
A few caveats of note! At times, it can take three, four, five years or even longer for a team to begin reaping the benefits from such a deal. An immediate return isn’t always apparent, particularly when you’re only selling two months of a player or players. As such, we’re not considering trades completed at last year’s deadline for our top ten, even though they could well prove excellent as soon as 2024 or 2025. It’s simply too soon to evaluate those swaps. Also, these rankings are subjective; they’re not based on a hard-and-fast WAR criteria or anything of the sort. If you think we should’ve ranked No. 7 higher and No. 4 lower, let us know. It’s all part of the fun.
While I said we’re omitting last year’s deadline from our top ten, that doesn’t mean we’ll completely ignore the results of the 2022 deadline. To kick off the series, here’s a quick look at three honorable mentions from 2017-21 as well as a handful of 2022 trades that will be worth keeping an eye on in the years to come. Present-day impact of these 2022 trades has either been minimal or nonexistent, but each brought the “selling” team some nearly MLB-ready help that could be impactful as soon as this season. These honorable mentions and 2022 swaps aren’t ranked — they’re just sorted alphabetically by the last name of the player who was traded.
Two-thirds of this return for Baltimore wound up making little to no impact, but the acquisition of Tate, a former No. 4 overall draft pick, wound up paying dividends. Though Tate isn’t the rotation piece the Rangers hoped for when drafting him or the Yankees envisioned when acquiring him for Carlos Beltran, he’s emerged as a quality setup man at Camden Yards. The O’s gave Tate just ten starts after the trade before moving him to the bullpen, and while his rookie effort in 2019 left plenty to be desired, he’s since pitched quite well.
Dating back to 2020, Tate has a 3.65 ERA in 158 innings of relief, adding 25 holds and eight saves along the way. Tate’s 19.1% strikeout rate is below-average, but his 6.8% walk rate is better than average and his 57.9% grounder rate is outstanding. In 2022, he pitched to a pristine 3.05 ERA through 73 2/3 frames, tallying five of those saves and 16 of those holds. A forearm strain has kept Tate out of action this year, however.
Tate isn’t peak Britton and likely never will be, but trading two months of an elite reliever and winding up with six years of club control over an above-average reliever isn’t a bad outcome for Baltimore. As for the Yankees, they got the tail end of Britton’s prime. He notched a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings down the stretch and re-signed on a three-year deal with a fourth year option (that had to be exercised after the contract’s second season to prevent a Britton opt-out). Britton posted a sub-2.00 ERA in both 2019 and 2020, but he pitched just 19 innings over his final two years in New York due to injuries.
Few could’ve predicted what an impactful trade this would end up being at the time it was made. At the time of the swap, Eovaldi was in his first season back from Tommy John surgery and had pitched 57 innings of 4.26 ERA ball for Tampa Bay. He’d long intrigued teams with his power arsenal but was inconsistent and carried a career ERA that more or less matched that season total.
Eovaldi took off in Boston, however, tossing 54 frames of 3.33 ERA ball as the Sox marched to the postseason, where he cemented his status in Red Sox lore. Eovaldi was a star that October, tossing 22 1/3 innings of 1.61 ERA ball with a 16-to-3 K/BB ratio. Those are impressive numbers on their own, but they only tell part of the tale. Eovaldi won his first two starts of the playoffs before moving to the bullpen and picking up a pair of holds. But it was Game 3 of the World Series, where Eovaldi gutted out six innings of relief in an 18-inning marathon and finished out the game, that many will remember. The Dodgers wound up winning when Eovaldi’s 97th (!) pitch out of the bullpen was deposited in the seats by Max Muncy, but he saved the Boston bullpen with six innings of one-run ball that night. The Sox went on to win the World Series in five games.
As for the Rays, they came away with a lefty who’d come up through Boston’s system as a starter but would be used in a jack-of-all-trades role in St. Petersburg. Beeks has served as a long reliever, a setup man and an opener in parts of five seasons with Tampa Bay, totaling 258 innings of 4.12 ERA ball along the way. He’s been the type of versatile arm whose value can’t be neatly encapsulated in what looks like an otherwise modest WAR total. Beeks has handled just about any role the Rays could ask, and he’s generally been effective in doing so. He’s not a star, but he’s been an important member of their pitching staff for a half decade now and is still under team control through the 2024 season.
The 23-year-old Olson made his big league debut on Friday when he stepped into the Detroit rotation to take the spot of the injured Eduardo Rodriguez. As far as debuts go, it was nearly as good as a young pitcher could ask for. Olson carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before being tagged for a pair of runs and departing five frames of two-run ball in the books.
Olson isn’t regarded among the sport’s top 100 prospects and isn’t even universally considered to be among the Tigers’ top 10 prospects, but he’s missed bats consistently in the upper minors and is regarded as a potential long-term rotation piece if he can improve upon the command of his fastball. Scouting reports at Baseball America, FanGraphs, The Athletic and MLB.com praise Olson’s secondary pitches, particularly his changeup, which he’s begun using effectively even in right-on-right situations.
Detroit has seen a lot of turnover in the baseball operations department since this trade, but former GM Al Avila, AGM David Chadd and others will be in line for some praise if the Tigers get a viable big leaguer in exchange for two months of the veteran Norris, who was sitting on a 5.38 ERA in 36 2/3 innings at the time of the deal. Norris had been tough on lefties, and the Brewers surely felt they could coax a higher level of performance out of him with some tweaks. That didn’t happen, however, as Norris was rocked for a 6.64 ERA in Milwaukee, walking 15 of the 63 batters he faced (23.8%) and serving up five homers in 20 1/3 frames (2.2 HR/9).
2022 Deadline Swaps to Watch
Yes, technically this isn’t a pure rental. Stratton had an additional year of club control, and that surely factored into the return. But he was also sitting on a 5.09 ERA at the time of the deal, and this was largely a trade centered around getting Quintana to land some much-needed rotation help in St. Louis.
The Cardinals got just what they wanted out of this deal — and then some. Quintana stepped into the rotation and not only solidified the staff but pitched to a brilliant 2.01 ERA in 62 2/3 frames down the stretch. The lefty was so excellent that St. Louis wound up tabbing him as the Game 1 starter in last year’s National League Division Series. Quintana had signed a one-year, $2MM deal in the offseason and was acquired as a back-end starter but pitched like an ace. The script doesn’t get much better for the acquiring team.
That said, this trade also has the makings of a winner for Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old Oviedo has been inconsistent but shown flashes of brilliance with the Bucs. He’s throwing fewer fastballs and more breaking pitches — particularly more curveballs, which has been an extremely effective offering for him through 11 starts. Oviedo’s 4.50 ERA in 58 innings looks pretty pedestrian, but he’s upped his ground-ball rate and improved his velocity even in a rotation role. He’s allowed one or zero runs in six of his 11 starts this year. The Pirates can control Oviedo for four more years beyond the current season, and if he’s a legitimate starter or even a multi-inning relief piece, that’ll be a fine return for their modest Quintana flier. Nunez, meanwhile, hit .286/.381/.476 in Double-A following the trade and is at .255/.338/.369 in 160 Triple-A plate appearances this year.
Robertson was one of the most in-demand relievers — or trade candidates in general — at last year’s deadline, and the rebuilding/retooling Cubs needed to get their return right. So far, it looks like they’ve done just that. Brown is out to a sensational start in the upper minors this year, pitching to a combined 2.63 ERA with a 35.5% strikeout rate against a less-appealing 11.7% walk rate. Baseball America ranked him sixth among Cubs prospects heading into the season, and The Athletic’s Keith Law called him a “heck of a get for two months of a 37-year-old reliever.” FanGraphs currently has him ranked 87th on their top-100 prospect list, and MLB.com moved him into its top-100 just this morning.
Despite Brown’s wide-reaching acclaim, the Phillies might not even regret making the swap. Robertson struggled with his command following the trade but still posted 22 1/3 innings of 2.70 ERA ball and saved six games for Philadelphia down the stretch in a tight Wild Card race that saw them edge out the Brewers by exactly one win. The Phillies needed every single victory, and if they’d held onto Brown and targeted a different reliever(s), who knows whether they’d have reached the playoffs? Were it not for Robertson — who pitched 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the playoffs — the Phils may never have experienced J.T. Realmuto’s NLDS inside-the-parker, Rhys Hoskins’ four-homer NLCS, or Bryce Harper’s iconic NLCS-clinching bomb.
This trade might not have gone as well as the Phillies hoped. Syndergaard was decent down the stretch, pitching to a 4.12 ERA in 10 appearances, nine of them starts. He started just twice in the postseason and made one relief appearance. Syndergaard pitched like a fourth or fifth starter but saw his already diminished velocity and strikeout rate step even further back following the trade. Again, the Phils needed every last win to get to the playoffs, though, so it’s hard to say they’d definitively have done anything different. They won six of Syndergaard’s nine starts and also picked up the victory in the lone game they used him out of the bullpen, when he tossed two scoreless frames.
At least thus far, Angels fans can’t complain about the return. Moniak isn’t going to sustain a .429 batting average on balls in play, but he’s hitting .327/.340/.694 in 50 plate appearances. The BABIP and a 34% strikeout rate scream for regression, but the former 1-1 pick has already hit as many homers through 50 trips to the plate with the Halos (four) as he did in 167 with the Phillies. He’s played good defense, run well and given some hope that he can carve out a role moving forward.
Trading Vazquez was part of a disjointed Red Sox trade deadline that saw Boston trade away their longtime catcher and lefty reliever Jake Diekman while also acquiring Eric Hosmer and Tommy Pham. It wasn’t clear that their 2023 roster was improved, and the decision to hold onto other trade targets while adding Pham’s salary left them just over the luxury tax line (thereby reducing their compensation for qualifying offers extended to Xander Bogaerts and Nathan Eovaldi).
Digression aside, the swap might prove beneficial to the Sox in the long run. Valdez has already made his big league debut, and although his bat faded after a hot start, he’s still sporting a passable .244/.292/.422 batting line (91 wRC+) in his first 97 big league plate appearances. He’s picked up four homers, four doubles and three steals (in four tries) while subbing in at second base in the wake of a slew of middle-infield injuries. Valdez posted absolutely massive numbers in 205 Double-A plate appearances last year (.357/.463/.649) before moving up to Triple-A and hitting .265/.327/.488.
Abreu, meanwhile, was added to the 40-man roster over the winter and is hitting .264/.379/.479 in 40 Triple-A games so far. He’s regarded as a potential plus outfield defender, and his success in Triple-A and status on the 40-man roster mean the Red Sox could possibly have two MLB contributors within a year or so of trading Vazquez.
It’s hard to say anything moves the 2022 Astros made “didn’t work out,” as the team won the World Series in the end. But Vazquez took a backseat to Martin Maldonado both in the regular season and the playoffs, hitting just .250/.278/.308 in 108 regular-season plate appearances following the swap (plus .235/.316/.235 in just 19 playoff plate appearances).