Potential 2022 MLB Trade Deadline Busts to Avoid

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVJuly 30, 2022

Potential 2022 MLB Trade Deadline Busts to Avoid

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    Buyers at Major League Baseball's August 2 trade deadline are hoping to find the final piece(s) of their championship puzzle.

    But what if those pieces aren't as good as advertised?

    Maybe they have home/road splits that suggest a change of scenery would be detrimental to their stat lines. Perhaps they have historically struggled in August and/or September, and a slump is forthcoming.

    They might be performing so far outside the norm—compared to their previous seasons, 2022 league standards or both—that regression is almost inevitable. Or maybe they have just been struggling as of late and are no longer as intriguing an option.

    Whatever the reason, we've identified four pitchers and four hitters who appear likely to be traded before Tuesday's deadline but who might be busts on their new teams—at least in relation to what it's going to cost to acquire them.

    Players are listed in alphabetical order. Statistics are current through the start of play on Friday, July 29.

Daniel Bard, RHP, Colorado Rockies

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    Daniel Bard is having an incredibly productive season as the Rockies' closer. He's tied for fifth in the majors with 21 saves, and he has an ERA of 1.91, a WHIP of 1.04 and a K/9 of 10.3.

    But the predictive metrics suggest an implosion is on the horizon for this free-agent-to-be.

    After back-to-back years with a batting average on balls in play north of .310, he has been one of the luckiest pitchers in the majors as far as BABIP (.191) is concerned. He's also allowing one walk for every two innings pitched, which will be more problematic if and when his BABIP regresses to a more normal level.

    Add it all up and Bard has a FIP of 3.55 and an xFIP of 3.66, neither of which is supporting his 1.91 ERA as legitimate.

    The Chicago Cubs also have a closer on the trade block who is in a nearly identical boat. David Robertson has a 1.83 ERA in spite of a FIP of 3.25 and an xFIP of 3.54. But at least Robertson has 151 career saves and entered this season with a 2.93 career ERA, so it doesn't seem far-fetched that he could keep his ERA in the 2.00 range the rest of the way.

    Bard has barely one-third as many career saves (52) as Robertson, and he entered 2022 with a career ERA of 3.96. Heck, just last season Bard had a 5.21 ERA with K and BB ratios almost the same as he currently has. The main difference is a BABIP that was much higher last year.

    While I would love to believe Bard finally figured things out at the age of 37, I fear we're destined for a repeat of 2021 Ian Kennedy, whose ERA went from 2.51 with Texas to 4.13 after he was traded to Philadelphia.

    Editors note: Instead of trading Bard, the Rockies decided to give him a 2-year extension on Saturday, according to Nick Groke of the Athletic.

Paul Blackburn, RHP, Oakland A's

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    It's ludicrous that Paul Blackburn is even being discussed as a trade candidate when he's making $710,000 this season and won't hit free agency until after the 2025 season. I can appreciate that the A's are clearly sellers and have become notorious for trading away anything of value, but why would they part with him now?

    Maybe they think Blackburn's hot start to this season was as good as it's going to get, and they might as well get what they can for him?

    There's certainly some evidence to support that stance.

    Blackburn had a 5.74 ERA in his 30 MLB appearances over the previous five seasons. He wasn't much better in the minors during that time, either. That means we're not even talking about some vicious cycle where he'd dominate at Triple-A, get promoted, struggle for a few starts in the majors, get demoted and then repeat.

    Rather, the 1.70 ERA he had nine starts into the 2022 campaign came out of nowhere, and any team willing to give up a bunch of prospects in hopes of getting back 3.5 years of All Star-level production is likely going to be in for a rude awakening.

    Even before Sunday's nightmare against Texas in which he allowed 10 earned runs, Blackburn's ERA in his second batch of nine starts was 5.47 as balls started flying out of the yard on a regular basis.

    I hope he comes back around, though, because successful "kitchen sink" pitchers are always fun. The average velocity on Blackburn's fastball in 2022 is 91.7 MPH—up a bit from previous seasons, but still well below the MLB average. However, he makes up for it with a deep arsenal of pitch types and a ton of movement on his breaking stuff, keeping hitters constantly guessing what's next.

Willson Contreras, C/DH, Chicago Cubs

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    We have been talking non-stop for months about Willson Contreras as one of the top players available at this year's trade deadline, but now he's a potential bust to avoid?

    What?

    Don't worry. I'll try to explain my rationale.

    First, there's the home/road splits. In his career, Contreras has triple-slashed .271/.359/.493 at Wrigley Field compared to .247/.344/.425 elsewhere. Despite a nearly identical split of plate appearances (1,375 at home; 1,358 on the road), he has 19 more home runs at home. And if he ends up with the Mets, yikes. In 15 career games at Citi Field—super small sample size, but still relevant to this point—he has a .523 OPS and has struck out in nearly one-third of plate appearances.

    (Conversely, if he gets dealt to the Padres. In 14 games at Petco Park, Contreras has gone 15-for-44 with three home runs and a 1.086 OPS.)

    Second, there's the month-by-month splits. August has been Contreras' worst month, and it's not even close. For his career, he's batting .221 with a .701 OPS in August, while his next-closest marks are .256 average in July and a .800 OPS in July. The good news is he tends to re-find his swing in September and has been OK in 30 career postseason games, but buyer beware that his first four weeks with a new team might not be great.

    Third, and frankly most important, he has struggled as of late. Maybe the constantly swirling trade rumors have been too much of a distraction and he'll bounce back once the deal is done, but Contreras is hitting .148 and slugging .246 with a 29.6 percent strikeout rate thus far in July.

    That said, I do believe he's one of the best two-month rentals available at this year's deadline. I just don't have to squint all that hard into my crystal ball to envision a team regretting its decision to give up two or three of its better prospects to bring Contreras on board for the rest of 2022.

Nelson Cruz, DH, Washington Nationals

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    Some team in dire need of right-handed hitting and/or a shake-up at DH is going to look at Nelson Cruz's 457 career home runs and decide the 42-year-old slugger just needs a change of scenery to re-kindle the fire in his bat.

    But good luck with that.

    In 33 games played since June 14, Cruz has triple-slashed .161/.261/.229 with one home run and 38 strikeouts. And it's not like the elder statesman has finished strong in recent seasons.

    In 2018, a .563 slugging percentage through 98 games played turned into a .395 slugging percentage over his final 46 games. The split wasn't quite that pronounced in 2019, but he did fade down the stretch, hitting nine home runs in his final 35 games (a 162-game pace of 42 HR) after clubbing 33 in his first 89 games (a 60-homer pace). It was a similar story last year, as he went from a .294/.370/.537 hitter with the Twins to a .226/.283/.442 hitter with the Rays.

    While it would be hard for him to start hitting any worse than he already has been over the past seven weeks, betting on even half a dozen homers the rest of the way might be a mistake.

    Let's also not forget that Cruz has a $16 million mutual option for 2023 which includes a $3 million buyout. So even if you're able to get him without giving up anything substantial, there's still a cost.

David Peralta, LF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The big key for whomever acquires David Peralta is accepting the fact that he must be platooned with someone who can actually hit left-handed pitching.

    Against right-handed pitching, Peralta has been rock-solid throughout 2022. His .504 slugging percentage and .830 OPS in those 264 plate appearances are quite similar to what Giancarlo Stanton has managed to do in his 243 plate appearances against righties this season (.512 and .824, respectively).

    Against lefties, however, Peralta is slugging a putrid .200 with a .462 OPS. Among the 334 players with at least 40 plate appearances against lefties in 2022, that OPS ranks 316th.

    Peralta was actually a little bit better against lefties in 2021 than he was against righties, but over the course of his nine-year career, it's pretty clear that he is most valuable as part of a platoon in LF.

    Prior to losing Adam Duvall to a season-ending wrist injury, the Braves looked like the perfect landing spot for Peralta.

    But now it kind of looks like St. Louis or bust.

    Cardinals left fielder Tyler O'Neill has an .849 OPS against lefties this season compared to .590 against righties. And while the thought of platooning a two-time Gold Glove recipient might sound horrible at first blush, keep in mind that Peralta won a Gold Glove in 2019, too, and is still a solid defensive option at almost 35 years of age. That could work out nicely.

    If anyone trades for Peralta hoping he can be an everyday option in left field, though, they may be sorely mistaken.

Martin Perez, LHP, Texas Rangers

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    Looking purely at 2022 production, Martin Perez is the most valuable two-month rental on the market. The Rangers lefty was an All-Star, he has a 2.59 ERA and he has done a fantastic job of keeping the ball in the yard for a guy whose home games are in a hitters' park.

    But from 2014-21, Perez had a cumulative ERA of 4.82, he did not once finish a season below 4.38 and that type of mediocre production has reared its ugly head as of late.

    The 2.59 ERA looks great, but we're talking about a 1.42 ERA through 10 starts and a 3.95 ERA since the beginning of June. And while he has allowed just seven home runs this season, five of those have come in his four most recent starts.

    Perez has made seven starts in which he went at least 7.0 innings and allowed one run or fewer, and he has made a total of 13 quality starts. In order to embrace selling and actually trade him, Texas is surely going to want a package on par with what a team would give up for two months of Zack Wheeler, Sean Manaea, Joe Musgrove or Miles Mikolas—guys who also have 12-14 quality starts with a sub-3.00 ERA.

    Maybe it pans out and Perez is able to serve as a legitimate No. 2 or No. 3 starter for a contender the rest of the way and then signs a lucrative four-year deal in the offseason. But given both his long-term history and his trajectory over the past two months, trading away top prospects for Perez could be the type of mid-season acquisition that a franchise regrets for years to come.

Tommy Pham, LF, Cincinnati Reds

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    With Andrew Benintendi already scooped up by the Yankees and David Peralta previously discussed as a guy who needs to be platooned, Tommy Pham is looking like one of the better outfielders left on the trade block. (Aside from Juan Soto, of course.)

    But if you're going that route for an everyday left fielder, brace yourselves for a super streaky hitter and defense that is not Gold Glove material.

    Let's start with that latter point. There are 46 left fielders who have logged at least 1,000 innings since the start of 2018. According to FanGraphs, only Justin Upton and Kyle Schwarber have worse defensive ratings than Pham among that group. He and Randy Arozarena (four errors each) are the only left fielders with more than two errors this season.

    On the streaky hitting front, Pham started out 2022 going 1-for-26 (.039) at the dish. He then registered hits in 17 of his next 49 at-bats (.347) with four home runs. He spent most of July mired in one of those rough spells, triple-slashing .160/.210/.200 with a 30.9 percent strikeout rate in 19 games played from July 2-26.

    In theory, that means a hot streak is coming soon. But the harsh reality is that Pham—now in his mid-30s—doesn't hit like he used to. From 2017-19, he hit .284, had an OPS of .856 and homered at a 162-game pace of 26. Since the start of 2020, those numbers are .231, .703 and 17, respectively.

Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Los Angeles Angels

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    If the Angels actually decide to unload anyone at the deadline, Noah Syndergaard is the obvious choice.

    He's on a one-year, $21 million deal, so he's presumably not part of the long-term plan. And though his strikeout stuff has been nowhere near what it was before he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2020, he has been effective enough (3.83 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) to intrigue any team with at least one great big question mark in its rotation—which is just about everyone.

    But the concern with trading for Thor is three-fold.

    The big one is the injury history.

    When Syndergaard first took the mound on April 9, he did so having logged just 2.0 innings at the MLB level in the previous 30 months. He also missed most of 2017 and nearly two months in 2018. He has been impressively durable thus far this season, but how much is a trade partner willing to bet on him staying healthy for another 2-3 months?

    It's worth noting, too, that Syndergaard has been part of a six-man rotation in Los Angeles. He has yet to pitch on four (or fewer) days' rest, and he typically gets at least six days off in between appearances. Can his new club accommodate that schedule or risk messing with it?

    The secondary concern is that August has historically been his worst month. Syndergaard has a career 2.30 ERA in July and 3.07 in September/October, but with a bloated 4.22 mark in between.

    Concern No. 3 is Syndergaard is dreadful at keeping runners from stealing bases. In 798.0 career innings pitched, he has allowed 164 stolen bases. Even with all his injury history, he has allowed 35 more stolen bases than any other pitcher since the start of 2015. You almost have to artificially inflate his slugging against to account for all those free bases.

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