As soon as the Juan Soto sweepstakes started, they were over, as on Tuesday morning the Padres acquired the generational slugger and Josh Bell from the Nationals for a large prospect trade (and Luke Voit!). No need to preface this trade any longer, it’s the first topic in this week’s column. Also on the docket for this week:
- Star Crossed in San Diego
- Recapping the (rest) of the Trade Deadline
- Colorado’s Master Plan
- Handicapping the AL Cy Young Race
- Player Spotlight: Sandy Alcantara
- A Tribute to Vin Scully
Juan Soto, el nuevo Padre de San Diego
A.J. Preller, general manager of the Padres, loves to make trades, and this deadline was a typical one for him; trade for a big fish to augment the big league squad for good prospects because that’s why. In all seriousness, Preller saw an opportunity to upgrade the major league roster and give the Friars a better shot to win the World Series, and not even Eric Hosmer or his limited no-trade clause could stop him from getting Soto. Yes, it did cost them quite a lot of good prospects and young players (and Luke Voit!), but Juan Soto is the kind of superstar you would move heaven and earth to acquire.
Soto’s worst season by OPS+ (Adjusted OPS) clocks in at 142, in each of his first two seasons in the big leagues. In the entire history of the San Diego Padres, only 19 different hitters have qualified for the batting title with San Diego and had an OPS+ of at least 142. Among players under the age of 23, the only one to ever have at least a 142 OPS+ four or more times in a qualifying season like Soto (including this season) is Mike Trout.
Star-Crossed San Diego
The Padres made this move to win within the next three years, and there isn’t a more desperate franchise to win than they are. I would argue that no team has had it harder than the Padres since their inception in 1969.
They are one of six teams to have never won a World Series and haven’t really come close, only making the postseason six times. They made the World Series in both 1984 and 1998. In 1984, they were overmatched and lost in five games to the Detroit Tigers. They retired the number of the man who played a critical role in getting them there, Steve Garvey, better known as a superstar for the Dodgers in the ’70s. In 1998, the ownership spent big on a contender to help secure funding for a new stadium. The plan worked as the Padres made it to the World Series before being swept by the Yankees. Funding was secured, and the NL Pennant team was torn down.
Another ignomity that the Padres are known for is trading players before they peak, leaving them on the losing side of many trades. Talented players like Ozzie Smith, Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Anthony Rizzo, Corey Kluber, and Trea Turner have all been traded while as Padres prospects or young players on the Padres. The last homegrown All-Star the Padres had was Jake Peavy, who last suited up for them in 2009. The last homegrown position player to make the All-Star Game was none other than Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn.
Preller wants to change that image of the Padres by trading for Soto and turning them into winners (but not the prospects, some things never change).
Some Trade Deadline Takeaways
Outside of the Padres, the team that I thought had the best trade deadline was the Houston Astros. Throughout the season, the Astros had struggled offensively at catcher and first base and needed a left-handed reliever. They went out and acquired Christian Vazquez from the Red Sox, Trey Mancini from the Orioles, and Will Smith from the Atlanta Braves, all while shipping out very little in prospect capital. The biggest loss was Jake Odorizzi, who was traded to Atlanta, but Houston’s pitching depth could overcome that loss. No, they did not get the big fish, but Houston drastically improved their weak spots.
The team whose deadline I didn’t like at all was the White Sox. For a team that is in win now mode, only trading for a reliever with poor control in Jake Diekman. The Twins — who, while in first place, hold a tenuous lead over the White Sox and the Cleveland Guardians — bolstered their pitching staff. For a division that is gettable for the South Siders, a lack of action in adding to an offense too reliant on contact could be their downfall this season.
Colorado’s Master Plan
Among all the action in the last week, one team chose to just sit out of the action. The Colorado Rockies, sporting a “competitive” .431 win percentage and occupying the cellar of the NL West, decided that there was no trade worth making to improve a mediocre farm system or a middling ball club. After seeing this, I realized what Colorado’s plan was. Despite having a front office that is the laughing stock of the league and consistently being mired in mediocrity, the Rockies typically are in the top ten in attendance. The Monforts don’t care about winning, just about the bottom line. It’s why they keep their players at the deadline, to get fans to show up in August and September. It’s why Kris Bryant is wearing purple pinstripes. I genuinely believe that he was signed to sell jerseys, not to win games. If the moves on the field keep fans going to games, then nothing will change in Denver, and the rest of the league will zig while the Rockies zag.
Handicapping the AL Cy Young Race
On Friday night, Dylan Cease made history, becoming the first pitcher in either the American League or the National League to start 13 games and give up one earned run or less. This stretch for Cease has put him in the middle of the American League Cy Young race. Below are the four frontrunners for the award this season:
Player A: 1.73 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 25.5 K%, 3.8 fWAR
Player B: 1.98 ERA, 2.70 FIP, 32.8 K%, 3.5 fWAR
Player C: 2.07 ERA, 2.63 FIP, 34.4 K%, 3.2 fWAR
Player D: 3.06 ERA, 2.01 FIP, 28.5 K%, 4.2 fWAR
Player A is Justin Verlander, Player B is Cease, Player C is Shane McClanahan, and Player D is Kevin Gausman. All four players have legitimate cases to win the Cy Young Award, and the next two months will be crucial for determining who takes home that hardware.
Player Spotlight: Sandy Alcantara
Patrick Corbin can’t ruin the player spotlight this week, and Sandy Alcantara is a player worth taking another look at. On Saturday, the leader among pitchers in fWAR was none other than the ace of the Miami Marlins. The old idea of a workhorse pitcher, at least in 2022, is mostly dead as teams are more focused on pitch counts and maintaining velocity. Alcantara is the exception to that rule, as he leads the league in innings pitched by 20 innings over second place.
Alcantara has managed to be elite in the high volume of innings, mainly thanks to his batted ball profile. His strikeout rate is roughly average compared to his peers, yet his 55.7% Ground ball rate is good for third in the majors behind only Framber Valdez and Logan Webb. Along with a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) at .244 (tied for fourth in the majors) and a home run rate only behind Max Fried at 0.45 per nine innings, it’s clear that Alcantara’s main skill isn’t striking out hitters, but rather limiting the damage on balls in play. Alcantara’s style may not be as conducive to the mainstream pitcher, but his excellence in generating ground balls and keeping the ball in the park has contributed to his breakout as the Marlin’s ace.
A Tribute To Vin Scully
Last Tuesday, the baseball world lost an icon as Vin Scully passed away at the age of 94. Scully’s tenure as the Dodgers’ broadcaster spanned from Jackie Robinson‘s early years to the dominance of Clayton Kershaw, from their days in Ebbets Field to their time in the Ravine. Scully knew how to interweave a story and a baseball game perfectly together, and how to play off the crowd as big plays were happening. I suggest listening to the final inning of Koufax’s perfect game and the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. It’s easy to remember the iconic calls, but the way he paints a picture of what is going on before the climactic event, and in these two clips you can see how Scully does so. We’ll miss you, Vin.
Statistics are accurate entering play on August 6. Statistics courtesy of baseball-reference, FanGraphs, and MLB.com
Image Courtesy of PBS