The MLB trade deadline is approaching quickly and one name towers above the rest. Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto is the crown jewel of the deadline, and teams should be lining up with offers of multiple top-level prospects to secure his services.
Soto is easily the best player available, but he's not the only difference-maker on the market. If your favorite team misses out on Soto, here are five other players on the market who could make an impact in the second half.
Luis Castillo bounced all the way back after posting an ERA near 4.00 last season. In 78 innings, Castillo has a career-low 2.77 ERA despite playing on a Cincinnati Reds team with a below-average defense.
Castillo, 29, is a known quantity at this point in his career. He will strike out at least a batter per inning, occasionally struggle with his control and dominate hitters with his devastating changeup. When he’s on, Castillo is one of the best pitchers in baseball and is capable of posting top-10 numbers over a full season.
Castillo is under contract through the 2023 MLB season, upping his value on the market. That extra year of control could make Castillo the most expensive piece on the market (non-Soto division). He’s, at worst, a No. 2 starter on most playoff teams.
A catcher who can hit is a rare commodity these days, which should give Willson Contreras plenty of value on the trade market. Contreras is hitting .258/.372/.471 with 14 home runs over 349 plate appearances. His 139 wRC+ suggests he’s been 39 percent better than league average at the plate this season.
That’s a significant upgrade over most catchers. As a position, catchers are hitting .226/.296/.368 on the year, good for a below-average 88 wRC+. Contreras, 30, would make virtually every lineup better.
At the plate, Contreras offers a solid understanding of the strike zone. He’s a patient hitter who has averaged a 10 percent walk rate over his career. There’s some swing and miss in his game, though Contreras has made strides in that area this season. He’ll never hit .300, but that’s not necessary when the rest of his skills are so strong.
Contreras will be a free agent at the end of the 2022 season, which should lower his going rate. Any team getting Contreras knows they are getting a rental. Despite his age, Contreras’ numbers at a weak position should result in him receiving a major deal on the market.
Oakland Athletics pitcher Frankie Montas has a lot in common with Castillo. The two produce despite playing on bad teams, are under contract through the 2023 season and are both 29.
Montas is the less-accomplished pitcher with a shorter track record of success in the majors. After some rough performances early in his career, Montas broke out in 2019. His year was cut short due to a suspension for PEDs. Montas came back and struggled in 2020, posting a 5.60 ERA, but has bounced back the past two seasons, posting a 3.30 ERA over that period.
That’s a better ERA than Castillo (3.62) posted over the past two seasons. Montas brings many of the same skills on the mound. He’s capable of striking out over a batter per inning, but has better control compared to Castillo. Because of that, he and Castillo probably command a similar amount of value on the market.
Josh Bell, Washington Nationals 1B
It was speculated Nelson Cruz would be the Washington Nationals’ biggest trade chip at the deadline, but that honor belongs to Josh Bell after his torrid first half. Bell is hitting .305/.388/.496, with 13 home runs, over 407 plate appearances.
Bell, 29, has battled inconsistency throughout his career, but heads into the trade deadline on pace for his finest season in MLB. Bell’s value will be limited by his position and contract situation. Teams generally don’t have as much of a need at first base and Bell will be a free agent following the season. With that said, Bell is hitting better than most first basemen this season and his ability to hit from both sides of the plate should increase his value. Bell is a rare power hitter who doesn’t strike out a lot, so his high average isn’t necessarily something that will regress.
Other than Soto, Andrew Benintendi appeared to be the best outfielder on the market before the Yankees traded for him Wednesday. He’s hitting .317/.387/.398 over 377 plate appearances and is in the final year of his contract.
Benintendi, 28, is a solid player, but he’s not in the same stratosphere as Soto. Benintendi’s strength is his high-contact, all-fields approach at the plate. He can get the bat on the ball and spray it around the field, which results in a high batting average.
That approach comes with a significant drawback, though. Benintendi has struggled to hit for power in 2022. He has just three home runs and a career-low home run per fly ball rate. While you would normally expect positive regression there, this appears to be a deliberate tradeoff from Benintendi. After pulling the ball 40 percent of the time last season, he’s pulling the ball 27.3 percent of the time in 2022. He’s prioritized average over power, at least this season.
Kauffman Stadium is notoriously hard on power, so it’s possible Benintendi tailored his swing for the park, and can make adjustments at more homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. Benintendi was unable to play in Toronto due to being unvaccinated for COVID-19, which could be a problem with the Yankees and Blue Jays in the AL East.