Five under-the-radar MLB moves that paid off in 2022, including the Yankees getting Jose Trevino
The Major League Baseball trade deadline, scheduled for Aug. 2 instead of July 31 this year, is now less than three weeks away. Business should therefore begin to pick up any day now. (CBS Sports recently released its ranking of the top 30 trade contenders of the summer in the works.) While everyone’s attention is always on the headline-grabbing trades, this season has provided plenty of reminders of the importance of small transactions over the long term.
Namely, below are five players who have been acquired since the end of last season in an otherwise forgettable way – be it a minor trade, a waiver request, what have you – and who have since provided their teams with major returns on investment. Note that players are presented in order of their total wins above substitution and that there are more than five players who were in consideration for this play.
The Yankees acquired Trevino from the Rangers less than a week before Opening Day in exchange for pitchers Albert Abreu and Robby Ahlstrom. (Abreu has since joined the Yankees without a waiver after poor stints in Texas and Kansas City.) He had been the victim of a numbers game in Texas, where the Rangers traded for Mitch Garver and favored Jonah Heim as a replacement. (And to be fair, Heim has played this season, as Garver was pushed back in DH before getting injured.)
While Trevino had a reputation as a good defender, he rarely offered much value at home plate. Indeed, his OPS+ career entering this season was 69 years old and he had thrown just nine home runs in some 156 career major league games. Naturally, he batted for a 108 OPS+ and he homered seven in his first 60 pinstripe games en route to edging out Kyle Higashioka on the depth chart. Last weekend, he was named to his first career All-Star Game, capping a highly unlikely rise.
What changed ? Trevino’s philosophy on the plate. He hits the ball about a mile per hour harder every year, but the biggest difference is where and how he hits it; his pull and fly-ball percentages increased, the latter dropping from 32.6% to 40%. He made a habit of pulling his gun out and shooting inside, with all but one of his home runs going out to the left or left-center. His eagerness to lift the ball led to an increase in pop-ups, which amusingly left him with a shorter average fly ball distance than he did in 2021 or 2020. doesn’t matter, though, since he makes the ones he hits from afar count more.
Whether or not Trevino can support this production level the rest of the way is irrelevant. He’s already given the Yankees more than they expected. Plus, if Trevino slips, they’ve got some extra help in the form of Ben Rortvedt, another spring trade acquisition who has yet to play in the majors this season due to injury.
Pérez was an undersized starting pitching prospect with the Houston Astros. However, injuries reduced his chances of cracking their roster and he was later shipped off to Cincinnati in a petty trade. Pérez pitched 24 innings for the Reds last season, walking 20 batters in the process and earning himself his walking papers. The Orioles, guided by some of his former Houston bosses, called him off on waiver in November and he’s since become a standout member of their bullpen, amassing a 0.90 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.45 in his first 30 frames this season.
Pérez relies on two pitches, a mid-to-top 90s fastball and a low 80s slider. The former takes advantage of its small stature, as the vertical break combined with its flat trigger point creates an optical illusion more devastating in the area. The latter offers a ton of depth: His under 5.1 inches of induced vertical break ranks in the second percentile among pitchers with at least 50 sliders thrown this season. This helps explain why Pérez has a 50% north grounding rate.
3. Harold Ramírez, OF/DH/1B, Tampa Bay Rays (1.3 WAR)
Ramírez had changed hands twice in 2021, so it wasn’t too remarkable when the Rays traded him a minor league infielder in March. He has since given greater prominence to that deal by hitting 0.332/0.378/0.450 (144 OPS+) in 74 games.
Ramírez comes from the Yandy Díaz school of hitting, meaning he’s a pure contact hitter whose high-end outing speeds suggest brilliant power just below the surface – power he harnesses rarely because its average launch angles are in the single digits. It didn’t stop producing either, so fair enough.
Ramírez contributed against both right-handers and left-handers, but he was otherworldly against them: in 79 plate appearances, he hit .371/.443/.471 with almost as many walks (eight) than strikeouts (nine). The Rays have been without many of their best hitters for much of the season; Ramírez helped keep them afloat.
Padres general manager AJ Preller was a prominent member of the Rangers scouting department. That helps explain why he’s so willing to give second (or third) chances to former Texas prospects including Jurickson Profar, Nomar Mazara and Alfaro. (To think, that’s just on the banging side of things.)
Alfaro, bought from the Miami Marlins last December, is in the spotlight here after hitting .268/.300/.430 (111 OPS+) with six homers in 53 games. He has always shown impressive tools: great raw power; an elite arm; much better speed than the average receiver; etc He took advantage of that a bit more this season by increasing his launch angle to a career-high 8.8 degrees and posting a career-best pull rate.
Alfaro’s game still has some warts: He’s threatening to post his team’s ugliest walk-to-strike ratio in any given season, and he’s not a qualified coach … but the Padres need to be delighted with how their bet worked out for Date.
Almonte spent parts of four seasons in the bullpen for the Rockies, where he compiled a 5.30 ERA in 124 innings pitched. He signed a minor league pact with the Dodgers in March and – much to Colorado’s chagrin – has since become a major contributor with season ratings that include a 1.46 ERA and 3.00 strikeout ratio. .
In the Rockies defense, the Dodgers helped Almonte revamp his arsenal. He ditched his four-seam for a two-seam, and he started throwing a “sweeper” in place of his old slider. He has also increased his use of the breaking ball, as it is his primary shot. This kind of responsibility hasn’t reduced the effectiveness of his sweeper, as it still boasts a 56% odor rate. Almonte’s new one-two hit combination allowed him to constrain an average outgoing speed of 82 mph, or the second-lowest of the majors among pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched.
Almonte is a fitting reminder that sometimes a player just needs to find the right system to maximize their talent.