MLB trades seem so much more precarious compared to other sports due to the unsure nature of its prospects. Sure, maybe your team is in the hunt this year, but is that bit of short-term support worth possibly giving your future away? While some teams have a reputation for perpetually coming out on top of every deal they take part in, we figured it was time to take a look at the outcomes of these transactions with more certainty.
This list was created by looking at a team’s current top ten leaders for WAR (Wins Above Replacement) this season using Baseball Reference. Then, looking at how those players came to their current team, for any player who arrived on the team outside of being a prospect for that team or testing free agency, we compared their WAR to what was given up for them in WAR value. So, this will include trades, waiver claims, and any player who was released by their team as a prospect and then scooped by someone else. This way, we can see which team has the best eye for value where others didn’t. While this isn’t a perfect measurement for all transactions, with WAR being an ongoing statistic as well, it should help us see what moves are most haunting and helpful to teams because at least some of the players involved are actively contributing to someone’s squad.
If you’d like a further explanation of this data collection or more analysis on the teams most implicated, you should listen to the Playing Catchup podcast here:
This is also where you can hear what specific players were most impactful in more detail. With that said, let’s take a look at the teams that have been the best at MLB trades.
5 Teams Best at MLB Trades Based on WAR Differential
Differential: 13.8 WAR
Positive WAR Contributors: Walker, Kelly, Gallen, Rojas
Negative WAR Contributors: Goldschmidt, Haniger, Segura, Moll
The first team on our list had one major blip to overcome to land on our best MLB trades list — a little-known scrub by the name of Paul Goldschmidt. That MVP for the Cardinals came at a cost of 13.9 WAR compared to what the D-backs have gotten so far. This is a good lesson for the rest of the list, as these numbers are often based on prospects who have yet to complicate the deal and WAR which could still change for the players involved rapidly. But upon writing, that deal is the only big L taken by Arizona.
The Diamondbacks manage to overcome that deal mainly by picking through the unwanted rubble of a couple of teams. Picking up Merril Kelly and Christian Walker after they were let go in their younger days by the Rays and Orioles, respectively, has been a huge boon for the snakes, and adding in the value of Zac Gallen from the Marlins’ farm system proved to be enough to help push the Diamondbacks into our top five.
San Diego Padres
Differential: 15.8 WAR
Positive WAR Contributors: Tatis, Jr., Cronenworth, Darvish, Grisham, Soto, Hader
Negative WAR Contributors: Fried, Thompson, Suwinski, Marcano, Mateo
The Padres had to overcome letting Max Fried slip through their fingers about a decade ago, but a recent surge has helped them do just that. Tatis Jr. already has accumulated a 14.4 WAR difference in his young career, and if he can stay off the ringworm meds, he may blow that MLB trade wide open, seeing as the White Sox only got the last, bad years of James Shields in return.
The only other notable mention here should go to Jake Cronenworth, who amongst the Sotos and Haders of the world may get overlooked. But while Tampa only got the short-term services of Hunter Renfroe and Tommy Pham, Cronenworth has now provided more than three solid seasons of production that made him a steal for San Diego. While we should continue to give the Padres praise for their big spending, let’s not overlook how consistent they’ve been in trade value as well.
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Differential: 16.2 WAR
Positive WAR Contributors: Realmuto, Marsh, Alvarado, Sosa
Negative WAR Contributors: Moore, Vierling
The Phillies make the list mainly by having no real stinkers in here. With a negative component of only -2.6, that’s more than covered by the gains of Marsh, Alvarado and Sosa. All of whom could produce even more in their pretty young careers. The real difference-maker is JT Realmuto, who has been one of, if not the best catcher in baseball since leaving Miami for Philadelphia. None of the prospects sent back for JT have panned out even five years later, meaning Realmuto’s positive impact will only grow from here. ou can’t claim ignorance when he was already an All-Star, Marlins.
Differential: 20 WAR
Positive WAR Contributors: Fried, Olson, Arcia, Hilliard, Murphy
Negative WAR Contributors: Sims
With no real downsides here to speak on, Atlanta was able to rack up some savvy moves in typical Braves fashion. Max Fried contributed nearly ¾ of this total himself in the aforementioned San Diego trade, but these other MLB trades have been small wins as well. Namely, until we see prospects prove otherwise, the Matt Olson and Sean Murphy deals have seemed like huge victories for the Braves that could only grow from here as those two continue to be among the best in the league at their prospective positions, and are signed to pretty long deals. It’s not the flashiest entry on this list, but of course, Atlanta would just avoid any major mistakes and take the small wins all the way to near the top of the crowd.
Differential: 28.8 WAR
Positive WAR Contributors: Yelich, Peralta, Adames, Contreras
Negative WAR Contributors: Arcia, Hader, Grisham, Topa
It’s hard to overexaggerate how bad the Marlins dealing Christian Yelich was. The four prospects who went back were not only not stars, they produced a negative WAR total to the Marlins, only compounding the issue. None of them are still in Miami, and while Yelich has declined himself due to injuries, the damage has been done. Yelich won the MVP immediately with the Milwaukee Brewers and was near the top of the league in WAR for three seasons. His 24.6 WAR differential in this transaction would be enough to be above every other team on this list on his own. Oh, and by the way, Yelich’s deal in Miami wasn’t set to come up for another four years yet after he was moved in 2018, so there’s no justifying the urgency of this MBL trade either.
The Brewers are also getting good WAR wins from Peralta and Adames as well, but nothing else in the league can quite match the highway robbery of Christian Yelich.
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