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 worst at MLB trades.
5 Teams Worst at MLB Trades Based on WAR Differential
Differential: -22.2 WAR
Positive WAR Contributors: Thompson
Negative WAR Contributors: Turner, Scherzer, Soto, Giolito
This is your reminder the Nationals won a World Series in 2019. If you’re ever wondering how they fell so far, so fast, this could be a good starting point. It’s important to note what’s keeping Washington only at fifth-worst today is the production of some young studs eating into these differentials, like Gore and Gray. So, while these numbers could keep shrinking if the young guys can keep improving, there may be no winning some of these MLB trades. While the argument could be made the Nats were going to lose some of these guys to free agency, did you have to lose all of them? They chose to keep Strasburg and Corbin, and they chose wrong. Even if they could’ve kept one of Turner or Scherzer, it would have made a big difference. And Giolito, they just flat-out missed on. How fast the mighty can fall.
Differential: -24.9 WAR
Positive WAR Contributors: Laureano, Rooker, Moll
Negative WAR Contributors: Muncy, Marte, Olson, Puk, Trevino, Heim, Chapman
Oh, Oakland. You’re on your way out of town, so let’s not kick a dead horse for too long. A small round of applause for Laureano’s production is needed here, but if you’re gonna portray yourself as a seller, you need to make a profit, and they don’t. Marte and Heim seem especially damning to me because they dealt Marte when they were “still trying,” and Heim has his whole promising career ahead of him. The worst of them all though is the marvelous Max Muncy. You let a guy like him walk after two years, and what happens? The antithesis of the A’s, the money-hungry Dodgers gain one of the biggest steals in this whole league. For absolutely nothing, they got an 18.7 WAR so far from Muncy. If you want to pinch pennies, you can’t let a diamond in the rough get away.
RELATED | 5 Teams Best at MLB Trades Based on WAR
You’re reading about the five worst teams at MLB trades, but what about the five best? Click the link above to find out which team reigns supreme.
Tampa Bay Rays
Differential: -25.6 WAR
Positive WAR Contributors: Arozarena, Diaz, Ramirez, Springs
Negative WAR Contributors: Kelly, Cronenworth, Lowe, Alvarado, Adames, Ryan
The most surprising and noteworthy entry for sure. I can’t stress enough that this doesn’t mean the Rays are secretly bad at making moves, but they are the victims of how this list is constructed in some ways. Deals where they clearly knew better, like Blake Snell or Glasnow, don’t appear here because no one involved in those transactions is actively contributing enough to be a part of a team’s 10 most productive players. Also, upon writing, they happen to have a lot of home-grown talent like McClanahan and Franco taking up some of those spots for consideration. That means while Arozarena, Diaz and Springs take a big chunk out of this differential, they lose out on too many smaller deals to avoid being in the bottom part of this list.
Perhaps the trade-happy nature of the Rays simply got the best of them. They lost hard on Merril Kelly and Cronenworth, then the other deals listed were probably seen as small fry deals that just came back to bite them. While I think the Rays are still worth their mythic reputation for deals, perhaps this serves as a reminder that if you go to the well often enough, it’ll eventually come up dry.
Differential: -29.1 WAR
Positive WAR Contributors: Vierling
Negative WAR Contributors: Verlander, Castellanos, Maybin, Schriber
No real positives here, just a Justin Verlander-sized hole. Do I think Verlander would have resigned with Detroit? Probably not, but the facts are that no one from that deal is actively helping the Tigers. In fact, some pieces of that deal are hurting Detroit as we speak. Verlander alone accounts for -20.9 WAR difference, and maybe the Tigers would have met his king’s ransom had they known he’d win a Cy Young still in 2022. Nick Castellanos was also a pretty big miss, but the reason Detroit is the second-worst in the league is that they let their last big fish off the hook for a handful of worms.
Differential: -35.9 WAR
Positive WAR Contributors: Alcantara, Puk, Floro, Arraez
Negative WAR Contributors: Yelich, Realmuto, Gallen, Marte, Herman
We land at the least surprising conclusion to our MLB trades list. Yelich, Realmuto, Gallen, Marte. These are all All-Stars, one MVP, and perhaps a future Cy Young on that list. All dealt in the same time frame, and for what? The Marlins have some good young players, but none come from the worst of those deals. Jazz Chisolm and Luzardo are both really promising, but were they worth Gallen and Marte respectively? That’s a tough sell. The Yelich and Realmuto deals especially are well past their yield, and the Marlins shouldn’t hold out hope on any fruit coming out of those deals.
Here’s my closing thought. That -35.9 WAR? That’s including Sandy Fricken Alcantara, who won a Cy Young in Miami last year. Even his 13.6 WAR differential couldn’t save the Marlins. I hope you learned something new from this list today, but I’m sure you already knew the Miami Marlins bankrupted their future.
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