Sarris: Jordan Montgomery, José Siri and the five most intriguing of the MLB trade deadline

Yeah, maybe in one respect the Juan Soto deal was the most intriguing trade of the deadline – it certainly was the biggest. But its form was one that we’ve seen before: a big star for a bunch of top prospects. We know those sorts of deals, it just happened to be one of the biggest of that sort in recent memory. There were other trades like it in form this year, if not in scope.

There were, however, five deals that bucked that trend. Five deals that didn’t include superstars or role player rentals. Five deals that leaped off the transaction page. Five deals that demonstrated innovative thinking. The five most intriguing deals of the deadline.

1) Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals for center fielder Harrison Bader

The Yankees are headed to the playoffs, and they traded away the pitcher who has given them the second-most innings this season? After they traded away much of their high-minors starting pitching depth in other trades? And for a center fielder with an iffy bat who is currently hurt? What?

This trade seemingly injected risk where there didn’t need to be risk. Now, with a rotation made up of a pitcher who has had two Tommy John surgeries, a newcomer who has hit the IL this year with shoulder troubles, an incumbent who has done the same, another who is currently on the IL for shoulder issues, and a youngster who is a few starts from a career-high in innings, they suddenly have one less bulk option should one of these pitchers have a poor injury outcome in the next couple of months. As much as Clarke Schmidt is an exciting young arm, he now represents the Yankees’ only firewall against injury, and that’s weird in a sport where starting pitching depth is mostly lusted after.

Perhaps the thinking is that Montgomery is not a postseason starter, and the Yankees are unquestionably destined for the postseason, so it made sense to use him to get a position player that’s cheaper than the pitcher next year, who could provide the team positional cover should a certain 6-foot-7 mega free agent leave town, and is also an elite defensive center fielder who might help them more in October. They certainly got a great glove, at least by Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric.

Best Defensive Centerfielders by OAA

But here’s where that thinking may end up being suspect: Montgomery may not have a ton of bullpen experience, or profile well as a reliever, but recent postseasons have shown us the value of having multiple pitchers capable of bulk. Remember Nathan Eovaldi’s great relief appearance in Boston’s 2018 run, Julio Urias’ key innings out of the pen for the Dodgers in multiple postseasons, but also Nick Pivetta’s work starting and relieving last postseason, and Christian Javier and Tanner Houck’s ability to go long in their relief appearances – in the playoffs, even a good starting pitcher may go only three innings, leaving a wide opening for someone like Montgomery to pitch a couple of innings as a bridge to the late-inning relievers. Montgomery has 10 relief appearances career, there’s probably no magic number that makes him comfortable there, but there’s also no doubt here that he’d be one of the 13 best pitchers for the Yankees in a postseason series, setting aside that he’d certainly be a pitcher who can help get the Yankees to the postseason.

Maybe Lindsey Adler said it best in her breakdown of the trade: “the Yankees’ starting staff is now a puzzle for which there are very few replacement pieces.”

2) Reds starter Tyler Mahle to the Twins for 3B Spencer Steer, 3B Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and SP Steve Hajjar

Though the bats in Steer and Encarnacion-Strand are close and performing well, and Hajjar’s arm looks live, the Twins didn’t give up a single consensus top-100 prospect and got one of the four best starters that traded hands at the deadline, with an extra year of team control to boot. Maybe that seems like a stretch because Mahle is currently sporting a 4.40 ERA that’s an almost identical match to his career ERA di lui, but he did call one of the most hitter-friendly parks home until now.

Even his 3.74 career away ERA may be hiding some upside. Only four starting pitchers traded at the deadline had above-average Stuff + (which looks only at the physical characteristics of a pitch) and Location + (which looks only at count- and pitch-type adjusted locations of a pitch): Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas , Jordan Montgomery, and Tyler Mahle. Over the last few years, he’s improved the ride on his four-seamer, switched from a changeup to a splitter, and settled on a hard cutter. His great underlying command di lui gives him those three pitches with above-average stuff and command.

In Aaron Gleeman’s writeup of the move, he quoted Carlos Correa as saying: “I looked at his Baseball Savant page and saw a lot of red.”

To translate, Mahle has:

  • Two inches of ride vs the average four-seamer
  • Four inches of drop vs the average cutter
  • Two inches of fade vs the average splitter

And Stuff + says the fastball is his best pitch due to that ride, or jump.

Now we get to find out just how much that home stadium was disguising his excellence.

3) Rays get CF José Siri from the Astros in a three-team deal in which they give up SP Seth Johnson

Here’s a surprising thing from the pages of FanGraphs. Using the way-back machine to return to July 29, we can compare the team depth charts from right before and right after the trade deadline. Here are the five teams that improved the most between those two days.

Teams that improved the most

Team WAR now WAR Jul 29 WAR Diff

18.6

16.9

1.7

17.9

18.3

-0.4

15.3

15.8

-0.5

14.0

14.5

-0.5

15.5

16.1

-0.6

The Padres are a big duh. The Braves made some sneaky good trades, but they were mostly of the conventional variety. And then there are the Rays, picking up an underrated rental in David Peralta, and then jumping in on some three-way action to net a new starting center fielder. Unfortunately, it meant the end of the line for the lively Brett Phillips, but it looks like Siri isn’t lacking in personality.

You can see that Siri is third among center fielders in Outs Above Average, and that fits the scouting report: he can fly out there. But can he hit?

In hitting a ball 111 miles per hour, he’s hit a single ball harder than sixty percent of the league, and that one thing is meaningful. He’s also hit Barrels on over nine percent of the balls he’s put in play, which would put him in a similar percentile. The problem is that he’s struck out 34 percent of the time against five percent walks, which has kept him 22 percent worse than league average with the stick so far. He’s walked a little more in the minors, and has had some lower strikeout rates, so it’s possible he can improve there.


José Siri. (Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

The one thing that the Rays may give him that Siri hasn’t gotten yet: regular reps and a long look. Was that chance worth an interesting starting pitcher prospect? Maybe, especially given the fact that the prospect is going to spend the next year recovering from Tommy John surgery and also needs to be put on the 40-man roster this offseason.

4) Phillies get CF Brandon Marsh from the Angels for C Logan O’Hoppe

There are commonalities between the Rays’ pickup of Siri and the Phillies going and getting Brandon Marsh. Marsh plays a really good outfield, strikes out too much, has Barreled over nine percent of the balls he’s seen, and has hit a ball 112.7 mph. The differences could be considered subtle: Marsh is 24, three years younger than Siri, and those three years are crucial because aging curves suggest that his strikeout rate would naturally improve in those three years. Marsh has also had better strikeout rates in the minor leagues, so he’s projected to have better strikeout rates in the short term and in the long term. Lastly, Siri whiffs a lot against all pitch types, while Marsh has better whiff rates against sinkers and four-seamers than the Rays’ new centerfielder, so maybe there’s a belief that his approach di lui can be tweaked to get him to his minor league rates.

“I’m excited to work with him,” Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long told Matt Gelb. “There’s a lot of good things in there.”

But what might make this more remarkable than a top defensive outfielder changing hands at the deadline – after all, the top three defensive outfielders listed at center field by Outs Above Average all are playing for new teams right now – is the return for the Angels. O’Hoppe was a well-regarded offensive-minded catcher who combines power with patience and contact in a way that’s rare in the minor leagues. Here are all the catchers with a strikeout rate under 21 percent, a walk rate over 10 percent, and an isolated slugging percentage over .200 in Double A this season:

Offensive-minded minor league catchers

Player Team BB% K% ISO

Angels

13.0%

16.5%

0.221

Guardians

20.5%

20.9%

0.200

White Sox

12.9%

18.8%

0.263

Marlins

14.1%

20.3%

0.206

Orioles catcher Adley Rutschmann was on this list last year, so it’s a decent place to be. Let’s say the reason they could get him is because there are questions about O’Hoppe’s defense. It looks increasingly likely that automated balls and strikes are coming to the big leagues, as they complete their advance through the minor league levels. Maybe the Angels were sneaky smart to make this move now.

But the most amazing thing about this trade was the challenge aspect of it. Teams normally ask for multiple prospects, perhaps to cover themselves by spreading the risk – one of these guys will work out, right? In this trade, there are only two players. It’s very likely that only one of these teams will remember this trade fondly. A real-life one for one.

5) Blue Jays get relievers Anthony Bass and Zach Pop for infielder Jordan Groshans

A year ago, Jordan Groshans was thought of too highly to be put into the Matt Chapman deal. Now he goes for two relievers. It’s a testament to the chaotic nature of prospect valuation, and also how important power is in today’s game. Last year, Groshans had what was approaching a league-average power line, and he looked to be adding some oomph to good plate discipline and contact skills. This year, that power has disappeared, meaning he profiles more as a utility player.

But the Marlins have relievers, and the Blue Jays need them, and a shot at an infielder was worth the trade on their side. For Blue Jays fans, these weren’t the elite relievers with gas that they were hoping for… or were they? It’s true that the Blue Jays need velocity, as they have been 23rd in bullpen fastball speed so far. Anthony Bass (95.3 mph) and Zach Pop (96.5 mph) will both improve on that 93.8 average. The quality of that sinker from Pop was referenced by general manager Ross Atkins in his appraisal of the deal, and there’s a bit of a resemblance to another power sinker that once dominated the American League East.

Comparing two sinkers

Player MPH Horizontal Vertical

95.0

7.8

3.2

95.7

9.5

2.8

Of course, a couple of inches of movement here and there are actually a huge difference when it comes to pitches, and Pop releases his sinker around nine inches lower, so it’s a little bit more conventional than this comparison makes it seem. In fact, by Stuff +, Pop’s slider is his best pitch by him, and in the top 30 in the pitch type. Could he throw it much more often to add strikeouts to the ground balls? That is exactly what Bass has done with Miami, as he’s gone from throwing the slider 38 percent of the time as he did his last time with the Blue Jays, to 57 percent of the time this year. Amazingly, he’s gone from getting whiffs 23 percent of the time on that slider back in 2020 all the way down to… getting whiffs 21 percent of the time now.

Even if the Blue Jays didn’t get a closer with a capital C, they did improve the back of their bullpen.

(Top photo of Montgomery: Winslow Townson / Getty Images)

.

Leave a Comment