Defense is incredibly important for sustained success. We’ve written about it before and it’s still true.
In 2021 the Yankees and Red Sox were the only playoff teams not ranked in the top 15 of Defensive Runs Saved. The World Series champion Braves finished the season 8th in Runs Saved. One of their midseason additions was Adam Duvall, the 2021 Gold Glove winner in right field. The Dodgers and Astros are consistently Top 10 in Runs Saved and both teams consistently make deep postseason runs.
The Yankees subsequently made major improvements in the infield and at catcher and have gone from 29th in 2021 to 1st this season. The Red Sox, who spent much of the season in the Top 10, currently rank 11th. But not every team has made that kind of climb
So, I wanted to see which teams with realistic postseason aspirations can improve defensive holes in their roster at the trade deadline.
Defense gets somewhat overlooked at the trade deadline but the Braves in 2021 showed how important trading for defense can be. Most players mentioned here aren’t big splash trades. They are role players that can take these teams to the next level.
The current 2022 team rankings in Runs Saved can be found here.
Atlanta Braves (+11 DRS, T-16 in MLB) 3 GB in NL East, 1st in Wild Card
Last season the Braves were one of the most active teams at the trade deadline, trading for Duvall and Eddie Rosario. This season, the need may be there again. Duvall was just shut down for the season with a wrist injury so the Braves will need to fill that void.
Michael Harris II has been exceptional in CF since being called up, posting 5 Runs Saved. He needs a little more support in the corners, where Ronald Acuna Jr. is at -3 Runs Saved and left field has been a revolving door among Rosario, Marcell Ozuna and Guillermo Heredia. All are offense-first players.
The Braves offense is one of the best in baseball, so adding someone who is defense-first shouldn’t cause them too much of a hit.
Michael A. Taylor would be an interesting defensive addition. Taylor led center fielders in Runs Saved last season and ranks tied for first in 2022. He’s played both corner outfield positions and his presence would allow the Braves to essentially have two center fielders in the game at the end of the game. Taylor and Harris next to each other would be an incredibly exciting defense to watch.
The Royals might not want to trade Taylor. He’s theirs for a reasonable $4.5 million next season if they don’t deal him. But he’d be a great glove for any team in this pennant race.
Michael A. Taylor used the wall as leverage to push off and rob a home run 😱 pic.twitter.com/iKCpsIBuII
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 2, 2022
Tampa Bay Rays (14 DRS, 14th in MLB) 3rd in Wild Card
After finishing 4th in Runs Saved in 2021, Tampa Bay has dipped slightly, this season. Tampa Bay is usually closer to the top 5 in Runs Savedbut currently ranks 14th. The Rays had some major injuries, with Wander Franco missing time and now Kevin Kiermaier being shut down for the season. Thankfully for them they have Taylor Walls to back up Franco but other positions have been problematic for their defense.
Kiermaier is annually in the discussion for best defensive outfielder in baseball. His loss is going to be huge down the stretch for the Rays. He’s finished top 5 in CF in Runs Saved in every season since 2015. Brett Phillips has been a good replacement for Kiermaier in past seasons but his numbers are underwhelming in center field (-5 Runs Saved) in 2022. He’s been much better in right field (8 Runs Saved).
One thought is that the Rays didn’t want the extra year of Taylor (mentioned above as a Braves option), that they could try to snag Bradley Zimmer from the Blue Jays but it seems unlikely the teams would trade given that they are playoff rivals.
First base is the other problem area for Tampa to try to shore up and a position that has plenty of options. Ji-Man Choi has played the majority games at first. He currently has -2 Runs Saved but he isn’t known for his defense.
An addition of Christian Walker would make Tampa’s infield defense one of the best in baseball. Walker is the runaway leader in Defensive Runs Saved at first base but would be a more expensive piece to trade for since he’s not a free agent until 2025.
Josh Bell is the other first baseman Tampa Bay can go after. The reason to get Bell is for his bat, but he’s been much better defensively than he has been in previous seasons. He’s currently at 2 Runs Saved, though he’s never finished a season with a positive Runs Saved total. He averaged -6 Runs Saved from 2016 to 2019 but has progressed to the point of rating slightly above average.
Other names to watch would be Dominic Smith of the Mets and Michael Chavis of the Pirates, both of whom have played the position at about an average level for their respective careers.
Seattle Mariners (38 DRS, 8th in MLB) 2nd in Wild Card
While it’s hard to criticize the 6th-best defense in baseball the Mariners have a big hole in left field (-10 Defensive Runs Saved). Jesse Winker gets the majority of playing time there and currently has -11 Runs Saved, the worst out of all LFs in baseball. Winker’s never been known for his defense but this season has been even worse than past seasons. It’s hard to see them getting an everyday left fielder to play over Winker but I think a defensive replacement and someone who could hit would be a great fit.
Tommy Pham is one for them to consider. Pham has 4 Runs Saved in left field, would be a solid late-game replacement for Winker, and could play vs left-handed pitching. He’s never been great defensively but is definitely an upgrade over Winker, because of his speed and ability to cover more ground.
The only issue with Pham being acquired is the price, he’s signed through 2023.
Robbie Grossman is a potentially cheaper option for whom 2023 wouldn’t be a concern (he’d be one for the Braves too). He’s a little better than Winker in the field, currently has 2 Runs Saved, and is a potential useful bat as a switch-hitter.
San Francisco Giants (-30 DRS, 28th in MLB) 3 games out of Wild Card
The Giants have been one of the biggest disappointments defensively in 2022 and their bad defense has caused them to sink, to the point where they might not be buyers any more.
Here are some of the positions that have been the biggest problem.
They need help all over the field so there are plenty of options available for them. The Giants love to move players around and use utility players. There are a couple players that fit that bill that shouldn’t cost too much to acquire.
Joey Wendle of the Marlins would be the perfect fit in San Francisco. Wendle has played 2B, 3B, and SS for Miami this season and has positive career Runs Saved in all three positions (3 Runs Saved overall in 2022). His contract includes a club option for 2023 so he could be more than just a one-year rental. Wendle would dramatically improve the defense at any position they decide to play him.
In left field Joc Pederson, Luis Gonzalez, and Darin Ruf have played the most. All three of these guys have struggled, with each at -4 Runs Saved or worse there. Options like those previously mentioned (Taylor, Grossman) are out there. Another potential fit could be Sam Hilliard of the Rockies as a late-game replacement. He has experience at all three outfield spots and would be a defensive upgrade.
Philadelphia Phillies (-22 DRS, 26th in MLB) Tied for 3rd Wild Card
Going into the season the Phillies knew defense would be an issue. Signing Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber were moves meant to bolster the offense. The Phillies planned on having Bryce Harper play RF but once he started to have shoulder issues, he could only DH.
Castellanos has been the worst defensive right fielder this season with -12 Runs Saved. Schwarber is second to last in left with -7. The outfield isn’t the only problem area for the Phillies defensively though. The entire team has had defensive issues.
Wendle is a great fit here too. As I mentioned for the Giants, Wendle has been exceptional in multiple infield positions. He’s a match for any team looking to add a glove at the deadline.
Matt Reynolds of the Reds could be an infield option for Philly as a useful defensive replacement. Reynolds has 1 Run Saved at third base and 3 Runs Saved at at shortstop.
Reynolds would be a defensive upgrade over Didi Gregorius and Bryson Stott at shortstop and/or a potential ninth-inning replacement for Alec Bohm at third base. It’s a very small pickup that could have a good payoff.
Considering how bad the outfield defense has been, a big-time defensive stud would make a nice splash for the Phillies. Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Red Sox would give them an elite defender to put between Schwarber and Castellanos … if the Red Sox were willing to trade him.
Bradley Jr. has played mostly right field for Boston this season and has 6 DRS there. In center field he’s at -1 Runs Saved but his track record is excellent. He makes defense look incredibly easy and could cover ground like few other outfielders.
Bradley another player for whom next season is a consideration, as he has a mutual option in his contract, but given the Phillies’ desire to win, the price could be worth it.