BY MARK SIMON
Those who cover MLB are calling the Juan Soto trade among the biggest in baseball history, with the Padres acquiring a generational talent and sending the Nationals the top players in their farm system in return.
And while it’s likely that Soto’s bat will have a huge impact, not just on this pennant race but on the next two, we like to look at things through a defensive lens here.
For his career, Soto is an average defensive right fielder. It’s seemingly the only aspect of his game that could be called average. Soto has exactly 0 Runs Saved in a little more than 2,100 innings. He saved 4 runs with his right field defense last season but has dropped to -3 so far in 2022.
The 2021 version of Soto would be about a match for the Padres’ current standing in right field (2 Runs Saved), but the 2022 version of Soto is a little bit of a drop off.
Soto has 19 Defensive Misplays & Errors in right field in 2022, the most of anyone at the position and two more than he had in 2021. On a per-inning basis, he has the 6th-highest rate of Misplays & Errors among the 35 right fielders that have played the most innings.
The Padres can live with that because they know that his bat will go way above and beyond in making up for it. They also landed another big bat, first baseman Josh Bell. Bell, who cost his team 25 runs with his defense from 2016 to 2019, has a career-high 3 Runs Saved there in 2022.
Other teams made moves for outfielders from whom good defense will be essential. The Yankees traded pitcher Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals for center fielder Harrison Bader.
Bader just missed out on winning the Fielding Bible Award last season, after recording his second season with 15 Runs Saved in center field. He’s currently out with a foot injury and hasn’t played since late June.
When healthy, he’ll be rejoining a team that currently ranks first in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved. It’s biggest defensive weakness? Center field (-6 Runs Saved).
The Phillies made a move with the intention of bettering a defense that ranks tied for 27th in Runs Saved, snagging Angels outfielder Brandon Marsh. Marsh ranks second in left field with 7 Defensive Runs Saved this season.
He’ll likely switch to center field, where his history isn’t as good (-3 Runs Saved), though he may be better than what the Phillies already have there (only two teams are worse than their -7 Runs Saved).
A study by our former research associate Andew Kyne showed that outfielders decline by about 7 runs per 1,000 innings when moving from a corner spot to center field. Remember that when evaluating Marsh, who wasn’t the only move the Phillies made to better their defense. They also traded for Cardinals infielder Edmundo Sosa (13 Runs Saved in 737 career innings at shortstop).
Two of the best defensive players dealt were traded in deals involving the Rays. With Kevin Kiermaier out for the season, Tampa Bay got involved in a three-way trade with the Astros and Orioles, netting center fielder Jose Siri after trading for Diamondbacks left fielder David Peralta.
Siri ranks second in Defensive Runs Saved at that position this season and made a terrific catch in his Tampa Bay debut. Peralta won a Fielding Bible Award in 2019 but basically rates average at the position since then (-1 Run Saved from 2020 to 2022).
With Siri’s acquisition, the Rays traded Brett Phillips to the Orioles for cash. Phillips had below-average numbers in center field in 2022 (-4 Runs Saved), but ranks tied for 3rd with 8 Runs Saved in 235 innings in right field. He has a history of defensive excellence in limited playing time and will be outfield depth for an Orioles team whose outfield has played well this season.
Lastly, one player that wasn’t traded was versatile Marlins infielder Joey Wendle. Wendle won our Defensive Player of the Month award (determined by SIS staff voting) for July. He’d have been an interesting pickup for any number of teams looking for help. But for now, he stays with the Marlins.
Wendle was a defensive difference maker for the 2020 Rays, helping them advance to the World Series. This October (and November) he’ll be watching players make great plays at home. Maybe even one by a player dealt at the deadline.
For more on the trade deadline, check out the SIS Baseball Twitter.