The 2023 trade deadline is now less than a week away, and with seemingly every team in the league still at least on the fringes of the Wild Card race, this could be among the wildest deadline seasons in recent memory. Which players will be on the move in the next few days? Who should your team look to acquire? We’re running down the best relief pitchers who figure to be on the block.
2023 MLB Trade Deadline: Best available relievers
Josh Hader, RP, San Diego Padres
Stats: 0-1, 0.97 ERA, 24 SV, 37 IP, 55 K
It remains to be seen what GM A.J. Preller decides to do as the Padre continue to hover between buying and selling, but Hader represents a sort of middle path for San Diego — a way to acquire talent for the future while not punting entirely on 2023. The home run problems that have plagued the lefty throughout his career haven’t been an issue so far, and he’s sporting a microscopic 0.97 ERA and the same elite ability to miss bats. Relievers who are impending free agents are the lowest-hanging fruit on the trade block tree, and Preller could be tempted to flip him for future value regardless of how his team performs over the next couple of weeks.
Jordan Hicks, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
Stats: 1-6, 3.67 ERA, 8 SV, 41.2 IP, 59 K
Hicks has certainly had his fair share of bumpy moments since Ryan Helsley’s injury (and Giovanny Gallegos’ implosion) thrust him into the closer’s role earlier this year, but relievers with ninth-inning experience and that sort of electric velocity are always in demand. Hicks is set to be a free agent this winter, and flipping him at the deadline could allow GM John Mozeliak to acquire an arm who might help fix the team’s rotation in 2024 and beyond.
Kyle Finnegan, RP, Washington Nationals
Stats: 4-3, 3.24 ERA, 13 SV, 41.2 IP, 40 K
Hunter Harvey’s recent elbow injury puts Finnegan atop the pecking order of relievers for the rebuilding Nats to flip at the deadline. The righty got off to a disastrous start in 2023, but he’s been quietly very effective for a while now, pitching to a 1.59 ERA since May 13 with 21 scoreless appearances in 24 chances. Finnegan is set to hit arbitration next year, and Washington should have no interest in paying for a reliever’s arb years when they could exchange it for future value that better aligns with their timeline instead.
Scott Barlow, RP, Kansas City Royals
Stats: 2-4, 5.15 ERA, 12 SV, 36.2 IP, 45 K
Barlow has been very shaky lately, with a 9.00 ERA over his last nine appearances, but the righty has big stuff — and after flipping Aroldis Chapman to the Texas Rangers a few weeks ago, it feels like the Royals are (rightfully) committed to dealing everything that isn’t nailed down. Recent struggles aside, the righty has posted a 187 ERA+ across 2021 and 2022, and he comes with significant ninth-inning experience and two plus breaking balls.
Keynan Middleton, RP, Chicago White Sox
Stats: 2-2, 3.41 ERA, 2 SV, 34.1 IP, 44 K
You could pick any number of White Sox relievers here, from Joe Kelly to Kendall Graveman to Aaron Bummer — there’s no reason for a Chicago team that desperately needs to retool for 2024 to get precious about any of its bullpen pieces. But we’ll focus on Middleton here, as he’s 1) set to be a free agent this winter and 2) has been the best of that bunch even despite a couple of shaky recent appearances. His whiff rate is elite (97th percentile), and no one has been able to figure out his changeup (.194 BA against, 36.9% whiff rate).