How the Top 40 MLB Players were acquired

We’re at the one-third mark of the MLB season, lending a decent sample size for 2023.

At this point, the Top 40 players are mostly same-old-story types, but Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Zac Gallen has been the game’s best pitcher thus far, and Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco is giving New York Yankees star and defending MVP a run for his money atop the fWAR leaderboard.

Over the winter there is often a lot of conversations — we’ll call them that for now, but they’re often more like arguments — centered on free agency, roster construction, and team payroll. Fact is, there’s no one best way to build a roster. As Ben Lindhberg and Sam Miller wrote in their book titled of the same phrase, The Only Rule is it Has to Work.

After a third of the current campaign, here are the Top 20 position players and Top 20 pitchers in baseball, via fWAR, and how their current team acquired them. Ya know, for funsies, as Christopher Crawford would say.

If a player was acquired via one route but is with the team presently via another, the latest transaction type will be used to categorize. For example, Brandon Nimmo was drafted by the New York Mets, but reached free agency and re-signed with the club. He will be considered a player that landed with his current team via free agency.

RANKPLAYERPOSTEAMACQUIRED
1Zac GallenRHPArizona DiamondbacksDraft
2Aaron JudgeOFNew York YankeesDraft
3Wander FrancoSSTampa Bay RaysInternational Free Agency
3Freddie Freeman1BLos Angeles DodgersFree Agency
5Sean MurphyCAtlanta BravesTrade
6Ronald Acuña Jr.OFAtlanta BravesInternational Free Agency
7Marcus Semien2BTexas RangersFree Agency
7Bo BichetteSSToronto Blue JaysDraft
7Nathan EovaldiRHPTexas RangersFree Agency
10Kevin GausmanRHPToronto Blue JaysFree Agency
11Yandy Diaz1B/3BTampa Bay RaysTrade
11Sonny GrayRHPMinnesota TwinsTrade
11Zack WheelerRHPPhiladephia PhilliesFree Agency
14Randy ArozarenaOFTampa Bay RaysTrade
15Spencer StriderRHPAtlanta BravesDraft
15Dansby SwansonSSChicago CubsFree Agency
15Juan SotoOFSan Diego PadresTrade
15Paul Goldschmidt1BSt. Louis CardinalsTrade
15Mookie BettsOFLos Angeles DodgersTrade
20Framber ValdezLHPHouston AstrosInternational Free Agency
20Justin SteeleLHPChicago CubsDraft
20Matt Chapman3BToronto Blue JaysTrade
20Yordan AlvarezOFHouston AstrosTrade
20Thairo EstradaSSSan Francisco GiantsTrade (cash)
20Brandon NimmoOFNew York MetsFree Agency
20Xander BogaertsSSSan Diego PadresFree Agency
27Joe RyanRHPMinnesota TwinsTrade
27Luis CastilloRHPSeattle MarinersTrade
27Mike TroutOFLos Angeles AngelsDraft
27Luis RobertOFChicago White SoxInternational Free Agency
27Jonah HeimCTexas RangersTrade
27Corbin CarrollOFArizona DiamondbacksDraft
33Cedric Mullins IIOFBaltimore OriolesDraft
34Riley GreeneOFDetroit TigersDraft
34Mitch KellerRHPPittsburgh PiratesDraft
34Logan GilbertRHPSeattle MarinersDraft
34Eduardo RodriguezLHPDetroit TigersFree Agency
34Anthony Rizzo1BNew York YankeesFree Agency
34Nolan Gorman2BSt. Louis CardinalsDraft
34Pete Alonso1BNew York MetsDraft

Admittedly, 40 players is an arbitrary sample size, as is the time frame we’re using, and while there’s no conclusive analysis being offered here, it remains somewhat interesting the split.

Draft: 13
Trade: 13
Free Agency: 10
International Free Agency: 4

Even if we ignore the time and sample parameters, this doesn’t necessarily suggest the best way to acquire the best players, only the the most popular. Most club owners would prefer not to spend big money if they don’t have to, and some flat out refuse to do so, leaving their baseball executives to lean heavily on draft-and-develop.

Such a philosophy is a more financially efficient way to build the 26 and 40-man rosters, especially considering the age of free agents being handed long, large contracts, but if you’re wondering how your favorite team can acquire a star, well, there are three main paths to such talents, and the trade route is perhaps the most direct.

Notice a few choice players not listed? Where are the likes of Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Carlos Rodon, and Jacob deGrom? Injuries have bitten the two aces, but neither Turner nor Correa have performed well to date, despite, the large contracts over the winter.

Additionally, Justin Verlander, who inked a two-year, $86.7 million deal with the New York Mets, missed the start of the season due to a muscle strain.

Jason A. Churchill
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