For the second season in a row, the Cubs have drawn first blood in the pitching market. However, with apologies to Tony Campana, we’ve yet to see a major position player dealt this trade season. Last year, the first substantial trade of a position player occurred on July 8 when the Nationals acquired Scott Hairston from the Cubs. If you have a stricter definition of “substantial,” then the first deal involved the Yankees acquiring Alfonso Soriano on July 26 from (again) the Cubs.
Unlike the pitching market, there can be a lot more moving parts in the position player market. Every team can find a use for another starting pitcher, but the position player needs are often more focused to just a few potential buyers. We’ll limit our attention to 10 names and one per potential seller. Feel free to discuss alternatives like Aaron Hill in the comments.
Ben Zobrist, Rays .253/.337/.401: The Rays long-time utility knife has experienced a bit of a down season at the plate. His offensive numbers are at their lowest since 2010. Zobrist, 33, has mostly played second base this season, with his usual strong defense at the position (7.7 UZR/150). He could also help a club at shortstop and corner outfield. He can presumably still play third base as well, although Evan Longoria has made that unnecessary for most of the last four seasons. An affordable $7.5MM club option for 2015 makes Zobrist a cost-effective catch, but it could also discourage the Rays from sending him into the wild.
Josh Willingham, Twins .228/.377/.441: The oft-injured outfielder and designate hitter has put together strong numbers when on the field. Willingham, 35, missed a good chunk of this season with a wrist injury, but he’s displayed good power since returning. A club in need of a little extra thump like the Mariners could make sense. He’s a free agent after this season.
Dayan Viciedo, White Sox .252/.303/.422: The powerful 25-year-old Cuban has disappointed through parts of five major league seasons. His career 139 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers (a 139 wRC+ means 39 percent above average) hints that he’s best used as a platoon hitter. Viciedo has another three seasons of arbitration eligibility as a Super Two player. On the one hand, his young age and big power profile could have teams dreaming of unearthing another Edwin Encarnacion. On the other hand, he was paid $2.8MM in his first arbitration eligible season and that rate will only increase over the next three seasons. The Mariners are most connected with Viciedo, but I could see a lot of clubs taking a shot at him, even some currently out of contention like the Phillies.
Alex Rios, Rangers .300/.330./.425: Rios seems like the only Ranger to avoid spending time on the disabled list. The 33-year-old is having a decent season at the plate thanks to a .357 BABIP. He’s popped only three home runs and stolen 13 bases – down steeply from the rates he’s posted in past seasons. He’s controlled through the 2015 season with an affordable $13.5MM club option. This is my speculation – the Royals and Blue Jays should be most intrigued by Rios. The Rangers see themselves as contenders in 2015, so they won’t be in a rush to push Rios out the door.
Chris Carter, Astros .187/.266/.415: The Astros are inching towards relevancy, but it’s looking increasingly likely that Carter won’t be a part of the next Houston contender. The 27-year-old is struggling to convert balls in play into hits with a .225 BABIP. He looks like your classic platoon hitter, but he doesn’t actually show much of a split. A team in need of a Russell Branyan type could give Carter a try. The Mariners make sense, so could the Pirates and Yankees.
Daniel Murphy, Mets .296/.347/.416: The Mets most valuable trade piece can be viewed as similar to Zobrist. He doesn’t have quite the same utility, although it’s not hard to picture him chipping in at a corner outfield position. Murphy, 29, should cost about $9MM in 2015 once the dust settles from his third and final trip through arbitration. Like with Zobrist and Rios, teams with a multi-year window should find him attractive. He’s played better than Zobrist over the last calendar year, so he may be more expensive to acquire.
Marlon Byrd, Phillies .264/.315/.482: Byrd, 36, is in the first season of a two-year, $16MM deal which includes an $8MM option for 2016. While he’s regressed in a number of ways this season, he’s proven his power outburst of 2013 is here to stay. Teams may be wary of paying for his rapidly increasing strikeout rate, but the Phillies might be able to get a decent minor leaguer if they assume some of the financial risk.
Luis Valbuena, Cubs .262/.348/.430: Late last season, Valbuena began to hit for a bit more power. The uptick in home runs didn’t hold up in 2014, but he has hit a lot more line drives. The result is a utility infielder with a respectable batting line. Valbuena, 29, is not the most exciting player on the market, but he could be an important depth acquisition for a contender. The A’s and Blue Jays actually make a lot of sense as a destination given the struggles of their second basemen.
Chase Headley, Padres .216/.298/.330: A few days ago, I would have said Seth Smith was the Padre most likely to find a new home. Now it appears Headley is near the front of the list. His numbers have been a disappointment, and nagging injuries have played a hand. The Yankees are often seen scouting him, but it’s hard to imagine anyone is overeager to trade a top prospect for Headley. The Padres might find more value in risking a qualifying offer. As such, he’s probably a dark horse to win our little poll.
Martin Prado, Diamondbacks .268/.315/.360: Another utility infielder who can chip in with some outfield innings, Prado makes sense as a depth play for a lot of contenders. His power – especially for home runs – is down this season, but most clubs interested in his services will be looking to supplant a replacement level player. The Blue Jays and Cardinals are among the teams with rumored interest.