We’re introducing a new series in the run-up to the trade deadline, drawing from our power ranking approach to pending free agents. As the summer trade market develops on a fairly tight timeline, you can expect more regular updates when modifications to the list are warranted.
The methodology — if you can call it that — is pretty straightforward. I’ve done some simple ratings of players for their trade value and trade likelihood, giving me a rough guide to work from, then made finer distinctions from there, aided by the input of MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes and Steve Adams.
In terms of trade value, we’re starting with overall on-field value — with a premium on an ability to make an impact in the current season — and then adjusting for contract and market factors. With contenders’ needs in relatively sharp focus, limitations such as future contract status, age, and niche role (platoon bats, relief-only pitchers) tend to have less of a drag on value — though obviously they still matter quite a bit. With regard to the second factor, the focus is on potential selling teams’ motivation to deal, with contract status, near and long-term roster fit, and overall competitiveness all weighing heavily. Some teams simply aren’t in a position at present where it makes sense to include their top potential trade chips, but that will evolve over the coming weeks.
It’s subjective; it’s debatable; and that’s what makes it fun. Here’s the first list, with some additional names and teams to keep an eye on appended at the end:
1. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers — Lucroy was a fairly easy choice for me here. He’s playing well, the contract has value beyond this year but not within Milwaukee’s expected contention timeline, he’s established but not old, and he plays a position of need around the league. It’s unusual to see major deals involving catchers at the deadline, but that should change this year.
2. Rich Hill, SP, Athletics — It may be too soon to say whether and when the A’s will deal, but things are trending strongly in that direction and Hill is a classic deadline piece as a pure rental whose value is peaking at the right time. He could draw widespread interest, sooner rather than later. Fortunately for Oakland, a recent groin tweak seems unlikely to shelve him.
3. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers — Braun is mashing at career-best levels in his age-32 season, and now may be the best time for Milwaukee to move on from the four years and $76MM left on his contract after this season. Health is a big question, and Braun’s PED past doesn’t help, but that’s a fairly reasonable rate of pay for a player who could well be the best bat available.
4. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds — Perhaps the single most likely player to be traded in all of baseball, Bruce is posting above-average offensive numbers and would deliver some pop to another lineup. On the other hand, his defensive fall-off has been precipitous. His option for 2017 delivers some upside, in theory, but it comes with a $1MM buyout and he’s no bargain at a $12.5MM annual salary this year.
5. James Shields, SP, Padres — Shields isn’t the pitcher he once was at 34 years of age, but he’s as steady and durable as they come and is getting better results than might be expected. His contract is a bit of a wild card, since it allows him to opt out at the end of the year. Shields is earning $21MM this year on a deal that guarantees him another two years and $44MM thereafter if he chooses to take it. Chatter is already picking up on the veteran.
6. Arodys Vizcaino, RP, Braves — Vizcaino, 25, has been about as dominant as any reliever in baseball. Even if the Braves would like to keep their pen ace around for his three remaining seasons of arbitration eligibility, the Ken Giles deal serves as a reminder of both the value of controllable late-inning arms and their volatility.
7. Chris Carter, 1B, Brewers — He’s a streaky, high-K, low-OBP hitter, and everyone knows it. On the other hand, even after a recent lull, Carter has banged 13 long balls and owns a .500+ slugging percentage through just over 200 plate appearances. Oh, and he’s earning only $2.5MM at 29 years of age, with two more arb-eligible campaigns to come. A return to the American League may be in order.
8. Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Twins — He’s not the most exciting player, but Plouffe is sturdy and useful. It’s not immediately clear whether Minnesota will let him go after foregoing a trade over the winter, and a middling start doesn’t help his value, but it’s probably time for the Twins to get value with one more arb year remaining. Plouffe is playing at a reasonable, but hardly bargain rate of $7.25MM.
9. Julio Teheran, SP, Braves — Just 25 years of age, Teheran is showing signs of returning to being the budding frontline starter that he once was. He’s controllable for a meager commitment, Atlanta has proven willing to trade anyone at any time (well, almost anyone), and the empty cupboard of starters on next year’s free-agent market could increase demand. But GM John Coppolella has significantly raised the bar for a deal of the staff ace, even if he didn’t rule it out entirely.
10. Fernando Abad, RP, Twins — This spot probably could have gone to any number of relievers, several of whom are listed below, but I felt that Abad edged the field with his eye-opening work thus far. He’s allowed just a single earned run on 13 hits and five walks in 19 1/3 innings — while racking up 18 strikeouts and posting a career-best 57.1% groundball rate. Plus, he’s a lefty and he’s been effective against hitters from both sides of the plate this year. Additionally, he’s controllable through the 2017 season.
Just Missed: Danny Valencia (Athletics); Gordon Beckham and Ender Inciarte (Braves); Jeremy Jeffress (Brewers); Andrew Cashner, Derek Norris, and Fernando Rodney (Padres); Zack Cozart (Reds); Kevin Jepsen and Ervin Santana (Twins)
Not Yet Eligible: At this stage, there are some teams that are beginning to look like plausible sellers that I’m not quite comfortable considering for these purposes. In some cases, that’s because of unexpectedly solid performances; in others, it’s because expectations were high and the organization is unlikely to act hastily.
The Rays are in an interesting spot; they hope to contend despite an uneven start, but could still move major league rotation pieces (Matt Moore; Jake Odorizzi) given the team’s surplus at the position. The Phillies (Jeremy Hellickson; David Hernandez; Jeanmar Gomez) are still too much in the hunt to go in the sell category, though they could end up there soon enough. Likewise, the Astros have shown signs of life and seem a less likely seller than the division-rival A’s, though they have several short-term pieces (Carlos Gomez; Colby Rasmus; Luis Valbuena; Luke Gregerson) that would be interesting if Houston can’t gain traction. We might eventually see the Angels (Huston Street; Joe Smith; Yunel Escobar) as partial sellers, but they’re not likely to throw in the towel — if at all — until the last moment. On the National League side of the west, the Diamondbacks (Brad Ziegler; Daniel Hudson; Tyler Clippard) and Rockies (Carlos Gonzalez; Jake McGee) are still a good ways away from the tipping point.