A pair of teams have been struck with significant blows on the injury front in the past week, as the Royals announced last week that Mike Moustakas has a torn anterior cruciate ligament, while the Mets announced today that David Wright won’t even participate in any baseball activities for the next six weeks to two months. That injury ended Moustakas’ season, while Wright’s could leave him sidelined into mid-August or even September, as he’ll need awhile to get back up to speed after a potentially eight-week layoff.
Both clubs have internal options from which to choose — Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier for the Royals; Wilmer Flores and Matt Reynolds for the Mets — but injuries of that magnitude tend to eventually lead a team to explore the outside market. It doesn’t seem likely that either club will leap into action immediately, as one might expect had these injuries occurred closer to the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline, but if and when they do explore the trade scene, there’s no shortage of options on which to inquire.
Let’s run down some names that could plausibly be in play…
Trevor Plouffe / Eduardo Nunez, Twins: With Minnesota staring at a virtually insurmountable climb in the AL Central, their infield options could be available sooner than most. Plouffe isn’t off to a good start (.246/.277/.362), but he batted .248/.312/.426 in 2200 plate appearances from 2012-15, showing 20-homer pop and steadily improving his glovework along the way. Plouffe is earning $7.25MM this year, so he’s not exactly a cheap asset, but if he turns it around at the dish, he’s controllable through 2017. He can also help out at first base, where the Mets are presently missing Lucas Duda. Nunez, meanwhile, is more of a utility option, but he’s played quite a bit of third in his career and has enjoyed a brilliant start to the 2016 season, hitting .331/.358/.509. He’s not a great defender, but he’s a competent bat with plenty of speed on the bases and a low salary. Nunez is earning $1.475MM this season and can be controlled through 2017 as well.
Yangervis Solarte, Padres: Executive chairman Ron Fowler voiced disgust with his team’s 2016 performance earlier this week and, in doing so, signaled that changes could be on the horizon. The number of Padres players that have underperformed this season limit their trade chips on the summer market, but the quietly steady Solarte has been excellent since returning from a hamstring injury. He’s hitting .339/.429/.593, and while no one should expect that to continue, he’s a .269/.334/.411 hitter since debuting in 2014 despite playing the majority of his games at Petco Park. He’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and is controllable through 2019, so the Padres would ask for a legitimate return.
Jed Lowrie / Danny Valencia, Athletics: Like Nunez, Lowrie embodies the “jack of all trades, master of none” profile, as he’s capable of playing many positions on the diamond but doesn’t draw positive defensive marks in most instances. Third base is the one exception, as he’s been a positive there in the eyes of both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating. Lowrie has been playing mostly second base this season, but he logged nearly 400 innings at the hot corner last year in Houston. He’s batting .315/.355/.364 and earning $7.5MM this season. He’ll earn $6.5MM next year, and his contract contains a $6MM club option for the 2018 campaign (which comes with a $1MM buyout). Valencia would require a larger return, given his excellent production over the past calendar year, and the Royals have already been down that road once before, while the Mets may not have a regular spot for him late in the year. As an affordable slugger with a year of control remaining beyond 2016, he’s certainly appealing, and it’s tough to definitively rule out any trade when it comes to the A’s.
Yunel Escobar, Angels: The last-place Halos might not be waving the white flag just yet, but with baseball’s most injury-riddled pitching staff and a dismal farm system from which to draw reinforcements, things are bleak in Anaheim. Escobar has been a bright spot at the plate (.306/.362/.416) while earning just $7MM, and he comes with a 2017 option for the same price. Escobar’s poor defense weighs down the value brought to the table by his bat, and he’s also drawn questionable reviews (to put things mildly) for his clubhouse presence in the past. But, his premium contact skills would fit in well with the Royals’ philosophy, and he’s capable of playing multiple positions.
Luis Valbuena, Astros: The 30-year-old doesn’t look like he’s going to come close to matching last season’s career-best 25 homers. Valbuena is hitting .223/.320/.399 with six big flies on the year, demonstrating a solid walk rate but also a penchant for strikeouts. The left-handed-hitter is best deployed as a platoon option, which might make his $6.125MM salary steep, but Houston could be willing to absorb some of that salary. Former No. 2 overall pick Alex Bregman is demolishing minor league pitching and may be on the cusp of the Majors, so the Astros would probably be comfortable moving their starting third baseman even if they still aim to contend.
Kelly Johnson, Braves: Johnson looks primed to experience some deja vu this summer. After signing a one-year deal to return to the Braves (who originally drafted him) during the 2014-15 offseason, he found himself flipped to the Mets alongside Juan Uribe. Johnson isn’t hitting like he did in 2015, but he’s a known commodity to the Mets and can play all over the infield. Given his struggles (.210/.276/.295), the cost of acquisition figures to be minimal. Even if he doesn’t end up in New York, he’s an obvious trade candidate.
Aaron Hill, Brewers: On the more productive side of the veteran scale is Hill, whose huge May has perhaps made him a more appealing target for clubs in need of some infield help. The 34-year-old’s season-to-date batting line rests at a productive .274/.346/.433, and while he’s historically been a second baseman, Hill has piled up 557 innings at the hot corner over the past two seasons. He’s earning a steep $12MM in 2016, but the D-backs are reportedly on the hook for $6.5MM of that sum, and I’d imagine that the Brewers would be willing to kick in some additional funds if it meant improving the return.
Alex Guerrero, Dodgers (for now): The Dodgers designated Guerrero, he of a four-year/$28MM contract (signed in 2013), for assignment earlier this week when he completed a minor league rehab assignment. Guerrero hasn’t lived up to his contract by any stretch of the means, but he also never got an opportunity at regular playing time. He’s a poor defender and has batted .224 with a .251 on-base percentage in the Majors, but he also slugged .414 (.190 ISO) and ripped 11 homers in just 247 Major League PAs over the past two seasons. Guerrero owns a lifetime .303/.385/.526 batting line in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, and mashed at a .323/.357/.598 clip in 266 Triple-A plate appearances with the Dodgers. It’s unlikely that a team would be willing to take on the remainder of his contract in a trade, but Guerrero could soon be released, thus freeing him to sign with any club willing to roll the dice.
Certainly, there are other names to consider. Each team can explore everything from bad contract (e.g. Chase Headley) to former prospects now in the upper minors (e.g. Will Middlebrooks), to elite prospects like Joey Gallo that may be somewhat “blocked” at the MLB level (though the latter of the three presents further long-term roster maneuvering). And, as is the case every year, other names will most likely surface as trade candidates once the non-waiver trade deadline draws closer. However, for a pair of clubs in tight races for the division lead — the Royals hold a 1.5 game lead on the AL Central, while the Mets are three back in the NL East — acting sooner rather than later to fill a void can make a sizable impact.