This represents the second iteration of MLBTR’s top 10 trade candidate series. We’ve already seen a name fly off the shelf, as last week’s fifth-ranked trade candidate — James Shields — was flipped from the Padres to the White Sox.
Remember, we’re not just ranking players by skill alone; we’re looking at overall asset value and trade likelihood. To assess 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 likelihood of a swap, 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.
Without further ado, here’s this week’s list:
1. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers — Lucroy holds the top spot again, and barring a surprise move up the charts, he could stay there until he’s traded. It probably makes sense for Milwaukee to let the market shake out a bit before a deal, though, as several clubs with plausible catching needs may wish to wait and see how injury and performance issues progress over the coming weeks. Plus, with a high-value asset, an unexpected injury can always have a huge impact.
2. Rich Hill, SP, Athletics — Hill is currently out with a groin strain, but hasn’t yet been put on the DL, and the hope is that he can take the ball on Friday. At this point, a minor non-arm injury isn’t enough to ding Hill’s interesting trade candidacy. But the 36-year-old has already recorded more major league innings this year (64) than he has in any season since 2007, and durability will be watched closely by suitors looking to gauge his value.
3. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers — Speaking of injuries, that’s probably the biggest variable on the market for the veteran Milwaukee slugger. He’s missed nine of the club’s last 21 games, and the list of maladies seems only to grow. But Braun has been as good as ever when he has been on the field, so he continues to occupy a top spot.
4. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds — After two straight years with below-average offensive production, Bruce is mashing. Yet he finds himself rated at or just above replacement level by measure of WAR. The culprit? A precipitous dive in his defensive metrics. He’s tied for a league-worst -11 defensive runs saved and is the lowest-rated qualifying defender in baseball by measure of UZR. The struggles with the glove limit his value and his market, but he’s still a prime target for teams in search of offense.
5. Arodys Vizcaino, RP, Braves — The Viz Kid has been among the game’s top 15 relievers by most any measure, and he’s posted significant jumps in ground-ball rate (56.9%) and swinging-strike rate (17.2%) to support his improvement over an already-strong 2015 season. Vizcaino has three more years of arb control remaining and should remain quite affordable, even though his save accumulation will begin to boost his salaries. That makes him a future asset for Atlanta, but the bet here is that he’s the likeliest of the team’s controllable assets to be dealt this summer.
6. Danny Valencia, 3B, Athletics — Valencia continues to rake, and the A’s continue to scuffle, so he makes a big move into the top ten. Needless to say, the one-time journeyman doesn’t seem terribly likely to maintain his current .343/.387/.580 batting line — he’s carrying a .374 BABIP, for one thing — but it’s hard to ignore that the 31-year-old has hit at a .291/.336/.492 clip over nearly 1,000 plate appearances dating back to 2013. Though Valencia doesn’t grade out very well at third or on the bases, his overall value is boosted by the fact that he’s appeared in the corner outfield and even second base at the game’s highest level. Jed Lowrie is another second/third candidate to watch from Oakland.
7. Julio Teheran, SP, Braves — Every quality start Teheran turns in raises his appeal — along with Atlanta’s already-steep asking price. Teams will forgive his 1-6 record, of course, and they’ll be drawn to his 200-inning history and 2.92 ERA. On the other hand, the 25-year-old continues to outperform ERA estimators and isn’t elite in the strikeout or ground-ball departments. While Teheran may be available for the right offer, it remains tricky to see a deal coming together.
8. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies — I’ve said before that I’m not convinced the Rockies will sell, let alone that they’ll move the second of their two former franchise faces. But with the team still producing middling results and new stars rising, perhaps the time for a CarGo swap is finally upon us. Since reeling off a five-game winning streak in mid-May, Colorado has gone 6-13 and currently sits eight games back of the Giants in the NL West. Gonzalez, meanwhile, is producing at a typically solid clip and would be one of the game’s bigger deadline chips. He’s still just 30 years of age, and while his injury history is troubling, he seems reasonably priced at $17MM this year and $20MM next.
9. Fernando Abad, RP, Twins — He’s still the best high-performing, obviously-available lefty out there, and he’d appeal to a wide variety of teams since he’s playing for a relative pittance. But Abad’s time on the top-ten list may not be long; even if he doesn’t follow Shields as an early trade piece, there are some other arms that may soon challenge. The Brewers’ Will Smith could warrant for a spot if he continues to pitch well upon his return, though he’s no certain trade piece since he’s only a Super Two. Keep an eye on Jake McGee of the Rockies; his velocity and swinging strike rates are off, and he’s not especially cheap, but his track record is intriguing. Oh, and I hear that the Yankees have a couple of guys — if they decide to sell. And that’s all before accounting for the right-handed relief contingent.
10. Melvin Upton, OF, Padres — The much-maligned elder Upton isn’t exactly living up to his old standards, but he’s running wild on the bases and playing quality defense while hitting enough to be a useful reserve outfielder for a contender. True, Jon Jay is a more valuable trade chip — he’s doing more at the plate, is much cheaper, and is a pure rental — and he’s the pick here of my colleague Steve Adams. But I’m going with Bossman Junior for now because the Friars have shown some real salary-shedding motivation of late — not just in moving Shields, but also in the very swap that brought Jay to San Diego (for Jedd Gyorko and a big chunk of his contract) and, to some extent, both the Craig Kimbrel deal and the trade that landed Drew Pomeranz (with over $5MM of salary going with the players that headed to the A’s). The time may be right to offload as much as possible of the Pads’ remaining commitment (he’s earning $15.45MM this year and $16.45MM next). On the topic of shedding salary, the Padres would probably love to shed Matt Kemp’s deal, but it’s tough to envision suitors lining up for a .249 OBP, even if his production has been on the upswing for 10 games or so.
Chris Carter, 1B, Brewers — He is now in an extended stretch of marginal hitting, which reduces the goodwill he built up early.
Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Twins — Plouffe continues to underwhelm, and the Twins’ trade intentions remain unclear despite their increasingly dire straits at the major league level.
Sonny Gray, Jed Lowrie, Ryan Madson & Sean Doolittle (Athletics) — We’ll see how Gray rebounds and how the A’s approach the deadline with respect to a core player who doesn’t need to be moved unless a great opportunity arises. All of these players come with future control, with high price tags likely being slapped onto Gray and Doolittle, especially.
Ender Inciarte (Braves) — Inciarte could have a future role in Atlanta and isn’t at peak value right now.
Jeremy Jeffress & Will Smith (Brewers) — Likewise, these two arms are affordable and controllable, so there’s no rush; but if the trade chatter picks up, and Smith proves he’s back, then both could move onto the board.
Jeremy Hellickson, David Hernandez, Andrew Bailey & Jeanmar Gomez (Phillies) — Philadelphia somewhat surprisingly still remains within striking distance of contention as of early June, but even that might not necessarily deter them from flipping Hellickson while his value is at a considerably higher point than it was when he was originally acquired. Hernandez is a one-year rental, and Gomez’s out-of-the-blue emergence as the team’s closer will balloon his arbitration salary, so perhaps the Phillies will look to sell high on him as well. Bailey hasn’t been healthy in years, but he’s whiffed 17 hitters in 17 2/3 innings this season, and is lined up to hit free agency this winter, so moving him certainly makes sense.
Brad Ziegler, Daniel Hudson, Tyler Clippard & Welington Castillo (Diamondbacks) — I’m bumping the fading D-Backs into the likely seller camp, but their intentions remain unclear and all of their most obvious potential chips come with some questions (both as to quality and the willingness of the team to move them).
Andrew Cashner, Derek Norris, Jon Jay & Fernando Rodney (Padres) — Cashner and Norris just haven’t performed thus far. Rodney has, at least in the earned run department (he hasn’t allowed one), but the K/BB ratio doesn’t suggest vintage Rodney and there’s some batted-ball luck (.167 BABIP-against). On the other hand, his swinging-strike rate has recovered to prime levels and his batted-ball profile (lots of soft contact and grounders) looks like it did in Rodney’s excellent 2012-13 seasons, so he’s certainly one to watch.
Zack Cozart (Reds) — Always a gifted defender, Cozart’s bat is on the rise again this year, but it remains to be seen how interested Cincinnati is in moving him and the demand side at shortstop remains unclear. Fellow infielders Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips both have no-trade rights and big contracts, so unless something changes they don’t seem likely to move.
Ervin Santana (Twins) — Santana is not so different from Shields at this stage of their respective careers, so he could rise with some improved results.
Not Yet Eligible: I’m still not quite willing to push the Rays, Yankees, or Angels into the selling ranks. All of these clubs still are holding out hopes of contention, and the latter two in particular will likely wait until the bitter end before making their best assets available.