MLBTR’s top trade candidate series is now a month old. Honestly, I’ve been surprised at how much movement the list has required. At this stage, of course, there’s still an awful lot of guesswork. It should continue to evolve with the market starting to take shape.
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 ability — with a premium on the capacity 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.
Here’s this week’s list:
1. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds — He’s only increasing his offensive production as the season goes on, and Cincinnati looks to be well-positioned to finally strike a deal. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Bruce is traded relatively early in the process; even if not, it’s hard to imagine him wearing a Reds cap on August 2nd.
2. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers — Milwaukee is putting out vibes that an extension can’t be ruled out, and the demand side of the market suggests that an overwhelming offer might be harder to find than we had thought. Still, it’d be hard for the rebuilding club to pass on a chance to cash in such a valuable asset.
3. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers — Braun has taken a step back at the plate of late. While it’s nothing to be alarmed at, he may need to be at peak capacity to draw a top-notch return given his health issues and sizable contract. Plus, there continue to be some signs that the Brewers might not just take what they can get for their best assets. There certainly seems to be a better chance that he’ll stick around than there is for Lucroy.
4. Julio Teheran, SP, Braves — I’m moving Teheran up because he’s impressing and the starting pitching market is only looking tighter. Several top potential rental options are on the DL and/or are underperforming, while Sonny Gray — another quality, controllable arm that could conceivably be pried loose — still hasn’t re-established himself. It might take a perceived overpay, but Atlanta just may be positioned to get one.
5. Danny Valencia, 3B, Athletics — If teams are willing to buy in, you could argue that Valencia is the only impact infield bat available. His affordable contract and added year of control increase his appeal, but also reduce Oakland’s interest in finding a deal.
6. Fernando Rodney, RP, Padres — At some point, you can’t ignore the string of success. In the month of June, Rodney has allowed just four baserunners while fanning ten in 6 1/3 innings. That mirrors the rest of his season … and, of course, he has yet to allow an earned run. Rodney won’t be valued at the level of the very best relievers in the game, but he should draw strong interest.
7. Jon Jay, OF, Padres — Jay is a plug-and-go player who can handle a regular center field role or make for a versatile fourth outfielder. As a pure rental playing for a team that is in sell mode and has young players ready to step in for him, Jay seems like a likely piece to change hands.
8. Jake Odorizzi, SP, Rays — Odorizzi makes a big move into the top ten. It’s hardly necessary for Tampa Bay to trade him, of course, as he’ll only reach arb eligibility next year. But with the club falling back of late while dealing with numerous injuries, the appeal of cashing in a sturdy, controllable starter in a seller’s market is increasing. And if the team’s rehabbing starters remain on course, dealing from the rotation might not even be that painful. Especially if the Braves hold firm on Teheran, perhaps Tampa Bay could get a nice return for Odorizzi.
9. Sean Doolittle, RP, Athletics — Over his last nine innings, Doolittle has allowed just three hits (one of which was a solo home run) and two walks while posting 13 strikeouts. We’ve heard a lot of talk about some other top-tier power lefties, but there’s an argument that Doolittle is nearly as good while being much more available (and having an even more appealing contract). Injury questions remain a factor, but it’s easier to look past that when you need a gun now and this one is firing in the upper-nineties.
10. Arodys Vizcaino, RP, Braves — Vizcaino hasn’t always had premium strikeout numbers, but they are trending up this season. He has reeled off three straight solid outings since we last checked in, despite a few recent duds, so it’s not so much that he’s moving down the list as it is that the others are moving up.
11. Zack Cozart, SS, Reds — It’s not yet clear what kind of market Cozart will have, but he’s done nothing but increase his appeal all year. He’s still producing at the plate and would deliver a high-quality glove at short. Market demand remains a bit unclear, and Cinci may not be eager to move him, but clubs looking for a true shortstop probably won’t find a better option.
12. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies — I’m still betting that Colorado is in a selling position in the standings when the deadline comes around, though CarGo’s availability is another matter. The song remains the same: he’d draw huge interest if marketed, but Colorado’s approach remains to be seen.
13. Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Phillies — He’s a pure rental piece playing at a reasonable salary ($7MM), and is putting up the kind of solid and steady numbers that teams value at the back of the rotation. Hellickson has a 4.41 ERA and is on pace for around 185 innings, which isn’t terribly exciting. But he’s healthy, is carrying sub-4.00 xFIP and SIERA marks, and is showing indications of positive evolution as a hurler. If he can tamp down the home runs, at least, Hellickson could be an important piece for an organization that needs some stability.
14. Yunel Escobar, IF, Angels — Escobar won’t excite, but he puts the ball in play and has managed to maintain a high average (and with it, a strong on-base percentage) over the last two years. His BABIP is inflated, but that’s also possible because he rarely hits the ball in the air and doesn’t make a lot of soft contact. Defensive metrics don’t really like him any better at third than they did at short, where he has spent most of his career, but he’s at least serviceable all over the infield. That adds real positional flexibility that could come in handy. It’s not yet clear whether the Halos will want to deal him, though, even if they keep on a downward trajectory. Escobar can be kept with a $7MM option that would hold appeal for Los Angeles.
15. Jeremy Jeffress, RP, Brewers — The back of the list still seems like the right range for Jeffress, who isn’t an elite strikeout threat. (Though, to be fair, the dive in K/9 this year is offset by the fact that he has maintained an ~11% swinging strike rate and generates tons of grounders.) Given that Milwaukee isn’t under any pressure to deal him, since he won’t qualify for arbitration until next season, it’ll take a strong offer and he could well stay put.
Keep reading for more names that were considered …
Fernando Abad (Twins) — He has hit the skids a bit recently, capped by a two-walk, three-earned outing on Saturday.
David Hernandez (Phillies) — We don’t want to get too caught up in ebbs and flows here, but Hernandez has also been roughed up lately. In his last two appearances, he has coughed up seven hits and five earned runs.
Melvin Upton (Padres) — Upton has a .250/.278/.412 batting line for the month of June. That’s still within range of a useful, near-average slash, but he’s trending down a bit.
Huston Street, Hector Santiago & Fernando Salas (Angels) — Among these players, Street is probably the most interesting possible trade chip. He has long succeeded without the kind of velocity or strikeout ability we tend to expect from a closer, but a recent injury and some shaky appearances leave him with something to prove. As with Escobar, the Halos may not have much interest in dealing him even if he’s performing and it looks like the season is a lost cause.
Sonny Gray, Jed Lowrie, Ryan Madson & Billy Butler (Athletics) — We’ll see how Gray’s market progresses, but it probably won’t gain much steam if he doesn’t return to form in the coming weeks. Superficially, Madson has been a quality closer, but the peripherals tell another story and he has big bucks left on his deal. Butler has been hitting recently, but that falls against the backdrop of a lengthy run of disappointment and hefty contract.
Ender Inciarte & Nick Markakis (Braves) — The loss of Mallex Smith reduces the already-questionable likelihood of a deal involving Inciarte. Meanwhile, Markakis is not producing at his typical, slightly-above-average rate with the bat, but it’s possible to imagine a deal if Atlanta is willing to eat salary.
Will Smith & Chris Carter (Brewers) — Smith is back and the ERA is shiny, but he has yet to regain his velocity. Carter is swinging a hot stick again. Either or both could crack the list in short order.
Welington Castillo, Daniel Hudson, Brad Ziegler & Tyler Clippard (Diamondbacks) — Arizona is going to be a difficult team to gauge until we start to hear more about the team’s intentions. While it looks like a seller, the organization is obviously interested in near-term contention and hasn’t exactly hued to expectations of late. Hudson had a couple of rough outings recently, but has rebounded with three straight clean frames. He’s owed just $2.7MM this year and free agency beckons thereafter, so the power righty could make for an easy fit with any number of clubs looking to deepen their bullpen.
Drew Pomeranz, Derek Norris & Matt Kemp (Padres) — It’s still not clear how other organizations will view Pomeranz, who owns an even 3.00 ERA over 14 starts and is striking out better than ten batters per nine on the year. There’s certainly an argument that he belongs in the top 15, though I’m holding him out for now since I’m still not convinced that San Diego will receive strong enough offers to make it worth moving a controllable arm. Norris is starting to play his way back into an interesting trade chip; teams that don’t want to break the bank for Lucroy could consider him. It’s still difficult to see enough interest in Kemp to warrant any club taking a big bite of his contract.
Logan Morrison, Erasmo Ramirez & Xavier Cedeno (Rays) — Welcome to the list, Tampa Bay! The club is now six under .500 and 8.5 out of the division lead, so they are moving into plausible seller territory. Plus, this was an organization that could conceivably have dealt from its rotation regardless.