MLBTR’s top trade candidate series hits its third week as we reach the middle of June, and we’re beginning to expand the list as the market gains shape. The James Shields trade hasn’t worked out yet for the White Sox, but Chicago still profiles as an early buyer. Might other teams join them in seeking reinforcements sooner than later?
As for this list, 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.
Injuries again had an impact; here’s this week’s list:
1. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers — Still good, still available … at a steep cost. MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently looked at the potential suitors for a player who might be not only the best, but also the most interesting trade chip on this summer’s market.
2. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers — With Rich Hill hitting the DL and falling off of this list for the time being, Braun moves into the second slot. Some may quibble with this placement, citing the big contract — not to mention the fact that GM David Stearns says “there is no motivation for us to move … an elite-level player.” But reports suggest there’s been at least some chatter involving Braun, who could be the highest-performing hitter available.
3. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds — The division-rival Brewers are giving signs that they’ll wait to see how the market develops with their best chips, but one wonders whether Cincinnati could act more quickly with Bruce’s value on the ascent. Defensive limitations remain a concern, but teams in need of a boost on offense will take a hard look at the 29-year-old.
4. Danny Valencia, 3B, Athletics — This placement feels high, and maybe it is. But Valencia has carried a 1.000+ OPS in both May and June. And he brings a serviceable (albeit below-average) glove at both third base and the corner outfield. With just $3.15MM owed to Valencia in his second-to-last season of arbitration eligibility, he’s a pretty nice piece who could fit on a lot of contending clubs.
5. Arodys Vizcaino, RP, Braves — Vizcaino has shown some cracks in his most recent work. In 3 1/3 innings over four appearances since June 7th, he has surrendered three earned runs on four hits and five walks while recording four strikeouts. That’s not enough to set off any alarm bells, but it’s worth watching how he bounces back.
6. Fernando Abad, RP, Twins — Abad just keeps humming along, and could see some save opportunities as Minnesota struggles to find reliable late-inning relief work. He’s as cheap as they come ($1.25MM) after signing a minor league deal, and can be controlled for another season via arbitration.
7. Julio Teheran, SP, Braves — With Teheran now laying down an impressive run of results, the focus is less on his ability than it is on the market. Atlanta won’t just settle for the best offer for the righty, who is cheap and controllable for years to come, but will set a high price and see if it’s met. As the rest of this list shows, there isn’t much in the way of quality starting pitching available; a club with a present need and future interest could conceivably be enticed to meet the ask.
8. Fernando Rodney, RP, Padres — Though he hasn’t pitched much of late, it’s no longer possible to ignore Rodney’s brilliance thus far. The walks (4.0 BB/9) are still a concern, but Rodney is inducing grounders at a career-best 61.2% rate and is generating swinging strikes at a solid 11.6% rate. The fastball still averages better than 95 mph. Plus, he’s owed just $1.6MM this year — though incentives will drive that up — and can be kept for 2017 at a floating rate that could be quite reasonable if things continue in this direction.
9. Sean Doolittle, RP, Athletics — After some struggles early, Doolittle has regained his fastball velocity, with the results catching up as batters can’t. He is controllable through 2020 on a fairly meager guarantee, so he’s no certainty to be dealt, but the A’s could choose to cash in on the 29-year-old, who now owns a 2.45 ERA with 11.9 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 on the year. Those are the kinds of numbers that could motivate a contender to part with some serious value, though health remains a long-term concern.
10. Zack Cozart, SS, Reds — After three straight seasons of defensive excellence and subpar hitting, Cozart has run up a .271/.312/.475 batting line with 18 home runs in 437 plate appearances over the last two seasons. He’s earning less than $3MM in 2016 and will be eligible for a final trip through arbitration next year, so Cinci doesn’t need to make a move. But with Jose Peraza returning to the majors, it’s possible to imagine the Reds looking to get something out of the player who might end up being the most appealing shortstop available at the deadline.
11. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies — The Rox have gone on a nice little run in the last week, reducing their trade likelihood for the time being. Gonzalez would look like a clearer trade piece for most organizations, but it’s still all but impossible to gauge Colorado’s willingness to move the big-swinging 30-year-old.
12. David Hernandez, RP, Phillies — Signed to a $3.9MM deal after dealing with injuries in recent years, Hernandez has made good on the Phillies’ hopes. Over 30 1/3 frames, he owns a 2.37 ERA with 11.9 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9. His 14.2% swinging strike rate is in line with his career-best 2012 season. You could argue for Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, or Andrew Bailey to represent a surprising Phils’ pen on this list, and all are also plausible candidates in their own right, but Hernandez has the best mix of performance and likelihood of being dealt. (Gomez and especially Neris come with future control, while Bailey hasn’t been as good as the others.)
13. Jon Jay, OF, Padres — Seems like every time we talk about a team with an outfield need, Jay is one of the first names mentioned. He’s something like this trade season’s Gerardo Parra. Jay is a quality left-handed hitter who has never carried much of a platoon split, is capable of providing solid defense up the middle or in the corners, and is owed a reasonably $6.85MM this year before hitting the open market.
14. Melvin Upton, OF, Padres — Though he’s scuffled a bit in the month of June, Upton still looks like a useful fourth outfielder who can play any position on the grass. His wheels and defense are an asset for a contending team, and San Diego has good reason both to open a roster spot for younger options and to offload some of its remaining obligations to Upton.
15. Jeremy Jeffress, RP, Brewers — Jeffress is in the mist of a third straight season of sub-3.00 ERA work, so perhaps he was too slow to make this list and rates too low on it. But while he’s still generating a good swinging strike rate (11.6%) that’s in line with his work last year, Jeffress isn’t even striking out seven batters per nine and has never been elite in that department. He does have an impressive and consistent groundball percentage that sits just under 60%, but that arguably makes him more of a very good setup man than a shut-down closer. If the market views him as the former rather than the latter, Milwaukee may not be sufficiently motivated to deal him with three years of control remaining.
Keep reading for more names that were considered …
Tyson Ross & Andrew Cashner (Padres), Rich Hill & Josh Reddick (Athletics), Jake McGee (Rockies), Joe Smith (Angels) … true, a 15-day placement isn’t the same as a long-term injury, but we’ll operate under the premise that if you’re on the DL, you probably won’t be dealt
Sonny Gray, Jed Lowrie, Ryan Madson & Billy Butler (Athletics) — Gray’s value isn’t at its peak given his injuries, and it’s tough to imagine Oakland selling low. Lowrie can be controlled cheaply for two seasons beyond this one, so there isn’t exactly a rush to deal him. It’s tough to imagine a team taking on the remainder of Butler’s deal, but the A’s would probably love to shed the contract.
Ender Inciarte & Nick Markakis (Braves) — Like Butler, Markakis is hardly teeming with value given his .239/.328/.321 batting line and two years remaining on his deal beyond this season. Inciarte has been hurt and ineffective for much of the season but is hitting much better lately.
Will Smith & Chris Carter (Brewers) — Smith’s semi-improbable return to health following a spring LCL injury could have teams inquiring if he proves healthy and effective, while Carter’s power and cheap price tag once again make him a potentially appealing summer asset. Milwaukee can control Smith through 2019 and Carter through 2018.
Jeremy Hellickson, Gomez & Bailey (Phillies) — Hellickson arguably deserves a place on the list now, but he was bombed in his last outing and still has something to prove.
Welington Castillo, Daniel Hudson, Brad Ziegler & Tyler Clippard (Diamondbacks) — It’s just not clear whether Arizona will have any interest in dealing Castillo. Among the relievers, Hudson may be most likely to be dealt. He’s benefiting from a .172 BABIP right now, but he’s got a mid-nineties heater, double-digit swinging strike rate, and cheap rental rate ($2.7MM salary).
Derek Norris & Matt Kemp (Padres) — Neither Padres slugger is performing all that well. Kemp’s bat has come to life somewhat in the past three weeks or so, but he’s still walked just five times all season and is sporting a .259 OBP. With his contract, that’s a tough sell. Norris’ bat has picked up recently, too, and considering his position and much more affordable salary, it’s easier to see him building up some meaningful trade value than Kemp.
Ervin Santana, Trevor Plouffe & Eduardo Nunez (Twins) — Neither Santana nor Plouffe are playing terribly well, and neither is terribly cheap, but they are the type of sturdy veterans that often change hands at the deadline. As for Nunez, teams won’t completely buy into the hot hitting, but he had a solid batting line last year as well and delivers loads of positional flexibility. That he’s controlled through 2017 is an added plus.
Yunel Escobar, Huston Street, Hector Santiago & Fernando Salas (Angels) — Yes, I’m now considering the Angels among the plausible sellers. But that doesn’t mean they are placing anyone on the list. Escobar and Street are valuable enough to rate, but I still don’t expect the Halos to actually cut bait on what increasingly seems to be a hopeless season until the very last minute. Even then, I remain unconvinced they’ll actually sell Street, Escobar or Santiago, as all three could play important roles in 2017. Salas, though, certainly seems a candidate to find a new home if the Halos’ woes continue.