It’s time to bring back our trade-deadline power rankings, drawing from our power ranking approach to pending free agents. As the summer trade market develops, you can expect more regular updates when modifications to the list are warranted.
As with last year, the approach is pretty straightforward. We’re looking at both trade value and trade likelihood in compiling the list. In terms of value, it starts with overall on-field value — with a premium on an ability to make an impact in the current season — with an adjustment for contract and market factors. As for the probability 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.
You’ll note that the list includes quite a few relievers and short-term veterans. That’s because teams often find a need to add complementary pieces at the deadline, with selling clubs more willing to cash in on that type of asset. You’ll also notice an absence of players from some teams that aren’t in good shape in the standings. But that’s because I have utilized my discretion to hold off on considering players from a few teams that could fall back despite a quick start (e.g., the Twins) or that seem to have reasonable hopes of making a surge back toward contention (e.g., the Blue Jays, Mariners, Giants, Mets).
It’s subjective; it’s debatable; it’s all sure to change over the coming months. 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. David Robertson, RP, White Sox: The deadline is typically a good time to move closers, and Robertson looks more likely to be as readily available as any. He has also rebounded somewhat from a down 2016 season thus far, though his walk rate is still up a bit. His contract isn’t cheap, but in the context of soaring relief salaries perhaps it’s also not as much of a burden as it seemed over the winter given the turnaround.
2. Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals: Unless K.C. can author another great run, there’ll be plenty of players available. Perhaps none will be more sought after than Cain, who could be the best rental outfielder dangled. He’s reaching base at a prodigious clip with outstanding plate discipline thus far, though his value would be boosted if he can rediscover some lost power.
3. Zack Cozart, SS, Reds: Few players have boosted their free-agent and trade stock to the extent Cozart has thus far. His suddenly excellent walk rate has combined with his typically good power to make him one of the game’s better-performing hitters through the first six weeks of the season. Given his status as a premium defender up the middle, Cozart could draw plenty of interest as a rental. The only limitation may be the lack of a clear market, though if he keeps this up perhaps a contender will bump another player off of shortstop to make room for Cozart.
4. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Athletics: His stock is rising quickly with a newfound power stroke. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s on a cheap contract that runs out after the season, making him a fairly easy and obvious trade piece if the A’s remain buried in the AL West. Demand is still an open question, but it stands to reason that a few organizations will be looking for a slugger; if J.D. Martinez isn’t ultimately marketed, Alonso could be the top available source of offensive production.
5. Jose Quintana, SP, White Sox: It’s still not certain whether the White Sox will move Quintana, but he’ll undeniably be available. The question here is whether he can tamp down a rising walk rate and get back to his steady productivity. That would go a long way toward drawing sufficient trade offers to get Chicago to bite on moving its best-remaining veteran asset.
6. Kelvin Herrera, RP, Royals: There’s an argument that Herrera could be the top relief arm available, but there are some caveats. Kansas City may elect to hold onto him even if the team is buried, given that he has another year of control. And the 27-year-old has seen a strikeout dip early on, though his swinging-strike rate and velocity remain at typically excellent levels.
7. Tony Watson, RP, Pirates: Though his results this year are outpacing his peripherals, Watson is well-established as a high-end relief arm and is set to enter free agency after the year. While he’s closing for the Pirates, it’s not immediately clear whether he’ll be targeted in that role by contenders. Either way, barring a turnaround from the Bucs, he seems quite likely to be a top trade piece this summer.
8. Pat Neshek, RP, Phillies: With free agency beckoning, the veteran reliever is probably the Phils’ clearest trade piece. He has been excellent thus far, even showing improved performance against left-handed hitting, and could be a very valuable addition for a lot of organizations.
9. Brad Hand, RP, Padres: If Watson can’t hold the line, it could well be that Hand is the top shutdown lefty on the market. He’s running at more than 11 strikeouts per nine yet again — this time with a whopping 15% whiff rate — and currently owns a 1.88 ERA through 24 frames. San Diego doesn’t have to make a deal, since Hand is cheap and comes with two more years of control, but odds are the rebuilding club will see this as an opportune moment to cash in.
10. Jason Vargas, SP, Royals: No, we shouldn’t expect Vargas to keep pitching like an ace. But he is showing a big jump in swinging strikes and doesn’t need to be an elite hurler to be an appealing trade candidate. The typically steady veteran will be a free agent at year’s end and would help patch up many rotations for the home stretch.
11. A.J. Ramos, RP, Marlins: Though he has been effectively wild thus far, there are some worrying signs. Ramos is getting whiffs just 10.8% of the time, the lowest rate of his career, even as his walk rate has ballooned to 5.5 per nine. Still, he’ll have value with an established track record of sub-3.00 ERA pitching in spite of the control problems. He also has an added year of arb control.
12. Joakim Soria, RP, Royals: The 33-year-old is getting a ton of swings and misses (14.5%, best in his career) with the results to match. But he is also continuing his late-career walk rate inflation and has benefited thus far from an absence of dingers. Plus, he isn’t cheap, with a $9MM salary this year and another $11MM due for 2018 (plus an option buyout).
13. Ryan Madson, RP, Athletics: With 8.8 K/9 against just 1.7 BB/9, Madson’s 2.20 ERA through 16 1/3 innings is deserved. And the velocity, health, and whiff rates are all looking good. Like Soria, that’s a nice bounceback from a rough first season under a new contract. Also like Soria, there’s still a fair bit of cash left to go for 2018 ($7.5MM) — and Madson is closing in on 37 years of age.
14. Marcell Ozuna, OF, Marlins: It’s anyone’s guess whether the Fish would pull the trigger on a deal this significant with the team weighing a sale, but Ozuna looks to be the top possible trade chip on a club that is in need of some fresh talent. Ozuna is reaching new heights — .302/.379/.564 with 11 home runs and an 11.2% walk rate through 169 plate appearances — at 26 years of age. While he would also be an obvious extension candidate, the Marlins have already reportedly tried and failed. With two more years of arb control left, now may be the time to move him — and the return could be substantial.
15. Mike Moustakas (3B) & Eric Hosmer (1B), Royals: Both have had their ups and downs early, but would likely represent solid regulars for contenders that need to plug holes. The demand side likely won’t be as robust as in the case of Cain, who could fit on plenty of different teams.
17. Anthony Swarzak, RP, White Sox: Chicago caught lightning in a bottle with the breakout 31-year-old righty, who’ll be back on the market next winter. If he can maintain anything approaching his current form — 1.37 ERA on 10.1 K/9 and 0.9 BB/9 with a league-leading 19.8% swinging-strike rate — as the deadline draws near, he’ll be quite a nice deadline asset.
18. Jed Lowrie, INF, Athletics: The veteran is back on the upswing as he prepares to hit the open market. Injuries and performance issues have limited his value since Lowrie last turned in this kind of effort, but he has done it before. Currently, he’s hitting .268/.345/.436 with five dingers and a 10.1% walk rate through 168 plate appearances.
19. Todd Frazier (3B) & Melky Cabrera (OF/DH), White Sox: Neither veteran is hitting much early on, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still likely trade pieces. While the Sox will likely need to eat some salary even if both bounce back, they seem quite likely to end up playing elsewhere for the second half of the season given that both will hit the open market after the year.
21. Ian Kennedy, SP, Royals: The big question here is how teams will view Kennedy’s contract. He has been as solid as could have been hoped when he signed before the 2016 season, but it’s a backloaded deal and Kennedy is already 32 years old. Whether or not he’s dealt, he’ll enter the winter with a three-year, $49MM player option (or, instead, a $6MM buyout). While that could be a palatable price tag, potential shoppers will need to consider the uncertainty in weighing an offer.
22. Alex Cobb, SP, Rays: We’ve heard that Tampa Bay is already putting out feelers on Cobb, and the team’s rotation depth would allow it to swing a deal for the pending free agent while still maintaining some hope for a Wild Card. The 29-year-old is performing well after returning late last year from Tommy John surgery, but he hasn’t really shown signs yet of fully returning to his pre-injury form. Since the team is still in the pack, he’s the only player from the Rays roster I’m putting on the list at this time.
23. Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Phillies: There’s real concern in Hellickson’s plummeting strikeout tallies, given that he’s also sporting a career-low 7.4% swinging-strike rate while showing a slight velocity decline. And he’s hardly cheap. Still, it stands to reason that the Phillies will look to cash him in this year after holding off on doing so in 2016. (*NOTE: Hellickson left tonight’s game with what appeared to be an injury to his side.)
24. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates: This’ll be a story until a deal comes together. While the Bucs will be hesitant to sell low on the currently scuffling veteran, the team is also on track to be in a clear selling stance this summer.
25. Sonny Gray, SP, Athletics: In a somewhat analogous situation, Oakland is surely wondering when the time will be right to make a move involving Gray. He is delivering a 9.9% swinging-strike rate that’s actually over any single-season mark for his career, but the strikeouts (6.8 per nine) and results (3.97 ERA) haven’t caught up to his 2014-15 levels.
26. David Freese, 3B, Pirates: Now 34 years old, Freese is slashing a robust .271/.373/.443 with three home runs and a career-best 13.3% walk rate. Plus, his strikeout rate has trended down to 16.9%. His two-year, $11MM deal looks like a bargain, though that could motivate the Pirates to hold onto him given the ongoing uncertainty with Jung Ho Kang.
27. Matt Kemp & Nick Markakis, OF, Braves: It’s not quite clear whether Atlanta will end up looking to move these moderately priced veterans, but both are swinging the bat well and could be useful pieces in the right situation.
29. Derek Holland, SP, White Sox: Though Holland has put up excellent results, he is posting typical peripherals that peg him as a back-of-the-rotation arm. The same holds true of rotation-mate Miguel Gonzalez. Both could plug gaps for contenders who need depth.
30. Drew Storen, RP, Reds: Storen’s peripherals are largely in line with what he posted last year, and the velocity has dropped further, but he’s carrying a 1.93 ERA through 18 2/3 frames while relying more heavily on his offspeed offerings. So far, he has tamped down on the gopher balls and is also getting grounders at a career-best 60.8% rate. He’ll need to show that he can sustain this level of success for a while longer before moving up the list, though.