We’re bringing back our annual series in the run-up to the trade deadline, drawing from our power ranking approach to pending free agents. As the summer trade market develops on a fairly tight timeline, you can expect more regular updates when modifications to the list are warranted.
The methodology — if you can call it that — is pretty straightforward. We’re ordering players based upon a combination of trade value and trade likelihood.
In terms of 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 trade likelihood, 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 presently in a position where it makes sense to include their top potential trade chips, but that will evolve over the coming weeks.
It’s subjective; it’s debatable; 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 (all statistics current as of June 6):
1. Manny Machado, SS, Orioles: Are you considering the purchase of a mid-prime superstar on the left side of the infield this offseason? Why not try before you buy? Look, there’s not a ton to say here. Machado is raking, with 18 bombs and a 170 wRC+, and though he isn’t drawing primo metrics for his work at short, he’s about as good a rental asset as exists. Plus, several contenders will be considering pursuit of him on the open market, which might help with the sticker shock. Just how much he’ll return will depend on demand, but he could be an absolute game changer and will be priced accordingly.
2. Kelvin Herrera, RP, Royals: All you really need to know here is that Herrera has allowed two earned runs and no walks in his 23 2/3 innings this year. After scuffling last year, Herrera has been unstoppable in 2018. His swinging-strike rate is back to 14.6%, near his 2016 peak. While his fastball is down two ticks from his early-career levels, it’s still a healthy 97.2 mph. Sure, his 96.2% strand rate won’t last, and Statcast suggests there’s regression to come on the batted ball outcomes (.191 wOBA vs. .277 xwOBA), but there’s little doubt that Herrera is in fine form at the moment.
3-4. J.A. Happ, SP, Blue Jays; Cole Hamels, SP, Rangers: Comparing these two mid-30s southpaw starters would have seemed ludicrous a few years back, but age has treated them differently. Both have taken 100 starts since the beginning of the 2015 season. In that span, Hamels carries a solid 3.67 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 over 633 innings. And Happ? He has worked 583 frames of 3.50 ERA ball with 8.4 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. Though Happ carries only a 4.08 ERA thus far in 2018, he has posted a career-high 11.2% swinging-strike and healthy combination of 11.1 K/9 with 2.6 BB/9. Hamels, too, has boosted his whiff and K numbers after a worrying dive last year, and also boasts a much lengthier postseason resume. Ultimately, different teams may prefer one over the other for a variety of reasons, but the biggest point of separation could be their varying contract situations. Happ is owed $13MM in the final year of his contract, a manageable sum that comes without further complications. Hamels, on the other hand, is due $22.5MM this year as well as a $6MM buyout on a $20MM club option (it won’t vest) for 2019. Despite the hefty strike price, that option could be seen as something of an asset for the right team, though it’s an added complication. Plus, Hamels can block trades to 20 teams.
5. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals: He may not have succeeded in free agency, but Moose has done all he can to set the stage for another entry onto the open market. He’s humming along at a strong .272/.328/.494 clip with a dozen long balls in 268 plate appearances while turning in league-average work at third. With a cost-efficient $5.5MM salary, and a $1MM buyout owed for a 2019 mutual option that almost certainly won’t be exercised, there’s plenty of excess value for the Royals to work with in trade talks. Ongoing uncertainty surrounding Josh Donaldson (who’s among the DL-bound players listed below) could boost Moustakas’s potential market value.
6. Wilson Ramos, C, Rays: The Buffalo is swinging the stick nearly as well as he did in a 2016 season that seemed destined to end in a big free-agent payday until he was felled by an ACL tear. With the Rays already showing a willingness to deal, it seems quite likely they’ll see what they can get for a player that could be in quite some demand as a high-quality rental catcher. Ramos is earning a reasonable $10.5MM salary this year, so he’ll fit most budgets rather comfortably.
7. Tyson Ross, SP, Padres: The 31-year-old increasingly seems to be back in business after two lost seasons. His injury woes and miserable 2017 showing won’t be forgotten entirely, of course, but teams facing salary and/or luxury tax constraints will surely like the fact that he is playing on a deal that promises just $1.75MM and includes a $4.25MM incentive package. Ross carries a 3.31 ERA and peripherals that largely match, with 9.0 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. His 44.8% groundball rate sits a bit over the league average but significantly lags his peak levels. Ross is also bringing about 2 mph less heat with his fastball and not getting as many swings and misses (9.9%), but it’s still a vast improvement over last year.
8-9. Brad Hand, RP, Padres; Raisel Iglesias, RP, Reds: These two closers have dominant track records, are pitching quite well this year, and come with multiple, affordable years of control. With Alex Colome already changing hands, these are the top targets for clubs that need premium bullpen arms but don’t want to give up too much young talent for rental pieces. Neither team will feel compelled to make a deal, but surely both will listen to offers — and ask for loads of prospect value in return.
10. J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins: Similarly, the Fish are in a clear selling posture but need not make a move on Realmuto. The 27-year-old is affordable ($2.9MM salary) and controllable for two more years. He’s also perhaps the game’s most athletic backstop and has thus far reached new heights offensively (.311/.376/.534 in 179 plate appearances). It’ll take a big haul to get Realmuto, but there are several teams with the necessary ammo, as well as the present and future need behind the dish. We broke down his status in full a month ago, and the Nats are reported to be maintaining interest.
11-12. Brad Brach, RP, Orioles; Joakim Soria, RP, White Sox: These are probably the best non-closer rental relievers at the moment. Brach is averaging nearly five walks per nine but is still getting Ks and carries a 3.33 FIP. Soria has a 3.57 ERA and 2.54 FIP, the latter of which is supported by his excellent K/BB numbers (10.4 K/9 against 1.7 BB/9). Neither pitcher is particularly cheap and both have had their issues in recent years, but they’d also fit nicely in most bullpens around the league.
13. Craig Stammen, RHP, Padres: The two-year, $4.5MM investment the Pads made in Stammen after a solid bounceback 2017 campaign has already paid off nicely. Now, the team will get to decide whether to cash in on the contract. Through 28 2/3 frames, Stammen has allowed just six earned on 22 hits while racking up 30 strikeouts against only five walks. The guess here is that the Friars’ front office will affix a relatively steep sticker price to the veteran reliever, but he certainly could be dealt if a young player of interest can be had in return. Alternatively, this is the type of contract that we’ve also seen packaged with another trade chip in recent years as a means of bolstering the return.
14. Scooter Gennett, 2B, Reds: We did a long look at Gennett’s trade candidacy quite recently, so won’t spend much time on him here. With another season of control and uncertain market demand, it’s still not clear whether the Reds will deal him, but he’ll certainly come up in talks after continuing an outstanding offensive breakout.
15. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox: Abreu is mashing again and comes with another season of arb control, though that won’t be cheap. The greater question, however, is whether the Sox will get an offer that really piques their interest given the lack of demand we’ve seen of late in slugging first basemen and a generally questionable market situation. The Chicago organization clearly values Abreu quite a bit for his leadership and clubhouse presence. Given that the Sox are hoping to turn things around sooner than later, they may prefer to hold him and pursue an extension unless a club knocks their socks off.
16-17. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers; Adam Jones, OF, Orioles: There’ll be interest in these high-priced, pending free agents, each of whom has 10-and-5 rights that allows him to veto any trade. Those lofty salary numbers are particularly relevant given Beltre’s health questions and Jones’s good-but-not-great offensive numbers (107 OPS+). Ultimately, these organizations may simply not be all that interested in moving these longstanding, highly identifiable veterans, both of whom could end up returning even if they hit the open market first.
18-20. Justin Smoak, 1B, Blue Jays; Yangervis Solarte, INF & Blue Jays; Nicholas Castellanos, OF, Tigers: These players are all putting up good numbers for middling teams, but come with affordable future control. Smoak has doubled down on his breakout 2017 campaign and Solarte has been a quality asset, but both are controllable by way of cheap options (the latter for two more seasons) and could well be in the team’s plans. As for Castellanos, the Tigers have tried to extend him in the past and could do so again with another arb year still to come. It seems fair to assume they’ll put a high asking price on him given his quality offensive output this year, though it’s hard to see a big offer coming in given his mediocre glovework. Plus, Castellanos hasn’t made strides at drawing walks, so he’s riding an unsustainable .409 batting average on balls in play to prop up his on-base percentage (currently, a strong .371). Still, all three players could be targeted by organizations that would also value this trio’s future contract rights.
21-26. Kirby Yates, RHP, Padres; Nate Jones, RHP, White Sox; Kyle Barraclough, RHP, Marlins; Shane Greene, RHP, Tigers; Mychal Givens, RHP, Orioles; Keone Kela, RHP, Rangers: These relievers are all striking out more than a batter per inning and come with multiple future seasons of control. Their respective teams will need to decide whether the deadline makes for an opportune moment to move these volatile relief assets. The White Sox did so last year with Tommy Kahnle, who was sent out in a package deal and has struggled thus far in 2018, though none of these hurlers have pitched to the level Kahnle did in the run-up to the ’17 deadline. Yates has been the most impressive thus far, with dominant results and quality peripherals. Greene has functioned in the ninth inning for the Tigers with strong results; he’s also one of the team’s most useful trade pieces. Jones, Barraclough, and Givens have all been walk-prone but possess intriguing power arms. The former two have worked some in a closing capacity, but aren’t likely to be viewed that way by contenders. The O’s have given little indication of interest in moving Givens, who could be the team’s near-future closer, but will have to at least consider all possibilities. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the 25-year-old Kela, who’s throwing harder than ever and carries peripherals that suggest his 4.03 ERA is on the unlucky side. He’s controllable for another three years, but given the past off-field issues between him and the team, perhaps this will represent a good point at which to strike a trade.
27-30. Matt Harvey, SP, Reds; Bartolo Colon & Doug Fister, SP, Rangers; Mike Fiers, SP, Tigers: It’s not terribly likely that any of these rental starters will be seen as postseason rotation pieces, but all could conceivably help boost the depth for a contending team. Harvey has shown a bit of life in Cincinnati and could still build up some value over the next several weeks, though there’s still not much reason to think he’ll regain his former form. Colon, Fister and Fiers carry ERAs in the low-4.00s and look like plausible back-of-the-rotation additions for a team simply in need of stable innings. Fiers’ control is improved, but he’s as homer-prone as ever (1.79 HR/9) — an area in which Colon and Fister have also had issues.
31-34. Tyler Clippard, Seunghwan Oh & John Axford, RHP, Blue Jays; Jesse Chavez, RHP, Rangers: Things generally aren’t going great in Toronto, but at least the Blue Jays seem largely to have cornered the market on serviceable, cheap middle relief rentals. Clippard is a known commodity with a 3.52 ERA, though a look beneath the hood doesn’t leave much cause for optimism. Axford and Oh have settled in as solid, if unspectacular middle relievers. Chavez carries quality K/BB numbers but has continued to be rather homer-prone in a long relief role.
35-38. Aaron Loup, LHP, Blue Jays; Luis Avilan, LHP, White Sox; Jake Diekman, LHP, Rangers: Both Loup and Avilan have shown quality peripherals and could be of use, while Diekman is an intriguing power pitcher whose walk rate is out of control at present. These pitchers are all affordable and expendable for their current teams; they are the types of arms that end up being sent elsewhere for bullpen depth every summer. Avilan may be the most attractive of the bunch by virtue of the fact that he has a year of control remaining beyond 2018, while Loup and Diekman are pure rentals.
38-39. Jose Iglesias, SS, Tigers; Freddy Galvis, SS, Padres: You know what you’re getting with this pair of pending free agents. Neither is particularly cheap — just over $6MM a pop for the year — and neither provides value with the bat. But Iglesias is a high-end defender at shortstop and Galvis provides solid glovework there along with plenty of experience at other spots on the field. Either could fill in at short and provide value with the glove, and either could be a defensive-oriented upgrade to a contender’s bench.
40. A.J. Ellis, C, Padres: Nobody expects the 37-year-old to keep hitting at a .303/.405/.409 clip, but it’s nice that he’s in good form at the plate. More importantly, the veteran receiver is a trusted hand behind the dish who’s earning a reasonable $2.5MM this year. He could fill a void elsewhere as a backup option.
41-42. Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds; Leonys Martin, OF, Tigers: There’s really no reason to think that Hamilton is going to start hitting. Sure, he might creep back toward his ugly career batting line of .244/.297/.330, but the ship has probably sailed on Hamilton as a regular player on a first-division team. That doesn’t mean he can’t be useful, though, particularly to a contender that would like to add a high-end defender and baserunner to help out in late-game spots in the postseason. It’s hard to imagine that the Reds will get significant offers, and it’s tough to know whether a deal will come together with another arb year remaining, but Hamilton would be an interesting addition in the right situation. As for Martin, the 30-year-old is a good defender in center who has a much more useful bat than does Hamilton. He’s off to a .259/.327/.467 start with eight home runs in 217 plate appearances. It doesn’t hurt that he’s playing on a cheap, $1.75MM salary and can be retained for another year via arbitration.
43-45. Dan Straily, SP, Marlins; Clayton Richard & Jordan Lyles, SP, Padres: On the face of things, Straily has returned from an early-season injury to pitch well. He owns a 3.50 ERA through 36 innings, after all. But the right-hander has surrendered an inauspicious combination of 5.5 BB/9 and 1.5 HR/9 on the year. The Fish may well hold onto his final two years of arb control and hope for better. Likewise, the Padres don’t need to move Richard and Lyles, who are helping fill innings this year and can be retained at a low cost in 2019. Both would be of most interest to other teams as relievers or swingmen. Richard gets loads of ground-balls and has outperformed his 4.67 ERA, while Lyles looked good in a relief role before a move to the rotation that showed initial promise and has begun to falter under repeated testing.
46. Starlin Castro, 2B, Marlins: Now 28 years of age, Castro has settled in as a solid-enough player — a roughly average hitter and tolerable but below-average defender — who may hold appeal to contenders as an everyday guy. But he could plug a gap or perhaps function in some sort of utility role. Castro is owed $10MM this year and another $12MM thereafter (including a $1MM buyout on a 2020 option), so the Fish would mostly just be looking to save some money by striking a deal. Uncertainty surrounding Martin Prado could cut both ways here. On the one hand, the club has greater need for a veteran infielder. On the other, there’s no longer any hope at all of unloading a portion of the Prado contract.
47-48. Jared Hughes & David Hernandez, RHP, Reds: These two are something like the bullpen equivalents of Richard and Lyles (but with better results). Neither is likely to continue pitching like a relief ace, but both are carrying peripherals that speak to the merit of their efforts thus far. With cheap contracts covering both the current and ensuing campaigns, though, the Reds can set a fairly steep ask and decide to hold if it’s not met.
49. Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers: Fulmer is among the most enticing rotation pieces in the game that could plausibly be dealt this summer. The problem for the Tigers, though, is that his performance simply isn’t up to par with his first two excellent seasons in the Majors. Fulmer’s velocity is as good as ever, and he’s sporting career-best swinging-strike and chase rates to complement strikeout and ground-ball rates that’re in line with his 2016 Rookie of the Year levels. But his walk rate has soared to 3.7 per nine, and he’s averaging a career-worst 1.22 homers per nine innings. If teams are willing to look past his sudden control and home run issues, perhaps the Tigers can yet receive a franchise-altering package. However, Detroit improbably remains on the fringes of the division race in a terrible AL Central, and with Fulmer controlled another four seasons beyond ’18, there’s no rush to move him unless the return is exorbitant.
50. Whit Merrifield, 2B, Royals: Speaking of players with four years of control, Merrifield has emerged as a late-blooming star in Kansas City. He’s hitting .284/.363/.411 with elite baserunning, a bit of pop and intriguing defensive versatility. Merrifield plays an excellent second base and has also lined up on the outfield grass, including in center. The remaining club control and the fact that he won’t even be arb-eligible until the 2019-20 offseason are compelling reasons to keep him, but Merrifield is also already 29 and the Royals don’t expect to contend for years. Second base hasn’t been an in-demand position in recent years, but Merrifield is the type of player that should fetch a package featuring multiple prospects and/or near-MLB-ready assets.
Steve Pearce & Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays); Chris Archer & Adeiny Hechavarria (Rays); Zach Britton & Darren O’Day (Orioles); Francisco Liriano & Jordan Zimmermann (Tigers); Lucas Duda (Royals); Avisail Garcia (White Sox); Elvis Andrus (Rangers)
Athletics – Jonathan Lucroy and Jed Lowrie could each be significant rental assets, among other potential pieces, but the Oakland brass likely won’t consider a sell-off unless and until the team falls out of Wild Card contention. That hasn’t happened yet.
Blue Jays – Toronto is fading at the moment, but it’s unclear how deep the cuts could go if there’s a sell-off. Veteran starters Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia could be back-end pieces for other organizations, but both have turned in very poor performances on sizable contracts. Curtis Granderson has lots of walks, but also lots of strikeouts, and hasn’t hit for as much power as usual. Kevin Pillar would surely draw interest, but there’s no pressure to deal him with two more arb years still to come.
Marlins – There’s no question of the door being open to dealing, though it’s not yet clear how many deadline moves the Miami organization will end up striking after a big offseason sell-off. Justin Bour and Derek Dietrich might continue to make more sense on the Miami roster than as trade chips, though both are hitting well and could draw interest. The club would love to move some of the money owed to Wei-Yin Chen and Brad Ziegler, but the results for both have been abysmal to this point. Outfielder Cameron Maybin could make it into a future version of this list, but he’s not producing much at the plate.
Mets – Things aren’t looking great for a club that has faded after a hot start and faces a variety of roster woes. But the Mets are still within striking distance and are far from seriously entertaining any trade scenarios. While some outside observers have batted around the idea of a Jacob deGrom swap, that still seems quite unlikely. (If there’s a chance, it’s because of the dearth of high-end arms reflected in the above list.) More likely, if it comes to it, would be a few rental deals, with Asdrubal Cabrera looking like the most useful asset at this point. It’s a different situation than last year, when the Mets had numerous one-year veterans to move, but there are a host of interesting scenarios that could arise if the team can’t break out of its current malaise.
Orioles – It’s all a matter of where they stop dealing, because a mid-season yard sale is all but inevitable. Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, and Dylan Bundy are among the controllable players who the O’s could in theory listen to offers on, but all have run into some difficulties this year and it’s not clear that rivals will rise to meet what’ll surely be eyebrow-raising asking prices. If the team is willing to eat some money, perhaps they could find takers for some of the cash still due to Mark Trumbo or Andrew Cashner. Clubs in need of a bench bat might consider Danny Valencia or Pedro Alvarez.
Pirates – Jordy Mercer, Ivan Nova, Sean Rodriguez, David Freese, Francisco Cervelli, Corey Dickerson, and especially Felipe Vazquez would all draw varying levels of trade interest. But while the Buccos have faded to a .500 mark after a strong start, it doesn’t seem likely that they’re considering a sell-off just yet.
Rangers – They’d love to move Shin-Soo Choo’s contract, but that’s decidedly unlikely. Jurickson Profar has raised his profile after years as a trade candidate, but with multiple affordable years left, there’s no rush to move him. Robinson Chirinos’s power behind the plate is intriguing, but his strikeout rate is through the roof and the team will like the idea of keeping him for 2019 with a cheap option. Tony Barnette is the type of affordable reliever who’s often moved for a relatively minimal return.
Rays – It’s curious to see so many Tampa Bay players populating the list while the team has a winning record. Then again, they already dealt away their closer and a productive outfielder, so there’s not much reason to think the organization will hold back at the deadline. In addition to the players noted above, veteran position players Brad Miller and Carlos Gomez could end up drawing attention, while the team could also weigh offers on relievers, perhaps even including lefty Jonny Venters.
Reds – Adam Duvall is having a disastrous season, and OBP-challenged corner outfielders with pop have hardly been in-demand trade/free-agent commodities in recent years. Scott Schebler could be of more interest.
Royals – Alcides Escobar is hitting less than either Jose Iglesias or Freddy Galvis. Jason Hammel, Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy have all struggled this season, though Duffy’s track record at least makes him interesting. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Royals selling low on a pitcher of his caliber.
Tigers – Beyond the names in the Top 50, there’s not a lot of trade currency on this roster. Alex Wilson is just back from the DL and could be moved if he’s throwing well come July. Perhaps there’s still some distant chance of a deal involving Miguel Cabrera, though structuring such an arrangement would be quite complicated.
White Sox – The Sox would love to drop the remainder of the $10MM they’re paying Shields in 2018, and to his credit he’s pitched fairly well of late (with the exception of a seven-run shellacking in his most recent start). Shields recently wrapped up a seven-start stretch in which he tossed 47 innings of 3.45 ERA ball with a 36-to-14 K/BB ratio, but he’s the type of arm a fringe contender may take on to stabilize the fifth spot in the rotation, knowing that the asking price will be negligible so long as the ChiSox receive some salary relief. Hector Santiago and Bruce Rondon may also draw some interest, but Rondon’s control is still poor.