With the season nearing its end, and the teams who fell short of playoff contention well into their offseason preparations, it’s a good time to scan around the league and take a look at the top five trade candidates in each division.
We’ll start in the NL West, which features two of the most intriguing targets in baseball:
- Nolan Arenado, Rockies: Arenado, 27, will enter his final year of arbitration in 2019 as one of the most decorated performers in club history. He was the MVP frontrunner in the season’s first half, smashing out of the gate to a .312/.395/.586 line in the lead-up to his fourth consecutive all-star appearance. Though he slumped to a near league-average line after the break, and his usual vacuum-like defense wasn’t always on display, Arenado is arguably the league’s most consistent performer over the last four seasons, where his 20.5 fWAR ranks third in the National League, and his 629 games played is tied for fifth among all performers. Colorado, loath for years to deal from their lot of established contributors and minor league riches, may have to acquiesce here: the club has already shelled out massive deals to 30-somethings Charlie Blackmon, Ian Desmond, and Wade Davis, and has scores of dead money buried in aging relievers Mike Dunn, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw. Fitting Arenado into the books would leave precious little space with which to maneuver; a monster haul, however, could set them right back on a division-pacing track.
- Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks: Goldschmidt, 31, has rebounded from an awful start to the season to yet again place himself among the league’s best: his 145 wRC+ almost exactly mirrors his career average, and his 5.1 fWAR is the fourth consecutive season in which he’s eclipsed the 5.0 mark. The Diamondbacks, though, are a in a precarious position – a mostly barren farm seems to preclude any major upgrades, and the club boasted little in the way of unexpected production from under-the-radar performers this year. Plus, there’s the departing free agents – a dominant Patrick Corbin, who figures to parlay his bat-missing ways into a huge contract this offseason, and A.J. Pollock, whose steady performance when healthy will surely not go unnoticed. The mid-market club is still saddled, too, by Zack Greinke’s behemoth deal, and doesn’t figure to fit both Goldschmidt – who’ll hit free agency after the club picks up his $14.5MM option for ’19 – and the veteran hurler on the books without severely compromising the team’s flexibility moving forward. A wide-ranging infusion of talent seems just what Arizona needs this offseason.
- Joc Pederson, Dodgers: Pederson, 26, has quietly put together another stellar season, slicing his strikeout rate for the fourth consecutive year (to a career-low 19%) and delivering 2.7 fWAR in just 436 PAs. But he remains unplayable against lefties (60 career wRC+), and his center-field defense, over the last two seasons, has earned mostly subpar reviews. Still, he’s a fierce power threat against right-handers, offers quality defense in a corner, and has shown an aptitude for plate-discipline adjustments not often seen in exploitable power bats. With a healthy Corey Seager set to return in ’19, Max Muncy, and Cody Bellinger, the platoon-happy Dodgers figure to have more than enough left-side thump to go around: perhaps moving the second-time arbitration-eligible Pederson for bullpen help and/or rotation depth will be a priority come November.
- Brandon Belt, Giants: No player in the division seems in more desperate need of a scenery change than Belt, who is routinely harangued by his fanbase for a supposed lack of power, propensity for the fluke injury, and a perceived failure in the ’clutch.’ Belt, 30, has done little but produce when on the field, though, pairing elite first-base defense (his 13 DRS – in just 112 games – was tied for the league lead among 1B this season) with sky-high walk rates and steady gap power (limited, perhaps, by the cavernous right-field at AT&T Park) to cement himself as above-average regular (12.2 fWAR in limited time since the beginning of ’15 ) at the position. His contract – he’s owed $48MM through the end of the 2021 season – and recent injury history (a meniscus issue that precipitated a second-half decline) may give some teams pause, but the retooling Giants should net a significant return if they’re willing to eat a little cash.
- Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks: Ray, 27 on Monday, seems the perfect target for a team that leans heavily on the bullpen: he rarely makes its past the 6th inning, preferring instead to max out with the heater (his 94.1 MPH average fastball velocity ranks third among left-handers since the start of the 2016 season) and a wipeout breaking ball mix that’s allowed him to post the league’s second highest strikeout total (11.70) over the same frame. With two years of arbitration eligibility left, the man with the 85 xFIP- over the last three seasons (good for 22nd in baseball) is sure to bring back an attractive return from a data hungry team with bat-missing preferences.