We’ve seen some early free agent action, but with the exception of the recent deal between Milwaukee and San Diego, the trade market has been quiet to this point of the offseason. It’s an opportune time to canvass rosters around the game to find the most intriguing possible candidates to be swapped. 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 part due to the wide-open nature of the winter market, as opposed to the trade deadline, we’ll rank a relatively smaller number of players and then provide a list of some (but not all!) other notable possibilities.
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 our list:
1. Ken Giles, RP, Blue Jays: High-end rental relievers can hold quite a bit of appeal on the trade market. Though he has had some hiccups over the years, Giles was lights-out last year in Toronto and remains youthful and fairly affordable ($8.4MM projected). While the Jays are hoping to begin making some winning strides, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be better off overall if they keep Giles for half of his final season of control before striking a deal.
2. Starling Marte, OF, Pirates: Connect the dots: Lots of teams would love to add a quality veteran center fielder. There aren’t many available in free agency. The Pirates are coming off of a calamitous 2019 season and have lost some of their highest-upside players. Marte is still quite good and has two reasonably affordable seasons of control remaining. New GM Ben Cherington has quite a few tough decisions to make, but aggressively shopping Marte — and completing the best-available deal, unless there’s a surprising paucity of trade interest — seems like a fairly straightforward proposition.
3. Omar Narvaez, C, Mariners: Narvaez’s glovework isn’t well regarded, but he’s been one of baseball’s better-hitting catchers for the past two seasons (and was a low-power OBP machine even before that). Few catchers can match his offensive skill set, and despite the shaky defensive skills, that bat carries value. The “reimagining” Mariners, however, are reportedly not only listening to offers on Narvaez but somewhat motivated to move him. He’s controlled another three seasons, but with Tom Murphy controlled longer and prospect Cal Raleigh looming in the upper minors, ever-active GM Jerry Dipoto is apparently intent on capitalizing on that team control.
4. Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Red Sox: Again, the demand up the middle is key here. Couple that with the Boston org’s preference to duck below the luxury line, and Bradley’s $11MM projected salary seems likely to end up on someone else’s books. He has a three-year run of below-average hitting and isn’t laden with value as a rental piece at that price tag, but he’d check some key boxes for quite a few teams.
5. Kirby Yates, RP, Padres: Yates was arguably baseball’s best reliever in 2019. He’s cheaper than Giles at a projected $6.5MM. But it seems a bit easier to imagine the San Diego organization deciding to hold onto him given that club’s mandate to begin winning now. It’s possible Yates will be held in hopes of helping to spur a big season, with the backstop of a mid-summer trade. Or he could be an extension target. There’s lots of value here, but the likelihood of a deal is tough to pin down.
6. Matthew Boyd, SP, Tigers: Many teams will be intrigued by Boyd’s strikeout-capable arm, despite his late struggles. And the Detroit organization should be motivated to sell. The club has held out for a big return to this point, and understandably so. But perhaps it’ll give a little if trade partners do the same. And with some big dollar signs floating around for the top pitchers on the open market, Boyd’s lower-cost profile suddenly starts to look pretty appealing. Even if he can’t tap into the ceiling he showed glimpses of in 2019, Boyd is a quality, durable hurler with good value to a contending team.
7. Robbie Ray, SP, Diamondbacks: It’s much the same situation as with Yates … man, it would sure hurt to trade a player like this in a season in which you wish to contend. But these NL West clubs are surely realistic about the odds of catching the Dodgers as the rosters are currently arrayed. So they have to contemplate swaps that boost the long-term outlook, even if it means something less than a full-throated attempt at winning right now. The Snakes have quite a few pitching possibilities to step in if they find a deal they like on the talented southpaw, though surely the club will not be overly anxious to get a deal done if the offers aren’t really significant.
8-9. Dominic Smith, 1B, Mets & Clint Frazier, OF, Yankees: Here we have a couple of recent top prospects entering their age-25 seasons after hitting well against MLB pitching in 1/3-season samples. Neither really fits on their current New York roster. (CHALLENGE TRADE?!?!) There’s no room at first base for the Mets owing to the presence of Peter Alonso. Throwing Smith in the outfield is sub-optimal since he’s not a good defender and the team already has two quality, left-handed-hitting options in Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. Over in the Bronx, Frazier doesn’t seem like the most compelling fit with two big righty hitting corner outfield bats (Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton) and a variety of other righty swinging possibilities for DH duties. It’s easier to see Frazier as part of the mix if the Yanks instead trade Gio Urshela or Miguel Andujar.
10. Chris Archer, SP, Pirates: We don’t need to revisit the full Archer backstory, but suffice to say he’s a guy who has shown real ability but struggled increasingly to get the job done. It would hurt to sell low on Archer given the exceedingly painful acquisition cost, but the new front office regime has to look forward. There’s certainly an argument for holding him in hopes that a strong first half will boost the trade value, but it may also be a situation where the Bucs decide to get what they can when they can. Plenty of teams would jump at the chance to employ Archer for $9MM — just think what that gets you in free agency — particularly with a $11MM club option (which comes with a cheap $250K buyout) providing additional upside. Archer’s strikeout rate jumped once he finally ditched the two-seamer the Pirates wanted him to throw, and his velocity is still well above average, although he remained susceptible to the long ball.
11. Dylan Bundy, SP, Orioles: There’s evidently some momentum towards a deal, so the likelihood of a swap seems relatively high in this case. Bundy has not reached the ceiling that some once believed he’d possess and the results haven’t been there of late. But he still knows how to get strikeouts and has actually been rather durable of late. Bundy’s projected $5.7MM arb tab isn’t a bargain, but is also quite manageable. It’s important that he’s controllable for another campaign. The O’s will be looking to deal with a team that needs a back-end starter and has some ideas for getting Bundy locked in.
12. Blake Treinen, RP, Athletics: Arguably the best reliever in the game in 2018, Treinen lost his grip on the closer’s role in Oakland this past season and may have pitched himself out of the organization. Treinen’s projected $7.8MM salary is a rather substantial dice roll for the perennially low-payroll Athletics to take. The velocity on the 31-year-old’s overpowering sinker dropped by a bit more than a mile per hour, and he saw his strikeout, walk, home-run and ground-ball rates all go in the wrong direction. That said, Treinen still whiffed more than a batter per inning with a respectable 12.5 percent swinging-strike rate and a ridiculous 37.9 percent opponents’ chase rate. A reliever with this type of upside at a projected $7.8MM price point is a gamble that clubs with deeper pockets should be happy to take. It’s possible to imagine a non-tender, but a trade feels likelier.
13. Keone Kela, RP, Pirates: Kela was part of a problematic clubhouse situation that can’t continue. He’s an affordable ($3.4MM projected) rental reliever who seems to have some upside. Teams may want a discount to account for Kela’s less-than-stellar reputation, but the Bucs may prefer to give it so that they can clear some salary, get a fresh start, and pick up some prospects.
14. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates: It’s much the same here, except that the Bucs probably have greater reason to consider hanging onto Bell. For one thing, he’s only 27 years of age and is in his first season of arbitration eligibility ($5.9MM projection), so it’s possible to imagine him starring on a winning Pittsburgh club. For another, his monster early showing in 2019 ended in a somewhat tepid manner, so there’s an argument for allowing Bell some more time to boost his trade value. And then there’s the value of keeping a popular player around to boost fan interest and maintain some hope. (You might even squint and see an extension possibility, but good luck getting Scott Boras to bite.) But it’s actually rather a good time to be shopping a first baseman, all things considered. The Bucs can’t rule out a move if the right offer comes along.
15-16. Mychal Givens, RP, Orioles & Joe Jimenez, RP, Tigers: Have you looked recently at the state of the relief market? It isn’t exactly laden with guys that can generate a dozen strikeouts per nine. Givens and Jimenez each have that kind of swing-and-miss prowess. They each also coughed up nearly two dingers per nine innings — making them the most-2019 relievers in baseball? — and ended the year with substandard earned run averages. You can be sure there are multiple contending teams thinking about how to keep the Ks and reduce the long balls if they’re able to land one of these pitchers. Givens is more established, less youthful (29 vs 24), and costlier ($3.2MM arb projection vs pre-arb) than is Jimenez.
17. Corey Kluber, SP, Indians: The 33-year-old was highly effective in 2018 and struggled before a season-ending injury in 2019. Fortunately, the forearm fracture was a freak occurrence rather than a usage-based injury. But the outlook is unclear. His $17.5MM salary and remaining $18MM club option could be absolute bargains, or Kluber may be a shell of his former self. Another organization may be better situated to take on this risk/reward profile.
18. Nomar Mazara, OF, Rangers: Texas has a glut of left-handed-hitting outfield options with Mazara, Willie Calhoun, Joey Gallo and Shin-Soo Choo, though the latter is more of a DH candidate than an outfielder. Mazara only has two seasons of club control remaining, but he’s a 24-year-old former top prospect with some power who could pique the interest of other clubs. For teams who don’t want to pay a premium for the market’s top free agents, Mazara could be a reasonably priced alternative with yet-untapped upside.
19. Caleb Smith, SP, Marlins: Perhaps the Fish intend to hang onto their remaining young rotation pieces after swapping out Zac Gallen over the summer. But that deal also proved the Miami organization is willing to trade from its stock of controllable arms in some scenarios. Smith’s 2019 season had some parallels with that of the aforementioned Boyd, in that he showed intriguing strikeout ability but also succumbed to the long ball and faded down the stretch. Smith is also still a season away from arbitration eligibility, so there’s no rush to move him. (Fellow hurler Sandy Alcantara is a service class behind and even younger, so he seems less likely to be dealt.) But that could also make this an optimal time to swap Smith out for bigger value. The opportunity to generate bidding might increase if the aforementioned southpaws on this list end up staying put.
20-22. Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox; Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Cubs; Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians: What do you do when you’re a contending team with multiple remaining seasons of control over one of the best young players in baseball? Trade him, of course! That’s what many pundits would have us believe is actually possible, anyway. It’s somewhat easier to imagine in the case of Betts, since he’s so expensive ($27.7MM projection) and just one year from the open market. Then again, the Boston organization has some of the deepest pockets in the game and shouldn’t rule out a return to glory in 2020. It’d be awfully tough to justify moving Mookie unless new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom pulls off a real stunner. Viewed another way, Lindor seems likeliest to go. Prior extension talks have failed and he’s already spendy ($16.7MM) for the low-budget Indians. But doesn’t that organization simply need to try to capitalize on the still-open window while it has such a young star (among others)? As for Bryant … well, I’ll admit I don’t quite understand why his name has circulated the rumor mill. There are two years to go before free agency and he’s expensive ($18.5MM projected) but not onerous for the North Siders. It’s not likely he’ll ink an extension, but … shouldn’t they just cross that bridge when they come to it? The whole premise of the rebuild was to find players just like this and ride them to multiple World Series rings. There’s time yet to make good on that.
23. Willson Contreras, C, Cubs: Cubs ownership didn’t give Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer much latitude to spend last winter, and while that may not be the case this season, there’s also plenty of talk about some large-scale changes after another disheartening finish and a playoff miss. Contreras doesn’t rate as a quality defender behind the plate and is projected to earn a $4.5MM salary in 2020. If the Cubs feel that the defensive upgrade from Contreras to Victor Caratini is enough to offset the likely discrepancy between their offensive performances, there’s reason to look to move Contreras. Doing so would also be a means of acquiring young, controllable pitching — something the organization lacks — while freeing up some cash to perhaps add a bargain reliever or starter late in the winter.
24. Ian Kennedy, RP, Royals: The contract that the K.C. org gave Kennedy just hasn’t worked out as hoped. But there’s a chance to salvage something: a good portion of the $16.5MM still owed and perhaps some young talent to boot. The Braves took on Mark Melancon’s $14MM annual salary over the summer. Kennedy was just as impressive in 2019, when he threw 63 1/3 innings of 3.41 ERA ball with 10.4 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. And that came despite the fact that opposing hitters managed a .343 BABIP and produced a .291 wOBA that outstripped their .277 xwOBA. In other words, he may actually have been a bit unlucky. Kennedy’s stuff played way up in a relief role, as he pumped 95 mph heat and exhibited similar velo increases with his other offerings.
25. Charlie Blackmon, OF, Rockies: This may just be a pet theory, but it seems that shipping out Blackmon represents the cleanest, most-achievable, least-painful way for the Rockies to relieve their payroll crunch. The 33-year-old has been a strong performer at the plate for four-straight seasons now and is fresh off of a .314/.364/.576 campaign. Everyone else with a big salary in Colorado is either a star still in his twenties or a veteran who has underperformed his contract. Blackmon’s deal includes $21MM salaries in each of the next two seasons, followed by successive player options (at $21MM and then at a floating price based upon plate appearances). It’s a big commitment. And Blackmon’s declining athleticism — he was once a 75th-percentile runner and is now in the bottom half of baseball in sprint speed — and messy defensive grades provide some cause for concern. But much like Zack Greinke, who was moved for significant young talent by the division-rival D-Backs, the contract could hold real appeal to teams surveying a rather tepid outfield market.
Others To Consider
Premium targets: Andrew Benintendi, OF, Red Sox; Mike Clevinger, SP, Indians; Jon Gray, SP, Rockies; Trevor Story, SS, Rockies; Brad Hand, RP, Indians; Mitch Haniger, OF, Mariners; Trey Mancini, 1B/OF, Orioles; J.D. Martinez, DH/OF, Red Sox; Eduardo Rodriguez, SP, Red Sox; Kyle Schwarber, OF, Cubs; Marcus Semien, SS, Athletics
High-end targets whose GMs have declared unavailable: Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen has plainly stated (on multiple occasions) that he has no intention of trading Noah Syndergaard, and Royals GM Dayton Moore recently reiterated that the club has made an “advance decision” not to trade second baseman/outfielder Whit Merrifield (video link). Both players will probably hear their names surface on the rumor mill all the same, but it’s notable to have seen such definitive, public declarations.
Younger veterans with multi-year control: Johan Camargo, INF, Braves; J.D. Davis, INF/OF, Mets; Niko Goodrum, INF/OF, Tigers; Austin Hedges, C, Padres; Maikel Franco, 3B, Phillies; Ender Inciarte, OF, Braves; Manuel Margot, OF, Padres; Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres; Addison Russell, INF, Cubs; Albert Almora Jr., OF, Cubs; Domingo Santana, OF/DH, Mariners; Mallex Smith, OF, Mariners; Michael A. Taylor, OF, Nationals; Jose Urena, SP/RP, Marlins
Rental targets: Cesar Hernandez, 2B, Phillies; Jake Marisnick, OF, Astros; James McCann, C, White Sox; Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers; Kevin Pillar, CF, Giants; Jurickson Profar, 2B, Athletics; Josh Reddick, OF, Astros; Jeff Samardzija, SP, Giants; Carlos Santana, 1B, Indians
Veterans on expensive, multi-year contracts: Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants; Matt Carpenter, 3B/1B, Cardinals; Brandon Crawford, SS, Giants; Wade Davis, RP, Rockies; Ian Desmond, OF/IF, Rockies; Dexter Fowler, OF, Cardinals; Dee Gordon, 2B, Mariners; Evan Longoria, 3B, Giants; Jake McGee, RP, Rockies; Bryan Shaw, RP, Rockies; Wil Myers, OF, Padres; David Price, SP, Red Sox