This is the first update to our annual ranking of top trade candidates in the run-up to the trade deadline, drawing from our power ranking approach to pending free agents. You can check out the original list (and review the methodology) here. Essentially, we’re ordering players based upon our assessment of both their trade value and likelihood of being dealt.
It’s subjective; it’s debatable; and that’s what makes it fun. Without further ado:
1-2. Will Smith, RP & Madison Bumgarner, SP, Giants (Last Ranked: 1, 2): Yeah, the Giants are still within shouting distance of Wild Card position — but they still have the NL’s third-worst record. There are a host of teams ahead of them that look better on paper and have greater motivation to keep pressing to contend. The San Francisco club remains well-positioned to take advantage of holding arguably the two best rental chips on the market (along with other trade assets).
3. Zack Wheeler, SP, Mets (LR: 47): With the Mets collapsing since our last ranking, Wheeler flies up the board. We’ll respect the results of our recent survey and list MadBum first, but there are probably some teams that will be more interested in the younger, cheaper, harder-throwing New York hurler. By most standards, Wheeler looks much the same as he did in his eye-opening 2018 campaign. he has allowed a few more long balls and a greater batting average on balls in play while carrying a lower strand rate, which helps explain why his ERA has ballooned from 3.31 to 4.69. He has allowed more hard contact, but Wheeler’s velocity and strikeout rates have headed northward.
4-5. Ken Giles, RP & Marcus Stroman, SP, Blue Jays (LR: INJ, 3): Both Jays hurlers are controlled through the 2020 season, and both are throwing well. In fact, “well” is an understatement for Giles, who has pitched to a sensational 1.45 ERA with better than 15 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Stroman’s numbers aren’t quite so gaudy, but the ground-ball machine is on pace for his third 200-inning season in the past four years while maintaining an ERA in the low 3.00s. Smith and Bumgarner might be the top starter/reliever rental combo on the market, but this duo is the best starter/reliever pair with control beyond the current season.
6. Nicholas Castellanos, OF, Tigers (LR: 8): We noted in our first ranking that the 27-year-old could move up the ladder if he kept up a hot streak, and he has done just that. He sprints into the rental-bat lead after a .354/.420/.532 run over his past twenty games. The return here probably won’t be that strong — even a red-hot J.D. Martinez netted the Tigers a lackluster return as a rental two summers ago — but Castellanos is among the game’s safest bets to be traded.
7-8. Sam Dyson (Giants) & Shane Greene (Tigers), RP (LR: 11, 12): We had this pair of quality relievers stashed a bit further down the list the last time around, owing to the fact that neither absolutely must be traded with another season of arbitration eligibility remaining. But that reasoning increasingly feels strained given the dearth of worthwhile rental relievers on the market this year. The quietly excellent Dyson doesn’t have quite the shiny ERA or recent save numbers of Greene, but he’s arguably as good or better. Both hurlers profile as groundball-heavy setup men for most contenders.
9. Matthew Boyd, SP, Tigers (LR: 9): There’s no rush or need for Detroit to move Boyd, who is controlled all the way through 2022, but interest in him is strong. Boyd’s strikeout rate has exploded in 2019, as he’s averaging 12 strikeouts against just 1.7 walks per nine innings pitched. He’s been plagued by the long ball of late — as has much of the league despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s claim of no intentional alterations to the ball — but Boyd is the best long-term arm that is likely to be available this month. We admittedly may use the term “controllable” too aggressively for players like Stroman, Giles and others signed for only one more season; Boyd is the epitome of a “controllable” trade asset, though.
10-11. Tony Watson (Giants) & Jake Diekman (Royals), RP (LR: 6, 7): Both of these pending-free-agent lefty specialists were tagged in their most recent outings, but teams will take broader views of their merits. They’re among the likeliest players to be dealt in the league.
12. Clint Frazier, OF, Yankees (LR: NR): Every day the Yanks go without another outfielder coming down with yet another injury seems one day closer to the departure of Frazier. It’s easy to imagine Frazier going to a non-contender, but there could also be some interesting scenarios where he ends up on a club that still has hopes of reaching the postseason this year.
13-15. Todd Frazier, 3B, Mets; Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants; Justin Smoak, 1B/DH, Blue Jays (LR: NR, 15, 4): As noted with regard to Wheeler, the free-falling Mets are likely to jettison any and all pricey vets on expiring deals. The resurgent Frazier, hitting .256/.340/.443 as of this writing, falls directly into that category, as he’s earning $9MM this season before a return to the open market. Over in San Francisco, the Kung Fu Panda has continued to rake since our last check-in on the game’s top trade chips. That’s less true of Smoak, who has been in a deep funk in recent weeks and hasn’t played up to expectations on the season as a whole. If you’re looking at the last few seasons on the whole, though, Smoak is easily the best bat of this trio of corner-infield rentals.
16. Mike Leake, SP, Mariners (LR: 22): Since last publishing this list, Leake has made two strong starts and two awful ones — highlighted (err… lowlighted?) by a seven-run drubbing at the hands of the Orioles. However, Leake has a superlative 21-to-1 K/BB ratio over 26 innings in that same stretch of time. He’s sitting on a 4.32 ERA and, in an era proliferated by five-inning starts, he’s averaging 6 1/3 frames per outing. Leake won’t front your rotation, but if you need durable innings and ground-balls to round out the starting five, he’s a solid option. The Cardinals are already paying part of his salary, and the Mariners would surely kick in some cash to get a deal finalized for Leake, who’s signed through 2020.
17-18. Mychal Givens, Orioles & Roenis Elias, Mariners, RP (LR: 17, NR): Call it a hunch, but the O’s seem well-positioned to move on Givens. He’s in his first year of arbitration with two more to go, so there’s no rush. And outwardly, the results make this an awkward time, as he has surrendered a home run-driven 4.76 ERA. But Givens has also racked up 20 strikeouts in his last 11 1/3 innings. He fits any budget and seems an obvious candidate to function in late innings for a contender. With the Orioles as far from contention as possible, I’m betting they’ll find a deal for their most talented relief pitcher. As for Elias, we examined him at length earlier. In short, he’s a solid, cheap reliever ($910K) controlled for two more seasons who currently plays on a rebuilding team that is run by Jerry Dipoto. Need we say more?
19. Kirby Yates, RP, Padres (LR: 5): With the Pads continuing to put out word that they’re chasing starting pitching, it’s feeling less and less likely that they’ll seriously pursue deals involving Yates. There’ll be a strong desire to keep him, both for this year and next, so long as the club is in the hunt for a Wild Card bid. But there’ll still be a pull towards a deal, as interest would be huge.
20. Corey Dickerson, OF, Pirates: This is by no means a declaration that we think the Pirates will be sellers. To the contrary, they’re very much in the NL Central and Wild Card races at the moment. But the emergence of Bryan Reynolds simply gives Pittsburgh too many outfielders. It’s the quintessential “good problem to have.” The team’s reported preference is to move Dickerson, a pending free agent making $8.5MM, rather than one of its other outfielders. Doing so could fetch them some needed bullpen help or a back-of-the-rotation arm to help solidify the pitching staff. The Buccos could also just accept a nominal prospect return and then use the saved funds to help take on a pitcher.
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