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.