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. Essentially, we’re ordering players based upon our assessment of both their trade value and likelihood of being dealt. Of course, it’s very much up in the air just how many significant deals will go down during a pandemic-shortened campaign that not only features just 60 regular-season games, but more teams dreaming of playoff berths than usual. Major League Baseball decided to add three extra playoff teams per league for 2020, and that’s obviously going to impact how clubs handle the deadline. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said as much last Friday, telling Russell Dorsey of the Chicago Sun-Times and other reporters that playoff expansion has led to “fewer” sellers than usual as Aug. 31 approaches.
Another factor that could lead to fewer trades: Players who may be dealt must consider whether they want to change teams and home cities as the coronavirus runs amok. Any player who may be on the move could decide to opt out of the season if he’s uncomfortable uprooting his life.
As a deadline unlike any we’ve seen before nears, let’s dive into our list (statistics current as of Aug. 24)…
1. Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners: Walker is an affordable impending free agent on a clear non-contender. He’s a pure rental, but plenty of contenders are looking for rotation reinforcements. Walker has had two tough starts and three very good ones, leading to a combined 4.00 ERA with a 25-to-8 K/BB ratio in 27 innings.
2. Keone Kela, RP, Pirates: Similar to Walker in Seattle, Kela is an impending free agent and an established pitcher on MLB’s worst team. There’s no incentive for the Bucs to hang onto him, and while the return for a one-month rental of a reliever won’t be huge, it’s better than letting him walk for nothing. Kela missed the first several weeks of 2020 on the Covid-19 IL, and he was pulled from his last appearance due to forearm tightness. The Pirates called that decision “overly cautious.” So long as he’s healthy, Kela is a lock to be flipped.
3. Dylan Bundy, SP, Angels: The once-elite prospect has looked like the ace many expected him to become, and while it’s only six starts, it’s hard not to be impressed. The Angels could hang onto him for next year, but they’re buried in the standings right now and as a pitcher controllable through 2021, Bundy will have much more appeal than rentals. GM Billy Eppler could likely flip Bundy for more than the meager price he paid to acquire him this winter. Few players have raised their stock more, and the demand for rotation help far outweighs the supply.
4. Lance Lynn, SP, Rangers: Lynn’s ascension to one of the game’s best arms has come out of the blue, but there’s little denying how great he’s been since signing in Texas. He’s half through a three-year, $30MM deal and has thus far pitched to a 3.30 ERA and 3.15 FIP with 10.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 0.92 HR/9. Lynn rarely throws anything other than a four-seamer or cutter, but the formula works for him; he’s lasted at least five innings in 39 of his 40 Rangers starts and averaged 6 1/3 frames per outing. Signed through next season on a Rangers club that has dropped eight of nine, Lynn is arguably the most coveted arm on the trade market.
5-6. Trevor Rosenthal, Greg Holland, RPs, Royals: The Royals picked up both formerly elite closers on minor league deals this winter and have been rewarded handsomely — particularly in the case of Rosenthal, who has allowed two runs with a 15-to-5 K/BB ratio in 11 1/3 frames. They’re highly affordable and on a team that is five games below .500, they should be highly available, too. The Royals opted not to move Ian Kennedy last year, and he’s a pending free agent as well, but he’s also on a $16.5MM salary in 2020 (prorated to $5.9MM) and pitching poorly.
7. Kevin Gausman, SP, Giants: The Giants signed Gausman as a one-year rental, knowing full well they’d be in position to flip him prior to the trade deadline. He’s delivered a 42-to-6 K/BB ratio with a career-best 12.2 K/9 and a 3.10 FIP so far through 31 innings. The rental market doesn’t feature many prominent names in 2020, but Gausman is among the best performers and likeliest names to be moved.
8. Tony Watson, RP, Giants: A veteran lefty that’ll become a free agent after the 2020 season, Watson has allowed one run through 9 2/3 frames with the Giants. He has closing experience, handles righties nearly as well as lefties and is playing on an affordable one-year deal. There’s little reason for Giants to hold here, and any club in need of ’pen help would harbor some level of interest.
9. Kevin Pillar, OF, Red Sox: Seeking a steady veteran for their outfield back in February, the Red Sox inked Pillar to a one-year, $4.25MM deal after the club traded Mookie Betts. Needless to say, Pillar’s no Betts, but the former Blue Jay and Giant has been a bright spot on a bad Boston team. Pillar, 31, has batted .278/.340/.454 through 106 plate appearances, though his numbers have tumbled recently. Regardless, Pillar’s a well-regarded defender (albeit not the all-world one he used to be) who can play all three outfield positions and a passable enough hitter that he could garner interest from contenders looking to bolster outfield depth.
10. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Angels: Simmons would be higher on the list had he been healthy and productive all year, but he’s played in just seven games due to an ankle injury. The 30-year-old has been the best defender in MLB dating back to his debut and could very well change hands in the next few days. But he’s also a qualifying offer candidate, and if the offers for him don’t outweigh the value of a compensatory draft pick, the Halos could just hold.
11-12. Tommy La Stella, INF; Jason Castro, C, Angels: A pair of affordable veterans who are set to be free agents this winter, La Stella and Castro both figure to be available. La Stella’s bat has erupted with a .288/.350/.478 showing since he landed in Anaheim in 2019. Castro isn’t hitting for average, but he’s considered a premium defender with huge walk rates and some pop in his bat. That’s been the case with the Halos and will be the case wherever else he lands.
13. Derek Holland, SP/RP, Pirates: The Bucs have used Holland in the rotation (plus one relief outing), and he’s been a passable option outside a nine-run drubbing at the hands of the Tigers. A rival club might not view him as a rotation piece, but lefties are hitting .143/.143/.214 against Holland this year. The three-batter minimum limits a team’s ability to use anyone as a specialist, but Holland has a long enough track record in the Majors that someone could still drop him into the ’pen and hope to match him up against lefties more than righties.
14. Matt Barnes, RP, Red Sox: Barnes has already watched teammates Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree get shipped out, and he’s not likely to be far behind. It’s true that he’s had a pair of rough outings recently that have ballooned his ERA to 5.73, but it’s also true that he averaged better than 15 K/9 last year. Since 2016, Barnes has a 3.92 ERA and 3.38 FIP with 12.3 K/9. He’s controlled through 2021.
15. Buck Farmer, RP, Tigers: Farmer has emerged as a steady relief presence in a shaky Detroit bullpen. He’s dropped his slider usage in favor of his changeup this year, with the result being far fewer strikeouts but considerably more grounders. Farmer is controlled cheaply through 2022 and induces gobs of weak contact.
16-17. Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, RPs, Orioles: The O’s start to the season turned some heads, but they’ve dropped seven of 10 and faded from the division picture, as most would expect. Givens, controlled through 2021, has been a rumored trade piece for years and is out to another strong start. Castro, controlled through 2022, has 21 punchouts and a career-high 54.5 percent grounder rate in 13 2/3 innings. Baltimore could shop them individually, but a package deal could hold appeal to a bullpen-needy club.
18. Christian Vazquez, C, Red Sox: Long a sterling defensive backstop, Vazquez broke out with 23 big flies last season and hit .276/.320/.477 overall. He’s not hitting as well in 2020, but Vazquez is at least an average hitter at his position with a plus glove. He’s guaranteed $6.25MM in 2021 and has a $7MM club option for 2022.
19-20. Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac, SPs, Indians: Clevinger and Plesac have shown they’re capable of performing at high levels, and they’re each under control for multiple years. Both pitchers violated the league’s health-and-safety protocols this month, though, drawing some ire within the organization. The Indians optioned both players after that, even though they provide plenty of on-field value, and finally recalled Clevinger on Tuesday. He’s the likelier of the two to move given his mounting arbitration salary and lesser amount of team control. He’s controlled through 2022, while Plesac is controlled through 2025.
21. Matt Magill, RP, Mariners: Magill’s 2020 numbers are skewed after being rocked for five runs in one outing last week, but prior to that he looked like a terrific waiver gem for the M’s. If you’re willing to allow that all relievers are prone to the occasional implosion, Magill’s first 30 appearances with the Mariners produced a 2.67 ERA and 2.94 FIP with 11.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a hefty 14.7 percent swinging-strike rate. Magill bounced back from that brutal appearance with a perfect inning. He’s controlled through 2023 and has a 3.94 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 32 innings with the Mariners.
22. Hanser Alberto, 2B/3B, Orioles: Alberto just hasn’t stopped hitting with the O’s. He’s batting .305/.329/.429 in 671 plate appearances dating back to 2019. Alberto almost never walks (2.9% in Baltimore), but he’s also extremely difficult to strike out (10 percent). His power output is up in 2020 thanks to a deluge of doubles, and he’s a solid glove at either second or third (and playable at short in a pinch). The O’s control him through 2022, but a contending club with infield needs could benefit immediately.
23. Brian Goodwin, OF, Angels: Claimed off release waivers from the Royals at the end of Spring Training 2019, Goodwin has batted .258/.325/.470 in 555 plate appearances with the Halos over his past 162 games. He’s controllable through 2022 and has experience at all three outfield spots, but the Halos have Jo Adell up with Brandon Marsh not far behind. Moving Goodwin could open more time for the kids while returning some decent talent. (They’re not getting out from under the Justin Upton deal anytime soon.)
24. Rick Porcello, SP, Mets: The Mets play nine games in the next six days — 2020 is weird, folks — which will largely determine their deadline approach. Porcello was absolutely clobbered in his first start (seven runs, two innings) and has pitched well since (11 runs, 23 innings, 20-to-3 K/BB ratio). If things go south for the Mets, he’ll vault up this list.
25. Brandon Kintzler, RP, Marlins: The 36-year-old looks like he usually does: low strikeout rate, excellent control, plus ground-ball rate. He has high-leverage experience, gets gobs of grounders with a bowling-ball sinker and is playing on a one-year deal with a Miami club that has admittedly surprised to this point. Maybe the Fish will feel the return doesn’t justify dealing him when they’re on the fringe of the postseason race, but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see Kintzler move.
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