Power Ranking Every MLB Team's Top Trade Chip at the Start of the Season

Doug MeadCorrespondent IApril 4, 2013

Power Ranking Every MLB Team's Top Trade Chip at the Start of the Season

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    Even though the 2013 MLB regular season is just a few days old, it's never too early to look at each team's top trade chip.

    While many teams won't even think about making deals until July, general managers have already more than likely identified available players on their rosters that can be dangled as possible trade bait.

    In some cases, prospects themselves become possible trade fodder. Either because of a veteran blocking their path to the majors or simply because they're in high demand, these prospects often can fetch a nice midseason addition.

    Veterans who don't fit into their team's future plans for various reasons will also be strongly considered by teams as they fade out of contention in the coming months.

    Here is a look at each MLB team's top trade chip, ranked according to the player's perceived value to teams looking to acquire their services.

30. Washington Nationals: Michael Taylor

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    The Washington Nationals are clearly a team built to win now. Their offseason acquisitions of Denard Span, Rafael Soriano and Dan Haren were without a doubt a declaration of their intent to bring a championship back to the nation's capital.

    To that end, they'll be looking to do whatever they can to bolster their club at the trade deadline without unloading key pieces.

    Outfield prospect Michael Taylor, the No. 5 organizational prospect, according to MLB.com, could be dangled by the Nationals.

    With No. 2 prospect Brian Goodwin and a current outfield that isn't going anywhere for quite a while, the Nationals can absorb the loss of a top-10 prospect without much damage.

    Taylor has tremendous speed and is considered a stellar defender in center fielder. The bat still needs some work, as he has hit only .248 the past two seasons. But there's potential in the bat and he's only 22 years old—plenty of time for the bat to develop.

29. New York Mets: Marlon Byrd

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    The New York Mets are rebuilding, and their record this season will likely reflect their growing pains.

    The Mets will continue to build for the future, and when midseason rolls around, outfielder Marlon Byrd could be considered a very attractive trade candidate for contending teams to acquire.

    Byrd came into camp this spring on a minor league deal and then played his way into the starting lineup. At 35 years of age, his best days are behind him. But he can still offer contenders a veteran bat off the bench and late-season outfield depth.

28. Cincinnati Reds: Daniel Corcino

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    The Cincinnati Reds are already in a tough spot just one game into the season. Left fielder Ryan Ludwick will be out for three months after separating his shoulder making a slide in the third inning on Monday against the Los Angeles Angels.

    Ludwick had surgery on Wednesday to repair the torn labrum in his right shoulder. His injury keeps him out until the All-Star break, and the Reds called up Derrick Robinson to take his place on the roster.

    Robinson had a solid spring, hitting .300 in 22 Cactus League games. But he's certainly not the long-term answer at this point.

    Whether or not general manager Walt Jocketty does anything to replace Ludwick's offense remains to be seen. For now, Chris Heisey will take the bulk of at-bats in left field.

    Jocketty could use a player like Daniel Corcino to get what he needs. If the Reds decide to handle Ludwick's injury with an internal option, Corcino could still be dangled later in the season for other roster upgrades.

    Corcino, the Reds' No. 4 prospect, according to MLB.com, is definitely looked upon as a possible starter. He posted a 3.01 ERA at Double-A Pensacola last season and has been in the Reds organization since 2008.

    Jocketty will only deal prospects if he thinks he can get a player in return that can help the Reds meet their goal. With pitching depth in their system, Corcino could get Jocketty what he wants.

27. Oakland Athletics: Grant Green

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    The Oakland A's have done an outstanding job of getting back to the top of the standings. General manager Billy Beane's shrewd wheeling and dealing over the past two offseasons put his team in that position.

    With the A's expected to contend for the AL West Division title once again, Beane won't hesitate to make a deal that improves his club down the stretch. But he won't do anything that affects long-term plans either.

    No. 4 prospect Grant Green will be an attractive trade candidate.

    Green has seen his path to the majors blocked at shortstop with the A's selection of Addison Russell last year. The wealth of middle infielders overall doesn't bode well for his future in Oakland either. Over the last two seasons, though, he has shown an ability to play outfield.

    If the A's look to bolster any particular part of their roster for a postseason push, dealing Green could get them the piece they need to get into contention.

26. Cleveland Indians: Ubaldo Jimenez

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    The Cleveland Indians seriously revamped their roster this offseason, hoping to climb back into contention in the AL Central division.

    The additions of Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs are expected to give a lift to the offense. Brett Myers and maybe Trevor Bauer could also improve the starting rotation.

    But if the Tribe finds themselves on the outside looking in after the All-Star break with a bleak outlook for the immediate future, planning for the future will be in order.

    To that end, Ubaldo Jimenez could be made available.

    Jimenez is hoping to bounce back from a sub-par 2012. If he's successful with his resurgence, contending teams will certainly have interest in bolstering their rotations and adding depth.

25. Toronto Blue Jays: Colby Rasmus

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    Outfielder Colby Rasmus is still somewhat of an enigma as he enters his second full season with the Toronto Blue Jays.

    The power is clearly there, but the plate discipline is the main issue. Rasmus hit .223 last year with 23 home runs and 149 strikeouts.

    With Anthony Gose laying in wait and Rajai Davis available as another option, the Jays could listen to offers for Rasmus as they look to lock down a postseason berth later in the season.

24. San Francisco Giants: Gary Brown

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    The San Francisco Giants have a terrific outfield prospect in Gary Brown. The only problem is that center fielder Angel Pagan just signed a four-year deal.

    Brown's path to the majors in the Bay Area may be blocked.

    With the Giants once again expected to contend for the NL West title, Brown could be an attractive trade candidate for whatever player the Giants may need to help them reach their goal.

    He tailed off somewhat last year in Double-A ball after a monster 2011 campaign in which he hit .336 with 14 home runs and 80 RBI at Advanced Single-A San Jose.

    Teams looking toward the future could do a lot worse than acquiring Brown.

23. Kansas City Royals: Luke Hochevar

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    The top overall pick in the 2006 MLB draft hasn't quite lived up to expectations for the Kansas City Royals.

    Luke Hochevar is looking to reinvent himself in the Royals bullpen this season. He was supplanted in the starting rotation and will work to see if he can be effective in shorter bursts.

    He could be made available by the Royals if they're still in contention in mid-July. But he could also be up for grabs if they're no longer a viable contender.

    Hochevar's time in Kansas City could well be coming to an end either way.

22. Chicago White Sox: Gavin Floyd

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    Chicago White Sox starter Gavin Floyd was mentioned in trade rumors at the deadline last season, as well as this past offseason.

    Floyd will almost certainly be considered a trade candidate again this year.

    He is still in Chicago and still pitching in the rotation. That could change when John Danks returns, depending on which starter is chosen for demotion.

    If the White Sox are in contention at the deadline, ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine said that Chicago could choose to keep Floyd for the rest of the season.

    However, they won't hesitate to look for suitors if they fall out of the AL Central race.

21. Houston Astros: Carlos Pena

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    The Houston Astros may not have much to look forward to this season, but they at least have a trade chip who could prove useful later.

    Designated hitter/first baseman Carlos Pena is in Houston on a one-year deal, and there's no question he's simply serving as a bridge to the many prospects Houston has in development.

    Teams will come calling for Pena's services if he's hitting above the Mendoza line and close to 15-20 home runs in mid-July. General manager Jeff Luhnow could at least get something in return for the future.

20. Detroit Tigers: Rick Porcello

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    Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello showed a lot of promise during spring training, pitching to a 3.00 ERA and not walking a single batter in 24 innings.

    Porcello has not had an ERA under 4.50 for the past three seasons and has largely been looked upon as a disappointment. But he won the No. 5 starting role this spring in a fierce battle with Drew Smyly.

    Porcello was mentioned prominently in rumors this spring. While general manager Dave Dombrowski would be loathe to weaken his starting rotation depth, he will listen to offers if they make sense.

19. Los Angeles Angels: Scott Downs

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    Contrary to popular belief, good left-handed relievers do not grow on trees.

    OK, well maybe it isn't a popular belief, but it is actually hard to find a quality southpaw, especially a veteran with a solid resume.

    Los Angeles Angels reliever Scott Downs certainly qualifies.

    The Angels may be forced to part with a veteran if they're still in contention in July. With the trades made by Jerry Dipoto, they simply don't have many candidates in their farm system they'd be willing to give up.

    Downs is in the final season of a three-year, $15 million deal, one of the reasons he could be expendable. The Angels would still have a solid lefty specialist in Sean Burnett for their bullpen. Downs could get what they need to continue moving forward in their playoff push.

18. Atlanta Braves: Tyler Pastornicky

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    With Andrelton Simmons firmly implanted as the shortstop for the Atlanta Braves, it would seem that Tyler Pastornicky's once-promising future will have to be realized in another city.

    Pastornicky made the team last season in a utility role, but was eventually reassigned to Triple-A Gwinnett.

    The Braves could absolutely entertain offers for the 23-year-old if the right opportunity presented itself. Pastornicky hit .243 in 76 games last season and also impressed during spring training with a .375 average, two home runs and 14 RBI.

17. St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran

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    On Wednesday night, the St. Louis Cardinals went with a lineup that could be a sign of future times.

    Matt Adams drew the start at first base, with Allen Craig moving to right field. Carlos Beltran is currently suffering from a broken little toe on his right foot, prompting the lineup change.

    Adams has a bat that the Cardinals would love in their everyday lineup. But he's limited to just playing first base, where he's blocked by Craig.

    Beltran is in the final season of a two-year, $26 million contract. While the Cardinals are considered contenders, they could still think about moving Beltran to accommodate Adams' bat in the lineup if he produces in the first few months of the season.

16. Seattle Mariners: Justin Smoak

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    The Seattle Mariners are still waiting for first baseman Justin Smoak to realize his potential. They may not wait much longer if they stumble out of the gates.

    Smoak was the centerpiece of the deal that sent pitcher Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers in 2010. But he's never lived up to his considerable potential during his time in Seattle.

    The Mariners made several changes to their roster in an attempt to bolster their sagging offense. If Smoak continues to falter, they won't hesitate to shake things up.

    At 26 years of age Smoak is nowhere near over the hill. A change of scenery could in fact do him wonders.

15. Miami Marlins: Ricky Nolasco

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    Miami Marlins starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco looked solid in his Opening Day start against the Washington Nationals, giving up just two runs on three hits in six innings.

    Unfortunately, his hapless offense offered him no support. That's what much of the season could be like for him as he labors through a difficult year in South Florida.

    Heading into free agency, Nolasco will absolutely be an attractive option for contending teams looking for rotation depth down the stretch. The Marlins certainly won't attempt to retain him—not with an $11.5 million salary.

14. Baltimore Orioles: J.J. Hardy

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    At some point, one would think that the Baltimore Orioles would want to move Manny Machado back to his familiar shortstop position.

    That decision could come sooner rather than later if the Orioles find themselves out of contention by late July.

    Current shortstop J.J. Hardy is in the middle of a three-year, $22.5 million deal. He would be owed approximately $9.6 million if he were dealt at the trade deadline—not a tremendous amount of money for a shortstop with a good glove and pop in his bat.

    For a team in contention, that's not a huge price to pay. The Orioles could even throw in a bit of money along with Hardy to sweeten the return package.

13. Colorado Rockies: Rafael Betancourt

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    The Colorado Rockies weren't very active this offseason, but they did engage in one transaction of note: They acquired Wilton Lopez from the Houston Astros for starting pitcher Alex White.

    Lopez saved 10 games for the Astros last season, posting a 2.17 ERA in 64 appearances. The Rockies likely picked him up to take over for closer Rafael Betancourt, who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

    Betancourt may not even last that long, however. With the Rockies in rebuild mode, he could be a very attractive option for contending teams looking for bullpen depth. Expect general manager Bill Geivett to make Betancourt available in July.

12. Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza

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    Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt Garza hasn't thrown a pitch in a meaningful game since last July. But he's still one of the more attractive trade options on the market.

    Garza won't pitch until at least late April/early May while his left lat muscle sufficiently heals. Thankfully, it's not the right elbow giving him problems. He was shut down last July for that reason, effectively ending any chance the Cubs had at dealing him away.

    Garza will have to come back and show that he's completely healthy and able to return to form if Chicago can get anything of value in return. At just 29 years of age, there's no question that he would be attractive to contending teams.

    In return, the Cubs could enhance their quickly improving farm system and continue building for the future.

11. Arizona Diamondbacks: Jason Kubel

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks are in a division that has two giants fighting at the top.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are largely expected to duke it out for the NL West title. The Diamondbacks certainly made inroads in improving their roster, but it remains to be seen whether or not they did enough to keep pace.

    If it eventually shows they didn't do enough and they're buried in the middle of the division standings come late July, Jason Kubel's name could be involved in trade speculation.

    Kubel's contract expires at the end of the season. The Diamondbacks hold a team option for the 2014 season, but with youngsters Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock in tow, along with Cody Ross and Gerardo Parra, Kubel is definitely expendable.

    A left-handed power bat is always an attractive option for contending teams. Kubel will certainly be no different.

10. Tampa Bay Rays: Fernando Rodney

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    Closer Fernando Rodney's salary doubled this season—certainly no surprise considering the effort put forth last season.

    However, if the Tampa Bay Rays find the going too rough in the competitive American League East, Rodney may find his time in Tampa Bay drawing to an end.

    The Rays have managed to hang tough each year since 2008. But this season could prove to be a major challenge given the changes made by division rivals. It's literally a five-team race, with no one club holding a huge advantage.

    Still, the Rays have issues on offense. If that causes them to fall too far behind by late July, Rodney could be made available by general manager Andrew Friedman.

    The Rays always have a plan, and they've managed to make excellent decisions with free agents who were considered to be damaged goods—Rodney included.

    But they also know when to cut bait. Rodney could be the bait that's dangled come trade deadline time.

9. Pittsburgh Pirates: A.J. Burnett

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates are attempting to end their 20-year losing streak this year. They'd sure like a playoff berth as well.

    But the Pirates are in a division that also includes the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals—two teams considered strong playoff contenders. Pittsburgh acquired Russell Martin to help its cause, but made no other major additions.

    If the Pirates are faltering in their efforts to make the playoffs by late July, they'll look to dump salary. Starting pitcher A.J. Burnett might be the first player they unload.

    Fortunately, they're only paying less than half of the $16.5 million owed to Burnett in the final year of his deal. They definitely don't plan to pay him any more beyond that.

    Burnett will be offered up for trade if Pittsburgh is mired in the NL Central standings with no shot of a playoff berth, and contending teams will be more than just a little interested.

8. Minnesota Twins: Justin Morneau

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    First baseman Justin Morneau has spent his entire career with the Minnesota Twins. He would probably like to keep it that way.

    Morneau does have a no-trade clause, so he could make it difficult. But if the Twins have no intention of retaining him, he could be a bit more agreeable.

    Much will depend on two factors: if Morneau returns to pre-concussion form and the Twins' win-loss record in July. The team just might be inclined to keep him if he doesn't try to break the bank, but it could decide to move on without him.

    Either way, there is no doubt that Morneau is the Twins' most attractive trade chip right now.

7. Philadelphia Phillies: Cliff Lee

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    Southpaw pitcher Cliff Lee has still got it. Not many question his abilities despite what look like rough 2012 numbers on the outside.

    To the more informed baseball fan, Lee had a stellar year, posting a 3.16 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, a league-leading 1.2 BB/9 rate and 7.39 K/BB rate.

    If the Phillies are somehow out of contention or have little hopes of a playoff berth by late July, he could absolutely be an attractive option for contending teams.

    There's just a small problem: his salary. Lee is owed $75 million between now and the end of his contract. That no doubt limits the Phillies' potential trade partners. General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. would have to eat a gigantic portion of the money in order to get any deal done and receive a decent return.

    Teams will certainly make financial arrangements to unload a salary. The Yankees did so with A.J. Burnett, and the Texas Rangers did the same with Michael Young. But that amount of money was tiny in comparison. It's going to take some creative accounting for Amaro to finalize any deal involving Lee.

6. Milwaukee Brewers: Corey Hart

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    Milwaukee Brewers first baseman/right fielder Corey Hart is due back in early- to mid-May after rehabbing from offseason knee surgery.

    He may not be with the team much longer after that.

    The Brewers are the only team Hart has ever played for. But he'll be a free agent at the end of the season, and he's making $10 million. The Brewers might not be able to afford him.

    If that's the case and Milwaukee isn't contending for a postseason berth in July, Hart, much like Zack Greinke last July, could be dealt.

    Hart's ability to play both right field and first base is hugely attractive to contending teams, not to mention his power.

5. New York Yankees: Hiroki Kuroda

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    Hiroki Kuroda is 38 years old, but he pitches nothing like an "old" man.

    With just a one-year contract with the New York Yankees and not enough service time, Kuroda does not have a no-trade clause. If the Bronx Bombers are in the unusual stance of being sellers at the trade deadline, he could well be one of the first to go.

    The Yankees have a goal of getting underneath the $189 million luxury tax threshold by next season, and they want to have the flexibility of making a long-term offer to second baseman Robinson Cano.

    Kuroda could well be an unwilling pawn in the Yankees' quest to reach those goals.

4. San Diego Padres: Chase Headley

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    San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley hasn't gotten his 2013 season off to the start he envisioned, with a trip to the disabled list for a fractured thumb.

    The season might also end in a way he didn't plan either.

    The Padres would like to keep Headley. But the price tag to get that done might be too much to bear.

    In addition, if Jedd Gyorko turns out to be the stellar power hitter they envisioned when they drafted him, it might help make their decision a bit easier.

    Padres fans won't be happy at all. They've seen a bevy of players leave already. New ownership is already under fire for doing practically nothing during the offseason.

    But Headley could also bring back a package of players/prospects that could simply be too hard to resist. If they're not in contention in late July, Headley's fate could be sealed.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers: Andre Ethier

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    Despite being signed to a five-year, $85 million deal last June, Andre Ethier found himself the subject of trade rumors this past offseason.

    That could happen again later this year.

    Ethier could be back on the block if the Dodgers get off to a slow start. They also have Cuban outfield prospect Yasiel Puig waiting in the wings. Considering he hit over .500 during spring training, Puig is clearly close to major league-ready.

    Ethier has hit .290 with a .362 on-base percentage during his career—figures that no doubt would attract many teams. The remaining money and years on his contract don't help his cause, however.

    Still, Ethier is a valuable commodity nonetheless—one that the Dodgers could offer up if all of their wheeling and dealing and lavish spending doesn't lead to success on the field.

2. Texas Rangers: Nelson Cruz

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    The Texas Rangers have Mike Olt, who has put some work into right field, waiting in the wings. Considering he's blocked in the infield, he doesn't have much of a choice if he wants a career in Texas.

    Current right fielder Nelson Cruz is a free agent at the end of the season.

    Now you see where I'm going with this?

    The Rangers figure to be contention for the AL West title once again. But if the stars don't align properly and they find themselves looking too far up at teams ahead of them in late July, then Cruz suddenly becomes an attractive trade option.

    And one that could net them a very nice return.

1. Boston Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury

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    It's only been two games, but Jackie Bradley, Jr. is already looking like a solid major league presence.

    Bradley is playing out of position in left field, but Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell definitely wants Bradley's bat in the lineup. If he continues playing like he has in the first two games, he's not going anywhere.

    Bradley's path to center field is currently blocked by Jacoby Ellsbury, who's playing in his final year of arbitration. With Scott Boras as his agent, it's a safe bet that Ellsbury won't be doing any negotiating during the season.

    The Red Sox made inroads in trying to revamp their roster following a 93-loss season, their worst showing in 47 years. But if their attempts to upgrade doesn't lead to on-field success, then Ellsbury's time in Boston will almost certainly come to an end.

    Ellsbury was a runner-up finisher in MVP Award balloting in 2011. When he is healthy, no one questions his abilities. If he stays healthy in the early part of the season, his value rises exponentially, and the Sox could absolutely reap a nice reward by offering up his services.

     

    

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.