Stanton trade rumors are likely to be in full swing this July.
Several potential trade-deadline candidates had question marks coming into the season. Are they healthy and can they stay healthy? Can they bounce back from a poor season? Will they even be available in July, or will their teams be contending for a playoff spot?
A few weeks into the season, the picture is starting to clear up slightly, with a few players forcing their way onto the list after hot starts.
As a rule, I’ll only include players on teams with losing records. Later in the season, I’ll include a player on a winning ballclub if the the team happens to be a long way from a playoff spot.
Here are my top-10 current candidates.
Two of his four outings have been rough ones, but it’ll take a lot more than that to bump David Price down on this list. The speculation that the Rays can’t afford to sign him long term combined with the team's poor start has him locked into the top spot.
In case you missed it, I put together some trade proposals for the three likely favorites—the Cardinals, Cubs and Red Sox.
The Marlins are off to a 4-13 start, which is not unexpected. The worse the Marlins play, however, the more fuel that will be added to the fire in the Giancarlo Stanton trade speculation.
While they’ve said they’re not interested in dealing their 23-year-old star, no one’s really buying what Marlins ownership is saying these days. Stanton can bring back a huge haul in any deal.
I wrote about a deal that could be a win-win for the Marlins and Texas Rangers earlier in the week.
Teams looking for an upgrade at the hot corner will be keeping tabs on Chase Headley, who went 1-for-4 with an RBI and walk in his first game back and followed that up with a home run and two RBI in his second after missing time with a fractured thumb.
The 28-year-old is coming off of a career season (.286 Avg, 31 HR, 115 RBI, 95 R, 17 SB) and won’t be a free agent until after the 2014 season. He’ll command a lot in return, anyways, but the Padres don’t have to trade him this season and won’t be afraid to set an extremely high asking price.
His horrible April 17 start aside (0.2 IP, 6 ER, 5 H, 3 BB), Bud Norris is off to a strong start. He began the season by allowing just four earned runs in 18.1 innings over three starts with victories over the division-rival Angels and Rangers.
The 28-year-old is also under team control through 2015 and fits the need of a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for many contenders. Several teams will be asking GM Jeff Luhnow about Norris and rotation mate Lucas Harrell.
Aside from a five-game slide that was ended with back-to-back wins over the struggling Angels, the Twins aren’t looking so bad in the early going.
The rotation has performed even worse than expected, though, and the offense and the bullpen have done a great job picking up the slack. If the rotation doesn’t turn things around quickly, the Twins are in danger of falling out of contention and into “seller” mode.
Josh Willingham, who is signed through 2014 at a salary that would be affordable for just about every team in the majors, hasn’t stopped crushing the ball since arriving in Minnesota last season.
In 156 games with the Twins, the 34-year-old has 37 homers, 115 runs batted in and 86 walks. I’m guessing at least half the teams in baseball are thinking, “That guy would be a great fit in the middle of our lineup.”
Will this be the year that the Bucs finally break their streak of losing seasons, which currently sits at 20 years? I certainly think they have enough talent to do so.
If not, they’ll have a pretty good trade chip in A.J. Burnett, who has pitched very well since being acquired from the Yankees last offseason. In 35 starts for the Pirates, the 36-year-old is 17-12 with a 3.42 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 8.5 K/9 in 226.1 innings.
There won’t be many other pitchers of Burnett’s caliber at the trade deadline. Of course, there will be concern that he’s just found his comfort zone in Pittsburgh and a move out of town could prove to be disastrous.
Tied for the American League lead in homers with six, Michael Morse’s return to the Mariners has been a success thus far. The 31-year-old will be a free agent after the season, so he won’t command as much as the Twins would for Willingham, but he'd look equally scary to opposing pitchers hitting in the middle of a lineup.
Since being traded from the Mariners to the Nationals for Ryan Langerhans in June 2009, Morse has an .859 OPS with 73 homers in 392 games.
If not for a partial no-trade clause that allows Chase Utley to block trades to nine specified teams per season, he’d be much higher on this list. If the Phillies continue to fall further out of the race, though, we should get a better idea of whether he’d be willing to waive the clause in order to move to a contender.
What we do know right now is that the 34-year-old is healthy and playing very well. This offseason, his agent said Utley was a man on a mission, according to ESPN's Jayson Stark:
Chase Utley's agent, Joel Wolfe, describes Utley as a man on a mission this winter: "If the season started in 2 weeks, he'd be ready to go."— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 4, 2012
And Utley is making his agent look pretty smart thus far. Through 17 games, he's hitting .300 (18-for-60) with three homers, two doubles, two triples and three stolen bases.
Despite his status as the ace of a weak Marlins rotation, no team will mistake Ricky Nolasco for a top-of-the-rotation starter. He does have value, however, as the fourth or fifth starter on a contender.
Through four starts, the 30-year-old has a 3.86 ERA but has an 0-2 record to show for it. He hasn’t pitched badly, though, and his team only gave him five runs across the four games, which explains a lot. He also finished out 2012 strong with two shutouts in his last six starts.
The Marlins will likely have to eat some of whatever would be left of his $11.5 million salary, but adding another mid-level prospect in return should be enough to deal him and open a rotation spot to a young pitcher.
Losing starting catcher Yasmani Grandal to a 50-game suspension to begin the season could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Nick Hundley had lost most of his trade value after a disastrous 2012 season (.464 OPS in 58 games), but he's regaining that with how well he's playing now.
Back in the starting lineup, he’s healthy and appears to have bounced back to his pre-2012 form that earned him his current three-year, $9 million contract. In 13 games, the 29-year-old is hitting .298 (14-for-47) with a homer and six doubles.
A handful of teams could be looking for catching help at the deadline. If the Padres are out of it and Grandal has earned his starting job back, Hundley will likely be a popular name on the trade market.