7 Players MLB Teams Should Sell High on Before It's Too Late
Maximizing a player’s trade value usually involves a team waiting until the last possible moment, hoping a team with some interest gets desperate as its roster hole becomes more evident. It also doesn’t hurt if the player being shopped gets red-hot leading up to the trade deadline.
But what if that player is reaching his seasonal peak in early May? Should a team cash in its chips now and potentially get much more in return than it will 12 weeks later? It’s worth considering, although it does “take two to tango,” as they say.
For a team to make a trade to upgrade its roster this early in the season, it's usually exhausted all internal options and discovered that it’ll likely have to sacrifice some minor league talent to help out the major league ball club.
In case those two factors—a team deciding a player is at max value and another team ready to make a deal to upgrade its major league roster—can align, here are seven players that could fit the description.
David DeJesus, OF, Chicago Cubs
DeJesus is not only off to a great start (.882 OPS in 27 games), but he has a very team-friendly contract ($4.25M in 2013, $6.5M club option in 2014 or $1.5M buyout) that would make him a very popular trade target if the Cubs made him available.
The Cubs may not be ready to declare themselves out of the playoff hunt—they’re 11-17, six games out in the NL Central and in last place—but it’s not unreasonable to think that time could come in the very near future.
DeJesus might be their best hitter right now, though, and trading him when his potential replacements aren’t even hitting their weight could be disastrous.
Scott Hairston (4-for-34) and Dave Sappelt (7-for-41) are both struggling at the big league level while prospect Brett Jackson, who the Cubs probably want to get another look at before moving on from him as their potential “center fielder of the future,” is hitting .219 in Triple-A with 24 strikeouts in 19 games.
While DeJesus could very well be an important piece to a 2014 Cubs teams that is closer to contending, they should at least consider listening to offers that would put them in better shape for 2015 and beyond.
Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres
Headley’s value couldn’t get much higher than it was this past offseason after a second half in which he hit .308 with 23 homers and 73 runs batted in.
With two years left of team control, the return for the switch-hitting third baseman would’ve likely included at least one elite prospect and one or two other very good ones.
Now that the Padres know the 28 year-old isn’t interested in discussing a contract extension during the season—which was apparently news to executive chairman Ron Fowler, who earlier Thursday said they were preparing a midseason offer—the chances of an in-season trade have to increase.
It’s doubtful that the Padres’ asking price has gone down much. An interested team would probably have to overpay to acquire him this early in the season, but my guess is that they’d be more willing to settle for something slightly less considering there won’t be the bidding war that would occur closer to the trade deadline or in the offseason.
And since there’s a chance his performance, which has been good so far (.884 OPS in 14 games), could start to resemble what’s he’s normally done throughout his career (.771 OPS), they could look to strike a deal as soon as possible.
Nick Hundley, C, San Diego Padres
Before Yasmani Grandal was hit with a 50-game suspension for a positive P.E.D. test this offseason, the Padres had a potentially complicated situation on their hands. They had two other major league catchers, Hundley and John Baker, on their roster and room for just one.
Since carrying a backup catcher with a $3 million salary is not good business for the small-market Padres, trading Hundley and the remaining $7 million on his contract ($3M in 2013, $4M in 2014) made the most sense.
The problem was that Hundley’s value was at an all-time low after he posted a .464 OPS during an injury-plagued 2012 season. But Grandal’s suspension opened the door for Hundley to rebuild his value as a starting catcher, and he’s done just that.
With an .894 OPS through his first 22 games, the 29-year-old Hundley looks to be back to his previous form that earned him the contract extension in the first place. The Padres don’t necessarily have to give Grandal his starting job back when he’s eligible to return later this month.
But if they wait much longer on trading Hundley, his value could decline and they’ll miss the opportunity to save millions and add a decent prospect or two in return.
Jake Arrieta, SP, Baltimore Orioles
The 27-year-old is currently in Triple-A, which is probably the best place for him to build up his value and maintain it.
He’s allowed two earned runs in 13 innings with one walk and 15 strikeouts in two starts since his demotion. He’s also shown signs of becoming a very good starting pitcher in the big leagues over the past couple of years, but he cannot maintain it for long periods of time.
After winning a rotation spot with a terrific spring, he was sent back to the minors after a four-start stint that was mediocre at best. That’s not good enough for a team expected to compete for a playoff spot. The O’s need consistency and reliability, and they’re unlikely to get that from Arrieta anytime soon.
At some point, things could click and Arrieta could become a valuable starting pitcher. That might be more likely to happen on a team that can give him 25 starts in the majors this season and not be as concerned if half of them are bad because of the upside he brings to the table.
Or maybe a contending team with a gaping hole in the back of the rotation feels Arrieta is an upgrade. He does have options, so any acquiring team wouldn’t necessarily have to keep him in the majors.
He just may have run out of chances in Batlimore.
Bruce Chen or Luke Hochevar, RP, Kansas City Royals
Chen and Hochevar (pictured) are in the Royals’ bullpen because the rotation was full and the two veterans have guaranteed contracts that pay them a lot of money. A trade wasn’t going to get them much in return, even if the Royals ate most of the remaining salary.
But here we are a month into the season, and several teams could use a solid No. 5 starter, which both Chen and Hochevar are at least capable of being.
Neither has pitched very much out of the ‘pen, but both have excellent numbers and have pitched multiple innings. Chen has thrown as many as 60 pitches in a game; Hochevar has thrown 45. So a move back to the rotation wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
As long as they’re in these low-leverage bullpen roles, the value can’t get much higher than it is right now. One bad outing, and the trade value could decrease significantly.
With plenty of depth in Triple-A—Louis Coleman (1.69 ERA, 16 IP, 15 H, 6 BB, 19 K) and lefty Donnie Joseph (3.48 ERA, 10.1 IP, 7 H, 6 BB, 17 K) come to mind—the Royals could probably save a few million by trading Chen or Hochevar and net a decent low-level prospect in return.
Kevin Slowey, SP, Miami Marlins
In case you haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on with the last-place Marlins, who are off to an 8-21 start and 9.5 games out in the NL East, they are not very good. Their best player, Giancarlo Stanton, is on the disabled list for at least a month with a strained hamstring, and they were probably already the worst offense in the league with him.
On the bright side, the starting rotation hasn’t been terrible despite losing Nate Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez to injuries prior to the season. In addition, those injuries likely opened up an opportunity for Slowey, who appears to be back to his early-career form when he went 39-21 with a 4.41 ERA in his first four big league seasons with the Twins.
The 28-year-old might not have more value than now after he pitched eight strong innings in his last start while allowing just one earned run with no walks and eight strikeouts. His ERA is down to 2.15 with six walks and 29 strikeouts in 37.2 innings.
There will be several back-of-the-rotation starters available at the trade deadline. Slowey might be one of a handful that can be had now.