Ranking the Top 10 MLB Players Likely to Be Traded This Year
It will still be another month and a half before the MLB trade market kicks into full gear, but it's never too soon to start speculating as to who could be on the move this July.
What follows is my take on the 10 best players likely to find themselves on the trade market and perhaps on the move to new teams at some point in the season ahead.
This list will no doubt change in the weeks ahead, as teams become more clearly defined as buyers and sellers heading into the second half, but for now there is reason to think the following 10 guys could trade bait.
The players are ranked on the potential impact they could have on a contender's playoff chances down the stretch, with what the player is likely to cost not taken into account as far as their ranking is concerned.
As for exclusions from the list, Giancarlo Stanton has been a popular subject of trade rumors the past few years, and will likely see his name come up once again. However, with the Marlins taking a big step forward this year and Stanton in the midst of a monster season, my guess is he's not going anywhere. The same goes for his teammate, closer Steve Cishek.
Another name that will likely come up often and could have potentially been included here is San Diego Padres closer Huston Street. However, with a very reasonable $7 million option for next year I think the team holds onto him, at least until next year.
The Toronto Blue Jays are another team that could have some interesting trade chips if the fall out of it, including left-hander Mark Buehrle and left fielder Melky Cabrera, but as things stand now they look to have a chance to contend.
So with that out of the way, here is an early look at who could be on the move this coming season.
*All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Other Notable Players Who Could Be Traded
RP Mike Adams, Philadelphia Phillies
RP Matt Albers, Houston Astros
2B/CF Emilio Bonifacio, Chicago Cubs
SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians
OF Chris Denorfia, San Diego Padres
SS Didi Gregorius, Arizona Diamondbacks
OF Nate Schierholtz, Chicago Cubs
C Kurt Suzuki, Minnesota Twins
RP Dale Thayer, San Diego Padres
10. 3B Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
Had the San Diego Padres opted to move Chase Headley prior to last season, they could have commanded a king's ransom in return, but his value has plummeted since.
After a ho-hum first half in 2012, Headley erupted for 23 home runs and 73 RBI in 75 games after the All-Star break, winning the NL RBI title, the Silver Slugger award and finishing fourth in NL MVP voting.
The Padres opted against trading him or extending him, and the latter at least proved to be a good decision, as he followed up his breakout by hitting just .250/.347/.400 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI over 520 at-bats.
According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports, the Padres offered him a three-year extension somewhere between $33-39 million, but the two sides were reportedly nowhere close.
"I think there was some differences in both. There’s enough ground in between us to where it wasn't going to work out right now," Headley told Corey Brock of MLB.com. "We understood what they were saying, and they understood what we were saying. We just couldn’t find that common ground."
The 30-year-old has done little to show he's even worth what the Padres were offering him in the early-going this season, and at this point he will need to turn things around quick if the Padres hope to salvage some value by moving him.
The market is expected to be very thin on bats, and a move away from Petco Park and to a contending team could certainly spark a turnaround from Headley. That potential, and a complete lack of third base options league-wide, will likely mean more than a few teams are interested in Headley even with his slow, sub-par numbers.
9. SP Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies
A handful of big-name starting pitchers will be the talk of the trade deadline, but for those teams not looking to mortgage the farm to improve their staff, there are some solid second-tier options likely to be available as well.
Kyle Kendrick is one name expected to be among that second-tier, as the right-hander is set to hit free agency at the end of the season and is not likely part of the Philadelphia Phillies' long-term plans.
The 29-year-old has never been a front-line starter, but he has been a reliable back-of-the-rotation arm the past few seasons for the Phillies. He turned in 17 quality starts in 30 outings last season and has five through his first eight already this year.
He earned a $7.675 million salary in what was his final year of arbitration eligibility, making him a relatively cheap midseason pickup, and given the other top arms on the market, he may not take all that much to acquire.
For what it's worth, he has just one postseason start to his credit, and it came back in 2008 when he was a 22-year-old rookie, so postseason experience is not a chip in his favor. Still, he's a veteran pitching for a multiyear contract and he would likely be as motivated as anyone to turn in a strong second half.
8. 2B Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
Not all that long ago—2011, to be exact—Rickie Weeks was one of the better second basemen in the National League. He was an All-Star and a 3.0 WAR-player that season, as he posted an OPS over .800 and 20-plus home runs for the second straight season.
The 31-year-old has steadily fallen off over the past two years, though, hitting just .209/.306/.357 last season before an ankle injury sidelined him at the end of July.
That opened the door for Scooter Gennett, and he made the most of the opportunity, hitting .324/.356/.479 in 213 at-bats down the stretch last year.
The two entered the season in a platoon, but Gennett has started 33-of-45 games on the year and Weeks has a grand total of 61 at-bats to his credit.
Considering he is making $11 million this season, the Brewers would no doubt like to move Weeks, but with limited position-player depth and the team contending they won't simply trade him for the sake of trading him.
Second base is always a thin position as far as available options, and while there is no clear landing spot for Weeks at this point, he could be a hot commodity come July if a contender is looking to upgrade at the position and the Brewers are willing to eat some of that salary.
He has a $10.5 million option for next year that will almost certainly be declined, and at the end of the day the Brewers may simply not want to lose him for nothing once the season is up.
7. OF Seth Smith, San Diego Padres
Looking to add a left-handed hitting outfielder with some pop, the San Diego Padres shipped ace setup man Luke Gregerson to the Oakland Athletics for Seth Smith.
It was the second time in as many years that Smith was traded, and while he has never seen 500 at-bats in a season, he has been a consistent producer throughout his career with a .265/.342/.456 line heading into the season.
He's off to a great start this season, and has been one of the few bright spots in a what is the league's worst offensive attack. That said, for a Padres team still building, the free-agent-to-be looks like a prime candidate to be dealt.
The 31-year-old won NL Player of the Week honors for the week of May 5-11, and he's hitting .440/.533/.900 with 14 extra-base hits in 50 at-bats so far in May.
According to FanGraphs, he has a .376 BABIP, so some regression can be expected moving forward. However, he remains a plus on-base threat with some extra-base pop, and there will be a number of teams interested in acquiring him, even if his average does fall off a bit.
With a reasonable $4.5 million salary this season and a thin market for bats, Smith could wind up netting a better return than what it cost the team to acquire him just a few months ago.
6. SP Jason Hammel, Chicago Cubs
Jason Hammel looked a revelation in his first season with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012, going 8-5 with a 3.47 ERA over 17 first-half starts after coming over in a trade with the Colorado Rockies.
Knee surgery cut his breakout season short, though, and he was then slowed by an elbow strain last season. That led to a disappointing 7-8 record and 4.97 ERA (4.93 FIP) over 139.1 innings of work, and he hit the free-agent market with limited value.
The Chicago Cubs opted to take a chance on him to fill out their rotation though, giving him a one-year, $6 million deal just before the start of spring training. To this point, that has proved to be a bargain, as he's been one of the better pitchers in the NL.
He was touched up for five runs in 5.1 innings of work his last time out, raising his ERA from 2.45 to 3.06. However, he is still tied for third in all of baseball with a 0.91 WHIP and is fourth with a .189 BAA.
Seeing as he is only signed to a one-year deal, the 31-year-old is all but certain to be traded come July as the rebuilding Cubs look to turn him into prospects.
Jason Hammel with another excellent start. Provided he stays healthy, expect Cubs to make him available via trade in June or July.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 27, 2014
The team did a nice job signing Scott Feldman to a one-year deal last season and flipping him to the Baltimore Orioles for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, and they'll be look to do the same with this year's short-term addition.
5. SS Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
Alexei Ramirez has been a steady performer for the Chicago White Sox since the Cuban defector was signed prior to the 2008 season.
His 20.3 WAR since the start of the 2008 season trails only Troy Tulowitzki (30.3), Hanley Ramirez (24.2) and Yunel Escobar (20.5) among all shortstops, and his 2.0 WAR this season puts him in the top 10 among all position players.
The 32-year-old has a $9.5 million salary this season, $10 million salary for next season and a $10 million team option that carries a $1 million buyout in 2016. At the level he's currently producing offensively, that's a bargain for someone who plays the premium position of shortstop.
Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reported last year that the White Sox turned down an offer that would have netted St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez in return for Ramirez. That report was never confirmed though, and Jon Heyman of CBSSports later refuted it.
Regardless of whether or not they had any concrete offers, the White Sox were willing to move him at the right price. The team is off to a nice start this season, but they don't look to have the pitching to legitimately contend, and if they fall out of it by July, moving Ramirez could net a nice return in their rebuilding efforts.
"The team is deep in middle infield prospects, making Ramirez and (second baseman Gordon) Beckham expendable," said Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
Rookie Marcus Semien has seen most of his playing time at third base for the White Sox this year, but he is a shortstop by trade and could be a long-term option at the position should the team deal Ramirez.
4. SP Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians
Justin Masterson has had an up-and-down career to this point, dating back to his days as a top prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization after he was taken in the second round of the 2006 draft.
He looked to have finally broken through in 2011 when he went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA while reaching 200 innings for the first time in his career, but he would see his ERA spike to 4.93 the following season.
Nonetheless, he earned the Opening Day nod for the Cleveland Indians last season, and he certainly fit the bill of a staff ace with the best season of his career.
All told, he finished the year 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and an AL-best three complete game shutouts, making his first All-Star appearance and sparking extension talks this past offseason.
According to Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer, the Indians offered him something in the neighborhood of a three-year, $45 million deal. In the end, the two sides did not come to terms, and with the Indians struggling early, he is looking more and more like a potential trade candidate.
According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity is down from 93.1 mph last season to 90.5 mph this year, and the result has been a rough start to the season.
Still, if the 29-year-old can turn things around, he'd be one of the more sought after arms on the market come July. Look for the Indians to shop him either way if they fall out of contention, as an extension is looking less and less likely.
3. SP Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs
While the players in the No. 1 and 2 spots on this list are bigger names, and would likely net a bigger return if they are in fact made available, there is a very good chance that Jeff Samardzija winds up being the prize of the 2014 deadline.
He's winless through his first nine starts, but a poor supporting cast is almost entirely to blame. His 1.62 ERA ranks second in the NL to Johnny Cueto, but with just 2.0 runs of support to per start he's been unable to break into the win column.
He has the added value of an extra year of team control next year, so he's more than just a rental player, and it's looking more and more likely that he'll be moved, according to Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago:
Samardzija wants to be paid like an ace -- in the neighborhood of a $100 million deal -- but the Cubs won't budge. While Hoyer indicated recently there are no trade talks currently going on with any players, that's expected to change with Samardzija as he drives up his value.
The asking price will be high—perhaps higher than what the Cubs got in return for Matt Garza last July—but if the 29-year-old keeps throwing the ball the way he has, he'll be well worth it for a contender looking to bolster their rotation.
2. SP Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
At some point the Philadelphia Phillies have to begin the rebuilding process, and if they fall out of contention early this season, they could look to begin blowing things up at the deadline. The first step in that process could be moving ace Cliff Lee.
Lee, 35, saw his name pop up in trade rumors last July, but nothing ever materialized beyond rumors. He understands that he'll likely see his name come up once again this summer, but doesn't seem to mind.
“I don’t really care,” he told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly this spring. “There’s no sense really thinking about it. Honestly, it usually means a good thing. It means you've had success and other teams really want you. So that’s a positive.”
The left-hander has a $25 million salary this seaosn and next, as well as a $27.5 million vesting option that carries a $12.5 million buyout for 2016, so acquiring him would be a significant investment for a team beyond just making a run at the playoffs this year.
He can block trades to 21 different teams, according to his Baseball Prospectus page, so that only further complicates moving him.
Still, he's an incredibly attractive trade chip if he is shopped, and there is no ignoring his 7-3 record and 2.52 ERA in 11 postseason starts.
1. SP David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
Heading into the offseason, it seemed all but certain that the Tampa Bay Rays would move ace David Price, with the pitcher himself seemingly accepting that he'd be dealt.
At least that's how it sounded in an interview with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:
If you go with what's been done in the past, I guess you're going to have to think you're going to get traded. That's kind of the way it's happened with this organization when pitchers kind of get to this period in their career. We've seen it happen a couple of times already. I don't know what's going to happen, but I know what's happened in the past.
However, the offseason came and went, Price stayed put and the Rays looked to be in a good position to make their fifth postseason appearance in seven years as a result.
Instead, they have stumbled out of the gates to a 19-26 record, and while that leaves them just five games out of first and there is still a lot of baseball to be played, they have not looked nearly as good as expected.
If they continue to struggle over the next month or so, don't be surprised if Price again finds himself in the middle of trade rumors. The 28-year-old is under team control through next season, and he'll likely be due another raise over the $14 million he's making this season in what will be his final year of arbitration, making him a pricey asset for the small-market Rays.
Considering the haul the Chicago Cubs managed to land for Matt Garza last July, who was nothing more than a rental player, the return the Rays could get for Price may be too good to pass up. Especially if they are resigned to the fact that they won't be able to re-sign him.
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