Every MLB Team's Biggest Trade Chip 2 Months from the Deadline

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMay 23, 2014

Every MLB Team's Biggest Trade Chip 2 Months from the Deadline

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    The 2014 MLB trade deadline is still two months away, but it's never too early to get the rumor mill churning. There is still a lot of baseball to be played, as most teams have not yet established themselves as buyers or sellers. But we can already start to paint a picture of who will be available at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

    Upcoming free agents playing for noncontenders are obviously the most likely candidates to find themselves on the block. We'll also turn our attention to the farm systems of clubs that look like clear-cut contenders here in May.

    This is obviously subject to change in the weeks and months ahead, but here is a preliminary look at which player each team's top chip could be when trade season rolls around.

     

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted. All injury information courtesy of MLBDepthCharts team pages.

Arizona Diamondbacks: SS Didi Gregorius

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    After a disastrous start to the season, the Diamondbacks are playing much better baseball here in the month of May, but they still have some work to do to dig themselves out of the hole they are in.

    It's too soon to say they'll be aggressive sellers, but regardless of how the next couple months play out, expect shortstop Didi Gregorius to be shopped come July.

    The 24-year-old held his own as the everyday guy last year, hitting .252/.332/.373 with 26 extra-base hits in 357 at-bats while also posting a 1.3 WAR thanks in part to his plus defense. However, he has been supplanted by another impressive youngster in Chris Owings, making him a valuable, expendable piece.

Atlanta Braves: SP Cody Martin

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    The Atlanta Braves likely won't move top pitching prospects Lucas Sims or Jason Hursh in any deal this July, but they have some other pitching talent in the high minors that could help them pull off a move.

    Cody Martin looks to be the most appealing trade chip of the bunch, as the 24-year-old is pitching well in his first full season at the Triple-A level after splitting the 2013 season between Double-A and Triple-A.

    He's currently 3-2 with a 2.76 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 49 innings of work, and the most promising number may be him trimming his walk rate from 3.8 BB/9 to 2.4 BB/9. Martin is essentially big league ready at this point and could be a nice addition for the future for a seller.

Baltimore Orioles: 1B Christian Walker

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    Top pitching prospects Dylan Bundy, Eduardo Rodriguez, Hunter Harvey and Mike Wright likely won't be going anywhere come July, as the Baltimore Orioles can ill-afford to be losing young starting pitching at this point.

    However, one potential trade chip who could be moved is first baseman Christian Walker, a fourth-round pick out of the University of South Carolina back in 2012.

    The 23-year-old earned a trip to the MLB Futures Game last year and is putting up terrific numbers in his first full season in Double-A this season, hitting .326/.383/.545 with 10 home runs in 178 at-bats. If the team intends on locking up first baseman Chris Davis long term (currently on a one-year $10.4 million deal for 2014), Walker could be viewed as an expendable piece to help shore up Baltimore's roster this July.

Boston Red Sox: SP Matt Barnes

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    The Boston farm system is loaded with high-end pitching talent right now, as the likes of Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo are all currently pitching in Double-A or Triple-A.

    Owens is likely off-limits in a trade, while Webster does not have the ceiling of the other two. However, the team could look to build a package around Barnes or Ranaudo if it is going after a big-time trade target this July.

    It's really a coin toss as to who is the better trade chip between those two, but we'll go with Barnes since he's a year younger at 23 years old. The No. 19 pick in the 2011 draft, Barnes is currently 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA and 1.179 WHIP through five starts this season in Triple-A.

Chicago Cubs: SP Jeff Samardzija

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    Despite an MLB-best 1.46 ERA, Jeff Samardzija is currently winless on the season at 0-4 through his first 10 starts as he has had some horrible luck alongside a subpar supporting cast in Chicago.

    If David Price and Cliff Lee wind up staying put with their respective teams, Samardzija could wind up being the prize of the trade deadline. Not only is he an ace-caliber arm, but he is also under team control through 2015, so he has the added value of being more than just a rental player.

    The Cubs have no shortage of potential trade chips with Jason Hammel, Emilio Bonifacio and Nate Schierholtz all likely on the move and several others likely to be shopped, but Samardzija is by far their most valuable piece.

    Jon Heyman of CBS Sports outlined 10 teams that could be in on Samardzija come July, placing the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers atop the list.

Chicago White Sox: SS Alexei Ramirez

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    Alexei Ramirez has been a steady performer for the Chicago White Sox since the Cuban defector was signed prior to the 2008 season, and he's having a terrific 2014.

    The 32-year-old has a $9.5 million salary this season and a $10 million salary for next season. While that makes him an investment of sorts, it also makes him a relative bargain at the level he's currently producing.

    The White Sox are off to a nice start this season, but they do not seem to have the pitching to support their terrific offense and make them serious contenders in the AL Central. They sold aggressively last year when they moved Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, and as they continue to look for young talent it is Ramirez who could net the biggest return this time around.

Cincinnati Reds: SP/RP Daniel Corcino

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    The Cincinnati Reds have never been a team to trade away top prospects in an effort to upgrade at the deadline, and there is no reason to think that will change this season.

    That's not to say they won't explore some smaller deals, though, especially if they can get healthy and climb their way back into the NL Central race in the weeks to come.

    Right-hander Daniel Corcino, who has ranked among the team's top 15 prospects each of the past four years, according to Baseball America, is one guy the team could look to move. He has a live arm that may play better in the bullpen long term, but he still has some control issues to overcome, making him an interesting buy-low prospect.

Cleveland Indians: SP Justin Masterson

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    According to Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer, the Cleveland Indians offered Justin Masterson something in the neighborhood of a three-year, $45 million deal in the offseason, but with the two sides unable to come to terms he is looking more and more like a trade candidate.

    After an up-and-down start to his career, the 29-year-old went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and an AL-best three complete-game shutouts in 2013, making his first All-Star appearance and looking like a legitimate staff ace in the process.

    His numbers have not been nearly as good this season (2-3, 5.32 ERA, 7.69 K/9), and according to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity is down from 93.1 mph last season to 90.5 mph this year. Still, if he can string together a few good starts heading into the deadline, he could net a big return.

Colorado Rockies: 1B/RF Michael Cuddyer

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    At this point, it's tough to figure out exactly what the Colorado Rockies will be doing come trade-deadline time. They have played very good baseball to this point, on the strength of MLB's best offense, but the question once again is whether or not they have the pitching to legitimately contend.

    Regardless of what happens, they are not likely to buy aggressively—with top prospects Eddie Butler and Jon Gray more likely to help out the big league club in the second half than to be moved. They are also by no means going to blow things up and sell aggressively, either.

    Michael Cuddyer is the one big name that could potentially hit the block, whether it is for prospects or for a big league-ready arm. He has shown no interest in an extension with the team to this point, according to Patrick Saunders of the The Denver Post:

    The Rockies won't look to do anything with Cuddyer's contract until the end of the season, and he's not expecting them to. I do think he'll remain with the club for this entire season, unless the Rockies go into a freefall heading into the July 31 trade deadline. Then, all bets are off, and he could be on the trading block to a contender that needs short-term help.

    The reigning NL batting champ has been slowed by a hamstring injury, but he is a free agent at season's end. In a market expected to be very thin on bats, he could fetch a big return.

Detroit Tigers: 2B Devon Travis

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    With a fairly thin farm system, the Detroit Tigers are not in a position to pull off a blockbuster deal of any sort. However, with a fairly complete roster they likely won't need to unless they are bit by the injury bug.

    That being said, the Tigers could still look to upgrade the shortstop position or add another piece to the bullpen puzzle in July as they look to make another run at the World Series.

    Second base prospect Devon Travis had a breakout year last season in his first full pro campaign, hitting .351/.418/.518 between Single-A and High-A. The team's No. 2 prospect, according to Baseball America, Travis is now blocked by Ian Kinsler and could wind up being trade bait as a result.

Houston Astros: RP Tony Sipp

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    With a full-blown rebuild in the works for three-plus seasons now, the Houston Astros don't have much left in the way of tradable veteran commodities on their roster. The most likely pieces to be moved at this point are bullpen arms, with Matt Albers and Tony Sipp both looking like prime candidates to be moved.

    Albers has been on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis for a month, so we'll go with Sipp as their top trade piece at this point—though that could certainly change if Albers returns and proves he's fully healthy.

    Sipp, a 30-year-old left-hander who signed with the Astros after being released by the Padres on May 1, has allowed just one hit and one walk in 7.2 innings of work so far this year while striking out 11. There is always a market for quality southpaw relievers, and Sipp is off to a great start.

Kansas City Royals: 2B/SS Christian Colon

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    When the Kansas City Royals selected Christian Colon with the No. 4 pick in the 2010 draft, the thought was that he would be one of the first position players in the class to reach the majors, after an impressive career at Cal State Fullerton.

    Instead, the 25-year-old still finds himself in the minors, as he has yet to break through and reach the big leagues. In his first full season at the Triple-A level last year, he hit .273/.335/.379 with 12 doubles, 12 home runs and 58 RBI, so there is some offensive potential there.

    "Even at his best, Colon has always been one of those players whose whole is greater than the sum of his parts," said Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com.  "His individual tools don't grade out well, but they've played up because of his plus instincts."

    With second baseman Omar Infante signed through 2017 and shortstop Alcides Escobar signed through 2015 with a pair of option years that could stretch his deal to 2017, Colon is essentially blocked in Kansas City. There is always a market for quality middle infield help, and it's looking more and more like a change of scenery is the only way Colon will make a big league impact.

Los Angeles Angels: 1B/DH C.J. Cron

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    The No. 17 pick in the 2011 draft, C.J. Cron has put up impressive offensive numbers throughout his pro career, and he finally got the call earlier this month after the Angels were hit with a handful of injuries offensively.

    The 24-year-old has been seeing regular at-bats at designated hitter since being called up and is 13-for-46 (.283) with three doubles and two home runs in his first 46 at-bats. Despite that success, he could again find himself headed to the minors once Josh Hamilton returns from thumb surgery.

    The Angels are off to a great start this season, and with an incredibly thin farm system, Cron looks like their best trade chip should they have a glaring hole to fill come July. If not, don't be surprised if he winds up as the everyday designated hitter in the second half and for the next several years.

Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Joc Pederson

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    Let me start this off by saying that the Dodgers have indicated that they don't want to trade outfield prospect Joc Pederson, according to MLB Network Insider Peter Gammons on High Heat with Peter Russo.

    However, for a Dodgers team that will be disappointed by anything short of a World Series title, nothing should be ruled out at this point.

    For example, if a starter goes down for the year and the team finds itself in a position to land David Price with a package built around Pederson, one has to imagine that is something it would at least consider.

    The team would obviously prefer to move one of its veteran outfielders—ideally Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford—but given their salary vs. production that's not likely to net Los Angeles much of a return. Pederson is hitting .351/.454/.638 with 14 home runs and 13 steals in 45 games so far in Triple-A and is one of the most big league ready prospects in the game.

Miami Marlins: 3B Casey McGehee

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    People can propose imaginary trade scenarios until they are blue in the face, but Giancarlo Stanton is not going anywhere, at least not this season. He's putting up elite numbers and is finally fully healthy, and with the team taking a big step forward this year he has to be considered a building block.

    The same goes for closer Steve Cishek, who is under team control through the 2016 season. The team may be willing to listen to offers on him, but expect the asking price to be unreasonably high, much like it was for Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins last season.

    Instead, the more likely pieces to be moved by the Marlins are the stopgap veterans they added in the offseason—guys like Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones. Given the shortage of viable third base options leaguewide, we'll call McGehee their best trade chip.

Milwaukee Brewers: 2B Rickie Weeks

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    Once one of the top offensive second basemen in all of baseball, Rickie Weeks now finds himself on the short end of a platoon with Scooter Gennett—and his days in Milwaukee could be numbered as a result.

    By all accounts he's having a nice bounce-back season, hitting .317/.368/.460 with three doubles and two home runs in 63 at-bats, but he is also in the final year of his contract. Given his part-time player status the team could very well look to flip him for help somewhere else on the roster.

    The market for second basemen is always thin, and if Weeks keeps hitting like he has so far this season in limited duty, there will be more than a few teams interested in adding him. The San Francisco Giants are one that immediately jumps to mind, with Marco Scutaro sidelined indefinitely and Brandon Hicks falling off after a nice start to the year.

Minnesota Twins: C Kurt Suzuki

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    With Joe Mauer moving to first base full time and 25-year-old rookie backstop Josmil Pinto thin on major league experience, the Minnesota Twins signed veteran Kurt Suzuki to a one-year, $2.75 million deal this offseason to help bridge the gap at catcher.

    The results have been surprising to say the least, as the 30-year-old is hitting .303/.371/.424 with 10 doubles and currently leads all catchers with 27 RBI in just 37 games.

    Pinto has held his own while seeing regular at-bats as the designated hitter, posting an .803 OPS with six home runs. If the team decides it wants him to see everyday playing time at catcher, then Suzuki could be on the move. He'd likely be the best catching option on the market and could be a nice flip for the Twins if they decide to deal him.

New York Mets: SP Dillon Gee

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    As things stand right now, the New York Mets figure to have Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Bartolo Colon, Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard all vying for rotation spots when spring training rolls around next year.

    Of that group, they would probably most like to be rid of Colon, but he won't bring much of a return at this point. That makes Niese and Gee the most likely candidates to be moved, and considering Niese is a year younger and potentially under team control through 2018 with option years, Gee looks like the best bet.

    The 28-year-old is currently sidelined with a strained lat, but he was off to a solid start to the year, going 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA (4.26 FIP). He could be an attractive second-tier option for teams not looking to mortgage the farm going after guys like Jeff Samardzija and David Price.

New York Yankees: C Gary Sanchez

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    Do the New York Yankees want to trade Gary Sanchez? Of course not, but they may have no choice if they want to land a front-line starter to shore up their rotation and make a run at the playoffs.

    They have some other solid prospects in their system, but a package built around someone like Mason Williams or John Ryan Murphy likely won't be enough to acquire one of the market's top arms, and the Yankees will almost certainly have to go after a big-name starter if they hope to legitimately contend.

    The 21-year-old Sanchez is one of the top catching prospects in the game and is coming off a .253/.324/.412 season last year that included 27 doubles and 15 home runs. He's partially blocked now by Brian McCann—at least until he moves to first base or designated hitter—and that could be reason enough for the Yankees to consider dealing him in the right trade.

Oakland Athletics: SP Arnold Leon

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    The Oakland Athletics don't often mortgage prospects at the deadline, though they are always active on the trade market and looking for ways to improve their roster.

    None of their top prospects will be on the move, but 25-year-old Arnold Leon could be of interest to teams, and losing him would not be a huge blow to the farm system. He's spent parts of the past three seasons in Triple-A but has yet to reach the majors.

    Currently 3-1 with a 4.57 ERA in eight Triple-A starts, Leon pitched for Team Mexico in the last World Baseball Classic. He does not have much left to prove at the minor league level. Leon could be a useful swingman out of someone's bullpen immediately and may be enough for the A's to land some bench help or another bullpen arm.

Philadelphia Phillies: SP Cliff Lee

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    At some point the Philadelphia Phillies have to begin the rebuilding process, and if they fall out of contention early this season, they could be blowing things up at the deadline. The first step in that process could be moving ace Cliff Lee, but the veteran is unfazed by hearing his name pop up in rumors. 

    “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 season 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.

    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. He'd be costly, both in salary and prospects, but there may be no better player on the market to help with a late-season push.

Pittsburgh Pirates: SP Francisco Liriano

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a rough start this season, and they could very well wind up being sellers at the deadline. If that's the case, veterans Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin are both free agents at the end of the year and would certainly attract some offers.

    After a fantastic season last year, Liriano has not been nearly as dominant in 2014, going 0-4 with a 4.86 ERA (4.18 FIP) and 53 strikeouts in 53.2 innings. That still makes him a viable option for teams looking to bolster their rotations, though, and with a salary of just $6 million he has the added value of being a bargain.

    If the team does wind up in a position to buy, outfield prospect Josh Bell is blocked by Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco long term. A package built around him could land an impact player of some sort.

San Diego Padres: RF Seth Smith

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    An argument can certainly be made for Chase Headley here, despite his horrendous start to the season, as there still figures to be more than a few teams vying for his services come July. Seth Smith, another upcoming free agent bat, looks like the better trade chip at this point, though.

    Acquired from the Oakland A's in the offseason for reliever Luke Gregerson, the 31-year-old is hitting .338/.439/.615 with 12 doubles, three triples and six home runs as one of the few bright spots for the worst offensive team in baseball.

    As a left-handed bat with some pop, he'll have plenty of value, especially considering how short the market will be on impact bats. The team could also look to move outfielder Chris Denorfia and reliever Dale Thayer, while closer Huston Street will have an extremely high price tag but could be available as well.

    For now, Smith looks like their best trade piece.

San Francisco Giants: SP Edwin Escobar

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    The San Francisco Giants have one elite prospect in their farm system right now, right-hander Kyle Crick, and he's not going anywhere. Other than that, don't be surprised if the team is aggressive at the deadline to fill what needs it has.

    Edwin Escobar, Clayton Blackburn, Adalberto Mejia and Ty Blach are all intriguing pitching prospects behind Crick who are currently pitching in Double-A or Triple-A, with Escobar probably the most big league ready of that group.

    The 22-year-old went 8-8 with a 2.80 ERA with 146 strikeouts in 128.2 innings last year while splitting the season between High-A and Double-A. The team promoted him aggressively to Triple-A to open the season, and while there has been an adjustment period, he still profiles as a plus middle-of-the-rotation arm that can help out in the very near future.

Seattle Mariners: SS Chris Taylor

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    With Robinson Cano signed to play second base for the next decade and the duo of Nick Franklin and Brad Miller both vying for time at shortstop, there is not much room for a middle infield prospect to break through in Seattle right now.

    Chris Taylor, a 23-year-old shortstop prospect who already finds himself in Triple-A despite entering the season with just 183 professional games under his belt, is making a strong case to be part of that mix as well.

    He's currently hitting .372/.414/.593 with 13 doubles, five triples and three home runs through his first 145 at-bats, and his offensive potential is real as he has a .326/.412/.474 career line in the minor leagues. Something has to give at shortstop for the Mariners long term, and Taylor could wind up being a trade chip as a result.

St. Louis Cardinals: 1B Matt Adams

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    Outfielder Oscar Taveras is the St. Louis Cardinals' top prospect and one of the most highly regarded prospects in all of baseball. If not for an ankle injury last season, he would likely already have an everyday job in St. Louis. Instead, he currently finds himself in Triple-A.

    He might not be there for long, though, as he's hitting .322/.368/.520 with 21 extra-base hits in his first 171 at-bats. The team is currently trying him in center field, where he could supplant the platoon of Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay, but he's best suited as a right fielder.

    If he does in fact wind up in right field, that would presumably push Allen Craig back to first base and Matt Adams back to a part-time role. A rival talent evaluator recently told Buster Olney of ESPN (subscription required) that could spark a trade of Adams:

    The best way for the Cardinals to create room for Taveras would be to eventually swap first baseman Matt Adams, sometime during the offseason -- and there definitely would be a lot of interest in Adams in the trade market -- and shift Allen Craig from right field to first base. 

    As he suggests, the offseason would be the more likely time for a deal, but if the Cardinals find themselves in need of a major piece come July, a package built around Adams could be a very real possibility.

Tampa Bay Rays: SP David Price

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    Heading into the offseason, it seemed all but certain that the Tampa Bay Rays would move ace David Price, but the winter came and went and he was still in a Rays jersey to kick off the 2014 season.

    The 28-year-old is under team control through next season, but he's already making $14 million this year and has quickly priced himself out of the equation for the small-market Rays. It's still unlikely he signs a long-term deal with the team, so chances are he'll be traded at some point.

    The Rays have stumbled out of the gates to a 20-28 record, but they're still just six games back in the AL East and will be getting a boost with the return of Alex Cobb. If they are in contention come July expect Price to stay put, but if they're out of it they could finally pull the trigger on moving the big left-hander.

Texas Rangers: RF Alex Rios

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    With news breaking on Thursday that Prince Fielder is likely headed for season-ending neck surgery, according to Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas, the slugger will become the 17th player to land on the disabled list for the Texas Rangers this season.

    In a recent conference call, GM Jon Daniels described the injury situation as having reached "critical mass," and while the team finds itself just one game under .500, the Rangers are also in fourth place in a talented AL West with the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels both looking like serious contenders.

    The team is 8-11 in May, and all signs point to a continued slide with all it has had to deal with. That could put the Rangers in a position to sell come July, and free-agent-to-be Alex Rios looks like a prime candidate to be moved for the second straight year after he was acquired last August.

Toronto Blue Jays: SP Sean Nolin

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    The Toronto Blue Jays balked at moving top pitching prospects Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez to acquire Jeff Samardzija in the offseason, according to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sunand rightfully so, as that was a ridiculous asking price.

    While the team could certainly explore a Samardzija trade once again, at the end of the day Stroman and Sanchez likely won't be going anywhere, as both have incredibly bright futures and may be able to help out in the second half.

    The team will also do its best to hold on to left-hander Daniel Norris, but another southpaw in Sean Nolin could be a potential trade chip. He made his big league debut last season and profiles as a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm with the upside for a bit more.

    This is all assuming the team is still in contention come July. If it's not, expect Melky Cabrera and Mark Buehrle to be two of the top players on the market.

Washington Nationals: SP/RP Ross Detwiler

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    Despite posting a 3.59 ERA (3.93 FIP) while making 40 starts over the past two seasons, Ross Detwiler still entered camp without a rotation spot to call his own, and he wound up losing out to Tanner Roark for the No. 5 starter spot.

    That was at least in part due to the fact that the Nationals needed another left-hander in their bullpen. They and hoped Detwiler could be an asset in that role much like Drew Smyly and Brett Cecil were for the Tigers and Blue Jays, respectively, last year. Instead, the 28-year-old has posted a 5.24 ERA with 13 walks and 13 strikeouts in 22.1 innings.

    He's under team control through next season, and for a club looking to bolster its rotation beyond this year he could be a nice buy-low option. His upside as a potential bounce-back candidate next season should at least be enough for the Nationals to land a useful bench piece or bullpen arm.

     

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