Ranking the 10 Most Likely Players to Be Dealt Before MLB Trade Deadline

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2014

Ranking the 10 Most Likely Players to Be Dealt Before MLB Trade Deadline

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    Parity is a great thing in baseball, giving nearly every team and its respective fanbase hope and reason for optimism as the regular season rolls along.

    That's made gauging how the trade market is going to develop difficult, if not impossible—but it doesn't mean we're not going to take a shot at doing just that.

    We'll take a look at the 10 most likely players to find themselves traded at some point this season, ranked in order of their potential impact on playoff races around the game.

    This list is going to remain fluid for some time, seeing multiple additions and subtractions as the season progresses. For instance, who are the injury-ravaged Texas Rangers? Are they contenders, as we all assumed heading into the season, or are they sellers, as some (including ESPN's Buster Olney, subscription required) believe they may be?

    It goes without saying that, should the Rangers decide to sell off some veteran assets, players like Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios would drastically change our list (and rankings).

    That said, let's take a look at the 10 biggest game-changers that figure to be on the trade block this summer.

Additional Notables Likely on the Move

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
    • RP Matt Albers, Houston Astros
    • OF Chris Denorfia, San Diego Padres
    • SP Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies
    • RP Chad Qualls, Houston Astros
    • OF Nate Schierholtz, Chicago Cubs
    • OF Seth Smith, San Diego Padres
    • 2B Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers

10. RHP Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Contract: one year, $9.76 million

    2014 Stats: 11 GS, 2-3, 5.32 ERA (4.12 FIP), 1.52 WHIP, 64.1 IP, 67 H, 4.3 BB/9, 7.7 K/9

    Normally, Justin Masterson would be significantly higher in the rankings, given that he's proved himself to be a reliable innings-eater capable of performing like a front-of-the-rotation starter.

    It's why, according to Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer, the Indians offered him an extension over the winter believed to be around three years and $45 million. Masterson wanted something closer to $53 million, and the two sides tabled talks.

    In hindsight, Masterson is probably kicking himself for not signing on the dotted line.

    No matter how you look at them, his numbers in 2014 have been dreadful. Throw in that his average fastball velocity is down from 93.1 mph last season to 90.5 mph this year—a trend followed by nearly all of his pitches—and the Indians are probably relieved they didn't work out an extension.

    It's for that reason Masterson ranks so low. There's simply no way of knowing what a team that trades for him is getting.

    Chances are there's a general manager out there who believes Masterson merely needs a change of scenery—and perhaps a mechanical tweak—to get back on track.

    Whether they fall out of contention or not, the chances of the Indians working out a long-term deal with Masterson seem less and less likely with each successive start. Flipping Masterson at the deadline seems like a logical move.

9. IF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, Chicago Cubs

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    Age: 29

    Contract: one year, $2.5 million

    2014 Stats: 45 G, .277/.318/.353, 12 XBH (0 HR), 11 RBI, 25 R, 11-of-14 SB, 82 wRC+

    After a scorching start to the regular season, things have come crashing down around Emilio Bonifacio, with the veteran utility player hitting only .205/.233/.289 in May.

    Numbers like that are the reason every team in baseball, except for the Chicago Cubs, passed on signing him this winter. So how is it possible he winds up on a list of likely trade candidates that will make an impact on playoff races?

    Because he's so versatile.

    Nobody's going to trade for Bonifacio expecting him to produce like he did in April (.337/.385/.406), but he offers contenders the chance to rest multiple key players down the stretch, whether it be at second base, shortstop or in the outfield, which is always an overlooked aspect of pennant races.

    Additionally, Bonifacio has speed and knows how to use it, giving contenders a dangerous late-inning pinch runner who can make things happen when he gets on base.

    Chicago isn't going to get much in the way of talent for Bonifacio—a low-level prospect is about as much as any rational GM will surrender—but he's more valuable as a role player on a contender than he is as a starter on a rebuilding ballclub.

8. RHP Jason Hammel, Chicago Cubs

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Age: 31

    Contract: one year, $6 million

    2014 Stats: 10 GS, 5-3, 3.28 ERA (3.17 FIP), 0.90 WHIP, 64.1 IP, 43 H, 2.1 BB/9, 7.6 K/9

    Only a few weeks of the season had passed before Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal first mentioned 31-year-old Jason Hammel as a potential trade chip for the rebuilding Chicago Cubs. Shortly after that, Rosenthal's Fox Sports colleague, Jon Morosi, chimed in to keep trade winds swirling.

    In late April, Morosi believed Hammel could find himself on the move as early as June, assuming he stayed healthy. So far, so good on that front.

    But Hammel's production on the mound drops off significantly after the first month of the season. Since 2011, Hammel's ERA has risen from 3.03 in April to 4.93 the rest of the season. His win-loss record has also plummeted, going from 12-4 in April to 12-24 after.

    That's exactly how things are playing out:

    '14 Splits (GS)W-LERAWHIPBB/9K/9
    April (5)4-12.080.691.87.0
    May (5)1-

    While he isn't going to command a massive return, it makes little sense for a rebuilding Cubs team to keep him around if a contender comes calling. Hammel will follow in the footsteps of Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman, veterans on short-term deals who the Cubs flipped for mid-level prospects at the deadline.

    Nobody's going to mistake him for a front-of-the-rotation arm, but Hammel is a seasoned veteran who knows how to pitch. He can provide a contender with solid innings at the back end of a rotation, doing just enough to keep a team in games.

7. SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians

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    Age: 28

    Contract: one year, $10 million

    2014 Stats: 48 G, .257/.338/.389, 16 XBH (3 HR), 14 RBI, 27 R, 4-of-5 SB, 108 wRC+

    Trade winds began to swirl around Asdrubal Cabrera at the winter meetings, when Fox Sports' Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal reported Cleveland was listening to offers on its two-time All-Star shortstop.

    While nothing ever materialized, Cabrera's time in Cleveland is undoubtedly coming to an end. A free agent after the season, top prospect Francisco Lindor is expected to take over at shortstop in 2015 and perhaps earlier than that, depending on what the Indians do with Cabrera.

    Coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued 2013-14 season, when he hit only .242/.299/.402 in 136 games, Cabrera has re-established his value, providing the Indians with some power and speed at a premium position, even though he plays below-average defense.

    With Lindor in the mix, it stands to reason the Indians aren't going to risk offering Cabrera a qualifying offer at the end of the season, leaving the team with two choices: Either let him walk away for nothing this winter, or trade him at the deadline.

    There's no shortage of teams that could use an upgrade at shortstop, and while he hasn't played second base since 2009, Cabrera has some experience there as well.

    Cabrera isn't going to bring Cleveland a massive package of talent in a trade, but by way of his play this season, the Indians should be able to acquire a talented youngster, preferably a starting pitcher to add to their rotation mix.

6. 3B Chase Headley, San Diego Padres

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    Age: 30

    Contract: one year, $10.525 million

    2014 Stats: 34 G, .207/.295/.353, 9 XBH (4 HR), 17 RBI, 13 R, 1-of-1 SB, 87 wRC+

    He's not as valuable as he was after his breakout 2012 campaign when he hit 31 home runs, led the National League with 115 RBI and had two years left on his contract.

    But Chase Headley remains a valuable trade chip that, at this point, the San Diego Padres have no choice but to play.

    Negotiations on a long-term extension have gone nowhere. Last month, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported the Padres had offered Headley a three-year extension between $33 million and $39 million over the winter.

    Headley never confirmed those numbers, and he hasn't closed the door on working out a deal to stay in San Diego. At the end of spring training, he explained to MLB.com's Corey Brock why he turned the team down:

    There's enough ground in between us to where it wasn't going to work right now. We understood what they were saying and they understood what we were saying. I think we just couldn't find that common ground. But everything has been cordial. ...

    ... Realistically, am I going to hit 30 home runs and drive in 115 runs every year? Probably not. That's not to say I can't do it. I want to get to those numbers as close to it as I can. I think I'm anywhere from an 18 to 22 home runs, 85, 95 RBIs [and] runs on a consistent basis player.

    A player who produces at that level—and provides Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base—is going to be worth significantly more on the open market than the $33 million to $39 million San Diego reportedly offered.

    The Padres can't afford to wait for the draft pick compensation they might receive should Headley sign elsewhere as a free agent after the season to develop. They need players that can make a more immediate impact.

    Concerns about what kind of hitter Headley actually is may work to drive down the offers than San Diego receives, but with more than a few contenders in need of an upgrade at the hot corner, Headley figures to be one of the more talked-about players on the market as the trade deadline draws near.

5. DH/1B Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox

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    Age: 34

    Contract: one year, $15 million

    2014 Stats: 42 G, .246/.398/.478, 16 XBH (8 HR), 22 RBI, 18 R, 1-of-1 SB, 143 wRC+

    Three years into the four-year, $56 million deal with the Chicago White Sox before the 2011-12 season, Adam Dunn looked like a major-league bust.

    The hulking slugger had managed only a .197/.317/.405 slash line and played himself into a part-time role, serving as one of the most expensive—and ineffective—platoon players in recent history.

    But something changed between the end of last season and the beginning of this one, resulting in the veteran getting back to doing what he does best—reach base consistently. Dunn ranks third in the American League with 35 walks and a .398 on-base percentage, numbers that place him fifth and 10th among all qualified major league hitters, regardless of position.

    With no long-term commitment required, as noted by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Dunn's play has made him one of the more intriguing trade chips Chicago GM Rick Hahn has at his disposal.

    His defensive shortcomings will certainly take some teams out of the running for his services, but for a contender that wants to add a veteran bat with power and the ability to get on base, Dunn is arguably the best option available.

4. SS Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox

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    Age: 32

    Contract: two years, $19.5 million; $10 million 2016 team option ($1 million buyout)

    2014 Stats: 52 G, .322/.357/.487, 17 XBH (7 HR), 35 RBI, 30 R, 9-of-10 SB, 132 wRC+

    Enjoying the best season of his seven-year major league career, Alexei Ramirez may be playing his way out of Chicago.

    The 32-year-old Cuban import ranks among the American League leaders in batting average (sixth) and RBI (eighth), while his 132 wRC+ trails only Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki among qualified shortstops.

    Leading up to last year's trade deadline, Danny Knobler, then of CBS Sports, tweeted that the White Sox were actively shopping Ramirez, among others.

    There were rumors Chicago had rejected a potential deal with St. Louis involving pitching prospect Carlos Martinez—CBS Sports' Jon Heyman eventually shot them down—but with the way Ramirez has been swinging the bat, the White Sox may yet be able to command a significant return for him.

    As noted by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the White Sox have a number of young, middle infield options, including Leury Garcia and Marcus Semien, the latter of which we looked at recently. The pair needs consistent playing time, something that's not available for either one with Ramirez in the fold.

3. RHP Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Contract: one year, $5.345 million; one year of arbitration left

    2014 Stats: 10 GS, 0-4, 1.46 ERA (2.86 FIP), 1.09 WHIP, 68 IP, 53 H, 2.8 BB/9, 7.2 K/9

    Matt Garza warned Jeff Samardzija that it was going to be like this.

    Without a win despite pitching to baseball's lowest ERA, the time has come for the Chicago Cubs to sell high on the ace of their pitching staff. As has been noted by many, including both CBS Sports' Jon Heyman and USA Today's Bob Nightengale, he's not going to appreciate in value.

    He's also not going to give the Cubs a hometown discount when it comes to negotiating a new contract, telling CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney last month that he believed it was his responsibility to sign for as much as the market will bear.

    While GM Jed Hoyer is going to ask for a lot in exchange for the ace of his pitching staff—a rival GM told Heyman that the Cubs are going to want "top, top guys" in return—the chance to add a starter of Samardzija's caliber for two pennant races is an opportunity few contenders would be able to pass up.

    The Cubs may not get exactly what they seek in a deal, but they'll get enough to make it worth their while to sell high on Samardzija.

T1. LHP Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Age: 35

    Contract: two years, $50 million; $27.5 million team/vesting option for 2016

    2014 Stats: 10 GS, 4-4, 3.18 ERA (2.61 FIP), 1.28 WHIP, 68 IP, 78 H, 1.2 BB/9, 8.1 K/9

    For the first time in a long time, Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is taking a realistic approach when it comes to evaluating his ballclub.

    "I don't have any idea yet about that," Amaro told ESPN's Jayson Stark when asked whether Cliff Lee's injured left elbow would change his plans as the July trade deadline drew closer. "Frankly, we really don't know what we have. ... There's a lot of parity and a lot of mediocrity out there—including us. We're playing like a mediocre club. We're playing like a .500 ballclub."

    The diagnosis on Lee's elbow has shown no structural damage, only a strained tendon, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb.

    His contract, which includes a $12.5 million buyout of his 2016 option, represents a significant investment for an interested club and likely limits his suitors to big-market contenders. So does his limited no-trade clause, which allows Lee to block deals to 21 teams, according to Baseball Prospectus.

    Despite his age and recent arm issues, a healthy Lee would arguably be the biggest game-changer available, given his experience and postseason success (11 GS, 7-3, 2.52 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 3 CG).

T1. LHP David Price,Tampa Bay Rays

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    Age: 28

    Contract: one year, $14 million; one year of arbitration left

    2014 Stats: 11 GS, 4-4, 4.42 ERA (3.28 FIP), 1.18 WHIP, 77.1 IP, 83 H, 0.9 BB/9, 9.8 K/9

    Just before the winter meetings began, Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan reported that at least seven teams believed they could put together the kind of package it would take to get David Price out of Tampa Bay.

    Obviously, those teams were mistaken, as Price remains in Tampa, but there's no question the Rays are going to have to trade him eventually because they simply can't afford him over the long haul.

    Actually, they can barely afford him now, especially when you factor in significant raises due to Matt Moore ($2 million), Grant Balfour ($3 million), Evan Longoria ($3.5 million) and James Loney ($6 million), among others, in 2015.

    Keeping Price, whose $14 million salary accounts for nearly 20 percent of the team's 2014 payroll and who would assuredly receive a hefty raise in his final year of arbitration, makes funding existing salary increases a significant challenge for the financially strapped franchise.

    Now it's true that the Rays (23-28) find themselves only four games out of a wild-card spot and six games back in the AL East, a hot streak away from getting back into the thick of the playoff picture. But should the team continue to flounder, it would be no surprise to find Price being actively shopped.

    His agent, Bo McKinnis, told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal in December that there were some teams, like the Seattle Mariners, that his client would not consider working out a long-term extension with, while declining to name the teams he would be open to negotiating with.

    As is the case with Chicago's Jeff Samardzija, whether an interested contender can keep Price for the long term is largely irrelevant. The chance to add one of baseball's premier starting pitchers—and a southpaw at that—for two pennant races outweighs the long-term risks involved.

    All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs unless otherwise noted and are current through games of May 25. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts unless otherwise noted.