MLB Trade Market Watch: Predicting the Biggest Names Who'll Be Up for Grabs
We're still two-and-a-half months from the non-waiver trade deadline, but it's never too early to start getting a feel for what the summer trade market might look like.
Early struggles from the San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets and Kansas City Royals could turn the market on its head if they all wind up selling. However, a few of those teams have been playing better baseball of late, and it's probably too soon to label them sellers just yet.
Meanwhile, strong starts from presumed rebuilding clubs like the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins have been nice storylines, but it's unlikely they'll shift strategy.
Ahead is an early position-by-position look at what this year's crop of trade candidates might look like.
This will undoubtedly change in the weeks and months to come as the line between buyer and seller becomes more clear. For now, think of it as a first look at what could be another exciting July.
Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
Somehow still only 30 years old, Alex Avila is hitting .346 with a 1.076 OPS over 63 plate appearances after rejoining the Tigers on a one-year, $2 million deal during the offseason.
His .467 batting average on balls in play is nowhere near sustainable, so expect that offensive production to steadily decline, but he's a quality veteran receiver capable of handling a backup role on a contender.
Curt Casali, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays added Wilson Ramos, Derek Norris and Jesus Sucre during the offseason, leaving Curt Casali relegated to Triple-A where he's hitting .300 with a .731 OPS.
With team control through the 2021 season and some intriguing pop—he had 18 home runs in 369 plate appearances the past two seasons—he's a buy-low backstop option worth keeping an eye on.
Kurt Suzuki, Atlanta Braves
Kurt Suzuki was a late-offseason addition for the rebuilding Braves, and he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire with a .204 average and .624 OPS in a platoon role with Tyler Flowers.
However, with Anthony Recker also on the 40-man roster, Suzuki's an expendable piece, and a contender could see value in his ability to handle a staff. He's also no stranger to the in-season trade, as he was moved in August waiver deals in 2012 and 2013.
Yonder Alonso, Oakland Athletics
Yonder Alonso has been one of the biggest surprises of the season thus far, hitting .283/.377/.646 and already setting a career high with 12 home runs.
The 30-year-old was a legitimate non-tender candidate during the offseason, and he's rewarded the team's decision to bring him back with a breakout campaign, potentially setting himself up for a multiyear deal in free agency in the process.
Expect Oakland to make every effort to sell high. He'd be a fringe qualifying-offer candidate given his limited history of success and the team's financial constraints.
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
Eric Hosmer set career highs with 25 home runs and 104 RBI last season, but his OPS dropped from .822 to .761 as he walked less and struck out more on his way to a 1.2 WAR.
In other words, Royals fans would be wise not to expect a superstar-caliber haul for someone who simply isn't a superstar-caliber player and is set to hit free agency at season's end.
That being said, the 27-year-old is still a solid everyday option and a potential impact addition. His batting average (.266 to .298) and on-base percentage (.328 to .359) are both up over last year, though his slugging percentage has dipped (.433 to .411).
Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
Logan Morrison has seen his slugging percentage spike from .414 to .520 this season as he's already slugged 10 home runs in 146 plate appearances.
The 29-year-old is best suited in a platoon role as he's shown limited power throughout his career against left-handed pitching, but with a $2.5 million salary, he'll be a nice low-cost target for a team looking to add lefty pop.
Brandon Phillips, Atlanta Braves
There's a good chance that, at some point this season, the Braves will want to clear a path for top prospect Ozzie Albies.
Brandon Phillips isn't the same impact player he was in his prime, but he's still a capable everyday second baseman should such a need arise on a contender.
With the Cincinnati Reds picking up $13 million of his $14 million salary, he'll be a dirt-cheap addition by the time July rolls around. And even if Albies isn't ready to join the MLB roster until September, Jace Peterson is still around as a viable replacement.
Neil Walker, New York Mets
The Mets won't be able to extend another qualifying offer to Neil Walker under the new collective bargaining agreement, so he'll be a prime candidate to be dealt if they're unable to climb back into the playoff race.
The 31-year-old has shown no lingering effects from offseason back surgery, and he's been plenty productive at the plate once again with a .760 OPS, 16 extra-base hits and 22 RBI.
That said, his $17.2 million salary will be a sticking point for some clubs, so the Mets might need to either chip in some money or settle for a bit less than expected in terms of return talent if they're going to find a trade partner this summer.
Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox
Despite a .225 average and 163 strikeouts, Todd Frazier was still a 3.2 WAR player last season when he slugged 40 home runs and played his usual solid defense at the hot corner.
While his triple-slash numbers stand at an ugly .173/.278/.316, there's reason for optimism.
Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
Mike Moustakas played just 27 games last season before suffering a season-ending torn ACL.
The 28-year-old is back healthy and sports a .774 OPS with six doubles and nine home runs, but his walk rate (4.2 percent) and strikeout rate (20.4 percent) both represent career worsts.
His postseason experience and left-handed bat make him a significantly different trade target than the aforementioned Frazier, so there might not be as much overlap in their respective markets as you'd expect.
Trevor Plouffe, Oakland Athletics
The A's signed Trevor Plouffe to a one-year, $5.25 million deal during the offseason with the hope he'd emerge as a nice buy-low value after an injury-plagued 2016 led to his release in Minnesota.
The 30-year-old has been moderately productive with a .704 OPS and six home runs for a 99 OPS+ and provides a similar trade profile as Aaron Hill did a year ago.
Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
The Reds nearly traded Zack Cozart to the Seattle Mariners at the deadline last year, and he was again a candidate to be moved during the offseason, but a second-half swoon and late-season injury cut into his value significantly.
Luckily for the rebuilding Reds, the 31-year-old is once again off to a great start, hitting .336/.432/.564 with 17 extra-base hits in 132 plate appearances to begin the year.
He'll be a free agent at season's end, and moving him would open a spot for Dilson Herrera on the Cincinnati infield, so there's a good chance he'll be dealt.
Alcides Escobar, Kansas City Royals
Dating back to the start of the 2013 season, Alcides Escobar is a .255/.287/.332 hitter with a 3.6 percent walk rate, so no one making a play to trade for the free agent-to-be would be expecting anything offensively.
However, his offense has reached a new level of ineptitude this season as he has a .193/.221/.252 line for a .473 OPS that ranks 186th out of 187 qualified hitters.
The 30-year-old remains an above-average defender (3 DRS, 19.5 UZR/150) at a premium position, though, and there's always value in a slick-fielding shortstop. Just ask Brendan Ryan.
Jay Bruce, New York Mets
The Mets tried to trade Jay Bruce during the offseason in an effort to break up an outfield logjam, but they were unable to find anyone willing to offer an acceptable return.
That turned out to be for the best, as Bruce has been a crucial part of the team's offensive attack in the early going, posting a .903 OPS with nine doubles and 10 home runs while registering a career-best 45 percent hard-contract rate.
If that level of production continues and the Mets are unable to climb back into the postseason picture, the upcoming free agent should be a hot commodity this summer.
Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals
Lorenzo Cain was a 7.2 WAR player and a legitimate AL MVP candidate in 2015, but injuries sapped his production on both sides of the ball last year.
The Royals wisely held onto him during the offseason rather than selling low, and he's turned in an impressive bounce-back performance thus far with a .305/.404/.406 line and an AL-best 10 stolen bases.
His mix of speed, defense, run-production ability and postseason experience could make him the most coveted rental bat on the market if the Royals make him available.
J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers opted against an offseason sell-off in favor of perhaps one last run at contention with their current core of veteran talent.
They've been a .500 team, and if they don't make a significant push up the standings between now and the July 31 deadline, flipping J.D. Martinez ahead of his impending free agency make sense.
The 29-year-old missed the start of the season with a foot injury, but he's been red hot since returning to action, going 4-for-9 with two home runs in his first three games back.
Colby Rasmus, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays bought low on Colby Rasmus with a one-year, $5 million deal late in free agency, and that's already shaping up to be a good value.
He has a .922 OPS with three home runs in 39 plate appearances since returning earlier this month from offseason hip surgery, and his ability to play all three outfield positions adds to his appeal.
RHP Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants
The Giants signed Johnny Cueto to a massive six-year, $130 million deal prior to last season, but the contract carries an opt-out following the 2017 campaign.
With the team off to a slow start and Cueto potentially set to walk during the upcoming winter, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see the Giants aggressively shop him on the summer trade market.
Moving him would go a long way toward restocking a thin farm system.
RHP Matt Garza, Milwaukee Brewers
Matt Garza began the 2017 season on the disabled list with a groin injury, but he's returned strong since being activated near the end of last month.
In four starts, he's gone 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a 19-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 23.2 innings.
The 33-year-old has a $13 million vesting option for next season that becomes a $5 million team option if it doesn't vest, which appears to be the most likely outcome. If his resurgence is the real deal, he's a solid middle-of-the-rotation option for the stretch run and an attractive low-cost rotation piece for 2018.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies should be considerably more motivated to deal Jeremy Hellickson this summer, seeing as they won't be able to offer up another qualifying offer.
After going 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 189 innings last season, Hellickson is pitching well once again with a 3.71 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 43.2 innings—albeit with an extremely low 3.7 K/9.
His $17.2 million salary isn't the most attractive rental price tag, but he'll have value as a capable inning eater.
LHP Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
Jose Quintana became the most valuable trade chip on the White Sox roster after they flipped Chris Sale and Adam Eaton during the winter meetings.
The 28-year-old has tallied four consecutive seasons with at least 200 innings, going 40-40 with a 3.35 ERA and 1.22 WHIP during that span and quietly emerging as one of the game's best lefty starters.
The question now becomes whether anyone will be willing to meet the White Sox's lofty asking price, especially considering Quintana has a less-than-stellar 4.38 ERA and 1.42 WHIP through eight starts. He's under contract through the 2020 season, so they have no reason to move him for anything below max value at this point.
RHP Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins
The Twins balked at the idea of trading Ervin Santana during the offseason.
"I think we look at him as the anchor of our starting rotation and certainly something we want to build around," Twins GM Thad Levine told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press during the offseason. "We're not looking to subtract from that group of players, but we're also open to teams biting. That goes for any player."
However, there may be a club willing to make them an offer they can't refuse if he keeps pitching like he has.
The 34-year-old is 6-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 54 innings, and he carries a $13.5 million salary for next season and a $14 million team option for 2019, so he's more than just a rental arm.
LHP Jason Vargas, Kansas City Royals
Care to take a guess at who the only qualified pitcher with an ERA lower than Santana is?
That would be fellow veteran Jason Vargas, who has gone 5-1 with a 1.01 ERA, 2.17 FIP, 0.92 WHIP and a 39-8 K-BB ratio after making just 12 starts combined in 2015 and 2016.
The 34-year-old is in the final season of a four-year, $32 million deal, and even if the Royals don't pull the trigger on the fire sale many are expecting, he seems like as safe a bet as anyone to be moved this summer.
Other Notable SP Who Could be on the Move: Alex Cobb (TB), Trevor Cahill (SD), Scott Feldman (CIN), Miguel Gonzalez (CWS), Derek Holland (CWS), Clayton Richard (SD), Hector Santiago (MIN)
RHP Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays
Will anyone be willing to meet the Rays' asking price for closer Alex Colome?
The Washington Nationals balked at including top prospect Victor Robles during the offseason, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, if that gives an idea of what Tampa Bay is looking for in exchange for its All-Star closer.
The 28-year-old has converted 46 of 51 save chances with a 1.95 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 since the start of last season, and his team control through the 2020 campaign makes him incredibly valuable.
RHP Addison Reed, New York Mets
We've already mentioned Neil Walker and Jay Bruce as potential trade chips if the Mets aren't able to climb back into the playoff hunt and decide to sell, and setup man/fill-in closer Addison Reed is part of that group.
The 28-year-old was arguably the league's best setup man last season, and he's been solid once again this year with a 3.86 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 23-0 K-BB ratio over 18.2 innings with four saves and four holds.
He's making a hefty $7.75 million this season in his final year of arbitration, but teams have shown a willingness to pay a high price for rental relievers in recent years.
RHP David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
The rebuilding White Sox don't have much use for a closer with a $12 million salary for this season and a $13 million price tag next year.
The 32-year-old has racked up 30-plus saves in each of the past three seasons, and he's gone five-for-six with a 2.13 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 14.2 K/9 in 12 appearances this year.
Robertson was a popular name on the offseason trade market, and the Nationals have continued to show interest, per CBS Chicago's Bruce Levine, so don't be surprised if they revisit those trade talks this summer.
RHP Anthony Swarzak, Chicago White Sox
Anthony Swarzak has quietly been one of the league's most effective relievers this season, rattling off 19.2 scoreless innings and allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out 22.
The 31-year-old signed a minor league deal in the offseason, and he's making just $900,000, so he's as cheap as it comes for a rental. There's really no reason for the White Sox not to flip him if he continues his lights-out performance.
LHP Tony Watson, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates flipped All-Star closer Mark Melancon last summer, and they could look to do the same with his replacement, Tony Watson, as he's set for his own trip to free agency next winter.
The 31-year-old has been one of the league's best left-handed relievers for several years, and even if a team isn't looking to bring him aboard as a closer, he could still fetch a hefty return in a setup role.
Since the start of 2013, he's pitched to a 2.19 ERA and 1.01 WHIP with 120 holds and 28 saves. That includes converting eight of nine save chances with a 1.62 ERA so far this season as he's proved his mettle in the ninth-inning role.
LHP Justin Wilson, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers received significant interest in Justin Wilson during the offseason, according to Evan Woodbery of MLive.com, and that figures to be the case once again this summer.
The 29-year-old has supplanted struggling veteran Francisco Rodriguez in the closer's role, and he's been nothing short of dominant this year.
Over 17 appearances, he's posted a 1.15 ERA, 0.51 WHIP and 14.9 K/9 with eight holds and two saves, and he comes with team control through the 2018 season, so the asking price figures to be steep.
Other Notable RP Who Could be on the Move: Joaquin Benoit (PHI), Craig Breslow (MIN), Kelvin Herrera (KC), Brandon Kintzler (MIN), Pat Neshek (PHI), Juan Nicasio (PIT), Drew Storen (CIN)