One Player Every MLB Team Should Sell High On

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJune 2, 2017

One Player Every MLB Team Should Sell High On

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    The Minnesota Twins should shop Ervin Santana despite their better-than-expected start.
    The Minnesota Twins should shop Ervin Santana despite their better-than-expected start.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    A truism bordering on cliche, any astute trader knows to sell when an asset's value peaks.

    Although common in the stock market, it's a cold way to analyze living, breathing MLB players working tirelessly to hone their skills. Some breakouts are statistical blips. Others are byproducts of tangible changes in approach and training.

    Front offices prefer to wait until right before the trade deadline to get a better sense of their status as buyers or sellers. As of now, many franchises are firmly stuck in the middle, waiting to catch some breaks or wave the white flag.

    Some of these sell-high candidates will regress before July 31's non-waiver trade deadline. Others will stay hot but remain on the trade block because of their team's status. A few meet all the trade criteria as an overperforming player with an expiring contract on a team with vanishing playoff aspirations.

    Since World Series hopefuls rarely sell big league contributors, they will instead feature a hot prospect to deal. A couple of cases take liberty with improbable hypothetical scenarios that would require a lot of guts to execute. On paper, dangling the following 30 players make sense for their respective teams.

Arizona Diamondbacks: SP Zack Greinke

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    Zack Greinke has bounced back from a disappointing 2016, but he remains one of baseball's most expensive players.
    Zack Greinke has bounced back from a disappointing 2016, but he remains one of baseball's most expensive players.Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Trading Zack Greinke will seem counterintuitive for the 34-22 Arizona Diamondbacks, who sport baseball's fifth-highest run differential (plus-54). Following a rough first year to his monstrous six-year, $206.5 million contract, the ace has recovered to post a 3.06 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 16 walks in 79.1 innings.

    Why would the Diamondbacks—who haven't reached the postseason since 2011—trade a productive ace away from a playoff contender? Because he's still a 33-year-old pitcher signed through 2021 and who recorded a 4.37 ERA last season.

    Lucrative contracts rarely end well for pitchers, and this could be Arizona's best chance of avoiding calamity down the line. FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman broached the possibility of such a bold move, noting the team's new management wasn't responsible for signing him. Arizona may want a redo if Greinke can still fetch a big return.

    This is a long-term move for a franchise finally generating excitement, so don't expect Greinke to go anywhere. From a hypothetical standpoint, however, now represents the best (and perhaps last) opportunity to cash out. 

Atlanta Braves: RP Jim Johnson

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    Atlanta Braves closer Jim Johnson will draw trade interest with help from an increased strikeout rate.
    Atlanta Braves closer Jim Johnson will draw trade interest with help from an increased strikeout rate.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Jim Johnson was never much of a strikeout pitcher. Even when he compiled 101 saves in two seasons, he did so with 6.27 strikeouts per nine innings.

    Since joining the Atlanta Braves last year, the ground-ball master has 92 strikeouts in 86.1 innings. His current 3.32 ERA isn't special for a closer, but possibly buyers will instead drool over his 0.97 WHIP, 55.4 ground-ball rate and 2.12 fielding independent pitching (FIP).

    And hey, maybe some general managers will pay extra for his ninth-inning experience, even if he's acquired as an eighth-inning man. According to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, teams have their eyes on Johnson for precisely that purpose.

    "Johnson is viewed as a low-cost closer option to the White Sox's David Robertson," Cafardo wrote. "Some teams are looking at him as a setup man."

    This isn't a case of Atlanta duping an overeager contender. The retooling team can use a solid prospect or two over a reliever who turns 34 in June and hits free agency after 2018. Even if his strikeout gains stick, the Braves should use those extra K's to their advantage.

Baltimore Orioles: SP Wade Miley

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    Wade Miley has cooled off after a hot start to 2017.
    Wade Miley has cooled off after a hot start to 2017.Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    The 28-24 Baltimore Orioles are alive and well in the American League East. That will change if one of baseball's worst rotations doesn't get its act together.

    Because of their negative run differential, FanGraphs pegs their playoff probability at a pessimistic 19.8 percent. It seems counterproductive to trade their only serviceable starter, but that may be the logical move if regression strikes before July 31.

    In spite of walking 32 batters over 60.2 innings, Wade Miley owns a 2.82 ERA far below his 4.39 FIP. He has not submitted an ERA below 4.00 since 2013, when he performed at a 3.55 clip with the Diamondbacks, so the 30-year-old remains a league-average starter. That isn't meant as an insult; many teams, including the Orioles, clamor for league-average pitchers.

    Why trade him? Baltimore needs to get younger eventually, and few other players have performed well enough to fit the sell-high description. Yet don't be surprised if the team stands pat again.

Boston Red Sox: 3B Michael Chavis

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    Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2014 and moved to third base, Michael Chavis is decimating Single-A pitching.
    Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2014 and moved to third base, Michael Chavis is decimating Single-A pitching.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    As the Boston Red Sox catch fire, their greatest weakness is their farm system's grandest strength.

    Rafael Devers will patrol third base one day, and Pablo Sandoval's struggles may expedite the premier prospect's arrival. Bobby Dalbec, rated as Boston's No. 4 prospect by MLB.com, also mans the hot corner. 

    He didn't enter 2017 as far up the hierarchy, but Michael Chavis is raking his way to relevance. Batting .356/.430/.693 in Single-A, the 21-year-old is ready to go against more advanced pitchers. 

    They won't all have a future in Boston's batting order, especially with Sam Travis looming at first base, and team president Dave Dombrowski has aggressively exchanged young talent for marquee contributors. If he decides to seek more reinforcements, Chavis' torrid start could fuel a summer transaction.

Chicago Cubs: 3B Jeimer Candelario

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    Jeimer Candelario is ready for an MLB role, but the Chicago Cubs don't have room to play him.
    Jeimer Candelario is ready for an MLB role, but the Chicago Cubs don't have room to play him.Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    After spending the offseason entertaining dreams of a dynasty, the Chicago Cubs must now focus on securing a postseason spot. Expect the defending champions to scour the trade block for another starting pitcher.

    They plundered part of their deep farm system to land Aroldis Chapman last July, but they still have some valuable trade chips to spare without surrendering Javier Baez or Kyle Schwarber. With Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo blocking his corner-infield path, moving Jeimer Candelario makes the most sense.

    The 23-year-old struggled during his brief MLB stint this year, going 3-for-21 with a .372 OPS. While that may offset the "sell high" part, organizations aren't fickle enough to heavily weigh 22 plate appearances from a prospect with significant power potential.

    Hitting .279/.373/.578 in Triple-A in 2017, Candelario has little to gain from staying in the minors. Whereas some prospects need multiple years before navigating their way to the majors—a journey many don't successfully make—he'd likely play immediately for a new club without two All-Stars standing in his way. The mix of upside and readiness combine to form a valuable trade chip. 

Chicago White Sox: SP Derek Holland

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    Derek Holland has posted a 2.37 ERA for the Chicago White Sox.
    Derek Holland has posted a 2.37 ERA for the Chicago White Sox.Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    Expected to bottom out after shipping Chris Sale to Boston, the Chicago White Sox remain in striking distance. Nevertheless, the team is still expected to sell expendable veterans at the deadline.

    Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera and Jose Quintana have diminished their trade value. Derek Holland, on the other hand, has accrued a 2.37 ERA through 10 starts. The low-risk free-agent gamble has lasted at least six innings in eight of those outings.

    That doesn't mean teams will offer the White Sox premium prospects. Most front offices will see his 4.37 FIP as a major warning sign, and injuries limited him to 203 combined innings over the last three seasons.

    Still, a few months of sterling production and a solid minor leaguer or two is more than Chicago could have reasonably expected when agreeing to a $6 million contract last winter. The same can be said about reliever Anthony Swarzak, but starters with stamina are in rare supply.

Cleveland Indians: RP Nick Goody

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    Nick Goody has not relinquished an earned run this season.
    Nick Goody has not relinquished an earned run this season.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    "Nobody" is the lazy but prudent answer. Signing Edwin Encarnacion and promoting Bradley Zimmer plugged their offensive holes. If their aces stay healthy down the stretch, they have no weaknesses dire enough to justify trading top prospects Francisco Mejia and Triston McKenzie.

    But let's play along with this academic exercise. Their bullpen is loaded to the point of Nick Goody's 0.00 ERA through 20.1 innings barely making a peep. Despite keeping teams from crossing home, the 25-year-old remains comfortably behind Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Bryan Shaw in the team's pecking order. 

    Don't forget Boone Logan, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister and now Danny Salazar, who will move to the bullpen with Corey Kluber activated. 

    If the Indians want another position player or back-end starter, perhaps Goody can sweeten a package enough to spare their elite prospects.

Cincinnati Reds: SS Zack Cozart

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    Zack Cozart is enjoying the best season of his career before hitting the free-agent market.
    Zack Cozart is enjoying the best season of his career before hitting the free-agent market.Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    Zack Cozart, a career .253/.299/.399 hitter, is batting .347/.431/.599 during his age-31 season. He's smashing baseballs during his walk year for the Cincinnati Reds, who have fallen back to earth and below .500.

    Sounds like a textbook sell-high situation.

    That's not to say Cozart's breakout is entirely a fluke. Initially a glove-first shortstop, he improved offensively in the last two seasons, batting .254/.308/.435 with 25 homers in 174 games. He has also spiked his walk rate to 13.7 percent by chasing fewer pitches outside the strike zone.

    Those improvements, however, would not yield a .347 average without assistance from a .398 batting average on balls in play. Excluding 38 plate appearances in 2011, he has never finished a major league season with a BABIP above .285.

    A team anticipating a steep average decline may still buy because of his defense and advances in power and plate discipline. Nobody will pay for an MVP contender brandishing the NL's top WAR, but somebody may send Cincinnati a package befitting an All-Star. 

Colorado Rockies: OF David Dahl

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    David Dahl is inching closer to his 2017 debut, but the Colorado Rockies may not have room for the young outfielder.
    David Dahl is inching closer to his 2017 debut, but the Colorado Rockies may not have room for the young outfielder.Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    This space was almost devoted to Mark Reynolds, but contenders don't trade cheap players batting .308/.383/.546. Ian Desmond, Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra don't fit the "sell high" designation—although that could change with Parra heating up—and the Colorado Rockies moving Charlie Blackmon during an MVP-caliber campaign felt particularly far-fetched.

    Something has to give when David Dahl returns from a preseason rib injury. Unless they move him instead.

    Sitting on the sideline doesn't bolster one's value, but the rookie outfielder can still coast on a strong opening impression. He delighted Rockies fans and fantasy investors by batting .315 with seven homers and five steals in 63 games last season. Before planning a path to Cooperstown, consider his .404 BABIP and 71.9 contact percentage. 

    Oddly signed to play first base, Desmond has instead handled left field. The Rockies sprinted out of the gate without Dahl, so maybe the 23-year-old outfielder could fetch them a high-level pitcher. More likely than not, they'll keep everyone and let the possible surplus run its natural course.

Detroit Tigers: OF J.D. Martinez

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    The Detroit Tigers must give serious thought to trading J.D. Martinez if they don't heat up.
    The Detroit Tigers must give serious thought to trading J.D. Martinez if they don't heat up.Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    J.D. Martinez is a stud, but he's also due for a seismic raise. Do the Detroit Tigers—who will owe Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Upton and Victor Martinez a combined $122 million next year—have the money to pay him?

    If they're not prepared to expand their bloated payroll, they will need to consider trading their star outfielder this July. Martinez has made up for lost time by going deep eight times in 19 games after a foot injury delayed his debut to May. Since 2014, his .384 weighted on-base average (wOBA) ties Josh Donaldson for MLB's 10th-best clip.

    He's getting paid. The Tigers already have an aging core locked up to ugly long-term deals, and they don't look like a legitimate postseason player. They probably won't be good enough to buy or bad enough to sell, which will raise tough questions for general manager Al Avila.

    Faced with a similar situation two years ago, they traded Yoenis Cespedes in a deal that landed them Michael Fulmer. Martinez, who may be gone before 2018 anyway, would elicit a grander package.

Houston Astros: OF Derek Fisher

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    Derek Fisher is a potential 20-20 contributor the Houston Astros can dangle to upgrade their starting pitching.
    Derek Fisher is a potential 20-20 contributor the Houston Astros can dangle to upgrade their starting pitching.Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    The Houston Astros hold a commanding 11-game lead in the AL West. They possess an elite lineup and bullpen, but another starter to work alongside Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers is the missing ingredient to their World Series pursuit.

    Brandishing a potent young nucleus and deep farm system, they're well-positioned to peddle some prospects. None of them are hotter than Derek Fisher.

    The 23-year-old outfielder is beckoning for a promotion by batting .338/.398/.618 with 14 homers and nine steals in Triple-A. Barring injuries, Houston has too many quality position players for him to soon receive a regular showcase.

    Fisher also doesn't flaunt the same ceiling as Kyle Tucker, a 20-year-old outfielder raking in Houston's Single-A system. In order to keep Tucker, the Astros should include Fisher in a package for a notable pitcher. 

Kansas City Royals: SP Jason Vargas

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    Jason Vargas is attracting trade interest during a career year.
    Jason Vargas is attracting trade interest during a career year.Elsa/Getty Images

    Losing Danny Duffy to an oblique strain likely seals the Kansas City Royals' fate as deadline-sellers. Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Kelvin Herrera could all bolster a contending roster, but Jason Vargas may emerge as one of MLB's hottest trade targets.

    Seven starts into 2017, Vargas has allowed six runs. Although the New York Yankees matched that tally on May 17, he still boasts a 2.39 ERA. Regression will follow, but how many World Series hopefuls wouldn't sign up for his 3.22 FIP?

    After rarely missing bats throughout his career, he now holds a 11.5 swinging-strike rate, which ranks ahead of Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish, Jon Lester and Carlos Martinez. His 74.1 opposing contact percentage places within the top 20 of all qualified starters.

    According to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, Vargas has drawn "considerable interest" during the final months of his four-year contract. Stuck in last with an AL-worst run differential (minus-53), the Royals should happily leverage his hot start into some needed young talent.

Los Angeles Angels: RP Bud Norris

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    Former starter Bud Norris is flourishing as the Los Angeles Angels closer.
    Former starter Bud Norris is flourishing as the Los Angeles Angels closer.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    So much for chasing a wild-card spot. With Mike Trout out for six to eight weeks, the Los Angeles Angels might as well host a yard sale to repair a barren farm system.

    Of course, they don't have much besides their once-in-a-generation superstar, which has inspired many "Should the Angels trade Trout?" columns. No, they should not trade Trout, but they should move Bud Norris.

    Although not as exciting a proposition, Norris has revived his career in the bullpen. The former starter has registered a 2.77 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 26 innings. His success—and an injury to closer Cam Bedrosian—quickly earned him a promotion to the ninth inning, where he has nailed down 10 out of 12 save opportunities.

    A shrewd contender can use him in more innovative ways, especially when starters are given a shorter leash in the playoffs. The Angels, on the other hand, will plummet without Trout, creating fewer save opportunities for their new stopper.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 2B Willie Calhoun

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    Willie Calhoun should hit in the majors, but his defense is a concern.
    Willie Calhoun should hit in the majors, but his defense is a concern.Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have depth at all levels. They showed a willingness to tap into their farm system for immediate gains when trading Jose De Leon for Logan Forsythe, who could lose his starting role when Justin Turner returns from the disabled list.

    Will they view Forsythe's flop as a teachable moment or simply try again? Unless their rotation stays healthy and some of their slumping hitters—most notably Forsythe and Joc Pederson—catch fire, it's probably the latter. They have plenty more prospects at their disposal.

    Willie Calhoun could be a casualty. Auditioning for a midseason promotion, the bat-first prospect is hitting .305/.356/.537 with 10 homers in Triple-A. He's probably ready at the plate, but the second baseman may not have the glove to adequately defend the position, or any other, in the majors.

    He's the perfect target for a retooling AL squad without the patience for project prospects.

Miami Marlins: 2B Dee Gordon

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    Dee Gordon's lack of power and plate discipline make him too dependent on speed.
    Dee Gordon's lack of power and plate discipline make him too dependent on speed.Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    At first glance, Dee Gordon doesn't look like the ideal sell-high candidate. The 2015 NL batting champion is hitting .289 with no home runs for the Miami Marlins.

    He has drawn 11 walks, but getting hit seven times has inflated his on-base percentage to a misleadingly solid .347. If that's not concerning enough, the 29-year-old's greatest asset—speed—won't last forever.

    Star speedsters rarely stay elite into their 30s. Gordon has already shown the Marlins what his regression may look like, but he's still productive and affordable enough to procure a promising return. 

    That will change if his legs lag and he's anything short of a top-notch burner. Aside from his batting title, an outlier from a career .289 hitter, he doesn't brandish any other marketable skills to pay for through 2020.

    Since the 21-31 Marlins are going nowhere fast, they might as well trade their fastest player before it's too late.

Milwaukee Brewers: SP Matt Garza

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    Matt Garza has a 3.98 ERA despite two recent shaky starts.
    Matt Garza has a 3.98 ERA despite two recent shaky starts.Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Matt Garza won't incite a bidding war, but injured arms around the league will make his 3.98 ERA an upgrade by comparison.

    The 33-year-old righty has reinvented himself as a finesse pitcher, limiting opponents to eight walks over seven starts for the Milwaukee Brewers. He accumulated four straight quality starts before suffering shakier outings against the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. 

    Prospective suitors might take solace in him relinquishing six runs in three starts away from the hitter-friendly Miller Park. In a more welcoming environment, he'll make a steady No. 4 or 5 starter for someone seeking an extra push across the finish line.

    Garza won't make a major splash, but Milwaukee can move him to a cautious buyer pursuing half-measures instead of all-in trades. Then again, the Brewers could belong in that category if they maintain their surprising NL Central lead.

Minnesota Twins: SP Ervin Santana

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    Although they recently led the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins should consider trading Ervin Santana during his fluky start.
    Although they recently led the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins should consider trading Ervin Santana during his fluky start.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Baseball's worst team last year, the Minnesota Twins narrowly led the AL Central before shelling out 40 runs to the Astros in a three-game sweep. In the likely event they keep faltering while Cleveland continues to improve, Ervin Santana fits the sell-high formula. 

    A 1.75 ERA says "Cy Young candidate." A 6.55 K/9 and 4.10 FIP? Not so much.

    His .143 BABIP is beyond fortunate; no other starter has a clip below .200. Even if he remains among the league leaders in generating infield fly balls and soft contact, Santana will settle back into a solid mid-rotation starter rather than April and May's top-tier ace.

    The thing is, teams still desire solid mid-rotation starters. Perhaps enough to overpay for his early results.

    Santana can double his ERA and justify next year's $13.5 million salary, so the Twins won't feel forced to sell if they stay near the playoff picture. Yet it appears they're not overreacting, as a rival executive told Heyman in mid-May "they’re hoping to cash in on his start."

New York Mets: OF Jay Bruce

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    Jay Bruce didn't attract many suitors in the offseason, but he has hit 12 home runs  with an elevated walk rate.
    Jay Bruce didn't attract many suitors in the offseason, but he has hit 12 home runs with an elevated walk rate.Elsa/Getty Images

    Few expected this possibility before the season began, but the New York Mets may approach the deadline as sellers.

    If they can't overcome their cavalcade of injuries, they have several veterans on expiring contracts—Neil Walker, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and Addison Reed—as well as Jay Bruce and Jerry Blevins, who have 2018 club options.

    Back when they had designs on contention, the Mets tried moving Bruce to clear an outfield spot for Michael Conforto, who quickly emerged as a lone bright spot when replacing the injured Yoenis Cespedes. Now that the former Cincinnati Reds slugger is batting .244/.324/.492 with a dozen home runs, they should try again.

    Bruce's minus-11 defensive runs saved helped chase away suitors last season, but he is playing a competent right field with one DRS. He has also upped his walk rate to 10.5 percent, which would represent his highest clip since 2011. Look for a contender in need of power—much like the Mets last year—to bite.

New York Yankees: SS Jorge Mateo

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    Jorge Mateo is now the New York Yankees' second-best shortstop prospect behind Gleyber Torres.
    Jorge Mateo is now the New York Yankees' second-best shortstop prospect behind Gleyber Torres.Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

    Of course everything has unfolded perfectly for the New York Yankees. In an expected transition season, they're instead leading the AL East behind rookie sensation Aaron Judge and breakout campaigns from Luis Severino and Michael Pineda.

    This doesn't mean they should surrender last summer's prospect haul, which was headlined by Gleyber Torres, but the promising shortstop gives them flexibility to move Jorge Mateo.

    While the 20-year-old Torres pushed his way to Triple-A, Mateo is close to celebrating his 22nd birthday in Single-A. The speedster has swiped 18 bags in 51 games, but a .286 on-base percentage won't shield him from the trade block.

    Despite his tame production, MLB.com ranks Mateo as its No. 41 overall prospect. After restocking his farm system last summer, general manager Brian Cashman can afford to trade Mateo and some lower-tier minor leaguers. They don't have any glaring holes to fill, but that could easily change in a month or two.

Oakland Athletics: 1B Yonder Alonso

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    Yonder Alonso has hit double-digit home runs for the first time in his career.
    Yonder Alonso has hit double-digit home runs for the first time in his career.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Once again scouring the clearance aisle for first basemen, the Oakland Athletics found a steal in Yonder Alonso.

    An elite prospect drafted No. 7 overall in 2008, Alonso had never hit more than nine home runs in a season before Oakland gave him a one-year, $4 million deal. Perceived as a stopgap at best, he has instead belted 14 long balls with a 1.026 OPS.

    "I'm trying to punish it more, get it in the air," he told FanGraphs' Eno Sarris during a red-hot spring. He has certainly succeeded, generating a 52.0 fly-ball rate drastically above his career 33.7 percentage.

    Although Oakland's low-cost signing has already paid handsomely, Alonso has priced himself out of a long-term arrangement with a frugal club already 14.5 games behind the AL West-leading Astros.

    Jed Lowrie also stands out as a perfect sell-high candidate, but the A's can exercise an affordable $6 million option if they don't receive an acceptable offer. Given their stinginess, they'll likely lose the resurgent Alonso for nothing if they don't swap him.

Philadelphia Phillies: RP Pat Neshek

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    Pat Neshek has become the Philadelphia Phillies' most reliable reliever.
    Pat Neshek has become the Philadelphia Phillies' most reliable reliever.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    To clear a crowded bullpen, the Astros sent Pat Neshek to the Philadelphia Phillies for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The low-key transaction has helped an otherwise shaky unit by allowing two runs in 19.1 innings.

    Of course, it would take just one treacherous outing to ruin Neshek's pristine 0.93 ERA. His worst swinging-strike rate since 2011 and a heavy fly-ball profile accompanied by one home run relinquished suggest that time could arrive before the Phillies repackage him elsewhere.

    Then again, the 36-year-old boasts a career 2.84 ERA, often defying his peripheral metrics by inducing weak contact. Although he didn't draw much demand during the winter, rosters depleted by injuries and/or underwhelming returns will make him a more attractive midseason option.

Pittsburgh Pirates: SP Ivan Nova

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    Ivan Nova is having an All-Star caliber campaign in the first season of a three-year contract.
    Ivan Nova is having an All-Star caliber campaign in the first season of a three-year contract.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    If the Pittsburgh Pirates choose to plan ahead for the second straight summer—they dealt closer Mark Melancon last year—Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole will dominate discussions. Yet both stars would qualify more as buy-low candidates, and it's hard seeing Tony Watson generating significant interest with a 5.14 FIP

    Ivan Nova's trade value, conversely, will never be higher.

    Pittsburgh's latest reclamation project has posted a 2.92 ERA in 11 starts this season. With 77 innings pitched, he sits third in the NL behind Greinke and Max Scherzer. 

    He also tops the Senior Circuit with an NL-best 2.0 walk percentage, which amounts to six free passes.

    He's durable, he throws strikes, and he is incredibly affordable for a high-functioning innings-eater. Even if Nova regresses to pre-2017 Bartolo Colon, most teams would happily pay him $9.167 million in each of the next two seasons.

    Contact pitchers rarely maintain a sub-3.00 ERA, and Nova hit a wall when opponents tagged him for 19 runs in May for a .307/.331/.458 slash line. Given an 8.0 percent playoff probability by FanGraphs, the Pirates should explore offers for their most effective starter.

San Diego Padres: RP Brad Hand

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    Brad Hand will be in high demand for contenders seeking bullpen help.
    Brad Hand will be in high demand for contenders seeking bullpen help.Andy Hayt/Getty Images

    Trevor Cahill would have occupied this spot had he not went down with a shoulder injury. He'll need to resume his late-career breakout before the San Diego Padres can reap the rewards.

    That instead leaves Brad Hand, whom Heyman said "may be the most coveted guy in the market." The 27-year-old southpaw has posted a 1.76 ERA, 39 strikeouts and a 54.5 ground-ball rate over 30.2 dominant innings. 

    Righties have not cracked the code to Hand's recent success, so San Diego wisely hasn't typecast him as a left-handed specialist. Dating back to 2016, he has worked more innings than any reliever, maintaining a crisp 11.3 K/9 in 120 frames. 

    The Padres extended him two save chances last week, but Hand offers more value as a stretched-out fireman to employ whenever and as long as needed. Every team can use another durable, high-caliber reliever.

    They won't get another Craig Kimbrel package, but the Friars could attain some noteworthy young talent.

San Francisco Giants: SP Jeff Samardzija

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    Jeff Samardzija resides among baseball's strikeout leaders despite owning a 4.63 ERA.
    Jeff Samardzija resides among baseball's strikeout leaders despite owning a 4.63 ERA.Jon Durr/Getty Images

    Have the San Francisco Giants been so awful that a pitcher with a 4.63 ERA constitutes their top sell-high candidate? Yes, but Jeff Samardzija has also performed better than his subpar run prevention indicates.

    Buoyed by a 10.50 K/9—particularly encouraging after posting his lowest rates since 2010 in the past two years—the 32-year-old wields a 3.14 FIP. His stellar 24.6 strikeout-minus-walk percentage ranks third among qualified starters behind Chris Sale and Max Scherzer.

    If this was a fantasy column, readers would instead be instructed to buy low before his ERA recovers from two damaging starts at Chase Field and Coors Field. But this is real baseball, which means front offices know hundreds of advanced stats unfathomable to the casual follower merely concerned by Samardzija's 1-7 record. One would like to think (or hope) no MLB organization cares about that in 2017.

    Money also matters in real life, and he makes a lot of it. "Shark" is set to reel in $19.8 million per year through 2020, and the Giants might have second thoughts about spending so much on someone with a career 4.08 ERA.

    Unless the Giants reverse 2016's second-half swoon and surge once Madison Bumgarner returns, they'll have to consider shedding Samardzija from their massive payroll.

Seattle Mariners: RP Marc Rzepczynski

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    Marc Rzepczynski has shut down left-handed hitters throughout his career.
    Marc Rzepczynski has shut down left-handed hitters throughout his career.Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

    An injured rotation and underachieving lineup have turned the Seattle Mariners into one of this year's biggest disappointments. If they don't recover, Marc Rzepczynski will spark interest among all playoff contenders short on left-handed relievers.

    The southpaw has yielded one hit against 30 left-handed batters. Those opponents have mustered a microscopic .171 OPS against the ninth-year veteran.

    While his 1.42 ERA puts last year's career-best 2.64 to shame, a .107 BABIP will rise before October. Don't, however, assume full regression to his 3.59 FIP, especially if Seattle and a prospective buyer continue to carefully protect him from righties. A superb 72.4 ground-ball rate also explains how he converts so many batted balls into outs.

    Expect many general managers—at least the ones who can pronounce "Rzepczynski"—to ask about the left-handed specialist.

St. Louis Cardinals: SP Michael Wacha

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    Michael Wacha has bounced back from a rough 2016, but he still faces long-term durability concerns.
    Michael Wacha has bounced back from a rough 2016, but he still faces long-term durability concerns.Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

    Even optimistic St. Louis Cardinals fans expected the Birds to fight for a wild-card bid, but the Cubs' struggles have created an opening to reclaim the NL Central. They'll need help from a power-starved offense that has hit 51 homers in 50 games.

    Some outside-the-box thinking could convince them to move a major league starter. This would clear a spot for Luke Weaver, who has a 2.08 ERA and nothing left to prove in Triple-A. Although a pitching surplus rarely lasts, 21-year-old Jack Flaherty is also torching Double-A competition with a 1.42 ERA. If all goes well with his recovery from Tommy John surgery, top prospect Alex Reyes should return sometime in 2018.

    Michael Wacha may seem like a curious sell-high choice. After all, the 25-year-old has bounced back from a concerning 2016 to post a 3.99 ERA and 3.50 FIP. The 2013 postseason hero has regained last year's lost velocity to strike out nearly one batter per frame.

    He has also battled fatigue woes throughout his career, allowing a 5.72 September/October ERA and 4.99 ERA the third time through the batting order. Tallying a .350/.387/.557 slash line after last year's All-Star break, he may have started 2017 as a reliever if not for Reyes' injury.

    Those issues are starting to materialize again. He threw seven combined innings in his last two starts, both against the Dodgers, and relinquished 10 walks in his last 19 innings. If they still have any concerns about his starting shelf life, the Cardinals should swap him for an offensive jolt.

Tampa Bay Rays: SP Alex Cobb

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    Alex Cobb has stayed healthy and posted a 3.67 ERA for the Tampa Bay Rays.
    Alex Cobb has stayed healthy and posted a 3.67 ERA for the Tampa Bay Rays.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Getting traded is part of the circle of life for any Tampa Bay Rays pitcher. Set to hit the open market this winter, Alex Cobb's time is near. 

    During spring training, the righty acknowledged to Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin that "it's just the way things unfold here." Having witnessed the Rays relocate former teammates James Shields, David Price, Matt Moore and Drew Smyly, the 29-year-old is aware he may wind up on a new team this season.

    "There will definitely be moments throughout the season when it will hit me," Cobb told Topkin. "It won't be every day where I wake up and say, 'Hey, this could be my last day here.' ... But it will be like mindless driving down the highway thinking about it. And it'll be a little sad."

    On one hand, Tampa Bay thriving may hinder a deadline move. On the other hand, Cobb's 3.67 ERA over 11 starts dwindles the odds of the Rays extending him beyond 2017.

    Nobody could blame them for not displaying loyalty to a starter who has never pitched 30 starts or more than 167 innings in a single season. If Cobb can avoid another disabled-list detour, the Rays will continue the cycle regardless of their place in the standings.

Texas Rangers: SP Andrew Cashner

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    Andrew Cashner has a 2.92 ERA despite compiling more walks than strikeouts.
    Andrew Cashner has a 2.92 ERA despite compiling more walks than strikeouts.Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    This probably won't work. Few, if any, suckers remain in MLB front offices, so who will buy Andrew Cashner's obviously misleading 2.92 ERA?

    This regression alert doesn't require any fancy stats. The Texas Rangers starter has 27 walks and 23 strikeouts in 52.1 innings. Pitchers with more walks than strikeouts don't prevent runs at high levels. In fact, they rarely stay in the rotation.

    Want one of those fancier numbers? His 6.00 skill-interactive ERA (SIERA) is the worst of any starter who has hurled at least 50 innings. He also ranks among the bottom 10 in both first-pitch strike (54.2) and contact percentage (85.1).

    But a lowly scribe figured this out after spending a few minutes on FanGraphs. What multimillion dollar organization's data department would get fooled? Before answering, remember that the Arizona Diamondbacks parted ways with Dave Stewart.

    Hey, it's worth a shot.

Toronto Blue Jays: RP Joe Smith

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    Joe Smith's strikeout rate has suddenly skyrocketed with the Toronto Blue Jays.
    Joe Smith's strikeout rate has suddenly skyrocketed with the Toronto Blue Jays.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Marco Estrada and Jose Bautista will draw interest if the Toronto Blue Jays remain below .500 near the trade deadline. If he keeps pitching this well, Joe Smith should also frequent every contender's wish list.

    One of baseball's most boringly dependable relievers has recorded a 3.16 ERA that is above his 2.94 career clip. Yet he has opened eyes with a demonstrative strikeout boon.

    Smith is wielding a career-high 13.7 K/9. Opponents have chased 37.8 percent of his offerings outside the strike zone and whiffed on 13.1 percent of his pitches, both easily the highest marks of his 11-year tenure. 

    A blossoming free-agent market for bullpen arms will reward those gains with a lucrative multiyear deal. Before he seeks a new employer, the Blue Jays can find a contender who values production over save tallies. By now, that should constitute just about all of them.

Washington Nationals: 1B Adam Lind

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    Adam Lind is raking in infrequent plate appearances against righties.
    Adam Lind is raking in infrequent plate appearances against righties.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    The Nationals gutted their farm system to acquire Adam Eaton, who tore his ACL in April. They will still skip to an NL East title, but a leaky bullpen could obstruct their World Series bid.

    From a theoretical standpoint, trading Ryan Zimmerman would be a prudent long-term idea. A year removed from batting .218/.272/.370 with minus-1.3 WAR, the veteran first baseman's value has reached an apex above anyone's wildest dreams entering 2017. He's also still 32 years old and without a season unencumbered by injuries since 2013.

    That's not going to happen. Washington has gone to great lengths to win a championship, and no team faces a cleaner road to October baseball. Zimmerman won't keep hitting .368/.409/.709, but those MVP-caliber numbers won't disintegrate into futility by July.

    His resurgence has, however, prevented Adam Lind from receiving significant playing time. The reserve has made the most of his limited reps, batting 18-for-53 with a 1.004 OPS. A career .288/.348/.852 hitter against righties, he's useful as the heavy end of a platoon.

    But don't expect the Nationals to free Lind, who will prove useful as a potent pinch hitter and insurance option for the oft-injured Zimmerman. If they want a big-name reliever, they will probably instead plunder an already drained farm system.

         

    Statistics accurate heading into June 2. All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs. Salary information obtained from Cot's Baseball Contracts.