Back Off: Top MLB Trade Assets Who Should Be Untouchable
The word "untouchable" gets thrown around a lot in the days and weeks leading up to the MLB trade deadline.
Whether it's a highly regarded prospect a team plans on building around or a veteran star a non-contender isn't quite ready to move, a handful of players always receive that tag each July.
We've highlighted 10 players—six prospects and four veterans—who deserve the distinction this summer.
We'll start with the prospects.
Prospect: SP Dylan Cease, Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs gave Dylan Cease an above-slot $1.5 million bonus as a sixth-round pick in the 2014 draft, knowing full well he'd need Tommy John surgery before beginning his pro career.
It looks like that risk will pay major dividends, as he's back to full health and showing some of the best pure stuff of any pitching prospect in the game.
"Cease topped out at 97 mph with his fastball as an amateur, and he came back from elbow reconstruction to sit at 94-98 and reach triple digits last summer. His heater features sink and run as well, making it difficult to barrel. His curveball is less consistent but equally devastating when at its best, a true power hammer that has been compared to Dwight Gooden's."
The 21-year-old is pitching at the Single-A level, where he's been nothing short of dominant, posting a 2.75 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with an impressive 58-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 36 innings.
After seeing Gleyber Torres traded to the New York Yankees at the deadline last year, Cubs fans would have a tough time accepting a move that meant flipping Eloy Jimenez or Ian Happ for a controllable starter.
That might become a necessary evil, though, and the one prospect who deserves the untouchable tag given the makeup of the organization is Cease.
Prospect: 3B Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox surprised more than a few people when they included a prospect who was previously thought to be untouchable—Yoan Moncada—in a deal to acquire Chris Sale during the offseason.
That should serve as a friendly reminder that no one is 100 percent untouchable if the right opportunity presents itself.
With that being said, it's a lot less likely the team would entertain the idea of trading fellow top prospect Rafael Devers now Moncada is gone.
The 20-year-old has already reached the Double-A level, and he's looked right at home against older competition, hitting .305/.366/.548 with 16 doubles, 11 home runs and 39 RBI in 56 games.
What's more, he's proved capable of sticking at third base defensively, a position that is a glaring hole at the MLB level.
Devers should be viewed as a potential midseason reinforcement, not a trade chip.
And for a Red Sox team that ranks 28th in the majors and last in the American League in home runs, he's capable of providing an infusion of power that could again take the offense from good to great.
Prospect: SP Francis Martes, Houston Astros
The Houston Astros might be one quality starting pitcher away from being the clear World Series favorites.
Expect to see them linked to the likes of Chris Archer, Jose Quintana, Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline.
However, swinging a deal for a controllable front-line arm like that will mean giving up a bundle of quality prospect talent.
The Chicago White Sox reportedly asked for the team's top two prospects—Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker—as well as the 24-year-old starter Joe Musgrove in talks centered around Quintana during the offseason, according to MLB writer Peter Gammons.
That figures to be the initial asking price teams will bring to the table for any of those four starters, and that means the Astros will need to decide whether they're willing to gut the farm system to go all-in on the 2017 season.
Giving up any of those three would hurt, but it's Marte the team should think long and hard about moving.
The 21-year-old has legitimate ace upside, and he's already gotten a taste of the big leagues this season, meaning he could emerge as a key contributor in the rotation sooner rather than later.
Trading for one of those starters, only to watch Martes emerge as the better pitcher a year or two down the road, would be a tough pill to swallow.
Prospect: SP Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians gave up a pair of top-tier prospects at the trade deadline last season—outfielder Clint Frazier and left-hander Justus Sheffield—to acquire relief ace Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees.
With a 32-31 record, it's fair to say the team has not played up to its potential this season, and a shaky back of the starting rotation could compel it to make a play for another starter at the deadline.
Moving outfielder Bradley Zimmer or catcher Francisco Mejia would be less than ideal, but the one prospect who should be entirely off-limits in trade talks is right-hander Triston McKenzie.
Still just 19, McKenzie was taken with the No. 42 overall pick in the 2015 draft as a projectable right-hander with plenty of room to grow into his body.
Significant projection remains in his 6'5", 165-pound frame, but the stuff is already there, as he's been lights out this season for High-A Lynchburg.
He's pitched to a 2.45 ERA and 0.96 WHIP while holding opposing batters to a .159 average and striking out 90 hitters in 69.2 innings of work.
For a pitcher so far ahead of the developmental curve to still have so much upside, McKenzie is a rare talent and one the Indians should hold on to at all costs.
Prospect: CF Victor Robles, Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals swung one of the biggest deals of the offseason when they sent three of their top prospects—Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning—to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for outfielder Adam Eaton.
While that took a bite out of the farm system, the Nationals still have plenty of high-end talent, headlined by precocious outfielder Victor Robles.
The 20-year-old Dominican has been pushed aggressively through the minor league ranks, and he's been up to the challenge every step of the way.
Playing for High-A Potomac this season, he's hitting .281/.379/.492 with 23 extra-base hits and 11 stolen bases while continuing to display serious five-tool upside.
MLB.com wrote: "He has the athleticism, physical tools and baseball savvy to continue to pass every challenge the organization throws his way. He's a few years away from the majors, but Robles is well on his way toward becoming a franchise player."
You don't trade potential franchise players.
The team still has enough attractive trade chips, led by right-hander Erick Fedde and outfielder Juan Soto, to swing a significant deal.
Prospect: IF Brendan Rodgers, Colorado Rockies
On the surface, it would appear the Colorado Rockies have no spot for Brendan Rodgers.
A shortstop by trade, he's blocked at his natural position by Trevor Story, by slick-fielding DJ LeMahieu at second base and by franchise cornerstone Nolan Arenado at the hot corner.
Rodgers is the type of player you find a spot for, though.
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft has been a man among boys for High-A Lancaster, hitting an absurd .404/.426/.692 with 20 doubles, 11 home runs and 43 RBI in 45 games.
Lancaster hitting coach Derrick May had nothing but good things to say about his star pupil while talking with Michael Leboff of MiLB.com:
"At this point, you can't really get much better. It's great to see and to be a part of Brendan doing well. He's a great kid and he comes to play and competes every day, so it's a pleasure to watch him work. He just needs to maintain his strengths and work on the weaknesses he may have—but you don't see much of them right now."
Whether a spot opens up because of injury or he slides into a super-sub role, Rodgers is the kind of player who could make a significant impact as a call-up this season.
He's not the kind of player you flip for outside help.
Veteran: 1B Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox will be open for business leading up to the trade deadline and in the years to come as they continue with a full-scale rebuild.
Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera and Anthony Swarzak are all movable parts who should be flipped to the highest bidders.
One player who shouldn't hit the trade block is Jose Abreu, as his impact on the team stretches far beyond his on-field performance.
Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times explained as much in a May article:
"Abreu helped recruit 19-year-old outfielder Luis Robert, who signed with the Sox on Saturday, and has been in constant contact with 21-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada—whose locker was next to his during spring training—as well. He knows the challenges the young Cubans face adapting to a new country, and the Sox couldn't have a more grounded example for Moncada and Robert, who signed for bonuses approaching a combined $60 million."
Those two players figure to factor heavily into the team's future, and having a stable mentor to aid in their development is invaluable.
At 30, Abreu might not be an integral part of the next contending White Sox team, but that shouldn't stop Chicago from tagging him as untouchable this summer.
Veteran: SP Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
It's not hard to understand why so many teams are interested in Chris Archer.
The 28-year-old has ace-caliber stuff, he's one of the most marketable players in the sport, and he's locked up with an extremely team-friendly contract:
- 2018: $6.25 million
- 2019: $7.5 million
- 2020: $8.25 million team option
- 2021: $8.25 million team option
That's a potential front-line starter for the low, low price of $30.25 million over the next four years, nothing short of a steal given the going rate for quality arms.
If the Tampa Bay Rays are ever going to put together some level of sustainable success, Archer is the type of player they should be clinging to, not shopping.
Trading David Price was unavoidable, as he had priced himself out of the market and was going to walk in free agency.
Trading Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore made sense given their shaky track records of success and ever-growing price tags to boot.
There's simply no reason to trade Archer.
That doesn't mean they shouldn't listen to offers, but it would take a franchise-altering haul of prospect talent for any deal to make sense.
Veteran: 3B Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays have gone 26-16 in their last 42 games since stumbling out of the gates with a 6-17 start to the season.
However, they're still sitting in last place in the AL East, and they're clearly chasing the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for division supremacy.
If they continue to hover around the .500 mark into July, selling at the trade deadline is not out of the question.
Marco Estrada, Joe Smith and Francisco Liriano should all hold some appeal as rental options, and flipping Jose Bautista ahead of his $17 million mutual option isn't out of the question, either.
One player they shouldn't entertain moving is Josh Donaldson.
Since missing time early with a calf injury, the 2015 AL MVP has returned with a bang, hitting .315/.419/.652 with six doubles and eight home runs in 105 plate appearances.
He's making $17 million this season and will likely see that number climb north of $20 million in his final year of arbitration next season, so shopping him makes sense if the team has no intention of pursuing an extension.
That hypothetical extension should be a top priority for the team, though, because it still has a talented-enough core to make a serious run, and moving him would essentially be waving the white flag.
Veteran: LF Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports dropped a bomb earlier in June when he reported that the Miami Marlins would be willing to listen to offers for Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and J.T. Realmuto if things didn't rapidly improve.
Moving anyone from that trio would be a significant shift for the franchise, but Yelich is the one who jumps out.
The 25-year-old turned in a breakout season last year, hitting .298/.376/.483 with 38 doubles, 21 home runs and 98 RBI on his way to a 5.3 WAR and legitimate superstar status.
His numbers are down across the board this year, with a .267/.343/.392 line for a 99 OPS+, but two mediocre months is no reason to throw in the towel on one of the game's best young outfielders.
Especially considering his team-friendly deal:
- 2018: $7 million
- 2019: $9.75 million
- 2020: $12.5 million
- 2021: $14 million
- 2022: $15 million team option
The only way trading him would make sense is if a team were willing to pay for the Yelich we saw last season, not this term's underperforming version.
That would mean parting with a prospect package far exceeding what the Washington Nationals gave up to get Adam Eaton during the offseason.
Unless that offer comes along, no deal.