Realistic MLB Trades That Could Happen Before 2023 Spring Training

Zachary D. RymerJanuary 8, 2023

Realistic MLB Trades That Could Happen Before 2023 Spring Training

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    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 20: Bryan Reynolds #10 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts after hitting a home run in the seventh inning during the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 in New York, New York. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
    Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    With Major League Baseball firmly between the busy part of its offseason and the start of spring training, dreaming up trade scenarios is the best way to pass the time.

    So, let's do that. Within reason, of course.

    That's to say we're not going to go so wild as to imagine ways that untouchable superstars might change uniforms. We don't specifically mean Shohei Ohtani, but, well, think Shohei Ohtani.

    We strictly speculated on eight players who have either appeared in trade rumors or who are in tenuous situations—whether roster-related, payroll-related or both—with their present clubs. From there, we treated them as square pegs and went looking for square holes on other teams in which to fit them.

    We'll start with what we think is our biggest reach and count down to the trade that we think is the best bet to happen based on fit and resources.

8. Carson Kelly to the Tampa Bay Rays

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 02: Catcher Carson Kelly #18 of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on during the game against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on October 02, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Proposing a trade involving Carson Kelly is a reach because, per the Arizona Diamondbacks themselves, such a deal is not on their minds even after their acquisition of Gabriel Moreno.

    Nevertheless, there isn't much doubt that the team's future at catcher is in Moreno's hands, not Kelly's. Kelly, 28, isn't exactly old, but Moreno is only 22 and only a year removed from debuting at No. 7 on MLB.com's list of the top prospects for 2022.

    So if teams want to at least inquire about Kelly, they should. Especially if one of them is the Tampa Bay Rays.

    The Rays reportedly poked around Sean Murphy before the Oakland Athletics sent him to Atlanta in December. That indicates that they're appropriately not thrilled about their catching tandem of Christian Bethancourt and Francisco Mejía.

    For his part, Kelly has managed a solid .723 OPS and averaged 20 home runs per 162 games over the last four seasons. And while his arbitration clock was further along than Murphy's, the two had been projected to earn similar salaries in 2023: $3.5 million for Murphy and $4.1 million for Kelly before the former signed an extension with Atlanta.

    With the Diamondbacks in need of young, controllable pitchers, the Rays could hope to change their minds about trading Kelly with an offer centered on an upside play. If not top prospect Taj Bradley, then maybe Luis Patiño or a true wild card in Shane Baz, who was regarded as an elite prospect before he had Tommy John surgery in September.

7. Amed Rosario to Atlanta

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 14: Amed Rosario #1 of the Cleveland Guardians runs the bases after hitting a solo home run during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees in game two of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on October 14, 2022 in New York, New York. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    Atlanta's offseason would look a whole lot worse without that trade for Murphy, but it's still hard to ignore the Dansby Swanson-sized hole it has at shortstop.

    With Swanson gone to the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta seems serious about playing Vaughn Grissom at short. It's a questionable notion at best. Grissom didn't hack it defensively even at second base in 2022, and he was also so cold at the plate at the end of last season that he got benched in favor of Orlando Arcia.

    With the free-agent market largely picked clean, Atlanta doesn't have much to lose by aiming high for a shortstop on the trade market. Specifically, for Amed Rosario.

    There isn't any indication that the Cleveland Guardians want to trade Rosario. The rationale there is perhaps obvious. He's their starting shortstop, and he's fresh off hitting .283 and posting a career-high 4.2 rWAR in 2022.

    And yet, the 27-year-old Rosario keeps popping up in trade speculation anyway. That's a function of his being a member of the Guardians who's heading into his walk year. That's a point at which Cleveland has been known to cash in the chip in question.

    If Atlanta does come calling about Rosario, the Guardians could set their sights on Grissom and/or right-hander Ian Anderson, who's fallen out of favor since doing impressive work in the regular season and especially the postseason in 2020 and 2021.

6. Chris Sale to the San Diego Padres

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 17: (NEW YIRK DAILIES OUT)  Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 17, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    A near-constant stream of injuries has limited Chris Sale to 11 regular-season appearances over the last three years, but Jon Heyman of the New York Post says other teams are asking the Boston Red Sox about him anyway:

    Jon Heyman @JonHeyman

    Teams are checking on Chris Sale's availability. Red Sox are not looking to trade any of their starters but view rotation as an area of depth and are at least willing to listen, and consider. Sale does have complete no trade clause so he can veto potential deals.

    This, notably, came out before Boston partially redeemed its brutal offseason by signing Rafael Devers to a $331 million extension. But it's possible that won't stop teams from calling about the 33-year-old Sale, in which case the Red Sox would do well to keep listening.

    Which teams have been calling? That we don't know. But we do know that the San Diego Padres should be one of them.

    The Padres have already poached one star from the Red Sox this winter, inking shortstop Xander Bogaerts to an 11-year, $280 million deal. But they must still address a starting rotation that gets a little thin after Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell. As baseball's all-time leader in strikeouts-per-nine and strikeout-to-walk ratio, Sale would be a good get.

    According to Dennis Lin of The Athletic, the Padres could be willing to part with shortstop Ha-Seong Kim or center fielder Trent Grisham in a trade for pitching. Either would suit Boston—Kim especially on account of the club's huge hole at shortstop.

    Given that Sale is owed $41 million more than Kim over the next two seasons, a one-for-one swap likely wouldn't work. But there may be a scenario in which Boston pays down some of Sale's contract as a means to also buy additional talent from San Diego.

5. Tyler O'Neill to the New York Yankees

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    CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 23: St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Tyler O'Neill (27) jogs off the field between innings during game 2 of a doubleheader between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs on August 23, 2022, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    This is a weird thing to say about a team that's spent nearly $600 million in free agency, but the New York Yankees have unfinished business.

    Namely, in left field. Nothing against Oswaldo Cabrera, but he seems like a better fit for a utility role rather than a starting gig alongside Harrison Bader in center and Aaron Judge in right. And as such, the Yankees would do well to weigh all their options.

    Those might not necessarily include Tyler O'Neill, but there's no harm in the Yankees at least asking the St. Louis Cardinals about him.

    O'Neill was a Gold Glove winner in 2020 and 2021 and a 34-homer slugger in the latter campaign, but his value is down following a year in which injuries limited him to 96 mostly forgettable games. As such, the Cards would indeed be selling low on him if they were to trade him.

    The benefits of doing so would nonetheless be twofold. For one, they'd save about $5 million. And for two, they'd create an opening for one of their up-and-coming outfielders: Alec Burleson in the short run, and top prospect Jordan Walker in the not-too-long run.

    If the Cardinals were to deal O'Neill to the Yankees, the trade could resemble the one that sent Bader to New York last summer. Going to St. Louis could be one or more immediately useful pitchers, such as Domingo Germán, Clarke Schmidt and/or Deivi García.

4. Edward Cabrera to the Baltimore Orioles

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    MIAMI, FLORIDA - AUGUST 16: Edward Cabrera #27 of the Miami Marlins throws a pitch during the second inning against the San Diego Padres at loanDepot park on August 16, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
    Eric Espada/Getty Images

    What the Miami Marlins have a lot of is arms. What they don't have a lot of is bats. Hence why they're willing to leverage the former to fix the latter, as reported by Heyman:

    Jon Heyman @JonHeyman

    Marlins won't listen on Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara but will listen on "almost anyone" else. So beyond Pablo Lopez they will hear overtures on Luzardo, Cabrera and other starters. Marlins have abundance of arms in market where starters' values are sky high. Need hitters.

    It's mostly been Pablo López's name circulating in trade chatter. More recently, though, Edward Cabrera's name came to the forefront by way of a report from Heyman that the Colorado Rockies had tried to work something out for him.

    They're welcome to keep trying, of course, but we like Cabrera more as a fit for the Baltimore Orioles.

    They began their offseason with starting pitching at the forefront of their plans, but so far they've only added Kyle Gibson to their rotation. They know they need to do better, and a deal for Cabrera would surely fit the bill. Beyond only being 24 years old and under club control through 2028, he has a high-90s fastball and mid-90s changeup that comprise the stuff of an ace.

    As the Marlins are presumably only going to move Cabrera for a hitter who can help right now, the Orioles would almost certainly have to give up Anthony Santander. But even though he hit 33 home runs in 2022, the Marlins would still be within their rights to demand more.

    At the least, defensive-wiz shortstop Jorge Mateo. At most, outfielder Colton Cowser or one of the other best fruits from Baltimore's loaded farm system.

3. Santiago Espinal to the Chicago White Sox

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 05: Santiago Espinal #5 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates his solo home run as he rounds the bases against the Minnesota Twins in the sixth inning of the game at Target Field on August 5, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Blue Jays 6-5 in ten innings. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
    David Berding/Getty Images

    Of the plentiful reasons the Chicago White Sox played below expectations in 2022, two big ones are that their offense lacked plate discipline and their defense lacked, well, quality.

    This is why it was worth it for them to sign Andrew Benintendi, even if they probably overpaid at $75 million over five years. But they still have room for another contact-hitting, slick-fielding type. One could especially go in place of Romy Gonzalez, who has 50 strikeouts and only three walks in 42 major league games, at second base.

    Which brings us to why the Pale Hose should call the Toronto Blue Jays about Santiago Espinal.

    Though Espinal was an All-Star for the Jays in 2022, he's part of a logjam at second base alongside Cavan Biggio and Whit Merrifield. With the latter seemingly positioned to get the bulk of the playing time, there's sense in the Jays fielding offers for Espinal.

    He'd be perfect for the White Sox. Offensively, because good zone discipline is but part of the reason he placed in the 91st percentile for strikeout rate in 2022. Defensively, because he was quietly fourth among second basemen in outs above average.

    From the Blue Jays' side of things, a trade with the White Sox could be a way to extract a high-upside arm for a bullpen that needs one. There's Garrett Crochet, who's due back from Tommy John surgery this season. Or maybe Cuban right-hander Norge Vera, who has iffy control but plenty of velocity.

2. Max Kepler to the Texas Rangers

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 29: Max Kepler #26 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Boston Red Sox on August 29, 2022 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
    Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

    It might be a reach to say that the Minnesota Twins have a surplus of outfielders, but it'll be hard for them to give either Trevor Larnach or Alex Kirilloff a fair shot while Joey Gallo and Max Kepler are standing in the way at the corners.

    The Twins just signed Gallo, so he's not going anywhere anytime soon. But Kepler? That may be a different story, as Aaron Gleeman and Dan Hayes of The Athletic reported in December that the 29-year-old has been getting trade interest this winter.

    Kepler celebrated a five-year, $35 million extension by ripping off 36 home runs in 2019, but he's since hit only 37 across the last three seasons. Yet given that his peripheral numbers came out looking pretty good in 2022, he's clearly a worthwhile change-of-scenery candidate.

    Texas Rangers, that's your cue.

    Though the Rangers have loaded up their starting rotation this winter, they've left their offense entirely untouched. And it's not without needs, specifically on either side of speedy center fielder Leody Taveras. That's where Kepler would come in, ideally in right field while Adolis García moves over to left.

    A sort of side benefit of all the Rangers' deals with pitchers is that they have a surplus of arms. The Twins could take some off their hands in a trade, whether it's the injured Dane Dunning, Glenn Otto, Spencer Howard or someone else.

1. Bryan Reynolds to the Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Pittsburgh Pirates' Bryan Reynolds (10) plays during the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
    AP Photo/Jeff Dean

    There isn't much question about Bryan Reynolds' trade availability, at least from his perspective. He wants out of Pittsburgh.

    Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers need a center fielder and, well, something to respond to the huge moves that the Padres have made in the National League West and others that the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets have made in the National League at large.

    A trade for Reynolds would nail both birds with one stone. Even in "regressing" from his All-Star season in 2021, he still managed an .807 OPS and 27 home runs in 2022. For his career, he boasts a well-above-average 127 OPS+ with a 162-game average of 24 home runs.

    Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported in December that the Bucs were looking for a trade package akin to the huge haul that the Washington Nationals commanded for Juan Soto. Per Jon Morosi of MLB.com, however, it seems their actual demands are more reasonable:

    Jon Morosi @jonmorosi

    If <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Pirates?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Pirates</a> trade Bryan Reynolds this offseason, they're looking for at least one top starting pitcher to headline the package — such as Bobby Miller (<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Dodgers?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Dodgers</a>) or Ricky Tiedemann (<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BlueJays?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BlueJays</a>), both of whom rank among the top 40 prospects in <a href="https://twitter.com/MLB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLB</a>, per <a href="https://twitter.com/MLBPipeline?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLBPipeline</a>.<a href="https://twitter.com/MLBNetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLBNetwork</a>

    If the Pirates don't go for Bobby Miller, the Dodgers might up the ante by dangling Tony Gonsolin or Dustin May. But given that their farm system is the best in MLB, there's really no ask that the rebuilding Pirates can make that the Dodgers can't fulfill in some way.

    Remember, it was just before spring training that the Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts in 2020. If they pull the same trick with Reynolds, it would be déjà vu all over again.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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