Way-Too-Early Predictions for the MLB Trade Deadline in July
Major League Baseball's 2022 trade deadline was an absolute barn burner, mainly set afire by megadeals involving Juan Soto, Josh Hader and Luis Castillo. That's a lot for the 2023 deadline to live up to. So, will it?
Heck if we know, but we can at least try to predict a few things.
We came up with 10 outcomes that we can't say will happen but could if the stars align just so. Don't worry: Only one of these covers players won't be traded. The other nine deal with guys who will be on the move and to where.
The trade deadline, which will presumably revert to July 31 after the lockout pushed it to Aug. 2 last year, is still months away, so it should go without saying that we mostly consulted our gut in making these predictions. And no, we didn't swallow a crystal ball beforehand.
In any case, let's start with the guys we don't think will be going anywhere.
Much to Other Teams' Dismay, the Brewers Keep Their Stars
The trade deadline may still be half a year away, but you can rest assured that prospective buyers are already rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers to crash and burn this season.
Such an outcome would hypothetically put the Brewers in a selling mood, and, goodness, would they have wares to sell. At the least, rebound candidate and free-agent-to-be Jesse Winker. At the most, slugging shortstop Willy Adames, Cy Young Award-winning ace Corbin Burnes and his generally underrated partner, Brandon Woodruff.
But on this, nobody should be counting.
Sure, the Brew Crew subtracted Hunter Renfroe and Kolten Wong from a roster that produced 86 wins last season. But Winker and especially William Contreras were good gets, and the Brewers also added a nice piece of rotation depth when they reunited with wily veteran Wade Miley.
It's little wonder that Milwaukee projects as the second-best team in the National League Central. Perhaps it's a minority opinion that those projections potentially underrate the Chicago Cubs, but in any case, it's hard to imagine the Brewers being anything less than a wild-card contender come the deadline.
Even if the Brewers are out of the race by then, teams that try to get at Burnes, Woodruff and Adames could potentially meet the same resistance that the team has reportedly put up this winter. After all, all three are under club control through 2024.
The White Sox Fall Flat Again, Trade Tim Anderson
The Chicago White Sox, on the other hand, look more like a candidate to play under expectations in 2023.
It's a fair enough question about how high expectations should be, given that they only salvaged a .500 record last year. And also given that, following Carlos Correa's odyssey-like return to the Minnesota Twins, the Pale Hose only project as the third-best team in the American League Central.
If not simply mediocre, the White Sox are more likely to be bad than great. There's volatility aplenty in their roster, particularly among a starting rotation that's littered with questions and in a bullpen that will miss Liam Hendriks after his non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis.
If Chicago does plummet down the standings in 2023, it can expect to receive plenty of calls about players whose contracts are running short. Those include Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Yasmani Grandal and, best of all, Tim Anderson.
There's a lot to like about Anderson, ranging from the simple fact that he's an everyday shortstop who's hit .318 over the last four seasons to the reality that he's making only $12.5 million this year with a $14 million option for 2024. He also plays with abundant energy that could further charge a playoff contender.
As for where Anderson could end up, we have our eye on Atlanta. They seem for real about having Vaughn Grissom replace Dansby Swanson at shortstop, but it's an experiment with a reasonably high probability of failure. A move for outside help may thus be inevitable.
Chris Sale Rebuilds Value, Becomes Boston's Top Trade Chip
As to that other pair of Sox, there isn't much doubt that the Boston Red Sox are in for a tough season, right?
As if losing Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Nathan Eovaldi to free agency wasn't bad enough, now Trevor Story is out for the foreseeable future after having a procedure on his elbow. These are big blows to a team that was already bad enough to finish last in the AL East in 2022.
When the Red Sox do open for business, buyers are sure to inquire about Enrique Hernández, Justin Turner, Corey Kluber and James Paxton. It's veteran left-hander Chris Sale, though, who has the potential to be Boston's top trade chip.
That he's already been attracting interest indicates that teams see him as a buy-low candidate even after three straight injury-marred seasons. And not unreasonably so, in light of his track record as a seven-time All-Star and the vintage-ish velocity he showed in limited action last year.
It nonetheless makes sense for the Red Sox to hold Sale and hope that such things boost his trade value in '23, thus giving them a window to unload what's left of the $55 million remaining on his contract through 2024.
As for where Sale could end up, we like the Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres as fits for him on paper. We'll go ahead and put him on the latter on account of how they need a starter and how general manager A.J. Preller isn't one to shy away from big trades.
The Rangers Fall out of It, Part Ways with Martín Pérez
Regarding other would-be American League contenders for 2023, this was the second winter in a row in which the Texas Rangers refused to mess around.
Last year, it was a $556 million splurge on Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray. This year, it was a $244 million splash on Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney. And that's not even counting $19.7 million for Martín Pérez, who accepted a qualifying offer in November.
But while all this is admirable, the Rangers still don't look any closer to challenging the reigning champion (both of the division and the World Series, that is) Houston Astros for the AL West title in 2023. Heck, they're not even assured to be better than the Seattle Mariners or Los Angeles Angels, both of whom have also been busy this winter.
If and when it does come time for the Rangers to cut their losses, don't underestimate how much interest other teams could have in renting Pérez.
The 2.89 ERA that he put up over 196.1 innings in 2022 seems vaguely unsustainable, but it would nonetheless be a mistake to write him off completely. He excelled at avoiding dangerous contact last year and didn't need frequent shifts for his defense to work behind him. That's a good omen as MLB prepares to debut its new regulations.
Pérez's profile is such that it's kind of weird that he's not already a St. Louis Cardinal, so we're just going to assume that he'll inevitably join their merry band of pitch-to-contact hurlers.
Seth Brown Draws a Crowd, and the A's Take Advantage
Elsewhere in the AL West, call it a hunch that the Oakland Athletics probably aren't going to have a good time in 2023.
It's nuts to think that they still had Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Sean Murphy on their roster this time last year. They're all gone now, with the recent trade of Murphy effectively rendering the A's without even one recognizable star.
Yet this doesn't mean that the A's don't still have trade chips to cash in on the summer market, especially if Seth Brown continues to ascend.
Brown is a former 19th-round pick who was 27 by the time he debuted for Oakland in 2019. He's now north of 30, so he's not exactly a long-term building block for the A's, even though his club control runs all the way through 2026.
Certain enterprising contenders may take more of a liking to Brown as 2023 moves along. He's shown off a decent stick in putting up a 112 OPS+ and 45 home runs over the last two seasons, and he should benefit more than most left-handed hitters from the new shift regulations. Brown was shifted on more often than even Anthony Rizzo in 2022, resulting in rob jobs like this one, this one, this one and so on.
As for where Brown fits best, it so happens that Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto loves making trades and that his team could use some left-handed pop. Sounds like a fit.
The Diamondbacks Cash in an Ascendant Christian Walker
Even if they're not quite as hopeless, the Arizona Diamondbacks are similar to the A's in that they're a not-so-good team stuck in a top-heavy division.
The D-backs at least finished ahead of the Colorado Rockies in 2022, but they trailed the San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers by seven, 15 and 37 wins, respectively. Heading into 2023, those clubs look as good or better than they did last year.
Some contenders could conceivably see a window to extract Ketel Marte from Arizona, but it seems unlikely that the Snakes will move him while he's under contract at club-friendly terms through as far as 2028. But certain short-term assets might end up on the block, including Kellys Carson and Merrill and one of the most underrated players of 2022: Christian Walker.
Walker was so good defensively at the cold corner last year that he put 10 outs above average between himself and the next-best first baseman. He also cranked 36 home runs, with good peripherals pretty much across the board.
What's more, Walker became a more consistent hitter as the '22 campaign went along. After hitting .204 in the first half, he boosted his average all the way up to .285 in the second.
As Walker is controlled through 2024, he'll appeal to a wide range of contenders if the Diamondbacks do put him out there. Despite their recent deal with Eric Hosmer, we especially like him for the Cubs. They already have an excellent defense, but they sorely need more power.
The Giants Ship Joc Pederson to an Obvious Landing Spot
Sticking in the NL West, we're honestly unsure whether the Giants' offseason has been good, bad or just plain weird.
They couldn't land Aaron Judge, but that was for the best. It initially looked worse when they let Carlos Correa get away, but less so after the New York Mets raised the same concerns over his right leg. Carlos Rodón, Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt are out, but in are Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling, Taylor Rogers, Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto.
That's a whirlwind if there ever was one, and it's to the Giants' credit that they haven't been left as worse for wear as, say, the Red Sox. The problem, of course, is that they still don't appear to be on the same level as the Dodgers and Padres.
That was what caused the Giants to sell off some wares at last year's deadline. If history repeats itself this year, the club at least figures to shop its rentals: Brandon Crawford, Alex Wood and Joc Pederson, who's the best of the bunch.
Pederson had a fine year in 2022, making the All-Star team en route to a career-high 144 OPS+ and 23 home runs. That was even though Oracle Park didn't do him any favors, particularly on fly balls that died in Triples Alley such as this one and this one.
This is but one reason why it's easy to imagine Pederson eventually landing with the New York Yankees, with the other big ones being that they need a left fielder and another left-handed hitter to boot.
The Pirates' Patience on Bryan Reynolds Pays Off
Speaking of name-brand outfielders with ties to the Giants, Bryan Reynolds has made it clear to the Pittsburgh Pirates and, well, everyone that he wants out.
Good for the Pirates' negotiating leverage? Uh, not exactly. But they're reportedly drawing a hard line anyway, with Jon Heyman of the New York Post and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic characterizing the team's ask for Reynolds to be Juan Soto-like in scope.
Fat chance of getting that now, but it wouldn't be the biggest surprise if the Pirates get what they want (or something close enough to it, anyway) this summer.
Reynolds is obviously a good player. He boasts a career 127 OPS+ and 51 home runs since the start of 2021, all while playing a premium position in center field. He turns 28 on Jan. 27, and his club control runs through 2025.
Such things make Reynolds an attractive asset, and then you can get into how many contenders are likely to need an upgrade in center field. Even as is, it's notable that MLB Network's ranking of the top-10 center fielders in baseball right now thins out in a hurry after Reynolds' spot at No. 6.
Right now, one can point to the Yankees, Dodgers and Rangers as prospective fits for Reynolds. But we'll zag and tag the Astros as a sleeper for him, especially if they become willing to offer Pittsburgh Chas McCormick and Hunter Brown.
Oh, and the Pirates Will Also Trade David Bednar
If the Pirates do trade Reynolds, they'll be that much more hard-pressed to improve in 2023 after back-to-back 100-plus-loss seasons in 2021 and 2022.
In fact, let's be honest. A trade of Reynolds would only further extend a rebuilding timeline that doesn't seem close to ending even as is. Because unless Pirates owner Bob Nutting is planning on investing more in free agents any time soon—insert guffaw here—from the ground up is the only way a contender is ever going to get built in Pittsburgh.
So if Reynolds goes, David Bednar might as well also go.
It's perhaps unfair to label him as obscure after he made the NL All-Star team in 2022, but he's probably still underrated. Among Senior Circuit relievers who have logged at least 100 innings since the start of 2021, Bednar's 175 ERA+ checks in behind only Devin Williams.
Factoring in that Bednar is also under club control through 2026, he has the kind of value that Pittsburgh would be wise to take advantage of in the wake of a Reynolds trade. Trades of the two of them could hypothetically elevate Pittsburgh's farm system from its already strong spot in the top five to perhaps the top spot.
There are any number of teams that could make a run at Bednar, but none fits the bill like the Dodgers. They've needed a solid closer since even before Craig Kimbrel lost the job late in 2022, and their own farm system is plenty strong enough for them to parlay with Pittsburgh.
The Fabled Shohei Ohtani Trade Will Finally Happen
OK, enough stalling. The only trade-related question anyone's going to care about this season is whether the Los Angeles Angels will finally give in on Shohei Ohtani.
We're going to guess yes, albeit with some trepidation.
After seven straight losing seasons, it's plenty easy to doubt the Angels' chances of doing anything of note in 2023. But GM Perry Minasian has done the right thing this winter in adding the role players that the team has so badly needed around Ohtani and Mike Trout.
And yet, there's still a good deal of distance between the Angels and the Astros in the AL West. And probably between the Angels and the Mariners, in all likelihood, in which case the Angels may only contend for the American League's second wild card if they contend at all.
If not, it would be a case of outrageous malpractice if the Angels didn't make Ohtani available. He's eligible for free agency after 2023, and he already doesn't sound thrilled about the situation in Anaheim, so the trade deadline will almost certainly represent the Angels' last best chance to get something for him.
As for what his market would look like, "anyone and everyone" about says it, but the Dodgers already seem to be positioning themselves for Ohtani. Plus, there would be a major roadblock out of their way if Arte Moreno follows through on his desire to sell the team quickly. As such, it's not too soon to imagine Ohtani swapping Angel Red for Dodger Blue.