Stock Up, Stock Down on MLB's Top Projected Trade Targets Entering May

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2015

Stock Up, Stock Down on MLB's Top Projected Trade Targets Entering May

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline might still be three months away, but it's never too early to take a look at the biggest names that could potentially be on the move as it draws near.

    While teams are able to make trades in April and May, baseball's "trade season" typically doesn't begin until mid-June, when clubs have a better idea of who they are, where they stand and what they need to get where they want to go.

    Contenders look to add veteran pieces, preferably on short-term deals, to try to put them over the top in a playoff race, while non-contenders try to maximize their return by acquiring young, controllable talent that can make a relatively quick impact in the majors.

    Pitching tends to be the most sought-after commodity on the market, and there's no shortage of quality options that could be available, a list that includes Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto and Philadelphia's Cole Hamels.

    But don't think for a second that an impact bat or two couldn't be wearing a new uniform come Aug. 1. A pair of potential Hall of Fame infielders, along with a pair of oft-injured-but-supremely talented bats in Colorado, could all be on the move as well.

    Let's take a look at 10 impact players who, potentially, could all be on the market in the weeks and months ahead (if they aren't already), and where their stock stands as we head into the second month of the regular season.

3B Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2015 Stats 

    82 PA, .197/.256/.342, 6 XBH (2 HR), 2 RBI

    Overview

    It was only a matter of time before the bad luck that has plagued the Texas Rangers since the beginning of the 2014 season hit their best player, Adrian Beltre.

    His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) sits at .191, more than 100 points below his career average (.299) and an indicator that his struggles at the plate have more to do with bad luck than a mechanical breakdown or a decline in his skills.

    Beltre's slow start hasn't impacted his sense of humor, however, with the veteran third baseman sending Los Angeles Angels ace Garrett Richards an invoice after the hurler broke three of Beltre's bats in their most recent meeting.

    “I've never broken three bats in a game before,” Beltre told Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News. “And all in the same place. I figure a bat is worth about a hundred dollars. And I told him ‘no checks.’ I accept cash only.”

    The Verdict: Stock Even

    Grant believes that two things would need to happen for Texas to seriously consider trading Beltre: The team would have to fall out of contention and top prospect Joey Gallo would have to show that he's ready to begin contributing in the big leagues. 

    Despite his woeful start to the season, Beltre's lengthy track record of being an above-average performer, both at the plate and in the field, would make him one of the more sought-after players on the trade market were the Rangers to make him available.

    While the $34 million he's due through 2016 might be an issue for some teams, it's not enough of an obstacle to prevent a club from moving forward with a deal if they believe Beltre is the piece that would put them over the top.

SP Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    2015 Stats 

    4 GS, 1-2, 1.86 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 29 IP, 19 H, 1.6 BB/9, 9.9 K/9

    Overview

    Ignore the losing record, for Johnny Cueto is throwing the ball as well as he ever has.

    Cincinnati's 29-year-old ace has managed to cut down on his home runs allowed and walks while increasing his strikeouts and continuing to pitch deep into games, going at least seven innings in each of his four starts on the year.

    But his time with the Reds is almost over, considering his Max Scherzer-eqsue $200 million asking price on a new deal, as reported in early April by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman. That's a price that Cincinnati simply can't afford to pay, so the question now becomes whether the Reds can land the package they'd want for him as the trade deadline approaches.

    The Verdict: Stock Up

    Forget the whole "Cueto is one of the best right-handed starters in baseball" conversation, for there's an argument to be made that, heading into May, he's baseball's best starter—period.

OF Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    2015 Stats 

    74 PA, .206/.257/.368, 7 XBH (2 HR), 6 RBI

    Overview

    Carlos Gonzalez played in all but one of Colorado's games in April and looks like he'll make a healthy escape. That's no small feat for a player who has been in only 180 of a possible 324 games over the past two seasons.

    A two-time All-Star and former National League batting champion (2010), Gonzalez is still a valuable trade chip for Colorado to play, as ESPN's Jim Bowden wrote earlier this month:

    Gonzalez is finally healthy and has the ability to play all three outfield positions. He still has 20 home run/20 stolen base talent and is an above-average defender who has already won three Rawlings Gold Gloves. His left-handed bat and young age (29) gives him a high trade value. His salary, once considered inflated, is now reasonable at $16 million this year, $17 million in 2016 and $20 million in 2017.

    But his recent struggles at the plate and lengthy medical history only help to diminish that value, and it's hard to see the Rockies selling low on a player of his caliber.

    The Verdict: Stock Down

    While CarGo is happy to be in good health, he's still trying to find his comfort zone at the plate, as he explained to The Denver Post's Patrick Saunders before the Rockies opened a three-game set in Arizona this past Monday:

    I'm trying to use the whole field. When I am doing well, I can hit to left with power and line drives into the gap. When I see that coming off my bat, I know that something good is coming. ... But I can't just sit here and wait for it (to get better). I have to go out and work for it and get that groove back.

    Finding his groove would certainly help Colorado's chances of contending, but it's fair to wonder, if and when he does start producing like he's capable of, if the Rockies would try to move him before the injury bug strikes again, whether they're contending or not.

RP Jason Grilli, Atlanta Braves

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2015 Stats 

    7 G, 0-0, 1.29 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 7 IP, 2 H, 2.6 BB/9, 14.1 K/9, 7-for-7 SV

    Overview

    It's not often that a 38-year-old pitcher finds new life on his fastball, but Jason Grilli isn't your normal veteran reliever.

    Not given a chance to close until his age-36 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, Grilli has taken over for the departed Craig Kimbrel in Atlanta and been just about perfect, allowing one earned run over seven relief appearances.

    In fact, his seven April saves set a new franchise record for a player in his first year with the club, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien).

    The Verdict: Stock Up

    Despite his advancing age, Grilli's two-year, $8.25 million deal is reasonable and shouldn't be an obstacle once trade talks begin.

    With the Braves in full-on rebuilding mode, the club has little need for a veteran reliever with a substantial salary. Atlanta won't get a big package in return for him, but there's sure to be a team out there willing to offer up a B-level prospect in exchange for the former All-Star.

SP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    2015 Stats 

    5 GS, 1-2, 3.19 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 31 IP, 21 H, 4.7 BB/9, 9.3 K/9

    Overview

    The subject of seemingly unending trade speculation, Cole Hamels wants out of Philadelphia, as he told USA Today's Bob Nightengale in February. While the Phillies have been reluctant to move him thus far, he's the one big trade chip the club has left to really kick its rebuilding efforts into high gear.

    While he's gotten off to something of a slow start—he's walking more batters than he ever has before and has surrendered seven home runs in five starts, already halfway to his 2014 total—Hamels has begun to round into midseason form, allowing one earned run over his last two starts.

    Additionally, his velocity and strikeout ability remain intact.

    The Verdict: Stock Even

    The more than $100 million left on Hamels' deal does limit his market somewhat, as does Philadelphia's asking price, which ESPN's Jim Bowden says is "at least two elite prospects."

    But there's no question that he is one of two legitimate aces, along with Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, who figures to be available as the trade deadline nears.

    With teams like Boston and Los Angeles (NL) both in need of another front-line starter—and both with deep enough pockets and farm systems to swing a deal—it would take a collapse of epic proportions (or a catastrophic injury) for Hamels' stock to drop.

SP Scott Kazmir, Oakland Athletics

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    2015 Stats 

    4 GS, 2-0, 0.99 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 27.1 IP, 15 H, 3.0 BB/9, 9.9 K/9

    Overview

    Scott Kazmir's return to prominence continues to become more unbelievable with each successive start. After a stellar start to his career, injury and ineffectiveness found him out of the major leagues at the age of 27, just when he should have been entering his prime.

    After an unlikely return with Cleveland in 2013, Kazmir was back in All-Star form for Oakland in 2014, pitching to a 3.55 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 190.1 innings of work. He's built on that success this year, allowing a total of three earned runs over his first four starts.

    A scout that has watched Kazmir extensively was effusive in his praise of the 31-year-old southpaw in a recent conversation with The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo:

    He’s had total command of all of his pitches. He’s so confident out there. I've watched him pitch for a long time, and I've never seen the eye of the tiger in him like I see now. Don’t know if it’s because it’s his walk year and he can become a free agent, but if he keeps this up most of the season, he’s going to make himself a lot of money.

    The Verdict: Stock Up

    The unnamed scout's last point—about Kazmir cashing in on another stellar season—is the primary reason Oakland is expected to move him, whether the A's are contenders or not, as ESPN's Jim Bowden opined earlier this month.

    Given the lack of a long-term commitment, Kazmir's market figures to be far larger than Hamels', making a trade all the more likely.

RP Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    2015 Stats 

    8 G, 0-0, 1.08 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 8.1 IP, 4 H, 1.1 BB/9, 9.7 K/9, 5-for-5 SV

    Overview

    Jonathan Papelbon's tendency to speak his mind rubs people the wrong way, and it helps to overshadow the fact that, at the age of 34, he remains one baseball's elite closers.

    He successfully converted 39-of-43 saves for Philadelphia in 2014, the eighth time in nine years that he recorded at least 30 saves, pitching to a 2.04 ERA and 0.91 WHIP along the way.

    The Verdict: Stock Even

    Philadelphia has been trying to rid itself of Papelbon since the 2013 non-waiver trade deadline with no luck, and teams know that the Phillies would love nothing more than to move on from the hot-headed closer.

    That, along with the $26 million he's due through 2016, doesn't give Philadelphia much leverage. Still, that hasn't stopped the club from continuing to shop him around—sources tell The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo that the Phillies are currently trying to sell Boston on a reunion with its former All-Star closer.

    Whether Papelbon winds up in Boston or somewhere else, there are enough teams with a ninth-inning need that someone's eventually going to cave and bring Papelbon aboard. 

SP Jeff Samardzija, Chicago White Sox

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    Duane Burleson/Getty Images

    2015 Stats 

    4 GS, 1-1, 3.33 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 27 IP, 28 H, 1.7 BB/9, 5.7 K/9

    Overview

    It took a little while, but Jeff Samardzija is rounding into form. After surrendering nine earned runs and 14 hits over his first two starts, he's scattered 14 hits over his last 14 innings, allowing one earned run. 

    He's made more headlines for his role in the recent fracas between Chicago and Kansas City, which found him slapped with a five-game suspension, than his work on the mound, but the 30-year-old is finally starting to pitch like the No. 2 starter that Chicago thought it had obtained from Oakland over the winter.

    The Verdict: Stock Even

    White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has proven that he's not afraid to make big moves, and should things go awry for his club in 2015, don't be surprised to see him make a a few more, all with an eye toward the future.

    "If, for whatever reason, things go sideways and we are not going to be in a position to contend in '15, the question is going to be, 'OK, what do we do to enhance our ability to contend in '16, '17 and '18?' he told MLB.com's Scott Merkin toward the end of spring training.

    His value as a two-month rental won't be nearly as high as it was over the winter, when Chicago sent a package of prospects, including infielder Marcus Semien, to the A's in exchange, but the White Sox should be able to land a solid package of talent should they look to move Samardzija at the deadline.

SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    2015 Stats 

    72 PA, .304/.319/.536, 12 XBH (2 HR), 9 RBI

    Overview

    Like his teammate Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki has trouble staying on the field. He's played in more than 130 games only once since 2010 (143 in 2011) and 264 of a possible 486 over the past three years.

    Yet there's not a team in baseball that wouldn't love to add him to its roster, as the 30-year-old remains baseball's premier shortstop when he's healthy. Not only is he a force at the plate, where he hits for average and power, but he provides above-average defense at a premium position.

    Colorado has so far rebuffed advances from other teams about trading the face of its franchise, and as one American League general manager told The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo earlier this year, there's no reason to believe that's going to change:

    “There would be a lot of work to get that (a Tulo trade) done. The money remaining on his salary [$110 million] and the player acquisition cost. Not as easy as it seems. The Rockies need to get a ton for him and I doubt they’ll pick up the money."

    The Verdict: Stock Down

    He's gotten off to a very un-Tulo-like start to the 2015 season. Per FanGraphs, he's chasing more balls than he ever has before, resulting in an increased strikeout rate, lowered walk rate and the lowest contact rate since he made his MLB debut in 2006.

    While Tulowitzki is pressing a bit at the plate, he's still hitting for average and power. There's no reason to believe that as the season progresses he won't get back to his usual performance at the plate, resulting in more contact, more walks and fewer strikeouts. His stock doesn't figure to be down for long.

2B Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    2015 Stats 

    72 PA, .113/.194/.210, 2 XBH (2 HR), 9 RBI

    Overview

    One of baseball's premier second basemen for the better part of a decade, Chase Utley is off to the worst start of his career, with only seven hits over his first 19 games.

    But nobody's about to give up on the 36-year-old, who continues to hit in the middle of Philadelphia's lineup.

    That includes Phillies manager and Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki“He’s (Utley) just a series or two away from getting hot and getting to where he wants to be."

    Long the subject of trade speculation, the Phillies have been telling teams for more than a year that Utley wouldn't waive his no-trade clause. But that may no longer be the case, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, who reports that Utley may be more open to joining a contender now that Jimmy Rollins is gone.

    The Verdict: Stock Down

    While his ground-ball rate is slightly higher (43.4 percent) than his career norm (37.9 percent), Utley's not chasing an inordinate number of pitches out of the zone or struggling to make hard contact. “He’s stung the ball,” Sandberg told Zolecki.

    The issue is that Utley's hitting the ball right at the defense, evidenced by his .096 BABIP, the second-lowest mark in baseball (only Toronto's Jose Bautista, at .094, has had slightly worse luck). That .096 BABIP is also more than 200 points below where it normally is.

    Eventually, Utley's numbers will trend back—and the trade chatter will once again pick up.

      

    Unless otherwise linked/noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs and are current through games of April 27. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts.

    Hit me up on Twitter to talk all things baseball: @RickWeinerBR

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