Elite MLB Prospects Who Are Linchpins in Possible Blockbuster Winter Trades
This year's MLB offseason is shaping up to be a busy one on the trade market as teams turn their attention to potential blockbuster deals to offset one of the weakest free-agent markets in recent memory.
That should lead to plenty of talks of potential blockbuster deals during this year's winter meetings, which will take place from Dec. 4-8 in National Harbor, Maryland.
Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale will be a special case, as acquiring him will mean giving up young talent that would be otherwise untouchable.
It will still take significant prospect talent to swing a deal for the likes of Jose Quintana (CWS), Chris Archer (TB) and Sonny Gray (OAK), among others who could be shopped.
With that in mind, what follows is a look at the prospects who could be used as linchpins in a winter blockbuster deal.
However, first we needed to narrow down which teams will be in a position to potentially pull off such a trade.
Before determining which highly touted prospects could serve as the linchpins in an offseason blockbuster deal, we first needed to whittle down the list of teams that are capable of pulling off such a trade.
First we eliminated the rebuilding teams that will be more inclined to add prospect talent than part with it at this point:
- Cincinnati Reds
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Minnesota Twins
- Philadelphia Phillies
- San Diego Padres
Then we eliminated the clubs with farm systems that are too weak to put together a competitive offer:
- Arizona Diamondbacks: Anthony Banda isn't gonna cut it.
- Baltimore Orioles: Chance Sisco is the catcher of the future, not a trade chip.
- Chicago White Sox: Seems more likely they'll be on the receiving end of a prospect haul.
- Detroit Tigers: Some prospect depth, but not really a marquee guy in the system.
- Kansas City Royals: Raul A. Mondesi looks like the second baseman of the present and future; Hunter Dozier is not a centerpiece.
- Los Angeles Angels: Worst system in baseball, and it's not close.
- Miami Marlins: Tyler Kolek and Braxton Garrett aren't going anywhere.
- New York Mets: Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith are untouchable, and Gavin Cecchini is not a centerpiece.
- San Francisco Giants: The Giants don't have any targets big enough to part with Christian Arroyo, and Tyler Beede probably won't cut it as the headliner.
- Seattle Mariners: Tyler O'Neill isn't going anywhere, and the drop-off is steep behind him.
Next we eliminated the small-market teams that rely on their in-house prospect talent to remain competitive and are unlikely to sell the farm as a result:
- Cleveland Indians: The big move to acquire Andrew Miller was out of character.
- Oakland Athletics: Prospects are the lifeblood of the organization.
- Pittsburgh Pirates: They could put together a great trade package, but they won't.
- Tampa Bay Rays: When's the last time the Rays traded a prospect of any sort?
That left us with 12 remaining teams, and a couple more were eliminated from there for more specific reasons:
- Chicago Cubs: With no glaring needs and after trading top prospect Gleyber Torres at the deadline, it seems unlikely the Cubs would be involved in any blockbuster deals. Jorge Soler is a more likely trade centerpiece than a prospect.
- Colorado Rockies: The Rockies have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball and a general manager entering the final year of his contract and looking to win now. That being said, this is still a team with zero history of unloading prospect talent.
- New York Yankees: The Yankees have placed a newfound emphasis on building up the farm system, so it's unlikely they'll change course and deal any of their top prospects.
- Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays have continually mortgaged their top prospect talent in recent years, but with an aging core, it would be wise for them to hold onto the likes of Richard Urena, Sean Reid-Foley and Rowdy Tellez with an eye on the future.
That leaves us with seven teams in the mix to pull off a potential blockbuster deal this winter.
Now let's take a look at who they could build a major trade package around.
Untouchables: SS Dansby Swanson, IF Kevin Maitan
IF Ozzie Albies
Albies has been pushed as aggressively as any prospect in baseball, splitting last season between Double-A and Triple-A as a 19-year-old.
He's made the move to second base as the future double-play partner of Dansby Swanson, but he's a shortstop by trade and still capable of playing the position at the highest level. Albies won't provide much in the way of power, but he's capable of being a dynamic table-setter who regularly hits .300 and steals 30-plus bases.
LHP Sean Newcomb
The most advanced arm in a system loaded with pitching talent, Newcomb was the centerpiece for the Braves in the deal that sent shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels last offseason.
If the big 6'5", 255-pound lefty can cut down on free passes (4.6 BB/9) and further refine his overall command, he has legitimate front-line upside.
Boston Red Sox
Untouchables: LF Andrew Benintendi, LHP Jason Groome, 3B Yoan Moncada
3B Rafael Devers
Devers has some of the best raw power of any prospect, and he's shown an advanced feel for hitting with a .292/.348/.457 line during his time in the minors.
The 20-year-old is still developing physically and may eventually need to move across the diamond from third base to first, but his bat should play wherever he's slotted defensively.
RHP Michael Kopech
It will take a lot to pry Kopech—who is one of the fastest-rising pitching prospects in all of baseball—away from the Red Sox, especially after they traded another high-ceiling young arm in Anderson Espinoza in July.
The 6'3", 205-pound righty has a legitimate 80-grade fastball that regularly touches triple digits, and his slider-changeup combo has progressed nicely. He posted a 2.01 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 22.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League.
RHP Francis Martes
A little-known prospect when he was acquired in the six-player deal that sent Jarred Cosart to the Miami Marlins in 2014, Martes has exploded since joining the Astros organization.
The 20-year-old can touch 98 with his fastball and pairs it with one of the best curveballs in minor league baseball. The development of his changeup will ultimately determine his ceiling, but he's responded well to being pushed aggressively.
RHP David Paulino
Paulino was recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2013 when he was acquired from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for reliever Jose Veras.
The 6'7", 215-pound right-hander has just 203.1 total innings under his belt over five pro seasons, including three appearances for the big club down the stretch. Even at 22 years old, he still has a good deal of projectability left with a chance to develop as a front-line option.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Untouchables: RHP Yadier Alvarez, 1B Cody Bellinger
RHP Jose De Leon
With a mid-90s fastball, one of the best changeups in baseball and a developing slider as well as terrific overall command, De Leon has emerged as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.
It would take a huge return for the Dodgers to consider moving him, but unlike Julio Urias, he's probably not off limits in the right deal. The 24-year-old is ready to step into a big league rotation and would be afforded that chance in most other organizations.
OF Alex Verdugo
While Cody Bellinger is likely untouchable as the heir apparent to Adrian Gonzalez at first base, outfielder Alex Verdugo could be used as a centerpiece if a team prefers a bat.
Verdugo won't turn 21 until May, and he already has a full season at the Double-A level under his belt. Scouts are split on just how much power he'll develop, but he should approach a .300 average with 20 homers as a floor, and his rocket arm is a major weapon in the outfield.
St. Louis Cardinals
Untouchables: RHP Alex Reyes
OF Harrison Bader
One of the breakout prospects of 2016, Bader has done nothing but hit since being taken in the third round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Florida.
He struggled a bit with the jump to Triple-A last year, posting a .231/.298/.354 over 161 plate appearances, but he's close to MLB ready and could turn into a player similar to what the Cardinals have in fellow outfielder Stephen Piscotty.
RHP Luke Weaver
Alex Reyes looks like a big part of the Cardinals' future plans, and the same could be said for Luke Weaver after he absolutely dominated MiLB hitters last season and then showed flashes over 36.1 innings in the majors.
His fastball and changeup already grade out as plus pitches, and he throws a pair of breaking balls with a slider and curveball that are both still a work in progress. With a good feel for pitching and impressive command, he has a very high floor and legitimate No. 2 starter upside.
LHP Yohander Mendez
Mendez began the 2016 season pitching at the High-A level and finished it with a pair of appearances out of the Texas bullpen.
He's impressed throughout his time in the Rangers organization with a 2.46 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 in 292.2 career innings, but his success against higher-level competition has put him on the top prospect map.
The 21-year-old has good command of three pitches, and his fastball velocity has ticked up as he's added strength to his 6'5" frame, and he's yet to reach his ceiling.
The Rangers have a number of other intriguing second-tier prospects, including second baseman Andy Ibanez, first baseman Ronald Guzman, outfielders Leody Taveras and Jairo Beras and right-hander Ariel Jurado.
Mendez would have to be the centerpiece of any blockbuster deal, though, unless the club prefers to deal Joey Gallo, who used up his prospect eligibility down the stretch in 2016.
Untouchables: RHP Lucas Giolito, OF Victor Robles
RHP Erick Fedde
The Nationals took a chance on Erick Fedde when they took him No. 18 overall in the 2014 draft while he recovered from Tommy John surgery.
There have been no lingering health concerns since he returned to the field, and after a strong showing in 2016, he's a legitimate top-100-caliber prospect. With good command of his three-pitch arsenal he could reach the majors during the upcoming season, even after being brought along slowly following his return.
RHP Reynaldo Lopez
While he's somewhat undersized at 6'0" and 185 pounds, Lopez has an electric arm with a fastball that can touch triple digits and a power curveball.
His changeup is still a work in progress, and he may wind up as a late-inning reliever down the road, but there's no ignoring his stuff. He'll be given every chance to start after holding his own in six starts and five relief appearances with the big club last year.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.