Ranking 10 MLB Stars Most Likely to Be Traded This Offseason
"Trade" has been the magic word in baseball of late thanks to the just-passed deadline for teams to make unrestricted deals. For the remainder of the 2017 season, any trades must involve revocable waivers, which can serve as roadblocks to possible transactions.
It might be better just to wait until the offseason, when the standings are wiped out and everyone starts on even ground—and when players' trade values go back up significantly, thus creating an environment conducive to wheeling and dealing.
Last winter, the Boston Red Sox picked up starter Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox, and the Chicago Cubs acquired closer Wade Davis from the Kansas City Royals. In Davis' case, it was a way for the Royals to get added value for a player who is set to be a free agent after this season, while with Sale, the White Sox were willing to part with an ace just as his salary was about to rise and managed to pick up some quality prospects—including infielder Yoan Moncada—in the process.
Expect some similarly structured trades this offseason, with established players serving as the centerpieces. But which ones?
We've come up with 10 of the most likely candidates, each of whom has had his name bandied about in trade rumors at some point in the past year. They were chosen based on the status of their contracts and their respective teams' future plans and ranked based on overall talent and impact on the game.
10. Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Contract status: Signed through 2019 (team options in 2020 and '21)
After recording an MLB-worst 19 losses last year, Chris Archer has looked much more like the rising star who prompted the Tampa Bay Rays to ink him to a six-year extension in 2014. That deal, which was for $25.5 million and included $20 million in options for another two seasons, came after he was third in American League Rookie of the Year voting as a 24-year-old.
It was the kind of deal that the cost-conscious Rays, who have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, have been making in recent years instead of just unloading their best young players for more prospects. Third baseman Evan Longoria was the first of that group, getting a six-year contract in 2008. This past offseason, they notched outfielder Kevin Kiermaier to a six-year contract through 2022.
Archer's deal is great for Tampa's bottom line, as it would be for those of other teams, so it was no surprise his name came up so often in trade rumors last winter and this summer, as recorded by MLB Trade Rumors. The Rays didn't bite, though. But as Archer moves closer to making the bigger money, the more inclined the team may be to get something good for him on the trade market.
9. Dellin Betances, RP, New York Yankees
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2018
By acquiring Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox before the non-waiver trade deadline, the New York Yankees added to what was already a strong bullpen. That move also increased the chance they'll try to use one of their many strong relievers as trade bait in the offseason, and Dellin Betances is the most likely to be moved.
This possibility existed long before that trade, though. Last offseason, he and the Yankees got into a war of words over how to assess his value—as a closer or setup man—during the arbitration process, with the team winning the case at $3 million instead of the $5 million Betances wanted.
"When Betances was upset over the Yankees' handling of the situation, speculation of an eventual trade began," NJ.com's Joe Giglio wrote in July. That was in response to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal's suggestion Betances could have been used in a deadline deal to land a starting pitcher, though the Yankees were able to get one (Sonny Gray from the Oakland Athletics) without having to give up any big league players.
None of this uncertainty has affected Betances' on-field performance, though, as his 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings entering Thursday is the best of any full season in his career. That includes pitching an immaculate inning on Wednesday, when he struck out the side against the Detroit Tigers on just nine pitches.
8. Marcus Stroman, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2018
Realizing that another push for the postseason wasn't looking good, the Toronto Blue Jays became sellers at the trade deadline and unloaded a pair of pitchers in starter Francisco Liriano and reliever Joe Smith. Other teams inquired about Marcus Stroman, but the Blue Jays were requiring an active big league player in exchange, per sportswriter Peter Gammons' website.
Contenders generally try to avoid giving up such players at the deadline. But when winter comes around, it's a completely different game, so expect Stroman's name to come back up again—and for good reason.
For one, he's on pace to have his best season yet, with 10 wins and a 3.19 ERA. The upcoming years figure to be even better. Second, he's controllable through 2020, and though he stands to get a nice raise from his $3.4 million salary through arbitration, any increase would be worth it to have his services guaranteed for three more years.
And if Toronto decides it's time to blow the team up and start over, something ESPN.com's Buster Olney suggested just before the All-Star break was quite possible (h/t TSN's David William Naylor), it would be a lot easier to manage that rebuild by trading away players who could bring the biggest returns. Stroman fits that bill much more than the Jays' older (and more expensive) assets like Russell Martin or Troy Tulowitzki.
7. Johnny Cueto, SP, San Francisco Giants
Contract status: Signed through 2021 (team option for 2022)
The six-year, $130 million deal San Francisco and Johnny Cueto agreed to before the 2016 season was a clear sign the franchise wanted to stay near the top of baseball's hierarchy for the foreseeable future. After all, thanks to their "even-year magic," the Giants were in line to win the World Series again after doing so in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Cueto lived up to his end of the deal that year, going 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and throwing eight innings of one-run ball in the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs. But the Giants were knocked out in that round. And this season, the Giants have gone from perennial contender to major pretender, holding one of the worst records in baseball.
The roster is looking ancient and in need of a major overhaul, and one way to help with that rebuild is to unload still-valuable assets. Cueto falls into that category, assuming the forearm injury he suffered on August 1 during a minor league rehab start—he was on the DL with blister issues—doesn't lead to bigger problems.
Cueto is owed $21 million for each of the next four seasons, followed by a $22 million team option for 2022, though he can opt out this winter. Getting hurt, along with his subpar 2017 performance prior to injury, improves the likelihood he'll stick with the contract. And if he does, the Giants could shop him in attempt to get younger.
6. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Contract status: Team option for 2018
Andrew McCutchen's six-year, $51.5 million deal was a steal for the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 2012, and it became even more valuable when he hit .327 with 31 home runs and 96 RBI while leading the National League in hits that season. The numbers remained consistent for a few years before he fell off in 2016, hitting a career-low .256, though he's bounced back this season with a strong June and July.
The Pirates held off on trading McCutchen at the deadline despite going into a tailspin that left them far back in the wild-card race, which makes it look pretty likely they'll pick up the $14.5 million option they have on him for 2018. If they weren't going to retain him, they'd have found a way to send him off.
Taking on that extension will rekindle the speculation he could be dealt, just after the season instead of during. The Pirates seem resigned to losing him at some point, based on what general manager Neal Huntington told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick in July:
"We anticipate Andrew continuing to be a Pirate until something changes—whether it's through free agency or someone coming in [with an offer] that we believe can help this organization over the big picture. That's the hard reality. We'll listen on anybody. We have to. It doesn't mean we're looking to move him or actively engage. There's active and passive engagement, and we'll always be open for passive engagement if somebody wants to come to us."
5. Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers
Contract status: Signed through 2019, vesting option for 2020
Justin Verlander is a career Tiger, drafted second overall in 2004 and reaching the majors a little more than a year later. Since 2006, he's been the model of consistency, making 30 or more starts in every season other than 2015, and his 179 victories are fourth among active pitchers—as are his 2,323 strikeouts.
But Detroit is heading for a third consecutive season without a playoff appearance, and the moves the team made around the deadline could be a sign it's looking to trim payroll. Even by parting with catcher Alex Avila, outfielder J.D. Martinez and reliever Justin Wilson, the Tigers are still over the $200 million mark, per Spotrac, and they have several big salaries on the books for 2018 and beyond.
That includes Verlander, who is owed $28 million in each for the next two seasons, along with $22 million in 2020 if he's a top-five Cy Young finisher in 2019. He's one of three Tigers set to earn at least $24 million next term, along with starter Jordan Zimmermann and first baseman Miguel Cabrera, with Verlander the one who looks to have the most tread left on the tires.
Verlander has a full no-trade clause thanks to being a 10/5 guy, but if he gets the sense the Tigers are looking to rebuild, he could be inclined to approve a deal to get back into the playoff picture. They put him on waivers after Monday's non-waiver trade deadline, according to Crasnick, though the return in August wouldn't be nearly as good as it would be during the offseason.
4. Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas Rangers
Contract status: Signed through 2022 (with 2023 vesting option)
Having arguably his best overall season, Elvis Andrus is someone the Texas Rangers hope to keep around for a long time. But despite signing him to an long-term extension in 2013 at what's looking like a really good price, it may not be up to the Rangers whether Andrus is on the team into the next decade.
So it goes when your standout shortstop is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who managed to get Andrus' contract to include pretty sweet opt-out options midway through. Andrus is locked into his deal through 2018, when he'll make $15 million for the fourth straight season—the same amount he's due in 2019 and 2020 before his salary dips to $14 million—but after that it's up to him and his representative.
Andrus can opt out after 2018 or 2019, at which point he'd probably be in line for a much bigger deal in terms of average pay. And if that happens, the Rangers would be left in the cold, having received nothing for him in return for his departure.
Newy Scruggs in the Dallas Morning News noted just before the trade deadline that Andrus' value was "at an all-time high" but that the Rangers weren't likely to get what they wanted for him. That changes during the offseason, when more teams are in play than just those battling for the postseason. There's sure to be a team or two out there looking for an in-his-prime middle infielder that thinks it can convince him to retain his current deal, as foolish as that may sound.
3. David Price, SP, Boston Red Sox
Contract status: Signed through 2022
Some relationships just aren't destined to last. The marriage between David Price and the Boston Red Sox, consummated via a seven-year, $217 million deal in December 2015, is a prime example of one that has managed to sour not long after the honeymoon period has passed.
Following a strong 17-9 campaign in 2016, in which Price threw a league-leading 230 innings, the left-hander has started only 11 games because of elbow and forearm problems. He began the season on the disabled list, not making his debut until late May, and he was put back on the 10-day DL on July 28 with an elbow injury.
Injuries are only a small part of the problem, though. Price has engaged in spats with the media and Red Sox TV analyst Dennis Eckersley, someone he believes has been overly critical of Boston players despite not spending any time around them.
"He's the one guy I've seen in my career that doesn't ever show his face in the clubhouse," Price told ESPN.com's Scott Lauber.
Perhaps a change of scenery is needed for both sides. Price has an opt-out clause after 2018, when he could forgo the remaining four years ($127 million), which doesn't seem like a great idea unless he thinks he could get more money on the open market. But it might be worth it just to get out of Boston.
And knowing that's a possibility, the Red Sox could do worse than to see whether someone out there wants to take him off their hands.
2. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2018
Unlike many other clubs, who have locked up their young superstars with multiyear deals before arbitration, the Baltimore Orioles have gone the year-by-year route with the likes of Manny Machado and closer Zach Britton. It's a strategy that could come back to bite them when those players become free agents, which is in the near future.
Machado is earning $11.5 million this season, a contract he agreed to in January to avoid arbitration. The Orioles still control his rights for 2018, and though he's having an off year—particularly compared to his monster seasons in 2015 and 2016—he stands to see another big pay bump in his final year before free agency.
In January, Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun reported that the Orioles had yet to discuss any long-term extension options with Machado. Since then, there's been no further public discussion of his future with Baltimore other than sources such as Rosenthal indicating the team wasn't willing to trade him at the deadline.
The unwillingness to trade him in July may have been because his down year diminished his trade value, as ESPN.com's David Schoenfield speculated. When the offseason comes around, that becomes less of an issue.
1. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins
Contract status: Signed through 2027 (with 2028 team option)
Jeffrey Loria is in the process of selling the Miami Marlins; his asking price is around $1.3 billion. Whoever ends up buying the team would be taking on a lot of debt and plenty of future contract obligations, a huge chunk of which belongs to Giancarlo Stanton.
Stanton, who signed a 13-year, $325 million deal before the 2015 season, has yet to hit the big money in that contract. He makes $14.5 million this season, and that goes up to $25 million in 2017, getting to as high as $32 million from 2023 to '25. However, an opt-out clause after the 2020 season means he's only assured to earn another $77 million after this season.
Not having Stanton's contract on the books could go a long way toward streamlining the sale, as Rosenthal noted in his open letter to Loria, posted July 23 via Facebook: "Name one interested party—one!—that does not believe it would be in the best interests of the Marlins to clear as much as possible of the $295 million left on the final 10 years of Stanton’s contract from 2018 to '27."
Rosenthal's suggestion pertained to a deal at the trade deadline, but it also applies to this offseason, particularly if the sale continues to drag on.