MLB Stars Most Likely to Be Traded During the Regular Season

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 22, 2018

MLB Stars Most Likely to Be Traded During the Regular Season

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    Manny Machado may not be long for Baltimore.
    Manny Machado may not be long for Baltimore.Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Some might consider this a spoiler for the 2018 Major League Baseball season, but here goes anyway:

    Not every brand-name player is going to finish the season in the same uniform in which he started it.

    Our aim here is to round up 10 stars and rank them by their likelihood of being dealt during the regular season. And when we say "stars," we mean just that. You won't find any Dan Strailys or Martin Prados here. Only the best of the best at various positions.

    Let's get to it.

10. Michael Fulmer, SP, Detroit Tigers

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Although the Detroit Tigers control Michael Fulmer through 2022, general manager Al Avila made it clear that the right-hander was available during the offseason...at the right price.

    "If they really want to be aggressive, there's a handful of teams that have the players to do it," Avila said in December, according to George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press.

    Judging from the fact Fulmer is still a Tiger, it's obvious that no suitor got aggressive enough for Avila's liking. 

    Now there's a question of whether the market for Fulmer will open up again. The Tigers aren't obligated to put him back out there. And even if they do, interest in him could lag behind interest in rentals and other starters with less exorbitant acquisition costs.

    Still, never say never.

    Between his 3.60 ERA and 12-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in spring training, Fulmer appears to be fully recovered from last September's elbow surgery. The 25-year-old should be ready to build on a career that's already netted him the American League Rookie of the Year award and an All-Star selection.

    A guy like that would upgrade any rotation both in the short term and the long term. If the circumstances are just right, one team might decide he's worth whatever the Tigers are asking for him.

9. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    If 2018 is anything like 2017 for the Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson will likely be on his way out the door on or before July 31.

    Although Donaldson was once again terrific in putting up a .944 OPS and 33 homers in the 113 games in which he was healthy last season, the team struggled and missed out on the chance to make its third straight postseason.

    If 2018 brings more of the same, a sense of urgency to move Donaldson will set in. Although there's been talk of an extension here and there, he fully expects to reach free agency at the end of 2018.

    "We're not quite there," Donaldson said in February, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. "That, to me, right now is not the major focus and I'm turning the page."

    Here's the thing, though: The Blue Jays should be good enough to avoid having to get what they can for the 2015 AL MVP.

    They were a good bounce-back candidate for 2018 even before they started their offseason shopping. Then they bolstered their lineup with Curtis Granderson, Randal Grichuk, Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte, and their pitching staff with Jaime Garcia and Seung Hwan Oh.

    FanGraphs projects Toronto to win 86 games. It may not sound like much, but that's the fifth-best projection among all American League clubs.

8. Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Brian Dozier entered 2017 as a hot commodity on the trade market, but that changed once the Minnesota Twins started racking up more wins than expected en route to a wild-card berth. 

    Although he didn't quite match the .886 OPS and 42 home runs that he put up in 2016, Dozier did his part to aid the effort with an .856 OPS and 34 homers. He also won his first Gold Glove.

    The Twins can expect more of the same from the 30-year-old in 2018. Throw in continued growth from Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano (pending a possible suspension after an assault allegation) and additional production from veterans like Joe Mauer and Logan Morrison, and the Twins could ultimately feature one of the better offenses in baseball.

    That wouldn't necessarily return them to October, however.

    Even if the Twins overcome their shaky pitching staff this season, they face tall orders in either toppling the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central or in beating out the American League's numerous wild-card contenders.

    If the Twins are lagging far behind in the AL playoff picture come July, Dozier is more than likely to find himself back on the market. After all, they can either trade him for prospects then and there, or hold on to him and lose him to free agency in the winter.

7. Domingo Santana, RF, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    The Milwaukee Brewers seem to be in the same boat as the Twins in that they have the lineup to contend, but thin pitching and tough competition elsewhere could ultimately sink their chances.

    If the Brewers fail to contend, don't expect Domingo Santana to join Dozier on the trade market. 

    Santana, who's coming off an .875 OPS and 30 homers in 2017, is a fellow right-handed slugger, but there's one area where he differs greatly from Dozier. Whereas Dozier is set for free agency after this season, the 25-year-old Santana isn't due to hit the market until after 2021. There's no hurry for the Brewers to deal him.

    Instead, the twist is that Santana could become more available if the Brewers are clear contenders for the first time since 2011.

    The additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain in January forced Santana into an outfield logjam that also includes Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips. That kicked off speculation that Santana's spare bat could be dealt for a much-needed arm.

    Although this speculation has died down in spring training, it could pick back up again later this summer. If the Brewers sniff a chance to flip him for a mound upgrade, they might go through with it.

6. J.T. Realmuto, C, Miami Marlins

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    Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins/Getty Images

    J.T. Realmuto and the Miami Marlins are in an awkward spot. He wants out of the team's rebuilding phase, but their apparent focus is on keeping him around.

    "He's a tremendously talented catcher, and we're happy that he's a part of what we have here," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said in February, per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. "I think you're still scratching the surface with his ability. The nation doesn't know how good he is." 

    In no way is Hill kidding himself. Realmuto has used his all-around skill set to improve his wins above replacement every year he's been in the big leagues, and he's still only 27 years old. He's also controlled through 2020. There's an outside chance that the Marlins will be ready to contend by then.

    The Marlins just began rebuilding this past winter, and they still only have a middle-of-the-road farm system (No. 18 per our rankings despite offloading Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon in blockbuster trades. They have more work to do before they can start dreaming about contention.

    Trading Realmuto this summer would help, as he has enough talent and control to command a haul of prospects in a deal. All the Marlins would need is a catching-needy team to barter with.

5. Zach Britton, RP, Baltimore Orioles

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Before anything can happen with Zach Britton on the trade market, he needs to prove he's healthy.

    The Baltimore Orioles left-hander appeared in only 38 games in 2017 due to injuries and then ruptured his Achilles during offseason workouts in December.

    While there isn't a clear timetable for Britton's recovery, he expressed hope in a February radio interview that he could be back by May. That's probably a stretch, but it would give him a couple months to get back on the track that produced a microscopic 1.38 ERA in 204 appearances between 2014 and 2016.

    That would be a major boost to an Orioles team that has a chance to be better than expected in 2018. They always figured to score plenty of runs, and the recent signings of Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman are good answers to what were serious pitching questions.

    What's more likely, however, is that the Orioles will fall into the same rut that led to a last-place finish in the AL East last year. 

    If so, Britton could become a major trade chip. His status as an impending free agent would make him attainable. If healthy and effective once again, he'd offer more upside than any other reliever on the market.

4. Manny Machado, SS, Baltimore Orioles

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Because there's no guarantee that Britton will be healthy in time for the summer trade season, Manny Machado takes the cake as the Orioles star who's most likely to be moved.

    This is assuming the Orioles don't extend him, of course. But that seems like a safe assumption at this point, as even general manager Dan Duquette is having a hard time conjuring optimism about the idea.

    "I would never say never, but we're going to be more focused on '18 than beyond," Duquette said earlier in March, per Feinsand. "I don't really know what's going to happen beyond that."

    It's not surprising that the Orioles are so close to losing Machado. He's a three-time All-Star with MVP potential, and he's still only 25 years old. He stands to be one of the most coveted free agents of all time after 2018. A contract worth up to (and maybe more than) $400 million will be in the cards.

    Machado is sure to hit the block if the Orioles fall out of contention. And because he can play either shortstop or third base, there would be plenty of potential fits for him on World Series hopefuls.

3. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    After a long, frustrating stay on the free-agent market, Mike Moustakas went back home to the Kansas City Royals on March 10.

    "It feels great," he said, per Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com. "Being able to come back here and be with all these guys that I grew up playing this game with in this organization is unbelievable, and I'm just excited to be back."

    The 29-year-old slugger may not want to get too comfortable, though.

    The Royals are only guaranteeing him $6.5 million for one year, and it's no wonder they didn't go any higher with their offer. Moustakas' market didn't demand a better offer, for one thing. For another, they're a fallen contender for whom 2018 will be the first step of a full-on rebuild.

    The top priority for any rebuilding team is to load up its farm system. This goes double for the Royals, who entered spring training with the worst system in Bleacher Report's rankings. 

    As long as Moustakas reclaims the form that produced a career-high 38 homers in 2017, chances are the Royals will deal him while the dealing's good. While his contract does include a $15.5 million mutual option for 2019, odds are he'd rather re-enter the market to try his luck once more.

2. Danny Duffy, SP, Kansas City Royals

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Moustakas won't be the only star the Royals can offer this summer. Nor the one teams will want the most.

    That honor belongs to Danny Duffy.

    The 29-year-old lefty made it clear that he doesn't want to leave Kansas City by tweeting amid swirling trade rumors in December: "Bury me a Royal."

    Nonetheless, rumors about Duffy likely haven't even reached their peak. As Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported on March 10: "The trade interest in Duffy has been 'brisk,' as one Royals official said, and that’s likely to ramp up."

    Duffy's contract is part of the appeal, as he's due to make just $60 million through 2021. And while that year is obviously a long way off, Kansas City's rebuild is far enough away from bearing fruit to wonder if the team will be ready to contend by then.

    The other part of Duffy's appeal is his talent. He's not the most consistent starter under the sun, yet he occasionally looks like an ace and has been good enough to post a 3.47 ERA over the last four seasons.

    In a day and age that's short on quality starters, a player like this won't last long on the summer trade market.

1. Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    From the sound of things, Chris Archer hasn't been traded yet not because the Tampa Bay Rays don't want to move him, but because they want way too much for him.

    "No way [the Rays] trade Chris Archer," one rival executive told Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. "They wanted our whole farm system."

    Going forward, the Rays' asking price for Archer is unlikely to change.

    The 29-year-old's 4.05 ERA over the last two seasons underscores the reality that he's a flawed pitcher. It's worth something that he's typically good for 200 innings, however. It's worth arguably even more that he has an electric arm that's averaged 245 strikeouts over the last three seasons.

    To boot, Archer is signed to one of the most club-friendly contracts in baseball. Tally up his guaranteed years and his team options for 2020 and 2021, and he'll make $28.6 million over the next four years.

    Although there may not be any suitors willing to pay the price for Archer now, that figures to change as the season goes along. Some teams are going to become desperate for pitching. As their desperation increases, the more it'll seem like no price is too high for an asset like Archer.

           

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.