Under-the-Radar MLB Trade Targets with Big Impact for Bargain Prices
The summer trade market for the 2018 Major League Baseball season has so much more to offer than Manny Machado, Cole Hamels and Kelvin Herrera.
In fact, quite a few trade chips deserve more attention.
Ahead is a look at 10 players who could provide big returns on relatively modest trade investments. Some have specific skills that may be the missing link for contenders. Others are just plain good players who are lost in the shadows of allegedly better players.
Let's take it away.
Jared Hughes, RP, Cincinnati Reds
Kelvin Herrera isn't the only big-name reliever who's going to draw a crowd ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Crowds will also flock to Zach Britton, Brad Hand and Raisel Iglesias.
The list of less-big names worth considering, however, starts with Jared Hughes.
The 32-year-old had his moments in seven years with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers, but he's only now enjoying his big break. Hughes has appeared in 29 games for the Cincinnati Reds and put up a 1.02 ERA across 35.1 innings.
Of course, ERA isn't the best gauge for relievers. And given that nothing about his velocity, locations or pitch selection jumps off the page, Hughes seemingly hasn't evolved as much as his ERA suggests.
That's OK, though, because even run-of-the-mill Hughes offers valuable services. He's solid at getting right-handed batters out, and he's excellent at inducing ground balls with his bowling-ball sinker. The 61.4 GB% he has this season ranks eighth among relievers.
Hughes is under contract through 2019 with an option for 2020, so the Reds don't need to take the first offer they get for him. But he won't cost as much as the relief market's shiny objects, and he could be worth his weight in gold for a contender.
Craig Stammen, RP, San Diego Padres
And now for another reliever who's just now hitting his stride after years of good yet unspectacular service: Craig Stammen.
The 34-year-old put up a 3.80 ERA with the Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres between 2009 and 2017. After re-upping with the Padres on a two-year deal in January, he now boasts a 1.78 ERA through his first 27 appearances of 2018.
And more so than in Jared Hughes' case, Stammen's ERA is on to something.
Stammen's strikeout-to-walk ratio has skyrocketed to a career-best 6.4. He's throwing more sinkers and also throwing them lower than usual. That's clearly working to set up his slider, as it's enjoying its highest whiff rate since 2013.
As one would expect from a sinker-slider guy, Stammen is also collecting ground balls at a well-above-average clip of 51.9 percent. Additionally, he's shutting down righty batters to the tune of a .504 OPS.
The Padres can always keep Stammen for 2019, so offers for him need to be good. However, it's hard to imagine any scenario in which a team would have to sell the whole farm for him.
Kyle Barraclough, RP, Miami Marlins
Kyle Barraclough is under the Miami Marlins' control through 2021, so they don't have to trade him this summer.
They should, however. Their rebuild still needs a lot of work. And given the volatile nature of relievers, trading him now before his value depreciates is the smart play.
As it is, Barraclough's velocity is a red flag. The 28-year-old broke in with an average fastball of 95.6 mph in 2015. Now, his average is down to just 93.5 mph. Throw in his trouble with free passes, and the Marlins have reasons to fear the worst as far as his value is concerned.
And yet, contenders can read into his career-best 1.32 ERA.
He's becoming a more well-rounded pitcher who's more trusting of his changeup, so it's not the biggest surprise that he's still better than average at avoiding contact despite his velocity decline. He's also inducing both ground balls and pop-ups at strong rates.
Nobody is more vulnerable against Barraclough than right-handed batters. They're hitting just .091 with a .382 OPS against him so far this season.
Ultimately, the Marlins won't just hand Barraclough over. But he should cost well less than, say, an Andrew Miller. And despite his red flags, an investment in him could keep paying off beyond 2018.
Keone Kela, RP, Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers are pretty much in the same boat with Keone Kela as the Marlins are with Kyle Barraclough: He's under team control through 2021, but trading him now would help spur a much-needed rebuild.
The difference with Kela, 25, is that he isn't having a good season on the surface. He has a 4.24 ERA in 25 appearances. Left-handed batters, in particular, have destroyed him with a 1.008 OPS. So, the Rangers probably can't hope to market Kela as a shutdown closer.
However, there's plenty for contenders to like about him.
Kela's average fastball is up to 96.6 mph, and his curveball is as filthy as ever. After spiking last year, he has his contact rate back down where it belongs. Hence his rate of 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings. The righty also has two more hallmarks of a solid setup man: He's keeping walks and home runs at bay.
Worst comes to worst, Kela could always be used exclusively in a specialist role. Although lefties have teed off on him, righties have managed just a .408 OPS.
The price for Kela may ultimately be less than the price for Barraclough. In the end, the returns could be even better.
Jurickson Profar, INF, Texas Rangers
Since it's time to break up the band anyway, now is as good a time as any for the Rangers to concede that Jurickson Profar isn't going to be a superstar after all.
He was the No. 1 prospect in MLB back in 2013. Since then, his career has been marred by injuries and disappointing production. Even this year, he's undercutting his career-best .757 OPS with poor defense in place of Elvis Andrus at shortstop.
If nothing else, though, interested parties can latch on to Profar's defensive versatility. The right contender can also latch on to something else: the way in which he's demolishing left-handed pitching.
The 25-year-old has a .907 OPS in 70 plate appearances against southpaws in 2018. A sample size like that must be taken with a grain of salt, but it could be indicative of something in Profar's case. He was a natural right-handed hitter before he became a switch-hitter. Hitting lefties should come naturally to him.
In the short term, a contender could use Profar as a platoon infielder. Since he's controlled through 2020, his new team might even see if giving up switch-hitting is the key to unlocking his potential.
Derek Dietrich, INF/OF, Miami Marlins
Never mind just trade chips. Derek Dietrich is one of MLB's most overlooked players in general.
The 28-year-old has done a little bit of everything in the field since breaking in with the Marlins in 2013, playing mostly second base but also filling in at third base, first base and left field.
To boot, he's been a quality hitter since 2015. He has a solid .787 OPS overall, and 2018 is the third year out of the four that his OPS has been in the .800 range.
The catch is that Dietrich can't be used in an everyday capacity because of his platoon split. He hardly ever faces left-handers, and his career .674 OPS against them characterizes that as a wise strategy.
So even though Dietrich is controlled through 2020, there are limits to what the Marlins can demand for him in trade talks. Despite appearances, he's not likely to bring back any top-100 prospects.
For contenders looking to complete the ensemble, however, he's basically a more useful version of Profar. His whole thing is hitting right-handed pitchers (.812 OPS since 2015), and there are many more of those out there than there are left-handed pitchers.
Lucas Duda, 1B, Kansas City Royals
Whether Lucas Duda will be a viable trade candidate at the deadline will come down to his health first and foremost. Given that he's on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis, that's no sure thing.
Then there's the reality that Duda wasn't having a great season even before he got hurt. He'd played in 37 games with the Kansas City Royals and given them just a .716 OPS and four home runs.
Duda was, however, excelling at one thing he usually excels at: hitting righties.
His .854 OPS against righties is of a piece with a career track record against them that includes an .842 OPS and 119 of his 142 career homers. At the very least, this gives him some appeal as one half of a platoon at first base and/or designated hitter.
The Royals are only paying Duda $3.5 million, but that's just for this season. Assuming he's healthy, they may be in such a hurry to unload him that they might gift a contender a major steal.
Leonys Martin, CF, Detroit Tigers
Enough with relievers and part-timers with assorted upside. How about an everyday center fielder?
To that end, Leonys Martin is the best of a limited cast of characters.
Ever since he broke into MLB with the Rangers back in 2011, Martin has been known as a defender first and a hitter a distant second. His many defensive runs saved came paired with just a .661 OPS.
Meanwhile, the 30-year-old can still play a heck of a center field.
This is probably more than the Detroit Tigers dared to hope for when they picked Martin up on a $1.75 million contract. And between his production and his extra year of club control, he's an extremely valuable trade chip in theory.
In reality, his value figures to be hurt by a lack of demand. There simply aren't many contenders that need help in center field. The Tigers may have to take what they can get and watch Martin go on to star for another team.
Wilson Ramos, C, Tampa Bay Rays
As a budding superstar who's only 27 and controlled through 2020, Marlins backstop J.T. Realmuto is going to cast a long shadow over the catching market this summer.
As the potential cost for adding him climbs, catcher-needy teams could do a lot worse than turning to Wilson Ramos as a Plan B.
Ramos was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger in his final season with the Nationals in 2016, but the year ended with him tearing his ACL in September. That delayed his return with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017, and he wasn't the same after he came back.
Now in 2018, Ramos looks more like himself again. He's played in 50 games and put up a .779 OPS with seven home runs. Those are solid numbers by any standard and terrific by catcher standards.
Since Ramos is only under contract through the end of this year, the Rays don't have much choice but to trade him. That plus the presence of Realmuto could work in the favor of interested parties, one of whom would stand to get an impact catcher at less than an impact price.
Tyson Ross, SP, San Diego Padres
Teams in need of starting pitching help have high-end options ranging from Hamels to Chris Archer to Danny Duffy to Michael Fulmer to J.A. Happ.
Or, they could look on the bottom shelf and find a good bargain in Tyson Ross.
The 31-year-old's career appeared to be in jeopardy in 2016 and 2017, as a series of shoulder woes (including thoracic outlet surgery) limited him to an 8.11 ERA in just 13 appearances for the San Diego Padres and Rangers.
Now, Ross is back with the Padres and looking more or less like his old All-Star self with a 3.43 ERA through 13 starts.
As evidenced by his lower ground-ball rate, Ross isn't all the way back. But he's evolved beyond being a mere sinker-slider pitcher. That's helped resuscitate his strikeout habit and knack for inducing soft contact. To boot, his rate of 3.3 walks per nine innings is pretty good by his standards.
Ross is under contract for just this year at $1.75 million. Between that and a trade price that can only go so high, he stands to provide a ton of value for a contender that gets him.