Best-Case Landing Spots for Each Top MLB Trade Deadline Target

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJuly 26, 2018

Best-Case Landing Spots for Each Top MLB Trade Deadline Target

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    The Minnesota Twins are likely to trade pending free agents Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar.
    The Minnesota Twins are likely to trade pending free agents Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    MLB players on the verge of getting traded would never dare to declare a preferred landing spot. Contenders will also try to keep their deadline wish list far from the public's gaze to avoid losing leverage.

    Both sides, of course, have preferences. Pitchers will plead with the baseball gods to stay away from the Colorado Rockies' Coors Field, and a starting position player won't want to spend his final days before free agency on the bench. 

    These ideal pairings try to take both the player and team's perspective into account. The fit must be mutually beneficial to truly qualify as a best-case scenario. 

    Take the Boston Red Sox's acquisition of Nathan Eovaldi from the Tampa Bay Rays, which the AL East teams made official on Wednesday morning. The strong-armed righty marked a sensible and affordable choice to round out their late-season rotation, but Eovaldi—who has served up 11 home runs in 10 starts—would have benefited from the chance to work in a pitcher's park like the Oakland Coliseum.

    Although not a comprehensive selection of every potentially available player, this list focuses on top pending free agents with a high probability of changing teams. That eliminates Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Chris Archer and a swarm of cost-controlled relievers who have spent July journeying through the rumor mill.

2B Asdrubal Cabrera and 3B/OF Jose Bautista, New York Mets

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    The Cleveland Indians would benefit from bringing back Asdrubal Cabrera.
    The Cleveland Indians would benefit from bringing back Asdrubal Cabrera.Al Bello/Getty Images

    Best-Case Landing Spot: Cleveland Indians

    Despite Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor delivering MVP-caliber results, the Cleveland Indians trail their primary competitors (New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Red Sox) with 108 weighted runs created plus (wRC+). That mark still slots them as a comfortably above-average offense, but a lack of depth will make the AL Central leaders incredibly reliant on their two superstars in October.

    Their outfield's collective wRC+ dips all the way to 88 despite Michael Brantley's resurgence. They addressed the same weakness last year by acquiring Jay Bruce, who can again help bolster their postseason lineup.

    Although hitting just .213 this season, Jose Bautista has notched a .387 on-base percentage in 54 games with his current club. He can start in right field or give them a potent bench slugger who has also played the hot corner. The playoff-bound squad may also appreciate his career .904 postseason OPS.

    If the Indians don't find an outfielder (or two) of interest, they can acquire a second baseman and again try Jason Kipnis in center. Either way, it would behoove them to ascertain a cheap contingency plan for the oft-injured 31-year-old, whose slash line sits at a horrid .222/.309/.366 despite recent improvement.

    Why not also grab Asdrubal Cabrera? Although the former shortstop is now responsible for minus-17 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at second, his 117 wRC+ would place fourth among Cleveland's qualified hitters behind Ramirez, Lindor and Brantley. 

    The Indians, who landed Bruce during a 36-homer campaign in exchange for minor league reliever Ryder Ryan, should also like their odds of cheaply snagging both pending free agents. Maybe they'll have to part with a Double-A reliever instead of a Single-A depth piece.

    Even if both veterans simply fortify the bench, more lineup depth will come in handy.

Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins

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    Brian Dozier could turn his sluggish season around by moving to Miller Park.
    Brian Dozier could turn his sluggish season around by moving to Miller Park.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Best-Case Landing Spot: Milwaukee Brewers

    Luckily for Brian Dozier, a few spots stand out as superb destinations. Four playoff contenders (Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies) comprise the seven teams who have received below-replacement-level production at second base. 

    After acquiring Manny Machado, the Dodgers can move Chris Taylor back to second base when Justin Turner returns from the disabled list. They're also the only team of the bunch to play in a pitcher's park, so let's eliminate the defending NL champions.

    Any hitter would call moving to Coors Field the optimal outcome, but the Rockies will likely stick with recent call-up Garrett Hampson while 2016 NL batting champion DJ LeMahieu nurses a strained oblique. They should exert more energy addressing the rotation.

    We're now down to two, either of whom makes perfect sense. A major boon when acquired by Boston last July, Eduardo Nunez now carries a dreadful 66 wRC+ and minus-0.8 WAR. Dustin Pedroia may not play again this season. 

    So why not pick the Red Sox? His teammate's position flexibility may appeal to them a modicum more. 

    As a mid-market club who could win the division or fall short of a wild-card spot, renting a reeling star is the smartest decision Milwaukee can make. Batting .225/.306/.412 with his first below-average wRC+ (94) since 2013, Dozier should not cost a king's ransom.

    He could, however, swing the NL's airtight playoff race. According to Baseball Prospectus, Milwaukee's Miller Park conduces the ninth-highest home run factor for right-handed hitters. Minnesota's Target Field has been the second-toughest venue for righties like Dozier to go yard.   

    Brandishing MLB's fifth-worst wRC+ (83) against lefties, the Brewers will also appreciate the 31-year-old's .277/.356/.517 career slash line off southpaws. If the move doesn't pan out, they're still not mortgaging a bright future.

Eduardo Escobar, 3B/SS, Minnesota Twins

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    Eduardo Escobar's defensive pliability makes him a better fit than Dozier for the Boston Red Sox.
    Eduardo Escobar's defensive pliability makes him a better fit than Dozier for the Boston Red Sox.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Best-Case Landing Spot: Boston Red Sox

    Perhaps not as pressing as their second-base troubles, the Red Sox have also garnered underwhelming returns at third. 

    Rather than trading for an upgrade last year, they promoted Rafael Devers and watched him slash .284/.338/.482. This season, however, they may seek short-term solace with the 21-year-old now hitting .242/.292/.417.

    Versatility made Nunez—who slid from third to second—the perfect midseason acquisition for last season's playoff push. The Red Sox would ideally find another position player capable of handling either position. Enter Eduardo Escobar.

    The 29-year-old infielder has spent his breakout season on the left side of the Minnesota Twins' infield, but he manned second with passable results in previous years. Even if he's better served roaming the hot corner, at least he gives Boston a plausible alternative if Devers heats up.

    While the switch-hitter has fared much better against righties (141 wRC+) this season, the Green Monster will assist his production from the other side of the batter's box.

    And although the Philadelphia Phillies also make sense because of their shortstop shortcomings, just because Escobar has played shortstop doesn't mean he should. Note his minus-7 DRS in 21 games. That's also why Cabrera isn't necessarily the optimal fit despite experience at second and third.

    Escobar completes an already potent offense in preparation for postseason battles against elite AL adversaries.

J.A. Happ, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    The New York Yankees need a solid short-term rotation upgrade like J.A. Happ.
    The New York Yankees need a solid short-term rotation upgrade like J.A. Happ.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Best-Case Landing Spot: New York Yankees

    The only time J.A. Happ pitched in the NL since 2011, he posted a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who acquired him right before 2015's non-waiver deadline. From that perspective, fleeing the AL to any NL contender but Colorado represents an ideal outcome.

    Yet he might not even leave the AL East. On Wednesday night, MLB.com Mark Feinsand said the Yankees were the front-runners to land Happ, whom the Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of trading.

    It doesn't sound like Happ would mind moving to the Big Apple. During the All-Star festivities, per NJ.com's Brendan Kuty, he discussed the excitement of pitching at Yankee Stadium.

    "That franchise, there's so much behind it," Happ said. "So many championships. There's kind of an aura going into Yankee Stadium with all their history. So that's always kind of been in a lot of visitors minds going into that place. So that kind of makes it fun. You get up for that kind of thing. I've enjoyed pitching there."

    Although both of his 2018 starts against the Yankees took place in Toronto, he has registered a 3.94 ERA in eight career turns at Yankee Stadium. As an added bonus, per Baseball Reference, he boasts a 2.98 ERA against the Red Sox.

    He has not completed the sixth inning in a start since June 25, but the Yankees should keep it that way. He has registered an ERA of 3.27 and 3.43 in the first and second times through the batting order, respectively. That mark skyrockets to 6.33 with seven strikeouts per nine innings when facing the same lineup a third time.

    There's no reason he should ever face someone three times in a postseason start with the game's most dominant bullpen waiting in the wings. It may seem extravagant to trade prospects in hopes of receiving a couple of decent but short playoff starts from a solid veteran sporting a 4.18 ERA, but the Yankees' farm system is still stacked with pitching talent despite sending three to the Baltimore Orioles for Zach Britton. 

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals

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    A reeling Mike Moustakas no longer looks like an upgrade for most contenders.
    A reeling Mike Moustakas no longer looks like an upgrade for most contenders.Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    Best-Case Landing Spot: Boston Red Sox

    At this time last year, the Los Angeles Angels, Yankees and Red Sox all needed hot-corner help before the Kansas City Royals decided to keep their upcoming free agents for one last hurrah. They won't feel the same loyalty with 31 wins, but they may find a denser market for Mike Moustakas.

    While the Angels still have a hole at third base, they have fallen too far (10.5 games) from the wild-card picture to purchase a rental. Other teams are reportedly interested, but they probably shouldn't be.

    According to MLB.com's Jeffrey Flanagan, the Phillies and Braves both scouted Moustakas last week. Despite a torrid start, the trade target needed a three-game hot streak to narrowly pass Maikel Franco in wRC+ (107 to 105). He still trails Atlanta starter Johan Camargo (117).

    He also represents an offensive downgrade from Miguel Andujar, who is batting .294/.328/.500 in his rookie campaign for the Bronx Bombers. Yankee Stadium would be a cozy home for Moustakas, but it's unclear why the Yankees would bother unless they can also swap their newcomer for an ace.

    The Brewers are even considering moving Travis Shaw to second if they can land the 29-year-old, per MLB Network's Jon Morosi. That's another case of the fit working better for Moustakas than the suitor, who shouldn't jeopardize their defense for someone batting .205 (32-for-156) since June 1. 

    Springing back into the playoff mix by winning 13 of their last 15 games, the Pittsburgh Pirates could suddenly be in play to buy a short-term power punch. Yet he may not enjoy exchanging one pitcher's park for another. 

    This brings us back to the Red Sox. Let's pretend they didn't already hypothetically acquire Escobar, a preferable choice because of his flexibility and switch-hitting. The AL East leaders already destroy righties, but Moustakas at least represents a noticeable immediate upgrade over Devers. 

    If the other candidates realize they're not improving by bringing him on board, Boston can convince Kansas City to loan him for a middling prospect or two. A marginal upgrade could make a demonstrative difference in determining the top-heavy AL.

Wilson Ramos, C, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Wilson Ramos hopes to return from a hamstring injury in early August.
    Wilson Ramos hopes to return from a hamstring injury in early August.Adam Hunger/Getty Images

    Best-Case Landing Spot: Washington Nationals

    The Washington Nationals' need for a catcher is obvious. Their backstops, led by Matt Wieters, have collectively batted .186/.274/.266 with five home runs and minus-0.8 WAR. ESPN.com's David Schoenfield explained their disappointing season by saying, "It's hard to win with a seven-man lineup."

    Don't expect them to pry J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins. Teams that have checked in on the All-Star catcher told Fancred's Jon Heyman they don't see the franchise selling their last cornerstone standing. Even if they did, Washington doesn't have a deep farm system beyond top prospects Victor Robles and Carter Kieboom to assemble a tempting package. The Marlins would want Robles or 19-year-old sensation Juan Soto, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal

    Reuniting with Wilson Ramos seemed like a slam dunk before he injured his hamstring prior to the All-Star break. He's still eligible to get traded while on the disabled list, but the Nationals might not have time to wait for a catcher they need now. 

    Fading from the NL East and wild-card picture at 50-51, the clock is ticking. They're a terrible weekend at Miami away from pundits wondering if they should explore offers for Bryce Harper. Yet a four-game sweep would vault them back into business by July 31, and Harper's looming free agency adds urgency to salvage one more postseason opportunity.

    According to the Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin, Ramos could commence a rehab assignment after he catches live batting practice on Saturday. If the Nationals trust he'll be back by early August, they should still pursue the .297/.346/.488 hitter.

    It's also the best scenario for Ramos, who would work with a familiar rotation in front of fans who warmly welcomed him back during the All-Star Game introductions.  

Joakim Soria, RP, Chicago White Sox

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    Joakim Soria is a premier bullpen upgrade flying under the radar.
    Joakim Soria is a premier bullpen upgrade flying under the radar.Associated Press

    Best-Case Landing Spot: Chicago Cubs

    Brad Hand, Jeurys Familia and Britton are already off the board. That leaves contenders targeting low-tier relief rentals or high-leverage arms who will demand an exorbitant trade package due to their long-term deals.

    Then there's Joakim Soria, the best closer bizarrely falling under the radar.

    The 34-year-old righty has recorded a 2.56 ERA with 49 strikeouts and 10 walks in 38.2 innings. His 2.15 fielding independent pitching (FIP) ranks 14th among qualified relievers, only 10 of whom have generated a higher rate of infield fly balls than his 20 percent.

    According Cot's Baseball Contracts, he and the Chicago White Sox have a $10 million mutual option with a $1 million buyout for 2019. Based on last year's free-agent signings, the closer could likely exchange some annual salary for extra job security by inking a two-year deal for around $16-18 million.

    And even if Soria and Chicago would agree to the mutual extension, it makes too much sense for a rebuilding team to sell a flourishing veteran reliever who delivered ERAs of 4.05 and 3.70 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

    The Yankees already harbored MLB's top bullpen before adding Britton, so no contender will turn down extra relief help at the right price. While the Chicago Cubs claim the fourth-best bullpen ERA (3.28), they also have the fourth-worst strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.08). Per The Athletic's Patrick Mooney, closer Brandon Morrow won't return from the disabled list when eligible on Saturday. He has not worked 45 or more innings in a regular season since 2013.

    The Cubs and White Sox showed the ability to negotiate a cross-town exchange when the latter sent Jose Quntana to the former last season. The NL contenders should once again solicit a pitching upgrade from the Windy City's AL counterpart.

    Note: All advanced stats are courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.  

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