1 Player Every MLB Team Should Already Be Targeting for an Offseason Trade
The upcoming Major League Baseball offseason will feature one of the best free-agent classes ever, but that doesn't mean the trade market will be closed.
We're going to pinpoint one trade target for each of MLB's 30 teams. For contenders, these are players from squads that are either rebuilding or possibly looking to cut payroll. For everyone else, they're upside plays for the short- or long-term future.
Only realistic trade candidates are in play here. Trades of Mike Trout, Mookie Betts or even Jacob deGrom and/or Noah Syndergaard would grab headlines, but there's a fat chance those would actually happen.
We'll go in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: J.T. Realmuto
With Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock, Eduardo Escobar and others due for free agency, the Arizona Diamondbacks will have big holes to fill this winter.
These are problems that J.T. Realmuto can solve.
The 27-year-old has realized his All-Star potential this season, setting career highs in OPS (.845), home runs (21) and WAR (4.1). He's also become an above-average pitch-framer. That's a talent Arizona values highly.
It'll take a lot to convince the Miami Marlins to part with Realmuto, who's under their control through 2020. But as much as any team, the D-backs have reason to offer a lot.
Atlanta Braves: Nicholas Castellanos
Even after riding a wave of young talent to a likely National League East title, the Atlanta Braves will enter the offseason with more prospect depth than they need.
A blockbuster trade would fix that. And with Nick Markakis due for free agency, it would be best if said blockbuster brought back a new right fielder.
Nicholas Castellanos would be equal to the task. The 26-year-old has an .824 OPS since 2016 and more extra-base hits (137) since 2017 than luminaries like Manny Machado and Matt Carpenter. And if he were lined up alongside Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ender Inciarte, the impact of his poor defense might be lessened.
The Detroit Tigers haven't seemed overly willing to trade Castellanos in the past. But with his free agency just a year away, they need to get serious about cashing him in.
Baltimore Orioles: Matt Kemp
Based on the latest from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, it sounds like the Baltimore Orioles need to get their house in order before they do anything else.
Assuming they eventually get that done, one of their priorities will be bringing in potential trade chips for next summer. More likely than not, they will have to acquire these players via salary dumps.
For example, Matt Kemp.
Although Kemp has enjoyed an All-Star rebirth in 2018, he's still barely better than a replacement-level player. Rather than pay him $18 million ($3.5 million of his salary is on the Braves) in 2019, the Los Angeles Dodgers may be willing eat some of that and dump the rest on another team.
That would be the Orioles' cue to bring aboard Kemp and hope that Oriole Park at Camden Yards boosts his power. If so, he would be turned into a slugger for hire.
Boston Red Sox: J.T. Realmuto
The Boston Red Sox's 111-win pace is remarkable in its own right. It's even more remarkable in light of how little they've gotten out of the most important position on the diamond.
Although there's something to be said about how well Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart have handled the team's pitching staff, it's hard to excuse their minus-1.2 WAR. That's tied for the lowest of all catching corps.
Realmuto would help Arizona for the same reasons he'd help the Red Sox.
The difference in this case is the likelihood of a trade going down. Dave Dombrowski, Boston's president of baseball operations, loves his blockbusters. It's not hard to imagine him surrendering top prospect Michael Chavis or even Rafael Devers to fix his team's biggest weakness.
If the Red Sox can get something done this winter, they'll maintain a tight grip on the American League East.
Chicago Cubs: Ryan Buchter
The Chicago Cubs might not have much to do this winter, but Justin Wilson's free agency will be an excuse to find a new left-handed reliever.
They should call the Oakland A's about Ryan Buchter.
Since he's controlled through 2021, the A's won't need to trade the 31-year-old. But he will be eligible for arbitration for the first time. Rather than submit to a pay raise, the A's might prefer to cash in his trade value.
To that end, it's nice that Buchter has a 2.85 ERA in 187 major league appearances. Even better are his platoon splits, as he's dominated left-handed batters to the tune of a .168 average and .553 OPS.
Unlike Wilson, Buchter is becoming less prone to free passes with age. His rate of 3.1 walks per nine innings for 2018 is set to be a new career low.
Chicago White Sox: Keon Broxton
With their rebuild still not quite finished, the best thing the Chicago White Sox can do this winter is seek out major leaguers who have upside but need an opportunity to realize it.
Few players fit that bill as well as Keon Broxton.
Broxton looked like a late-blooming star in the second half of 2016, but he came back to earth in 2017 and then got buried underneath Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich in the Milwaukee Brewers' depth chart.
Nonetheless, the 28-year-old remains interesting because of his athletic gifts. He has power and speed to spare, and he's mostly rated as a top-notch defensive center fielder.
If a change of scenery were to unlock these talents, the White Sox would enjoy having Broxton in between Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert in their outfield of the future.
Cincinnati Reds: Sonny Gray
The Cincinnati Reds have hinted at raising their payroll in 2019, which would ideally spur them back into real contention for the first time since 2013.
Some of their new payroll had better go toward fixing a starting rotation that ranks 29th with minus-0.6 WAR. Rather than pay for one or two free-agent starters, they should consider taking a shot on Sonny Gray.
As evidenced by Gray's 4.99 ERA and demotion to the bullpen, his first full year with the New York Yankees hasn't worked out. Instead of giving him another shot in 2019, it's likely that the Yankees will try to offload him onto another team for his final year before free agency.
If nothing else, the Reds could hope that a move to the National League would get Gray back on track. He could also benefit from joining a team that doesn't discourage fastballs as much as the Yankees do.
Cleveland Indians: Juan Lagares
In addition to filling a whole bunch of roster holes opened up by free agency, the Cleveland Indians' offseason priorities will include finding a center fielder.
This puts the Indians in the market for a stopgap fix. Among their more intriguing options is Juan Lagares.
Assuming he's fully recovered from season-ending toe surgery, the 29-year-old could be on the New York Mets' chopping block because of his $9 million salary. By Mets standards, that's a good chunk of change for an outfielder they don't necessarily need.
If nothing else, Cleveland would stand to get good defense out of Lagares. There would also be a chance of more regular playing time leading to an offensive breakout.
Colorado Rockies: Billy Hamilton
The Colorado Rockies also have a need in center field, although theirs is more specific.
Charlie Blackmon is a fine hitter but a less fine defender. Hence why the Rockies have gotten minus-29 defensive runs saved out of center field in 2018. That's the worst mark in the majors.
That's not something the Rockies should want to live with, least of all at home. No other stadium has as much fair territory as Coors Field. In light of that, their poor center field defense is at least partly to blame for why they've been hurt so badly (.698 slugging percentage) by non-homer fly balls and line drives at home.
In short, Coors Field has the perfect outfield in which mega-speedster Billy Hamilton should be set loose. And with Phillip Ervin, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker to turn to in 2019, the Reds may be amenable to dealing the 28-year-old rather than keep him for his walk year.
Detroit Tigers: Estevan Florial
Even after a down year, Michael Fulmer will be the best trade chip in the Tigers' possession this winter. His credentials include an AL Rookie of the Year award and an All-Star berth, and he's only 25 and controlled through 2022.
Because their best prospects are all pitchers, the Tigers might only part with Fulmer if they can get a blue-chip position player in return. Estevan Florial is probably their best and most realistic option.
In the Yankees system, Florial is a 20-year-old center fielder with power, speed and arm strength, plus a pretty good eye for the strike zone. There's some concern about his floor, but he has the kind of ceiling that's lacking among Detroit's hitting prospects.
The Yankees have been interested in Fulmer in the past. If that interest returns this winter, the Tigers should know who to ask for.
Houston Astros: J.T. Realmuto
The Houston Astros won't have any glaring weaknesses to address this winter. But with Martin Maldonado and Evan Gattis ticketed for free agency, they will need to see about their catching depth.
What better excuse for them to reignite their interest in Realmuto?
The Astros engaged the Marlins in trade discussions for him back in the spring, according to Craig Mish of SiriusXM, but they evidently didn't want to give up top prospect Kyle Tucker.
Given how much Tucker struggled in his first exposure to the major leagues, the Astros might be more amenable to paying that price this time around. If not, they have plenty of other pieces with which to entice the Marlins.
In any event, dealing for Realmuto would give Houston the inside track at another AL West title.
Kansas City Royals: Nick Pivetta
The Kansas City Royals are rebuilding, but there's a difference between them and the Orioles, White Sox and Tigers: They haven't yet cashed in their best controllable assets.
To this end, the Royals would be wise to shop at least Danny Duffy and Whit Merrifield this winter. And as badly as they need prospects, they shouldn't ignore that they also sorely need MLB-ready talent.
Thus, Nick Pivetta.
The 25-year-old has gotten plenty of exposure with the Philadelphia Phillies since 2017, and he's impressed with his strikeout rate of 10.1 per nine innings. He nonetheless has a 5.29 ERA, in part due to a home run problem.
The Royals might target Pivetta in deals of Duffy and/or Merrifield. If they get him, Kauffman Stadium could cure his gopheritis and turn him into a long-term building block.
Los Angeles Angels: Justin Smoak
With Rowdy Tellez looking like their first baseman of the future, the Toronto Blue Jays have an excuse to dangle Justin Smoak on the trade market this winter.
If so, the Los Angeles Angels should be first in line.
Although Albert Pujols has vowed to play as much first base as he can in 2019, the Angels shouldn't even commit to keeping him on their roster, much less in their plans at first base. They need a first baseman who can hit like one. Pujols' days as one of those guys are done.
Smoak? Less so. The 31-year-old has an .854 OPS and 62 homers over the last two seasons. Good stuff for a guy whose 2019 club option will only pay out $6 million.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Whit Merrifield
The Dodgers have used eight different players at second base, yet the position has yielded only 0.2 WAR all season.
That's a telltale sign of a position in need of a real fix. For that, the Dodgers should turn their attention to Merrifield.
Merrifield came out of nowhere to become an under-the-radar star in his age-28 season last year. He's kept right on ticking in 2018, hitting .302 with an .802 OPS, 12 homers and an AL-leading 36 stolen bases. All told, he's been worth 4.7 WAR.
The Royals opted not to trade Merrifield ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but they can't keep him forever. At his age, there's no guarantee he'll still be a viable regular by the time they return to contention. He belongs on a win-now team.
Miami Marlins: Forrest Whitley
At least among reasonably available options, Realmuto is going to be the best player on the winter trade market. The Marlins shouldn't move him for anything less than the best prospect they can get.
To this end, Forrest Whitley's their guy.
The Astros prospect took a hit to his stock when he served a 50-game suspension out of the gate in 2018. But that looks like water under the bridge now. The 21-year-old right-hander has a solid 3.76 ERA in eight starts for Double-A Corpus Christi, and he checks in as baseball's No. 1 pitching prospect at MLB.com.
Whether the Astros would give up their best prospect for two years of Realmuto is a good question, especially with Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton ticketed for free agency.
However, that doesn't mean the Marlins can't ask.
Milwaukee Brewers: Sonny Gray
Cincinnati would be nice, but it's hard to imagine a better destination for Gray than Milwaukee.
It's all but certain that the Brewers will be on the hunt for starting pitching this winter. Although they hold the NL's top wild card and still have a shot at winning the NL Central, their rotation hasn't made things easy. They've gotten only 4.9 WAR out of it.
The Brewers may also hold the key to restoring Gray's All-Star ability: pitching coach Derek Johnson. He was Gray's pitching coach at Vanderbilt, where he left a lasting impression on the 28-year-old righty.
"He's a pretty special person to me," Gray said in 2016, per MLB.com's Mark Chiarelli. "He was one of those father-figure types you hear people talk about—especially at an important part of my life."
Clearly, this is a buy-low option the Brewers need to look into.
Minnesota Twins: AJ Reed
With Joe Mauer nearing the end of his contract and (possibly) his career, the Minnesota Twins need to get to work on finding a first baseman of the future.
Tyler Austin is their best in-house option at the moment, and he certainly has the power for the job. However, he also has a career .287 on-base percentage, and his splits suggest that he's best used as a platoon hitter.
So, the Twins should call the Astros about AJ Reed.
Reed was a hot prospect a couple of years ago, but he's failed to make a dent in the majors. Now he's 25 and seemingly blocked from making a long-term impact in Houston.
On the plus side, he's slammed 62 homers and an .867 OPS for Triple-A Fresno over the last two seasons. Any guy who can put up numbers like those deserves a change of scenery, followed by everyday playing time.
New York Mets: J.T. Realmuto
Everyone and their uncle were ready for the Mets to start a fire sale ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. But they didn't, and now they're riding a strong second half (30-25) into the offseason.
Assuming this puts the Mets in a buying mood, Realmuto should move back to the top of their wish list.
Yes, "back." In what now seems like another lifetime, Mike Puma of the New York Post reported in April that the Mets had expressed interest in the Marlins catcher. He was the guy they wanted before they landed Devin Mesoraco in the Matt Harvey trade.
With Mesoraco due for free agency, the hole in the Mets' catching depth is about to return. If they were to fill it with Realmuto, they could rebound at least as wild card contenders in 2019.
New York Yankees: Michael Fulmer
The Yankees' blueprint for an ideal offseason probably involves not only ditching Gray but also signing Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado and acquiring a top starter in a trade.
For the latter, you can expect to hear more rumors about the Yankees eyeing deGrom and Madison Bumgarner. But since neither of them are going anywhere, let's turn the spotlight back to Fulmer.
The Yankees were frequently linked to the Tigers right-hander last winter, and they were scouting him as recently as June, per the Detroit Free Press (h/t Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News). There hasn't been a good time for a trade during the season, however, because Fulmer has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness en route to a 4.69 ERA.
Still, his fastball velocity remains in good shape, which is as good a sign as any that he's not broken beyond repair. The Yankees could do a lot worse than bringing him on as a long-term upside play.
Oakland Athletics: Andrew Cashner
The Orioles may be in "acquire trade chips" mode, but they'd be wise to spare Andrew Cashner from the effort. As a pitch-to-contact guy, he's not going to amass any value amid their hitter-friendly home park and putrid defense.
If the Orioles do seek to jettison the 32-year-old, the Oakland A's might take an interest.
Filling out their starting rotation will be a major project this winter. Provided the Orioles are willing to eat some of his $9.5 million salary, acquiring Cashner should be part of it.
Simply moving from Oriole Park at Camden Yards to the Oakland Coliseum would help Cashner. Even more helpful would be the A's defense, which ranks No. 1 in efficiency.
These things wouldn't make Cashner an ace. However, they could return him to the consistency (see his 3.40 ERA) that he enjoyed with the Texas Rangers in 2017.
Philadelphia Phillies: Jose Leclerc
According to Jon Heyman of Fancred, rival executives think the Phillies might sign both Harper and Machado this winter. Even if they do, they might not stop there. They also have enough prospect depth to work a blockbuster trade into their offseason.
To that end, perhaps their most interesting play would be a deal to put their good-not-great bullpen over the top. Say, for somebody like Jose Leclerc.
The Rangers right-hander isn't a household name, but he's getting there. All he's done this season is put up a 1.65 ERA in 56 outings, with 84 strikeouts and only one homer allowed in 54.2 innings.
Since Leclerc is just 24 and controlled through 2022, the Rangers don't need to trade him. But with their long-term future in flux, they can't afford to say no to any good offers they come across.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jurickson Profar
If the Pittsburgh Pirates want to be more than a fringe wild-card contender in 2019, they need to do something about an infield that's produced a total of 2.9 WAR this season.
Trading for Jurickson Profar would be a pretty good "something."
Profar is many years removed from his days as baseball's No. 1 prospect, yet he's still only 25 and finally showing signs of life as a potential star. He's put up an .806 OPS with 18 homers and 10 steals in 2018, all while playing every position on Texas' infield.
The Rangers presumably don't want to part with Profar this winter. But with his free agency due up after 2020 and their short-term contention chances looking mighty slim, they can't hang up on the Pirates if they call.
San Diego Padres: Marcus Stroman
If one of baseball's worst teams as a buyer wasn't a wild idea in July, why should it be this offseason? With MLB's No. 1 farm system at their disposal, the San Diego Padres have enough prospect depth to pull off any blockbuster they desire.
But if the Padres are smart, they'll hedge by dealing only a small portion of their prospect depth for a controllable starter who merely has ace upside. For example, Marcus Stroman.
The 27-year-old righty's value has taken a hit amid an injury-marred and unproductive 2018 season. But with his free agency set for after 2020, the rebuilding Toronto Blue Jays aren't in a position to keep him off the trading block.
As far as the Padres are concerned, Stroman had a 3.09 ERA over 201 innings just last season. Provided he stays healthy, moving from the AL East to the NL West could only help Stroman get back on that track.
San Francisco Giants: Billy Hamilton
The San Francisco Giants should rebuild. But since they'll be under the luxury tax, they're more likely to load up for one last hurrah in 2019.
One of their first calls should be to the Reds to ask if Hamilton is still available.
They can't afford to ignore this problem any more than the Rockies can. AT&T Park may not have as much fair territory as Coors Field, but it has a huge center field and wide alleys. The more ground a Giants center fielder can cover, the better.
Hamilton would get the job done. At least until Steven Duggar is healthy and fully developed.
Seattle Mariners: Billy Hamilton
The Seattle Mariners should also be in on Hamilton, but only if their roster shakes out like it should.
The Mariners could go into 2019 with Dee Gordon in center field, Robinson Cano at second base and Ryon Healy at first base. What they ought to do, however, is bump Healy in favor of Cano and move Gordon back to second base, where he's most comfortable.
That would open up center field for a new arrival, preferably one who could improve on the AL-worst minus-25 defensive runs saved the Mariners have gotten out of the position in 2018.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Hamilton can fix that. A pitching staff that doesn't tend to keep the ball on the ground would certainly be overjoyed.
St. Louis Cardinals: Kirby Yates
The St. Louis Cardinals look pretty good for 2019, but one of their offseason missions must involve finding a swing-and-miss reliever for a bullpen that's had a hard time racking up strikeouts.
Jose Leclerc will be an option, but it doesn't seem likely that the Cardinals would empty their farm for him. Somebody like Kirby Yates is more their speed.
Yates was a face in the crowd before 2018, but a new split-finger fastball has led the way to a huge breakout. In 59 appearances, he has a 2.04 ERA an 80 strikeouts in 57.1 innings.
If Yates were any younger or any more controllable, the Padres would presumably prefer to hang on to him. But since he's 31 and only under their control through 2020, they may be fine cashing him in while the getting's good.
Tampa Bay Rays: Luke Maile
The Tampa Bay Rays won't have much on their offseason to-do list, but they're one of many teams that could use some help at catcher.
The difference with them is that they're probably not going to be a serious suitor for Realmuto. He'd require a huge chunk of their prospect depth, and then they'd have to pay him a lot in his final two years before free agency. That kind of calculus doesn't suit the Rays.
Instead, how about Luke Maile?
With Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire ready for their closeups and Russell Martin still around, Maile has become a spare part in Toronto. And yet, the 27-year-old is a decent hitter by catcher standards, and he boasts a well-above-average framing skill.
Less than two years after losing him on waivers, the Rays should seek to bring Maile back.
Texas Rangers: Maikel Franco
Let's assume a few dominoes fall this winter:
- Adrian Beltre retires
- The Rangers keep Profar but prefer using him as a super-utility man
- The Phillies sign Machado as a third baseman
If these things happen, the Rangers would be on the lookout for a full-time third baseman and the Phillies will be looking for a taker for Maikel Franco. Sounds like a match.
Although Franco first broke into the majors back in 2014, he just turned 26 and is under club control through 2021. And despite his inconsistency, he still has the talents—e.g., power, contact and athleticism—to be a star.
Provided Franco could be had for next to nothing, the Rangers should angle for a dice roll on him.
Toronto Blue Jays: Dinelson Lamet
Although the Blue Jays are technically rebuilding, their deals for Ken Giles and Brandon Drury indicate that they'd just as soon acquire MLB talent as prospect depth.
They may prefer to carry on that mission if they seek further trades this winter, be it for Smoak, Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Kevin Pillar or whoever. If it's a question of which player they should want to seek out, the arrow points to Dinelson Lamet.
The 26-year-old righty is recovering from Tommy John surgery. That complicates his trade value quite a bit, but it doesn't necessarily kill it. If Lamet makes a full recovery, he may get back to being the strikeout machine (10.9 K/9) that he was as a rookie in 2017.
If the Blue Jays could get him in a swap for Stroman or Sanchez, they'd be seeing San Diego's short-term upside play with a long-term upside play.
Washington Nationals: J.T. Realmuto
Keeping Harper in town will be the Washington Nationals' top priority this winter. But while they're at it, they need to do something about their catcher problem.
Nats catchers were last in the National League with minus-1.7 WAR in 2017, and they're right back there again with minus-1.1 WAR in 2018. Between this and Matt Wieters being ticketed for the open market, the Nats have every excuse to spur themselves to action.
Their top target should be the same guy who's been their top target: Realmuto.
The Nationals had their eye on Realmuto in July, according to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. They ultimately deemed his price too high. They may not change their tune if the Marlins keep asking for Victor Robles and Carter Kieboom.
Nonetheless, they would have to keep negotiating. No team needs any player as badly as they need Realmuto.