MLB Teams Set Up to Dominate a Likely Chaotic Offseason Trade Market
Whether it's a seller with a high-profile trade chip or a buyer with the farm system to swing a blockbuster deal, certain teams are in more prominent positions than others when it comes to the offseason trade market.
This year's free-agent pool has been talked about for years and could include record deals for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and several other impact players could change teams.
The trade market, however, could prove to be equally impactful.
We took a closer look at a handful of teams that could be major players in offseason swaps. It's a healthy mix of buyers with the blue-chip prospects to land a marquee trade target and sellers with the motivation to move those top-tier players. In short, the teams that are expected to be busiest this offseason are the ones that were included.
Other Teams to Watch
Under-the-Radar Buyer: Seattle Mariners
Jerry Dipoto took over as general manager of the Seattle Mariners on Sept. 28, 2015.
He's completed 58 trades, according to a quick run through the team's transaction history at Baseball Reference.
So while the Mariners have one of the thinnest farm systems in baseball—ranked 30th in our latest update—it's impossible to overlook them as potential players on the offseason trade market.
Under-the-Radar Seller: San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants need to blow things up and start from scratch.
However, with $140.9 million committed to eight players—all of whom besides Madison Bumgarner and his $12 million club option will be difficult to move—that will be easier said than done.
That said, they do have some trade chips if they decide to be proactive.
Veteran relievers Will Smith (54 G, 2.55 ERA, 12.1 K/9), Tony Watson (72 G, 2.59 ERA, 9.8 K/9) and Sam Dyson (74 G, 2.69 ERA, 7.2 K/9) had strong seasons, and each has a team-friendly contract situation.
Smith is entering his final year of arbitration after earning just $2.5 million in 2018, Watson is signed for $3.5 million next year, and Dyson has two years of arbitration remaining.
Every one could bring a decent prospect return, and none of them factors in as a long-term piece, so the Giants could have a major impact on the reliever market.
Offseason Wild Card: San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres could opt to sell high on relievers Kirby Yates (65 G, 2.14 ERA, 12.9 K/9) and Craig Stammen (73 G, 2.73 ERA, 10.0 K/9) if teams make them offers they can't refuse.
They could also be buyers, however, if the right opportunities present themselves.
While they won't be ready to contend in 2018, the Padres have a bright future thanks to a farm system that earned the No. 1 spot in our latest rankings.
If an impact player with years of remaining control becomes available on the trade market, don't count out the Padres as a potential suitor. They have the prospect talent to pull off a major trade, and they could be motivated to do just that with contention around the corner.
Atlanta Braves: Buyer
The Atlanta Braves have an exciting young core and arguably the deepest farm system in baseball, so while their early postseason exit was surely disappointing, the future is still incredibly bright.
The emergence of Mike Foltynewicz (13-10, 2.85 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 202 K, 183.0 IP) gave the team a young, controllable ace to lead the staff, but the starting rotation could use another top-tier arm.
Kevin Gausman, Julio Teheran and Sean Newcomb will be back next season, but they profile better as middle-of-the-rotation options.
Meanwhile, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard and Bryse Wilson each made at least one start in 2018, while Kyle Wright also got his first taste of the majors. Add Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller—highly regarded prospects who have yet to make their MLB debuts—and the Braves are absolutely loaded with pitching talent.
Now that they've arrived as contenders, they might be willing to package a few of those promising young pitchers in a trade for a more established, front-of-the-rotation starter.
They also still have a need for a long-term solution at catcher.
The Kurt Suzuki-Tyler Flowers platoon has been rock-solid the past two seasons, but Suzuki will be a free agent and Flowers is 32 years old and only signed for one more year with a club option for 2020.
Could that make them players for J.T. Realmuto, assuming the Miami Marlins are willing to trade him to a division rival?
Regardless of what they decide to do, the Braves have the prospect capital to put together a trade offer that few teams could top.
Houston Astros: Buyer
Even with Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton set to hit free agency, the Houston Astros could settle for a quiet offseason and still be considered one of the favorites in the American League.
Then again, if last offseason's trade for Gerrit Cole on the heels of a World Series title is any indication, they likely have no plans to stand pat.
With Josh James, Framber Valdez and top prospect Forrest Whitley waiting in the wings to step into the rotation, another major deal for an established starter seems unlikely.
A blockbuster trade to address the catcher position, however, is very much in play.
Veteran Brian McCann has a $15 million team option that will likely be declined, and Martin Maldonado will be a free agent, leaving Max Stassi as the lone incumbent.
The Washington Nationals have long been a speculative landing spot for J.T. Realmuto, but what about the Astros?
Outfielder Kyle Tucker was the asking price last offseason when Houston inquired about Realmuto, according to Craig Mish of SiriusXM, and that's a proposal the two sides could revisit this offseason.
Tucker, 21, hit just .141/.236/.203 over 72 plate appearances in his first MLB action, but he continued to turn heads in the minors with a .332/.400/.590 line in Triple-A, which included 24 home runs and 20 steals.
Even if Tucker and the aforementioned Whitley are off the table, the Astros still have the prospect talent to put together a tantalizing offer.
Yordan Alvarez, Cionel Perez, Corbin Martin and the hard-throwing James each have the upside to be the centerpiece in a trade package.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Buyer
The Los Angeles Dodgers will have holes to fill at second base and in the bullpen, and their long-time ace might leave as well, so it could be a busy offseason.
Let's start with the elephant in the room—the opt-out clause in Clayton Kershaw's contract that allows him to walk away from the final two years of his deal to enter free agency.
He's all but certain to opt out, but whether he tests the open market in earnest or just re-ups with the Dodgers on a longer deal remains to be seen.
If he returns, the rotation of Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Ross Stripling and Alex Wood would look ready for another postseason push.
If not, the Dodgers might be players at the top of the starting pitching trade market.
As for their need at second base, that could be addressed by moving Chris Taylor into the job full-time.
If the Dodgers prefer to keep Taylor in a utility role or don't think Alex Verdugo is ready for an everyday spot in the outfield, however, they might be inclined to target someone like Whit Merrifield on the trade market.
At any rate, with top-tier prospects like Dustin May and Gavin Lux to headline a blockbuster trade package, and tons of intriguing lower-level depth, the Dodgers have the players to make a splash if they're so inclined.
Miami Marlins: Seller
The Miami Marlins shook up the MLB landscape last offseason when they traded Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon.
Could it be more of the same this offseason?
Catcher J.T. Realmuto is by far their most valuable asset, and he's coming off the best season of his budding career, having hit .277/.340/.484 with 30 doubles, 21 home runs and 74 RBI for 4.3 WAR, which led all catchers.
The 27-year-old has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, which further adds to his value, so it will take at least one elite prospect to pry him loose. Victor Robles (Nationals) and Kyle Tucker (Astros) have been among the players the front office has asked for in trade talks.
Second baseman Starlin Castro is another veteran piece likely to be shopped.
On the pitching side, controllable relievers Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley generated interest leading up to the trade deadline, according to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, and the same figures to be true this offseason.
Starters Dan Straily and Jose Urena could be shopped as well, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
So with perhaps the top chip on the market in Realmuto and a bevy of other swap candidates, the Marlins will once again be prominent figures on the offseason trade market.
New York Mets: Seller...Maybe
Whoever winds up taking over as the next general manager of the New York Mets will have a chance to turn the offseason on its head.
Trading one or all of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler would have a ripple effect and undoubtedly alter both the MLB landscape and the future of the franchise.
Wheeler will be a free agent after next season, but his dominant second half (11 GS, 9-1, 1.68 ERA) raised his value to an all-time high. DeGrom has two years of control left and might win the National League Cy Young Award unanimously, so it goes without saying he'd bring a franchise-changing haul. Syndergaard is controllable through 2021 and has the stuff to be the best pitcher in baseball.
We're talking about a potential influx of top-100-caliber prospects the likes of which few teams have reeled in during the course of one offseason.
Then again, the new GM could also have their sights set on contending.
In that case, finding a catcher and rebuilding the bullpen will be top priorities.
Would a package built around 20-year-old Andres Gimenez be enough to get involved in the J.T. Realmuto sweepstakes?
One thing is for sure: Whoever takes over will have some huge decisions to make almost immediately.
New York Yankees: Buyer
The New York Yankees have long been expected to be major players for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado once they finally reached free agency.
After swinging a blockbuster deal to acquire Giancarlo Stanton last offseason and with a dynamic core of young hitters in place, however, it now looks like pitching will be their primary focus this offseason.
Assuming Clayton Kershaw re-ups with the Dodgers, the market for top-of-the-rotation arms will be fairly thin.
Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and current Yankee J.A. Happ will be the best the market has to offer. Others like Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Nathan Eovaldi and Gio Gonzalez would fit better toward the back of any contender's rotation.
With that in mind, expect the Yankees to be active on the trade market.
Lefty Justus Sheffield is probably off-limits since the hope is he will one day develop into a front-line starter.
That still leaves Estevan Florial as an intriguing candidate to be the centerpiece of a trade, while high-ceiling arms like Albert Abreu, Clarke Schmidt, Trevor Stephan, Luis Medina, Matt Sauer, Garrett Whitlock, Deivi Garcia and Chance Adams also have plenty of trade appeal.
It turned out to be a missed opportunity when New York didn't go harder after Gerrit Cole last offseason.
Don't expect the Yankees front office to make the same mistake this time around.
Texas Rangers: Seller
With the Astros set up to contend for years to come and the Oakland Athletics emerging as contenders sooner than expected, the American League West is not going to get any easier going forward, so the time is now for the Texas Rangers to take a step back and rebuild.
Controllable reliever Jose Leclerc is the most obvious trade chip on the roster.
The 24-year-old was quietly one of the best relievers in baseball this season, posting a sterling 1.56 ERA and 0.85 WHIP with 85 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. He converted 12 saves in 16 chances and also tallied 15 holds on his way to 2.5 WAR.
He is under team control through 2022 and won't be arbitration-eligible for the first time until next offseason. The asking price is going to be extremely high, but he could prove to be well worth the cost for a team in need of help for the late innings.
Beyond him, fellow reliever Alex Claudio (66 G, 14 HLD, 4.48 ERA) also looks like an obvious trade candidate, and the club would no doubt love to move Shin-Soo Choo (112 OPS+, 21 HR, 62 RBI) and some of the $42 million he's owed over the next two years.
If the front office decides to shop anyone beyond those three, things could get interesting.
Lefty Mike Minor is capable of filling a number of different roles on a pitching staff and signed to a reasonable contract for the next two years.
Second baseman Rougned Odor has a team-friendly contract that will pay him $41.8 million over the next four years, and catcher Robinson Chirinos has a $2.4 million club option that will be attractive to teams looking for catching help.
If the Rangers go even further, slugger Joey Gallo and right fielder Nomar Mazara have at least three years of control apiece and huge offensive upside.
All things considered, Texas might be the biggest wild card on the offseason trade market.