Deal or No Deal: Updated MLB Trade Predictions Heading into the New Year
A new year looms, yet one thing that's sure to carry over from 2018 to 2019 is a bustling Major League Baseball trade market.
Though quite a few MLB stars—e.g., Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Yasiel Puig, Jean Segura and James Paxton—have already been relocated, there's still plenty of room for speculation on further trades. With help from the latest reports and our gut, we'll play a game of "deal or no deal" with nine trade chips.
We're only considering cases that remain unresolved in some way. To wit, the New York Mets likely nixed a possible Noah Syndergaard trade when they signed Wilson Ramos. That killed any possibility of flipping Thor in a deal for J.T. Realmuto.
Otherwise, it's on with the show.
No Deal: Cleveland Indians Trade Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer
The Cleveland Indians have not one, but two aces to offer: two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and All-Star/Cy Young truther Trevor Bauer.
By all accounts, however, Cleveland has been willing to consider moving the two right-handers strictly out of a desire to cut payroll. That mission has largely been accomplished by trimming fat around them. The club's 2019 payroll is projected at $119.4 million. That's about $15 million below where it opened 2018.
Per Marc Carig of The Athletic, the New York Yankees have "little optimism" about matching up with the Tribe after adding Paxton, J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia. The Los Angeles Dodgers remain in on Kluber, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, but they don't want to include Cody Bellinger in a possible deal.
The Indians will only move Kluber for an "overpayment of prospects and young players," according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, so anything less than Bellinger may not cut it. Besides which, the Dodgers need an impact bat more than an impact arm.
Since a proper motive and ideal trading partners both seem to be missing in this case, here's guessing Kluber and Bauer will stay put in Cleveland.
Deal: New York Yankees Trade Sonny Gray
Sonny Gray, on the other hand, is still as good as gone.
At the general managers meetings in November, Yankees GM Brian Cashman came right out with a proclamation to jettison the fallen ace this winter. He told Joel Sherman of the New York Post, "We are going to move him if we get the right deal because I don't think it is going to work out in the Bronx."
Though Gray hasn't yet been moved, it's not because the Yankees have rekindled their confidence in him. According to George A. King III of the Post, it's more so because the Yankees have been aiming for "high-end major league talent" in trade talks.
That's asking a lot. Gray, who was an All-Star and Cy Young candidate in 2015, is coming off a 4.90 ERA over 130.1 innings in 2018. He's also projected to make $9.1 million via arbitration in 2019, after which he'll become a free agent. Such a player doesn't have much in the way of trade value.
But while the Yankees could dig in their heels, it's more likely they'll back down and be content with cutting Gray's salary. After all, an extra $9.1 million would only help them land Manny Machado or some other noteworthy free agent.
No Deal: New York Yankees Trade Miguel Andujar
The Yankees could also look to move Miguel Andujar, albeit under different circumstances from Sonny Gray.
Andujar is fresh off breaking out with an .855 OPS and 27 home runs, a performance that earned him a runner-up finish in American League Rookie of the Year voting. Between this, his age (23) and his controllability (through 2023), he sure has the look of a long-term building block.
According to Ken Rosenthal and Robert Murray of The Athletic, the Yankees are nonetheless open to moving Andujar. Like us, they may have doubts about his aggressive approach and weak defense. Or, they may be willing to sacrifice his bat to gain an arm or two.
However, the Yankees have a lesser need for arms now that their rotation is full. There's also no rush for them to move Andujar, and he wouldn't necessarily become more expendable if Machado came aboard. He could stick at third base while Machado slots in at shortstop.
As MLB.com's Mark Feinsand speculated, Andujar could be on the move after Didi Gregorius returns from Tommy John surgery midway through 2019. For now, though, it's hard to imagine he's going anywhere.
Deal: Miami Marlins Trade J.T. Realmuto
The Miami Marlins don't need to trade J.T. Realmuto.
The 27-year-old realized his potential as the best catcher in baseball in 2018, as he combined strong defense and baserunning with an .825 OPS and 21 home runs. According to Baseball Reference, he led all catchers with 4.3 wins above replacement. What's more, the Marlins control him through 2020.
Meanwhile, the market for Realmuto seems to be getting less robust as the winter moves along. The Mets, who once seemed like clear favorites for the All-Star backstop, are out of the hunt. Per MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the Atlanta Braves are also out.
Yet the Marlins are far from being devoid of trade suitors. The Dodgers, Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers are three World Series hopefuls who've been connected to Realmuto. He could also fit with any number of wannabe contenders, such as the San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Angels.
A market such as this should be conducive to the Marlins' swapping Realmuto for a haul of much-needed young talent. If they have any brains, they'll take advantage of it rather than hold on to him and risk depreciation of his value.
No Deal: Toronto Blue Jays Trade Marcus Stroman
Like J.T. Realmuto, Marcus Stroman is a key player on a rebuilding team who's two years from the open market. Unlike Realmuto, however, his value is well below its peak.
Said peak was reached in 2017 when Stroman followed an MVP turn in the World Baseball Classic with a 3.09 ERA over 201 innings. But things fell apart for the 27-year-old in 2018. Shoulder and blister issues limited him to 19 starts, not to mention an ugly 5.54 ERA.
Morosi also noted, however, that the Padres likely wouldn't give up any of their best prospects—Fernando Tatis Jr., MacKenzie Gore and Francisco Mejia—for the right-hander. If true, the ultimate question facing the Blue Jays is whether to sell low on Stroman.
Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith cast doubt on that possibility, and you can color us skeptical as well. Provided he bounces back, the Blue Jays could sell high on Stroman as soon as the 2019 trade deadline. It's also not out of the question that they'll return to contention before free agency beckons him after 2020.
Deal: Detroit Tigers Trade Nicholas Castellanos
It's not quite "now or never" for the Detroit Tigers to trade Nicholas Castellanos, but it's close.
The Tigers are likely a couple of years away from being finished with their rebuild, and they've been unable to extend Castellanos beyond his post-2019 date with free agency. This equation should lead to them cash in the slugging right fielder's trade value.
If there's a catch with Castellanos' value, it's that his offense and defense are two very different things. His bat has mustered an .831 OPS and 193 extra-base hits since 2016. His glove, on the other hand, has produced defensive ratings that can charitably be described as cringe-inducing.
Still, there are plenty of potential fits for Castellanos out there. He's a possible fallback for teams that miss out on Bryce Harper, which could include the Dodgers or Philadelphia Phillies. Other contenders that need a good bat for right field include the Braves, Indians, Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins.
The Tigers probably can't flip Castellanos for a haul of young talent, but they should be able to get something to aid their rebuild.
No Deal: Seattle Mariners Trade Mitch Haniger
The Seattle Mariners have already made something like 100 trades this offseason. But if there's one Mariner who's safe where he stands, it's probably Mitch Haniger.
In the words of Mariners assistant GM Justin Hollander, per Jon Morosi, the team would need an "insane return" in order to show Haniger the same door it's shown Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino and Alex Colome.
The Mariners aren't wrong to take that stance. Haniger's All-Star breakout in 2018 was highlighted by an .859 OPS and 26 homers. He's also under club control through 2022. Because the Mariners aren't so much rebuilding as "reimagining" their roster, they may well return to contention before then.
There's also a question of how many teams can and would be willing to meet Seattle's asking price. Some may prefer to give Bryce Harper a ton of money. Others might rather pay a smaller price for Castellanos.
Which brings us to the other thing Hollander had to say about Haniger: It's "really, really unlikely" that he'll be moved.
Deal: Seattle Mariners Trade Edwin Encarnacion
Then there's Edwin Encarnacion. Though he hasn't been in Seattle long, he's not long for Seattle.
The Mariners picked up Encarnacion in a three-team deal Dec. 13 that sent Carlos Santana (who'd arrived via the Jean Segura trade just 10 days earlier) out of town. He's slotted in at designated hitter, but only on paper. Per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the "expectation" is that the Mariners will flip Encarnacion too.
This won't necessarily be easy. Encarnacion will turn 36 on Jan. 7, and he's already declining. He averaged a .907 OPS and 38 homers from 2012 to 2017. In 2018, he sank to an .810 OPS and 32 homers. To boot, he's owed $21.7 million in 2019, followed by either a $5 million buyout or a $20 million option for 2020.
Still, Encarnacion is a solid Plan B for teams that miss out on Nelson Cruz. That could mean the Astros, Rays or Twins and possibly the Chicago White Sox.
Because they've already cut so much payroll this winter, the Mariners might be willing to eat some money to facilitate and/or sweeten an Encarnacion deal. Failing that, they might offload him in yet another bad-contract swap.