MLB Trade Rumors: Top Potential Landing Spots for Players Still on the Block

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 15, 2019

MLB Trade Rumors: Top Potential Landing Spots for Players Still on the Block

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    As Major League Baseball's free-agent market dries up, more teams may look to the trade market to round out their rosters before spring training begins next month.

    We've rounded up a list of the eight best players who are realistically available in trades, with some potential destinations for each. Most of these destinations are inspired by whispers from the rumor mill. Others are strictly speculative, including one possible wild card for each player.

    We'll proceed from the least desirable trade chip to the most desirable.

Edwin Encarnacion, Seattle Mariners

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    Edwin Encarnacion has already been traded once this winter, going from the Cleveland Indians to the Seattle Mariners in three-team deal in December. According to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, however, the retooling Mariners are "increasingly confident" that they'll flip Encarnacion elsewhere before spring training.

    Such a trade would probably be more of a salary dump than anything, but that's doable. As Morosi mentioned, the market for Encarnacion—who's averaged 38 home runs per year since 2012—includes three teams that missed out on Nelson Cruz.

                             

    Chicago White Sox

    One thing working in the White Sox's favor is that they have the payroll leeway to take on Encarnacion's contract. He's owed $21.7 million in 2019, followed by either a $5 million buyout or a $20 million club option for 2020.

    Otherwise, it's an awkward fit. The White Sox aren't close enough to contention to roll the dice on a 36-year-old whose offense has been in decline. And because he'd have to share time with Jose Abreu and Yonder Alonso at designated hitter and first base, he'd face an uphill battle in building value for the summer trade market.

                                 

    Houston Astros

    Encarnacion certainly fits Houston better than he fits Chicago. The Astros are a win-now team with World Series aspirations, and it would be understandable if they'd rather not trust Tyler White to be their everyday DH.

    Yet, the Astros have limited payroll space and bigger fish to fry. They need at least one starting pitcher, and their situation at catcher is more in need of an upgrade than their DH situation. At best, Encarnacion should be a Plan C for them.

                                         

    Tampa Bay Rays

    Per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays began the winter on the hunt for a right-handed hitter with "presence and power potential." The hunt didn't bag Cruz, but it may yet get Encarnacion.

    The Rays' projected 2019 payroll of $57 million is nearly $20 million shy of where they opened 2018. They might squeeze Encarnacion into that and then hope that his presence at first base and DH elevates their standing in a top-heavy American League East.

                                

    Speculative Wild Card: Texas Rangers

    The Rangers have rightfully been focused on shoring up their pitching staff, but they may be a candidate for an opportunistic play on Encarnacion. Since they're not tanking, perhaps they'll use some of their payroll space on a proven slugger to play over either Ronald Guzman or Willie Calhoun.

Sonny Gray, New York Yankees

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    Last November, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman came right out and told reporters (including Joel Sherman of the New York Post) that he would be looking to trade Sonny Gray.

    This hasn't happened yet, in part because the Yankees have been demanding "high-end major league talent" in trade talks, according to George A. King III of the Post. That's a lot to ask for a starting pitcher who's four years removed from his lone All-Star campaign, much less just a year from free agency.

    Still, Gray's list of suitors isn't empty.

                                

    San Diego Padres

    The Padres have been in on seemingly every top-of-the-line starter whose name has appeared in trade rumors. Per AJ Cassavell of MLB.com, Gray is one of them. And despite their status as rebuilders, they have some spare major league talent (e.g., Austin Hedges, Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe) to offer.

    However, even vintage Gray—who put up a 2.73 ERA over 208 innings in 2015—wouldn't turn the Padres into contenders in 2019. It makes a lot more sense for them to put their trade chips toward a pitcher they'd control for more than just one year.

                                        

    Atlanta Braves

    According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, the Braves discussed landing Gray in a three-team trade with the Yankees and Rangers that would have involved Jurickson Profar. That obviously didn't pan out, but there's still an opening for Gray atop an Atlanta rotation that could use a veteran leader.

    The Braves might entice the Yankees by offering one or more arms from their considerable collection of MLB-ready pitching prospects. Alternatively, the Braves could out those arms to land somebody for their massive hole in right field. Or just, you know, promote them and use them.

                                           

    Milwaukee Brewers

    As Morosi reported in late December, the Brewers have been "prominent" in trade talks for Gray. Milwaukee has World Series aspirations and a strong defense to put behind Gray, and they fit the bill of a team that darn well should be prominent in the mix for him.

    But with Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton gone, the Brewers have two fewer spare major leaguers to offer. Their best bargaining chips are young right-handers Brandon Woodruff (age 25), Corbin Burnes (24) and Freddy Peralta (22), and they may prefer to use them on a pitcher with less downside.

                                       

    Cincinnati Reds

    The Reds have been at the forefront of rumors about Gray all winter, and Jon Heyman of Fancred reported last Thursday that they remain interested. Not so coincidentally, their new pitching coach is Derek Johnson, who forged a strong relationship with Gray when the two were at Vanderbilt.

    Adding Gray would fit with the Reds' plan for 2019, which will either see them contend or sell off the reclamation project rentals they've accumulated. As far as possible deals go, the Reds might sell the Yankees on an upside play on one or more former top prospects, such as Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed or Brandon Finnegan.

                                   

    Speculative: Oakland Athletics

    According to Morosi, the Yankees and A's had talks about Gray in November, but they apparently went nowhere. In light of how badly the A's still need bodies for their starting rotation, it's possible talks will open up again and that Gray will return to the place where he first found stardom.

Will Smith, San Francisco Giants

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    As FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan covered, Will Smith is quietly about as good as they come among relief pitchers. Since Smith is heading into his walk year, the retooling San Francisco Giants may consider dealing him if the right offer comes along.

    The Giants have been in contact with at least one team regarding the 29-year-old left-hander, according to Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic. Speculatively, however, there are at least two more win-now clubs with obvious bullpen needs that might enter the mix.

                                                           

    Boston Red Sox

    The Red Sox need to fill the shoes vacated by Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel, yet president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski hinted to Bob Nightengale of USA Today that nobody should be anticipating a "large expenditure."

    Well, Smith agreed to a modest $4.225 million contract for 2019. The defending World Series champs could absorb that and just barely keep their 2019 luxury-tax bill under $246 million, which is where extra-harsh penalties kick in. Only trouble is, there might not be anything for the Giants in a Red Sox farm system that we have ranked as MLB's worst.

             

    Chicago Cubs

    The Cubs also have a bullpen to address, and they've specifically stated that finding an impact lefty would be "ideal." Smith would fit the bill, and he wouldn't push Chicago's luxury-tax bill (estimated at $225.1 million) nearly as close to $246 million as he would Boston's.

    The Cubs have a similar shortcoming as the Red Sox, however: Their farm system is the worst in the National League. That could be a problem for the Giants.

                                             

    Los Angeles Angels

    Per Baggarly, the Angels are the team that's been in contact with the Giants all winter. Though they've addressed their starting rotation by adding Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill, they've yet to make a big addition to a bullpen that lacks a clear answer at closer.

    To this end, they were finalists for Zach Britton before he re-signed with the Yankees, according to Dan Connolly of The Athletic. If anything, Smith is the preferable target, and the Angels could have enough in their system (ranked No. 22) to land him.

                              

    Speculative Wild Card: Minnesota Twins

    Given how much payroll space they still have, the Twins might prefer to round out their bullpen with a brand-name free agent such as Adam Ottavino or Cody Allen. Should they pivot to Smith on the trade market, however, they can entice the Giants with prospects from MLB's No. 9 farm system.

    Following Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron and Blake Parker, getting Smith would pretty much complete Minnesota's offseason checklist. Elsewhere in the AL Central, a Cleveland Indians team that's been downsizing would be on notice.

Nicholas Castellanos, Detroit Tigers

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    The Detroit Tigers are likely a couple of years away from finishing their rebuild, so cashing in Nicholas Castellanos is pretty much a no-brainer. He's a quality hitter (.831 OPS since 2016) who's a year away from free agency.

    The catch is that Castellanos is also a poor defender who will make $9.95 million in 2019. He only fits with win-now teams that can settle for having a good bat in right field. Since the rumor mill has been shy about naming names, it's up to us to take some wild guesses.

                                         

    Cleveland Indians

    With Michael Brantley now in Houston, Cleveland's outfield projects to be one of MLB's worst in 2019. That won't do for a club that's looking for a fourth straight AL Central title, and Castellanos is arguably the best outfielder within the team's price range.

    Because the Indians are looking to cut payroll, however, "arguably" is the operative word there. They might also be less than enthused about sending young talent to a division rival for a one-year rental.

                            

    Philadelphia Phillies

    The Phillies got fewer wins above replacement out of right field than any other team in 2018, according to Baseball Reference. Despite Castellanos' poor defense, a deal for him would fix that right up in 2019.

    But if Castellanos is on the Phillies' radar at all, he's presumably a distant Plan B to their Plan A: Bryce Harper. They've been linked to the 2015 National League MVP all winter, and the latest from Nightengale has them as the favorite to land him. Needless to say, that would nix a possible deal for Castellanos.

                                                                                              

    Los Angeles Dodgers

    The Dodgers had a couple of good right-handed bats in their outfield when they had Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. But they're gone now, and Nightengale is among those who've noted the Dodgers are on the hunt for an impact righty hitter to make up for it. Castellanos is a candidate.

    It may be just as likely, however, that the Dodgers will use their impressive prospect depth to land a starting pitcher. More on that later.

                                              

    Atlanta Braves

    Per Morosi, Atlanta's talks with Detroit regarding Castellanos have gone nowhere since the winter meetings in December. Yet, the Braves remain in the market for a corner outfielder.

    They would have to sacrifice one or more of their top prospects to land Castellanos. They might not want to do that, but they might rule it preferable to paying big bucks and losing a draft pick to sign A.J. Pollock as a free agent.

                                              

    Speculative Wild Card: San Francisco Giants

    The Giants look like a team that ought to be rebuilding, but new general manager Farhan Zaidi hinted in a KNBR interview that they would just as soon try to compete in this upcoming season. If so, a trade for Castellanos would address a right field spot that FanGraphs projects for an MLB-worst 0.1 WAR in 2019. If the wins don't come, the Giants could always flip him.

Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks have already moved Paul Goldschmidt. Robbie Ray could be next, but that is only if a team's offer beats what the Mariners got for James Paxton, according to Passan.

    That would mean a package headlined by more than just MLB.com's No. 31 prospect, Justus Sheffield. To meet that demand, a team would need to have spare prospect capital and be in a position to capitalize on Ray's upside, which is best exemplified by his MLB-best-tying (if you round up) rate of 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings since 2016.

                   

    Philadelphia Phillies

    According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Phillies are one of two clubs that are "very interested" in Ray. He would fit alongside Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta to form one of the best starting pitching trios in all of MLB. That, certainly, would be conducive to returning the Phillies to October.

    From the sound of things, however, the D-backs might not budge unless the Phillies offered right-hander Sixto Sanchez, who's MLB.com's No. 21 prospect. It would be tough to second-guess the Phillies if they valued six years of him over what would only be two years of Ray.

               

    Houston Astros

    The Astros are the other team with serious interest in Ray, per Cafardo. He'd fill the massive hole in their starting rotation, and there would be high hopes for what the team's famed analytics crew could do with Ray's sizzling stuff.

    A package consisting of slugger Yordan Alvarez (No. 42) and more might work for Arizona. If not, the Astros are too close to World Series glory to shut the door on dealing outfielder Kyle Tucker (No. 5) or righty Forrest Whitley (No. 8). 

                                     

    Speculative Wild Card: Atlanta Braves

    The Braves haven't been solidly linked to Ray, which might have to do with how they'd rather a rotation "upgrade" not come with the kind of control problems their incumbents already have. If they can get over that, however, they have more than enough prospects to satisfy Arizona's high ask for Ray.

Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

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    In the KNBR interview referenced earlier, Zaidi stated that trade buzz surrounding Madison Bumgarner has been "overblown." Yet, that shouldn't be translated to mean that the ace left-hander is altogether unavailable.

    Like Smith, Bumgarner is heading into his walk year. As a guy with a 3.03 regular-season ERA and a 2.11 postseason ERA, Bumgarner might have one team willing to overlook his 2017-18 troubles that values him as a guide to and through October. The Giants can't hang up if that franchise comes calling.

             

    Philadelphia Phillies

    According to Morosi, the Phillies checked in with the Giants about Bumgarner in December. There hasn't been much (if anything) linking the two since then. That may be because the Phillies have been prioritizing other targets.

    Still, it's possible that they will circle back on Bumgarner. Regardless of whether they complete their offense with Harper, Bumgarner would be an equally appealing and potentially less costly alternative to Ray. The Phillies might even base a deal around Odubel Herrera, whose team-friendly contract runs as far as 2023.

                                            

    Milwaukee Brewers

    That old Phillies rumor is nice, but Bumgarner wouldn't even be mentioned here if it wasn't for Milwaukee's interest in him. This also comes courtesy of Morosi, who reported Jan. 7 that the Giants and Brewers have had "substantive communication" about Bumgarner.

    We're big fans of how Bumgarner would fit on the Brewers, as well as of what he would do for their standing in a crowded NL Central race. And Morosi noted that the Brewers may have just the guys to get the Giants to budge in Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta.

                                            

    Speculative Wild Card: Atlanta Braves

    The Astros could just as easily go here. If the Phillies don't pursue Bumgarner as a Plan B for Ray, Houston might.

    But once again, it's hard to ignore how well-suited the Braves are to trading for an ace. And much more so than Gray or Ray, Bumgarner's pitching ability and experience would make him an ideal leader for a young rotation.

J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins

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    Now that Wilson Ramos and Yasmani Grandal have been taken off the free-agent market, all eyes are on where the Miami Marlins will trade J.T. Realmuto.

    According to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, there are six front-runners for the 27-year-old backstop, who's fresh off breaking out with an .825 OPS and 21 homers in 2018. 

            

    Cincinnati Reds

    For the Reds, Realmuto would represent a major improvement over Tucker Barnhart. For that matter, including Barnhart in the deal would satisfy Miami's reported desire for "a catcher with some big league experience to work with a young pitching staff."

    But since Realmuto is due for free agency after 2020, a deal for him would effectively mean going all-in on contending in the next two years. That doesn't jibe with how the Reds have operated this winter.

            

    San Diego Padres

    If the Marlins must have a catcher in a Realmuto trade, the Padres are the team to barter with. San Diego can offer either Austin Hedges, who excels defensively, or Francisco Mejia, who figures to excel offensively.

    Like with the Reds, however, there's the question of whether Realmuto fits the Padres' timeline. They might not be contenders by 2020. That's an excuse to keep their incumbent catchers, both of whom are controlled beyond 2022.

                

    Tampa Bay Rays

    The Rays are also in on Realmuto, and there's plenty in their No. 5 farm system to satisfy the Marlins' other desire for "a top prospect and more."

    But do the Rays really need Realmuto? With Mike Zunino already in the fold, perhaps not. That might lead them to commit their time, energy and prospects to more pressing matters.

            

    Atlanta Braves

    To some extents, the Braves are in the same boat as the Rays. They have plenty to offer the Marlins, but they already have Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann behind the plate.

    Where the two clubs differ is in what they stand to gain. The Rays might have a shot at taking down the Red Sox or Yankees if they add Realmuto. The Braves would absolutely have a shot at winning a second straight NL East title, if not more.

            

    Houston Astros

    Though the Astros could progress with Robinson Chirinos and Max Stassi behind the plate, that's a weak catching duo for a team with eyes on a second World Series title in three years.

    The Astros could fix that by offering Stassi and one or more prospects for Realmuto. He would not be the pitching upgrade they need, but his well-rounded defense would at least be helpful to what pitchers they do have.

              

    Los Angeles Dodgers

    The Dodgers' catching duo of Russell Martin and Austin Barnes is worth just as much skepticism as Houston's Chirinos-Stassi combo. Likewise, they too could look to upgrade their World Series pursuit with a blockbuster for Realmuto.

    The difference is what the Dodgers have to offer. If not Barnes, one of two top catching prospects could go to Miami: Keibert Ruiz or Will Smith. The Dodgers could also pile more on to form a package that likely nobody else would be willing to match.

              

    Speculative Wild Card: Colorado Rockies

    The Rockies are threatening to roll with Chris Iannetta and Tony Wolters, who combined for negative WAR in 2018, behind the plate once again in 2019. Instead, perhaps they'll sneak in through the backdoor and try to interest the Marlins in Brendan Rodgers, Colton Welker or Tyler Nevin.

Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

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    The Indians have entertained offers for both Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer this winter. But at this point, the focus seems to be entirely on the former.

    Kluber is a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner, and his 2.89 ERA over 215 innings helped him finish third in the voting in 2018. Between that and the reality that his new team would likely have to pay him $52.5 million through 2021, he only fits with clubs that have spare prospects and spare cash.

             

    San Diego Padres

    The Padres have been hot after Kluber, according to Morosi, and they may have a shot at him despite their unwillingness to part with any of their top five prospects. Instead, they could offer Cleveland the outfielders it needs, such as Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe.

    Even still, this is a believe it/see it situation. Would the Indians really trade one of baseball's best pitchers just to cut his salary and add two warm bodies to their outfield? For their part, is the timing right for the Padres to sacrifice controllable talent for a guy who'll turn 33 on April 10? These are questions best asked in skeptical tones.

              

    Cincinnati Reds

    Alternatively, Dennis Lin of The Athletic reported that the Padres have considered a scenario in which they would get Kluber only to flip him to the Reds in a three-team deal. One possibility may involve top prospect Nick Senzel going to San Diego to play third base.

    It's an interesting idea, but not very practical. As much as the Reds might like to have Kluber, he wouldn't fit with their current strategy of making low-risk buys on short-term assets. They're not trying to mortgage their future. Thus, Senzel (MLB.com's No. 6 prospect) is likely close to untouchable.

                    

    Los Angeles Dodgers

    The Dodgers are also in on Kluber, per Morosi, and they too have parts that the Indians need. One is Alex Verdugo, who's an elite and MLB-ready outfield prospect. They could also offer Ruiz or Smith, and/or one of the pitchers they have no clear role for: righty Ross Stripling or lefty Julio Urias.

    The catch would seem to be that the Dodgers don't really need another top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. But adding one certainly wouldn't hurt, and Kluber in particular would outfit the Dodgers with arguably baseball's best rotation.

            

    Speculative Wild Card: Atlanta Braves

    Because of course. Though the rumor mill has yet to solidly connect the Braves to Kluber, that could change with one phone call. The Braves can offer Cleveland several elite pitching prospects to one day take Kluber's place. For them, the reward would be the perfect No. 1 for their rotation.

             

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. Payroll data courtesy of Roster Resource and Cot's Baseball Contracts.