Way-Too-Early 2019 MLB Trade Deadline Blockbuster Predictions
The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline for the 2019 Major League Baseball season might as well be 100 years from now. Yet in lieu of better things to do during a painfully slow period of the hot-stove season, we're going to take a whack at predicting some summer blockbusters.
We've imagined eight trades that could plausibly go down before the July 31 deadline. These involve plucking star players from teams that figure to be pretenders and fitting them into unfilled holes on contenders.
Fair warning: Neither J.T. Realmuto nor Corey Kluber is involved. The former will probably be dealt by the Miami Marlins before Opening Day. The latter isn't likely to be traded by the Cleveland Indians at all.
Nicholas Castellanos to the Tampa Bay Rays
The Detroit Tigers have been trying to move Nicholas Castellanos, but general manager Al Avila has had a tough time conjuring a market for the slugging right fielder.
"Quite frankly, there has been no interest at this point, just to be quite frank," Avila told reporters last week. "It's a different market out there."
This isn't surprising. Castellanos, 26, is in the shadow of superstar free agent Bryce Harper. Beyond that, his value is compromised by his lingering free agency after 2019 and his notoriously poor defense.
However, a line could form to rent Castellanos' offensive talents—he owns an .831 OPS and 193 extra-base hits since 2016—as 2019 moves along.
The Tampa Bay Rays are just the team to move to the front of it. Per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays set out to add an impact right-handed hitter this winter. Avisail Garcia, Mike Zunino and Guillermo Heredia are disappointing returns in this regard.
The more the Rays feel that on the field, the more they could covet Castellanos. To boot, he wouldn't cost them any of the best pieces from their fifth-ranked farm system.
Madison Bumgarner to the Milwaukee Brewers
Though Madison Bumgarner has appeared in a handful of winter trade rumors, San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi stressed that it's not because the left-handed ace is on the table.
The Giants have lost 187 games over the last two years, and Bumgarner is heading into his final season under contract. While this would seem to make him an obvious trade candidate, the Giants can get a better return for the 29-year-old if he uses the early portion of 2019 to reclaim some trade value. He lost plenty of that amid injury-marred 2017 and 2018 campaigns.
If and when the Giants are ready to move the four-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion, they should have a willing trade partner in the Milwaukee Brewers.
According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the reigning National League Central champs have had "substantive communications" with the Giants regarding Bumgarner. Because of their lack of a true No. 1 and their surplus of young arms—e.g., Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta—the Brewers should be as good a fit for Bumgarner later this summer as they are now.
Will Smith to the Boston Red Sox
He doesn't have Madison Bumgarner's name recognition, but Will Smith is another Giants lefty who figures to be in high demand this summer.
After missing all of 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery, the 29-year-old returned to be better than ever in 2018. He posted a 2.55 ERA with 71 strikeouts and only 15 walks in 53 innings. As noted by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs, Smith's surface-level stats might actually undersell his dominance.
Though Smith is due for free agency after 2019, there should be enough teams interested in renting him for the Giants to stage a bidding war. From this, a desperate Boston Red Sox club could emerge victorious.
With Joe Kelly already gone and Craig Kimbrel possibly beyond their price range, the reigning World Series champion's bullpen is in peril. The Red Sox seem willing to ignore that for now, but they could change their tune once the Rays and/or New York Yankees challenge their supremacy in the American League East.
The Red Sox could absorb the remainder of Smith's $4.2 million salary and come in under the $246 million luxury-tax red line. For their part, the Giants might like to have Boston's lone prospect in MLB.com's top 100: third baseman Michael Chavis.
Jose Leclerc to the Atlanta Braves
Will Smith will be the top relief pitcher on the summer market only if the Texas Rangers don't make Jose Leclerc available.
This doesn't look like a given right now, but the Rangers could consider it if 2019 starts steering them toward a second straight last-place finish in the AL West. In that eventuality, it wouldn't make much sense to hold on to an uber-valuable closer.
Leclerc is only 25 and under club control through 2022, and he's coming off a masterful 2018 season. In 59 appearances, he racked up a 1.56 ERA, 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings and more FanGraphs wins above replacement than all but three relievers.
It'll take a team with a dire need at closer and a deep farm system to satisfy the Rangers' demands for Leclerc. Luckily for them, the Atlanta Braves could match both descriptions.
Unless they reunite with Craig Kimbrel, the Braves project to begin 2019 with an uncertain situation in the ninth inning. Leclerc could loom as the perfect fix. And if the NL East race is as contentious as it should be, the Braves might be willing to dip into their No. 2 farm system to pluck him from Texas.
Robbie Ray and Jake Lamb to the Philadelphia Phillies
Elsewhere in the NL East, let's assume the Philadelphia Phillies will officially cement themselves as a major player in the National League by signing Bryce Harper.
Harper wouldn't make the Phillies phoolproof foolproof, however. Their playoff quest might be threatened by weakness in their starting rotation after Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. Just as easily, their lineup could be undermined by the ever-inconsistent Maikel Franco.
The Phillies may thus find themselves scouring the summer trade market for an impact starter and third baseman. This is where the Arizona Diamondbacks could come in.
If the D-backs endure rough times sans Paul Goldschmidt in 2019, they'll almost certainly entertain offers for two All-Stars under their control through 2020. One is 27-year-old Robbie Ray, who's whiffed 11.8 batters per nine innings since 2016. The other is 28-year-old Jake Lamb, who cranked 59 home runs across 2016 and 2017 before being felled by a shoulder injury last year.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Ray is already on Philadelphia's radar. Since he could platoon with Franco and/or Rhys Hoskins, Lamb could end up on it too. To get them, the Phillies could offer third baseman Alec Bohm or even right-hander Sixto Sanchez from the top of their No. 14 farm system.
Aaron Sanchez to the Houston Astros
Back in the AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays should have plenty to sell on the summer trade market. Especially if Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman reclaim trade value.
Sanchez was an All-Star and the American League ERA champion in 2016. In two seasons since, an array of finger injuries have restricted him to 28 starts and an ugly 4.72 ERA to boot.
According to John Lott of The Athletic, Sanchez claimed to be "back to being normal" following a throwing session in January. If true, all the 26-year-old has to do now is let his filthy sinker/curveball combination do what it did in 2016.
Come July, no team may be eyeing Sanchez harder than the Houston Astros.
The Astros have been nonchalant about filling the vacancies in their rotation after Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. If they finally feel the need to do something big later this summer, they could do their thing of seeking a pitcher with velocity and spin. When he's right, Sanchez throws in the mid-90s with elite spin rate.
To land Sanchez, who's due for free agency after 2020, the Astros could build a deal around any number of prospects from their No. 7 farm system.
Marcus Stroman to the Oakland Athletics
Sticking in the AL West, the Oakland A's seem serious about defending their 97-win 2018 with a rotation of Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and a handful of wild cards. Per FanGraphs, said rotation projects for fewer WAR than all but two others.
If it becomes more and more apparent that the A's do indeed need a savior, it'll be hard to imagine a better fit than Marcus Stroman.
The 27-year-old broke through with a 3.09 ERA over 201 innings in 2017. He then developed shoulder inflammation before the 2018 season began. What followed was just 19 starts and a 5.54 ERA.
On the plus side, Stroman finished with an MLB-best 62.1 ground-ball percentage. That wasn't a great fit for a Blue Jays infield that allowed MLB's highest average on grounders. It would have been perfect for an A's infield that allowed the lowest.
Oakland's top prospect, Jesus Luzardo, is presumably untouchable. But to secure Stroman's services through 2020, the A's might build a deal around former top prospect Franklin Barreto or A.J. Puk, who ranks as MLB.com's No. 42 prospect even as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Jose Abreu to the Los Angeles Angels
Though they kicked off a full rebuild in the winter of 2016, the Chicago White Sox have consistently resisted trading Jose Abreu.
Even if the White Sox score Manny Machado as a free agent, however, it's unlikely that Abreu—who's put up an .869 OPS and 146 homers since 2014—will be part of a contender in his final season before free agency. The White Sox won't have much choice but to consider renting out the 32-year-old.
The Yankees will be an obvious suitor if they run into more trouble at first base. But an eye should be kept on the Los Angeles Angels, who have their own volatile situation at the not-so-hot corner.
The Angels are banking on Justin Bour and Albert Pujols to carry the load. The former is a platoon hitter with a history of injuries. The latter is an all-time great, yet one who's far past his prime and plenty beat up in his own right.
In that event that both break down, renting Abreu could be the Angels' best hope of stabilizing their lineup around Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. They may deem that worthy of sacrificing the best non-Jo Adell prospects (e.g., Griffin Canning or Brandon Marsh) from their No. 22 farm system.