One Bold Prediction for Each Top 2019 MLB Trade TargetMarch 4, 2019
One Bold Prediction for Each Top 2019 MLB Trade Target
The 2019 Major League Baseball season will be full of surprises, up to and including the happenings on the summer trade market.
Can we prove it? No. But we can imagine what these surprises might look like.
We've come up with predictions for this year's top 10 trade targets—a mix of pending free agents on likely non-contenders and longer-term assets on rebuilding teams—that we think are pretty bold. As in, they involve unlikely pairings of players and teams.
We'll proceed in no particular order.
Madison Bumgarner to the St. Louis Cardinals
If the San Francisco Giants trade Madison Bumgarner to a team in the National League Central, all the signs point toward the Milwaukee Brewers being the lucky recipient of the ace left-hander, per Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com.
Unless, perhaps, the St. Louis Cardinals intervene.
Though they don't immediately come to mind as a team in need of starting pitching help, their rotation is on thin ice. Carlos Martinez, who made only 18 starts in 2018, is already having problems with his shoulder. Meanwhile, neither Adam Wainwright nor Michael Wacha is a paragon of durability.
Bumgarner, 29, has had injuries of his own over the last two seasons, but they resulted from a fluky dirt-bike accident and an equally fluky line drive. He's healthy now and looking good as he prepares for his final season before free agency.
The Cardinals have the No. 12 farm system in MLB, plus a spare young outfielder in muscly slugger Tyler O'Neill. They therefore match up well as a trade partner with the prospect- and outfield-needy Giants.
The Cardinals also have two things that would help them get the most out of Bumgarner: a home ballpark that suppresses fly balls and a strong outfield defense that racked up 24 defensive runs saved last year.
Jose Leclerc to the Milwaukee Brewers
If not Bumgarner, the Brewers would seem to be a lock to trade for some other ace starter. After all, their rotation lacks an identifiable No. 1.
Alternatively, they could seek to double down on their bullpen, perhaps by calling the Texas Rangers about arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball.
That's Jose Leclerc. The right-hander is coming off a 1.56 ERA and 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He also held batters to a .210 xwOBA—a Statcast metric that measures expected offensive production based on contact quality—which was the best of any pitcher who faced at least 200 batters.
Leclerc is only 25, and he's under the Rangers' control through 2022. Rebuilding though they may be, they're not going to give him up for anything less than a king's ransom.
Since they're out to defend a 96-win season and win the first World Series championship in franchise history, the Brewers may be willing to pay such a price. To wit, they might offer the Rangers some combination of right-handers Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes and outfielder Corey Ray.
If successful, they'd join Leclerc with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel to complete the most dominant bullpen in the National League, if not all of MLB.
Nicholas Castellanos to the Washington Nationals
Meanwhile in the National League East, the Washington Nationals are essentially gambling on making up for the loss of Bryce Harper in the aggregate.
Yet it's not hard to speculate on how this plan might go awry. It could involve Adam Eaton and Ryan Zimmerman succumbing to injuries. Or Brian Dozier failing to shake off last year's slump. Or top prospect Victor Robles not being ready for prime time. Or some combination of all of the above.
If that's how the dominoes fall, the Nats will find themselves in need of an impact hitter. In this particular year, that would put them firmly in the market for Nicholas Castellanos.
Concerns about the 26-year-old's right field defense are warranted, but they shouldn't overrule appreciation for his bat. Castellanos has been an extra-base hit machine over the last two seasons. Per adjusted OPS+, he was practically Harper's equal at the plate in 2018.
The Nationals would only be renting Castellanos for the remainder of 2019, so they presumably wouldn't have to blow up what's left of their farm system to get him. At worst, they'd probably only have to give up Luis Garcia, an 18-year-old middle infielder who's their third-best prospect after Robles and Carter Kieboom.
Yasiel Puig to the Atlanta Braves
Elsewhere in the NL East, the Atlanta Braves could also be on the lookout for a right fielder if Nick Markakis doesn't recover from last season's second-half slump.
But with MLB's No. 2 farm system at their disposal, the Braves will be able to aim higher than the Nats if they indeed decide to make right field a priority. In other words, they'll have a better shot at Yasiel Puig.
Puig won't be going anywhere if the Cincinnati Reds' offseason overhaul has the desired effect of returning them to contention in the NL Central. That's a tall order, however, as the Cardinals, Brewers, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates are all capable of leaving the Reds in the dust.
If that happens, Puig will be the best of the many rentals the Reds will seek to cash in. The 28-year-old's last two seasons have produced an .827 OPS, 51 home runs and 6.4 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.
In trade talks with the Reds, the Braves could offer young, MLB-ready pitchers such as Mike Soroka, Kyle Wright, Luiz Gohara and Bryse Wilson. They also have outfielder Cristian Pache, who's sort of like if Billy Hamilton had a better bat when he was coming up through the Reds system.
Scooter Gennett to the Boston Red Sox
In truth, the notion that Puig will be the Reds' top rental for the summer market is debatable. The honor might actually belong to Scooter Gennett.
The Reds rolled the dice when they picked up Gennett, 28, off waivers from the Brewers in March 2017. He's since rewarded them with an .859 OPS, 50 homers and 6.6 WAR over the last two seasons.
The Boston Red Sox certainly could have used Gennett last season, in which Dustin Pedroia's doomed recovery from knee surgery ultimately resulted in the team getting minus-0.2 WAR out of second base. This time around, they're hoping that Pedroia stays healthy.
Alas, there's a decent chance this won't happen. Pedroia is 35 years old, and he's played in more than 150 games just once in the last five seasons.
Though the Red Sox's farm system is MLB's worst, it has a couple of high-ceiling lefties (Darwinzon Hernandez and Jay Groome) who might interest the Reds. And depending on the timing of the deal, taking on the remainder of Gennett's $9.8 million salary wouldn't necessarily put Boston over the luxury tax's third-rail threshold of $246 million.
For his part, Gennett happens to be a superb opposite-field hitter. He'd surely enjoy boosting his free-agent stock by taking regular aim at the Green Monster.
Jose Abreu to the New York Yankees
Having pitched a blockbuster trade for the Red Sox, we're now contractually obligated to entertain how the New York Yankees might respond in kind.
The Yankees aren't going into 2019 with any glaring weaknesses, but one could possibly develop at first base. Greg Bird fumbled his chance to become a star in 2018. And while we're believers in Luke Voit, there's no denying that last year's late-season surge happened in a small sample size.
If the cold corner does indeed become a problem for the Yankees in 2019, they'll almost certainly turn their attention to the best rental on the trade market: Jose Abreu.
The 32-year-old was a reliable star for the Chicago White Sox between 2014 and 2017, as he averaged an .883 OPS, 31 homers and 4.2 WAR per year. Though he had the worst season of his career in 2018, xwOBA indicates that his bat was actually operating at its normal capacity.
New York's farm system isn't what it once was, but notables such as center fielder Estevan Florial and righty Jonathan Loaisiga are expendable assets who might appeal to the White Sox in exchange for Abreu.
Robbie Ray to the Tampa Bay Rays
Despite appearances, the American League East isn't all about the Red Sox and Yankees.
The Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games in 2018, and they're looking even better for 2019. They're at least a wild-card contender, and they may only be one big piece away from challenging the Sox and Yanks for the division crown.
Thus do we propose that Robbie Ray should be a Ray.
Based on their sheer depth and manager Kevin Cash's creativity, the Rays don't necessarily need a deep starting rotation. Still, it would be ideal if they had at least one more guy who fits the same mold as Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow: a pitcher who can provide five or six electric innings before turning things over to the bullpen.
In that sense, Ray is a perfect Rays pitcher. The 27-year-old is too wild to be a top-notch innings eater, but his stuff has racked up 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings since 2016.
According to ESPN.com's Jeff Passan, the Arizona Diamondbacks don't want to move Ray, who's controlled through 2020, for less than what the Seattle Mariners got for James Paxton. Well, the Rays have plenty of goodies (e.g., shortstop Wander Franco) in their No. 5 farm system to potentially accommodate Arizona's wishes.
David Peralta to the Oakland Athletics
Also among Arizona's collection of trade assets is David Peralta, who'll be on the radars of contenders in need of a sweet-swinging left fielder.
If any is going to actually take the plunge on the 31-year-old, it might be the Oakland Athletics.
Granted, the A's would seem to need starting pitching a lot more than they need offense. Whereas their lineup is coming off a 227-homer season, their rotation is headed by a couple of infamous long ball magnets in Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada.
But rather than attempt to fix their biggest weakness with a single trade, the A's might deem it wiser to further solidify their existing strengths.
Peralta, who's controlled through 2020, would fit right in. His bat produced an .868 OPS and 30 homers in 2018, while his glove was good for five defensive runs saved. He'd therefore outfit the A's lineup with additional power without taking anything away from a defense that led MLB in efficiency last season.
None of Oakland's current left field options—Robbie Grossman, Mark Canha, Chad Pinder and Nick Martini—provide that kind of upside. In exchange, the A's might offer the D-backs former top infield prospect Franklin Barreto and/or A.J. Puk, who's the lesser of their two top left-handed pitching prospects.
Marcus Stroman to the Colorado Rockies
If the Diamondbacks do indeed sell on the summer market, the NL West will likely become a two-horse race between the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Rockies would be the de facto underdogs in such a race but perhaps not if they add a starter who could keep pace with Kyle Freeland and German Marquez.
Marcus Stroman could be just the guy.
If it wasn't already a given that the Toronto Blue Jays would look to trade Stroman this summer, it likely is now after the 27-year-old righty went public over his dissatisfaction with his contract situation. They must hope he first recovers some of the trade value he lost amid a down 2018 season.
This should be doable. Stroman is healthy going into 2019, and the extreme ground-ball rate that was the basis of his 2017 success remained alive and well in 2018. Such a talent would also play well on the Rockies, who have a terrific infield defense.
The Rockies would have to give up something significant to secure Stroman, who's controlled through 2020. To this end, any of their top prospects (Brendan Rodgers, Colton Welker and Tyler Nevin) could fit alongside Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette in Toronto's infield of the future.
Aaron Sanchez to the Los Angeles Dodgers
The Rockies might ultimately prefer a deal for Aaron Sanchez, who's a year younger than Marcus Stroman and also controlled through 2020.
But not if the Dodgers grab him first.
This might happen if the Dodgers find themselves in need of starting pitching, which is more likely to happen than they're probably willing to admit. Clayton Kershaw is already hurt again, and Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu are two more pitchers who come with age and/or injury question marks.
Sanchez has had his own trouble staying healthy since 2017, but there's some Bumgarnerian flukiness at fault for it. Sanchez's 2017 season was undone by nagging blisters. His 2018 fell apart after he injured his finger in a suitcase mishap.
Back in 2016, a healthy Sanchez cruised to an AL-best 3.00 ERA over 192 innings. He threw hard with exceptional spin on his pitches. As noted by Travis Sawchik of FiveThirtyEight, these are qualities that the Dodgers value in their pitchers.
There should be plenty in the Dodgers' No. 8 farm system to entice the Blue Jays into a deal. In particular, they might like the idea of taking outfielder Alex Verdugo off the Dodgers' hands.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Baseball Prospectus. Payroll data courtesy of Roster Resource.