Knee-Jerk MLB Trade Ideas After 2019's Opening Weeks

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2019

Knee-Jerk MLB Trade Ideas After 2019's Opening Weeks

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    It's never too early to start talking trades, even when the MLB season is less than two weeks old.

    Early areas of need, whether the results of injured key players or offseason failures to shore up rosters, have already begun presenting themselves to contenders. On the opposite end of the spectrum, rebuilding teams are already starting to take inventory of potential trade chips, and selling high on a hot start could be the best way to maximize value.

    Ahead, we've broken down some knee-jerk trade ideas, including a handful of sell-high candidates, a couple of fleshed-out landing spots and two teams that look like ideal trade partners.

Sell-High Candidate: Martin Prado, Miami Marlins

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    The Miami Marlins' decision to extend Martin Prado for three years and $40 million before he hit the open market at the end of the 2016 season has been a swing and a miss to this point.

    After he hit .305 and posted a 3.9 WAR while playing 153 games in the final season of his previous contract, he played a combined 91 games and produced 0.5 WAR the next two years. He's dealt with a wide variety of injuries and made seven different trips to the injured list the past two seasons, but he finally has a clean bill of health.

    The 35-year-old is being used in a platoon with Neil Walker at first base, and he's off to a red-hot start, hitting .476/.522/.619 with three doubles in 23 plate appearances.

    While his days as an everyday player might be behind him, he's still a professional hitter who offers some valuable defensive versatility in a part-time role.

    For a contender looking to bolster the bench and the clubhouse, Prado could be a perfect early trade target—provided the Marlins are willing to eat the vast majority of the $15 million he's still owed.

Sell-High Candidate: Tim Beckham, Seattle Mariners

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    The Seattle Mariners have been one of 2019's biggest surprises, sprinting out of the gates with a 9-2 record while posting an AL-best plus-29 run differential.

    Most expected this to be a retooling season after Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura, Alex Colome and Mike Zunino all left via trade while Nelson Cruz walked in free agency. Even with the hot start, that could very well still be the case. Laying the groundwork now for some potential mid-summer trades would be considered due diligence.

    One player who is quickly becoming a valuable commodity is shortstop Tim Beckham.

    After being non-tendered by the Baltimore Orioles, the 29-year-old signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Mariners to serve as a stopgap for fellow offseason pickup J.P. Crawford. Thus far, his production has exceeded even the wildest expectations.

    The former No. 1 overall pick is hitting .400/.489/.825 with five doubles and four home runs, and he leads the American League in hits (16), runs (13) and total bases (33). He's also arbitration-eligible for the 2020 season before he reaches free agency, so he would be more than just a rental player for another team.

    Right now, the Mariners have no reason to entertain the idea of trading him. However, that could quickly change, and feeling out the market now could pay dividends down the road.

Sell-High Candidate: Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit Tigers

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    To say Jordan Zimmermann has failed to justify his five-year, $110 million contract would be a massive understatement. Over the first three years and $60 million of that deal, the former Washington Nationals standout posted a 5.24 ERA and 1.41 WHIP while averaging 132.2 innings per season.

    He's looked like a different pitcher in 2019. Or rather, he's looked like the pitcher of old who, at the time, seemed worth that nine-figure investment.

    Over his first two starts, he's allowed just seven hits, one walk and one earned run in 13.2 innings, giving him a pristine 0.66 ERA and 0.59 WHIP.

    A major change in pitch usage could be the reason for his newfound success, via Brooks Baseball:

    • 2018: fastball (43.1 percent), slider (33.2 percent), curveball (16.0 percent), changeup (5.5 percent)
    • 2019: slider (38.4 percent), fastball (37.2 percent), curveball (23.2 percent), changeup (1.2 percent)

    Throwing his fastball less, using his breaking stuff more and eliminating his changeup seems to be keeping hitters off-balance.

    The 32-year-old carries a hefty $25 million salary in both 2019 and 2020, which will be an obvious impediment in any trade talks. Still, if the Tigers eat a big percentage of his remaining salary or are willing to take on another bad contract in return, he could be a major addition to a contender if he has, in fact, turned a corner.

Sell-High Candidate: Matt Shoemaker, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Health is the biggest question mark for Matt Shoemaker.

    He was a solid starter for the Los Angeles Angels during his first three seasons in the majors, averaging 24 starts and 144 innings while posting a 3.80 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.

    However, he's been limited to just 21 starts and 108.2 total innings the past two years, and his ERA has spiked to 4.64 when he's been able to take the mound. That led to his non-tender this winter, and the pitching-needy Toronto Blue Jays scooped him up on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.

    Two starts into his tenure north of the border, he has yet to allow an earned run in 14 innings of work, surrendering just four hits and three walks while striking out 15.

    With a healthy Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez alongside under-the-radar trade pickup Trent Thornton, the Blue Jays have the makings of a solid rotation. However, they still face an uphill battle to contend in the AL East, and testing the waters for an early Shoemaker trade could be the best way to maximize his value.

Early-Season Impact Trade: Shane Greene to the Chicago Cubs

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    The Chicago Cubs bullpen has registered somewhere between an unmitigated disaster and a smoldering dumpster fire at the onset of the 2019 season.

    It's been a total team effort. The entire relief corps has been shelled to the tune of an 8.37 ERA and 2.01 WHIP. In fact, the only reliever with an ERA under 5.00 is Brad Brach, and he's pitched around six walks in four innings to post a 2.25 ERA.

    Carl Edwards Jr. (1.2 IP, 32.40 ERA) has already been optioned Triple-A, while Mike Montgomery (2.2 IP, 16.88 ERA) was placed on the injured list with a left lat strain. They were replaced by Allen Webster (1.2 IP, 5.40 ERA) and Kyle Ryan (2.0 IP, 9.00 ERA), who are off to rocky starts of their own.

    Even if they iron out the middle relief situation, the back of the bullpen is a question mark while Brandon Morrow watches from the sidelines and Pedro Strop (2.0 IP, 9.00 ERA) looks like anything but a shutdown option.

    An early trade for Detroit Tigers closer Shane Greene could go a long way.

    Greene, 30, is already a perfect 7-of-7 on save chances, allowing just two hits and one walk over seven scoreless innings.

    He's a free agent after the 2020 season, so he'd be more than just a rental. Plus, the Tigers should still be motivated to deal even after their unexpectedly hot start. What's more, the Cubs and Tigers have a working relationship after Chicago acquired Justin Wilson and Alex Avila in a deal that sent Jemier Candelario and Isaac Paredes to Detroit at the 2017 deadline.

    Pulling the trigger on an early trade could become a necessity for the Cubs as they try to save their season.

Early-Season Impact Trade: Alex Cobb to the Milwaukee Brewers

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    The Milwaukee Brewers opted not to add an impact starter during the offseason, instead relying on Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes to round out the rotation after they closed last season working in relief.

    While both young hurlers have ample starting experience from their time in the minors, the early returns have not been encouraging:

    • Burnes: 10.0 IP, 12 H, 11 ER, 4 BB, 18 K
    • Woodruff: 9.0 IP, 12 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 13 K

    Burnes is piling up strikeouts. He's also surrendered a staggering six home runs, which leaves him with an unsightly 9.90 ERA. Woodruff made it just four innings in his most recent start, allowing six hits, two walks and four earned runs before exiting against the Chicago Cubs.

    Another shaky turn through the rotation could be enough for the Brewers to start considering alternatives.

    One option could be buying low on Baltimore Orioles right-hander Alex Cobb, and it could pay off big.

    Cobb, 31, signed a four-year, $57 million deal with the O's last offseason before the team had fully committed to rebuilding. His 4.90 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 152.1 innings during the 2018 season didn't paint him in the best light, but he was a different pitcher after the All-Star break.

    He posted a 2.56 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 59.2 second-half innings, and he threw the ball well against the New York Yankees in his 2019 debut. 

    If it gives them a chance to unload some of the money he's still owed, the O's might be willing to sell low on a starter who has been excellent in the past.

Perfect Trade Partners: Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals

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    Alex Colome
    Alex ColomeJohn Sleezer/Getty Images

    The Washington Nationals are in desperate need of bullpen help after their relief corps opened the year with an MLB-worst 10.80 ERA. 

    Closer Sean Doolittle (4.1 IP, 2-0, 0.00 ERA) has been solid despite blowing his only save chances, while setup relievers Kyle Barraclough (4.1 IP, 2.08 ERA) and Justin Miller (4.1 IP, 3 HLD, 4.15 ERA) are getting the job done.

    The rest of the pen has been a complete mess, though.

    Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox happen to have a pair of quality veteran relievers who are controllable beyond the 2019 season and off to terrific starts:

    • Alex Colome: 4.0 IP, 2-of-2 SV, 2.25 ERA, 0 BB, 5 K
    • Kelvin Herrera: 5.0 IP, 1 HLD, 1.80 ERA, 0 BB, 4 K

    The Nationals are well acquainted with Herrera after they acquired him in a trade with the Kansas City Royals last June. But the two-time All-Star left this offseason after signing a two-year, $18 million deal with the White Sox that includes a club option for 2021.

    Colome was also traded during the 2018 season, going from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Seattle Mariners in May. He was then traded again during the offseason, this time in a deal that sent catcher Omar Narvaez to Seattle.

    Neither reliever will come cheap, but both have solid track records and reasonable salaries.

    If the Nationals are going to keep pace in a crowded NL East race, they may need to make a move soon.

         

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted, and accurate through Sunday's games.