Big-Money MLB Players Who Could Be 2019-20 Offseason Trade Blockbusters
It's rare for huge salaries to change hands in Major League Baseball. But as recent trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Robinson Cano and Zack Greinke prove, anything is possible.
So let's look ahead to some big-money players who might just be available for winter blockbusters.
To clarify, this exercise is strictly speculative. Several of the 10 players on our radar have popped up in trade rumors here and there. But for the most part, we were guessing.
That said, our guesses were at least of the educated variety. We focused on a few contracts that might be moved as part of payroll-cutting efforts, as well as a couple expensive arbitration-eligible stars who could be cashed in before free agency can claim them.
We'll move roughly in order from what would be the least shocking trade to the most shocking trade.
Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers are nearly finished with Shin-Soo Choo's seven-year, $130 million contract. He'll make $21 million in 2020, and that'll be that.
Yet it seems safe to assume the Rangers will try to trade the 37-year-old this winter.
According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Rangers tried to move Choo as part of a deal for Greinke during the 2017-18 offseason. Even as recently as this spring, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that they were discussing Choo with the San Francisco Giants.
Although the Rangers have been better than expected this season, they're still in a transitional phase that requires as much spare cash and controllable talent as possible. As long as he keeps up the pace that's gotten him to an .865 OPS and 18 home runs, a trade of Choo might fill both needs.
Choo will be able to veto any trade proposals by way of his 10-and-5 rights. But if he were presented with an opportunity to pursue a World Series ring with a new team, perhaps he would be amenable to taking it.
Wil Myers, San Diego Padres
When the San Diego Padres inked Wil Myers to a six-year, $83 million extension in January 2017, he was coming off an All-Star season that was marked by 28 home runs and stolen bases apiece.
Myers' offensive production has since gone backward, and it's especially bad this year. His .720 OPS is his lowest in his five seasons as a Padre, and he's struck out in an MLB-high 35 percent of his plate appearances.
And now for the really scary part: After playing for cheap between 2017 and 2019, Myers is due to make $22.5 million in each of the next three seasons.
But while all this would seem to make him immovable, Myers is still only 28 years old and not devoid of talent. Although making contact has been an issue, he's been hitting the ball harder than ever when he's done so.
If the Padres put Myers on the table this winter, that makes at least two data points that could cause a line to form. The man himself has no say in where he goes, as he has neither a no-trade clause nor 10-and-5 rights.
Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
Like Choo, Carlos Santana has only one more guaranteed season remaining on his three-year, $60 million contract. Also like Choo, he's set to make about $21 million in 2020.
One big difference is that the Cleveland Indians are only on the hook to pay about $17 million of Santana's 2020 salary. The rest of it is on the Seattle Mariners, who flipped Santana to the Indians after acquiring him from the Philadelphia Phillies last December.
These arrangements have worked out just fine for the Indians, who have gotten a .927 OPS and 24 homers out of the 33-year-old All-Star. This, of course, raises the question of why they wouldn't just keep him.
It will depend on their priorities for the winter. The Indians will surely retain Santana if they care strictly about building a winner, but he might be deemed expendable if they'd just as soon cut payroll. That was a point of emphasis for them last winter, and it played a part in their recent trade of Trevor Bauer.
If not Santana, there are other high-priced stars the Indians might move this winter.
Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Instead of Santana, perhaps the Tribe will dangle Corey Kluber.
If they do, it'll essentially be the 2018-19 offseason all over again. Last winter, Kluber popped up in numerous trade rumors—including one from Dennis Lin and Rosenthal of The Athletic that involved a three-team deal with the Padres and Cincinnati Reds. Ultimately, it was a surprise that he wasn't moved.
Mind you, the matter of Kluber's trade value has gotten more complicated since then.
When the 33-year-old ace was on the block last winter, he had just capped off a five-year stretch in which he averaged a 2.85 ERA and won two Cy Young Awards. But in 2019, he posted a 5.80 ERA through his first seven starts before going on the injured list with a broken arm.
On the bright side, Kluber is nearing his return just in time to make a difference in Cleveland's postseason push. If he does, his ace reputation may be intact enough for the Indians to go ahead with exercising his $17.5 million option for 2020.
But even if they do that, their next move may be to put Kluber back out on the trade market and see if they can get something for him. Sans a no-trade clause or 10-and-5 rights, he'd be powerless to stop them.
Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs
Through the first three seasons of Jason Heyward's eight-year, $184 million pact with the Chicago Cubs, it was only possible to imagine him being moved in a bad-contract swap or an outright salary dump.
But all of a sudden, Heyward no longer looks like a sunk cost. He's reversed his offensive fortunes with an .814 OPS and 17 home runs. Meanwhile, the five-time Gold Glove winner is still an outstanding right fielder.
Heyward could opt out of his contract this winter, but only if he climbs from 426 plate appearances to 550 by the end of the year. Even if he does, he may recognize that a 30-year-old like himself should probably take the $86 million he can earn over the next four years of his current deal.
If he does, it wouldn't be the biggest surprise if the Cubs looked to move him.
According to MLB.com's Phil Rogers, the Cubs considered trading Heyward back in the 2017-18 offseason. His offensive production isn't the only thing that's become more conducive to a deal since then. The nature of his no-trade clause has as well, as it's gone from full to merely partial.
In short, this winter will present a golden chance for the Cubs to get out while the getting's good.
Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
Things were going fine for the Colorado Rockies through June 20, but they've taken blow after blow amid a 12-28 stretch that's dropped them to last place in the NL West.
None of this convinced them that they had to move Charlie Blackmon and the remainder of his five-year, $94 million contract extension before the July 31 trade deadline. But according to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, the Rockies were at least willing to listen to offers for the four-time All-Star.
It's possible that they'll still have that willingness this winter. The Rockies could stand to clear some payroll, after all. And short of Nolan Arenado, a trade of Blackmon is their best hope of moving money and getting talent back.
There would be difficulties. One is that Blackmon is already 33, which raises some doubt about whether he'll remain in his prime in the final two guaranteed years of his deal. Another is the 262-point gap between his career OPS at Coors Field and OPS on the road.
On a plus side, Blackmon only has a 15-team no-trade clause. That's one less hurdle in the way of a deal for half of MLB.
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees
A second trade of Stanton? Fat chance.
The slugging outfielder was fresh off winning the National League MVP when the Miami Marlins dealt him to the New York Yankees in December 2017. His numbers then took a dive in 2018, and injuries have kept him out of all but nine games in 2019.
Assuming he wants no part of his opt-out clause after 2020, Stanton's 13-year, $325 million contract will be guaranteed through 2027. The 29-year-old also showed in 2017 that he's willing to be picky with his no-trade clause.
Yet the late, great Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that there were "long-shot rumblings" about the Yankees seeking to trade Stanton last winter. If they feel a need to clear some payroll for the sake of fixing their beleaguered starting rotation, perhaps those rumblings will start anew this winter.
The Cano trade—which involved prospects for the Mariners and ace closer Edwin Diaz and cash for the New York Mets—would be a potential template for the Yankees to pursue. If such an arrangement were to give Stanton a chance to return home to Southern California, he might welcome a change of scenery.
Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Remember all the buzz about the Washington Nationals possibly trading Max Scherzer this summer? Frankly, it was mostly wishful thinking.
There was logic in the Nats dumping Scherzer and the rest of his seven-year, $210 million contract while their ship was sinking earlier in the year. But Rosenthal reported in June that general manager Mike Rizzo was "not even considering" it. Nowadays, the Nats are wild-card contenders.
However, there's still a real chance they'll miss out on October for a second year in a row. And come the winter, they may lose Anthony Rendon to free agency just as they lost Bryce Harper this past offseason.
All this could put the Nationals in the mood to move in a new direction. Jettisoning the final two years of Scherzer's contract could be their ideal first step, and they might be all the more willing to do so in light of his age (35) and recent back problems.
Of course, Scherzer would have the right to veto any deal by way of 10-and-5 rights that will kick in this winter. But if the right team were to come calling, he might be willing to move on from Washington.
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
In the abstract, it's hard to fathom why any team would want to deal Francisco Lindor. He's a 25-year-old who's been an All-Star four times in five years, and his club control runs through 2021. You don't trade guys like this. You extend them.
Thing is, the Indians have already tried to do that. But according to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, the $100 million offer they approached Lindor with in early in 2017 wasn't good enough.
It doesn't seem like progress has been made in the two years since then. Indeed, team owner Paul Dolan offered some advice to Indians fans via Zack Meisel of The Athletic in March: "Enjoy him. We control him for three more years. Enjoy him and then we’ll see what happens."
Lindor fell just shy of a record for a first-year arbitration player when he signed for $10.6 million in January. He could get a raise to as much as $20 million for 2020, with still another raise due his way in 2021.
That equals a financial incentive for the Indians to make Lindor available this winter, but their main incentive would be to potentially score a huge haul of controllable talent. It would only take one singularly desperate team to make their day.
Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Why would the Boston Red Sox trade Mookie Betts?
It's a fair question. Betts was the AL MVP on a World Series winner just last season, and he trails only Mike Trout in wins above replacement since 2015, according to Baseball Reference. He's also just 26 and under Boston's control through 2020.
However, that season figures to be an expensive one. After netting a record $20 million salary in his second round of arbitration, Betts could pull in $25 or even $30 million for next season.
The Red Sox might get out of paying Betts a huge salary for 2020 by signing him to an extension that guarantees him slightly smaller salaries for the foreseeable future. But Betts has already rejected a $200 million offer and generally seems unwilling to sign any extension.
"I don't expect anything to happen until I'm a free agent," he said in March, per MLB.com's Matt Kelly.
There's already been buzz about Betts possibly hitting the block, and Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski didn't exactly shut it down when he said on WEEI in July: "I've always said you always consider trading any player you possibly have."
Come the winter, Dombrowski might jump at any chance to move Betts for an appropriately sized haul.