Predicting 10 Players Who Could Surface in MLB Trade Rumors at Winter Meetings

Martin FennFeatured Columnist INovember 28, 2020

Predicting 10 Players Who Could Surface in MLB Trade Rumors at Winter Meetings

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The 2020 MLB winter meetings, like most things this year, will be unlike any in league history.

    While the winter meetings usually allow executives around the league to confer and discuss deals in person or gauge which teams are being aggressive in buying or selling, MLB has announced the meetings will be held remotely.

    This may mean the rumors are not quite as rampant. Reporters frequent the winter meetings but will now have to work the phones every bit as hard as executives to relay big moves that could be in the offing.

    Still, the rumor mill is already churning. Much has been made regarding the availability of corner infielders Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant, and of course, all eyes will be on Francisco Lindor.

    Some star pitchers could be on the move as well. According to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, the Tampa Bay Rays could be open to dealing Blake Snell, while Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the Cincinnati Reds feel the same about Sonny Gray.

    Baseball fans are starting to get a glimpse of the players who could change teams. A plethora of others appear to be obvious trade candidates.

    Other players' names have yet to be mentioned with much purpose but could also gain traction during the winter meetings.

    Here are 10 players who could surface in trade rumors in the next week-plus. These players were chosen based on past production and their value relative to their contracts, in addition to the direction their teams might take this offseason.

Trevor Story

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Nolan Arenado might get all the headlines in Colorado, but it is possible the Rockies dangle Trevor Story as well.

    Story continues to establish himself as one of the best shortstops in baseball. He slashed .289/.355/.519 with 11 homers this past season and also led the National League with 15 stolen bases and four triples.

    In some ways, the 2020 campaign was even a slight regression. Story had a lower average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage than he did in 2019, though his success rate on the bases was higher. Yet that just shows how good he has been since debuting in 2016.

    Story's combination of power and speed helped him rank fifth among shortstops in fWAR between 2016 and 2020. He is also a plus defender who ranked fourth among shortstops in outs above average in 2019.

    Story just turned 28, so why would Colorado trade him? Well, the native Texan will be a free agent at the end of the 2021 season, and the Rockies might have a tough time dealing Arenado given the dollar value on his contract in addition to his opt-out after next year. Plus, Colorado is not going to be competitive and desperately needs farm assets.

    Story will make a somewhat modest $18.5 million in total salary next year. Additionally, teams could hope to extend him at a lower annual average value (AAV) than they might have to pay Arenado if he opted in for the remainder of his deal.

    Next year's free-agent class is loaded at shortstop, but teams will surely see what it would take to acquire Story if he is made available. There is already plenty of interest in Lindor, after all.

Eduardo Escobar

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    Darryl Webb/Associated Press

    Arenado and Kris Bryant figure to dominate the narrative at the hot corner given their star power. But again, salaries and asking price might preclude teams from pulling the trigger.

    Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Eduardo Escobar, on the other hand, will make just $7.5 million next year, and he also figures to be less costly in terms of prospect capital.

    The 31-year-old is in the final season of a three-year, $21 million deal he signed with the Diamondbacks after they acquired him from the Minnesota Twins ahead of the 2018 trade deadline. He has had mixed results since coming to the desert.

    Escobar had a decent 54-game stint with Arizona in 2018 and posted career-high marks in homers (35), RBI (118) and OPS (.831) the following season. He also led MLB with 10 triples. But the Venezuelan regressed this past year, hitting just four homers and posting a .605 OPS.

    However, Escobar still has plenty of value as a switch-hitter who can hit for average and for power. He can also play nearly every infield position, and teams value that kind of versatility.

    The Diamondbacks are somewhere between being "buyers" and "sellers," though they might be more likely to reposition by dealing expiring contracts like Escobar and Kole Calhoun.

    It is possible Escobar is Arizona's best trade chip, and his name should pop up in rumors at the winter meetings.

Marco Gonzales

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The lack of quality starting pitching in this year's free-agent class is sure to cause a flurry of rumors regarding starting pitchers who could be on the move.

    We have seen this with recent rumblings about Gray and Snell. But another left-hander could have big value as well, and he happens to play on a rebuilding club.

    Seattle Mariners southpaw Marco Gonzales has put together quality seasons in his three full years as a starter on the M's staff, and 2020 was particularly special.

    Gonzales went 7-2 with a 3.10 ERA in 11 starts. He led the American League in walks per nine innings (0.9) while posting baseball's best strikeout-to-walk ratio (9.14). Coming off a 2019 season in which he threw a career-high 203 innings, the 28-year-old built on it with a splendid 2020 campaign.

    There would be no shortage of suitors for Gonzales if Seattle made him available. He is under contract through 2024 and has a $15 million team option in 2025. That kind of team control makes Gonzales a desirable asset, even more so in an offseason where so many contenders appear to have needs in the rotation.

    Then again, that club control is why Seattle might elect to retain him given it can always move him in the next few years. The Mariners might also feel they have a shot at October if MLB keeps the expanded playoffs, especially if they become buyers and trade for Snell, a Seattle native.

    However, the M's could still take calls on Gonzales and gauge his value around the league.

Jorge Soler

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Jorge Soler has been in The Show for quite some time now.

    The Cuban made his debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2014, slugging .573 in 24 games and seemingly stamping himself into the team's future.

    However, Chicago's signing of both Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward, paired with the rise of Kyle Schwarber, made Soler nothing more than a platoon guy.

    The Cubs dealt Soler to the Kansas City Royals for closer Wade Davis after the 2016 season. After a pair of injury-riddled years, Soler finally broke out in 2019, leading the AL with 48 homers and shattering the franchise record.

    Despite making history, he could be dealt this winter. He is entering his final year of arbitration, and the Royals are unlikely to dole out a big contract to a guy who is best suited as a designated hitter and will enter his age-30 season in 2022.

    Soler regressed in 2020, but his advanced numbers were still encouraging. He ranked in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate while also reaching the 99th percentile in barrels.

    Prospective suitors would have to deal with the swings and misses. But Soler is still young, has plenty of slugging upside and could be highly sought-after in the event the universal DH sticks around in 2021.

    Whit Merrifield is likely the Royals player who will generate the most buzz, but Soler is another to keep an eye on.

Raisel Iglesias

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Raisel Iglesias has quietly been one of the more dominant back-end relievers in baseball since the Reds made him their closer in 2017.

    The skinny right-hander had a 2.43 ERA and saved 58 games in 2017 and 2018 combined. His ERA rose to 4.16 in 2019, but he also posted a career-high 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings while totaling 34 saves.

    Things really came together in 2020. Iglesias gave up just one homer and walked only five in 23 innings. He posted career-best marks in both fielding independent pitching (1.84) and WHIP (0.91) and went 8-of-10 in save opportunities.

    Iglesias is a terrific weapon out of the bullpen. However, if the Reds are open to dealing Gray, they might also consider trading their fireball closer.

    The 30-year-old will be a free agent at the end of the season. What's more, the Reds acquired Archie Bradley at this past year's trade deadline, giving Cincy two closers. Bradley might be the better long-term play for the Reds considering he is over two years younger than Iglesias. This could make the latter expendable.

    A number of quality relievers are set to hit free agency. That said, Iglesias is a legitimate power arm and has demonstrated the ability to induce weak contact. He also added velocity to his fastball this past year, which likely contributed to his added success.

    This could be a pivotal offseason for the Reds to get value where they can and make gains to the farm system. Iglesias figures to be a key piece in that effort.

Brandon Belt

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Brandon Belt had mostly been down for the count in the final years of his contract with the San Francisco Giants. But he had a major resurgence in 2020.

    The 32-year-old was a huge reason for San Francisco's success, slashing .309/.425/.591 with a whopping 178 OPS+ after missing most of summer camp with a heel injury.

    Belt has been a Giant for the entirety of his career, and San Francisco could ride it out with him in the final year of his contract. Alternatively, the Giants could try to move off the veteran first baseman to make room in the infield.

    San Francisco might give Joey Bart a more extended run behind the dish next season and would then need to move franchise legend Buster Posey elsewhere. Posey has played some first base in recent seasons, and it's the most logical position for him if Bart becomes the starting catcher.

    It could be hard to find a market for Belt, considering he is owed $16 million in 2021. At the same time, he has a respectable career OPS of .810 and a 122 OPS+ and is coming off his best season. Belt also consistently has one of the best walk rates in baseball without a debilitating strikeout percentage, and he is also a plus defender.

    Perhaps a team like the Washington Nationals would have interest unless they are wedded to bringing back Ryan Zimmerman. The Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks also make some sense, though it remains to be seen whether they will add or subtract.

Dominic Smith

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Would you believe me if I told you Dominic Smith ranked ahead of prolific sluggers like Mike Trout and Nelson Cruz in weighted runs created plus (wRC+) in 2020?

    Smith impressed with his power in 2019, though he was largely a platoon outfielder. However, he got more of an everyday run in 2020 and responded by slashing .316/.377/.616 with 10 homers. He ranked in the top 6 percent or higher in expected batting average and expected slugging.

    The 25-year-old also has positional versatility. Smith split time between the outfield and first base last season, and he could also be a designated hitter.

    Why would the Mets consider trading Smith? Pick a star that could make sense for New York, from position guys like Lindor and Arenado to star pitchers such as Snell. What do the Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays all have in common? They would desire outfield assets in return for their respective stars.

    Moreover, the inclusion of Smith in a deal for any of the above stars might lessen the accompanying prospect ask. He is under team control through 2024, making him a valuable trade chip.

    The Mets have a number of guys who can play the outfield. They might also pursue George Springer in free agency. Thus, New York could see how much it can get with Smith as the centerpiece of a deal.

Joey Gallo

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    Texas Rangers right-hander Lance Lynn is sure to have a ton of demand, just like he did at the trade deadline.

    Joey Gallo was also mentioned as a trade candidate, and Texas could revisit his market this winter.

    The 27-year-old reverted to some bad habits in 2020. Gallo had success in 2019 because his swing rate fell from 48.3 percent to 40.7 percent. He committed to hunting his pitch and, as a result, hit .253 with 22 homers and a .986 OPS in 70 games. But Gallo's swing percentage rose again this past year, and he had less success driving the ball.

    Gallo still hit the ball hard. He ranked in the 85th percentile in average exit velocity and also sat in the 90th percentile in barrels. Unfortunately, his ground-ball rate went up, and he also popped the ball up more frequently.

    Still, Gallo has clear upside when he has the right approach. He also plays multiple outfield spots at a high level.

    He won a Gold Glove this year and has tremendous range, ranking in the 95th percentile in outfielder jump. His speed is nothing exceptional, but he makes great breaks and covers a ton of ground.

    Gallo is projected to make less than $6 million in arbitration this season and has one more year of team control in 2022. He is as talented a two-way player as any outfielder in baseball, which is important considering how shallow that market is this offseason.

    Unless they somehow decide to buy big, the Rangers need to sell assets to bolster a farm system Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked as the 24th-best in baseball. Jon Daniels could look to maximize Gallo's value.

Joe Musgrove

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Pirates are obvious sellers this offseason, and they could be rebuilding for quite some time before getting back into contention.

    MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported the Pirates have received calls about left-handed starter Steven Brault, who could be a coveted arm given both his handedness and his years of club control.

    Similar to Marco Gonzales, though, the Bucs could elect to keep Brault for the time being. Joe Musgrove, on the other hand, might never have higher value than he does now.

    The 27-year-old is coming off the best year of his career. Musgrove had a 3.86 ERA in eight starts, striking out 12.5 hitters per nine innings and inducing soft contact. He ranked in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity and the 84th percentile in whiff rate. That is an attractive combination.

    There was a drawback to all the success, as Musgrove's usually low walk rate jumped to 3.6 free passes per nine innings. Still, it seems teams won't be scared away given his peripherals and drastic improvement in strikeout rate.

    Another reason Musgrove could be as coveted as Brault is that he probably will not be as costly. Musgrove will be a free agent after the 2022 season, so he has less club control, but he is also younger than Brault.

    Teams are keen on developing Musgrove and eventually extending him. Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic called Musgrove the team's best trade chip, and it would not be a surprise to hear his name mentioned numerous times during winter meetings.

Yu Darvish

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    A Yu Darvish trade would be a shocking development. Yet it is within reason.

    The Cubs have undergone a change in leadership as Jed Hoyer has taken over for Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations. Hoyer told reporters the Cubs are still thinking about October baseball in 2021 but must also focus on the future.

    Dealing Darvish would seemingly be the antithesis of trying to remain competitive, especially considering the Cubs have a number of holes in the rotation. But the 34-year-old would probably net the Cubs the biggest return.

    Darvish built on his outstanding second half from 2019 with a runner-up finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He went 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA and an NL-best 2.23 FIP while posting career-best numbers in WHIP (0.96) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.64). Darvish also allowed just five homers in 76 innings.

    Additionally, Darvish's contract looks pretty friendly given his recent production.

    The Japanese star is owed $59 million over the course of the next three years. That might seem like a concern since it will take him through his age-36 season. But Darvish added nearly two miles per hour to his hard stuff, which is a good sign for his longevity.

    Chicago could see if rival teams would give up a younger, MLB-ready arm in addition to premium prospects in exchange for Darvish.

    Buster Olney of ESPN reported the Cubs could move "almost any veteran." Perhaps Darvish is on that list, especially because he could bring the Cubs a combination of young talent and prospect depth.

              

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, FanGraphs or Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted. All contract information courtesy of Spotrac.

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