8 Blockbuster Trade Ideas to Shift MLB's Balance of Power in 2021
The start of spring training is (hopefully) inching ever closer, but actual action on Major League Baseball's 2020-21 offseason market continues to be sporadic.
So, it can't hurt to try to will some blockbuster trades into existence.
We have ideas for eight trades that we mostly just want to see, yet which are also somewhere within the realm of possibility. All involve potentially available stars going to contenders that have the means and possibly the motivation to acquire them for a significant competitive advantage.
Let's get to it.
Joey Gallo to the St. Louis Cardinals
The Texas Rangers effectively began a rebuild when they dealt ace hurler Lance Lynn to the Chicago White Sox in December. The next star to leave town might be Joey Gallo.
He's reportedly been available since last summer's trade deadline. And while the 27-year-old's value is down after he hit just .181 with a .679 OPS in 2020, his extreme power, Gold Glove-winning defense and club control through 2022 nonetheless make him an attractive trade chip.
In light of the MLB-low 51 home runs they hit even as they finished second in the National League Central in 2020, the St. Louis Cardinals have more incentive to target Gallo's 40-homer power than any other team.
A trade for Gallo wouldn't blow up the Cardinals' limited budget, as he's projected to earn at most $6.8 million in 2021. In exchange, the Rangers could aim to fill a pressing long-term need by trying for slugging third base prospect Nolan Gorman, who ranks as our No. 46 talent.
Sonny Gray to the Los Angeles Angels
The Cincinnati Reds thrived on their ace trio of Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo in 2020. But now Bauer is a free agent, and the other two are reportedly trade bait.
Assuming the Reds are primarily motivated to cut payroll, Gray is more likely a goner than Castillo. The latter is slated to earn $5.8 million at most in 2021, whereas the former is owed $10.2 million in 2021 and 2022.
The best fit for Gray—a spin rate maestro with a 3.07 ERA since 2019—is a team the Reds have already done business with this winter: the Los Angeles Angels.
Though the Angels upgraded at closer when they landed Raisel Iglesias from Cincinnati in December, they still need a top-of-the-rotation starter for a rotation that had a 5.52 ERA in 2020. The 31-year-old Gray would fit the bill, and the Reds could angle for top outfield prospect Brandon Marsh or even former top prospect Jo Adell.
Luis Castillo to the New York Yankees
Though it may not be especially likely, the Reds moving Luis Castillo isn't out of the question because he simply has more trade value than Sonny Gray.
Beyond being younger—Castillo turned 28 in December—and cheaper, Castillo is also arguably the better pitcher. He broke out as an All-Star in 2019 and kept it up in 2020 with a 3.21 ERA and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. More of the same should be in order for his three remaining years of team control.
Now that they've filled their hole at second base by re-signing DJ LeMahieu and one of the holes in their rotation by signing Corey Kluber, the New York Yankees should take a good, long look at Castillo.
His 97.5 mph fastball fits well with the club's high-velocity philosophy, and adding his projected salary wouldn't necessarily preclude them from staying under the $210 million luxury-tax threshold for 2021. In return, the Reds could demand a package headlined by top pitching prospect Clarke Schmidt.
Willson Contreras to the Washington Nationals
With their trade of Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres, the Chicago Cubs essentially rang the rebuilding bell. Now the question is who'll go next, and when.
It could be Willson Contreras, and soon. His name has reportedly been bandied about in trade discussions this winter, which makes sense given that the 28-year-old is probably the most valuable trade chip Chicago has left. He is, after all, a two-time All-Star catcher whose club control runs through 2022.
As for where Contreras—who peaked with 24 home runs in 2019 and then improved his framing in 2020—might end up, the Washington Nationals are a potential fit.
They've already plucked slugging first baseman Josh Bell out of the NL Central. If they target Contreras next, it would be because they like him as an offensive and defensive upgrade over Yan Gomes, who hit four homers with subpar framing in 2020. For their part, the Cubs could try to leverage hard-throwing prospect Jackson Rutledge and others in a trade with Washington.
Kris Bryant to the Los Angeles Dodgers
In addition to Willson Contreras, the Cubs' trade chips also include two superstar-caliber players who are ticketed for free agency after 2021: Kris Bryant and Javier Baez.
Bryant was nonetheless an All-Star as recently as 2019 and of course the National League MVP in 2016. If a team is going to take a chance on him, it may be one that has experience dealing for former MVPs on the verge of free agency: the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Though they reportedly want to re-sign Justin Turner, the Dodgers would have much greater upside at third base if they traded for Bryant instead. In Edwin Rios or top prospect Kody Hoese, the Cubs could try to land Bryant's long-term replacement from Los Angeles.
Trevor Story to the Minnesota Twins
Elsewhere in the NL West, the Colorado Rockies are teetering on the edge of a rebuild that could begin with a trade of Trevor Story.
He's put up a .909 OPS over the last three seasons, with excellent speed and defense that have pushed him to a shortstop-high 14.2 rWAR. The only less-than-awesome aspect of his trade value is that he's only signed for 2021 for a sizable $18.5 million salary.
Whoever trades for Story, 28, had therefore better mean business for this season. That could be the Minnesota Twins, who need to make some kind of splash in response to the big moves the Chicago White Sox have made this winter.
Though Minnesota has Jorge Polanco at shortstop, Story would be an upgrade over him on both sides of the ball. In exchange, the Rockies could demand Polanco himself or perhaps one of the Twins' top offensive prospects, such as outfielders Alex Kirilloff or Trevor Larnach.
Nolan Arenado to the Toronto Blue Jays
The 29-year-old played at an MVP-caliber level between 2015 and 2019, averaging 40 homers and racking up an NL-high 31.4 rWAR. But following a 2020 season in which he posted a career-low 1.6 rWAR, moving him and the $199 million remaining on his contract is all sorts of complicated.
Unless they really want to try Vladimir Guerrero Jr. there again, the Blue Jays have a need at third base. They also have lots of payroll space and young talent to spare. For instance, a trade for Arenado could see left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or top prospect Austin Martin headlining Colorado's end of it.
Jose Ramirez to Atlanta
By trading Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland all but blew up whatever hopes it had of contending in the near future. It might as well dive headlong into a rebuild by trading Jose Ramirez next.
He's coming off his third MVP-caliber season out of the last four, as he finished 2020 with a .993 OPS, 17 home runs and 2.4 rWAR. The 28-year-old will also earn just $9.4 million in 2021, with options for 2022 and 2023 that would pay out a modest total of $24 million.
Ramirez is thus a good target for a club that needs a third baseman, yet which can spare more young talent than money in its pursuit of one.
Such as Atlanta, where Ramirez would be a massive upgrade over Austin Riley and the middle-of-the-order hitter it needs to fill Marcell Ozuna's shoes. For its part, Cleveland could aim for a package headlined by Riley himself and a top prospect like outfielder Drew Waters, who's our No. 21 talent.