14 Impact MLB Players Who Will Be on the Trade Block by 2021 Deadline

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IJanuary 24, 2021

14 Impact MLB Players Who Will Be on the Trade Block by 2021 Deadline

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Could the MLB trade market's vitality over the past month-plus also inform how busy things will be in July?

    Contenders seem more comfortable ceding future talent for stars than handing out lucrative free-agent deals. Conversely, the desperation of sellers has been apparent.

    The following is a list of players who figure to be on the trade block at the 2021 trade deadline. For reference, some of these players have been discussed in deals this winter but might be more likely to move in July. Others could simply emerge as desirable assets in pennant races because of production, team outlook and contract.

    Let's get to it.

Kris Bryant

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Andy Martino of SNY.tv reported earlier this month that a Kris Bryant trade seemed imminent. Only, there has been zero movement on that front.

    The rationale made sense, on its face. Bryant is the 2016 National League MVP. A number of teams could use an impact bat at third base, including the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers. Moreover, the Chicago Cubs already displayed a willingness to sell when they dealt Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres. But Bryant's trade value has a few hang-ups.

    For starters, the Las Vegas native settled with the Cubs at $19.5 million in his final year of arbitration. That is quite the hefty price for one year of Bryant, especially considering the financial climate in baseball amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    Secondly, Bryant is coming off the worst year of his career, rate-statwise. He hit .206 with just four homers and a .644 OPS in 2020. Additionally, Bryant ranked in the 32nd percentile in whiff percentage, while his average exit velocity has seen a sharp decline from his rookie year in 2015. Lastly, Bryant has dealt with a number of injuries in recent seasons.

    All that said, the 29-year-old could be a hot deadline commodity. Despite last year's struggles, Bryant has an .889 career OPS, and he ranked third in FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) from 2015 to 2019.

    Say the Cubs are struggling come July but Bryant is productive. They might get more for him at the deadline than they would now, both because of positional demand as well as rebuilt value.

    Even if Chicago is in the mix in a weak NL Central, it could still shop Bryant, especially if the team isn't confident about re-signing him next winter.

Willson Contreras

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Whereas Bryant's value is at an all-time low, Willson Contreras' value might not get higher.

    The two-time All-Star catcher is one of the market's most valuable commodities as one of the top players at his position. Craig Mish of SportsGrid reported the Miami Marlins had interest in Contreras. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the Los Angeles Angels also had interest before they signed veteran Kurt Suzuki. 

    Still, the Halos are one of a few teams that could still be looking for a young, controllable player behind the dish. The Washington Nationals might also be players in this regard.

    Additionally, Contreras could become even more valuable if the Philadelphia Phillies ink J.T. Realmuto to what Jayson Stark of The Athletic reported was a five-year, nine-figure offer.

    Contreras is under club control through 2022. He settled with the Cubs at a mere $6.65 million in arbitration, a meek sum for a backstop who ranks third in weighted runs created plus (wRC+) among catchers since debuting in 2016.

    But Contreras means the world to this Cubs team if it wants to compete in 2021. This is especially true when considering Chicago included backup catcher Victor Caratini in the Darvish swap.

    The 28-year-old Contreras has been one of the steadiest bats in Chicago's lineup during the last two years. He has also shown tremendous improvement as a pitch-framer, and he's thrown out 32 percent of would-be base-stealers in his career.

    The Cubs might keep Bryant until the deadline so he can recoup trade value. But they may hold off on dealing Contreras out of a desire to remain competitive in 2021. However, the front office's stance on trading the backstop could change if the team is middling near the deadline, and his value is still likely to be quite high then.

Nolan Arenado

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado's name has gradually faded from the rumor mill.

    In most other winters, Arenado would likely generate more interest. After all, he does have eight Gold Glove Awards and three 40-plus-homer seasons. Also, the Rockies would probably prefer to trade him rather than risk the five-time All-Star's opting out of his contract before 2022.

    However, teams are showing a hesitance toward spending. Even if interested clubs were confident Arenado would opt in, those teams would then be on the hook for close to $200 million over the next six years (including 2021). Perhaps teams feel that number is too excessive, unless the Rockies agree to pay down a significant amount. 

    Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported in December the Rockies would prefer to work with the New York Mets on an Arenado deal, but the Mets have since acquired Francisco Lindor, whom they figure to sign to his own long-term pact. The Dodgers might not be a fit because Colorado would be trading Arenado within the NL West.

    Despite all the difficulties, the Rockies are all but guaranteed to shop Arenado at the deadline. They would almost certainly prefer to get any value, however minimal, rather than let him walk for nothing next offseason.

Trevor Story

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    In the unlikely event the Rockies gamble that Arenado will exercise his option, they could move star shortstop Trevor Story. It's also possible Colorado trades both players in an effort to start over.

    Nick Groke of The Athletic reported the Rockies are "no closer" to a long-term deal with Story—who will be a free agent at the end of the season—than they are with Arenado. They might hope to extend Story if they move Arenado's contract, but even that is no guarantee. 

    It is hard to project Story's value, both now and later this summer. The New York Yankees might have been a suitor, given Gleyber Torres figures to move back to second base, but the Bronx Bombers are probably out of the picture after re-signing DJ LeMahieu.

    A Number of other star shortstops are also slated to hit the open market next winter, including Lindor, Corey Seager, Javier Baez and Carlos Correa.

    However, a team could buy high on Story, who is a true five-tool shortstop. 

    The 28-year-old strung together consecutive seasons of 35 or more homers in 2018 and 2019. Story clubbed 11 more in 2020 while leading the National League with four triples and 15 stolen bases. The Texan also ranked seventh in baseball in outs above average (OAA) in 2019. He saw regression in that category in 2020 but still ranked 12th among shortstops.

    Colorado will explore trade avenues at the deadline if it fails to make progress on an extension. A team with future payroll space (like the San Francisco Giants, for example) could go hard after Story.

J.D. Martinez

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    I know, I know. At first glance, J.D. Martinez might sound like an asinine selection.

    The Boston Red Sox designated hitter ranks fifth in wRC+ since 2014. Martinez nearly won the Triple Crown in 2018 and hit 36 homers with a .939 OPS in 2019. He hit just .213 with a .680 OPS in 2020, but those struggles could have stemmed from in-game video restrictions MLB enforced.

    Martinez is one of the game's better pure hitters, and his bat is tremendously important to Boston's chances of getting back to the top of the American League East. But the Red Sox could still move him at the deadline. 

    The 33-year-old has another opt-out available at the end of 2021 and could be more tempted to exercise it if the universal DH is installed. So Boston could treat Martinez like he's on an expiring contract.

    The Red Sox also have some potential positional crowding. First baseman Bobby Dalbec should have every opportunity to play after hitting eight homers with a .959 OPS in 23 games in 2020. Prospect Triston Casas might not be ready, but he could rapidly ascend to the bigs with a strong minor league season. 

    These two sluggers likewise give Boston future depth at the DH spot. Even if Dalbec were to move to third so Casas could eventually take up first base, Rafael Devers would then slot into the DH hole.

    This is all a way of saying the Red Sox have options. If the rotation struggles again and they find themselves toward the bottom of the AL East, the Red Sox could shop Martinez's bat to add pitching or outfield talent to the pipeline before he potentially opts out next winter.

Joey Gallo

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    The rebuilding Texas Rangers are clear sellers, having already traded ace Lance Lynn and reliever Rafael Montero. Whether they can move outfielder Joey Gallo is another question.

    Rosenthal reported in December that Gallo was "available," adding that some teams "love" his game as a slugger who can work counts and draw walks, while others are enamored with his athleticism and defensive prowess. There is a slight problem, however.

    Gallo is coming off a season in which he hit .181 with a .679 OPS. His 84 OPS+ was the lowest of his career, not counting a 2016 season when he played just 16 games. What's more, Gallo's walk rate dropped 4.7 percentage points, and his barrel rate also plummeted 11.6 points. He is not a productive player if he is not drawing walks or squaring up balls and driving them into the power alleys.

    Still, Gallo showcased his upside when he hit 22 homers and had a .986 OPS in 70 games in 2019. Indeed, he is also an elite defender, having won a Gold Glove in 2020, and can play multiple outfield spots. 

    The 27-year-old is under club control through 2022. His potential alone could make him an interesting trade target at the deadline, but Gallo can also significantly increase his value with a strong start to the 2020 campaign.

Josh Hader

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Left-hander Josh Hader could be a trade candidate to watch for the next several seasons.

    The two-time Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year has established himself as one of the most dominant weapons in baseball. Hader ranks second among relievers in fWAR since 2017. He also ranks first in SIERA in that span.

    Although 2020 was a down year by Hader's standards, he still ranked in the 90th percentile or higher in average exit velocity allowed, hard-hit rate, expected slugging and whiff rate. The 26-year-old would be a tremendous asset in any bullpen as a guy who can come on at any point in any leverage and get big outs.

    Of course, Hader's value is likely astronomically high. This is not just because of his dominance, but also because he is under club control through 2023. But that might not preclude Milwaukee from trading him.

    For one thing, Hader is already slated to make close to $6.7 million this season, technically his first year of arbitration eligibility after carrying Super Two status season. He could see significant raises in each of the next two years, and it is hardly ideal for a low-payroll team like the Brewers to be doling out so much to a reliever.

    Perhaps more importantly, the Brewers lack future assets as they look to build around Christian Yelich. Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked Milwaukee's system 25th out of 30, and 2020 first-rounder Garrett Mitchell immediately became the top prospect in the system upon his selection last summer.

    Milwaukee risks diminishing returns for each year of club control Hader loses. Robert Murray of FanSided reported in November the Brewers were at least open to listening to offers for Hader, and there could be more urgency if they are out of the playoff picture at the deadline.

Sonny Gray

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    Cincinnati Reds right-hander Sonny Gray generated quite a bit of attention earlier in the offseason, with MLB Network's Jon Heyman reporting last month that "several teams" had interest in Gray.

    In addition to Gray, a number of other Reds players have been mentioned as trade assets. These include infielders Eugenio Suarez and Mike Moustakas, as well as right-hander Luis Castillo.

    But, Suarez could be costly given his reasonable contract and years of club control. Moustakas has the opposite problem as a more expensive trade target, based on average annual value. Additionally, the Reds might be less inclined to move their starting pitchers, given the inactivity throughout the NL Central.

    General manager Nick Krall denied reports the Reds nearly struck a deal to send Castillo to the Yankees, per Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. Moreover, Rosenthal reported Reds owner Bob Castellini might be resisting a teardown. Rosenthal also reported the possibility of trading Gray could be "fading."

    Cincinnati's decision to retain its top starters makes sense if it still wants to contend in a weak NL Central. But Gray is likely to be back on the block later this summer.

    The 31-year-old had a 2.87 ERA in 2019 and had a career-best 3.05 FIP. Gray also boasts tremendously encouraging spin rates and could unlock a higher level if can generate more whiffs.

    Between the spin rates and a promising decrease in hard-hit rates in recent years, Gray found his stride. He is also incredibly affordable, given he will make just $20.2 million over the next two years and carries a $12 million club option in 2023. 

    The Reds could employ a similar strategy to that of the Rangers with respect to Lynn, driving Gray's price tag way up at the deadline before getting more realistic about dealing him next winter. Or, Cincy could capitalize on an opportunity to add to the pipeline by moving him now. 

    Either way, the Reds figure to listen to offers.

Salvador Perez

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Salvador Perez has been a Kansas City Royals staple for nine years. He is arguably the greatest catcher in franchise history. But Perez could also be the most notable Royal to keep an eye on at the deadline.

    The 30-year-old will headline the free-agent catching class next offseason, though Travis D'Arnaud could also get plenty of attention with another strong campaign. In any event, Perez will be a desirable asset, and Kansas City could have a hard time re-signing him once he hits the open market.

    The Royals might pursue an extension with Perez, especially since some of their moves this winter suggest they are serious about competing as soon as possible. But there has been little news on that front.

    Perez's impending free agency, paired with the lack of extension talks, make him an interesting trade candidate. He is coming off an outstanding season in which he hit .333 with 11 homers and a .633 slugging percentage in his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Perez is also a five-time Gold Glover who routinely guns down base stealers. He is also fairly young, all things considered.

    It seems more likely the Royals will do everything in their power to extend Perez. They have future payroll flexibility and could jump the market by making Perez part of the club's future.

    But if the Royals do not make strides and Perez is intent on hitting the open market, Kansas City could indulge the ever-present need for catchers. Otherwise, Whit Merrifield, Danny Duffy and Jorge Soler are all names to watch in K.C.

Kyle Seager

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    The Seattle Mariners have young, promising arms in the rotation. Center fielder Kyle Lewis won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and top prospects like Evan White have graduated to the majors. Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are soon to follow.

    In short, the M's have a bright future. But 33-year-old Kyle Seager has no real place in that future and figures to be a trade piece.

    The Mariners lifer has a .768 career OPS in 10 years with the club. Seager hit at least 20 homers in each season from 2012 to 2019, and his 122 OPS+ in 2020 was the third-best of his career. He is a solid left-handed bat who can provide some pop and plays serviceable defense at the hot corner.

    Seager will earn $18.5 million in 2021, with a $15 million club option in 2022 that becomes a player option if he is dealt. That option does not come with a buyout, and though 2022 would be a player option, a team might still gamble.

    Again, productive third basemen could be in high demand at the deadline. Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported the Atlanta Braves expect Austin Riley to be the third baseman but could look to upgrade if Riley (86 OPS+ in 503 career plate appearances) continues to struggle. Morosi also reported the Braves explored a Seager deal prior to last August's deadline.

Eduardo Escobar

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks would surely like to compete in 2021, but it seems more likely they'll reposition.

    The Dodgers are still the cream of the NL crop, and the San Diego Padres fortified their roster this offseason. It would be shocking for Arizona to even nab a playoff spot, giving the D-backs incentive to sell some of their veterans of value. This includes Eduardo Escobar.

    Escobar was one of many who struggled during the shortened 2020 campaign, hitting .212 with a .605 OPS. Nevertheless, this is the same guy who hit 48 doubles in 2018 before clubbing 35 homers and an MLB-high 10 triples in 2019.

    The 32-year-old could have strong value at the deadline as a switch-hitting infielder who primarily plays third base but can also play up the middle. His contract makes him even more appealing.

    Escobar will earn just $7.5 million in 2021 before becoming a free agent in 2022. The cheap salary should allow for a greater number of suitors, even those who find themselves in a bit of a budget crunch.

    Granted, Escobar—like others on this list—will have to rebuild his value. He is a decent defender, depending on the metric (nine defensive runs saved at the hot corner in 2018 and 2019). Plus, he ranked in just the 74th percentile in whiff rate and 64th percentile in expected batting average in 2020, despite the poor results.

    Teams in need of a third baseman will want to see whether the power stroke returns. If it does, Arizona could look to move Escobar's expiring deal while stocking the farm with talent. Outfielder Kole Calhoun is another D-backs name to monitor.

Starling Marte

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Miami Marlins exercised Starling Marte's club option in the hopes of remaining competitive in 2021 after making the playoffs for the first time since 2003 this past season.

    However, Marte should be one of the team's best trade chips by July.

    The 32-year-old outfielder started strong with the Diamondbacks at the beginning of last season, hitting .311 with five stolen bases and an .827 OPS in his first 33 games. Marte struggled after a trade to the Marlins, though he still clubbed four homers and stole five bases in 28 games. But the 2020 season is just a glimpse into the kind of player Marte has been.

    He hit at least 20 homers and had at least 31 doubles in both 2018 and 2019. The Dominican had stolen at least 21 bases in each year from 2013 to 2019 before the shortened 2020 campaign. And Marte is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner who can play all three outfield spots.

    Miami was one of the better stories of 2020. But the Marlins' Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 26-34 suggests they had plenty of good fortune. While the budding arms in the rotation provide reason for optimism, Miami does not appear to have enough firepower in the lineup to stay in contention for a 162-game season.

    Marte will earn just $12.5 million in 2021, the final year of his contract. He is an affordable star who can do just about everything on the diamond, and the Marlins should cash in his value later this summer.

Alex Dickerson

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    Although Mike Yastrzemski has grabbed more headlines, San Francisco Giants left fielder Alex Dickerson has quietly become a bona fide slugger in the Bay Area.

    The Giants acquired Dickerson from the San Diego Padres in June 2019. He promptly hit .290 with an .880 OPS during the next 56 games, essentially earning a shot to be the everyday left fielder in 2020. Dickerson made the most of his opportunity, slashing .298/.371/.576 with 10 homers and a 157 OPS+.

    Suddenly, the 30-year-old is one of the key cogs in San Francisco's lineup. Dickerson—along with Yastrzemski and first baseman Brandon Belt—gives the Giants heavy pop form the left side of the box, and his continued progression could be a major determinant as to whether San Francisco can stay in the playoff picture. Yet, he is also an intriguing trade option.

    Dickerson has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining and will make just $2.1 million this season. Moreover, the Giants have a ton of up-and-coming outfielders in the system, including Heliot Ramos, Hunter Bishop and Alexander Canario. Additionally, guys like Austin Slater and Darin Ruf can play in the outfield.

    San Francisco could well capitalize on its systemic outfield depth by moving Dickerson when he still has another full year of club control. Corner outfielders have been in high demand this offseason and could still have a large market this summer. Dickerson might also gain value if MLB approves the universal DH.

    Belt is another Giant who could move at the deadline.

Steven Brault

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates have already begun moving controllable starting pitchers, having sent right-hander Joe Musgrove to the San Diego Padres. It is unlikely the "Buc" stops there, pun intended.

    Rosenthal reported Pittsburgh is also receiving interest in right-handers Chad Kuhl and Jameson Taillon. It would also make sense for Pittsburgh to move left-hander Steven Brault sometime this year.

    Brault had a career year in 2020, posting a 3.38 ERA in 11 appearances (10 starts) and seeing a significant decrease (1.2 to 0.4) in home runs per nine innings. He is not an innings eater but has decent strikeout stuff highlighted by a plus changeup, and he ranked in the 89th percentile in exit velocity last season.

    The 28-year-old is still pre-arb in 2021, meaning he will not be a free agent until 2024. Morosi reported in November "teams" had inquired as to Brault's availability.

    Pittsburgh could well keep Brault to allow him to build his value, especially considering his multiple years of club control. But left-handed starters can come at a premium, and he could be a significant asset at the deadline with a strong start to the 2021 season.

                

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