Why Joey Gallo Could Be Baseball's Biggest Trade Chip in 2021

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2021

Texas Rangers' Joey Gallo celebrates his solo home run in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit, Thursday, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

That chill running down the spine of MLB pitchers everywhere? It's the thought of Joey Gallo finally putting it all together offensively.

A few years ago, that would have made him the cornerstone of a Texas Rangers team fighting for a playoff spot, but the team has since pivoted to rebuilding. If a red-hot start to the spring is any indication of where Gallo's 2021 season is headed, contenders will be lining up for a chance to add him to their lineup this summer.

No one has ever questioned his raw power.

Gallo slugged 40 home runs in his first full season in the minors after going No. 39 overall in the 2012 draft. He then bested that mark the following year when he posted a 1.009 OPS with 42 long balls in 126 games between High-A and Double-A in his age-20 campaign.

Once he finally established himself as an everyday player with the Texas Rangers, it was more of the same.

His 81 home runs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons trailed only Giancarlo Stanton (97), Khris Davis (91) and J.D. Martinez (88) among all hitters. However, he was also pigeonholed into the profile of an "all-or-nothing slugger" while hitting only .208 with a 36.3 percent strikeout rate during that same stretch.

The 2019 season looked like a turning point. He hit .253 with 22 home runs in 70 games through the middle of July, and his peripheral numbers painted him as anything but one-dimensional.

A more patient approach at the plate caused his walk rate spike from 12.8 to 17.5 percent. With that, his on-base percentage climbed from a middling .312 to an elite .389 through 297 plate appearances.

Unfortunately, injuries cut short what was shaping up to be a breakout year, and he came out the other side with a disappointing performance in 2020. He hit .181/.301/.378 with 10 home runs in 57 games, and his walk rate regressed back to 12.8 percent when an early slump quickly devolved into his pressing at the plate.

Gallo is stepping into the batter's box with a different mentality this spring.

"I feel like I'm just trying to be loose and hit line drives," he told reporters. "I'm trying to think about overall good at-bats and trying to work counts. I'm not overthinking. And I'm not overworking. I don't take as many swings in batting practice or in the cage. I'm about getting ready for games and conserving energy."

It's working. 

Through six Cactus League games, he's gone 6-for-14 with one double and an MLB-leading five home runs, and he's struck out only three times in 15 plate appearances. If a big spring performance turns out to be a jumping off point for a hot start to the 2021 season, the Rangers will have a decision to make.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Trading away Lance Lynn and Rafael Montero this winter and turning the page on the Elvis Andrus era by flipping him to the Oakland Athletics was a clear indication of the team's desire to get younger after a disappointing 2020 campaign.

With free agency looming for Gallo after the 2022 season, flipping him this summer may be the best way to maximize his value if the Rangers don't plan to lock him up with a long-term extension while rebuilding.

A more well-rounded offensive game and a hot start at the plate would go a long way in boosting his trade value, but even last year, he was more than just a one-dimensional slugger. He won his first Gold Glove Award in right field and was a 1.4-WAR player despite his struggles at the plate.

If he can put all the pieces together for a full season, he could easily be a 5-WAR player.

"He's by far the best player on the field every time he steps out there," Rangers manager Chris Woodward told reporters last August. "... There may be not another more talented player in all of baseball."

Hyperbole? Sure, but in terms of physical tools and overall upside, it isn't that far-fetched.

Looking at the big picture, Gallo is the type of player who could bring back multiple top-tier prospects to aid in the Rangers' rebuild. He could also be a landscape-altering addition to a contender on the cusp.

Which teams might be interested?

It's easy to dream about the left-handed-hitting Gallo taking aim at the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. But with a crowded outfield and more pressing needs on the pitching side of things long-term, that isn't the best fit.

The Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres were both linked to Gallo at the trade deadline last year, and they could come calling once again. The Rays have a loaded farm system and a lot of moving parts in the outfield, while the Padres will lose Tommy Pham to free agency next winter.

Gallo has experience playing center field and would plug the one glaring hole in the Philadelphia Phillies lineup. A team on the rise with payroll flexibility like the San Francisco Giants or Detroit Tigers could also inquire with the hope of locking him up as a long-term building block.

Injuries or surprise contenders will also open the door for other teams to pursue him ahead of this year's trade deadline.

At his ceiling, Gallo is capable of a 40-homer season with a .375 on-base percentage and Gold Glove-caliber defense. If things are trending in that direction come July, he'll be the prize of the summer trade market.


All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.