10 MLB Players Most Likely to Be Traded in 2021
The MLB trade deadline was relatively quiet last year because of a thin upcoming free-agent class, the coronavirus pandemic and an expanded playoff field that convinced more teams buying or holding was the right move.
As clubs have placed increasing value on prospects and young, controllable MLB players, fewer and fewer blockbuster deals have taken place at midseason.
That said, there will still almost certainly be a handful of notable veterans who move this summer, and there's a chance there could be headline-grabbing deals ahead of next year's bumper crop of free-agent talent.
We selected the 10 players most likely to be traded in 2021 based on their teams' outlooks, their contract situations and past trade rumors.
Off we go.
1B Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants are almost out from under a number of bad long-term contracts, and while players such as Johnny Cueto and Brandon Crawford have limited trade value entering the final year of their deals, the club may be able to find a taker for first baseman Brandon Belt.
The 32-year-old quietly had the best offensive season of his career last year, hitting .309/.425/.591 with 23 extra-base hits in 179 plate appearances. He tallied 2.1 WAR in 51 games a year after managing just 0.8 WAR in 156 games.
Belt has never been a prototypical power-hitting first baseman, generating his value with strong on-base skills, gap power and steady defense. He has also had trouble staying healthy, playing in more than 140 games just twice in the six years leading up to the shortened 2020 campaign.
He'll still be owed roughly $5.7 million of his $17.2 million salary when the trade deadline rolls around, so the Giants will likely have to eat some money to get a deal done.
Moving him would allow Buster Posey to slide to first base and open up the everyday catching job for Joey Bart.
SP Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
Danny Duffy signed a five-year, $65 million extension with the Kansas City Royals following a breakout 2016 season in which he went 12-3 with a 3.51 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 179.2 innings.
In the four years since, he has failed to match that level of production, but he has been a serviceable starter with a 4.42 ERA and 102 ERA+ over 488.1 innings.
The 32-year-old went 4-4 with a 4.95 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 56.1 innings last season, and his 4.75 FIP paints a slightly more promising picture of his work over 11 starts and one relief appearance.
The Royals opted against eating salary to move the high-priced Ian Kennedy last year, so they could take a similar stand with Duffy. His $15.5 million salary will be a roadblock, but with an ace unlikely to be available, he will still be in demand if he has a solid start.
3B Eduardo Escobar, Arizona Diamondbacks
A late bloomer at the plate, Eduardo Escobar posted a 110 OPS+ with 29 doubles, 10 triples, 35 home runs and 118 RBI during a 3.6-WAR season with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019.
That marked the first season of a three-year, $21 million contract that will pay him $7.7 million in its final year.
The 32-year-old never got the ball rolling last season, hitting .212/.270/.335 with four home runs and 20 RBI in 222 plate appearances, but his peripheral numbers were similar to his 2019 outputs, which offers some hope for a bounce-back performance.
With the defensive versatility to play second base, shortstop and third base, Escobar will have mass appeal to contenders if he rebounds at the plate.
2B Adam Frazier, Pittsburgh Pirates
During the winter meetings, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported the two names that came up most in trade talks with the Pittsburgh Pirates were right-hander Joe Musgrove and second baseman Adam Frazier.
Musgrove has since been dealt to the San Diego Padres, and the Pirates shipped first baseman Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals and right-hander Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees.
Is Frazier next?
A career .273/.336/.413 hitter who can play second base and all the outfield spots, Frazier provides the versatility contenders often covet in trade deadline additions.
The 29-year-old is under club control through the 2022 season, and he's set to earn $4.3 million this year. That may not seem like a big figure, but it makes him the second-highest-paid player on the roster.
RF Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
On Thursday, I published a column, "Why Joey Gallo Could Be Baseball's Biggest Trade Chip in 2021," laying out the case for one of the game's most prolific sluggers to be the prize of this summer.
While 2020 was something of a lost year for Gallo, he showed significant progress in his approach at the plate in 2019 before injuries cut short what was shaping up to be a breakout season.
The 27-year-old is off to a blistering start in spring training with five home runs in his first seven games, and he has become a more well-rounded player since breaking into the big leagues, winning his first Gold Glove Award last year.
With free agency fast approaching for Gallo after the 2022 season, this summer might be the best opportunity for the rebuilding Texas Rangers to maximize his value and haul in significant prospects.
Gallo was hitting .253/.389/.598 with 22 home runs and a 145 OPS+ in 297 plate appearances when he hit the injured list in 2019. Anything close to that level of production will make him a landscape-altering addition for any contender.
SP Kyle Gibson, Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers signed Kyle Gibson to a three-year, $28 million contract last offseason, perhaps in hopes of making a playoff push. They also added Corey Kluber and Jordan Lyles to a starting rotation that already featured Lance Lynn and Mike Minor.
A year later, Kluber, Lynn and Minor are gone, and Lyles is coming off a disastrous season in which he posted a 7.02 ERA in 57.2 innings.
With the Rangers clearly pivoting to retooling and getting younger, Gibson will likely be asked to chew through some innings during the first half of the year before he's put on the trade block in an effort to unload the remainder of his salary.
The 33-year-old has had an up and down career, and he wasn't at his best last year with a 5.35 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 67.1 innings, but there were some positives.
He finished seventh among qualified pitchers with a 51.5 percent ground-ball rate, and he threw a four-hit shutout against the Houston Astros on Sept. 16.
The Rangers found a taker for Minor last summer despite his struggles, so it won't be hard to move Gibson—especially if he shows something closer to his 2018 form of a 3.62 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 196.2 innings.
SP Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies
Right-hander Jon Gray has long teased his top-of-the-rotation potential, dating back to being selected No. 3 overall in the 2013 draft.
He went 11-8 with a 3.84 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 150 innings in 2019, and he has tallied 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings in six MLB seasons.
He struggled to miss bats last season, however, with just 22 strikeouts in 39 innings, showing decreased fastball velocity while struggling to a 6.69 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in eight starts before he was shut down with right shoulder inflammation.
"I believe in myself," Gray told reporters last month. "I know myself and I know how talented I am, but I haven't been able to show all of it. There has been a lot of obstacles, but I'm so thankful for tomorrow and for the next opportunity."
He has been equally effective at home (4.66 ERA, 338.1 IP) and on the road (4.53 ERA, 342.0 IP), which could compel the Colorado Rockies to explore an extension before he reaches free agency next offseason if he gets off to a strong start.
Good luck getting anyone to sign on long-term with that sinking ship, though. If no progress is made on a new deal, Gray will likely hit the trade block this summer.
RP Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
- 2018: 63 G, 15 HLD, 2.47 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 11.4 K/9
- 2019: 72 G, 16 HLD, 3.72 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8.7 K/9
- 2020: 24 G, 4 SV, 2.70 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 13.1 K/9
Casual fans likely don't realize just how good Richard Rodriguez has been.
Signed to a minor league deal after the 2017 season with just five forgettable MLB appearances under his belt, he has rattled off three straight overpowering seasons out of the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen.
The 31-year-old stuck out 34 of the 93 batters he faced last season, posting a stellar 34-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23.1 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .179 average.
Armed with a mid-90s fastball and power curveball, he has the stuff to be a high-leverage option for a contender, and he'll earn just $1.7 million in 2021. He's also under club control through the 2023 season.
More of what he did last year would make him one of the most coveted trade chips at the deadline, if not sooner.
3B Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
Kyle Seager is entering the final guaranteed season of a seven-year, $100 million extension he signed in 2014. He posted a 122 OPS+ with 12 doubles and nine home runs while playing 60 games last year.
The 33-year-old already ranks among the Seattle Mariners' all-time leaders in games (1,321, fifth), hits (1,267, fourth), home runs (207, fourth), RBI (706, fourth) and WAR (33.4, eighth).
His contract carries a $15 million club option for 2022 that could climb to $20 million based on his performance with a buyout that will range from $0 to $3 million.
Is that a price the Mariners will be willing to pay?
There's also the possibility he could stick around, have the option declined and then re-sign at a more team-friendly rate.
However, it's just as likely Seager's time with the M's will come to an end this summer as he joins a contender in need of a boost at the hot corner.
SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
After he had a front-row seat for the Nolan Arenado debacle, it's hard to imagine a world in which Trevor Story would even consider signing a long-term extension with the Colorado Rockies.
Nick Groke of The Athletic reported in late February that the two sides had not yet discussed a deal, which is a pretty clear indication they are headed for a split with Story's free agency right around the corner.
The homegrown star hit .289/.355/.519 with 13 doubles, four triples, 11 home runs and a National League-leading 15 steals in 18 attempts en route to a 2.4-WAR season last year.
In the two seasons prior, he posted a 123 OPS+ while averaging 40 doubles, 36 home runs, 25 steals and 5.8 WAR as one of the most productive two-way shortstops in the game.
It could take a king's ransom of prospects to acquire him, even as a two-month rental at the trade deadline. But the Colorado front office didn't get much for Arenado, so who knows?
One way or another, expect Story to be playing elsewhere in August.