Potential MLB Trade Steals Who Can Swing 2021 Playoff Races

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IMarch 18, 2021

Potential MLB Trade Steals Who Can Swing 2021 Playoff Races

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Blockbuster trades tend to make all the headlines, but they do not always define championship teams. For every Francisco Lindor, there is a Daniel Hudson.

    The Washington Nationals desperately sought bullpen help ahead of the 2019 trade deadline, acquiring Hudson as a key piece of the relief corps facelift. 

    Hudson hadn't been much more than a journeyman. But with the Nats struggling to find a late-game go-to option, he was there to answer the call.

    Hudson had a 1.44 ERA in 25 innings for the Nats down the stretch, including six saves. He also held opponents scoreless in his first 4.2 postseason innings as Washington marched to the World Series, and he eventually closed out Game 7 of the Fall Classic. 

    Sometimes, it's the Hudsons of the world who make all the difference for contenders. Here are some unheralded trade targets who could swing playoff races. The list was whittled down based on factors such as trade affordability, contract and recent production.

Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Kansas City Royals designated hitter Jorge Soler has any number of question marks.

    He has dealt with a variety of injuries through the years. Soler also has a 27.9 percent career strikeout rate and, when he has played the field, amassed a combined minus-34 defensive runs saved (DRS) and a minus-12.1 ultimate zone rating (UZR). 

    But he makes a ton of hard contact. The 29-year-old clubbed an American League-high 48 homers in 2019. Soler hit just eight home runs and slugged only .443 in 2020 but still ranked in the 93rd percentile in both average exit velocity and hard-hit rate, as well as the 99th percentile in barrel rate.

    Sure, the strikeouts are rough. But Soler has ranked above the 70th percentile in walk rate in each of the last two seasons. 

    The Royals avoided arbitration with Soler, agreeing to terms on an $8.1 million contract in his final season before free agency. However, there have not been many murmurings of an extension. And even though Kansas City made moves to compete in 2021, the Royals could still be sellers at the deadline.

    Soler would be a valuable asset to some top contenders as a run-producer who can drive the ball all over the yard and get on base at a decent clip.

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Greg Holland is another Royal who could spark a small bidding war come July.

    The reliever had a terrific 2020, posting a 1.91 ERA and 2.52 FIP in 28.1 innings. He was also a perfect 6-of-6 in save opportunities. 

    The 35-year-old does not have overpowering stuff. Holland averaged just 92.9 mph with his fastball. But the three-time All-Star still generates plenty of swings and misses. 

    Holland ranked in the 73rd percentile in whiff rate in 2020. He had ranked in the 81st percentile in 2018 and 97th percentile in 2017. That might seem like a notable decline. However, Holland also significantly improved his walk rate in 2020, and his 2.83 expected ERA (xERA) was his best since the start of the Statcast era in 2015. 

    Kansas City was smart to re-sign Holland to a one-year deal this offseason. He is a Royals staple and should once again be an integral part of this year's bullpen. 

    Still, the Royals could look to maximize his value on the trade market. Jayson Stark of The Athletic reported last summer Holland's market fell apart when Kansas City demanded a "legit" prospect. But Holland is a year older and will have to stretch out over a full season. The Royals might not be able to sell as high. 

    Keep an eye on the former AL Reliever of the Year as the season rolls along. He could be in demand this summer.   

Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    No, he's not Trevor Story. But Scott Oberg is one of the more intriguing trade candidates on the Colorado Rockies. 

    Oberg missed the 2020 season because of blood clotting, which has been a scary issue for the right-hander throughout his career. He underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in September but has seemingly made strides in his recovery. 

    The 31-year-old could be an enormous asset to a contender should he remain healthy. 

    Oberg was quietly one of the game's better relievers in 2018 and 2019. He ranked sixth in ERA in that stretch, also ranking 16th in xFIP.

    The numbers are all the more impressive considering Oberg often has to pitch at Coors Field. He had a 193 ERA+ in 2018, followed by a 230 ERA+ in 2019. 

    Oberg has success thanks to his fastball-slider combination. The fastball averaged 94.3 mph in 2019 but can hike up into the upper 90s. Meanwhile, opponents had an xwOBA of just .262 against Oberg's slider in 2019. 

    He will earn $7 million in 2022 and has an $8 million club option in 2023. Those figures might seem hefty given the state of the reliever market this past winter, but a contender might jump at the chance to add Oberg if he is healthy. 

    Plus, the Rockies might be willing to kick in cash. They've done it before, after all.

Kole Calhoun, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Kole Calhoun is likely to miss the start of the season after he underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee earlier this month.

    But the 33-year-old still might be a desirable corner outfield bat and plus defender come July. 

    For starters, Calhoun's contract allows for flexibility. He will earn $8 million in 2021 and has a $9 million club option for 2022. Additionally, he brings pop from the left side.

    Calhoun hit 16 home runs with an .864 OPS in 2020, just one season after mashing 33 homers. He has hit at least 16 homers in each season since 2014. 

    The Arizona native ranked in the 85th percentile or higher in both xwOBA and xSLG, as well as the 79th percentile in barrel rate. Much like Soler, Calhoun strikes out quite a bit but also draws his share of walks. 

    While Calhoun's defensive metrics vary, he had a 15.6 UZR/150 in 2020 and ranked in the 79th percentile in outfielder jump. He has a decent feel and generally makes good reads on the ball, if nothing else. 

    Calhoun's left-handed power and contract make him an intriguing trade possibility for a team in an in-between phase in the National League West.

Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Mike Moustakas' contract does not necessarily lend itself to his being a strong trade candidate. Or does it? 

    The Cincinnati Reds infielder will earn $48 million over the next three seasons and has a $20 million club option in 2024. That might seem excessive. After all, Justin Turner's new deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers is worth $17 million in terms of annual average value. 

    But here's the thing: According to FanGraphs' Dollars metric, Moustakas was worth at least $16.2 million in each season from 2017 to 2019. He was on pace for close to 2.6 fWAR in 2020, which would have been worth over $20 million when converted to Dollars.

    The other reality is the Reds could pay down some of Moustakas' salary. Cincy traded Raisel Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angels in what amounted to a salary dump. The club could be motivated to do the same with Moustakas if things go south. 

    Multiple teams might be after an upgrade at third base (his true position). He hit just .230 in 2020 but still had a .799 OPS. He also hit at least 28 homers in each season from 2017 to 2019 and was an All-Star with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019.

    Moustakas is not the defender he once was and is entering his age-32 season. Still, he is a slugging left-handed bat who might not be overly expensive given his age and contract.

Starling Marte, Miami Marlins

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Miami Marlins exercised their club option on Starling Marte, likely with the hope of staying competitive in 2021. 

    Credit to Miami for trying to win amid its roster building. But there is a good chance the Marlins won't be in the playoff chase come late July. If that is indeed the case, Marte could once again be on the move. 

    He was having another excellent offensive season before being traded to the Marlins last August. He slashed .311/.384/.443 in 33 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks, with eight doubles and five stolen bases. His production tapered off in Miami (.245/.286/.415), but his numbers with the D-backs offered a snapshot of the guy Marte can be.

    The 32-year-old does not walk much, but he hits for average and can offer some slugging, having hit 20-plus homers in 2018 and 2019.

    Marte is also a thief on the bases and remains a strong defensive outfielder. He had 10 steals in 2020 and was caught just twice. He also ranked in the 95th percentile in outs above average, the second time in three seasons he ranked in the top 5 percent in that category. What's more, he has positional versatility in the outfield.

    It is unlikely there will be too many players like Marte on the market later this summer. Any number of teams could use his contact-oriented approach as well as his speed and glove work.

Alex Dickerson, San Francisco Giants

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter labeled San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt as one of the 10 players most likely to be traded in 2021.

    Belt is a good bet to change locales, but outfielder Alex Dickerson might also be on the move.

    San Francisco has a lot of outfield talent in its pipeline and on its big league roster. The Giants might try to maximize Dickerson's value and eliminate crowding.

    The 30-year-old has been terrific since he arrived in the Bay Area in a trade from San Diego in 2019. He hit .290 with an .880 OPS in 56 games to finish that season before slashing .298/.371/.576 with 10 homers and a 157 OPS+ in 2020. 

    There doesn't appear to be too much flukiness in Dickerson's success, either. He ranked in the 82nd percentile in both average exit velocity and xSLG. The batted-ball numbers are especially strong considering Dickerson had a respectable 17.6 percent strikeout rate this past season. 

    The 30-year-old has one more season of arbitration eligibility in 2022 before he hits the open market in 2023. That full season of club control is sure to be appealing for teams looking for a left-handed power bat in July. 

    Dickerson is a woeful defender, posting minus-eight DRS and ranking in the fifth percentile in outs above average in 2020. But teams would be paying for his bat, with AL clubs having the option to slide him into the DH slot. The Tampa Bay Rays might be an interesting suitor in this regard.

Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    The Seattle Mariners acquired right-handed reliever Rafael Montero from the Texas Rangers earlier in the offseason. Might they try to flip him at the July 31 deadline? 

    Montero has had an interesting arc in the past few seasons. He missed all of 2018 because of Tommy John surgery. The Rangers signed him to a minor league deal before the 2019 season, and he impressively returned from injury to post a 2.48 ERA, striking out 34 in 29 innings. 

    The 30-year-old saw a decline in ERA (4.08) in 2020 but had a better FIP (3.70) and still struck out 9.7 per nine innings. Montero also converted all eight of his save opportunities. 

    Seattle is likely to give Montero the closer job from the jump. He would seem to have the stuff to excel, with a lively fastball and plus changeup. He might even be able to unlock a new level should he find a way to harness his slider and make it a more reliable out pitch. 

    Montero has another year of arbitration eligibility in 2022 before becoming a free agent. He could absolutely pitch himself into being a trade candidate by July, as he might showcase the kind of live arm that could make him a back-end arm for a contender in need of bullpen depth.


    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, FanGraphs or Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted. Contract figures via FanGraphs