The 10 Best Trade Chips in MLB Right Now

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 5, 2021

The 10 Best Trade Chips in MLB Right Now

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    After getting pushed to August 31 amid last year's shortened season, Major League Baseball's trade deadline is once again slated for July 31 in 2021.

    Since that date will be here before you know it, now's a good time for a preliminary list of the league's best trade chips.

    In drafting a list of 10, we considered only guys who play on likely non-contenders. When it came time to rank them, we weighed their trade appeal based on both their talent and their contracts/controllability.

    This is not a list of players who have the most trade value. Sure, the value of stars such as Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto is measured in actual oodles. But the odds of them actually being traded this year are basically zilch.

    Let's count 'em down.

10. 3B Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Age: 33

    Career Stats: 1324 G, 5547 PA, 207 HR, 52 SB, .256 AVG, .326 OBP, .442 SLG, 114 OPS+34.9 rWAR

    Signed Through: 2021, with club option for 2022

    In fairness to the Seattle Mariners, they're a potential dark-horse contender for 2021. Their youth movement led them to a 27-33 record last year, and there's more young talent on the way this season.

    Realistically speaking, though, the Mariners are probably the fourth-best team in the American League West. If that outcome starts becoming unavoidable, they should at least field offers for veterans on expiring deals.

    Among that lot is Kyle Seager, who's now several years past his prime as an All-Star and Gold Glover at the hot corner. Yet he enjoyed something of a rebirth with a 115 OPS+ and 32 home runs across 2019 and 2020, and his metrics were legitimately good in the latter year.

    Especially if the Mariners are willing to eat some of his $18.5 million salary, Seager will appeal to contenders that need a good left-handed bat for third base and the middle of their lineup.

9. LF David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Age: 33

    Career Stats: 727 G, 2890 PA, 90 HR, 30 SB, .290 AVG, .345 OBP, .473 SLG, 113 OPS+, 13.2 rWAR 

    Signed Through: 2022

    Whether the Arizona Diamondbacks qualify as a "non-contender" is certainly debatable. But in the context of their last-place finish in 2020 and their projection as an also-ran this season, it seems fair.

    If the D-backs do ultimately sell, they're bound to field offers for pending free agents like Eduardo Escobar, Joakim Soria and maybe Kole Calhoun, who has an option for 2022. They also might not hang up on teams that call about David Peralta.

    The 30 home runs Peralta hit in 2018 are a clear outlier, yet his .290 career average sums up his hitting acumen. He was also a Gold Glover in 2019, and he kept up the good work with two outs above average in 2020.

    Further adding to Peralta's appeal is that he's owed just $7.5 million in 2021 and 2022. He thus might be worth another top-100 prospect for Arizona's system, which already contains four of them.

8. RHP Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Age: 31

    Career Stats: 165 G, 0 GS, 164.2 IP, 147 H (26 HR), 190 K, 51 BB, 125 ERA+, 2.9 rWAR

    Controlled Through: 2023

    Relief-needy teams will surely check in on two-time All-Star Josh Hader throughout the summer. But since the Milwaukee Brewers have their eyes on the National League Central crown, those calls will likely be in vain.

    Luckily, there's a pretty good and hypothetically much more available reliever elsewhere in the NL Central: Pittsburgh Pirates closer Richard Rodriguez.

    Even if he isn't a household name, he's been a largely effective reliever who took a big step toward elite status in 2020. Aided by a fastball and slider that each boast good movement, he landed in the 92nd percentile for whiff rate as he struck out 34 of the 93 batters he faced. He also walked only five of them.

    Assuming Rodriguez can stay on that track in 2021, contenders will look at him and see a guy who can help in the late innings both now and for two more seasons afterward.

7. UTIL Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Age: 32

    Career Stats: 608 G, 2680 PA, 60 HR, 119 SB, .296 AVG, .343 OBP, .447 SLG, 110 OPS+, 13.5 rWAR

    Signed Through: 2022, with 2023 club option

    Even as they make progress with their rebuild, the Kansas City Royals still face a tall task in overcoming the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland in the AL Central.

    The big question is nonetheless whether the Royals will deal any core stars after refusing to do so in recent seasons. That especially includes Whit Merrifield, for whom general manager Dayton Moore seems to have a soft spot.

    Otherwise, Merrifield is basically a perfect trade chip. He can play just about any position on defense, and his offensive skills include the ability to hit .300 with some power and speed. In theory, there's nary a contender with whom he wouldn't fit.

    Merrifield is also guaranteed just $9.5 million through 2022 with a $6.5 million option for 2023. So if the Royals do loosen their grip on their stars, he could be out the door for a big haul.

6. DH Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    Career Stats: 514 G, 1995 PA, 95 HR, 10 SB, .253 AVG, .337 OBP, .476 SLG, 116 OPS+, 3.8 rWAR

    Controlled Through: 2021

    If the Royals don't field offers for Whit Merrifield, which, again, is a pretty big "if," then they might at least listen on players for whom free agency is looming.

    That group includes post-prime stars like Danny Duffy, Greg Holland and Wade Davis, but also the intriguing upside play that is Michael A. Taylor. Best of all, it includes Jorge Soler.

    He's only two years removed from demolishing the Royals' single-season home run record with 48 blasts in 2019. And while he only hit eight long balls in 2020, he added to a two-year pile of "barrels" that was eclipsed by only Mike Trout and Jose Abreu.

    As evidenced by his modest career WAR, Soler's power is his only truly outstanding talent. But if the deadened ball makes power that much harder to come by in 2021, the Royals might nonetheless rent him out for a good price.

5. RF Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Career Stats: 475 G, 1795 PA, 121 HR, 21 SB, .209 AVG, .329 OBP, .501 SLG, 113 OPS+, 9.6 rWAR 

    Controlled Through: 2022

    It's to the Texas Rangers' credit that they didn't completely gut their roster even after dealing ace Lance Lynn in December. On the contrary, they loaded up on interesting players with varying degrees of upside.

    But are they a good team? Not so much, so chances are they'll at least be shopping their pending free agents come July. And if they really want to score a haul, Joey Gallo should be on the block, as well.

    He isn't much for batting average, but he gets his walks and has prodigious power that gives him annual 40-homer upside. It also used to be fair game to call him an underrated defender, but not anymore after he captured a Gold Glove last year.

    Gallo does have some stock to reclaim after his bat produced just a .181/.301/.378 line in 2020. But no matter what, his sheer talent and controllability through next season will make him one of the summer market's hottest items.

4. SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Career Stats: 606 G, 2554 PA, 134 HR, 80 SB, .278 AVG, .343 OBP, .534 SLG, 115 OPS+, 22.7 rWAR

    Controlled Through: 2021  

    Even before the Colorado Rockies dealt Nolan Arenado, it looked like they were in for a rough season and an inevitable fire sale in 2021. Naturally, they didn't exactly improve their outlook when they traded him.

    At the absolute least, the Rockies figure to be willing to rent out players on expiring contracts at this summer's deadline. That list includes Jon Gray, Mychal Givens and, best of all, Trevor Story.

    Between 2016 and 2019, Story set a record for home runs by a shortstop through his first four seasons. He's also one of the more athletic players at the position, which shows in last year's NL stolen base title and his generally excellent defensive metrics.

    Story is thus the biggest possible game-changer who might be available on this summer's market. What limits his value, of course, is that he's owed a hefty $18.5 million with free agency looming.

3. SP Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    Age: 31

    Career Stats: 197 G, 188 GS, 1132 IP, 978 H (108 HR), 1066 K, 403 BB, 118 ERA+, 19.6 rWAR

    Signed Through: 2022, with 2023 club option

    The Cincinnati Reds made the playoffs in 2020, but it was in spite of the league's most hit-or-miss offense. They then lost Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer to free agency.

    As if in anticipation of Cincinnati's decline, other clubs called about the Reds' two remaining aces during the winter. It's just a matter of time before the calls start coming again, and the Reds might at least listen on Sonny Gray this time.

    Granted, the veteran is on the injured list with back spasms. But when healthy, he's showcased elite spin rate in the process of racking up a 156 ERA+ and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings over the last two seasons.

    Gray will earn a modest $10.2 million this year and next with a $12 million option for 2023. Those are discount prices for such a good pitcher, so a healthy version of him will be worth a proverbial killing on the trade market.

2. SP Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Career Stats: 91 G, 91 GS, 523 IP, 431 H (67 HR), 578 K, 186 BB, 122 ERA+, 10.3 rWAR 

    Controlled Through: 2023

    If the Reds do go into sell mode this summer, they should prepare to get even more interest in Luis Castillo than in fellow ace Sonny Gray.

    As of right now, Castillo doesn't look like an especially valuable trade chip after he got knocked around by the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day. He got only 10 outs and surrendered 10 runs (eight earned) on eight hits and two walks in an 11-6 loss.

    Yet Castillo has otherwise pitched at an All-Star level for most of his career. He was particularly good in 2020 as he racked up a 154 ERA+ and 89 strikeouts—most of them on his stupendous changeup—in 70 innings.

    Castillo is earning just $4.2 million this year, and even subsequent raises through arbitration in 2022 and 2023 won't pay him anywhere close to what he deserves. Hence why many teams will be watching him closely this season.

1. SP German Marquez, Colorado Rockies

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Career Stats: 110 G, 107 GS, 638.1 IP, 639 H (86 HR), 642 K, 178 BB, 118 ERA+, 12.9 rWAR

    Signed Through: 2023, with 2024 club option

    If the Rockies trade Trevor Story this summer, it will be because they didn't want to lose him to free agency without getting something.

    If they trade German Marquez, it will be because somebody made them an offer they couldn't refuse.

    He's posted sub-4.00 ERAs in two of the last three seasons, and he's coming off leading the National League with 81.2 innings in 2020. With an arsenal consisting of a fastball that's touched 100 mph and two effective breaking balls, he also has better swing-and-miss stuff than his career strikeout rate suggests.

    Marquez's contract calls for him to make just $34.4 million through 2023 with a $16 million option for 2024. He thus comes with an established track record, untapped upside and cheap controllability, and he is, therefore, worth a veritable king's ransom.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.


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