Divorces That Need to Happen During 2021 MLB Trade Season

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IMay 24, 2021

Divorces That Need to Happen During 2021 MLB Trade Season

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    Hey, look: Things are beginning to heat up a bit in the trade market!

    The Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays came together for the biggest MLB in-season trade of the 2021 campaign. Rays shortstop Willy Adames and right-hander Trevor Richards went to Milwaukee in exchange for Brewers relievers Drew Rasmussen and J.P. Feyereisen.

    Adames had spent the first four years of his career in Tampa Bay and flashed signs of potential during that stint. Yet, with the Rays' farm system oozing talent at the position, he always seemed a likely trade candidate.

    Let's dive into some other team-player divorces we might see this season. These players were chosen based on factors such as impending free agency, team outlook and potential roster depth at a particular position, among other factors.

    Because "divorce" implies some sort of relationship, we are stipulating the players chosen must be in at least their third year of service with their current team.

Arizona Diamondbacks: IF Eduardo Escobar, OF David Peralta

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Veteran infielder Eduardo Escobar has been one of the Arizona Diamondbacks' top trade chips since this past winter.

    Escobar has plenty of value as a guy who can play three infield positions and hit from both sides of the plate. He also makes a decent amount of contact, which is important in an era where contact has become something of a novelty.

    The 32-year-old ranks in the 62nd percentile in whiff rate and is in the 72nd percentile in expectd slugging (xSLG). He has just a .758 OPS but is also posting the highest average exit velocity (89.2 mph) and hard-hit rates (34.8) since the start of the Statcast era in 2015. Not to mention, he is a legitimate run producer, leading the National League with 35 RBI.

    Whereas the D-backs figure to capitalize on Escobar's potential value because of his impending free agency, they have more options with outfielder David Peralta. The 33-year-old is signed through next season, meaning Arizona could just as easily wait to move him.

    However, it's probably smart to maximize Peralta's value now. He is owed just $7.5 million in 2022, per Spotrac. Any number of teams would surely be interested in that kind of salary, especially for the opportunity to acquire a left-handed hitter with a career .819 OPS.

    Peralta is slashing .274/.335/.463 with 18 extra-base hits. He could help teams needing a left-handed bat, possibly including the New York Yankees.

Colorado Rockies: SS Trevor Story, RHP Jon Gray

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Colorado Rockies have the worst record in the National League. They have very little pitching, including in a pipeline Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked 28th out of 30 clubs.

    It's time for the Rockies to sell, which also means it's time to send Trevor Story elsewhere. Colorado didn't pursue an extension with the star shortstop during the offseason, and the Rockies would appear unlikely to outbid big-market clubs in free agency.

    Story is a five-tool talent who, despite being on an expiring contract, should still net a decent package as the Rockies attempt to restart their farm. They should move him now, rather than risk merely receiving a compensatory draft pick. 

    Jon Gray is another guy who will be a free agent this offseason, and the Rockies would also do well to move him ahead of the deadline.

    The right-hander is off to one of the best starts of his career, posting a 3.48 ERA in nine starts prior to Sunday's outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks. His strikeout rate is back up above 20 percent, while the ground-ball rate sits at a career-high 53.3 percent.

    Starting pitching is always at a premium at the deadline. Gray's free-agent status, early success and age (still just 29) should make him one of the more desirable targets on the market.

    FanSided's Robert Murray reported the Rockies "began putting feelers out" regarding Gray's market during spring training. He seems likely to move.

Detroit Tigers: LHP Matthew Boyd, RHP Michael Fulmer

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Detroit Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd's name has been bandied about seemingly in each of the past few summers. However, this might be the year he finally gets dealt.

    The 30-year-old is off to the best start of his career, posting a 3.08 ERA through nine starts while also boasting career-best marks in WHIP (1.08) and fielding independent pitching (FIP, 3.07). More importantly, he's finding ways to induce soft contact.

    Boyd had been plagued by home runs throughout his career, giving up an AL-high 39 in 2019 and MLB-high 15 in 2020. This year, though, Boyd has given up just two homers in 52.2 innings. He ranks in the 74th percentile in barrel rate and 71st percentile in average exit velocity. Although Boyd doesn't get a ton of swing-and-miss action, the chase rate (89th percentile) really informs his ability to get weak contact.

    The Washington state native has one more year of arbitration eligibility, but the Tigers would probably do well to move Boyd this year. 

    Another guy to watch is right-handed reliever Michael Fulmer. The former American League Rookie of the Year looks to be on the mend after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019 and struggling mightily in 2020. He has a 3.13 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 31.2 innings.

    Fulmer, like Boyd, has one more year of arbitration eligibility. The 28-year-old could be a top relief asset if his success continues.

Kansas City Royals: LHP Danny Duffy*

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The selection of Danny Duffy comes with an asterisk. 

    Duffy had a 1.94 ERA through his first seven starts. He was striking out a career-high 10.4 per nine innings, with the homer rate falling from 1.6 per nine in 2020 to just 0.4 per nine this season. The walk rate was also on the decline.

    The 32-year-old left-hander is in the final season of a five-year, $65 million deal he signed with the Kansas City Royals back in 2017. While the Royals have managed to steady things a bit following an 11-game losing streak between May 2 and May 13, they figure to profile more as sellers.

    OK, now for the asterisk: Duffy is on the injured list with a UCL strain in his left elbow. He is not expected to need surgery, but the Royals might be cautious with him going forward.

    The injury could result in some timidity on the part of trade suitors. Still, if Duffy heals up and is effective in his return to the mound, he should be an attractive target, especially for teams looking for more of a stopgap option in a possible playoff run.

New York Yankees: C Gary Sanchez

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    This is undoubtedly going to ruffle feathers among New York Yankees fans, but it's time to at least start thinking about moving on from Gary Sanchez.

    Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported the Bronx Bombers attempted to trade the polarizing backstop last August. New York stuck with Sanchez and committed to him prior to the start of the season. However, the 28-year-old just hasn't seen results. 

    Sanchez has seen an improvement in strikeout rate, but his whiff rate is up 2.4 percent. What's more, Sanchez has seen a 5.8 percent decrease in barrel rate as well as a 6.5 percent decline in hard-hit rate. His exit velocities are strong, but again, the swing-and-miss is too prevalent and the results aren't there. 

    Of course, Sanchez also struggles behind the plate. He is tied for last among catchers (min. 230 innings) in defensive runs saved and ranks in the 35th percentile in catcher framing.

    Sanchez has already begun to lose some time to Kyle Higashioka. Although the 31-year-old has a small sample size, he has a .771 OPS. Moreover, "Higgy" is a terrific defensive catcher, ranking in the 98th percentile in catcher framing and routinely calling a terrific game. He was behind the dish for Corey Kluber's no-hitter.

    It's possible the Yankees try to maximize Sanchez's value now. He still has one more year of arbitration eligibility and would likely appeal to a number of teams with his slugging upside. Perhaps New York can use him as part of a package to add more starting pitching or a left-handed bat.

    Trading Sanchez could be risky given Higashioka's age and relative lack of consistent at-bats. Top catching prospect Austin Wells is only at Single-A. Still, Sanchez might be New York's best asset and could possibly benefit from a change of scenery.

Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Richard Rodriguez, UT Adam Frazier

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Pirates, like the Colorado Rockies, should be primed to sell ahead of the deadline as they continue to rebuild.

    Pittsburgh has its share of trade chips. Chief among them will likely be right-handed reliever Richard Rodriguez, who has been one of the best closers in baseball this season.

    Rodriguez has a 0.47 ERA and 0.37 WHIP in 19.0 innings. He has converted all six save opportunities and boasts a 15.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    This isn't just some random breakout season, either. Rodriguez had a 2.70 ERA in 2020 and also put together a strong season in 2018, with a 2.47 ERA and 2.60 FIP. The 31-year-old has two more seasons of arbitration eligibility and should be among the top relievers available come July.

    Meanwhile, utility man Adam Frazier is off to the best start of his career. The 29-year-old is hitting .337 with an .865 OPS. He leads the majors in hits (60) and ranks in the 99th percentile in whiff rate.

    Frazier's exit velocities might leave a lot to be desired, but he's a multi-positional guy with a .279 career average and .760 career OPS. He can help a lot of clubs with his versatility and contact-oriented approach.

    Catcher Jacob Stallings could be another one to watch for a Bucs team that will likely be among the foremost sellers ahead of the deadline.

San Francisco Giants: 1B Brandon Belt

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    John Hefti/Associated Press

    "The San Francisco Giants are towards the top of the NL West standings; why would they trade one of their best hitters?" It's a valid question, but let me try to explain the rationale.

    Yes, Belt has indeed been one of San Francisco's best bats. He has an .840 OPS and ranks in the 97th percentile in barrel rate. But the Giants still have reason to move him.

    For starters, Belt could be highly sought-after as a slugging corner infielder on an expiring contract. Potential contenders like the Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland and Tampa Bay Rays might all be intrigued by the chance to add him to the lineup.

    Additionally, San Francisco might have the positional depth to get future assets for Belt while not losing too much offensive production. Utility man Darin Ruf is raking. He already has six homers and a .921 OPS in close to 100 plate appearances.

    The Giants could shift Ruf to first or let Buster Posey see some time there, especially given top prospect Joey Bart is mashing at Triple-A (1.076 OPS) and might merit a call-up sometime in the near future.

    It's possible the Giants could also opt to move one of their starting pitchers, all of whom could be free agents at the end of the season. However, the rotation has been the team's strength, and having starting depth is invaluable with injuries and roster implications playing a role coming off a shortened 2020 season.

    President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi will likely be determined to do everything he can as the Giants chase a playoff spot. But San Francisco is hardly a stranger to repositioning at the deadline. Moving Belt would reflect the latter stance, and it could be the smartest choice given the makeup of the club.


    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant or FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. Stats are accurate prior to the start of play on May 23.