10 Potential Trade Targets Whose Fates Will Be Decided in the Next Month

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IJune 18, 2021

10 Potential Trade Targets Whose Fates Will Be Decided in the Next Month

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    Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

    A fantastic first few months of baseball have unfortunately been marred a bit by the recent controversies surrounding MLB's new memo on foreign substances.

    That has been a sticking point, so to speak, for a number of pitchers. Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow attributed his UCL injury in part to having to wean off sunscreen and rosin. The debates are likely to continue, especially with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire at the end of the season.

    Major League Baseball's questionable handling of the situation is distracting from an exceptionally entertaining year full of standout individual performances and surprising contenders. The buying and selling landscape will only become more defined in the days leading up to the July 30 trade deadline.

    Here are 10 players whose fates could be decided before then. Some of these players are on teams straddling the line between buying and selling. Others might be included with the notion they can improve their trade value. All would make for intriguing trade assets.

    Let's jump in.

RHP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The sub-.500 Washington Nationals might look like clear-cut sellers to some, but as we know from experience—ahem, 2018 and 2019—general manager Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family do not jump ship unless they absolutely have to.

    That means there is no guarantee the Nats trade Max Scherzer, even if doing so would likely yield the best return Washington could hope for among the assets it would make sense to part with. Truthfully, the Nationals might not deal Scherzer no matter where they stand July 30.

    Jayson Stark of The Athletic reported some executives feel Rizzo is more likely to trade outfielder Kyle Schwarber or relief pitcher Daniel Hudson (both possibly on expiring contracts, though Schwarber carries a mutual option) than trade Scherzer, an impending free agent. The Nats might ride it out with their longtime ace, who had a 2.21 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 77.1 innings before landing on the injured list with a groin setback. 

    Then again, there is no incentive to keeping Scherzer ahead of the deadline if Washington struggles to gain ground in the National League East. In May, Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked the Nationals' farm as the worst in baseball. 

    Washington might as well move him to get assets and then possibly try to re-sign him this winter. That's not impossible to envision, given Rizzo drafted Scherzer while with Arizona in 2006 and has a long history with Mad Max.

OF Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Let's be clear: The Cincinnati Reds don't yet have incentive to trade Nick Castellanos, a legitimate NL MVP candidate.

    The Reds have climbed to within two games of the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central after sweeping the Brewers in Milwaukee, though they have since dropped to three games back of the Cubs after a loss to the San Diego Padres on Thursday. They are 11-4 in June and are 13-4 dating back to May 30.

    Castellanos has been an enormous part of Cincinnati's success. He entered Thursday leading the majors in batting average (.350), hits (85) and doubles (23) while leading the NL in total bases (150) and boasting a 1.013 OPS. He ranks fourth in fWAR and third in weighted runs created plus (wRC+).

    Still, there's a ways to go before July 30, and Cincy has been prone to volatility. This is the same team that started 6-1 before losing 11 of its next 14. The Reds also lost six of seven from May 17 to May 23, just before surging back into contention. The bullpen (last in ERA) is still a major question mark.

    Should the Reds succumb to more long stretches of losing, it's possible Castellanos becomes available. The 29-year-old can opt out of his contract at the end of the season—he is due $16 million in 2022 and 2023, with a $20 mutual option in 2024—in search of another multiyear deal at a higher annual average value.

    At the very least, the Reds figure to listen to offers for Castellanos if they slide in the standings. They could likely still get a good return package even if Castellanos does prove to be a rental.

OF Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The Seattle Mariners are hanging around the .500 mark, and it could be hard to endorse dealing Mitch Haniger if they're still competitive in a month.

    He has been the team's best hitter, slashing .259/.309/.514 with 16 homers and a 131 OPS+. Why would Seattle trade its top run producer, especially when the Mariners rank 29th in OPS?

    For starters, the M's have a minus-56 run differential. That's unlikely to prop up their record for long. Seattle is also still building, with top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez likely to define the outfield of the future alongside Kyle Lewis, who is sidelined with a meniscus tear. That would suggest the M's are more likely to sell and keep adding future assets.

    Perhaps Seattle feels Haniger could still be part of that future. He is only 30 and has finally looked healthy after missing most of 2019 and all of '20. The Mariners might have a greater interest in keeping Haniger through the deadline and seeing whether they can sign him to an extension, possibly under the guise he could move to a designated hitter role. 

    Then again, Haniger's value might never be higher. He will be a free agent after next season, and there's no telling whether he will continue to stay healthy.

    Thus, the next month will be interesting both with respect to Seattle's performance as well as Haniger's ability to boost his market. He could merit trade offers the Mariners might not be able to refuse.

RHP Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    As is the case with Castellanos, Reds right-hander Sonny Gray isn't going anywhere if Cincy hangs around in the NL Central.

    Gray is a vital part of the team's rotation, though he is on the injured list with a groin setback. He had a 3.42 ERA and 65 strikeouts in his first 10 starts, also ranking in the 92nd percentile in hard-hit rate and 60th percentile in whiff rate.

    The Reds need Gray healthy if they want to make a playoff push. Otherwise, he would make for excellent trade bait. There was ample interest in him during the offseason and very well could be again if he is made available in the next month.

    The 31-year-old ranks 18th in starter fWAR (min. 250 innings) since 2019 and 11th in expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP). He is also under contract for just $10.2 million in 2022 and has a $12 million club option in 2023. 

    It only makes sense Gray would be highly sought-after, given both his effectiveness and team-friendly contract.

    One final note: The Reds might be more likely to deal Gray than Luis Castillo, considering Castillo is three years younger. Castillo's trade value might also have taken a hit after he posted a 5.83 ERA in his first 14 starts, whereas Gray is having more sustained success.

LHP Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Angels had climbed back to relevance after a 9-2 start in June. However, the Halos were just swept by the Oakland Athletics. Things will get even tougher. 

    The Angels have a chance to make up ground during their four-game set with the Detroit Tigers, but they close the month by facing the San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees. 

    It might be hard for manager Joe Maddon's team to keep trucking without Mike Trout, who is still on the IL with a calf injury. Not to mention, the Angels could use more depth both in the rotation and the bullpen.

    Interestingly, though, they are likely to trade from their pitching staff if they sell. Starters such as Andrew Heaney and Dylan Bundy will be free agents at the end of the season, as will veteran relievers Raisel Iglesias (more on him later) and Steve Cishek.

    Heaney could be the most intriguing arm to suitors. The 30-year-old has a 4.45 ERA in 12 starts, but he also has a 3.64 FIP. He usually struggles with hard contract but ranks in the 78th percentile in whiff rate and 93rd percentile in chase rate.

    The left-hander could be a valuable depth starter for any number of teams, and maybe even a guy who is converted to a bullpen arm come October.

OF Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    There is no confusing the Texas Rangers' status as sellers in advance of the deadline. Closer Ian Kennedy will almost certainly be dealt. Veteran starter Kyle Gibson is another likely trade candidate.

    As for Joey Gallo, well, it could depend on how he performs in the next month as well as what the Rangers are seeking.

    Gallo's numbers have consistently improved as the season has progressed. He had a .710 OPS in April followed by an .808 OPS in May. The 27-year-old has two homers, three steals and an .814 OPS in June.

    Should the Las Vegas product keep improving, the Rangers will likely place a huge price tag on him, just as they did last summer. Aside from the impressive exit velocities and barrel rates, Gallo is a tremendous defender. He ranks in the 81st percentile in outs above average and won a Gold Glove in 2020. Not to mention, he has another year of arbitration eligibility in 2022.

    Such a price tag could scare possible suitors like the San Diego Padres—a team with interest in Gallo, per Dennis Lin of The Athletic—and others. Texas might instead trade Gallo in the offseason before his walk year, much as it did with Lance Lynn last winter. Or, maybe the two sides will discuss an extension, with Gallo professing his love for the organization on numerous occasions.

    Alternatively, a middling June could lead the Rangers to cash in on Gallo's value and add to the farm.

OF Kyle Schwarber, Washington Nationals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Kyle Schwarber will be a necessary bat in Washington's lineup if the Nationals try to make a run.

    He leads the Nats in homers (13) and RBI (34), giving the team needed production from the left side to complement Juan Soto. There might be even more upside, given the 28-year-old has a hard-hit rate of 50 percent and the third-highest xwOBA of his career. 

    Yet, the Nats need assets. Schwarber also doesn't have much sentimental value to the franchise. Whereas Scherzer has won multiple Cy Young Awards and a World Series with the Nats, this is Schwarber's first season in D.C.

    The Atlanta Braves could be in the market for a more permanent left fielder. The New York Yankees might also be a suitor given their need for offense, though the Bronx Bombers could just as easily pursue upgrades in center field. Then again, Schwarber would likely be less costly than a Starling Marte and definitely cheaper than a club-controlled asset such as Ketel Marte.

    It could come down to Schwarber's market. Even if the Nats are in sell mode, they might not deal him if his market is lacking because they have an $11 million mutual option on him for 2022.

    However, a big month from Schwarber could boost his value and see him move elsewhere.

OF Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Kansas City Royals outfielder Jorge Soler is another guy whose trade prospects could depend on his performance in the next month. 

    His .185/.289/.337 slash looks ugly at first glance. Most of that can be attributed to a horrendous May, during which Soler had a .474 OPS. However, he has shown signs of life with an .861 OPS in June.

    The 29-year-old is capable of big-time pop. After all, he set Kansas City's single-season record for home runs with an American League-high 48 homers in 2019. Soler's batted-ball numbers have typically been terrific as well. He has the highest average exit velocity (92.9 mph) and hard-hit rate (51.4 percent) of his career, though those metrics have not yielded results.

    A interesting note is how much better Soler has been as the Royals' designated hitter as compared to when he starts in right field. He has split an equal amount of time in right and at the DH spot, but his OPS is well over 300 points higher (.792) when he is in the DH spot. Maybe an AL team needing a righty bat takes notice of that and comes calling.

    Soler will be a free agent at the end of the season. The Royals will likely move him if he can put together a strong stretch ahead of the deadline. Otherwise, Kansas City might try to bring him back on a lesser deal this offseason.

RHP Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Raisel Iglesias has not appeared to be the same dominant force he was in 2020. 

    He has a 4.15 ERA in 25 outings. The long ball has been an issue, with Iglesias giving up seven homers in 26 innings. Yet, those numbers don't tell the whole story.

    The 31-year-old is still an elite strikeout force. Iglesias is punching out a career-high 13.5 opponents per nine innings. He ranks in the 100th percentile in whiff rate, challenging hitters with a lively fastball and a destructive slider that is especially effective against right-handers. Moreover, Iglesias has slashed his walk rate. He ranks in the 93rd percentile in that department.

    Pair the swing-and-miss stuff with an uptick in ground-ball rate and you have a guy with a 2.80 xERA. Those are all strong signs.

    The Angels need Iglesias at the back of the bullpen if they hope to make a playoff push. Los Angeles ranks 22nd in bullpen ERA and 19th in xFIP even with him.

    However, Iglesias will be a free agent at the end of the season and will immediately become one of the top relievers available if the Halos sell.

RHP Daniel Hudson, Washington Nationals

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Daniel Hudson is the Nationals' version of Iglesias in that he is irreplaceable to the club should Washington hold steady.

    Hudson is having what could be his best season. He has a 2.59 ERA in 23 appearances, boasting career-best marks in WHIP (0.90) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.9).

    The advanced numbers tell a similar story. Hudson ranks in the 86th percentile in whiff rate and 92nd percentile in both xwOBA and xERA. He has been that much better in leveraged situations, holding opponents to a .556 OPS in high leverage and a .298 OPS in medium leverage. 

    He has excelled in a setup role in front of Brad Hand. Washington has needed that kind of presence, as the Nats rank 28th in bullpen ERA and 27th in xFIP

    The Nationals will need to add arms in the middle innings (and possibly a depth starter) if they bring in pieces. Otherwise, Hudson should be yet another premier arm in a market that constantly demands relief upgrades.

               

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant or FanGraphs. All contract information obtained via Spotrac. Stats are accurate prior to the start of play on June 17.

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