Predicting MLB's Biggest Trades of the 2021-22 OffseasonAugust 30, 2021
Predicting MLB's Biggest Trades of the 2021-22 Offseason
Come winter, the 2021-22 Major League Baseball offseason will revolve around one of the better free-agent classes in recent memory.
But will there also be trades? You bet there will be trades.
As a sort of appetizer, we tried to imagine blockbuster deals that might go down during the hot-stove season. By identifying round pegs and then searching for round holes to put them in, we ultimately came up with seven reasonably plausible possibilities.
Let's count 'em down from the trade that would be the smallest deal to the one that would be the biggest.
Josh Bell to the Milwaukee Brewers
Less than two years removed from winning it all, the Washington Nationals saw that their championship window was closed and blew it up ahead of this year's July 30 trade deadline.
In first baseman Josh Bell, however, there was one notable trade chip the Nats failed to move.
In all likelihood, Washington will try again to find a suitor for the 29-year-old slugger this winter. He's only under team control through 2022, after all, and he's used this season to recoup value after a difficult campaign for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020. He's played in 112 games and put up a solid 117 OPS+ with 23 home runs.
Bell will appeal to first-base-needy clubs that either can't or don't want to spend big bucks on free agents like Freddie Freeman, Brandon Belt or Anthony Rizzo. For instance, the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Crew's first basemen have tallied minus-0.3 rWAR in 2021, so even a relatively modest star like Bell would be a significant upgrade at the cold corner. Considering their farm system isn't particularly deep, it's likewise an advantage that Bell could probably be had for low-level talent.
Mitch Haniger to the Chicago White Sox
Considering they're nine games over .500 and off the charts on the fun differential scale, the Seattle Mariners shouldn't be written off in the race for the American League's second wild-card slot.
And yet this is also a team in an in-between state, in that it's done rebuilding but not quite all-in on 2021. Hence why general manager Jerry Dipoto was willing to risk clubhouse discord by trading ace closer Kendall Graveman for up-and-comer infielder Abraham Toro in July.
If Dipoto makes another trade in this vein this winter, chances are it will involve right fielder Mitch Haniger. He's a big presence on the team, but he's also A) 30 years old, B) only controlled through 2022 and C) in the way of uber-prospect Julio Rodriguez.
By way of a 122 OPS+ and 29 home runs, Haniger has reestablished his bona fides after two injury-ruined years in 2019 and 2020. In theory, he'll appeal to win-now teams that would be willing to ship major league-ready talent to Seattle.
The Chicago White Sox, who've gotten only 0.6 rWAR out of right field, fit the bill. They might offer Seattle young slugger Jake Burger, who's looking up at Yoan Moncada at third base.
Sonny Gray to the San Francisco Giants
If the Cincinnati Reds make it to the postseason, their dangerous offense and ascendant starting rotation will make them a sleeper to play deep into October.
Come the offseason, though, the Reds could circle back on the possibility of subtracting from their rotation by dealing Luis Castillo or Sonny Gray. The latter, in particular, will be a candidate to go.
The two-time All-Star is a good pitcher but not the team's best. Perhaps because of the sticky stuff ban, he's lost a good deal of spin rate and seen his ERA slip to a good-not-great 3.91. The Reds might therefore have reservations about his $10.2 salary for 2022.
If the Reds do shop the 31-year-old, there should be interest in him as a lower-risk alternative to some of the market's big-name free agents. An enterprising team might even see a solution to Gray's spin rate decline.
Our eyes are on the San Francisco Giants, whose president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, knows Gray from when both were with the Oakland Athletics. The Giants definitely have both the payroll space and the young talent to pursue a reunion, and they'll certainly have the need with Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Johnny Cueto and Alex Wood ticketed for free agency.
Willson Contreras to the Houston Astros
Like the Nationals, the Chicago Cubs faced reality and went on a selling spree that saw Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Craig Kimbrel and others depart for more competitive environments at the deadline.
But what Josh Bell is to the Nationals, Willson Contreras is to the Cubs.
The 29-year-old has been and still is one of the best catchers in baseball. He's posted a 104 OPS+ and 17 home runs in 2021, not to mention 3.9 rWAR. In the latter category, Philadelphia Phillies star J.T. Realmuto is the only catcher who has Contreras beat since 2016.
The Cubs control Contreras through 2022, but it only makes sense to keep him if they want to and think they can build another contender in one winter. Otherwise, cashing in while his value is up is the right thing to do.
If the Cubs indeed make Contreras available, the Houston Astros might rekindle the interest they had in him when Jeff Luhnow was running things two years ago. He'd be a big fix for a catching spot that's produced only a .602 OPS, and Houston might even entice the Cubs by offering a long-term catcher in prospect Korey Lee.
Ketel Marte to the Philadelphia Phillies
Last year wasn't a fluke, as the Arizona Diamondbacks are once again deep in last place in the National League West. So when the hot-stove market opens up, none of their players should be untouchable.
To this end, maybe the only reason All-Star center fielder Ketel Marte wasn't moved at the trade deadline was because he was on the injured list with a hamstring strain. The Snakes would have been selling low, which they did not need to do given that Marte is signed through 2022 with options for 2023 and 2024.
The 27-year-old figures to be more available this winter, albeit at a high price.
Marte finished fourth in the NL MVP voting just two years ago, after all, and he's played like an MVP when he's been healthy in 2021. Through 62 games, he's batting .346/.399/.550 with eight home runs.
As for where Marte fits, the Philadelphia Phillies could see him as an upgrade for a lineup that's gotten a .302 OBP out of the first two slots. President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski isn't averse to making deals for stars like Marte, and he could offer former top prospect Alec Bohm as a centerpiece.
Josh Donaldson to the New York Mets
The last-place Minnesota Twins might have made like the Nationals and Cubs at the trade deadline, but they ultimately carried out more of a controlled demolition than a full-on blowup.
Out the door went slugger Nelson Cruz and ace Jose Berrios, but third baseman Josh Donaldson and center fielder Byron Buxton stuck around even though both their names had been circling around the rumor mill.
Because injuries have limited him to only 29 games this season, the Twins might wager that they're better off holding on to Buxton instead of trading him this winter. Donaldson, though, could be on the move.
The 2015 AL MVP has had issues staying healthy in recent seasons, and he's now set to turn 36 on Dec. 8. It makes sense, then, for the Twins to offload Donaldson and the $43.5 million he's owed through 2023 before age and injuries ruin his stardom for good. For now, he's still going strong with a 134 OPS+ and 20 homers.
With more than enough money to absorb his remaining contract, the New York Mets could get back in on Donaldson after poking around him ahead of the trade deadline. They'll potentially have an opening for him again this winter, as current third baseman J.D. Davis—who played more than half his games in the outfield in 2019—could move to right field if Michael Conforto departs as a free agent.
Matt Chapman to the New York Yankees
Regardless of whether they snap out of their recent funk and earn what would be their fourth straight playoff appearance, the Oakland Athletics could be headed toward a dramatic winter.
The moment when third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson will get too expensive for the A's has been a topic of conversation for a while now. That moment is nigh, as both are due ample raises in their second years of arbitration eligibility in 2022.
Olson seemed like the better sell-high candidate as recently as a couple of weeks ago, but Chapman is back to looking like his old MVP-caliber self with a 1.045 OPS and seven homers since Aug. 7. His hip may finally be fully recovered from the surgery he had last September.
As a two-time Gold Glover with 30-homer power and club control through 2023, the 28-year-old would have huge value if the A's were to put him on the block. For his suitors, the plan would have to be twofold: Get him and then it's World Series or bust.
Looking at you, New York Yankees. Chapman would fit well at a hot corner spot on which Gio Urshela's grip has loosened in 2021, and his power would certainly be right at home in a lineup chock-full of thumpers. In exchange, the Yankees might entice Oakland with young flamethrower Luis Gil.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.