1 Player Each MLB Team Should Already Be Targeting for 2021-22 Offseason Trades
If Major League Baseball could just hurry up and get through the rest of the regular season and the playoffs so we can get to trade season, that would be great.
Just kidding. Sort of.
In truth, there figures to be so much talent on the 2021-22 trade market that it's hard not to get excited about possible deals. So we put our imaginations to work by highlighting one guy each team should have on its hot-stove radar.
For contenders, this meant pinpointing potentially available stars who would fit their needs. For everyone else, it meant finding prospects and otherwise less heralded players who might be had.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Josh James
With as many as 110 losses in their near future, the Orioles won't feel comfortable subtracting from their ample farm system for the sake of adding stars off the trade market for at least another year. Any trades they make between now and then will surely be of the opportunistic variety.
For example, general manager Mike Elias might try to mine talent from his former employer by targeting Josh James. Elias was the Astros' scouting director when they drafted James in 2014, so he might have insight into how to awaken the hard-throwing righty's dormant major league career.
Boston Red Sox: INF/OF Whit Merrifield
If the Red Sox turn to the trade market this winter, second base ought to be a priority. It hasn't necessarily been a weakness in 2021, yet it has been a revolving door through which 11 different players have passed and combined for a modest 1.7 rWAR.
A call to the Kansas City Royals about Whit Merrifield, who was said to be more available than in past years as of the trade deadline, per The Athletic's Jayson Stark, could be in order. He's a good hitter with plenty of speed, and his defensive versatility would make him something like a second Enrique Hernandez for Boston.
New York Yankees: 3B Matt Chapman
With Gleyber Torres at second base and third baseman Gio Urshela enduring a lost season, the Yankees could remake the left side of their infield this winter. Free agency will offer options at shortstop, while the trade market could offer perhaps the perfect upgrade at the hot corner.
That's right, we're talking Matt Chapman. He might just be the best defensive player in baseball, and he's recently been reclaiming lost offensive value with a .991 OPS since Aug. 14. If the Oakland Athletics are wary about going through arbitration with him two more times, the Yankees should be first in line for him.
Tampa Bay Rays: INF/OF Nick Senzel
Though Kevin Kiermaier is still an excellent center fielder, he's starting to look more and more superfluous in the Rays' crowded outfield mix. His $12.2 million salary for 2022 could therefore be a cost they'll want to offload this winter.
If so, the Cincinnati Reds might see Kiermaier as just the guy they need to solve their defensive deficiency in center field. Though they'd also have to get other players in the deal, it would be just like the Rays to take on former top prospect Nick Senzel and turn him into the star the Reds hoped he would become.
Toronto Blue Jays: LHP Josh Hader
With Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray and other key players ticketed for free agency, the Blue Jays will have their work cut out for them when filling holes this winter. They'll also need to make upgrades elsewhere, specifically in a bullpen that could use a proper closer.
The pie in the sky is Josh Hader. Though the Milwaukee Brewers lefty has been an All-Star in three of the last four seasons, he's also already expensive ($6.7 million) with two more trips through arbitration still to go. The Blue Jays have the money to afford him and the young talent to pry him loose from Milwaukee.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: RF Mitch Haniger
The White Sox will have to either re-sign or replace left-hander Carlos Rodon, but free agency otherwise won't open any massive roster holes. That'll make it that much easier for them to pursue upgrades, specifically for a right field spot that's produced only 0.7 rWAR all year.
Even if he'd be yet another right-handed hitter for a lineup that already leans to the right, Seattle Mariners All-Star Mitch Haniger fits the bill. With 33 home runs this year, he'd bring still more power to the White Sox's dangerous offense in his final year before free agency.
Cleveland: 2B Alejo Lopez
We know they're going to be called the Guardians next year, but other than that it's hard to gauge what the future holds for Cleveland. The only safe guess is that the club's offseason shopping won't take place in the ritzier sections of the trade and free-agent markets.
Perhaps Cleveland will seek an undervalued prospect as a solution for its hole at second base. For instance, Reds prospect Alejo Lopez. Though he's hit .339 in the high minors this season, he's only the club's No. 21 prospect on MLB.com. With Jonathan India and Eugenio Suarez in his way, he also doesn't have a clear avenue to playing time.
Detroit Tigers: 3B Mark Vientos
The Tigers aren't done rebuilding, but they're closer to that point as they wrap up their most competitive season since 2016. They might even feel comfortable hanging on to starting pitchers Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer, both of whom are marketable yet also under club control through 2022.
Still, let's go ahead and imagine a scenario in which New York Mets president Sandy Alderson, whose front office drafted Fulmer in 2011, wants the righty back this winter. If so, the Tigers could make a play for young slugger Mark Vientos, who's clubbed 22 home runs at Double-A this year.
Kansas City Royals: LHP Jay Groome
Should the Red Sox call after Merrifield this winter, the Royals will no doubt ask about sweet-swinging first baseman Triston Casas or speedy center fielder Jarren Duran. If Boston rebuffs those advances, Kansas City might at least be able to land a fast-rising talent in the person of Jay Groome.
The lefty has had issues aplenty, most notably Tommy John surgery, since the Red Sox tabbed him with the No. 12 pick in 2016. But he's healthy and picking up steam again, striking out 19 batters with only one walk in his first two outings at Double-A. This winter could be a good chance for the Royals or some other team to buy relatively low on him.
Minnesota Twins: CF Cristian Pache
Though the Twins carried out a substantial fire sale ahead of the July 30 trade deadline, it's not a fait accompli that more core players will head out the door this winter. But you can bet there will be speculation about uber-talented center fielder Byron Buxton, whose rights are only controlled through 2022.
As Atlanta has gotten 0.0 rWAR out of center field this season, it doesn't take much imagination to see it taking an interest in Buxton. Likewise, it's just as easy to imagine the Twins shipping Buxton to Atlanta for top prospect Cristian Pache, who's a less powerful but just as speedy version of the veteran.
American League West
Houston Astros: SS Nick Ahmed
This will be a massively consequential winter for the Astros, as free agency could render them without aces Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke and shortstop Carlos Correa. The loss of the latter would hurt not only on offense, but also more than you might think on defense.
Still, rather than sink a fortune into re-signing Correa, the Astros could try for a more cost-effective addition that would account for at least half of his influence. For instance, they could ring up the Arizona Diamondbacks about two-time Gold Glover Nick Ahmed, who's signed for cheap through 2023.
Los Angeles Angels: RHP Kyle Wright
If the Angels are going to snap what's on track to be a string of six straight losing seasons, they have to address their starting rotation this winter. It would behoove them to add both an ace and depth to take pressure off Shohei Ohtani and Patrick Sandoval.
Though he should also go after bigger fish, Angels GM Perry Minasian might call his old boss Alex Anthopoulos about Kyle Wright. The righty has become a forgotten man in Atlanta, yet it was only four years ago that Minasian was part of the front office that selected him No. 5 overall out of Vanderbilt.
Oakland Athletics: SS Anthony Volpe
So you want to trade for Chapman, eh? Well, it's going to cost you. Even if he's getting too expensive for the A's, his superb two-way talent and club control through 2023 add up to trade value worthy of one of the game's elite prospects.
As such, the Yankees will probably hear A's GM David Forst mention Anthony Volpe if the two clubs initiate trade talks. Though a relative unknown at the outset of the year, he's now MLB.com's No. 15 prospect at the tail end of a season that's seen him post a 1.035 OPS, 26 homers and 32 stolen bases in the low minors.
Seattle Mariners: C/DH Yermin Mercedes
To be sure, the Mariners will dangle Haniger this winter only if they can't sign him to an extension. And even if they do put him on the table, they won't necessarily seek prospects. They have enough of those. What they need is major league talent.
For example, Yermin Mercedes could be in play if they get overtures from the South Siders. The burly slugger was a sensation early in 2021 before he ran afoul of Tony La Russa and got sent down to the minors, where he briefly considered retirement. If given another chance in Seattle, he could be just the fix the team needs for its subpar production (.714 OPS) at designated hitter.
Texas Rangers: RHP Adrian Martinez
Among AL clubs, only the Orioles have lost games with more frequency than the Rangers since the start of last season. And whereas the former is well into a rebuild, the latter is still in the early stages of its own.
But should the Rangers get a call from their former assistant GM and current San Diego Padres GM A.J. Preller, they might try to talk him into giving up Adrian Martinez. He's been humbled in six outings at Triple-A, but he was previously using his nasty changeup to break out in a major way at Double-A. Getting him would mean a sorely needed boost for the Rangers' pitching depth.
National League East
Atlanta: CF Byron Buxton
Before we go any further, the disclaimer here is that Atlanta could sit out the trade market this winter. The club will more likely focus on filling holes opened by free agency, up to and most notably including the one left by MVP-winning first baseman Freddie Freeman.
The center field question is nevertheless a good one on two accounts. One, because the position has been a substantial weakness. And two, because Pache's stock has fallen amid strikeout-laden struggles in the majors and at Triple-A this year. Though Atlanta could more easily sign, say, Starling Marte as a stopgap, there's little question that Buxton is the best upgrade they can make.
Miami Marlins: C Reese McGuire
Following their surprise run to the playoffs in 2020, the Marlins haven't exactly evolved in 2021. It's about time that owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman gave GM Kim Ng a blank check for free agents, particularly ones who could help out offensively.
However, free agency might not be the answer to a catching spot that's produced an MLB-low minus-1.8 rWAR in 2021. A better idea would be to call the Blue Jays about their absurd stockpile of young backstops, among whom Reese McGuire is the right combination of promising and attainable.
New York Mets: 3B Josh Donaldson
Before the Mets can get involved on the trade market, they first need to instill some order in a front office that's been an embarrassment throughout 2021. But especially if they lure Derek Falvey from Minnesota, they should rekindle their interest in Josh Donaldson.
Third base hasn't necessarily been a problem for the Mets, but they could use another right-handed slugger to take some pressure off Pete Alonso. That's Donaldson, and his acquisition cost could be low if owner Steve Cohen were to pony up for the $51.5 million remaining on the veteran's contract.
Philadelphia Phillies: CF/2B Ketel Marte
As they've had problems of their own in center field this year, the Phillies are yet another team that could take a look at Buxton this winter. Indeed, they talked to the Twins about the power/speed dynamo ahead of the July 30 trade deadline.
But since it would be risky for the Phillies to go all-in on a rental, they ought to consider Arizona Diamondbacks star Ketel Marte instead. He's signed through 2022 with $18 million worth of club options for 2023 and 2024. He'd also be a good fix for the Phillies' NL-worst .693 OPS out of the leadoff spot.
Washington Nationals: LHP Ethan Small
As they're going nowhere fast and he's due for free agency after 2022, there's close to a 100 percent chance that the Nationals will look to trade first baseman Josh Bell this winter. In theory, he would fit best with the Milwaukee Brewers, who've gotten an MLB-low minus-0.6 rWAR out of first base.
It would behoove the Nats to pursue an MLB-ready arm in a deal with Milwaukee, and Ethan Small fits that description to a T. Though not overpowering, his sub-2.00 ERAs at Double-A and Triple-A this year pretty well underscore his bona fides as a pitcher.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: SS Gleyber Torres
The Cubs kicked off a rebuild when they traded Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Craig Kimbrel in July, but GM Jed Hoyer insists this one won't take long. If he's going to hold true to that, it'll be on him to try to make some opportunistic additions this winter.
For instance, maybe bring back Gleyber Torres? He broke out as an All-Star after going to the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman trade of 2016, but he's now persona non grata in the Bronx. Since he's under team control through 2024, the Cubs could buy low on him and hope he benefits from a change of scenery.
Cincinnati Reds: CF Kevin Kiermaier
Because they've gotten 0.0 rWAR out of shortstop this year, the Reds are another team that could zero in on Torres. Or, they could simply trust Kyle Farmer to keep doing solid work at the position and instead seek a proper center fielder.
Buxton? Maybe, but the Reds could have justifiable reservations about paying through the nose for a rental. Besides, they really only need a competent defender in center. Hence why we like the idea of their going after Kiermaier, whose rights can be controlled beyond 2022 by way of a club option for 2023.
Milwaukee Brewers: RHP Nate Pearson
So far, we've indicated that the Brewers could both trade Hader and trade for Bell. This seems contradictory, but those deals will likely be a net positive for the club's finances. And, if Milwaukee plays its cards right, possibly a net positive on the field as well.
To wit, there will be some exciting young talent for the Brewers to choose from if Toronto goes after Hader. Milwaukee could, for instance, insist on getting back fireballer Nate Pearson, who's probably more expendable than in years past as a result of the issues he's had with his groin this year.
Pittsburgh Pirates: SS/OF Logan Warmoth
The big question here is who the Pirates could even trade this winter. Apart from All-Star outfielder Bryan Reynolds and relief ace David Bednar—both of whom are probably staying put—they're short on players who could bring back a substantial prospect haul.
So, perhaps GM Ben Cherington will do another Michael Chavis trade. As in, acquire a reclamation project he's familiar with from an organization he used to work for. That could mean Logan Warmoth, who's generally failed to launch since the Blue Jays took him 22nd overall in 2017.
St. Louis Cardinals: LHP Matthew Boyd
It's remarkable that the Cardinals have played their way into the NL's second wild-card spot. Not just because that highlights the volatility of that particular race, but also because the Cardinals have done it in spite of a rotation that's been a mess outside ageless wonder Adam Wainwright.
Sort of like they did in the Nolan Arenado deal, the Cards could spot a nice buy-low opportunity in the person of Boyd come the winter. He's been beset by injuries and ineffectiveness since breaking out in 2019, but he still has the stuff to be the mid-rotation starter that St. Louis needs.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: 3B Alec Bohm
Because Arizona controls Marte's rights for a couple more years at more than reasonable rates, the D-backs obviously don't have to trade him. But the interest in him will be there this winter, and cashing him in for prospects is the best thing for the club's bleak-looking future.
If it's the Phillies that make the hardest push for Marte, Arizona could make a play for either former top prospect Alec Bohm or current top prospect Bryson Stott. In spite of a difficult 2021 season, the former looms a little larger because of a 44-game sample in 2020 that saw him hit .338 and finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Colorado Rockies: CF Brandon Lockridge
Like the Mets, the Rockies are another team whose top priority for the winter will be merely establishing a functional front office. Theirs wasn't well-regarded coming into 2021, and now it's a skeleton crew following the departures of GM Jeff Bridich and other executives.
Whenever the Rockies are ready to begin shopping, here's hoping they'll go get a proper everyday center fielder capable of covering Coors Field's massive outfield. A diamond in that rough is Yankees prospect Brandon Lockridge, who's seen as an elite speedster and plus defender. If the Rockies can get him, they should.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Shane Bieber
Think the Dodgers will be on the lookout for starting pitching this winter? Probably. Cy Young Award winners Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer are headed for free agency, while fellow Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer may never pitch in the majors again after sexual assault allegations.
These are the Dodgers we're talking about, so "What's the best trade they can make?" is a fair question. Perhaps they could entice Cleveland into giving up 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber in lieu of going into arbitration with him for the first time in 2022. This is undeniably a long shot, but it's the kind of trade that would fit nicely in president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman's portfolio of blockbusters.
San Diego Padres: RF Joey Gallo
Remember when the Yankees first acquired Joey Gallo? It was a huge deal, yet the early returns have been disastrous. He's hit only .151 and struck out in nearly half of his at-bats. Rather than keep him for 2022, there's perhaps a chance the Yankees will flip him while they can.
Even if they don't have that idea in mind now, Preller could call them and raise the possibility. The Padres GM went so hard after Gallo ahead of the deadline that it was a shock he didn't get his guy. Yet there's still a spot for Gallo in San Diego, which could prove to be the change of scenery he needs.
San Francisco Giants: RHP Sonny Gray
Speaking of NL West contenders on the verge of losing key starters to free agency, the Giants are also in that boat. Come the winter, Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto (club option) will all likely hit the open waters.
In addition to trying to re-sign them, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi might try to bring Sonny Gray back to the Bay Area. This is assuming the Reds will be keen on cutting his $10.7 million salary for 2022, which is a realistic possibility given that Gray's acehood has faded since he was an All-Star in 2019.