Predicting 1 Trade for Every MLB Team During the 2021 Offseason
It's never too early to start looking ahead to the MLB offseason.
This year's free-agent class is headlined by middle infielders Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story, first baseman Freddie Freeman, third baseman Kris Bryant, right fielder Nick Castellanos and veteran pitchers Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray and Kevin Gausman.
For teams that miss out on those top-tier players, the trade market could be the preferred alternative, and Ketel Marte, Whit Merrifield, Sonny Gray and Willson Contreras are among the top names who could be dealt.
Ahead we've come up with one trade prediction for each MLB team as a preview of sorts for the offseason. Buyers were paired with sellers, so we're breaking down 15 trades with each team involved in one deal.
David Bednar Traded from PIT to HOU
To HOU: RHP David Bednar
To PIT: RHP Shawn Dubin, OF Alex McKenna, C Yainer Diaz
Save opportunities were few and far between for the 101-loss Pittsburgh Pirates, but David Bednar still turned heads with his performance down the stretch.
Acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Joe Musgrove trade, he posted a 2.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 61 appearances. Over the final two months, he had a 0.92 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .132 average in 19.2 innings. Under club control through the 2026 season, he is an extremely valuable trade chip, and it might be time to sell high given the volatility of relievers.
The Houston Astros stand to lose deadline pickups Kendall Graveman and Yimi Garcia in free agency, creating a void in the late innings ahead of closer Ryan Pressly.
Shawn Dubin (No. 13) and Alex McKenna (No. 17) rank among Houston's top 20 prospects, according to Baseball America. Dubin is an undersized right-hander with a good fastball-slider combination and could fit best at the back of the bullpen. McKenna is a well-rounded outfielder who had an .834 OPS with 31 extra-base hits in 79 games at High-A and Double-A.
Yainer Diaz is a 23-year-old catcher with a 55-grade hit tool who batted .324/.362/.527 with 43 extra-base hits. He was traded from Cleveland to Houston in the Myles Straw deal and would be a welcome addition to a Pittsburgh system thin on catching behind Henry Davis.
It might sound like a steep price to pay, but Bednar's remaining club control means he'll demand a premium.
Willson Contreras Traded from CHC to MIA
To MIA: C Willson Contreras
To CHC: RHP Elieser Hernandez, RHP Kyle Nicolas, C Jorge Alfaro
Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly told reporters the team is looking at the catcher position.
"It's fairly safe to say it was some kind of message when we grabbed two catchers [Alex Jackson and Payton Henry] at the trade deadline and we also have Nick Fortes up here," he said.
The Fish have a dynamic collection of young pitchers, so finding stability at catcher will be key. A thin free-agent market headlined by Yan Gomes and Wilson Ramos means their focus will likely be on the trade block, and the Chicago Cubs' Willson Contreras has popped up frequently in recent trade rumors.
The 29-year-old tallied a career-high 4.1 WAR, posting a 108 OPS+ with 20 doubles and 21 home runs while also racking up eight defensive runs saved. He will be in his final year of arbitration eligibility but would be an obvious candidate for an extension on the other side of a trade.
In exchange, the Cubs could address their glaring need for starting pitching by adding right-hander Elieser Hernandez. The 26-year-old has a 3.84 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 77.1 innings since the start of 2020, and he's controllable through 2024.
Kyle Nicolas, 22, posted a 4.18 ERA with 136 strikeouts in 99 innings at High-A and Double-A in his pro debut after being selected in the second round of the 2020 draft. He can touch 100 mph with a 70-grade fastball and has a 6'4", 223-pound frame that helps him maintain that velocity deep into starts.
There's a good chance the Marlins will non-tender Jorge Alfaro, so adding him would give the Cubs a stopgap while Miguel Amaya continues to develop.
Paul DeJong Traded from STL to SEA
To SEA: SS Paul DeJong, $6 million
To STL: RHP Darren McCaughan
With the emergence of Edmundo Sosa and a deep free-agent shortstop class, the St. Louis Cardinals could be ready to sell low on Paul DeJong.
The 28-year-old has hit just .213/.295/.379 for an 86 OPS+ in 576 plate appearances since the start of 2020, and after a 3.2-WAR season by Sosa, a changing of the guard could be coming.
The trouble with moving on from DeJong is the fact that he's still owed $15.3 million over the next two years plus a $2 million buyout on a $12.5 million club option for 2024. So why would anyone be interested in taking on that commitment?
As recently as 2019, DeJong was a 5.3-WAR player who slugged 30 home runs, played terrific defense and was a first-time All-Star. Buying low on that upside makes a ton of sense.
The Seattle Mariners do not have a need with J.P. Crawford coming into his own, but they could use DeJong at third base with Kyle Seager's $20 million club option almost certain to be declined. DeJong was drafted as a third baseman, so he should have no trouble making the transition.
It'd be a low-risk, high-reward move for Seattle, and it would unclog an infield logjam and help shed salary for St. Louis. Plug in any fringe member of the 40-man roster as the player going to the Cards.
Josh Donaldson Traded from MIN to MIL
To MIL: 3B Josh Donaldson, $15 million
To MIN: CF Jackie Bradley Jr., RHP Logan Henderson, OF Joey Wiemer
The Minnesota Twins are in a much different spot this offseason than they were two years ago when they signed Josh Donaldson to a four-year, $92 million deal.
After an injury-plagued 2020, Donaldson rebounded with a 127 OPS+ and 26 home runs in 135 games, tallying 3.2 WAR for a team that tumbled into the American League Central cellar.
Will the Twins be sellers?
If they do move veterans, Donaldson figures to be atop the list, and the Milwaukee Brewers showed interest in him at the trade deadline.
Luis Urias enjoyed a breakout season while playing mostly third base, but he may be more valuable to the Brewers in a super-utility role similar to Chris Taylor's with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Using a Donaldson trade to unload Jackie Bradley Jr.'s $11 million salary for 2022 would make sense, though it would also likely mean a steeper prospect cost and less money from the Twins to offset Donaldson's salary.
Logan Henderson (No. 21) and Joey Wiemer (No. 27) check in among Milwaukee's top 30 prospects.
Henderson was a fourth-round pick in 2021 and has a three-pitch repertoire that includes a swing-and-miss changeup. Wiemer hit .295/.403/.556 with 27 home runs and 77 RBI in his pro debut after he was selected in the fourth round in 2020, and he has significant raw power in his 6'5", 215-pound frame.
Kyle Freeland Traded from COL to LAA
To LAA: LHP Kyle Freeland
To COL: LHP Ryan Smith, SS Livan Soto, RHP Elvis Peguero
The Colorado Rockies have German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela locked up long-term, but they could be open to moving left-hander Kyle Freeland.
The 28-year-old has a 4.33 ERA and 114 ERA+ since the start of 2020, erasing a disastrous 2019 season in which he struggled to a 6.73 ERA in 104.1 innings. He finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2018 when he was 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA and 8.3 WAR, but he has become a back-of-the-rotation starter.
The Los Angeles Angels will no doubt aim higher in their pursuit of starting pitching, but they have pivoted to the trade market in recent years when they fail to land their top target, including the deal for Alex Cobb.
Freeland is controllable for two more years and should bring back a solid package of prospects.
Left-hander Ryan Smith had a 4.24 ERA with 153 strikeouts in 129.1 innings over four minor league levels, closing the season at Triple-A. The 24-year-old has a high floor as a reliever, but his odds of sticking as a starter have also improved.
Livan Soto is a terrific defensive shortstop with the potential to be a solid hitter, while Elvis Peguero is a two-pitch reliever with a heavy mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider who was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Andrew Heaney trade.
Again, this won't be Plan A, but it could be a fallback for the Angels to address their rotation.
Michael Fulmer Traded from DET to LAD
To LAD: RHP Michael Fulmer
To DET: SS Jacob Amaya
The Detroit Tigers are expected to be busy this offseason as they look to turn the page from rebuilding to contending, but that doesn't mean they won't also be opportunistic on the trade market.
After a string of disappointing seasons following his 2016 AL Rookie of the Year campaign, including an 8.78 ERA in 10 starts in 2020, Michael Fulmer reinvented himself as a reliever by posting a 2.97 ERA and career-high 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings with 14 saves and nine holds in 52 appearances.
The 28-year-old is set to enter his final year of arbitration eligibility, and even with a decent raise over the $3.1 million he earned, he will still be a bargain as a late-inning option.
Flipping him might offer the Tigers their best chance to maximize his value, especially if they don't intend to keep him around long-term.
The Dodgers will have work to do to retool their bullpen with Kenley Jansen, Corey Knebel and Jimmy Nelson headed for free agency. Fulmer would give them a versatile option to slot alongside Blake Treinen, Joe Kelly, Phil Bickford and Alex Vesia.
As a one-year rental with a salary that is likely to be north of $5 million, Fulmer is not going to bring back a significant return, but the Tigers should be able to pry loose a mid-level prospect.
Jacob Amaya struggled to make the jump to Double-A with a .216/.303/.343 line in 113 games, but he showed solid power (28 extra-base hits) and a good approach (10.9 percent walk rate), and he has the tools to stick at shortstop. Still just 23, he is worth a flier as a potential everyday middle infielder.
Sonny Gray Traded from CIN to BOS
To BOS: RHP Sonny Gray
To CIN: LHP Chris Murphy, OF Nick Decker, RHP Eduard Bazardo
In hindsight, the Cincinnati Reds might have already missed their best opportunity to sell high on Sonny Gray, but there will still be no shortage of interest if he's available.
The 31-year-old will earn $10.2 million in 2022 and has a $12 million club option for 2023 that does not have a buyout, so he would be a low-risk, multiyear addition. He made three trips to the injured list in 2021 but still finished with a 4.19 ERA (114 ERA+) and 155 strikeouts in 135.1 innings.
If the Reds move him, they could target MLB-ready talent given their roster and potential to contend in the wide-open National League Central.
Left-hander Chris Murphy had a 4.62 ERA with 128 strikeouts in 101.1 innings at High-A and Double-A, and with a good feel and polished four-pitch repertoire, he looks like a future middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Outfielder Nick Decker was given an above-slot $1.3 million bonus as a second-round pick in 2018 and is starting to grow into his raw power. The 22-year-old fits the type of player the Reds have targeted in their recent draft classes, such as Austin Hendrick and Rece Hinds, who have power as their carrying tool.
A good return would be two quality prospects and an MLB-ready reliever in Eduard Bazardo, who struggled in 2021 but had a 2.21 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 73.1 innings in the minors in 2019.
Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox would get a stabilizing presence to join Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale at the top of the rotation—and an insurance policy for if Eduardo Rodriguez walks in free agency.
Eric Hosmer Traded from SD to TEX
To TEX: 1B Eric Hosmer, OF Robert Hassell
To SD: RHP Spencer Patton
It's salary dump time.
The San Diego Padres still owe Eric Hosmer $60 million over the next four years on an ill-advised eight-year, $144 million contract.
The 31-year-old isn't unproductive, having posted a 104 OPS+ with 12 home runs and 65 RBI with 1.0 WAR in 151 games in 2021. However, the Padres have a crowded infield, and offloading his salary would create an opportunity to spend on pitching.
San Diego explored the idea of packaging Hosmer with top prospect Robert Hassell at the trade deadline, and it could revisit that.
The rebuilding Texas Rangers have the payroll flexibility and desire to add young talent to fit in a salary-dump deal, though it would mean shifting Hosmer or Nathaniel Lowe into an everyday designated hitter role.
Hassell, 20, checks in at No. 33 on Baseball America's Top 100 prospect list. He hit .302/.393/.470 with 48 extra-base hits and 34 steals in his pro debut this year after he was picked No. 8 in the 2020 draft, and he was widely regarded as one of the best hitters in his class.
Someone has to go the other way. Veteran reliever Spencer Patton had a 3.83 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings with two saves and 11 holds in 42 appearances. The 33-year-old had spent four seasons in Japan, so he's controllable through 2025 and could be a useful middle relief option.
Sean Manaea Traded from OAK to NYY
To NYY: LHP Sean Manaea
To OAK: RHP Hayden Wesneski, SS Oswaldo Cabrera
Don't be surprised if the Oakland Athletics trade Chris Bassitt or Sean Manaea ahead of their final years of arbitration eligibility. It's the sad reality for a cost-conscious team.
Manaea earned $6 million in 2021, which should put him in line for a salary north of $8 million after he went 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 194 strikeouts in 179.1 innings.
The 29-year-old was hit hard in August, but he righted the ship with a 3.68 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 36.2 innings over his final six starts.
The New York Yankees figure to cast a wide net in their search for starting pitching help behind Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery. Trading for Manaea would represent a short-term commitment and would not prohibit them from pursuing some of the market's top free agents as well.
What would one season of a No. 3 starter cost the Yankees?
Right-hander Hayden Wesneski enjoyed a breakout campaign, going 11-6 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 151 strikeouts in 130.1 innings over three minor league levels. A sixth-round pick in 2019, he should be ready to contribute in the majors.
Shortstop Oswaldo Cabrera is overshadowed in a system loaded with middle infield talent, but he hit .272/.330/.533 with 31 doubles, 29 home runs and 21 steals in 118 games at Double-A and Triple-A. He may fit better at second base or third base, or as an offensive-minded utility player, but his bat will play.
Two quality prospects on the cusp of the big leagues for one year of a proven starter.
Manuel Margot Traded from TB to NYM
To NYM: CF Manuel Margot
To TB: RHP Ryley Gilliam
With a $3.4 million salary and one year of arbitration eligibility remaining, Manuel Margot stands to be one of the Tampa Bay Rays' highest-paid players. That could make him a non-tender candidate—unless they can find a trade partner.
The New York Mets could fit.
Brandon Nimmo has primarily played center field over the last few seasons, but he fits better at a corner spot, and with Michael Conforto headed for free agency, there is likely to be some shuffling in the outfield.
Margot, 27, is a terrific defender who posted a 98 OPS+ with 18 doubles, 10 home runs and 13 steals in 464 plate appearances. He has always hit left-handed pitching and could at the least be a solid platoon option at a reasonable price.
Since he is a non-tender candidate, the Rays likely won't have much leverage in trade talks, but anything they can bring back would be better than cutting him for nothing.
Ryley Gilliam has been knocked around in the last two seasons, but with a high-spin fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a 60-grade curveball, he feels like the type of pitcher the Rays could target in hopes of helping him reach his ceiling.
Ketel Marte Traded from ARI to PHI
To PHI: CF Ketel Marte
To ARI: RHP Andrew Painter, OF Johan Rojas, LHP Cristopher Sanchez, C Rafael Marchan, IF Nick Maton
The Arizona Diamondbacks balked at trading Ketel Marte at the deadline, but that doesn't mean they won't move him.
"You can't push things," assistant general manager Amiel Sawdaye told reporters in early July. "You don't just want to push things through at the deadline just because it's the deadline. I do think there could be different dynamics at play in the offseason than there might be in the next three or four weeks."
Marte, 28, played just 90 games because of hamstring injuries. However, he was one of baseball's best hitters, posting a .318/.377/.532 line with 44 extra-base hits in 374 plate appearances.
He will earn a team-friendly $8 million in 2022 and has club options for $10 million in 2023 and $12 million in 2024. That remaining control makes him one of the most valuable trade chips who could be available.
For the Philadelphia Phillies, a trade for Marte to address their longtime hole in center field would need to start with Mick Abel or Andrew Painter—the team's last two first-round picks. Both are projectable prep right-handers with frontline starter potential. Pairing one of them with outfielder Johan Rojas could get the ball rolling.
"Perhaps the toolsiest player in the Phillies system," Baseball America wrote of Rojas, the team's No. 4 prospect. "[He] has the potential for four plus or better tools in his power, running, defense and arm strength."
Hard-throwing lefty Cristopher Sanchez, catcher Rafael Marchan and utility infielder Nick Maton would provide a trio of advanced pieces for a team that has prioritized MLB-readiness in recent blockbusters.
Whit Merrifield Traded from KC to SF
To SF: 2B/OF Whit Merrifield
To KC: OF Jairo Pomares, RHP Carson Ragsdale
Jayson Stark of The Athletic reported in July that the Kansas City Royals were "more open" to trading two-time All-Star Whit Merrifield this year than they had been.
The 32-year-old stayed put on his way to leading the AL in doubles (42) and stolen bases (40) while playing every game for the third straight season, but trade talks could heat up again during the offseason.
Merrifield will earn $3.0 million in 2022 in the final guaranteed year of his contract, and he has a $6.7 million club option for 2023, giving him one of the most team-friendly deals in baseball.
San Francisco Giants incumbent second baseman Donovan Solano will be a free agent, and while Tommy La Stella will be an option, the organization values versatility. Merrifield provides that with the ability to play all three outfield spots.
Would breakout prospect Jairo Pomares be enough to pique Kansas City's interest?
The 21-year-old hit .334/.378/.629 with 27 doubles and 20 home runs in 77 games at Single-A and High-A, but with Heliot Ramos, Luis Matos and Hunter Bishop also in the farm system, the Giants can deal from a position of strength.
Right-hander Carson Ragsdale was another standout with 167 strikeouts in 113.2 innings at Single-A. He has to refine his command, but his swing-and-miss stuff is impossible to ignore.
Would those two keep the Royals on the phone?
Franmil Reyes Traded from CLE to TOR
To TOR: DH Franmil Reyes
To CLE: IF/OF Otto Lopez, RHP Bowden Francis, OF Will Robertson
A name change to the Guardians does not mean Cleveland will suddenly stop pinching pennies. A year after shocking more than a few people with their decision to decline a $10 million club option on three-time All-Star closer Brad Hand, they could look for ways to save once again.
Slugger Franmil Reyes is set for his first year of arbitration, and that means a significant raise over the $602,400 he earned. The arbitration system rewards power production, and he posted a 127 OPS+ with 30 home runs and 85 RBI in 115 games.
That could be reason enough for Cleveland to shop him, and he would be a great fit in the middle of the Toronto Blue Jays lineup, which stands to lose Marcus Semien and his 45 home runs. In fact, Edwin Encarnacion was a similar player, and he thrived with Toronto.
The Blue Jays should be able to get a deal done without giving up Gabriel Moreno, Jordan Groshans or Orelvis Martinez.
Infielder Otto Lopez hit .315/.379/.437 with 41 extra-base hits in 113 games at Double-A and Triple-A, climbing to the No. 7 spot among Toronto prospects. He could contribute immediately.
High-floor right-hander Bowden Francis went 10-6 with a 3.95 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 110 strikeouts in 111.2 innings in the upper levels of the minors, while outfielder Will Robertson has huge raw power potential that remains largely untapped since he was selected in the fourth round of the 2019 draft.
Joe Ross Traded from WAS to CWS
To CWS: RHP Joe Ross
To WAS: OF Micker Adolfo, RHP Luke Shilling
With Carlos Rodon headed for a significant payday in free agency, the Chicago White Sox could be in the market for a starting pitcher.
With Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and the rising Dylan Cease, along with veteran Dallas Keuchel, they don't need to target a top-of-the-rotation arm.
Joe Ross posted a 4.17 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with 109 strikeouts in 108 innings, and he would slot nicely at the back of the South Siders rotation as a short-term option who will reach free agency for the first time following the 2022 season. He earned $1.5 million this year, so he won't break the bank in his final year of arbitration eligibility.
Outfielder Micker Adolfo returned from injury-plagued seasons in 2018 and 2019 to post an .832 OPS with 24 doubles and 25 home runs in 101 games in the upper levels of the minors.
The 25-year-old does not have a clear path to playing time with Chicago, and he'll be out of minor league options next year, so flipping him to the rebuilding Washington Nationals would present an opportunity for playing time. He has the potential to be an everyday player, and a change of scenery may prove beneficial.
Right-hander Luke Shilling is a reliever who finally made his pro debut after he was picked in the 15th round of the 2018 draft. He posted a 2.95 ERA and 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 16 appearances at High-A and could be a late bloomer as a quality bullpen arm.
Cole Sulser Traded from BAL to ATL
To ATL: RHP Cole Sulser
To BAL: RHP Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP Daysbel Hernandez
Bright spots were few and far between for the Baltimore Orioles, but reliever Cole Sulser put together a solid season as their de facto closer.
The 31-year-old had a 2.70 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 63.1 innings, converting eight of 11 save chances in 60 appearances. His 2.4 WAR tied for 12th among relievers.
Despite his age, Sulser is controllable through the 2025 season, and that adds to his value.
The Atlanta Braves have a solid late-inning trio in closer Will Smith and setup relievers Luke Jackson and Tyler Matzek, but veterans Chris Martin and Jesse Chavez will be free agents, and the middle relief roles will need to be sorted out.
It's unlikely Sulser is going to be part of the next contending Orioles team, so selling high on him for a couple of midlevel prospects would be a logical move.
Right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz has a fastball that bumps triple digits and a quality slider and changeup, but he struggled to a 7.03 ERA in 56.1 innings. Rolling the dice on him could pay huge dividends.
Daysbel Hernandez is a hard-throwing reliever who posted a 3.83 ERA and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 36 appearances in the upper levels of the minors. With improved command, he could be a high-leverage reliever in the near future.