Top 10 MLB Players Most Likely to Be Traded in 2022

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 20, 2022

Top 10 MLB Players Most Likely to Be Traded in 2022

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    Derrick Tuskan/Associated Press

    Optimistically speaking, each day that passes hopefully brings us closer to the end of Major League Baseball's lockout and all that entails. Namely, the start of spring training and the reopening of the offseason markets.

    For the trade market, we've come up with a list of the top 10 players who are likely to be traded in 2022. For some of them, it might even be a "sooner rather than later" scenario.

    Please note that this list is not the same as our one for players who could wind up on the block by the trade deadline. The likelihood of them being traded is more so defined by the word "could," whereas this list leans closer to "will."

    We'll count them down in order of how desirable they are as trade targets based on their talent, age and contract status.

10. 1B/RF Garrett Cooper, Miami Marlins

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    2021 Stats: 71 G, 250 PA, 9 HR, 1 SB, .284 AVG, .380 OBP, .465 SLG, 129 OPS+, 1.1 rWAR

    Contract Status: 2nd-Year Arbitration-Eligible

    To our knowledge, there haven't been any actual reports that the Miami Marlins will be shopping Garrett Cooper. But as TC Zencka of MLB Trade Rumors noted in December, he sure looks like a trade candidate.

    Though Cooper has a 117 OPS+ for the last three seasons, that's over a modest sample of 212 games. He's fought a near-constant battle with injuries, including an elbow sprain that required season-ending surgery last July.

    In theory, such things make Cooper a candidate to serve as the Marlins' everyday designated hitter in 2022. But the team has other options (i.e., Brian Anderson, Jesus Sanchez and Lewin Diaz), and the list will only grow if general manager Kim Ng finds the additional outfielder she reportedly desires.

    Because Cooper is north of 30 and limited defensively, he won't be worth a king's ransom if the Marlins do make him available. But especially considering that the number of everyday DH roles is about to double, at least one club might see him as an upside play.

9. SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Texas Rangers

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    2021 Stats: 158 G, 677 PA, 8 HR, 20 SB, .271 AVG, .312 OBP, .357 SLG, 85 OPS+, 3.7 rWAR

    Contract Status: 2nd-Year Arbitration-Eligible

    According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the possibility exists that the Texas Rangers will trade Isiah Kiner-Falefa before spring training gives way to the regular season.

    Though not quite a guarantee, the idea passes muster for two reasons: The Rangers recently added a far better shortstop off the free-agent market, and they may soon also find a better option for third base from within.

    The former is of course Corey Seager, who bumped Kiner-Falefa from short to the hot corner as soon as he signed his 10-year, $325 million contract. Health permitting, the other is Josh Jung. He's an offensively gifted prospect who we ranked as baseball's No. 25 talent at the end of the 2021 season.

    Though Kiner-Falefa has the feeble bat of a utility infielder, his Gold Glove-winning defensive ability at shortstop would be wasted in such a role. As to the potential market for him, Grant and SNY's Andy Martino identified at least one interested party in December: the New York Yankees.

8. CF Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Age: 31

    2021 Stats: 122 G, 390 PA, 4 HR, 9 SB, .259 AVG, .328 OBP, .388 SLG, 104 OPS+, 3.4 rWAR

    Contract Status: $12.2 Million Salary (2022), $13 Million Team Option/$2.5 Million Buyout (2023)

    Kevin Kiermaier has been manning center field for the Tampa Bay Rays on a regular basis since 2014, yet it's come to that point where the Rays have to consider offloading him to save money.

    This is according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. In January, he reported that Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander even called Kiermaier before the lockout to inform him of trade talks.

    For now, Kiermaier is still penciled in as Tampa Bay's everyday center fielder. Yet the Rays have our 62nd-ranked prospect, Josh Lowe, standing by to take that role. When he does, he'll make a fraction of what Kiermaier is set to earn in 2022.

    Despite questions looming over Kiermaier's bat and injury history—the latter of which includes arthroscopic knee surgery in November—the three-time Gold Glover is still an impact player on defense. Per Matt Gelb of The Athletic, the Philadelphia Phillies were interested prior to the lockout.

7. RHP Craig Kimbrel, Chicago White Sox

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Age: 33

    2021 Stats: 63 G, 43 GF, 59.2 IP, 31 H (6 HR), 100 K, 23 BB, 2.26 ERA, 191 ERA+, 2.5 rWAR

    Contract Status: $16 Million Salary (2022)

    Though the Chicago White Sox opted to exercise Craig Kimbrel's $16 million option for 2022 in November, it wasn't long after that GM Rick Hahn opened the door to moving him.

    "What we have to figure out is if it makes the most sense to have Craig in a White Sox uniform going forward," he told reporters, "or is there a better use of that spot and him perhaps via trade."

    Kimbrel, who owns 372 career saves and the highest strikeout rate in history, was riding high when the White Sox acquired him from the crosstown Cubs last July. But he crashed and burned on the South Side. He was scored upon in nine of 24 outings, compared to five of 39 on the North Side.

    Given that he's historically been better in save situations (1.94 ERA) than in non-save situations (2.67 ERA), it didn't help that Kimbrel was working outside his comfort zone as a setup man for Liam Hendriks. Rest assured, this won't be lost on teams that have a greater need in the ninth inning than the White Sox.

6. 1B/LF Dominic Smith, New York Mets

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    2021 Stats: 145 G, 493 PA, 11 HR, 2 SB, .244 AVG, .303 OBP, .363 SLG, 84 OPS+, minus-0.7 rWAR

    Contract Status: 1st-Year Arbitration-Eligible

    It wasn't a secret before the lockout that the New York Mets had Dominic Smith and Jeff McNeil to offer in trades. And according to Mike Puma of the New York Post, the expectation within the industry is that at least one of them will get moved on the other side of the lockout.

    Between the two, Smith looks like the bigger dice-roll.

    The left-handed swinger was, after all, pretty bad with the stick in 2021. He's also not what you'd call "athletic." So even though he's plenty experienced in left field, his profile is more so that of a first baseman or a designated hitter.

    On the plus side, Smith played in a career-high 145 games last season. And while he didn't maintain the excellent 150 OPS+ he had across 2019 and 2020, his underlying metrics suggest he was unlucky. He's more than worth a flier for any offense-needy club, even if the cost is a controllable arm.

5. INF/OF Jeff McNeil, New York Mets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    2021 Stats: 120 G, 426 PA, 7 HR, 3 SB, .251 AVG, .319 OBP, .360 SLG, 88 OPS+, 1.4 rWAR

    Contract Status: 1st-Year Arbitration-Eligible

    If they feel like they can trust Robinson Cano at second base, the Mets could just as easily keep Smith for themselves and use him as their everyday DH.

    Trouble is, that would create an awkward scenario for McNeil. Though he could conceivably work on a platoon basis with J.D. Davis at third base and Mark Canha in left field, all three players are a bit too good to be stricken with part-time duties.

    Of course, this is assuming that 2021 isn't representative of McNeil's true offensive abilities. That's debatable as far as his power is concerned, as he's now hit just 14 home runs combined when you factor out the 23 that he launched in 2019. But if nothing else, he remains an excellent bat-to-ball hitter with a decent eye for the strike zone.

    Factor in how McNeil is also a capable defender at multiple positions, and he probably has an even better chance of bringing back the arm the Mets need than Smith does.

4. RHP Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    Age: 32

    2021 Stats: 26 G, 26 GS, 135.1 IP, 115 H (19 HR), 155 K, 50 BB, 4.19 ERA, 114 ERA+, 3.4 rWAR

    Contract Status: $10.2 Million Salary (2022), $12 Million Team Option (2023)

    Though the Cincinnati Reds made good on their intent to scale back payroll, their 2022 payroll is only projected to be $5 million less than what they spent in 2021. It's possible more cuts are forthcoming.

    As such, it's not a coincidence that Sonny Gray is both more expensive and reportedly more available than fellow ace right-handers Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle.

    Gray has taken a couple of steps back since the Reds rehabilitated him into an All-Star in 2019. It's likewise a red flag that MLB's ban on sticky stuff coincided with a drop in his average spin rate, from 2,573 RPM before the ban to 2,433 RPM after it.

    On the whole, though, it's also apparent that Gray deserved better results last season. That plus his track record are reason enough for teams to still view him as a top-of-the-rotation starter. Way back in the first half of November, the Los Angeles Dodgers were reportedly such a team.

3. LHP Sean Manaea, Oakland Athletics

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    2021 Stats: 32 G, 32 GS, 179.1 IP, 179 H (25 HR), 194 K, 41 BB, 3.91 ERA, 104 ERA+, 3.2 rWAR

    Contract Status: 3rd-Year Arbitration-Eligible

    As they're reportedly open to trading just about anyone, this whole list frankly could have been comprised of members of the Oakland Athletics.

    Among Oakland's most likely goners, though, are the team's first baseman (more on him soon) and two of its top starting pitchers: Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea.

    Though the latter is younger than the former, Manaea nonetheless comes with questions pertaining to his upside. He's put up a roughly average 101 ERA+ across the last two seasons, and his walk rate was his only outstanding peripheral metric in 2021.

    Yet last year also marked three years since Manaea underwent shoulder surgery, and it showed as he got his fastball up to roughly a pre-surgery average of 92.2 mph. For a prospect or two, he's worth renting out for his final season before free agency.

2. RHP Chris Bassitt, Oakland Athletics

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    Jason Redmond/Associated Press

    Age: 32

    2021 Stats: 27 G, 27 GS, 157.1 IP, 127 H (15 HR), 159 K, 39 BB, 3.15 ERA, 130 ERA+, 4.0 rWAR

    Contract Status: 3rd-Year Arbitration-Eligible

    The A's and Bassitt were dealt a real scare last August when he was hit in the head by a line drive. Thankfully, he recovered quickly enough to take the mound again in September.

    Expanding the scope a little wider, Bassitt has quietly been one of baseball's most effective pitchers over the last four seasons. His 129 ERA+ ranks ahead of even Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell among hurlers who've tossed at least 400 innings.

    Considering that Bassitt's stuff is elite neither in terms of velocity nor spin, this shouldn't make sense. Yet he's a good case study in how pitching simply works differently in real life. To watch him work is to see a craftsman who can read hitters and beat them with location, movement and velocity differential.

    So unless the Reds loosen Castillo's availability, Bassitt figures to top Gray and Manaea as the best starting pitcher to be had on the other side of the lockout.

1. 1B Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    2021 Stats: 156 G, 673 PA, 39 HR, 4 SB, .271 AVG, .371 OBP, .540 SLG, 153 OPS+, 5.8 rWAR

    Contract Status: 2nd-Year Arbitration-Eligible

    Anyone in the market for a prime-aged first baseman with two Gold Gloves and enough power to produce 35-to-40 home runs?

    If so, you might want to consider Matt Olson over Freddie Freeman.

    To be sure, Freeman has Olson beat in terms of experience and accolades. But Olson is younger by five years, and what he makes over the next two years might not even match what Freeman will make on an annual basis once a team finally scoops him off the free-agent market.

    A plethora of teams have been linked to Olson, including the Rangers (by Grant), Atlanta (by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic) and the Yankees (by Brendan Kuty of NJ.com). So regardless of what happens with Freeman, things are ripe for the A's to get a haul and for another team to get arguably baseball's best first basemen.

         

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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