The 10 Best Trade Chips in MLB for 2022 SeasonApril 11, 2022
The 10 Best Trade Chips in MLB for 2022 Season
The 2022 Major League Baseball season only just started Thursday, but dare we say it's never too soon to start thinking about the season within the season.
That's right. The one in which the trades happen.
In preparation for the summer trade season, we've taken an early look at the 10 best potential trade chips in the game right now. Because it seems pointless to discuss, say, Mike Trout and Wander Franco, this is not to be confused for a list of the 10 players with the most trade value.
Rather, we focused on players with decent-to-high probabilities of finding their way onto the trading block between now and the deadline on Aug. 2. They're talented, cost-controlled players on rebuilders and fringe contenders, and thus only likely to be part of a playoff run if they end up elsewhere.
We'll start with the least likely trade candidate and go from there.
Note: It's early yet in 2022, so all career stats are current as of the end of the 2021 season.
CF Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates
Career Stats: 348 G, 1,400 PA, 47 HR, 9 SB, .290 AVG, .368 OBP, .490 SLG, 128 OPS+, 10.6 rWAR
Contract Status: Under club control through 2025
After several years of rebuilding, the Pittsburgh Pirates have established one of the 10 best farm systems in baseball. Hope, therefore, is on the horizon.
This is arguably reason enough to believe that Bryan Reynolds will stick around through 2025. Maybe even longer, if the Pirates stay in the same extension-friendly mood that resulted in a franchise-record $70 million contract with Ke'Bryan Hayes last week.
But after making a run at the National League Rookie of the Year in 2019 and earning an All-Star berth in 2021, Reynolds' market value is quite a bit more than $70 million. Certainly, it's a lot higher than when the Pirates attempted to extend him prior to 2021.
To their credit, the Pirates aren't leaving the 27-year-old in the dark about the possibility of a trade. As he said in March, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "They've told me they'll listen. That's their job. They have to do that. But nothing in terms of what [a trade] might look like."
The Pirates reportedly had a Julio Rodriguez-sized price tag on Reynolds last summer. Steep, to be sure, but arguably not too steep for a capable center fielder who also hits .300 with power.
C Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
Career Stats: 621 G, 2,372 PA, 95 HR, 18 SB, .259 AVG, .349 OBP, .458 SLG, 112 OPS+, 16.9 rWAR
Contract Status: Under club control through 2022
There's at least one problem with assuming Willson Contreras will end up on the block: The Chicago Cubs, who are 2-1 to start the season, might actually be good.
They did lose 91 games a year ago, but then they did a thing known as "making an effort" during the offseason. Even if they still have long odds to make the playoffs, they're undeniably better after making big splashes on Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman and smaller splashes on Wade Miley, Yan Gomes and others.
Further, it's not out of the question that the Cubs will agree to an extension with Contreras during the season. Contrary to Aaron Judge, he didn't set a deadline to get something done before the team's opener.
Even still, possibilities are not likelihoods. There should be no mistake that the Cubs have a good chance of flopping again, and of Contreras not being overly keen on signing an extension with free agency so close.
Good catching is always hard to find, so teams would surely line up to rent a 29-year-old who's consistently been one of the best at the position since his debut in 2016. For the Cubs, that could mean a return with at least one top-100 prospect.
LF David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks
Career Stats: 874 G, 3,418 PA, 98 HR, 32 SB, .286 AVG, .342 OBP, .463 SLG, 111 OPS+, 14.4 rWAR
Contract Status: Signed through 2022
Following their 110-loss campaign in 2021, it seemed inevitable that the Arizona Diamondbacks would look to trade core players like Zac Gallen, Carson Kelly, Merrill Kelly and even Ketel Marte.
Now? A lot less so. After expressing a desire to keep their "cornerstone-type players," the Snakes have since put their money where their mouth is by extending Marte and Merrill Kelly. They may yet do the same with Carson Kelly and Gallen, who are controlled through 2024 and 2025, respectively.
It's nonetheless hard to envision Arizona being in anything other than sell mode come the deadline, in which case the team at least figures to rent out David Peralta before his contract expires.
Granted, he isn't the same guy who slugged 30 home runs in 2018 and then won a Gold Glove in 2019. He's 34 years old and coming off a difficult offensive season marked by a .259 average and eight homers over 150 games.
Nonetheless, Peralta remains a capable defender who at least offers a good bat-to-ball skill on offense. If he's able to resuscitate some of his power as 2022 goes along, he'll be worth something in a trade.
LF Andrew Benintendi, Kansas City Royals
Career Stats: 619 G, 2,642 PA, 68 HR, 61 SB, .274 AVG, .347 OBP, .437 SLG, 107 OPS+, 12.5 rWAR
Contract Status: Under club control through 2022
A few years from now, we're likely to look at the arrival of No. 1 prospect Bobby Witt Jr. as the dawn of a new era for the Kansas City Royals.
Even after winning the first two games of their season, though, the Royals still look like a team in need of further rebuilding. It would be a big help if veterans like Carlos Santana and Zack Greinke were to boost their trade value, as either could be a sought-after rental on the summer market.
In the meantime, the Royals have at least one relatively shiny trade chip in Andrew Benintendi.
After his stock tanked amid a brutal year with the Boston Red Sox in 2020, the 27-year-old found redemption on both sides of the balls with the Royals in 2021. On defense, by winning his first Gold Glove for his work in left field. On offense, by hitting a respectable .276 with 17 home runs.
As such, Benintendi is basically a younger, slightly better version of Peralta. If he's also able to boost his power production as the season moves along, all the more so.
DH Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles
Career Stats: 609 G, 2,532 PA, 107 HR, 2 SB, .271 AVG, .333 OBP, .472 SLG, 115 OPS+, 8.1 rWAR
Contract Status: Under club control through 2022
There were times throughout the offseason when Cedric Mullins' and John Means' names briefly popped up on the rumor mill, and there's perhaps a non-zero chance that either or both will move this summer.
And yet, it doesn't feel quite right to put the Baltimore Orioles in the same boat as the Pirates. Or at least, not the same part of it. The O's have been rebuilding for longer, and they're likely to have Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez on their roster before the season is out.
But if not Mullins (controlled through 2025) or Means (2024), the Orioles could look to move Trey Mancini before free agency calls his number at the end of the year.
Dan Connolly of The Athletic is right about how trading Mancini, who won Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2021 after beating colon cancer, would be an unpopular move. Instead, the Orioles could try to extend him so he can stick as a clubhouse leader and middle-of-the-order threat.
Baseball is a business, though, so the O's are much more likely to field offers for Mancini if this season fails to produce a surprise playoff push. If he recaptures the form that led him to a 134 OPS+ and 35 home runs in 2019, such offers could be quite substantial.
1B Josh Bell and DH Nelson Cruz, Washington Nationals
Bell's Career Stats: 696 G, 2,759 PA, 113 HR, 4 SB, .261 AVG, .348 OBP, .468 SLG, 118 OPS+, 6.0 rWAR
Cruz's Career Stats: 1,882 G, 7,737 PA, 449 HR, 79 SB, .277 AVG, .346 OBP, .527 SLG, 133 OPS+, 42.4 rWAR
Contract Status: Bell under club control through 2022; Cruz signed for 2022, with 2023 mutual option
After a 97-loss season in 2021, the rebuild is officially on in Washington...er, sorry. Make that "reboot."
Whatever the case, good on the Nationals for adding some heft to their lineup by signing Nelson Cruz after the lockout. The 41-year-old finally began to show his age with the Tampa Bay Rays in the latter half of 2021, yet he still crossed the 30-homer plateau for the eighth time in his career.
For his part, Josh Bell will also be one of the heftier hitters in the Nationals lineup if he maintains the form that led him to an .887 OPS and 15 home runs after the All-Star break in 2021. He's off to a good start in this regard, going 4-for-13 with a home run in Washington's opening series.
Though Washington technically has a non-zero chance of making the playoffs, 1.2 percent is pretty close to zero. The likely path before them is pointed squarely toward a second straight selloff at the trade deadline.
Neither Bell nor Cruz might be worth a top-100 talent as rental trade options. But as the Minnesota Twins can vouch, you don't necessarily have to land a top-100 guy in order to find an important contributor.
RHPs Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle, Cincinnati Reds
Castillo's Career Stats: 123 GS, 707.1 IP, 604 H (85 HR), 770 K, 259 BB, 3.72 ERA, 123 ERA+, 15.2 rWAR
Mahle's Career Stats: 94 GS, 489.1 IP, 472 H (77 HR), 523 K, 183 BB, 4.34 ERA, 106 ERA+, 7.2 rWAR
Contract Status: Both under club control through 2023
In case anyone's forgotten, here's a complete list of players who got traded by the Cincinnati Reds during the offseason:
- C Tucker Barnhart
- LHP Amir Garrett
- RHP Sonny Gray
- 3B Eugenio Suarez
- LF Jesse Winker
In the wake of a fire sale like that, it's shocking that the Reds have the third-best playoff odds among NL Central clubs. But even as "good" as their odds are, we're still talking less than a 10 percent chance.
Because both are controlled through next season, the Reds won't be obligated to trade Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle if they indeed fall out of the race. However, the market might not give them much of a choice if the interest in both players was as strong as it was during the winter.
Though he's currently sidelined with a shoulder injury, the 29-year-old Castillo is a known commodity as a hard-throwing ace. Mahle, 27, was nonetheless the more valuable pitcher across 2020 and 2021. If he stays on that track, he could have just as much (if not more so) capability of fetching a haul in a trade.
RHP Frankie Montas, Oakland Athletics
Career Stats: 72 GS, 448.0 IP, 432 H (54 HR), 469 K, 153 BB, 3.86 ERA, 108 ERA+, 5.9 rWAR
Contract Status: Under club control through 2023
We did it for the Reds, so it's only fair to also present a reminder for players traded by the Oakland Athletics:
- RHP Chris Bassitt
- 3B Matt Chapman
- LHP Sean Manaea
- 1B Matt Olson
A shorter list, perhaps, but certainly a more impressive one. Chapman and Olson are as good on the corners as they come. Bassitt is an All-Star hurler. Manaea has one no-hitter to his name, and he nearly made it two in his first start with the San Diego Padres.
If the A's are comfortable parting with players like this in the name of restarting their "cycle," then there are others who shouldn't get too comfortable. Namely, Lou Trivino, Ramon Laureano and especially Frankie Montas.
Because of an 80-game suspension in 2019 and a down year in 2020, Montas was a non-factor for a while there. That changed as he put up a 3.37 ERA over 187 innings in 2021, which even earned the 29-year-old Cy Young Award votes.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the A's would like to get Andrew Vaughn if they were to trade Montas to the Chicago White Sox. That's apparently a no-go, but a similarly young and controllable major leaguer may yet be a possibility for them in talks with other teams.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.