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As we roll toward Christmas and the dawn of 2019, multiple high-end MLB free agents remain on the market. That includes franchise-altering talents such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
The availability of big-ticket FAs won’t quell trade speculation or action, however. Plenty of impact players are theoretically available via swap, at the right return.
Let’s examine 11 particularly intriguing names in (roughly) ascending order of the chances they’ll be dealt. We’ll also list the top three suitors for each player along with those squads’ respective odds of acquiring him. In each case, more teams could easily jump in; trades are fickle. But we’re throwing out some plausible options.
Suitors’ odds rise with players who are more likely to be traded.
Odds are generated by Bleacher Report and are more informed speculation than hard science. We based them on each club’s needs and resources, any credible rumors and a hefty helping of gut feeling.
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The Arizona Diamondbacks seemingly hung out a “for sale” sign when they traded first baseman and franchise cornerstone Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals. Now, speculation is swirling around other D-backs veterans, including left-hander Robbie Ray and righty Zack Greinke.
We’ll discuss Greinke soon, but for now let’s consider Ray. He was an All-Star and top-seven National League Cy Young Award finisher in 2017. In 2018, he missed time with injuries—including a strained oblique and a concussion—but averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings in 123.2 frames.
He’s entering his age-27 season and is under team control through 2020. Any number of teams would leap at the chance to grab him. But Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen insisted that the Goldschmidt trade doesn’t mean Arizona is initiating a fire sale.
“We don’t have to have everything done by this offseason,” Hazen said, per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. “We don’t have to rush into something if we don’t feel like it’s the right thing to do. I’m not ruling anything out, but I think we have time to think through what we’re doing and make sure what we’re doing is best.”
Virtually every team with a prayer of contending could use a bat-missing arm such as Ray. That fact that he’s projected to earn just $6.1 million in salary arbitration for 2019, according to MLB Trade Rumors, makes him even more attractive. Per Piecoro, the team has correctly set a “really high bar” for any deal.
New York Yankees
The Yankees need starting pitching, even after acquiring James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners. They could wow the Diamondbacks with a package built around infielder and American League Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar, who may be best suited defensively at first base going forward. And hey, the D-backs just traded their first baseman.
The Braves blossomed ahead of schedule in 2018 and won the National League East. They could also use a boost to a starting rotation and could trade from a stacked farm system Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter ranked No. 2 in the game.
San Diego Padres
We know the Padres have shown interest in New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard, as we’ll get into. If they’re willing to trade from their No. 1-ranked system for an ace, they’d surely be willing to engage the Diamondbacks and maybe even blow their doors off, provided Arizona was willing to trade within the division.
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Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto loves to trade. He’s proved that during his tenure at the helm in Seattle and solidified it this offseason with deals that have shipped out ace James Paxton, closer Edwin Diaz and shortstop Jean Segura and brought back veteran slugger Edwin Encarnacion, among others.
The M’s are open for business. Might they move outfielder Mitch Haniger?
He’s entering his age-28 season and made his first All-Star team in 2018 with 26 homers and an .859 OPS. He logged innings at all three outfield spots and posted nine defensive runs saved in right field, his primary position. He won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2020 and can’t become a free agent until 2023.
Needless to say, Dipoto would ask for the moon and the stars. According to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, “The Mariners are willing to listen [on Haniger], but they want a sizable player/prospect return of three to four players, including two high-level prospects, including a pitcher.”
That’s steep. Seattle is under no obligation to trade him, given the years of controllability. But with Dipoto picking up the phone…who knows?
The Rockies have holes to fill in the outfield and are trying to remain competitive after grabbing a second consecutive wild-card berth in 2018. They’d have to raid the top tier of the farm system and might even have to part with an MLB player such as shortstop Trevor Story, who could theoretically be replaced by top prospect Brendan Rodgers. This is a long shot, but it’s not implausible.
With veteran Nick Markakis on the market, the Braves have an obvious need in the outfield. They also, as mentioned, have a deep farm system chock-full of pieces that would boost Seattle’s nascent rebuild/retool. Haniger would be an intriguing fit next to slick-fielding center fielder Ender Inciarte and budding superstar left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr.
The Indians just watched Michael Brantley sign a two-year, $32 million deal with the Houston Astros, per Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan. They need outfield depth and would covet a cost-controlled young player like Haniger. Enough to part with an arm from the top of their rotation, such as Trevor Bauer? Dipoto would surely at least listen.
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The Detroit Tigers don’t have a lot of marquee trade assets, but they’re in the midst of a rebuild and should explore all options to build their farm system.
You have to squint to call Michael Fulmer a “blockbuster” trade target after he went 3-12 with a 4.69 ERA in 2018.
On the other hand, Fulmer was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2016 and an All-Star in 2017. He’s entering his age-26 season and is controllable through 2022. Plenty of suitors would pay for the promise of a change-of-scenery bounce-back.
There haven’t been many recent, credible rumors surrounding Fumer, though he’s generated “aggressive [trade] interest” in the past, as Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press noted in September.
The Tigers will probably hold on to Fulmer at least until the 2019 non-waiver trade deadline and hope he rebuilds his value. But who knows? As this winter’s pitching market narrows, it’s not impossible to imagine someone will take a chance on the Detroit righty.
To repeat: The Braves could use more starting pitching. They have a robust farm system and could probably entice the Tigers while hanging on to their top prospects. If this isn’t a match now, it could certainly be in July 2019.
San Diego Padres
The Padres play in a pitchers’ park, which could boost Fulmer’s comeback chances. They’ve got shiny prospects aplenty. And their window of contention isn’t quite open, which would make Fulmer’s years of controllability attractive.
Old dealin’ Dipoto pops up yet again. Somehow, this feels like the kind of trade he’d love to make, buying low on a young pitcher with star potential. Call it a hunch, but there may well be some Fulmer-to-Seattle chatter before the winter is over.
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The New York Mets have spent the winter adding pieces. Most recently, they signed catcher Wilson Ramos to a two-year, $19 million pact, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and Jon Heyman of Fancred. So why would they trade star right-hander Noah Syndergaard?
They may not. They’ll correctly command a Norse god’s ransom. But there have been enough rumors and rumblings this winter to suggest Thor could be had for the right price.
He’s had his share of injury woes over the past two years and has never thrown more than 183.2 innings in a season. But his upside is obviously sky-high, and he’s among the most electric arms in the game.
For the right return, the Mets might be willing to part ways with Syndergaard.
A deal within the division might turn the Mets off. And New York would probably ask for one of the Braves’ young MLB stars as well as prospects, which might turn Atlanta off. But there’s a theoretical fit here, given the Braves’ need for pitching and their wealth of controllable talent.
New York Yankees
The three-team trade chatter involving the Mets, Miami Marlins and New York Yankees with Syndergaard supposedly in the mix has fizzled. But it suggested the Yanks might be willing to get bold and creative for a pitcher of Syndergaard’s caliber. They’ve already traded for James Paxton and re-signed J.A. Happ. Thor going from Queens to the Bronx sounds far-fetched, but it’s clearly not unthinkable.
San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres have been connected to Syndergaard by multiple rumors this offseason, including this one from Rosenthal. The Pads have the pieces to get a deal done and would have Syndergaard through 2021, when they could be ready to contend. The Mets, meanwhile, wouldn’t have the sting of trading him to their Big Apple rival or within the NL East. The safe bet is for Syndergaard to stay put, but don’t rule this out.
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The San Francisco Giants and new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi are in a tough spot. On the one hand, they’re a prime candidate for a tear-it-down rebuild after another losing season. On the other hand, their roster isn’t laden with highly tradeable assets.
One exception? Left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
The southpaw is a postseason legend and is signed for an affordable $12 million in 2019. Yes, he’s coming off a bit of a down year that was marred by injury, mostly a broken pinkie suffered during spring training.
But any team with a need in its rotation and October aspirations would be willing to part with top-level talent for a full season of MadBum.
There’s a good chance the Giants will keep Bumgarner at least until July. If they’re sunk in the standings and he’s pitching to his pedigree, they could get plenty for him at that point. But don’t discount the possibility of a trade this winter if Zaidi elicits the right offer.
The Astros have holes to fill in their starting rotation with Dallas Keuchel on the market, Charlie Morton now signed with the Tampa Bay Rays and Lance McCullers Jr. lost to Tommy John surgery. The Giants might demand either outfielder Kyle Tucker or right-hander Forrest Whitley, the Astros’ top two prospects. The ‘Stros would probably balk, but the immediate temptation for another title with Bumgarner leading the charge can’t be discounted.
Sensing a pattern? The Braves could use a playoff-tested stud on their young roster. They could dazzle the Giants with young chips. And Bumgarner, a North Carolina native, could return to his Southern roots. The two sides haven’t popped up together in many rumors, but the pieces align.
The Brewers enter 2019 as legitimate World Series hopefuls. They lack a bona fide ace, however, which is where Bumgarner comes in. This isn’t mere speculation; the Brewers were linked to Bumgarner by MLB.com’s Jon Morosi in November. The talks were “preliminary,” per Morosi, and the cost-conscious Brew Crew may not want to part with the amount of young talent it would take to land Bumgarner. Still, there’s a possible match here.
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As mentioned, Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen has downplayed the idea that the Paul Goldschmidt trade signals a full-blown fire sale in Arizona.
Surely, though, Hazen will listen to offers on right-hander Zack Greinke.
Greinke is owed $104.5 million through 2021. Any team that acquired him would rightly ask for the Diamondbacks to absorb some of that cash.
Greinke remains an effective, top-of-the-rotation pitcher. He eclipsed 200 innings for the fourth time in the past five years in 2018 and posted a 3.21 ERA.
The sticking point might be money, but if Hazen and the D-backs could shed even a portion of his salary and get some value in return, they’d be foolish not to consider it.
New York Yankees
The New York Yankees showed their willingness to take on big contracts with last winter’s acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton. That’s not a perfect parallel to Greinke by any means, and the Yankees are on Greinke’s 15-team no-trade list. But they’ve also been mentioned in the Greinke rumblings, including by MLB.com’s David Adler. There are impediments, but this isn’t impossible.
We outlined why the ‘Stros need a starting pitcher or two. If they want to keep their elite prospects and are willing to take on some salary, they could make a play for Greinke. And Houston isn’t on the right-hander’s no-trade list.
Los Angeles Angels
Now here’s an intriguing fit. The Los Angeles Angels are desperate to build a winner around Mike Trout before he hits free agency following the 2020 season. The Halos need starting pitching. They’re on Greinke’s no-trade list, but a chance to return to SoCal and play for the greater L.A. area’s other team might have appeal. And if the Angels offer enough monetary relief, they wouldn’t have to decimate a farm system they’ve worked to rebuild.
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The New York Mets and Miami Marlins were engaged in protracted trade talks for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, but the “price was too high [and] they bailed,” per Andy Martino of SNY. The Mets’ signing of Wilson Ramos further cements that assertion.
That doesn’t mean Realmuto won’t be moved this winter. The Marlins are asking a lot because he’s entering his age-28 season, posted an .825 OPS in 2018 and has two years of club control remaining. We also know Miami is willing to make trades after last winter’s sell-a-thon.
It’s possible Derek Jeter and company will refuse to budge in negotiations, other teams will bail as the Mets did and Realmuto will remain in South Beach.
But catchers of this caliber don’t become available every offseason. Given that fact and Miami’s rebuilding status, don’t assume the failed swap with New York ended the Realmuto sweepstakes.
The Rockies haven’t been extensively connected to Realmuto, but their catchers slashed .206/.307/.349 while playing half their games at Coors Field in 2018. Miami would probably demand top prospect Brendan Rodgers and more, which could torpedo a deal.
The Brewers have a need behind the dish. If they don’t expend their trade chips on starting pitching, they could toss them at Miami for Realmuto. Would they be willing to part with top prospects Keston Hiura and Corey Ray? If so, they could move the Marlins’ needle.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Yes, the Dodgers have promising catching prospects at the top of their system. Granted, they could go the free-agent route and re-sign Yasmani Grandal. But L.A. is in full-blown win-now mode after losing a second straight World Series. The Dodgers have a gaping hole behind the plate, and arguably the best catcher in the game is available at the right (steep) price. They might pay it, even if that means moving outfielder Alex Verdugo and more.
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Sonny Gray had a dreadful season in New York in 2018, and we do mean in New York. The right-hander posted an abysmal 6.98 ERA in 15 appearances at Yankee Stadium compared to a 3.17 ERA in 15 appearances on the road.
Talk about a change-of-scenery candidate.
Despite his shaky stat line, Gray projects to earn $9.1 million in his final year of arbitration. That isn’t a fortune by MLB standards, but it’s a decent chunk of change for a one-year rental coming off a down year.
All that said, Gray was an All-Star and top-three Cy Young Award finisher in 2015. At age 29, a return to form isn’t out of the question.
The Yanks have dangled Gray but are apparently seeking top prospects such as the Cincinnati Reds’ Taylor Trammell in return, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post. (The Reds wisely declined.)
New York will need to lower its ask, but the notion that Gray will leave the Bronx feels like what’s best for everyone.
It seems odd that the rebuilding Reds were linked to a rental such as Gray, but clearly Cincy has interest. Trammell is obviously a no-go, but the Reds could reopen talks and offer a less touted but still high-upside prospect such as catcher Tyler Stephenson.
Gray would make more sense for another NL Central club, the Brewers, who are trying to win now but may not want to spend huge or give up a ton of controllable young talent. A deal here would almost surely require the Yankees to lower the price tag, though.
Now we’re talking. Gray would get to return to the team with which he enjoyed his early success. The Oakland A’s would add to a roster that won 97 games last season without breaking their perennially limited budget. The two sides had contact in November, per Jon Morosi. As long as they can reach an agreeable exchange, this makes a lot of sense.
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After shedding veterans Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes in trades, the Cleveland Indians are less motivated by salary concerns and thus less likely to trade a top pitcher such as Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, per Jon Heyman.
That doesn’t mean they won’t; it just means the asking price could be higher.
A pitching-starved contender might still pay up for Kluber, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who posted a typically strong 2.89 ERA in 215 innings last season.
Kluber, who’s 32 years old, is locked in through 2021 with a pair of team options, so he’d be more than a one-year hired gun.
No wonder his name has churned through the rumor mill all winter.
Here they are again, those prospect-rich Braves with their obvious need for a veteran ace with postseason experience. Kluber checks both of those boxes and, like Bumgarner, would make Atlanta’s talented, youthful roster a legitimate championship threat. The Indians might want outfielders, though, and that’s an area of need for the Braves as well.
Staying in the NL East, the Phillies could offer a package built around an MLB-ready player such as promising infielder/outfielder Scott Kingery, especially if they’re serious about their pursuit of Manny Machado. They haven’t been linked much with Kluber, but they’re an interesting dark horse.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Imagine Kluber paired with Clayton Kershaw to form one of the most decorated lefty-righty duos in MLB history. The Indians and Dodgers have had trade talks, per Jon Morosi, including a potential deal involving outfielder Yasiel Puig. This one’s got legs.
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If Corey Kluber isn’t dealt, Trevor Bauer might be. His resume isn’t as impressive or lengthy as Kluber’s, but he’s younger (he’ll turn 28 in January) and coming off a season in which he posted a 2.21 ERA with 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
He’s entering his second year of arbitration, where MLB Trade Rumors projects he’ll earn $11.6 million.
In some respects, Bauer might be a preferable option for trade partners given his age, affordability and surge in success last season. That means the Indians could ask for and receive a theoretically higher return than they’d get for Kluber.
Atlanta Braves/Philadelphia Phillies
For the same reasons as mentioned with Kluber, these young NL East foes could make a play for Bauer. You could probably toss San Diego into the mix as well if they miss in their pursuit of Noah Syndergaard.
The Brewers could be in on Kluber. They were linked to the Indians’ rotation pieces by Jon Morosi in November. Bauer might be more appealing to mid-market Milwaukee, however, since he’ll eat up less payroll than Kluber, who’s set to earn $17 million in 2019 with $17.5 million and $18 million options in 2020 and ’21, respectively.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Kluber is the bigger name, but Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman doesn’t tend to value players for what they have done so much as what they could do. Bauer, as stated, is younger, cheaper and oozing potential.
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Cincinnati Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett turned in a second consecutive excellent season in 2018, as he slashed .310/.357/.490 with 23 home runs. He’s also set to hit free agency next offseason.
The Reds could try to lock him up long-term, but their preference is to trade him, per Ken Rosenthal.
Cincinnati remains in rebuild mode, and top prospect Nick Senzel could soon be ready to assume duties at the keystone sack.
Even with second base options such as DJ LeMahieu, Josh Harrison, Jed Lowrie and Brian Dozier available via free agency, the Reds should draw plenty of interest for Gennett if they’re indeed committed to moving him.
Even if they lose Bryce Harper to free agency, the Washington Nationals are in reload mode after missing the playoffs in 2018. Most notably, they signed left-hander Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal. They’ll need to add to the offense, however, and have a hole at second base. As a one-year rental, they should be able to get Gennett and keep top outfield prospect Victor Robles.
Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels need pitching, as mentioned, but they also need to add bats around Mike Trout. They have a need at second base assuming Zack Cozart slots in at third. And again, as a one-year rental, acquiring Gennett wouldn’t force Los Angeles to raid its farm system.
New York Yankees
The New York Yankees “had a little talk” with the Reds regarding Gennett, per Jon Heyman of Fancred. We don’t know for sure how big of a deal that is, but it shows the Yankees are interested, as they should be. They lack infield depth with shortstop Didi Gregorius sidelined following Tommy John surgery. Gennett would instantly and measurably improve an already potent offense.