MLB hot stove: Top 10 offseason trade candidates, including Francisco Lindor and two former MVPs
Free agency is not the only way stars change teams in the winter
Bulletin: Free agency isn't the only way for teams to add important pieces to their rosters. The winter trade market is also typically a rich source of turnover, and the baseball-less months of late 2019 and early 2020 figure to be no exception.
The situation is of course fluid, and the veteran names on the trade block can change weekly and even daily. The names to come, though, are heavily rumored to be available or at the very least available to be discussed. That general sense of things informs these rankings. Should other, bigger names emerge as trade candidates, then perhaps we'll revisit these written-in-pencil rankings at a later juncture. For now, though, these guys figure to dominate trade speculation as we work our way through the offseason.
While some names are under contract and or team control for multiple seasons, we're ranking them based the extent to which they figure to be able to help a contender in 2020. Production after the 2020 season is, for these purposes, delicious lagniappe. Now to the horribly authoritative rankings of 2019-20 trade candidates.
Mookie Betts Boston Red Sox RF
|The former AL MVP is 27 years of age and coming off yet another excellent season. Even when Betts doesn't put up Mike Trout-like numbers at the plate, as he did in 2018, he's still a highly valuable performer thanks to his high offensive floor, his defense, and his baserunning. The Red Sox should absolutely keep Betts for a good-faith run at the postseason in 2020, but it's possible they'll be looking to shed his salary in order to get under the tax threshold (Betts is due for a raise over his $20 million salary this past season). If anything. J.D. Martinez's decision to pass on his opt-out makes it more likely that the Sox will look to shed payroll commitments. As for Betts, over the last four seasons he has a total WAR of 33.8. That's a core player on a championship-caliber team. He's eligible for free agency in the offseason of 2020-21, so consider Betts to be the most coveted rental on the market.|
Francisco Lindor Cleveland Indians SS
|The affable Cleveland shortstop soon turns 26. He's a plus glove at the most premium position on the diamond, and for his career he's averaged 29 home runs and 40 doubles per 162 games played. All of that is in addition to his speed on the bases and highly marketable personality. Even with an arbitration raise over his $10.85 million salary for 2019, he's going to be underpaid. What adds to his immense trade value is that Lindor isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season. The Indians, who missed the playoffs in large measure because of ownership's neglect, should absolutely keep Lindor, but it increasingly appears that they won't.|
Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs 3B
|By no means is it certain that the Cubs will move Bryant, but there's indeed some internal momentum for roster turnover after the disappointing 2019 campaign. Bryant missed time and saw his production sapped by shoulder problems in 2018, but this past season he bounced back with a 131 OPS+ and 67 extra-base hits in 147 games. For his career, he owns an OPS+ of 136 across five MLB seasons, and he's stayed off the IL in four of those seasons. Bryant can play third or the outfield corners, and going into his age-28 campaign he should still have some peak performance remaining. Likely, Bryant has two years of team control remaining, which means the Cubs can expect a healthy return. If, however, Bryant prevails in his grievance hearing against the Cubs, then 2020 may be his walk year. Either way, he's again arbitration eligible and can expect a substantial raise over his 2019 salary of $12.9 million.|
Noah Syndergaard New York Mets SP
|Maybe the 86-win Mets keep the band together for a run at contention under first-year manager Carlos Beltran. While that would make sense, the trade rumors surrounding Syndergaard have been consistent. As with any other name on this list, there's no guarantee he'll be moved. That said, Syndergaard's tremendous raw stuff, relative youth, and ace-ish upside will hold broad appeal. He's also coming off a career-high in innings pitched, and the 27-year-old isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season.|
Starling Marte Pittsburgh Pirates CF
|There's no doubting Marte's tools, and at even at age 31 those tools are still largely intact. He's not best deployed in center any longer, but he can still be a defensive asset at an outfield corner. Marte still adds value on the bases, and this past season at the plate he produced right in line with career norms (120 OPS+). Marte's under contract for $11.5 million in 2020, and his pact includes a $12.5 million club option/$1 million buyout for 2021. That's control with some flexibility from the team standpoint, and it adds to Marte's trade value.|
Whit Merrifield Kansas City Royals 2B
|Despite not making his MLB debut until age 27, Merrifield has emerged as an All-Star performer for the Royals. In his age-30 season of 2019, Merrifield slashed .302/.348/.463 while leading MLB in hits and triples. He's capable of playing six or so different positions and has been the Royals' primary at second base. Merrifield has also been a high-volume base stealer in the past. What will also surely appeal to teams is that Merrifield is locked up potentially through 2023 season at bargain rates. The Royals under GM Dayton Moore don't seem to be sufficiently committed to a full teardown, so it's possible they won't deal Merrifield. If they do dangle him, though, he'll have a healthy market.|
Robbie Ray Arizona Diamondbacks SP
|The 28-year-old lefty has a four-pitch repertoire and an established knack for missing bats. Ray also has to his credit a career 107 ERA+ across 146 starts and three relief appearances. He's going into his walk year, which is why the D-Backs — not presently all that committed to contending — may be willing to move him. The hard breaking stuff and the career K/9 of 11.1 will surely draw attention from teams in need of help in the middle of the rotation.|
Charlie Blackmon Colorado Rockies RF
|This one would be a bit of a salary dump on the part of the Rockies. Blackmon, 33, is signed through 2021 and owed $42 million, and that's not counting player options for 2022 and 2023. Blackmon's days as a center fielder are wisely over, but he still puts up strong numbers at the plate even after you adjust for the effects of Coors Field (123 OPS+ last season, 127 OPS+ over the last three seasons). In order for the Rockies to get a better return package, they'll need to kick in cash in any Blackmon deal.|
Kirby Yates San Diego Padres RP
|Yates turns 33 before Opening Day, and he's in his walk year. That said, there's no better late-inning reliever (potentially) available to win-now contenders. Yates, thanks to his devastating fastball-splitter combo — especially that splitter — pitched to a sparkling 1.19 ERA this past season with 101 strikeouts against 12 unintentional walks in 60 2/3 innings for the Padres. He backed it all up with a 1.30 FIP. Yates was almost as dominant in 2018, so this isn't a one-year fluke. The Padres may have designs on contention in 2020, in which case they should keep Yates. If, however, they determine the going rates for a shutdown closer are high enough, then Yates may be on the move this winter. Rumors to that end have been attached to him for some time.|
Ken Giles Toronto Blue Jays RP
|Giles enjoyed a nice comeback season in his age-28 campaign. He registered a sub-2.00 ERA, struck out 83 batters in 53 innings, and again did a solid job of keeping the ball in the park. Across parts of six big-league seasons, Giles owns an ERA+ of 152. He's in his walk year and will earn an arbitration raise over his $6.3 million salary for 2019. While there's some volatility to him and he's lost a tick of velocity over the last couple of years, there's no arguing with his 2019 season or his overall body of work. The Jays will likely be motivated sellers.|
Subject to change? Subject to change.
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