Baseball's trade deadline is more than two months away. But, with so many teams in bad shape, it's worth taking an early look at the market and who could find themselves on the block. Let us do that now, looking at the likeliest trade candidates at each position.
Remember: this is more art than science, and that things can change in two months' time.
One of the last marketable Marlins remaining, J.T. Realmuto figures to be of interest to various contenders -- including the Nationals, who were rumored to be all over him during the winter. Realmuto has developed into an above-average hitter with improving defense. He won't qualify for free agency until after winter 2020, meaning the Marlins should demand a bounty in return.
Although Robinson Chirinos is off to a shaky start, he ought to draw interest as a downmarket alternative to Realmuto. Chirinos will turn 34 in June and is a below-average defender with legitimate durability concerns. Nonetheless, he can hit and his contract includes a cheap club option for 2019 ($2.375 million) that should appeal to budget-conscious contenders.
Trading Salvador Pérez would be tough for Royals general manager Dayton Moore, but it's something he should consider. Pérez is an old 28, having averaged 140 games since 2013. With three years remaining on his affordable contract, it's unlikely the Royals will be competitive again before Pérez hits free agency. As such, dealing the five-time All-Star backstop could help hasten the Royals' rebuild -- especially if suitors side with his defensive reputation over his metrics.
Justin Bour can hit. He's batted .270/.350/.487 for his career, all the while averaging 29 homers per season. Bour isn't a skilled defender, and he needs to be excused against left-handed pitching. Still, he's not a free agent until after the 2020 season and should be attractive to any and every contender looking for a new middle-of-the-order stick.
Lucas Duda is on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis and it's unclear when he'll return. It's also unclear how much of a market he'd generate. Duda wasn't in high demand during the winter, and has been a below-average hitter since 2015, save for the first half of last year. Add in his durability issues, and the Royals won't get much for him if they do get a chance to make a deal.
The White Sox have thus far resisted trading Jose Abreu. There's no reason to think that'll change, but he's worth calling about. Abreu will qualify for free agency after the 2019 season, at which point he'll be nearing his 33rd birthday. The White Sox undoubtedly value his well-above-average stick and positive clubhouse presence. But moving Abreu could make sense if Chicago wants to maximize its young talent as it attempts to complete a rebuild.
Yes, another Marlin. Starlin Castro has been a walking trade rumor since arriving in Miami in the Giancarlo Stanton deal. At his best, he's a contact-driven hitter who can post league-average (or thereabout) marks. Yet Castro will be owed nearly $13 million in 2019, including a $1 million buyout on a $16 million club option for 2020. The Marlins may need to eat a portion of his deal to create a market, given some teams will deem him too costly given his moderate production.
Another tough call for the Royals. Merrifield has been a highly productive hitter during his major-league career, and he won't qualify for free agency until winter 2022. Under normal circumstances, that would make him a long-term asset. Alas, Merrifield will turn 30 next January and is a second baseman -- those don't always age well. The Royals have one of the worst farm systems in baseball, so trading him sooner than later would help jump-start their rebuild -- even if it would stink in other ways.
The circumstances are different than Merrifield's with the Royals, but Jonathan Schoop's situation is a dilemma for the Orioles. He won't turn 27 until October, yet he's a free agent after next season. Would the O's be willing to make a big-time commitment to keep him in town past then? Complicating matters further is that he's failed to build upon last year's breakout. His glove and pop would make him appealing to a variety of teams if he is made available.
Obviously. Manny Machado's name has been bandied about in rumors dating back to last winter. The O's decided to hold onto their franchise player then, hoping for another postseason run before he hit free agency. That plan has went south as quickly as birds in the face of winter, leaving Machado back on the trade block. He's a superstar -- the question for inquiring teams is whether they can convince him to stay past this season.
Adeiny Hechavarria recently hit the disabled list due to a strained hamstring. By the time he returns, the Rays could be ready to move on to Willy Adames. If so, Hechavarria and his slick-fielding ways may find themselves elsewhere. Hechavarria can't hit and he's a free agent at season's end, but he probably wouldn't cost much beyond his salary to add.
Take Hechavarria and make him an even worse hitter. That's Alcides Escobar.
Mike Moustakas couldn't find a suitable long-term offer during the winter, forcing his return to the Royals. He's since gotten off to a great start, suggesting last year's power outburst was more genuine than not. Whether or not it's been enough to convince teams he's worth their time is anyone's guess. Moustakas has a mutual option for next season valued at $15 million.
A future Hall of Famer and impending free agent, Adrián Beltré is currently out with a strained hamstring. Presuming the Rangers sell, he should appeal to teams looking for a short-term hot-corner upgrade. Beltré is perhaps the best defensive third baseman in the sport's history, and he remains a more-than-capable hitter -- he hasn't posted an OPS+ below 100 since 2009, his final year with the Mariners. Plus he's an absolute joy to watch.
The Marlins would undoubtedly like to move Martín Prado and what's left on his contract ($15 million next season). Problem is, Prado hasn't played much the past two seasons, and hasn't hit at all when he has been healthy enough to step to the dish. Put another way, Prado's OPS+ in the last two seasons can be added together and still fall well shy of his career 106 mark. Given he'll turn 35 later in the year, it doesn't seem reasonable to think he'll bounce all the way back. In turn, it doesn't seem reasonable to think he's a legit trade candidate barring something weird.
The Tigers haven't been mentioned so far. But they're nearing a point where they must decide what to do with Nicholas Castellanos, who'll qualify for free agency after 2019. He's not much of a fielder, yet he's blossomed into a quality hitter -- one who is, at least in theory, entering his prime. The market has become chilly to players with negative defensive value over the last year, but Castellanos's youth and additional team control could make him the exception to the new rule.
Defensive metrics suggest four-time Gold Glove Award winner Adam Jones should slide to a corner. If the Orioles trade him this summer, he'll probably do just that. Jones will hit the open market at season's end, at which point he'll be a 33-year-old whose production has become increasingly dependent on hitting for power. With Jones off to a sluggish start, it'll be interesting to see how much of a market develops for him -- and if the O's would move him.
Jon Jay's profile is well known at this point: he'll provide on-base skills against righties and he can play a tolerable center field when called upon. Ideally, he's a platoon left fielder. His steady production combined with his expected cost (not much) makes him one of the surer bets to be dealt before the end of July.
No stranger to trade rumors, Cole Hamels could find himself on the move before his likely upcoming date with free agency. (Hamels has a $6 million buyout on a 2019 club option that would pay him $20 million.) An altered approach (he's more cutter-heavy these days) has caused his strikeout rate to rebound from 2017. But with his walk and home-run rates heading in the wrong direction, he remains a risky proposition. Someone will bet on Hamels and his big-game experience proving to be an asset -- just, presumably, only for the next few months.
The Marlins de facto staff leader, Dan Straily hasn't pitched like his usual self since returning from injury. Him getting back on track would likely prompt inquiries into his availability, though, due to his additional two years of team control and track record as a fine mid-rotation type.
There are a lot of other candidates who are more appealing for this or that reason. Bartolo Colon makes it on here because he's almost 45 years old and has pitched well enough (2.82 ERA, eight strikeouts per walk) for a last-place team that he could be one of the first players dealt. It's not like the Rangers have much reason to hold onto him if a contender or two come calling.
Another Royal who seems certain to be dealt by the deadline. Kelvin Herrera has oodles of late-game experience, making him a candidate for teams seeking a new closer or setup man. He'll be a coveted free agent at season's end due to his track record and his upper-90s heat.
With Zach Britton still recovering from a ruptured Achilles, Brad Brach is the impending free agent slash Orioles reliever most likely to garner interest. Unfortunately, Brach has seen both his velocity and effectiveness decline this season. He'll still get moved in all likelihood, but he won't net what he was expected to entering the year.
It's unclear if the Reds would consider moving Raisel Iglesias, who has flourished since transitioning to the bullpen back in 2016. If they did, he'd have a line of suitors. Iglesias has multiple years of team control remaining, and has shown he's willing and able to pitch in multi-inning roles. The league is embracing creative bullpen management, making someone like Iglesias all the more valuable.