The calendar has flipped to 2023 and spring training camps will open in six weeks. Only five of our top 50 free agents remain unsigned and none of them rank among the offseason's very best free agents. Only three of our top 20 trade candidates have been traded, however, with the Sean Murphy three-team deal marking the biggest offseason swap to date.
Now that the free agent market is mostly devoid of impact players, trades should pick up in the weeks leading into spring training. With that in mind, let's reset the trade market, and look at who could be moved and which teams could be interested.
Top remaining trade candidates
The trade market is ever-changing and players who were available -- or appeared to be available -- in November aren't necessarily available in January. At the same time, players who were thought to be off-limits weeks ago may now be in play. Here are the five biggest names with the best chance to be moved before spring training begins, listed alphabetically.
As is often the case with Jerry Reinsdorf's teams, the Chicago White Sox didn't come into the offseason with much money to spend, and their estimated $193.1 million payroll (per FanGraphs) is right in line with last year's franchise record $193.3 million Opening Day payroll. To add to the roster (as in a new second basemen), GM Rick Hahn may have to move money out, hence the Liam Hendriks trade rumors. Hendriks is excellent, but he's owed $14 million in 2023 and $15 million in 2024, and in theory the White Sox could replace him internally with Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman, or Reynaldo López. That said, quality relievers are not cheap and Hendricks at $29 million the next two years is almost a bargain. I don't think the White Sox want to move their three-time All-Star closer, but Hahn wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't at least listen to any trade offers that come his way.
I am comfortable saying Max Kepler is the player most likely to be traded before Opening Day. The recent Joey Gallo signing gives the Minnesota Twins five left-handed hitters for the two corner outfield spots plus DH: Gallo, Kepler, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and Matt Wallner. Larnach and/or Wallner could go back to Triple-A, so this qualifies as depth more than a logjam, but clearly the Twins can afford to trade from this group to address their pitching needs. Kepler is the oldest of the five players and he only has two years remaining on his contract ($8.5 million in 2023 and a $10 million club option for 2024). Few hitters in the game saw the shift more than Kepler the last few years, so the new anti-shift rules could boost his batting average if interested clubs want to talk themselves into believing Kepler has untapped potential. Either way, it feels like he will open 2023 with a new team.
The Miami Marlins finally awoke from their offseason slumber last week and signed Jean Segura to a two-year contract. That could lead to an infielder trade (Miguel Rojas? Joey Wendle?), plus the Marlins have dangled their non-Sandy Alcantara starters in trade talks for impact bats all winter. That remains the case.
Miami has had ongoing conversations about trading starting pitching. A ton. We have heard this for months, but they are adamant on acquiring a major upgrade to the 2023 lineup in any deal for their pitching. They are not chasing prospects.— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) December 29, 2022
Lefties Jesús Luzardo and Trevor Rogers, and righty Edward Cabrera, are trade candidates, though Pablo López makes the most sense because he's only two years away from free agency and is projected to make close to $6 million through arbitration in 2023. The best available free agent starters are guys like Johnny Cueto and Michael Wacha. The Marlins won't have any trouble finding potential trade partners for López. The only question is whether they can get the impact bat they reportedly want in return.
The biggest name on the trade market right now. Bryan Reynolds requested a trade a few weeks ago, and while the Pittsburgh Pirates are under no obligation to meet his request, it does put them in a difficult spot. Either they keep him and create an awkward situation by bringing an unhappy player to camp, or they trade him and signal to other players they can force their way out with a trade request. Reynolds is very good and highly desirable as a productive switch-hitter who can handle center field and comes with three affordable years of team control. The Pirates still have leverage -- a lot of it -- though there's no doubt the trade request complicated things with Reynolds. Everyone knows he wants out now.
The Marlins and New York Yankees came close on a trade that would have sent Gleyber Torres to Miami for López at the deadline, according to the New York Post, though obviously it didn't go through. The Yankees don't need López now after signing Carlos Rodón to a six-year contract, and the Marlins don't need Torres after signing Segura. That said, the Yankees are obviously willing to at least listen to offers for Torres, and with the free agent market now lacking quality infield options, trade interest could pick up. The Yankees have to be careful giving up their infield depth given DJ LeMahieu's foot injury, but Torres is out there. Make GM Brian Cashman an offer and he'll listen.
Five others who could be traded
Out-of-nowhere trades are one of my offseason guilty pleasures. Did anyone expect the Blue Jays to trade Teoscar Hernández this offseason? Or the Atlanta Braves to part with William Contreras? Those were fun, unexpected trades. Here are five players who would not necessarily qualify as stunners if they are traded, but aren't among the trade market's hottest names.
Once the Carlos Correa deal is completed, Eduardo Escobar will become an overqualified utility guy/platoon DH for the New York Mets. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- depth is important and it's not like a $10 million utility guy will hamstring owner Steve Cohen -- but it makes sense to see what the trade market drums up for Escobar. Perhaps the Mets can turn him into a quality reliever, or a young pitching prospect who is a year or two away from the big leagues. Trading Escobar would not be about trimming payroll -- when your projected payroll is close to $400 million, what's the point of cutting $10 million? -- it would be about reorganizing the roster in a way that makes more sense for the big picture.
Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby give the Seattle Mariners a formidable 1-2-3-4 punch atop the rotation. That leaves Marco Gonzales, who is owed $18.5 million the next two years, and Chris Flexen, who is owed $8 million in 2023, as No. 5 starter/swingman candidates. The Mariners are coming off their first postseason appearance in a generation and they'll enter 2023 with World Series aspirations. When that's your outlook, hanging on to pitching depth is never -- never -- a bad idea. Flexen shifted to the bullpen late last season and could do the same again this coming season, with sights on being first in line to join the rotation when a sixth starter is inevitably needed. His name has surfaced in trade rumors in recent weeks, however, and with few quality starters remaining in free agency, Seattle could take advantage of a seller's market and net an outsized return.
The Oakland Athletics have spent some money this offseason (Aledmys Díaz, Jace Peterson, Trevor May, etc.), though they still traded away Sean Murphy, their best player. The
tank rebuild remains ongoing and Ramón Laureano is the club's most desirable trade chip as a center field-caliber player with three years of control. The A's presumably want to give long looks to younger (and cheaper) outfielders like Conner Capel, Esteury Ruiz, and Cal Stevenson in 2023. That plus Laureano's projected arbitration salary ($4 million or so) makes him a clear trade candidate. The free agent outfield market is thin enough now that an interested club could talk themselves into Laureano being an everyday center field option.
Is Jorge Mateo a flawed player? Yes. Is he also a fun and useful player? Absolutely. The good parts of Mateo are so good. The speed, the defense, the sneaky power. The downside is an exploitable approach that leads to occasionally ugly at-bats, a low batting average, and a sub-.300 on-base percentage. Still, there aren't many 27-year-old shortstops with three years of control coming off a 3.4 WAR season out there. The Baltimore Orioles are deep in upper level infield prospects (Gunnar Henderson, Coby Mayo, Jordan Westburg, etc.) and selling high following Mateo's breakout season feels like a thing GM Mike Elias would do.
There's a belief the Cleveland Guardians are frustrated with Zach Plesac, who a) lied about breaking COVID protocol in 2020, b) broke his thumb taking off his shirt in 2021, and c) broke his hand punching the mound in 2022. Plesac is now into his arbitration years and projected to make close to $3 million in 2023, which isn't expensive at all, but the Guardians are a pitcher development powerhouse with youngsters like Xzavion Curry and Hunter Gaddis knocking on the door, plus top prospects Daniel Espino and Gavin Williams are not too far away. With the free agent market thinned out, the Guardians could look to move Plesac in a seller's market while also ridding themselves of a player who has given the organization headaches in recent years.
Teams that could be active
You can't make a trade without a trade partner. There are lots of teams out there, but some are more motivated to makes moves than others, and there's no guarantee you'll match up with the teams looking to make a trade. Here are three clubs that could jump into the trade market given their needs and the current free agent options (or lack thereof).
Boston Red Sox: It's been a weird offseason for the Red Sox. Not bad, necessarily, but weird. They've added to their bullpen and kinda sorta maybe made up for the loss of Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez with Justin Turner and Masataka Yoshida, but there is still work to be done. The BoSox could use another starter (even after signing Corey Kluber) and need to figure out what they're doing on the middle infield. Trevor Story will man one spot, we know that much. Are they willing to move him over to short? If not, they need a shortstop. If yes, they'll still need a second baseman.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Another team that has a weird but not necessarily bad offseason. The Dodgers re-signed franchise icon Clayton Kershaw and took sensible one-year fliers on Martinez and Noah Syndergaard (and Shelby Miller), and that's really it. They don't have a natural center fielder on the roster and appear willing to slide Gavin Lux over to shortstop to replace Trea Turner. It feels like Los Angeles has another move or two coming, and I would say center field is a greater priority than shortstop.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers have spent a lot of money to upgrade their rotation this offseason (Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, Jake Odorizzi) and they should be commended for it. Now they must improve a lineup that really thins out after the top five spots. Left field is an obvious area to upgrade -- Texas left fielders hit .186/.253/.256 in 2022 (😬) -- and unless they're planning a Jurickson Profar reunion, free agency doesn't offer much help now. The trade market is the only way to add someone who will really move the needle for a Rangers team that has spent too much money on pitching only to skimp on offense.