The 2020-21 offseason is one week old and, well, nothing's happened. That isn't surprising though. The MLB offseason, much like the regular season (in non-pandemic times), is a marathon rather than a sprint. The top free agents typically don't sign until a few weeks into the winter, and the trade market can be slow to develop when so many free agents are still on the board.
This is not a great free agent class (here are R.J. Anderson's top 60 free agent rankings) and, because of that, teams could venture out into the trade market to address their needs. Also, with payrolls set to come down, teams may be more willing to trade prospects for a cheap controllable big leaguer rather than sign a free agent for nothing but cash. Moreso than maybe any other offseason in history, money will be a deciding factor in many deals.
Now here are this offseason's top 10 trade candidates, ranked in order of likelihood to be traded and the sheer volume of rumors we expected to hear about each player between now and spring training.
Francisco Lindor Cleveland Indians SS
Contract status: Free agent after 2021 (projected $19.0 million salary in 2021)
It is hard decision time for Cleveland. To be fair, they've had no trouble making hard decisions in the recent past (see: Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and Corey Kluber), but Francisco Lindor is a special kind of hard decision. Realistically, Cleveland has three options with its franchise player:
The first option would almost be like waving the white flag on 2021, though the Bauer and Clevinger trades show Cleveland is deft enough to trade away an impact player and remain in the race. The second option carries risk because Lindor could get hurt and see his trade value crater. The third option is almost a non-option. Cleveland can't let Lindor leave and only get a dinky draft pick in return. They just can't. Cleveland resisted trading Lindor the last few years and that was understandable. They can't kick the can down the road much further though. The clock is ticking.
Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs 3B
Contract status: Free agent after 2021 (projected $18.6 million salary in 2021)
Wouldn't it be something if, after all the service-time shenanigans, the Cubs wind up non-tendering Kris Bryant before the extra season they picked up? Bryant was very available last offseason but the pending service-time grievance stood in the way -- teams did not know whether they were acquiring one year of Bryant or two -- and that is no longer the case. The Cubs are expected to trim payroll and shake up their core, and they can plug David Bote in at the hot corner. Bryant played hurt this past season and had a very poor year at the plate. Counting on him to rebound next season is an expensive gamble, but one with tremendous upside.
Josh Hader Milwaukee Brewers RP
Contract status: Free agent after 2023 (projected $5.1 million salary in 2021)
As good as he's been -- and he's been great -- Josh Hader has been a little worse with each passing season in his career. It is no secret the Brewers listened to trade offers last offseason and the same will undoubtedly be true this offseason, now that Hader is a year closer to free agency and getting more expensive through arbitration. The fact no team claimed Brad Hand and his $10 million club option last week doesn't bode well for Hader's trade value in this market -- why trade prospects for Hader when Hand was available for just cash? -- but I'm certain teams will have interest.
Possible suitors: Angels, Braves, Dodgers, Phillies, Yankees (most contenders, really)
Lance Lynn Texas Rangers SP
Contract status: Free agent after 2021 (owed $8 million in 2021)
The Rangers listed to offers for Lance Lynn, who has been a revelation with Texas, at the trade deadline but nothing caught their attention. With few impact starters available in free agency (Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman, and Masahiro Tanaka are the best on the market), the Rangers could -- and should, I think -- dangle Lynn again. He's very good, he's very affordable, and the Rangers need help all over the field. With Mike Minor, Texas learned the hard way that keeping a starter rather than trading him at the height of his value can backfire badly. The Rangers would be foolish not to listen to offers for Lynn this winter.
Possible suitors: Angels, Blue Jays, Braves, Mets, Phillies, White Sox, Yankees (most contenders, really)
Blake Snell Tampa Bay Rays SP
Contract status: Free agent after 2023 (owed $10.5 million in 2021, $12.5 million in 2022, and $16 million in 2023)
No, this is not an overreaction to Blake Snell being "disappointed and upset" about the quick hook in Game 6 of the World Series. It's an acknowledgement that Snell is approaching the point where the Rays tend to trade their best players (i.e. he's getting expensive). His salary jumped from $1 million in 2019 to $7 million in 2020, though the shutdown knocked that down to $2.6 million prorated. Next year Snell will make eight figures for a team that has consistently run payrolls in the $60-million range. Even after declining Charlie Morton's option, I don't think the Rays would hesitate for a second to trade Snell if some team made a good offer.
Possible suitors: Angels, Braves, Mets, Phillies, White Sox (most contenders, really)
Eduardo Escobar Arizona Diamondbacks 3B
Contract status: Free agent after 2021 (owed $7.5 million in 2021)
The 2020 season was a disaster for the Diamondbacks. Things went so poorly they traded away Starling Marte and Archie Bradley, their center fielder and closer, even though both players would have remained under team control in 2021. Eduardo Escobar is a popular player in Arizona but he had a brutal 2020, and the D-Backs have younger (and cheaper) third base options in Wyatt Mathisen and Josh VanMeter. The veteran purge could continue this offseason and Escobar would be a more payroll-friendly third base alternative to some of the bigger names out there.
Possible suitors: Blue Jays, Braves, Brewers, Nationals, Phillies
Nolan Arenado Colorado Rockies 3B
Contract status: Under contract through 2026, can opt out after 2021 (owed $27 million to $35 million annually from 2021-26)
It is no secret Nolan Arenado is unhappy with the Rockies, mostly because they did nothing to improve following their 71-91 finish in 2019. They missed the postseason again in 2020. Rockies owner Dick Monfort has already sent a letter to season ticket holders downplaying expectations for the offseason -- "There will be nothing normal about this offseason as the industry faces a new economic reality," the letter said, according to The Athletic's Nick Groke -- and if the team wants to clear payroll, the easiest way to do it is unloading Arenado. The problem? The contract is unappealing at a time when revenues are lower than projected, he had a down 2020 season (by his standards), and he has a full no-trade clause, so he is in complete control. Colorado may have to eat significant dollars to get a deal done.
Possible suitors: Phillies, Mets
Kyle Seager Seattle Mariners 3B
Contract status: Free agent after 2022 (owed $18 million in 2021 and $15 million in 2022)
A down 2018 season and a finger issue early in 2019 dimmed Kyle Seager's star a little bit, but he has bounced back very well the last two years, and has been extremely productive on both sides the ball. The problem is not so much his production (or expected production moving forward, more accurately). It's his contract. It includes a poison bill $15 million club option for 2022 that turns into a player option if Seager is traded, and given the current market, you have to believe he'll pick that up. The Mariners are probably going to have to eat money to facilitate a trade given the player option.
Possible suitors: Blue Jays, Braves, Phillies, Nationals
Amed Rosario New York Mets SS
Contract status: Free agent after 2023 (projected $1.8 million salary in 2021)
Andres Gimenez impressed so much in all facets this past season that he seemingly pushed Amed Rosario right out of the Mets' long-term picture. Rosario's stagnating offense and occasionally suspect defense haven't exactly helped his cause either. Still, Rosario turns only 25 later this month and he's not too far removed from being an elite prospect. The tools remain high-end and shortstop is a hard position to fill. Rebuilding clubs (and some contenders) would be smart to check in with New York this winter and see whether they could pry Rosario loose for something like 75 cents on the dollar.
Possible suitors: Angels, Athletics, Cleveland, Marlins, Orioles, Pirates, Reds, Royals
J.D. Martinez Boston Red Sox DH
Contract status: Free agent after 2022 (owed $19.375 million each of the next two seasons)
Not surprisingly, J.D. Martinez declined to opt out of his contract earlier this offseason. It would've been hard for a 33-year-old DH coming off his worst season in several years to beat two years and $38.75 million total in normal times. After the shutdown? Forget it. There's basically no chance. The Red Sox would have to eat money to facilitate a trade, something they showed a willingness to do with David Price. Would there be interest in Martinez if Boston ate enough money to turn him into, say, a $10-million-a-year player the next two years? Even then, the market will be limited, though I expect the Red Sox to shop Martinez aggressively this offseason.
Possible suitors: Twins, White Sox, possibly the Braves, Padres, and Phillies if the NL adopts the DH
Other possible trade candidates: 3B/OF Miguel Andujar, Yankees; LHP Matthew Boyd, Tigers; RHP Alex Cobb, Orioles; C Willson Contreras, Cubs; OF Joey Gallo, Rangers; OF Kevin Kiermaier, Rays; RHP Joe Musgrove, Pirates; OF Wil Myers, Padres; C Christian Vazquez, Rays