It’s early, for sure, but with rumors swirling about just who is targeting Baltimore slugger Manny Machado, it’s never too soon to be talking about the MLB trade deadline on July 31.
The O’s season has already been flushed — never mind swirling down the bowl — there has already been talk that both the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees are big-time suitors.
Machado is arguably the best hitter in baseball not named Mookie Betts. He is first in homers (15) and RBI (43) and fourth in batting average (.343). He’s also young at 25 and has no contractual limitations on movement.
He’ll be a hot target probably long before July 31.
Besides Machado, there are a host of veterans with varying salaries from about eight teams that can reasonably be said to be out of the post-season picture already and more from five teams on the bubble.
We have a list of 20 big name players who those clubs will seek to maximize a return on. We will also include other possible players to be made available in italics.
20. SP Kenta Maeda – Los Angeles Dodgers
A year after going to the World Series, the Dodgers look like a shell — and an aging one — of their former selves. As of Friday, they were fourth in the NL West with a 17-26 record, 8.0 games back of first and losers of eight of their last 10 games. Starters Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu are on the 10-day disabled list and SS Corey Seager is done for the season. We smell a salary and veteran dump in July and Maeda, with a friendly $3.125 million salary could fetch a few prospects in return. He’s 30 and under control until 2023 and won’t break the bank for contenders. In nine starts this season he is 3-3, with a 3.89 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched. Since coming over from the Nippon Baseball League he is 32-20, with a 3.81 ERA and 373 Ks in 354 innings. Any teams looking to load up for the post-season will also like the fact that he has appeared in 12 games (three starts) and owns a 3.80 ERA (1.59 in the World Series). Other targets: SP Hyun-Jin Ryu; RP Josh Fields; RP Pedro Baez.
19. 3B Mike Moustakas – Kansas City Royals
In an off-season where expensive, or sort of expensive, MLB free agents were avoided like the plague, the Moose capitulated and signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal to stay in Kansas City, with an option for 2019. However, the Royals are tied with Baltimore for the second worst record in baseball at 13-30 and going nowhere fast. Moustakas, at 29 and in his prime is one trade chip the Royals can play that will bring back a very nice return. The eighth-year veteran and two-time All-Star is tracking toward a career year. He broke out last year to hit .272, with 24 doubles and a career high 38 homers, along with 85 RBI and a career best .835 OPS in 148 games. This season, he has 10 doubles, a triple, 10 homers and 30 RBI in 43 games as of last Friday. He is hitting .294 and his OPS is .869. Those with title aspirations can also benefit from his 31 games of post-season experience, including a .261 batting average in the World Series, with a homer and five RBI in 12 games. Other targets: CF Jon Jay; SS Alcides Escobar.
18. SP Cole Hamels – Texas Rangers
The Rangers are another former contending team like Kansas City staring another lost season right in the face. The Rangers, as of Friday, were dead last in the AL West at 17-28, a full 11.0 games back of state rival and defending champion Houston. A salary flush, then, may be in order and with a limited no-trade clause Hamels is marketable. Any team pursuing him will have to take on the remainder of his $22.5 million salary (Texas holds a $20 million option on him in 2019), but there are a few teams with championship aspirations who could stomach it. Hamels, a 34-year-old veteran of 13 seasons, is 2-4 this season in nine starts, with a 3.48 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. Hamels has also made 16 playoff starts (7-6 record) and was the 2008 World Series MVP for the champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Rangers farm system, which is ranked in the bottom third, doesn’t have a whole lot of top shelf pitching prospects and Hamels could garner them a nice net return in that department. Other targets: SP Bartolo Colon; RP Tony Barnette; RP Jake Diekman; RP Jesse Chavez.
17. 1B Joey Votto – Cincinnati Reds
Earlier this season, long-time Cincinnati Reds first baseman and 2010 MVP Joey Votto voiced his frustration with the Reds poor start and with that the rumor mill kicked into high gear surrounding his possible availability come summer. With the Reds already well out of the playoff picture, they could use either a young position player/first baseman in return, or a few prospects to bolster an already decent minor league system. Votto came second in MVP voting in 2016 with the third great statistical season in a row. At 34 he has shown no discernible signs of slowing down and in 43 games this year he is hitting .289, with five doubles, six homers and 24 RBI. Votto does have some playoff experience and owns a .250 average in nine total games. There was some speculation that the New York Mets might be in the mix for his services. Other targets: C Tucker Barnhart; LF Adam Duvall.
16. SP Tyson Ross – San Diego Padres
After a year in the baseball wilderness with the Texas Rangers in 2017, Tyson Ross is enjoying a pretty good comeback year in San Diego. Between 2014 and 2015 he made 64 of his career 120 starts and recorded a 23-26 record, 3.03 ERA and 407 strikeouts in 392 innings pitched. With Texas last year, he was 3-3 in 12 games with a horrid 7.71 ERA. Fast forward one season and the big 31-year-old rightie owns a 3-3 mark in nine starts — including a near no-hitter in April — with 55 Ks in 53.2 innings. A free agent at year’s end, any team acquiring his services would just have to eat what little remains of his $1.75 million contract. He doesn’t have any playoff experience and would be ideally suited to remaining in the NL because he is a decent hitter, too, with a .196 average and 10 RBI in 163 at bats. Other targets: SP Clayton Richard; RP Craig Stammen; RP Kirby Yates; 3B Christian Villanueva.
15. SP Andrew Cashner – Baltimore Orioles
There is nothing another that another change of scenery wouldn’t hurt O’s starter Andrew Cashner. In nine starts with the O’s — his fifth team in nine seasons — he is 2-5, with a 4.72 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. Those numbers are deceiving, in that he has only had one outing that could be classified as “bad” and has suffered a distinct lack of run support in most of his losses. Strange, for a team that used to hit the living tar out of the ball. Thus, we wouldn’t be shocked if Cashner is on the move again in July, maybe to a team that will score more than the average 3.1 runs of support he has received in nine games. Last year with Texas, when he went 11-11, Cashner was pretty good post-trade deadline, going 5-3 in 11 starts. He is making $6.5 million on a two-year, $16 million contract he signed earlier this year, with a vesting option for a third. Other targets: RP Darren O’Day.
14. 3B Josh Donaldson – Toronto Blue Jays
Will they, or won’t they? The Jays, after a hot start, fell back to the middle of the pack in the dogfight that is the AL East and if they continue to swoon over the next couple of months, we see a bit of a house-cleaning coming. The name most often uttered in Toronto is pending free agent Donaldson. The 2015 MVP would be a powerful trade magnet if management decides to dangle him. Injuries have kept him out of the line-up on a consistent basis this season and he’s had a slow start by his standards. Donaldson is batting just .233 with seven doubles, five homers and 16 RBI in 26 games as of last Friday. In three seasons previous, he had 94 doubles, seven triples, 111 home runs and 300 RBI. With big time prospect Vladimir Guerrero lighting up the minors, the Blue Jays can afford to deal Donaldson and bring back either position players and/or prospects in return. Other targets: OF Steve Pearce; OF Curtis Granderson.
13. SP Chris Archer – Tampa Bay Rays
As frugal as the Tampa Bay Rays are, they will probably find ways to trim payroll even further in July. Sitting below .500 and with limited prospects of challenging for even a wild card, the Rays have an ace up their sleeve in Archer, who eats up $6.5 million of the team’s $80 million (third smallest) outlay. He is under control until 2019, with two more years at the club’s option. The 29-year-old veteran and two-time All-Star had a tepid start to the season, owning a 3-3 mark in 10 starts, with a 5.01 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. He has been better in May, though, going at least six innings in all four starts and having just one bad outing against Baltimore. If he continues to shave an ERA that once sat near 8.00 to near his career 3.71 average and keep piling up the strikeouts, he will be one of the most sought after hurlers at the deadline. Other targets: RP Sergio Romo; RP Chaz Roe; CF Carlos Gomez; C Jesus Sucre.
12. RF Andrew McCutchen – San Francisco Giants
We’re not sure what the going rate would be for fairly expensive former MVPs, but we’ll bet that if the Giants are out of it in July, soon-to-be-free agent Andrew McCutchen’s name will get thrown around. As of Friday, San Fran was a game below .500 and 3-7 in their last 10 to sit third in the NL West. Not bad, but not great, either. McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP, is making $14.75 million this year and at 31 will still get plenty of looks from prospective suitors. So far in 2018 he is hitting .248, with 13 doubles, a triple, three homers and 19 RBI in 45 games. He was involved in eight post-season games during his nine seasons in Pittsburgh, and collected nine hits in 28 at bats (.321 average). He isn’t tracking to a sixth All-Star appearance, but can still steal bases and keeps his walks close to his strikeouts (26 to 41 respectively, this season). Other targets: 1B Brandon Belt; CF Austin Jackson; C Nick Hundley; RP Sam Dyson; SP Derek Holland; RF Gregor Blanco.
11. 2B Jed Lowrie – Oakland Athletics
The A’s were at .500 as of Friday, which makes them, like the team they just thumped, Toronto, neither a buyer or seller right at this moment. But, they are hardly a spendthrift club and if they can cut their already MLB low payroll, they will — especially if a prospect stockpile is in the offing. Their best bet to dump is Lowrie, who is a UFA this year and making $6 million. Now in his 11th season, the second sacker is easily the team’s best batter. In 46 games he is hitting .320 with 12 doubles, a triple, nine homers and 37 RBI. If he stays on course, he could eclipse previous highs in doubles (45), triples (4), home runs (16) and RBI (75). The kind of production he is providing the A’s in his second go around is very rare for a player at his position and it is certain that if Oakland puts out the “For Sale” sign, he’ll be as good a rent-a-player as any on the market. Other targets: C Jonathan Lucroy; OF Matt Joyce; RP Santiago Casilla; RP Yusmeiro Petit; RP Trevor Cahill.
10. 2B Brian Dozier – Minnesota Twins
We think that last year was a playoff anomaly for the Twins, who were three games under .500 as of Friday but still were within sniffing distance of first place Cleveland. Not likely for long, though. Should they slide in the coming weeks, look for them to offload pending free agent second baseman Dozier, who would be a good consolation prize at second base if Oakland’s Jed Lowrie is in fact a big acquisition. He is making $9 million this year and is hitting .230 with seven homers and 16 RBI in 43 games (as of Tuesday). Defensively, Dozier is above the curve, having won his first Gold Glove in 2017 and owning a career .988 fielding percentage (since being moved over from shortstop in 2013). Teams need not worry about his relatively slow start, either. In 2017, when he hit 34 homers and drove in 93 runs, he only hit six homers and drove in 14 before the end of May. Other targets: 1B Logan Morrison; RP Zach Duke.
9. OF Yasiel Puig – Los Angeles Dodgers
With the end of May approaching, the Dodgers still find themselves in unfamiliar territory. They are seven games below .500, including a horrid 8-14 home record. If the trend continues — and with injuries of varying lengths to big name players factored in there is no reason to believe it won’t — a major house-cleaning may be in order. The Dodgers have the third highest payroll in baseball and a few aging trade chips to stock up a good minor league system that has five players in MLB’s top 100 prospects list. Puig, 27, who makes just over $9 million could be a good rent-a-player somewhere, since he is UFA this year. Only problem is, he’s off to a mediocre start after a career season in 2017. Last year he hit .263 with bests in homers (28), stolen bases (15) and RBI (74), but is batting only .215 in 2018, with four homers and 12 RBI in 35 games. As a right fielder, he is solid, with a .986 career fielding percentage. Other targets: 3B Justin Turner; 2B Chase Utley.
8. C J.T. Realmuto – Miami Marlins
The Marlins are exactly where everyone in baseball figured they would be, 11.5 games under .500 at 17-30 and in last place in the NL East. The off-season exodus will probably continue unabated at the trade deadline, or long before. The Marlins also don’t have the greatest minor league system, ranked in the lower half, with just one player, OF Monte Harrison, in the top 100 (66th). Even with a threadbare roster, they could have many position players and pitchers available to swap, chief among them catcher Realmuto. He is making $2.9 million and is arbitration eligible this year. However even that modest sum will cause the high minds in the Marlins executive suites to consider Realmuto, the team’s top hitter, as trade bait. In 28 games he has 13 extra base hits, 13 RBI and a .299 average. He has also thrown out six of 14 potential base stealers for a sterling 43 percent success rate. Other targets: 2B Starlin Castro; OF Cameron Maybin; SS Miguel Rojas; RP Kyle Barraclough; RP Drew Steckenrider.
7. RP Kelvin Herrera – Kansas City Royals
Hard to believe it’s only been three years since the Royals won a World Series title. And in the intervening seasons they have gone from a .500 club in 2016 to the worst team in baseball right now. It would seem, then, that dealing your team’s top reliever and one of the top 10 closers in the game would be bad ju-ju, but the Royals need prospects in return, bad. Herrera, 28, has been with the Royals for seven seasons and currently owns a stellar 1.08 ERA 18 appearances, with nine saves and 15 strikeouts in 16.2 innings. Twice he’s been an All-Star and could be this year again. The Royals aren’t in a position of dominance in any trade involving Herrera, since he is UFA, however, clubs needing a big time arm come playoff time would be remiss to not inquire and offer a package. He has a World Series ring and in 22 total post-season appearances has a great 1.26 ERA and 38 Ks in 28.2 innings. Other targets: SP Jason Hammel; RP Tim Hill.
6. 1B Jose Abreu – Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are only the second worst team in the major leagues because they’ve played three less games than Kansas City. At 13-31 and no reasonable prospect of being a contender by mid-July, we expect Chisox management to take a long hard look at its roster and start shedding bigger names and contracts. They do have a very powerful minor league system, with five prospects in MLB’s top 50 and seven in the top 100, so getting prospects back isn’t a priority. Thus, dealing their best hitter and top earner in Abreu could fetch major league ready players in any swap. The 2014 Rookie of the Year has hit at least 25 homers and driven in 100 or more runs in four seasons leading up to 2018. And he’s on a tear to start this campaign. batting .304 with 14 doubles, eight homers and 26 RBI in 43 contests. There are few weaknesses to his overall game. Other targets: RF Avisail Garcia; RP Joakim Soria; RP Hector Santiago; SP Chris Volstad.
5. RP Brad Brach – Baltimore Orioles
If the Baltimore Orioles all of a sudden become contenders, we’ll eat our words here. They are 17.5 games out of first in the AL East, dead freakin’ last and the worst road team in baseball with five wins in 24 games. The O’s are also an older squad with a fairly heft payroll that tops $144 million. Now, Zach Britton, 30, would be a great candidate to move at the deadline, however, he is on the 60-day DL with an Achilles injury and hasn’t pitched this season. That makes de facto closer Brach a prime target to ship out as a rental player. He’s 32 and making a very friendly $5.165 million in his UFA year. Other than a 3.79 ERA, his highest in years, Brach has been fairly good for a terrible O’s club, converting seven of eight save opportunities and striking out 24 in 19 innings. This team is bereft of high end minor league talent and dangling guys like Brach should bring back some toolsie youngsters. Other targets: RP Darren O’Day.
4. SP Doug Fister – Texas Rangers
Doug Fister might not be everyone’s top trade target, however, a look at his well-traveled history reveals a guy who can adapt and who is a pretty good post-season hurler. In eight starts so far in 2018, Fister is 1-4 with a 3.43 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 44.2 innings pitched. That ERA is tops on the Rangers and fairly standard for a hurler who is on his sixth different team in nine seasons. In the playoffs, Fister has made nine starts and owns a lifetime 3.02 ERA and a 4-2 record. Fister has had some hard luck in the young season and has been able to stretch himself in May, going at least 6.1 innings in every start. Speaking of hard luck, in his last outing against the White Sox on May 17, he tossed a season high seven innings, blanking the Chisox on six hits and striking out four. But, he didn’t get a decision as the bullpen coughed up a lead in a 4-2 defeat. The Rangers have three prospects in the Top 100, none of them pitchers. Any return on guys like Fister should involve fuzzy-faced hurlers.
3. C Tucker Barnhart – Cincinnati Reds
If the Reds can’t get Joey Votto to waive his full no trade clause, there are a few other candidates on the Cincinnati roster ripe for trade exploitation. Of that list, 27-year-old catcher and fifth-year big leaguer Barnhart is very deal-able. He is a fair hitter (.256, 13 extra base hits, 14 RBI in 40 games) and excellent defensive catcher (Gold Glove in 2017, career 36 percent effectiveness at throwing out would-be base stealers). He is also on a very inexpensive contract that pays him an average $4 million per season until 2021, with a team option for 2022. He’s not a big baner with just 21 career dingers, but he is a patient player at the plate, with his walks and strikeouts very close together at 126 to 225, respectively, in 378 career games. He was first in DWAR in the NL in 2017 at 2.8 and threw out a major league high 44 percent potential base stealers with 32 out of 73. Other targets: SP Homer Bailey; RP Raisel Iglesias; CF Billy Hamilton.
2. SP Marco Estrada – Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays theme song, after a four-game weekend sweep at the hands of the Oakland A’s might as well be “Slip Slidin’ Away.” Other than J.A. Happ, their starting pitching is a mess and the injury list full of starters who are days and in some cases weeks from return. Estrada, now in his fourth season with the Jays and the squad’s third highest paid player, may likely find himself on the move on or before July 31. Not an over-powering pitcher by any stretch, Estrada has been fairly consistent since coming over from Milwaukee in 2015, going 34-30 with a 3.99 ERA in 99 starts with the Jays. This hasn’t been his top season in four, though, as he has struggled to a 2-4 mark, 5.15 ERA and 1.382 WHIP. His value as a post-season starter can’t be undervalued, however, since he is 3-3 in six starts with the Jays in 2015 and 2016. He is making $13 million and is UFA, so any team dealing for him would most likely be getting a rental.
1. 3B Manny Machado – Baltimore Orioles
With his numbers and the fact the Orioles are going nowhere, fast, we firmly believe Machado will be long gone well before the July 31 trade deadline. Though it might behoove the O’s to wait and mull all offers, striking while the iron is hot is more prudent. The law of averages says that he will find level in the coming weeks, as his crazy numbers that we pointed to above are well over his average career marks. Even still, he is tracking to a 40-45 homer, 100-110 RBI campaign worthy of MVP chatter. The O’s can still sell high on Machado, even though he is a UFA at the end of the season, since he is a two-time Gold Glover who can play either short or third and would bring a red-hot bat to the middle of the order for many a contender. The only knock we can put on the 25-year-old superstar is that he has a lifetime .174 post-season batting average in seven games, with one homer and two RBI. Other target: DH Mark Trumbo.