With a little more than two months of the MLB season in the books and the Amateur Draft concluded, the attention of front offices across the league turns to the trade market. While there are a few teams that still have to figure out whether they are buyers or sellers, most teams have a general idea of how they are going to approach the trade market.
While understanding that the hot stove is still lukewarm at best here in early June, it is never to early to speculate which players will be wearing new uniforms for the final two months of the season. In comprising this list, I didn’t necessarily just include the biggest names, but rather the trades that I believe have the highest likelihood of happening.
- J.T. Realmuto is traded to the Washington Nationals
The Nationals have all the makings of a championship team. With perhaps the best front of the rotation in baseball, the best bullpen they have had in the Mike Rizzo era, and one of the most feared lineups in the National League, the Nats could probably sail into the postseason without making any splashes at the deadline. However, with the pending free agency of Bryce Harper, Gio Gonzalez, and Daniel Murphy, expect the Nats front office to have an added sense of urgency at this year’s deadline. Through June 11th, Nationals catchers have combined for negative 0.2 wins above replacement, which ranks 27th in baseball. Since Matt Wieters went down with an oblique strain, the Nats have been forced to start Pedro Severino and Spencer Kiebooom behind the plate. Severino has been the better of the two at the plate with a 50 wRC+, so it is safe to say Washington could use an offensive boost at the position. Severino does rank 14th in all of baseball in Runs Above Average (RAA), a statistic that measures catchers’ pitch framing ability. This ability should keep Severino in the bigs as a backup, but his ineptitude at the plate should have the Nats looking to the hot stove for replacements.
After executing a full-blown firesale this offseason, it is no secret that the Marlins intend to deal J.T. Realmuto, who is their best trade chip remaining. The Miami catcher leads all catchers with a 2.3 WAR despite missing the first few weeks of the season with a back injury. With two years of team control beyond this season, the asking price will be understandably high, but the Nationals have the prospects to make this deal work.
Nationals Receive: J.T. Realmuto
Erick Fedde (RHP, #5 Prospect)
Daniel Johnson (OF, #10 Prospect)
Raudy Reed (C, #14 Prospect)
- Jose Abreu is traded to the Houston Astros
Similar to the Nationals, the Astros have all the makings of repeating as World Champions. Their otherworldly starting pitching is the best in baseball and their young nucleus of position players provide enough thump to carry them to another late October run. The one glaring weakness for the defending World Series champions has been at first base, with a collective wRC+ of just 89 at the position thus far in 2018. While Yuli Gurriel has posted a .295 batting average, his refusal to walk coupled with his anemic power output makes him a subpar offensive player at the position. Another red flag for the 34-year-old Cuban infielder is his struggles against right-handed pitching. With a sub-.700 OPS against righties, the Astros should look to acquire a more capable hitter to slot in as their everyday first baseman and keep Gurriel around as more of a platoon option.Luckily for the Astros, the White Sox will once again be in full sell mode in the coming months and the club will surely be fielding offers for All-Star first baseman Jose Abreu. The Cuban first baseman currently boasts a wRC+ of 133, tops among AL first basemen. The big-bodied slugger has regressed defensively this year, so manager A.J. Hinch may want to utilize Abreu at DH on occasion, but either way, he would slot nicely into the middle of the Houston lineup. Abreu is not a free agent until the end of next season so it would be wise for the White Sox to deal him while he is more than just a rental.
Abreu will not be cheap, but he will also not demand a blue-chip prospect. The Astros have the organizational depth to make this move without jeopardizing their future.
Astros Receive: Jose Abreu
White Sox Receive:
Cionel Perez (LHP, #6 Prospect)
Rogelio Armenteros (RHP, #10 Prospect)
- Scooter Gennett is traded to the Cleveland Indians
After becoming the unlikeliest player in MLB history to hit four home runs in a game just over a year ago, Gennett has become a legitimate power threat. In the last calendar year, Gennett ranks third amongst all MLB second basemen in Slugging Percentage (.537) and wRC+ (136). Once the soft-hitting utility infielder that his name would suggest, Scooter is now a bonafide middle-of-the-order bat. While Gennett has taken huge strides in his offensive game, the opposite can be said about current Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis. In the same time frame, Kipnis has managed a meager .643 OPS, which ranks 46th among 51 qualified second baseman and sandwiches his name between Darwin Barney and Brock Holt.
The Indians have worked around Kipnis’s struggles by moving Jose Ramirez to the position, but doing so leaves the club shorthanded at third. By acquiring Gennett, the Tribe would have the current WAR leader at second base, shortstop, and third base. Gennett has one more year of arbitration, which means that he would not become a free agent until the end of 2019. Not only would the Indians be getting more than just a rental, the Reds would be selling high on a guy that they picked up off waivers just last season.
Aaron Civale (RHP, #10 Prospect)
- Indians also Acquire Brad Hand & Craig Stammen
While the Indians theoretical acquisition addresses an area that could use some upgrades, the main priority for the Cleveland front offices will be to revamp a bullpen that has been nothing short of dreadful so far in 2018. As of June 12th, Indians relievers rank as the worst bullpen in baseball by just about every metric available. There is a laundry list of statistics that could illustrate just how poor the Cleveland pen has fared this year, but perhaps their rapid downfall from being the league’s most vaunted relief corps can be summed up in just one statistic. Last season, Indians relievers were the best in baseball with a 64 ERA-, which was tied with the 2016 Royals as the best bullpen over the last decade. This season, however, the club ranks dead last with a 135 ERA-, marking the biggest year-to-year dropoff in bullpen effectiveness in over a decade.
With four potential aces taking the ball in every postseason game, the Tribe starters will have an edge against every opponent except for maybe the Astros. What we have seen in recent years is that dominant starting pitching is only half the equation in October as managers become obsessive about having a statistical advantage against every hitter that steps to the plate. The Indians would be wise to capitalize on what should be a buyers market for relievers and nab a pair of San Diego arms in Brad Hand and Craig Stammen. While Hand is the better known of the two Padres relievers due to his All-Star pedigree and closer status, Stammen has been the hallmark of consistency over the last two seasons. Stammen has taken the ball more than any other reliever in baseball over the past season and a half while posting a 2.09 ERA in that span.The Padres high asking price for Hand a year ago complicates matters as Hand has done nothing but perform since last year’s deadline. However, given the Indians closing title window and their league-worst bullpen, Mike Chernoff should be aggressive in bringing in relief arms that can help stabilize their bullpen.
Julian Merryweather (RHP, #16 Prospect)
Quentin Holmes (OF, #13 Prospect)
- Tyson Ross and Kirby Yates get traded to the Angels
After battling through thoracic outlet syndrome as well as a litany of other injuries that sidelined the veteran right-hander the past few seasons, Ross has regained his old self this season and is striking out batters like his old self. Ross currently has the highest K% of his career and ranks in the top 15 in the National League in FIP and xFIP, demonstrating that his early season success has not been a fluke. Ross would by no means insert himself as the ace of the Angels staff, but he does add some stability to a rotation that might have just lost Shohei Ohtani for the season.
While the Angels rotation could certainly use some added depth, their biggest weakness lies in the bullpen. After Kenyan Middleton looked like he established himself as the closer for the Halos, he went down with a season-ending injury. Since then, the Angels end-of-game options have been a revolving door with Jim Johnson, Blake Parker, and Justin Anderson all struggling to hold down the job. If the Angels are going to surpass the Seattle Mariners and secure the second wild card, they need to improve in the later innings and acquiring Kirby Yates would be a nice start.
After a breakout campaign a year ago, Yates has posted a sparkly 1.04 ERA in 27 appearances in 2018, establishing himself as lockdown late-inning reliever in the Padres bullpen. Trading away two 31-year-old pitchers makes a lot of sense for the Padres as both players are likely not going to be around when the Padres title window opens a few years down the road. The time is now for San Diego to capitalize on these two pitchers’ sky-high value.
Jesus Castillo (RHP, #10 Prospect)
Cole Duensing (RHP, #24 Prospect)
It is not lost on me that this failed to include top trade targets such as Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson, but given the Orioles bewildering front offices moves over the past couple years, I could not even begin to predict how they would handle the Machado negotiations. As for Donaldson, his injury-plagued campaign has significantly reduced his value. Until he returns and proves that he has once again regained his form, his trade market will remain stagnant.