MLB's off-season is in full swing, with all 30 teams currently plotting their winter chess moves as we speak. This season's free-agent class is more exciting than recent years, but that market is not the only avenue teams have to improve. Let's take a look at some guys who could find themselves on the trading block.
Yankees' first baseman Luke Voit led the league in home runs during the pandemic shortened 2020 season, but the last 12 months have gone very differently for the right-handed slugger. Four separate trips to the injured list limited Voit to only 68 games last year, and when he was on the field he just was not the same offensive threat he was a season earlier. In 213 at-bats he slashed just .239/.328/.437 with only 11 homers. New York is clearly looking to reshuffle its deck this winter, and if they add an infielder the most likely scenario has D.J. LeMahieu moving to first base and leaving Voit the odd man out. If they do make him available in trade discussions, multiple teams will assuredly jump at the opportunity to add his run production potential.
Last summer the Cubs finally embarked on the massive retooling many expected them to undergo, trading away World Series heroes Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez among others. Catcher Willson Contreras remained in Chicago through the end of 2021, but it's far from certain he'll begin next season in the Windy City. He's the last piece the Cubs could trade away for a significant return, and dynamic two-way backstops don't grow on trees. Plenty of teams would engage the Cubs if they really made him available, an outcome that is more likely than not.
Whit Merrifield's name has been bandied about in trade rumors annually, but a potential trade just feels more likely this time around. The career-long Royal is a lifetime .291 hitter who has racked up over 40 doubles on three separate occasions--including last year. Players with his versatility are becoming more and more important to contending teams, and that same versatility makes him a fit for nearly any club. Pay attention to his situation at the winter meetings.
The A's have indicated a desire to shed payroll this winter, which could lead to both of their corner infielders and long-time core offensive players--first baseman Matt Olson and third baseman Matt Chapman---changing addresses in the coming weeks. In Chapman's case, a potential acquiring team would be adding one of the game's most dominant defensive players in addition to a feared right-handed power bat. Last season his batting average slipped to a career-low .210 but he still crushed 27 homers and drove in 72 runs. Defensively though we're talking about a guy who has won three Gold Gloves including two Platinum Gloves, and if he were traded to the NL it would be quite a competition between him and Nolan Arenado for the end of year hardware.
Similar to the Cubs, the Nationals traded away basically anything that wasn't nailed down last summer, and seem content to undergo a full rebuild in an attempt to build these teams back up around their centerpiece, superstar outfielder Juan Soto. This is going to be a multiple-year reset, which is why having switch-hitting former all-star Josh Bell playing first base doesn't make a whole lot of sense. In his first season in D.C. a year ago, Bell hit .261 with 27 bombs and 88 RBI, and as a veteran with value, both he and the Nationals would probably be better off with a trade.
The Reds are quite obviously making shedding payroll their priority this winter, and though we're still over a week before Thanksgiving, they've already traded their starting catcher, Tucker Barnhart, and allowed a valuable starting pitcher, Wade Miley, to be claimed on waivers without getting anything in return. What's going to come next though is going to hurt fans in Cincinnati more. The Reds will assuredly trade away more assets, beginning with their ace, righty Luis Castillo. After a slow start last season Castillo was excellent in the second half, and a durable starter who has never missed a start, owns a lifetime 1.22 WHIP, and consistently strikes out over a batter/inning could bring back a haul.
Sticking with the Reds, while Castillo is very likely to be moved, their #2 starter, Sonny Gray is a virtual certainty. The veteran has been an all-star twice in his career and has over 1200 big league innings under his belt. The 2021 season was not his best, as he finished with an ERA a little over four, but his 1.22 WHIP and .225 batting average against will both play. He won't bring back nearly the return Castillo will, but enough teams should be interested in adding him to their rotation that it will increase the price to a level the Reds should be willing to pounce on.
The Philadelphia Phillies were one of baseball's more disappointing teams last season, as even with an MVP caliber season from Bryce Harper and a borderline Cy Young caliber performance from Zack Wheeler, they weren't all that close to making the playoffs even in a weak NL East. A weak spot for the Phils was shortstop, where veteran Didi Gregorius had the worst season of his long career, hitting just .209 and reaching base at only a .270 clip. With so many big-name free-agent shortstops available, it would behoove Philadelphia to search for an upgrade, and if they can secure one, Gregorius becomes a logical trade chip for a shortstop needy team that misses out on a free agent.
Young Gavin Lux was the Dodgers' first-round pick five years ago, and after ripping through the minor leagues with a career .304 average and .381 OBP with power, LA expected him to become their next star. That just hasn't happened to date. In 473 big league at-bats across parts of three seasons, Lux has hit just .233 with 35 extra-base hits. He's yet to carve out any kind of role with the Dodgers, and perhaps it's time for both sides to aim for a fresh start.
Left-handed swinging Dom Smith had such a good season in the pandemic shortened 2020 campaign that the Mets started envisioning him as a cornerstone player for them for years to come. Oh, how things have changed 12 months later. Last season Smith slashed just .244/.304/.363 and his power completely evaporated. In 446 at-bats he hit only 11 home runs, and down the stretch, while the Mets were trying to charge towards a wild card berth he lost his job. Smith is a natural first baseman who isn't going to play there with Pete Alonso locked there in Queens. Maybe a trade somewhere that would let him handle position number three on your scorecard would be beneficial.
Here is maybe the most interesting name on this whole list. When healthy Buxton is a legitimate superstar in this league, but he's participated in over 100 games only once in seven seasons. That's problematic. In the 61 games, he did play in last year though, Buxton hit .306 with a whopping 19 homers in only 235 at-bats. He also plays tremendous defense at a premium position in center field. Early this winter it sounds like Minnesota is at least open to listening on him, and you'd have to imagine some team would be willing to take a chance on him staying healthy moving forward. Is there a match somewhere that works for everyone? We'll soon find out.
The Padres unfortunately might have been the most disappointing team in baseball a season ago. After a good start, in the second half of the season, they were left completely in the dust by the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West. As a club that wants to be all in, you know failing to make the playoffs is something they don't want to repeat in 2022 and big moves are probably coming. First baseman Eric Hosmer actually had a pretty good season last year, but with versatile Jake Cronenworth capable of sliding to first if he had to, it could open the door for an infield addition somewhere else. That could make Hosmer expendable via a trade.
Veteran Kevin Kiermaier has been patrolling center field in Tampa Bay for almost a decade, but it's at least possible that could change in 2022. The Rays are notorious for being cost-conscious, and Kiermaier is due to make $12 million in the upcoming campaign. He's won three Gold Gloves for this team in his career, but that's still a steep price tag for an outfielder that just hit .259 with only 30 extra-base hits. A trade might not be probable, but it's certainly possible.
Could Jose Ramirez become the second switch-hitting all-star infielder traded out of Cleveland in as many years? It's certainly something that's on the table. Cleveland's terrific third baseman is coming off a fantastic year, as he just hit .266 with 36 homers and 103 RBI while participating in all but 10 of his team's games. For Cleveland though, they're in a situation where they have to be realistic about their aspirations. The AL Central appears poised to be run by the White Sox for years to come, and the Tigers are coming quickly as Chicago's top potential threat. That leaves the Guardians and Twins both falling behind in the wrong direction and potentially heading towards rebuilds.
Shortstop Paul DeJong was an instant sensation for the Cardinals for the first three years of his career, but the most recent two have not been as kind to him. Last year the veteran hit a paltry .197 with a sub .300 OBP, and his 19 long balls were not enough to keep him from losing his everyday job to Edmundo Sosa. DeJong has proven he can be an offensive force in this league, but it's fair to wonder if a change of scenery is needed after what was both a physically and emotionally disappointing 2021.
The Marlins would like to be active on the trade front this winter, and one of their biggest chips could be a relatively unknown name on the national level, right-handed hitting Garrett Cooper. The Auburn product is somewhat of a man without a position, as the best place for him on a baseball field is and always will be the batters' box. Last season Cooper hit .284 with nine homers and 10 doubles in 215 at-bats while playing a little bit of first base and a little corner outfield for Miami. It's clear, however, that he would be best served as a DH, and perhaps moving him can bring the Marlins back some pieces that fit better with their current mix.
Similar to the aforementioned Dom Smith, the Mets were counting on JD Davis to be a big part of their team in '21, and it just did not work out. Davis was hit in the hand by a pitch in the first series of the season and the injury cost him multiple stints to the injured list and had to play a big role in his nonexistent power most of the season. He ended up having surgery following the year to fix it but it's hard to really gauge what that means for him moving forward. On the surface the .285 average he finished with looks solid, but five homers in 179 at-bats from a guy New York expected 25+ from hurts. The Mets have so much to figure out ahead of '22, and it's increasingly likely moving Davis and aiming to upgrade at third base is going to happen.
Orioles' reliever Tanner Scott is somebody whose final numbers last year don't look great, but his peripherals will get the attention of rival clubs hoping to be able to steal an asset by buying low. The southpaw held left-handed hitters to just a .203 batting average and his pre and post all-star game ERA's (2.78 and 9.82) are beyond stark. You'd have to assume the two stints Scott spent on the injured list down the stretch could have played a role in that latter number. In 54 innings he punched out an impressive 70 hitters, and while the Orioles are high on him, they would move him if the offer was enticing enough.
Garver's fate in Minnesota could be tied closely to that of the aforementioned Byron Buxton. If the Twins do decide to trade away Buxton, you'd have to assume third baseman Josh Donaldson and Garver may not be far behind if a rebuild is the way the club wants to go. For Garver, a power-hitting right-handed catcher, you'd have to imagine the market would be robust. In a shade over 200 at-bats a season ago, the veteran hit .256 with 13 homers, and defensively he threw out about 18% of would-be base-stealers. The Marlins stand out as an obvious fit for the Twins in a potential Garver trade.
If the A's are serious about trading off some pieces, cutting costs, and retooling for the future, right-handed starting pitcher Frankie Montas could very well be the best chip they've got. In a career-high 32 outings, last season the veteran turned in the best campaign of his career, winning 13 games with a strong 3.37 ERA. His 1.18 WHIP, .232 batting average against, 207 strikeouts, and 187 innings pitched all ranked in the top 10 in the American League. Oakland will listen to offers and it will assuredly be tough for them to pull the trigger, but if they can stomach moving him, they can expect to bring back a haul.
Justin Mears is a freelance sports writer from Long Beach Island, NJ. Enjoys being frustrated by the Mets and Cowboys, reading Linwood Barclay novels, and being yelled at by his toddler son. Follow him on twitter @justinwmears.