We’re bringing back our annual series in the run-up to the trade deadline, drawing from our power ranking approach to pending free agents. Essentially, we’re ordering players based upon our assessment of both their trade value and likelihood of being dealt. Of course, it’s very much up in the air just how many significant deals will go down during a pandemic-shortened campaign that not only features just 60 regular-season games, but more teams dreaming of playoff berths than usual. Major League Baseball decided to add three extra playoff teams per league for 2020, and that’s obviously going to affect how clubs handle the deadline. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said as much last Friday, telling Russell Dorsey of the Chicago Sun-Times and other reporters that playoff expansion has led to “fewer” sellers than usual as Aug. 31 approaches.
Another factor that could lead to fewer trades: Players who might be dealt must consider whether they want to change teams and home cities as the coronavirus runs amok. Any player who might be on the move could decide to opt out of the season if he’s uncomfortable uprooting his life.
As a deadline unlike any we’ve seen before nears, let’s dive into our list (statistics current as of Aug. 24)…
1. Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners
Walker is an affordable impending free agent on a clear non-contender. He’s a pure rental, but plenty of contenders are looking for rotation reinforcements. Walker has had two tough starts and three very good ones, leading to a combined 4.00 ERA with a 25-to-8 K/BB ratio in 27 innings.
2. Keone Kela, RP, Pirates: Similar to Walker in Seattle, Kela is a pending free agent and an established pitcher on MLB’s worst team. There’s no incentive for the Bucs to hang onto him, and while the return for a one-month rental of a reliever won’t be huge, it’s better than letting him walk for nothing. Kela missed the first several weeks of 2020 on the COVID-19 IL, and he was pulled from his last appearance due to forearm tightness. The Pirates called that decision “overly cautious.” So long as he’s healthy, Kela is a lock to be flipped.
3. Dylan Bundy, SP, Angels: The once-elite prospect has looked like the ace many expected him to become, and while it’s only six starts, it’s hard not to be impressed. The Angels could hang onto him for next year, but they’re buried in the standings right now, and as a pitcher controllable through 2021, Bundy will have much more appeal than rentals. GM Billy Eppler could likely flip Bundy for more than the meager price he paid to acquire him this winter. Few players have raised their stock more, and the demand for rotation help far outweighs the supply.
4. Lance Lynn, SP, Rangers: Lynn’s ascension to one of the game’s best arms has come out of the blue, but there’s little denying how great he’s been since signing in Texas. He’s halfway through a three-year, $30 million deal and has thus far pitched to a 3.30 ERA and 3.15 FIP with 10.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 0.92 HR/9. Lynn rarely throws anything other than a four-seamer or cutter, but the formula works for him; he’s lasted at least five innings in 39 of his 40 Rangers starts and averaged 6 1/3 frames per outing. Signed through next season on a Rangers club that has dropped eight of nine, Lynn is arguably the most coveted arm on the trade market.
5-6. Trevor Rosenthal, Greg Holland, RPs, Royals: The Royals picked up both formerly elite closers on minor-league deals this winter and have been rewarded handsomely — particularly in the case of Rosenthal, who has allowed two runs with a 15-to-5 K/BB ratio in 11 1/3 frames. They’re highly affordable and on a team that is five games below .500; they should be highly available, too. The Royals opted not to move Ian Kennedy last year, and he’s a pending free agent as well, but he’s also on a $16.5 million salary in 2020 (prorated to $5.9 million) and pitching poorly.
7. Kevin Gausman, SP, Giants: San Francisco signed Gausman as a one-year rental, knowing full well it would be in position to flip him before the trade deadline. He’s delivered a 42-to-6 K/BB ratio with a career-best 12.2 K/9 and a 3.10 FIP through 31 innings. The rental market doesn’t feature many prominent names in 2020, but Gausman is among the best performers and likeliest names to be moved.
8. Tony Watson, RP, Giants: A veteran lefty who will become a free agent after the 2020 season, Watson has allowed one run through 9 2/3 frames with the Giants. He has closing experience, handles righties nearly as well as lefties and is playing on an affordable one-year deal. There’s little reason for Giants to hold here, and any club in need of ’pen help would harbor some level of interest.
9. Kevin Pillar, OF, Red Sox: Seeking a steady veteran for their outfield back in February, the Red Sox inked Pillar to a one-year, $4.25 million deal after Boston traded Mookie Betts. Pillar’s no Betts, but the former Blue Jay and Giant has been a bright spot on a bad Boston team. Pillar, 31, has batted .278/.340/.454 through 106 plate appearances, although his numbers have tumbled recently. Regardless, Pillar’s a well-regarded defender (albeit not the all-world one he used to be) who can play all three outfield positions and a passable enough hitter that he could garner interest from contenders looking to bolster outfield depth.
10. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Angels: Simmons would be higher on the list had he been healthy and productive all year, but he’s played in just seven games due to an ankle injury. The 30-year-old has been the best defender in MLB dating back to his debut and could very well change hands in the next few days. But he’s also a qualifying offer candidate, and if the offers for him don’t outweigh the value of a compensatory draft pick, the Halos could just hold.
A pair of affordable veterans who are set to be free agents this winter, La Stella and Castro both figure to be available. La Stella’s bat has erupted with a .288/.350/.478 showing since he landed in Anaheim in 2019. Castro isn’t hitting for average, but he’s considered a premium defender with huge walk rates and some pop in his bat. That’s been the case with the Halos and will be the case wherever else he lands.
13. Derek Holland, SP/RP, Pirates: The Bucs have used Holland in the rotation (plus one relief outing), and he’s been a passable option outside a nine-run drubbing at the hands of the Tigers. A rival club might not view him as a rotation piece, but lefties are hitting .143/.143/.214 against Holland this year. The three-batter minimum limits a team’s ability to use anyone as a specialist, but Holland has a long enough track record in the majors that someone could still drop him into the ’pen and hope to match him up against lefties more than righties.
14. Matt Barnes, RP, Red Sox: Barnes has already watched teammates Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree get shipped out, and he’s likely to be next. It’s true that he’s had a pair of rough outings recently that have ballooned his ERA to 5.73, but it’s also true that he averaged better than 15 K/9 last year. Since 2016, Barnes has a 3.92 ERA and 3.38 FIP with 12.3 K/9. He’s controlled through 2021.
15. Buck Farmer, RP, Tigers: Farmer has emerged as a steady relief presence in a shaky Detroit bullpen. He’s dropped his slider usage in favor of his changeup this year, with the result being far fewer strikeouts but considerably more grounders. Farmer is controlled cheaply through 2022 and induces gobs of weak contact.
16-17. Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, RPs, Orioles: The O’s start to the season turned some heads, but they’ve dropped seven of 10 and faded from the division picture, as most would expect. Givens, controlled through 2021, has been a rumored trade piece for years and is off to another strong start. Castro, controlled through 2022, has 21 punchouts and a career-high 54.5 percent grounder rate in 13 2/3 innings. Baltimore could shop them individually, but a package deal could hold appeal to a bullpen-needy club.
18. Christian Vazquez, C, Red Sox: Long a sterling defensive backstop, Vazquez broke out with 23 big flies last season and hit .276/.320/.477 overall. He’s not hitting as well in 2020, but Vazquez is at least an average hitter at his position with a plus glove. He’s guaranteed $6.25 million in 2021 and has a $7 million club option for 2022.
19-20. Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac, SPs, Indians: Clevinger and Plesac have shown they’re capable of performing at high levels, and they’re each under control for multiple years. Both pitchers violated the league’s health-and-safety protocols this month, however, drawing some ire within the organization. The Indians optioned both players after that, even though they provide plenty of on-field value, and finally recalled Clevinger on Tuesday. He’s the likelier of the two to move considering his mounting arbitration salary and lesser amount of team control. He’s controlled through 2022, while Plesac is controlled through 2025.
21. Matt Magill, RP, Mariners
Magill’s 2020 numbers are skewed after he got rocked for five runs in one outing last week, but before that he looked like a terrific waiver gem for the M’s. If you’re willing to allow that all relievers are prone to the occasional implosion, Magill’s first 30 appearances with the Mariners produced a 2.67 ERA and 2.94 FIP with 11.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a hefty 14.7 percent swinging-strike rate. Magill bounced back from that brutal appearance with a perfect inning. He’s controlled through 2023 and has a 3.94 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 32 innings with the Mariners.
22. Hanser Alberto, 2B/3B, Orioles: Alberto just hasn’t stopped hitting with the O’s. He’s batting .305/.329/.429 in 671 plate appearances dating back to 2019. Alberto almost never walks (2.9% in Baltimore), but he’s also extremely difficult to strike out (10 percent). His power output is up in 2020 thanks to a deluge of doubles, and he’s a solid glove at either second or third (and playable at short in a pinch). The O’s control him through 2022, but a contending club with infield needs could benefit immediately.
23. Brian Goodwin, OF, Angels: Claimed off release waivers from the Royals at the end of spring training in 2019, Goodwin has batted .258/.325/.470 in 555 plate appearances with the Halos over his past 162 games. He’s controllable through 2022 and has experience at all three outfield spots, but the Halos have Jo Adell up with Brandon Marsh not far behind. Moving Goodwin could open more at-bats for the kids while returning some decent talent. (They’re not getting out from under the Justin Upton deal anytime soon.)
24. Rick Porcello, SP, Mets: The Mets play nine games in the next six days — 2020 is weird, folks — which will largely determine their deadline approach. Porcello was absolutely clobbered in his first start (seven runs, two innings) and has pitched well since (11 runs, 23 innings, 20-to-3 K/BB ratio). If things go south for the Mets, he’ll vault up this list.
25. Brandon Kintzler, RP, Marlins: The 36-year-old looks like he usually does: low strikeout rate, excellent control, plus ground-ball rate. He has high-leverage experience, gets gobs of grounders with a bowling-ball sinker and is playing on a one-year deal with a Miami club that has admittedly surprised to this point. Maybe the Fish will feel the return doesn’t justify dealing him when they’re on the fringe of the postseason race, but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see Kintzler move.
26. Wilmer Flores, 2B/1B/3B, Giants: Like Alberto, Flores should be of interest to certain contenders. An above-average offensive player for several years, Flores has found another gear at the plate this season, having slashed .306/.337/.541 (136 wRC+) with seven home runs in 104 trips. He also boasts a career-high ISO (.235), and Flores hasn’t had to sell out to add more punch to his game (12.5 percent strikeout rate). Adding to his appeal, Flores is on a prorated $3 million salary this year, will earn another $3 million next season, and has a similarly affordable $3.5 million club option (or $250,000 buyout) for 2022. Should the Giants just keep him, then? Not necessarily. If San Francisco doesn’t expect to be ready to contend during the life of Flores’ contract, it could make sense to move him now.
27. Jarrod Dyson, OF, Pirates: The 36-year-old picked a poor time to have the worst offensive showing of his career, but Dyson is still a burner on the bases with a terrific defensive track record. No one’s going to give up anything of note to acquire him, but the Bucs could save a bit of cash if a club wants to snag Dyson as a late-game pinch runner/defensive replacement. The 28-man roster makes it easier to carry this type of specialist.
28. Alex Cobb, SP, Orioles: Cobb hasn’t lived up to the four-year, $57 million deal he signed before the 2018 season, due largely to injuries. He underwent hip surgery in 2019 but looks healthy now, with a 3.73 ERA, 22-to-10 K/BB ratio and 58 percent grounder rate in 31 1/3 innings. However, there’s no way the O’s can move him without paying down the majority of his contract or swapping it out for another bad deal.
29. J.D. Martinez, DH, Red Sox: He’s out to a pedestrian start, but JDM is among the game’s most consistently excellent bats. The addition of the DH to the National League not only opens the field of immediate suitors for him but also should lead to greatly increased offseason interest if he starts hitting and opts out of his deal at season’s end. Martinez is owed $38.75 million from 2021-22, so there’s some risk if a club acquires him and he continues producing at a below-average level. If he were producing anywhere near his typical levels, he’d feel like a slam dunk to be traded.
30. Johnny Cueto, SP, Giants: The 34-year-old could well be moved this month, but it’s tough to buy the notion that he’ll be a coveted arm. Cueto is owed the balance of a $21 million salary in 2020 (about $4.3 million through season’s end), plus another $21 million in 2021 and a $5 million buyout of a 2022 option. Since returning from Tommy John surgery last September, he has a 4.60 ERA and a 4.61 FIP to match. His velocity in 2020 is sitting about where it was when he returned in ’19. Cueto was clearly a top-shelf arm at his peak, but the Giants are going to have to absorb the overwhelming majority of the contract just to find a taker for a pitcher who looks more like a fourth starter now.
31. Mike Minor, SP, Rangers:
Minor was a high-end workhorse a season ago, but the southpaw’s production has careened off a cliff this year. Six starts in, he owns a 6.75 ERA with a similarly uninspiring 5.28 FIP. Minor has also seen his swinging-strike and velocity drop in comparison to 2020, while his walks have slightly increased. Plus, considering Minor is a pending free agent with a 10-team no-trade clause, Texas isn’t going to get back any kind of haul for him.
32. Robbie Ray, SP. Diamondbacks: Losers of six straight and four games under .500, the Diamondbacks might have to seriously consider selling in the next week. Even if they do, however, they’re unlikely to get much for Ray, whose production has been abysmal this season. The normally solid Ray has begun his season with 27 innings of 8.59 ERA/7.76 FIP pitching. While he’s still fanning a lot of hitters (11.67 per nine), his strikeout percentage has dropped roughly about 5 points compared to the previous three seasons. Worsening matters, while Ray has never been any kind of control specialist, his BB/9 is up to an untenable 8.33. Despite the 28-year-old’s past success, no team’s going to pay a high price via trade for him now – especially considering he’s due to become a free agent at season’s end. But the D'backs surely don’t want to make him a qualifying offer, which puts them in an odd position with Ray.
33. Franklin Barreto, 2B, Athletics: As someone who was a ballyhooed prospect, Barreto was key in the return the Athletics received from the Blue Jays for superstar Josh Donaldson in 2014. To this point, however, Barreto has taken just 216 plate appearances (including seven this year) in Oakland across four seasons. This looked like the year he would get a real chance, but the club has instead turned to Tony Kemp as its second baseman. Granted, Barreto hasn’t helped his cause with a .183/.213/.365 line in the majors, but as a 24-year-old with a strong Triple-A track record, he could interest some second base-needy team as a change-of-scenery candidate. Clearly, the A’s aren’t keen on giving him a chance.
34-35. Clint Frazier, OF; Miguel Andujar, 3B/1B/OF, Yankees: Frazier is mashing his way back into the good graces of Yankee fans right now, but this pair of promising youngsters can’t seem to find regular reps in the lineup when it’s at full strength. The outfield scene is particularly crowded. The Yankees clearly value having depth of this quality around and probably won’t aggressively shop either player. But they’ll also be looking for pitching, and teams could ask about either of these MLB-ready bats. With Brett Gardner and DJ LeMahieu possibly departing this winter, the Yanks might just hold on to both, however.
36-37. JaCoby Jones, OF; Niko Goodrum, INF/OF, Tigers: Detroit has dropped nine straight games, and even though the Tigers promoted a cavalcade of prospects, the rebuild clearly isn’t over yet. Both Jones and Goodrum are controlled through 2023, so there’s no urgency to move them. Jones had a great stretch at the plate early last summer and is back to that form again. The track record is limited, but the tools are intriguing. Goodrum, meanwhile, can play all over the diamond and has a strong glove at shortstop. He’s struggled in 91 PAs this year, but Goodrum is a switch-hitter who was a league-average bat with decent power and speed numbers from 2018-19. Paired with his defensive versatility, he’s the type of player who frequently plays an underrated role on winning clubs.
38-39. Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, SPs, Pirates: No one is going to mistake either righty for a front-line starter, but plenty of teams would be happy to add a cheap, controllable fourth starter. Williams had an awful 2019 but has an overall 4.11 ERA and 4.30 FIP in 491 innings since 2017. Kuhl has just 332 career innings thanks largely to injuries (most notably 2018 Tommy John surgery), and he has similar marks in ERA (4.28) and FIP (4.34). He’ll miss a few more bats than his teammate but has shakier control. Both are controlled through 2022.
40. Marco Gonzales, SP, Mariners: As the Mariners’ No. 1 starter and someone who’s under affordable control through 2024, Gonzales is not being actively shopped by the M’s. They’ll likely get calls on the southpaw (if they haven’t already), however, and he’d unquestionably bring back a sizable return. The 28-year-old entered 2020 off two very solid seasons and has been even better across his first five starts this season. Gonzales has averaged just under six frames per start (he’s at 29 2/3) and pitched to a career-best 3.34 ERA/3.64 FIP. Plus, with a personal-high 7.89 K/9 and a sterling 0.91 BB/9, he ranks near the top of the majors in K/BB ratio (8.67).
41. Austin Nola, C/1B/2B/3B, Mariners
Nola didn’t crack the majors until 2019 as a 29-year-old, but the longtime minor-leaguer has improbably turned into a highly useful big leaguer. Not only does have double-digit games of experience at three positions (catcher, first and second), but he has turned in well-above-average offense (120 wRC+) over 357 plate appearances. He’s also on a league-minimum salary and isn’t slated to reach arbitration until after 2022. All of those are valid reasons for the Mariners to keep him, although there’s a case they should sell high now. After all, they’re not contending this year and probably won’t next season, when Nola will be 31.
42. Mike Yastrzemski, OF, Giants: Yaz burst on the scene last year and has only gotten better – far better – in his second season. He’s already at 2.2 fWAR through 133 plate appearances, owing largely to an eye-popping 184 wRC+ and has proven he’s capable of handling all three outfield positions. So why in the world would the Giants deal him? They probably won’t, but considering he’s set to turn 30 on Aug. 23, maybe the rebuilding Giants would consider parting with the potential MVP candidate for a huge offer.
43-44. Matthew Boyd, SP; Joe Jimenez, RP, Tigers: Boyd was a prime candidate to move at last year’s trade deadline, but the Tigers held out for a Godfather offer they never received. Boyd had three-plus years of control remaining and was amid what looked like a breakout season at the time, so Detroit didn’t feel an urgency to move him. In hindsight, however, that looks like a mistake. Boyd faltered in the second half last season and has continued to struggle in 2020, during which he has yielded four-plus earned runs in four of five starts and hasn’t lasted more than five innings in a single appearance. Jimenez has an extra year of control over Boyd but is an otherwise similar tale; he’s allowed a dozen runs in 8 2/3 innings in 2020 — seven in his past two outings (two-thirds of an inning).
45-47. Josh Bell, 1B; Adam Frazier, 2B; Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates: It makes sense to follow Boyd and Jimenez with another trio of should-be trade candidates who’ve floundered their way off the market. Each of Bell, Frazier and Polanco would be a clear trade piece were they playing up to their capabilities, but their collective face plant in 2020 is among the many reasons that Pittsburgh has been as bad as it has. Polanco leads this pack with a 74 wRC+. He’s homered in consecutive games, so maybe he’ll catch fire and catch another club’s eye, but it’s hard to see another team surrendering any value for a trio that has underperformed to this extent.
48. Mitch Moreland, 1B, Red Sox: The 34-year-old has typically offered league-average offensive production throughout his career, but he has been one of the absolute best hitters in the game so far this season. Perhaps the Red Sox will be interested in selling Moreland as a result (he could encounter a wider market with the addition of the DH to the NL); if not, they’ll be able to control Moreland next season by way of a reasonable $3 million club option.
49. Trevor Bauer, SP, Reds: Selling Bauer is a long shot for a Cincinnati club that has playoff hopes, although the Reds have disappointed so far and entered Tuesday with the NL’s second-worst record (11-16). That hasn’t been Bauer’s fault, as the soon-to-be free agent has given the Reds otherworldly production through the first month of the season. Teams are likely to come calling, then, but the Reds may have to completely flop over the next several days in order to abandon hope on a postseason bid and part with the ace. And it’s not a must-trade situation for Cincy, which will have the option of handing Bauer a qualifying offer after the season and receiving draft-pick compensation if he exits on the open market.
50. Josh Hader, RP, Brewers: The chances of a Hader trade range from slim to none, but the Brewers are at least willing to consider moving him if a team bowls them over with an offer. It’s going to take an enormous proposal for anyone to pry the eminently valuable Hader from Milwaukee, however, especially considering the all-world lefty’s under team control through 2023. Odds are high that he’ll still be a Brewer on Sept. 1.
Would-Be Trade Candidates on the Injured List
Cam Bedrosian, RP, Angels; Ken Giles, RP, Blue Jays; Joe Musgrove, SP, Pirates; Drew Smyly & Jeff Samardzija, SP, Giants; Kendall Graveman, SP, Mariners; Jose Iglesias, SS, Orioles; Merrill Kelly, SP, D'backs