- Sonny Gray, Yu Darvish and Brad Hand are among the top trade candidates in this deadline season. What teams are the best fits for those players?
With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, contenders are making their calls and trying to fill what holes are still left in their lineups, rotations or bullpens. But of the top options out there on the market, who makes the most sense for those World Series hopefuls? Here are the top 10 players on the market and which team is the best fit for each.
Thanks to his combination of age (27), results (a 3.43 ERA and 122 ERA+ in 97 innings) and contract (he’s under team control through the 2020 season), Gray is the prize of the pitching market. But those same conditions will make his price steep. The Astros have the prospects to make a deal work and a shaky rotation in need of a boost. Plus, Gray is a perfect fit for a team whose window to contend is wide open, making him that much more valuable to Jeff Luhnow and company.
Clayton Kershaw’s back injury is the big question hanging over the Dodgers, but even if he were healthy, there’s room for Darvish. Yes, Los Angeles is secure in first place in the NL West, with a 12 ½-game lead over the Diamondbacks, so Darvish wouldn’t be needed for some down-to-the-wire race for the division. But he does give the Dodgers some needed flexibility in the postseason as a pitcher capable of getting through a lineup three times—something that can’t necessarily be said of Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda or Brandon McCarthy. That injury-prone quartet is going to put a lot of pressure on Kershaw and the Dodgers’ bullpen night after night in the playoffs; Darvish can take some of that weight off.
Behold the best reliever on the market: a 27-year-old lefty who tops out at 94 mph and was plucked off waivers by the Padres before the season. Hand is a strikeout machine who has great control, limits home runs, can go more than an inning in an outing and is under team control for the next three seasons. Every contender in the league should want him and could use him, but he makes a lot of sense in Houston, whose bullpen beyond closer Ken Giles and Chris Devenski is shaky. The Astros could also use a lefty to replace resident southpaw veteran Tony Sipp, who hasn’t fooled anyone (a 4.99 ERA and 1.5 homers per nine).
This isn’t so much a best fit as it is the only fit. No other contender needs a first baseman aside from the Yankees, who have shuttled through the likes of Ji-man Choi and Chris Carter and Garrett Cooper in a desperate bid to find someone—anyone—who can hit enough to stay at the position. The latest man there is Chase Headley, who was barely producing enough to stay at third base; he’s totally unsuited to a full-time first base role. Alonso’s lefty power stroke is a dream marriage with Yankee Stadium’s short rightfield porch, but so long as he’s even average, he’s an upgrade over Headley and anyone else the Yankees have.
Like the Dodgers, the Nationals aren’t in need of a starter to help them secure a division crown: Washington is 12 1/2 games up on Atlanta in the moribund NL East. But Samardzija offers insurance should Stephen Strasburg’s injury prove more serious than it is, fills a persistent hole in the back of the rotation (one currently filled by peripatetic veteran Edwin Jackson), provides a more reliable postseason option than Gio Gonzalez or the struggling Tanner Roark, and gives the Nationals a guaranteed starter next year alongside Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Roark (and possibly Gonzalez, who has a vesting option for 2018 that may not kick in). Samardzija’s contract—another $59 million due over the next three years—is a hefty price to pay, but there is some upside, and Washington is one of nine teams not on his no-trade list, making a deal that much easier to swing.
If the Dodgers don’t go for a starter, then the next best step would be to bolster the bullpen, which will be relied upon heavily in the postseason, as is Dave Roberts’s way. Britton isn’t the same unhittable closer he was in 2016 due to a shoulder injury that’s cost him most of this season, but he still throws hard and has another year of team control available. He wouldn’t be counted on as the top man in Los Angeles’s bullpen, either, and the team’s huge division lead gives him plenty of time to straighten things out before the playoffs. Simply put: the more options Roberts has, the better.
Britton would have made sense for Tampa Bay, but the Rays recently picked up a lefty by getting Dan Jennings from the White Sox, and the prospect price for the Orioles’ closer likely would have been too high. Reed makes more sense: The veteran righty is a free agent after the season, which should lower his price, and has closing experience, making him a valuable setup option in a bullpen that struggles to hold leads and a fallback closer option should Alex Colome struggle.
Boston’s third base mess has no visible solution on the trade market, which means the bullpen is the next priority, particularly securing a setup man to get leads to All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. Wilson would fix a lot of issues there, giving the Red Sox a power arm to go with former first-rounder Matt Barnes and converted starter Joe Kelly in the late innings. The lefthanded Wilson would also be a big help to a relief corps that has yet to settle on a top southpaw, with Robby Scott, Fernando Abad and the injured Robbie Ross all failing to fill that role.
Milwaukee’s rotation could use some help. Jimmy Nelson has been fantastic as the ace, but with Chase Anderson and Matt Garza down due to injury, the Brewers are stuck throwing Junior Guerra and Zach Davies out there to get stomped on. Verlander’s contract ($58 million over the next two seasons, plus a vesting option for 2020) is a lot to ask any team to take on, particularly the small-market Brewers, but they can put up the prospects to convince the Tigers to eat some of that money. That’s worth it to secure a playoff-tested ace for a tight NL Central race—and, should it come down to it, a no-doubt No. 1 option for the wild-card game.
Rookie Jorge Bonifacio is currently holding down rightfield for the Royals, but the 24-year-old is league average with the bat and nothing special with the glove. Bruce isn’t much better defensively, but he’s a huge step up at the plate and would give Kansas City an imposing power bat alongside Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Best of all, there’s no long-term commitment to be made to Bruce, who’s a free agent after the season, and with few if any teams looking for corner outfield help, his price should be manageable for the prospect-thin Royals.