- Every contender wants to improve at the trade deadline, but which players can't be moved under any circumstance?
As the trade deadline rapidly approaches, every contender is trying to bulk up at one spot or another to build the best roster possible ahead of the postseason. But that doesn’t mean that each of these would-be World Series hopefuls should give away anything to do that. Each franchise has its fair share of untouchable players—those who wouldn’t be dealt no matter what the offer is, or at least in theory. But who is that man on each roster? For every above-.500 contender in the AL and NL, here’s the choice for the true untouchable.
Boston’s talented trio of young outfielders makes this a tough choice, as does the presence of shortstop Xander Bogaerts and Cy Young favorite Chris Sale. But Betts wins out by virtue of his American League MVP-worthy performance last year (at least, one that would’ve won the award in a Mike Trout-less universe) and his excellent all-around game. Even though 2017 hasn’t been as standout at the dish—Betts is batting .273/.348/.472, all down from last year—his superlative defense in rightfield and excellent baserunning (17 steals in 20 tries) make him a superstar at 4.9 Wins Above Replacement, best among Red Sox position players. Best of all, he’s under team control through the 2021 season.
New York doesn’t lack for young stars on the rise. Clint Frazier, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino all have a case here, and a healthy Gleyber Torres would as well. But Judge is on a level all his own: The AL MVP favorite has turned himself into the most feared middle-of-the-order hitter in baseball, not to mention the face of the franchise. In terms of current production, future value and contract, no one on the Yankees can beat him.
Logan Morrison is the likely MVP of the 2017 Rays, but his age (29) and contract status (he’ll be a free agent after the season) make him hard to build around (as does the fact that this season may be an aberration). It’s down to Chris Archer vs. Kiermaier for this one, and the latter is my choice thanks to his defense. He’s the linchpin of the Rays’ outfield; if his bat ever even comes close to his glove, he’ll be one of the most valuable players in the game.
Like Betts, Lindor is the entire package: excellent offense (albeit down this year), brilliant defense and great baserunning. The 23-year-old is a cornerstone player for Cleveland, though the emergence of 24-year-old super-utility star Jose Ramirez made this a slightly tougher decision than expected.
Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are the best that Kansas City has to offer, but with all three headed for free agency this off-season, they would be available for the right price. It’s harder to imagine the Royals moving Duffy, though. The 28-year-old lefty had a breakout season last year, posting a 3.51 ERA and 124 ERA+ and striking out 188 in 179 2/3 innings and has been nearly as good this year, though he’s seen his strikeout and innings totals drop (the latter due to an oblique injury that sidelined him for a month). He’s the ace of the Royals’ rotation, and he’ll be around through the 2022 season thanks to a very affordable five-year, $65 million extension signed in ‘16.
This is one of the hardest choices for any team: It’s hard to go wrong picking between Correa, Jose Altuve (who’s having the best year of them all) and George Springer, with Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Chris Devenski as dark-horse contenders. But Correa beats them out thanks to his incredible blend of power and defense at a premium position.
Harper’s contract status—he has just two more years under contract in D.C. before he heads out for the biggest payday in MLB history—complicates this, but in the end, he’s still Washington’s most valuable player by a mile. The 24-year-old is back in MVP form with a ludicrous .338/.439/.648 line, putting him ahead of Anthony Rendon (who is producing similar numbers but is three years older) and Trea Turner (a game-changer on the bases and a good defender, but who needs to prove his 2016 outburst on offense is legitimate).
The defending National League MVP has been the offensive star for the Cubs once again, leading the team in OPS+ (135) and WAR (3.6) and helping keep Chicago afloat amid a turbulent season. At only 25 years old and set to be a Cub through at least 2022, that puts him just ahead of Anthony Rizzo, who is two years older and will hit free agency after the ’21 season, barring an extension.
What a difference a year can make. Last season, Shaw came into August as a nondescript third baseman with the Red Sox, then lost his job after a brutal month and was dealt over the winter in a deal for reliever Tyler Thornburg. But while Thornburg has yet to throw a pitch in Boston due to injury, Shaw has exploded onto the scene in Milwaukee, leading the Brewers in home runs (24), on-base percentage (.370), slugging percentage (.586), OPS+ (142) and WAR (3.8). He won’t be this good forever, but he’s turned into a building block for Milwaukee’s rebuild and a big part of why the Brewers are competing ahead of schedule.
Cody Bellinger is the flavor of the year in Los Angeles, thanks to the rookie first baseman’s 28 home runs at the tender age of 21. But how easily we forget Seager, a patient hitter with a swing made for ripping line drives and a good glove at one of the game’s most important positions. And he’s only 23 years old. Seager vs. Bellinger is arguably the toughest choice of any contender, but I’ll go with the former, who has all the tools to become one of the best shortstops the game has ever seen.
The decline of A.J. Pollock due to a never-ending string of injuries makes this a relatively easy choice, though Jake Lamb’s second straight excellent year did give some pause. In the end, though, Goldschmidt’s potent offense—he’s third in baseball in on-base percentage (.439) and top 10 in WAR (4.7)—and underrated defense and baserunning make him the game’s best-kept secret. He’s an MVP contender every season he plays.
The heart and soul of Colorado, Arenado is irreplaceable both in the lineup and on the field, where his defense makes him arguably the best third baseman in the game. Charlie Blackmon has a very strong case to be the Rockies’ untouchable player as a true two-way superstar in centerfield, but Arenado is three years younger and under team control for one year longer, making him the pick.