Last December, Giancarlo Stanton was shipped from the Marlins to the Yankees in one of the biggest baseball trades in recent memory. Will there be a deal quite as seismic this coming winter? Resident MLB experts Jon Tayler, Emma Baccellieri and Gabriel Baumgaertner identify the biggest names who might be on the move.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks
2018 Stats: .290/.389/.533, 33 HR, 83 RBIs, 139 OPS+, 5.4 bWAR
Best fits: Yankees, Rockies, Nationals, and Phillies
As far as first basemen go, you can’t do much better than Goldschmidt. Among regulars at the position, only Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman topped him in WAR, and only Milwaukee’s Jesus Aguilar had him beat in home runs. He’d easily improve any lineup of any contender. From here, the best fits look to be the Yankees, Rockies, Nationals, and Phillies, with the Astros a potential dark-horse.
My money is on New York: Goldschmidt would represent a cheaper lineup upgrade than either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado and replace the lost Greg Bird. (There’s also the lightning in a bottle that is Luke Voit, but he has a strong whiff of Shane Spencer about him.) The Nationals would be strong players if Harper bolts. Ditto the Phillies if they miss out on Harper and Machado both, though they’d have to ditch Carlos Santana somewhere in the process. Colorado desperately needs an upgrade at first, but the team seems oddly averse to making that move. Houston, meanwhile, already has Yuli Gurriel in place at first, but he’s the definition of league average; Goldschmidt would turn that lineup into the Death Star. -- Jon Tayler
James Paxton, LHP, Mariners
2018 Stats: 160 1/3 IP, 3.76 ERA, 108 ERA+, 11.7 K/9, 2.9 bWAR
Likelihood: Medium to High
Best fits: Angels, A's, White Sox
Paxton is on the older side, having turned 30 earlier this week, and he’s depressingly injury prone, frequently sidelined by one malady or another; last season’s 160 1/3 frames represent a career high in that department for him. But when available, he’s a borderline ace with No. 1 stuff: a 95-mph fastball from the left side paired with a devastating curveball and hard cutter.
If the Mariners are serious about rebuilding, Paxton would be as likely a candidate as any to be moved, and there should be plenty of interest. The starter-needy Yankees and Brewers would make the most sense and have the best chips to offer. The A’s and Angels need help in the rotation as well, though Seattle may not want to trade within the division. If you’re looking for a surprise team, though, the White Sox fit the bill. Chicago’s youth movement has yet to produce a consistent starting pitcher, and with top prospect Michael Kopech out for the season, that team could use another above-average arm. Yes, the White Sox are still in the rebuild stages, but they have enough good pieces assembled and available that this is the time to push; the right veteran or high-level player can help spur that jump. And in the wretched AL Central, it wouldn’t take much to make Chicago a contender. -- Jon Tayler
Corey Kluber/Carlos Carrasco, SP, Indians
Kluber 2018 stats: 215 IP, 2.89 ERA, 151 ERA+, 9.3 K/9, 5.9 bWAR
Carrasco 2018 stats: 192 IP, 3.38 ERA, 129 ERA+, 10.8 K/9, 3.9 bWAR
Likelihood:Low to Medium
Best fits: Yankees, Phillies
That Cleveland is “willing to listen” on offers for some of their top veterans, including Kluber and Carrasco, came as something of a surprise. The club is in the middle of a competitive window, in a remarkably weak division; it seems like a position to build from, not tear down. But if ownership isn’t willing to spend anything more to build, then the trade market is the way to go; these two names could go a long way on that front.
Since 2014, Kluber has pitched more innings than any starter in baseball besides Max Scherzer. In those five seasons, he has two Cy Young Awards, a 2.85 ERA, a 5.5 K/BB, and 34.5 Baseball-Reference WAR. (That last number is more than any other pitcher besides, again, Scherzer, at 34.8. Clayton Kershaw comes in third, at 29.1.) In other words, he has a strong argument for being baseball’s best pitcher of the last half-decade. He’s 32, which might make some teams nervous about a multi-year commitment… or it could, if he wasn’t on an absurdly team-friendly contract. Kluber’s deal is structured as a series of one-year team options: $17 million for 2019, $17.5 million for 2020, and $18 million for 2021. If the club doesn’t want to pick up one of those options, the buyout is just $1 million. There’s essentially no risk to take on here, and there’s a lot of reward.
Carrasco’s not Kluber—who is?—but he’s nearly as enticing. Since 2014, he’s posted a 3.27 ERA, 4.9 K/BB, and 20.5 Baseball-Reference WAR. The 31-year-old is on an even more team-friendly deal than Kluber, lined up for $9.75 million in 2019 with a $9.5 million team option for 2020.
For most teams, losing either or both of these pitchers would represent a serious blow to the rotation’s success. But Cleveland’s remaining starters—Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber—are all remarkably strong, with top prospect Triston McKenzie on the way. Either Kluber or Carrasco would still be an awful lot to give up, but for a top-flight package, it could be worth it. Being “willing to listen” doesn’t equal “actively shopping,” though, and this one seems like it would need a seriously perfect package in order to come to fruition. -- Emma Baccellieri
J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins
2018 stats: .277/.340/.484, 21 HRs, 74 RBIs, 131 OPS+, 4.3 bWAR
Likelihood: Very Likely
Best fits: Nationals, Astros, Braves
Realmuto was one of the most-buzzed-about trade candidates at last summer’s deadline, but Miami hung on to him. Will they finally move him this winter? The catcher has two more years of team control, and he’s coming off the best performance of his career. The 27-year-old had developed into a solid hitter over the last several seasons—above average, and not just for a catcher—but he began lifting the ball more in 2018, which helped him become baseball’s best-hitting backstop, with a 131 OPS+, well above his prior career figure of 105. Even if that production falls off a bit, he still presents a remarkably strong profile at the plate, particularly for a catcher. He’s a capable defender, too. (Baseball Prospectus’ catcher framing stats do show a curious drop-off in his numbers from 2017 to 2018, taking him from “elite” to “average,” but, well, even if you want to be conservative with that and view him as a scratch defender, you’re still looking at a great player.) There are catchers available on the market—most notably Yasmani Grandal, though also Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki and Martin Maldonado—but Realmuto still presents the most intriguing option on the table.
The Marlins, clearly, aren’t interested in playing for this year. Realmuto’s trade value is higher now than it’s ever been, and it’s hard to make a case for hanging on to him when they could likely snag a pretty prospect package in return. -- Emma Baccellieri
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants
2018 Stats: 129 2/3 IP, 3.26 ERA, 119 ERA+, 7.6 K/9, 2.5 bWAR
Likelihood: Low to medium
Fits: Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Cubs, Braves
It would be a strange sight to see the burly lefty pitch in another uniform, but his trade is a viable possibility now that the Giants are under new leadership. By naming Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi as its new team president this past week, San Francisco all but agreed to a potential dismantling of an aging, bloated roster. Zaidi has a significant challenge ahead, but he’s revered across baseball for his wits as well as his aggressiveness. The problem with the Giants’ roster is that only Bumgarner would yield the kind of return necessary to help replenish a barren farm system.
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Bumgarner would deserve a prospect-rich package that a team like the Yankees could provide. He has one of the most team-friendly contracts in the game (he’s due just $12 million this season before he hits free agency in 2020) and is still just 29 years old despite having thrown 1,638 ⅓ career innings. Though he has struggled with injuries the past two seasons, he’s renowned for his toughness and competitiveness, so it’s hard to imagine any team passing on him if they could compile the right package.
Zaidi is savvy and usually mum about his plans, so there likely won’t be any trade buzz until after the winter meetings. But there’s a strong chance he immediately begins restructuring a roster that badly needs a makeover. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner
Sonny Gray, RHP, Yankees
2018 Stats:130 1/3 IP, 4.90 ERA, 89 ERA+, 8.5 K/9, 0.6 bWAR
Likelihood: Very high
Fits: Rangers, Reds, Astros, A’s, Braves
Once a player supposed to stabilize the Yankees’ rotation, Gray simply didn’t work out in New York. He struggled as a starter, with a 5.56 ERA through 21 turns through the end of July, and didn’t fare much better when he was relocated to the bullpen for the back half of the season. General manager Brian Cashman conceded that Gray, despite his strengths as a teammate, is better off in a new home. Rumors have linked the righthander to Texas as well as Cincinnati, but look for plenty of teams seeking a mid-rotation starter to inquire about Gray, who is still only 29. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner
Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
2018 Stats: .272/.374/.460, 13 HR, 52 RBIs, 119 OPS+, 1.9 bWAR
Likelihood: Very low
Here’s a shocker: ESPN’s Buster Olney is reporting that Chicago is open to trading Bryant, the former MVP who played in just 102 games last year due to a host of injuries. His struggles compounded a terrible end of the season for the Cubs, who lost two winner-take-all games (Game 163 for the NL Central crown against Milwaukee and the Wild Card game against Colorado), both on their home field. But it’s hard to imagine a package that would be enough to get Chicago to trade one of the game’s marquee players—a 26-year-old franchise third baseman square in his prime and three years away from free agency—when the team is already built to win. Instead, the front-office leak that he’s on the market feels more like a warning shot to the rest of the team: If Bryant is available, so is everybody else. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner