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Five Trade Candidates Currently Blocked From Reaching Their Potential

They don’t have a clear path to playing time with their current teams, but they still have much to offer clubs that wish to acquire them after the lockout ends.

The offseason is considered the most optimal time for front offices to conduct trades. General managers have a better feel for where their teams stand and aren’t distracted by game-day operations or the pressure to complete a deal by the trade deadline with a bunch of moving parts changing the landscape on a daily basis for all involved.

But while baseball fans were treated to a highly active free-agent market before the lockout, with 26 of our top-50 free agents signing before MLB locked out the players on Dec. 2, the trade market was a different story. Seattle’s acquisition of infielder Adam Frazier from San Diego, Miami’s trading for former Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings and Boston and Milwaukee’s outfielder swap of Hunter Renfroe and Jackie Bradley Jr. counted as the most notable deals. While those trades could very well affect the 2022 playoff chase, there are certainly more remarkable ones coming after a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

I’ll try to forecast some of the players who could change jerseys at some point this year, with a focus on talents without a clear path to playing time rather than those close to free agency on teams unlikely to contend in 2022. With the league’s owners refusing to budge in CBA negotiations despite benefiting from a system in which every team is worth 10 figures, I’m in no mood to ponder scenarios that will let the penny-pinchers avoid paying their superstars right before they reach free agency and are finally free to earn what they’re worth. Plus, most knowledgeable fans are aware that the likes of Matt Olson, José Ramírez and Ketel Marte are on the block, anyway.

Here are a few guys who may not be at their peak value, but still have a lot to offer a different franchise.

Jul 18, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  New York Mets third baseman J.D. Davis (28) at bat against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning at PNC Park.

Mets INF/OF J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith

Mets GM Billy Eppler wasted little time in making his mark on New York’s roster after being hired in November, signing Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha and Starling Marte to bring in some fresh blood to the lineup (not to mention adding Max Scherzer as the Brad Pitt to Jacob deGrom’s Leonardo DiCaprio). That spending spree left a logjam at multiple positions, with Davis and Smith likely ending up as the odd ones out. Even if the National League adopts the designated hitter, one of those guys (or Robinson Canó and his $24 million salary) won’t be in the Opening Day starting lineup.

Davis has registered an .845 OPS in three seasons with the Mets, but the 28-year-old isn’t a great fit for a utility role because he is not a good defender. Smith, meanwhile, is blocked at first base by Pete Alonso and should only get worse in the outfield as his bulky frame continues to age. Smith’s stellar 2020 campaign inspired hope he’d live up to his first-round pedigree, but like the rest of the Mets lineup, he faltered in '21. He’s now a good buy-low candidate for a team like the Guardians, who have a hole at first and arms to spare. Both Davis and Smith have two years of team control remaining, raising the possibility that a noncontender could acquire either this offseason and flip them for additional prospects before the trade deadline.

New York definitely has the financial resources to keep Davis and Smith around as bench bats, platoon players or above-average injury replacements, the way the Dodgers have done for years. Having a groundswell of depth is not a bad thing, especially over what will hopefully be a full 162-game season. But given how their rotation collapsed down the stretch and the departures of Noah Syndergaard and Rich Hill, Eppler could choose to package together a spare part and a prospect or two to add another starter to the staff.

Potential fits for Davis: Blue Jays, Brewers, A’s, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Padres

Potential fits for Smith: Guardians, Rays, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Royals

May 31, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (27) rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.

Royals INF Adalberto Mondesi

Trade rumors have long swirled around Royals leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield, as the four-year extension he signed in 2019 proved to be extremely team-friendly, while Kansas City continued to flounder. But president of baseball operations Dayton Moore has fended off all inquiries from opposing front offices so far, and the time has likely passed to bring in a king’s ransom for the two-time All-Star, who’s penciled in to start at second base. Another Royals infielder could be on the move this year, though.

The keystone was once the stomping ground of Mondesi, a middle infielder who was supplanted at shortstop last season by Nicky Lopez while being limited to 35 games due to a series of muscle injuries. Mondesi mostly played at the hot corner when healthy, which worked out fine on defense but does not seem like a long-term fit.

Moore was strikingly candid when assessing Mondesi’s future with the Royals in August, saying he couldn’t be counted on as an everyday player given his injury history. Mondesi has not played more than 113 games in a season, including his minor league stints, since 2013, when he was a 17-year-old in Single A. With shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., their top prospect, set to debut soon, Kansas City’s infield is only going to get more crowded. This roster needs some sort of change, and using Mondesi—who’s under team control for two more seasons—to acquire pitching seems like a solid starting point. 

There is a lot to like about Mondesi, despite his injury risk. He is an intriguing player who boasts some tantalizing tools. He’s a switch hitter with elite speed and some pop, though it’s more gap-to-gap for extra bases than true home run power. He also plays good defense and has a strong arm. This should prove enticing enough for another team to bet on him as an everyday player going forward if Moore won’t.

Potential fits: Angels, Nationals, Reds, White Sox, Yankees, Cubs

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Sep 24, 2020; Cumberland, Georgia, USA;  Miami Marlins starting pitcher Pablo Lopez (49) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Truist Park.

Marlins SP Pablo López

Front offices showed just how thin the starting pitching market was in November by signing nearly every dependable free-agent starter before the lockout. The only two options left whom teams would feel comfortable calling on for a playoff start are Clayton Kershaw (whose market is likely limited to the Dodgers and his hometown Rangers) and Carlos Rodón (who had his long-awaited breakout in 2021, only to succumb to shoulder fatigue down the stretch). That’s great news for a team like the Marlins, who have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young pitching.

Miami’s rotation is currently projected to contain the newly extended Sandy Alcantara, 2021 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Trevor Rogers and López. The other two spots could be filled by any combination of Elieser Hernandez, Jesús Luzardo, Sixto Sánchez, Edward Cabrera, Nick Neidert, Max Meyer or Braxton Garrett. The Marlins aren’t yet ready to contend, but they’re in prime position to capitalize on their surplus of arms and reel in offensive upgrades to get their lineup closer to one that could win the stacked NL East—a route they’ve reportedly considered, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. López isn’t roadblocked from the rotation in Miami, making him an outlier in this article, but he could see his star take off with a better defense behind him. He’s also the perfect trade candidate because he’s a proven starter (he even has a playoff start under his belt from the 2020 NLDS), and GM Kim Ng could afford to part with him given Miami’s pile of prospects with higher ceilings.

Not convinced the 25-year-old López could fetch a worthwhile return for the Fish? He’s one of just nine pitchers (min. 30 starts) to record an ERA below 3.50, a strikeout rate above 25% and a walk rate below 7% over the last two seasons. The others? Corbin Burnes, Walker Buehler, Brandon Woodruff, Max Scherzer, Zack Wheeler, Kevin Gausman, Clayton Kershaw and Gerrit Cole. That is good company. The Venezuela native also set an MLB record in July by striking out the first nine hitters he faced in a game against the Braves.

The only red flag concerning López is a rotator cuff strain that sidelined him for most of the second half last season. But if the medicals check out, nearly every team will see value in acquiring a promising righthander who’s under team control through 2024.

Potential fits: Mariners, Angels, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Tigers

Aug 20, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Luke Voit (59) hits a single during the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium.

Yankees 1B/DH Luke Voit

Voit’s relationship with the Yankees soured last summer after they acquired Anthony Rizzo to take over most of his playing time during his disappointing, injury-riddled campaign—a development he wasn’t too keen about. New York also reportedly almost traded Voit himself at the deadline, only for the other team to back out at the last minute.

The 2020 MLB home run leader deserves to start on a regular basis, but that may not be in the cards in the Bronx. It seems likely Brian Cashman will shake things up somehow, and if he re-signs Rizzo, outbids Atlanta for Freddie Freeman and/or inks another infielder who’d push DJ LeMahieu over first base, Voit’s time in pinstripes could be over.

Even though Voit turns 31 in February, he still has three more years of arbitration, keeping his price tag relatively low for the foreseeable future. One wonders whether the mystery team that nearly acquired him last summer will have renewed interest after the lockout.

Potential fits: Brewers, Guardians, Cardinals, Braves, Phillies

Apr 5, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Chicago White Sox designated hitter Yermín Mercedes (73) reacts after hitting a double against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning at T-Mobile Park.

White Sox C/DH Yermín Mercedes

Remember the Yerminator? The squat slugger was the toast of the league last spring, setting an MLB record with eight straight hits to start the season and slashing .415/.455/.659 in April, when by wRC+ (204) he ranked as the fourth-best hitter in the majors. Then, on May 17, Mercedes cranked a majestic home run on a 3–0 eephus thrown by a Twins position player brought in to mop up a blowout Chicago win. Old-school White Sox manager Tony La Russa admonished him and he quickly crumbled at the plate, ultimately being sent back to Triple A by the All-Star break.

Was that timing a coincidence? Probably—it wouldn’t be a surprise if pitchers learned how to approach the 28-year-old rookie after his scorching start gave them a scouting report to work with. But isn’t there also a nonzero chance Mercedes’s approach and attitude were affected by being publicly thrown under the bus by his manager in favor of his opponents? His sharp splits before and after the incident lend some credence to that notion.

StatsPAAVGOBPSLGHRBB%K%wRC+

Apr. 1 - May 17

139

.364

.410

.574

6

7.2%

16.5%

169

May 18 - Jun. 30

123

.162

.236

.207

1

8.1%

18.7%

26

Regardless, this seems like someone who would benefit from a change of scenery. By the same token, Mercedes, who briefly stepped away from the game in July, could be a distraction to a White Sox team harboring World Series aspirations helmed by a manager he may have a strained relationship with. Even if that wasn’t the case, Mercedes now has former No. 3 pick Andrew Vaughn ahead of him in the pecking order for at bats as Chicago’s DH. But Mercedes has flashed way too much potential with his bat to languish in the minors for the rest of his career. Here’s hoping the Dominican Republic native gets off to a strong start in spring training and convinces another club to take a chance on him, the odds of which would increase with a universal DH.

Potential fits: Rockies, Brewers, Pirates, Nationals

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