In recent days, MLBTR has taken a look at some players who could find themselves on the move between the conclusion of the lockout and the start of the season. First, Tim Dierkes looked at the league’s 14 likeliest trade candidates. Steve Adams then ran through some impact players who, to varying degrees, could find themselves in trade rumors whenever transactions resume.
Today we’ll look at other regulars who we could envision changing uniforms in the relatively near future. Acquiring any of the players on today’s list wouldn’t be quite as splashy as landing the stars we covered last week, but it’s easy to envision any one of them assuming an important, regular role on a new team.
Before we get into the list, a quick note on methodology. In defining “plausible” trade candidates, we looked at players we felt had somewhere between a 20% and 50% chance of being dealt before the start of the season. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list of trade possibilities — almost any player around the league could theoretically move if another team made the right offer — but it’s meant to capture a tier of regulars we wouldn’t be surprised to see change hands. In an exercise of this nature, there has to be a somewhat arbitrary line that delineates the last of the players who, in our view, are “plausible” trade candidates. Players like Gary Sánchez and Jesús Aguilar were discussed internally but fell just on the other side of that line.
Now, on to the list. The players are ordered by what we feel to be their likelihood of getting traded (all arbitration projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz):
John Means, Orioles SP
Buster Olney of ESPN reported in November that the Orioles were “dangling” Means in trade talks. Baltimore’s rebuilding and seemingly amenable to offers on anyone on the roster, but it remains to be seen how actively they’ll push to make their top starting pitcher available. With Means controllable through 2024 and projected for a modest $3.1M salary, the O’s needn’t force a deal this offseason.
The 28-year-old presents a tricky evaluation for teams. He got off to an excellent start to the season, posting a 2.28 ERA (albeit with a 4.20 FIP) through his first 71 innings. Means then landed on the injured list with a shoulder strain. After returning in July, he posted a 4.88 ERA down the stretch, watching his strikeout rate tumble almost six percentage points in the process. The medical evaluation will be critical, but teams that are comfortable with the state of Means’ shoulder moving forward might expect him to regain the strong mid-rotation form he showed early in the year.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Rangers SS/3B
Kiner-Falefa has been a solid regular for the Rangers for the past couple seasons. He spent 2020 at third base, then was tasked with moving up the defensive spectrum to shortstop last year. Defensive Runs Saved loved his glovework at short; Statcast’s Outs Above Average did not. Kiner-Falefa finished third in the 2021 Fielding Bible shortstop award voting. There’s not much question he’s a very good defender at the hot corner, and most teams would probably at least feel comfortable with him moonlighting at shortstop if need be.
Texas remade their middle infield in free agency, signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Kiner-Falefa could kick back to third base, but the Rangers have top prospect Josh Jung nearing big league readiness at the position. Controllable for two more seasons and projected for a $4.9M salary, he could stick around as a utility guy. But if another team buys him as a plus defender at shortstop, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Texas ship him somewhere he can continue playing everyday. Kiner-Falefa’s .271/.312/.357 line fits better at the bottom of a lineup, but he brings good contact skills and a solid infield glove to the table. MLBTR’s Steve Adams explored the possibility of a Kiner-Falefa trade at greater length this afternoon.
Raimel Tapia, Rockies LF
Reports out of Denver have suggested the Rockies could look to move Tapia, projected for a $3.9M salary in his second-to-last arbitration-eligible season. The Rox need to bolster an offense that was among the league’s worst last year, and they’re seemingly planning to make a splash in the corner outfield. That’d probably push Tapia — who’s spent almost his entire MLB career in left field — out of the everyday lineup.
Tapia has never hit at the level one would hope from an everyday left fielder. One could argue he’s better suited for a fourth outfield role regardless. He’s a plus runner with good bat-to-ball skills, though, and he ranked among Baseball America’s top 50 overall prospects back in 2017. It’s certainly not out of the question another team takes a flier on him, particularly if the Rockies are willing to take a minimal return after acquiring his replacement.
Chris Paddack, Padres SP
The pre-lockout agreement with Nick Martínez bumped a bunch of the Friars’ younger arms down a peg on the rotation depth chart. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently explored, that could pave the way for them to move one of their controllable starters. If they do, Paddack looks the likeliest of the bunch. He’s arbitration-eligible and projected for a $2.1M salary. That’s certainly affordable, but the Padres could be looking to open some payroll space after exceeding the luxury tax threshold last year.
Paddack has had back-to-back down seasons after a promising rookie campaign. But he’s still only 26 years old, boasts pristine control, and teams can dream on him recapturing his 2019 form. That he’s controllable for three seasons could be of particular appeal to teams like the Rangers and Nationals (who expressed interest at last summer’s deadline) who might be eyeing 2023 as a more plausible contention year.
Ryan Yarbrough, Rays SP
Yarbrough has been a flexible member of the Rays pitching staff for the past few years. He’s worked variably as a traditional long reliever, a bulk man behind an opener and as a true starting pitcher. Yarbrough posted an ERA of 4.13 or lower in each of his first three seasons, but he scuffled to a 5.11 mark in 2021. That came without meaningful changes to his strikeout and walk numbers, though, and Yarbrough remained excellent at avoiding hard contact.
The Rays likely anticipate the southpaw will return to form, but his price is escalating. Tampa Bay is already projected for a franchise-record payroll, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they move some of their arbitration-eligible players for pre-arb or minor league talent. Yarbrough is projected for a $4.4MM salary and remains under team control through 2024.
Austin Meadows, Rays LF/DH
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wrote over the weekend that the Rays could be open to moving Meadows, who is projected for a $4.3M salary. Controllable through 2024, Meadows would be a long-term option for Tampa Bay or any potential acquiring team, but the Rays have proven willing to field offers on almost anyone on the roster. And with the aforementioned payroll outlook for the typically low-spending club, the front office figures to be amenable to ways to pare back costs.
Meadows is coming off a decent season, in which he hit .234/.315/.458 with 27 homers over 591 plate appearances. That marked a bounceback from a below-average offensive showing during the shortened 2020 schedule, but it’s a fair bit shy of his career-best .291/.364/.558 line the season before that. Meadows isn’t a great defender, so he needs to mash to be a star. He did that in 2019, but he’s otherwise been a good-not-great hitter. That’s still a valuable player to have on hand, but unless the Rays anticipate him replicating his peak season this year, it’d be sensible to listen to offers.
Tony Kemp, Athletics 2B/LF
Kemp has bounced around the league a bit in recent seasons. He plays second base and left field, but advanced metrics have pegged him as a fringy defender at the keystone. Kemp doesn’t bring a ton of power to the table, and he’s already 30 years old. It’s not the easiest profile to make work, explaining why he has yet to find a long-term home.
There’s no questioning Kemp’s 2021 results, though. Over 397 plate appearances, he hit .279/.382/.418. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference pegged him as worth around three wins above replacement. Kemp has excellent plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills, and he could be trending towards a late-career emergence in the mold of former A’s second baseman Tommy La Stella. The market for teams on the hunt for second base help is pretty thin. Kemp, who avoided arbitration on a $2.25M salary and is controllable through 2023, would be an affordable pickup if the A’s move him as part of their anticipated post-lockout efforts to trim payroll and reboot the roster.
Manuel Margot, Rays OF
MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently looked at the possibility of the Rays making Margot available. He’s projected for a $5M arbitration salary as he enters his final year of club control. That’s a reasonable salary for a player of Margot’s caliber, but Tampa Bay has plenty of cheaper, controllable outfielders on hand, and top prospect Josh Lowe looks ready to step into an everyday role somewhere in the grass after a monster season in Triple-A.
It’s not out of the question Tampa trades away multiple outfielders, but if they move the more expensive Kevin Kiermaier, Margot sticking around to handle center field is certainly possible. The latter might have broader appeal around the league, though. Not only is he set to make around a third of Kiermaier’s remaining guarantees, Statcast credited Margot with a league-best +16 Outs Above Average in the outfield last year. He’s never been more than an average hitter, but acceptable offense coupled with Gold Glove caliber defense is a very valuable player. There’s also a dearth of center fielders available in free agency at this point.
Max Kepler, Twins OF
MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently broke down Kepler’s trade candidacy at great length. Guaranteed $16.25M through 2023 and controllable for 2024 via club option, he’d be an affordable target for teams seeking outfield help. Yet Kepler’s offensive production has ticked down towards league average following what seemed to be a breakout showing in 2019. The Twins might prefer to hold onto him in hopes he rediscovers that form, but they just extended Byron Buxton and have former top prospects Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach in the fold as corner outfield options. A Kepler deal could be a creative way to address some of the team’s other issues in the starting rotation or at shortstop.
The Jays’ catching depth has been a topic of conversation throughout the offseason. Would Toronto part with one of their controllable backstops to land help in the rotation or infield? The signing of Kevin Gausman probably diminishes their need to land an impact starter via trade, although they’re likely to at least look for depth pieces.
Reese McGuire is a capable backup catcher who’s out of minor league options. Top prospect Gabriel Moreno is rapidly approaching and could be in the majors by the end of the season. Jansen offers a solid bend of power and defensive acumen, while Kirk has otherworldly bat-to-ball skills and an elite minor league track record. Toronto doesn’t have to move anyone from this group, but it could be an opportunity to consolidate their catching depth for help elsewhere on the roster.
Amed Rosario, Guardians SS/CF
Cleveland acquired Rosario from the Mets as part of the Francisco Lindor trade last offseason. His offensive numbers (.282/.321/.409) were fine, although neither Defensive Runs Saved nor Statcast was fond of his glovework at shortstop. Rosario’s aggressive approach at the plate will probably keep him from emerging as the star many envisioned he’d become as a prospect, but he has alright career hitting numbers, runs well and could be an option for teams at any of the up-the-middle positions on the diamond (aside from catcher).
The Guardians have a lot of infield depth, with several talented prospects in the high minors and already on the 40-man roster. With their seemingly annual need for outfield help, a Rosario trade could help balance the roster. Cleveland could also just give him more run in center or left field themselves, but it might be more straightforward to trade him to an infield-needy team with an outfield surplus. Rosario is projected for a $5M salary and controllable through 2023.
Josh Bell, Nationals 1B
I covered Bell’s trade candidacy in greater length in late December. The Nationals are taking a step back in 2022, and he’s entering his final year of club control. A projected $10M salary might scare away some suitors, but Bell would be a notable offensive upgrade for many teams around the league. The switch-hitter posted a .261/.347/.476 season-long mark, and he had an excellent 277/.381/.506 line with more walks than strikeouts after the All-Star Break.
Garrett Cooper, Marlins 1B/COF
Cooper has looked like a viable trade candidate for a few seasons. He’s part of a corner outfield/first base rotation in Miami that got a bit more crowded when the Fish signed Avisaíl García. The Marlins have suggested they could use García as their regular center fielder, but that’s less than ideal. If they land a center fielder after the lockout and push García to a more suitable right field role, Cooper might find himself squeezed for playing time.
A late bloomer, Cooper’s already 31 years old. He has quietly been a very productive hitter when healthy, though, including an excellent .284/.371/.478 line (133 wRC+) in 383 plate appearances since the start of 2020. Health is a big caveat for Cooper, who has had stints on the injured list in all five of his MLB seasons and missed the second half of last year with a left elbow injury. As MLBTR’s TC Zencka explored in December, he’d returned to taking batting practice and figures to be ready for 2022. Projected for a modest $3M salary with an additional season of control thereafter, he could be an interesting flier, particularly for NL teams looking to add offense if/when the universal designated hitter is finalized.
Anthony Santander, Orioles RF/LF
Santander’s name has been floated around the rumor mill in years past. The Orioles are rebuilding, and he’s more of a complimentary piece than a likely member of the long-term core. Santander is limited to the corner outfield and has a very aggressive approach, though, making it crucial he makes plenty of contact and hits for power. He did that in the shortened 2020 season en route to a .261/.315/.575 line, but he couldn’t follow up on that success.
Last season, Santander had a couple injured list stints and struggled to a .241/.286/.433 mark. He signed for $3.15M to avoid arbitration in November and remains controllable through 2024. Given their competitive window, the O’s would certainly listen to offers on Santander. But it remains to be seen whether there’ll be sufficient demand that Baltimore wouldn’t be better off hanging onto him and hoping he approximates his 2020 performance over the first few months of next season. MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald recently explored Santander’s trade candidacy in greater depth.
Zach Plesac, Guardians SP
Plesac isn’t yet arbitration eligible and he’s controllable for another four seasons. The Guardians might simply prefer to hang onto him, particularly after their 2021 season was derailed by rotation injuries. Yet as mentioned with regards to Rosario, Cleveland has significant concerns in the outfield. They’ve dealt key starting pitchers over the past couple seasons, seemingly confident in their ability to continue to develop less-heralded prospects into capable rotation cogs.
If they were to deal a starter, Plesac would seem the likeliest candidate. The Guardians aren’t about to rebuild, and moving Shane Bieber or Aaron Civale might be too significant a blow to their hopes of contending in 2022. Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill might still have upside Cleveland’s hoping to unlock. Plesac’s small sample excellence in 2020 was probably inflated by a regional schedule against Central-division teams that, by and large, weren’t good offensively. That season aside, he hasn’t posted particularly impressive strikeout rates. But he’s got excellent control, gets a decent number of grounders, and should be a solid bet for league average rotation innings over the next few seasons.
Merrill Kelly, Diamondbacks SP
The D-Backs were the worst team in the National League last season. They don’t seem to have the appetite for a full rebuild, but Kelly’s entering his final year of club control. At age 33, he’s probably not an extension candidate, so Arizona figures to be open to moving him.
Kelly’s not an overpowering arm. He posted a 4.44 ERA over 158 innings last season, striking out only 19.5% of batters faced. He throws plenty of strikes, though, and he gets a decent number of grounders. Playing on a modest $5.25M salary, Kelly would be an eminently affordable pickup for contenders looking to stabilize the back of the rotation.
Garver missed a good chunk of last season after suffering a gruesome injury. During his 243 plate appearances, he mashed at a .256/.358/.517 clip with 13 home runs (137 wRC+). That’s two of the past three seasons with some of the best offensive output of any catcher in baseball. He’s controllable for two seasons and projected for a modest $3.1M salary. Jeffers hasn’t yet hit arbitration-eligibility and still has minor league options remaining. He struck out too often as a rookie, but he hit for power and is a well-regarded defender who entered the year among the sport’s top catching prospects.
As with Kepler, a trade of Garver or Jeffers would probably be about dealing from an area of surplus to address the rotation or shortstop. Both players could plausibly be regular catchers next season, and they’d lose some of their value if penciled into the DH role regularly. Given Garver’s injury troubles, Minnesota might prefer to hold their depth behind the dish.
Elieser Hernández, Marlins SP
The Marlins have reportedly fielded offers on their arbitration-eligible starting pitchers this winter, perhaps in search of controllable outfield help. Miami already thinned their rotation depth a bit by including Zach Thompson in the Jacob Stallings deal, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they make one more move in that vein.
Over the past two years, Hernández owns a 3.84 ERA in 77 1/3 innings with very strong strikeout and walk rates (26.3% and 5.7%, respectively). He’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher who’s likely to always have some difficulty keeping the ball in the yard. He missed most of 2021 recovering from a pair of long-term injuries (biceps inflammation and a quad strain). Because of those drawbacks, he won’t be in as much demand as rotation mate Pablo López. Yet another team may try to take a shot on Hernández’s promising strikeout/walk profile, particularly since he’s only projected for a $1.4M salary and controllable through 2024.
Chris Stratton, Pirates RP
I covered Stratton’s trade candidacy at greater length in December. He’s a 31-year-old reliever controllable for two seasons on a rebuilding team. The Bucs aren’t going to view him as a core piece of the rebuild, and it stands to reason they’d welcome the opportunity to pick up an intriguing low-level prospect. Over the past two seasons, Stratton has been the kind of capable if unexciting middle relief piece contending teams need. He won’t bring back a franchise-changing return, but at a projected $2.2M salary, he should draw some interest.
Cole Sulser, Orioles RP
Sulser had a quietly strong second half with the Orioles, occasionally factoring into their closing mix. A late bloomer, he’ll be 32 by Opening Day. So while they’re under no contractual pressure to move him, the rebuilding O’s would certainly listen to offers. After putting up a 2.70 ERA with a 28.4% strikeout rate, he should be of interest to contenders. Sulser isn’t yet arbitration eligible and can be controlled through 2025.
The Brewers certainly aren’t obligated to trade either of Houser or Lauer, both of whom are coming off strong seasons. Still, the Brew Crew already have a vaunted top three of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta and prospects Aaron Ashby and Ethan Small are at or nearing the big leagues. Might Milwaukee plug one of the younger arms into the rotation and flip a veteran back-end starter for offensive help?
Adalberto Mondesi, Royals 3B/SS
Mondesi’s an enigmatic player. He brings an enviable combination of power and speed and has enough athleticism to play a competent or better shortstop. He also has among the worst strikeout and walk numbers of any regular position player in MLB. Perhaps most alarming, he’s dealt with enough injury issues in recent years that Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore expressed some doubt about his ability to play more than 100 games per season regularly.
Nicky Lopez played well enough to supplant Mondesi at shortstop last year. Bobby Witt Jr. will probably take that position early in 2022, pushing Lopez somewhere else on the dirt. Whit Merrifield is still around as a second base option. Kansas City might have enough infield depth to explore a Mondesi trade, although it’d be a bit of a sell-low on a player with obvious physical gifts who’s controllable through 2023. He’s projected for a $3.2MM salary.
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs SP
Hendricks is guaranteed $29.5M through the next two seasons, with a vesting option that could keep him in Chicago through 2024. The Cubs have moved most of their core players dating back to last offseason, but Hendricks remains on the North Side. That might be attributable to some uncharacteristic struggles, as the righty’s coming off a career-worst 4.77 ERA with unimpressive peripherals.
Hendricks has never struck batters out or fared exceptionally well in the eyes of ERA estimators, though. Until last season, his actual run prevention handily outperformed metrics like FIP and SIERA as he thrived on exceptional command. He’ll probably bounce back, even if he may never recapture his Cy Young-caliber, 2.13 ERA form from 2016. With the amount of teams on the hunt for starting pitching, there’d no doubt still be demand if the Cubs made Hendricks available. Will they? Perhaps, since they’re not likely to compete in 2022. Yet their early-offseason activity — signing Yan Gomes and Marcus Stroman, claiming Wade Miley — has suggested they may not be keen to punt next season entirely.
Trey Mancini, Orioles 1B
The Orioles aren’t going to compete in 2022, and Mancini is ticketed for free agency at the end of the year. Most players in his situation would be very straightforward trade candidates, but the first baseman is a fan favorite and reported clubhouse leader who made an inspiring return to the diamond last year after missing the 2020 campaign battling colon cancer.
That Mancini returned to play in 147 games after facing that kind of life obstacle is a remarkable achievement. It’s undeniable, though, that his production slipped relative to his excellent 2019 campaign. Mancini’s .255/.326/.432 line was only marginally above average, and he played exclusively first base and designated hitter. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see him bounce back into a middle-of-the-order presence as he gets further away from beating cancer, but demand for his services might be limited until his production rebounds. If that’s the case, it’s probably not worth it for the O’s to trade him away this offseason. He’s projected for a $7.9M salary, but Balitmore’s 2022 payroll ledger is wide open.