May 21, 2024

MLB trade candidates: Ranking top 20 players who could move as market shifts ahead of Tuesday’s deadline

Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is just days away, leaving teams with a dwindling amount of time to take stock of their situations and make their decisions to buy, sell, or stand pat. CBS Sports has decided to bring in the official arrival of trade season by highlighting the top 20 players who could be dealt.

Below you’ll find analysis on each individual and their situation, as well as three potential landing spots. We are legally obligated to include a few caveats, beginning with the note that there more than 20 realistic candidates, and more than three plausible suitors for everyone listed — do not be the person who complains that their team isn’t listed often enough; it’s unbecoming and misses the larger point of the piece.

Not every player included here will be traded, of course, but we suspect that they’ll come up in conversations. The players are ranked in order of their perceived value and desirability based on the usual factors — expected production, positional scarcity, remaining team control, and so on. Keep in mind this exercise is more of an art than a science.

Now, let’s get to it. (Note that we’ve updated the original list to remove Shohei Ohtani and Lucas Giolito, who will be Angels teammates for the remainder of the season before hitting free agency, as well was Lance Lynn, who is now a member of the Dodgers. We’ve also removed Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger, given reports that the Cubs intend to buy, not sell.)

1. Shohei Ohtani, two-way player, Angels

Ohtani was the hottest name in trade speculation until Wednesday night. A report surfaced saying the Angels were not only keeping Ohtani, but planning to buy at the deadline. The team confirmed that hours later by landing Lucas Giolito from the White Sox. Ohtani could very well change teams this winter as he approaches what is certain to be a record date with free agency, but for the next two months he’ll have another chance to try to reach the playoffs with the Angels.

2. Lucas Giolito, RHP, White Sox

Giolito was one of the top names on the market until Wednesday night. The Angels grabbed the White Sox righty (and reliever Reynaldo Lòpez) in exchange for two prospects.

14. Lance Lynn, RHP, White Sox

Lynn was a mid-range target for teams until Friday afternoon. The Dodgers acquired him (and Joe Kelly) in exchange for three players, including injured big-league outfielder Trayce Thompson and righty prospect Nick Nastrini. 

2. Marcus Stroman RHP; 11. Cody Bellinger, OF, Cubs

The Cubs will reportedly buy at the deadline, not sell, taking these two off the market. We’ve kept Yan Gomes on here since the Cubs could conceivably move him without it greatly impacting their roster.

We originally left Verlander off this list entirely. His massive salary; potential player option for 2025 (his age-42 season); and no-trade clause made it difficult to see a pathway to a deal. The Mets have since traded Max Scherzer, suggesting anything is possible. Verlander has pitched well as of late, and we feel safe projecting him as an above-average starter at least through the end of this year. His talent isn’t and hasn’t been in question, though. It’s more of a matter of whether or not the Mets are willing to make another bold move. We’ll find out soon enough. Potential landing spots: Astros, Dodgers, Giants.

Montgomery, like Giolito, is an impending free agent who earns additional credit for his recent durability. He’s leaned on his low-to-mid-90s sinker more this season than in any prior, and it’s hard to knock that strategy given his results. Despite that shift, he’s generated a lower percentage of ground balls than he did in 2022. Go figure. Montgomery doesn’t miss a ton of bats, so we still think he’s a better fit for a team with a few smooth operators on the infield. Potential landing spots: Rays, Diamondbacks, Astros

Rodriguez has fully recovered after an unusual first season in Detroit. His time with the Tigers could be drawing to an end one way or another, be it through trade or clause in his contract that allows him to opt out this winter. Rodriguez would need to feel confident that he can clear the three years, $49 million left on his current deal. That seems like a safe bet given his performance this season. Potential landing spots: Diamondbacks, Reds, Rays.

It’s to be seen whether or not A.J. Preller will move veterans at the deadline. If the Padres do sell, then Snell is one of the most obvious candidates to go. He has an upcoming date with free agency that limits his long-term value, and his volatile profile has recently trended in the right direction. There are only so many above-average starting pitchers available at the deadline, and few of them can match Snell in terms of bat-missing ability. He has his share of warts — see the aforementioned bit about his volatile profile — but teams will take their heaping of salt so long as it comes with an equal share of sugar. Potential landing spots: Dodgers, Rays, Reds

Will the Padres actually trade Hader, an impending free agent? Who knows. We feel obligated to include him anyway. Hader suppresses quality of contact; he misses bats; and he walks just enough batters to keep things interesting. The last reliever to receive a qualifying offer was Raisel Iglesias. Hader will change that if he hangs around San Diego for the rest of the season. Potential landing spots: Diamondbacks, Reds, Phillies

Candelario is on the cusp of recording his third well-above-average offensive season in four tries, as well as setting a new career-high home-run total. That’s an effective use of the one-year, make-good contract he signed with the Nationals over the offseason. Candelario’s defense has also graded better than usual this season, making him a quality two-way contributor. The third-base market is otherwise barren, so expect him to be a popular target. Potential landing spots: Phillies, Brewers, Twins

Low-probability events happen all the time. How else do you explain DeJong, who had not flirted with league-average offense since 2019, emerging as the market’s best available shortstop? And how do you explain that happening while he experiences declines in average exit velocity and walk rate, as well as increases in pop-up percentage and chase rate? It’s a resurgence that doesn’t make sense on paper. It’s also a resurgence that may have peaked with seven good games in April. If you’re seeking a new shortstop this summer, there aren’t many alternatives to closing your eyes and wishing a little wish. Potential landing spots: Dodgers, Giants, Brewers

Hicks seemed close to punching his ticket to DFAtown as recently as May 5. He had a 7.62 ERA at that point. He’s since gone on such a tear that he might be the best reliever moved in the final two weeks. Hicks still throws that 100 mph cannonball sinker. He’s introduced a wrinkle to his game this season by refiguring his slider: his current model features less horizontal break in favor of more vertical depth. Clearly that trade-off has paid dividends, seeing as how he’s flirted with a 60% whiff rate throughout the season. Hicks’ history, recent and otherwise, does give him a riskier feel than some of his peers. For half a season, though, some contender will find it worth taking the plunge. Potential landing spots: Rays, Dodgers, Phillies

Lorenzen began his career in the rotation before spending the next six seasons in the bullpen. He returned to starting games last year, and he recently made his first All-Star Game (albeit in part because the Tigers were strapped for good candidates). Lorenzen doesn’t have the flashiest profile, but it’s clear he’s put in the work to maximize his game. In addition to prioritizing his four-seamer and his slider, he’s tinkered their shapes: the heater now features more rise, and the slider has reduced sweep but added depth. Whatever you think of Lorenzen’s season to date and his chances of being more than a back-end starter moving forward, you have to respect any player willing to reinvent themselves in their ninth big-league season. Potential landing spots: Reds, Diamondbacks, Phillies

The Nationals originally snatched up Finnegan as a minor-league free agent. He’s since given them around 200 relief appearances en route to the ninth-inning role. Finnegan does most of his work with an upper-90s fastball that plays up because of a deep release point. We suspect his next employer will ask him to throw his splitter more to generate more whiffs. Potential landing spots: Dodgers, Rays, Phillies

There are plenty of reasons for the Cubs to move Gomes ahead of the deadline. One, he’s in the midst of a surprisingly productive year at the plate, a 180 from how he had performed since midseason 2021. Two, the Cubs employ two other competent backstops, in rookie sensation Miguel Amaya and former Gold Glove recipient Tucker Barnhart. Three, there’s always a paucity of decent catching options available on the marketplace. The Cubs probably won’t strike it rich by landing a great prospect in return for Gomes, but they might get a better return than they would’ve expected — especially if the team in question has designs on exercising his $6 million club option for next year. Potential landing spots: Marlins, Yankees, Rays

12. Elias Díaz, C, Rockies

If business is about being in the right place at the right time, then put Díaz on the August cover of Fortune. He made the All-Star Game earlier this month on account of the Rockies needing someone; he won the All-Star Game MVP Award with a timely homer; and now he’s on this list because, hey, the world always needs catchers. Díaz’s recent sense of timing obscures a generic skill set. He’ll pull a home run now and then, and he’ll throw out his share of runners and block his share of pitches. Beyond that? He’s a below-average hitter and framer nearing his 33rd birthday. There’ll be interest on account of the aforementioned catcher shortage, but don’t mistake him for more than adequate. Potential landing spots: Rays, Yankees, Padres

Shane Bieber’s injury would seem to reduce the likelihood of him getting dealt this summer. The Guardians still have other arms they can move, including Civale, who won’t qualify for free agency until after the 2025 season. He’s sporting a shiny ERA despite striking out fewer batters, walking more batters, and allowing harder average contact than he did last season. He’s also cracked the 100-inning threshold just once so far in his first four seasons. Hm. The pitching market is such that some team might roll the dice. Potential landing spots: Astros, Diamondbacks, Giants

Flaherty, another impending free agent, isn’t the pitcher he was earlier in his career, when he received both Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Award consideration. These days, he doesn’t throw hard; he doesn’t miss bats; and he doesn’t throw an extreme amount of strikes. He relies, almost entirely, on suppressing quality of contact. To his credit, that’s worked out to roughly a league-average ERA+ the last two seasons. Flaherty’s next employer might tinker with his pitch mix, perhaps asking him to throw more curveballs, but there’s a non-zero chance he ends up on the outside of a playoff rotation. Potential landing spots: Reds, Diamondbacks, Dodgers.

Give the Nationals credit for nabbing Thomas from the Cardinals a few seasons ago in exchange for twilight-stage Jon Lester. That’s since proven to be a nifty deal, with Thomas developing into a quality short-side platoon bat. In our estimation, it’s time to add another branch to the trade tree. Thomas is nearing his 28th birthday, and his skill set is more valuable to a contender than a rebuilder. Plus, he’s in the midst of a banner year, suggesting his value will not get any higher. More than 200 points separate Thomas’ career OPS against lefties and righties, so his next employer should prepare to micromanage his plate appearances if they want to maximize his output. Potential landing spots: Mariners, Brewers, Yankees

Grichuk, an impending free agent, is a perfectly fine short-side platoon outfielder who has wholly recovered from the case of groundballitis he suffered through last season. Sometimes, as the Braves proved in 2021, these types end up mattering more in pivotal moments than you’d ever expect. Potential landing spots: Yankees, Brewers, Mariners

The Royals have already traded away Aroldis Chapman in recent weeks, but they still have another interesting late-inning arm to move. Barlow is a season away from free agency, and he certainly offers less value to the Royals than he would to a contender. The rub is that he’s having a down year, owed in large part to a bloated walk rate. The Royals may feel like they’re selling low if they move him this summer. To that we say: you should’ve dealt him last summer. Potential landing spots: Phillies, Rangers, Dodgers

Bummer, in the thick of a career-worst season and due another $5.5 million next year, could be one of several White Sox veterans on the go. There are several reasons to think better days await. He’s striking out a higher frequency of batters than he did last season (walking more, too) and his average launch angle surrendered remains in the negatives. Furthermore, while his .321 batting average against on grounders would represent a career-worst, his exit velocity on those batted balls is in line with last year’s mark — when he notched a 170 ERA+. Put him in front of a better defense and we suspect his work will resemble anything but his surname. Potential landing spots: Rays, Brewers, Twins

Canha is technically controllable for another season in the form of an $11.5 million club option. His power hasn’t rebounded in the slightest from last year, meaning he’s on pace to post the two lowest ISO of his career in back-to-back seasons. That’s not ideal for a corner outfielder. Canha does still possess quality contact and on-base skills, and some teams can’t choose to be picky — not when there are only so many other outfield options available. Potential landing spots: Angels, Brewers, Marlins

Pham has had a fantastic year after a slow start. He’s hitting the ball hard and controlling the zone. In an ideal world, he’d probably be deployed as a platoon option, but we will note that he’s having his best showing against righties since 2018. Pham is a free agent at season’s end, making him a pure rental. Potential landing spots: Angels, Brewers, Marlins

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