0 of 8
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
‘Tis the season for Major League Baseball teams to make trades, but they need to be careful about shopping for the right players ahead of the July 31 deadline.
To this end, we have ideas for the best and worst landing spots for the top stars on the 2019 trade market.
Among the circumstances that went into our determinations were teams’ home ballpark factors, roster construction, contention windows and farm system depth.
The list of stars itself doesn’t include those whose availability is uncertain, such as Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Trevor Bauer, Brad Hand, Matthew Boyd, Felipe Vazquez, Kirby Yates and Trey Mancini. Zack Wheeler and Edwin Diaz could have been included, but neither has been helping his value this season.
All the same, we have eight stars to get to. We’ll begin with three hitters before moving on to three relief pitchers and two starting pitchers.
1 of 8
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Justin Smoak seemingly peaked with an .883 OPS and 38 home runs in 2017, but he’s still going strong with an .801 OPS and 14 homers this season.
Throw in how Smoak, 32, is making only $8 million in his final season under contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, and he’s a low-risk, high-reward target for offense-needy contenders.
Best Fit: Texas Rangers
Yet it’s possible that they’ll double-down on an offense that’s already produced 5.4 runs per game. That’s where Smoak would be an upgrade for a first base slot that’s generated only a .696 OPS and 10 long balls.
What’s more, Smoak wouldn’t cost Texas too much from its farm system, which is only the No. 29 system in MLB as is.
Worst Fit: Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies are one of many contenders that simply don’t need help at first base. But in light of the offensive struggles they’ve been dealing with recently, they might bite on Smoak anyway.
If they did, they’d have to move Rhys Hoskins from first base (where he’s posted a .915 OPS and 19 homers) to left field. There’s technically room for him out there, but the Phillies really don’t want a repeat of the defense that led to minus-24 defensive runs saved in 2018.
The Phillies are better off targeting a true outfielder to stand in for the injured Andrew McCutchen (knee), or perhaps a third baseman who could rescue them from the ever-disappointing Maikel Franco.
2 of 8
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
It wasn’t that long ago that the combination of Nicholas Castellanos’ disappointing offense and $10 million salary made him look like a persona non grata on the trade market.
Then he went and slashed .297/.396/.451 in June. The 27-year-old now has an .826 OPS overall dating back to 2016, which ultimately characterizes him as a hitter worth pursuing.
Best Fit: Cleveland Indians
Although Castellanos is a former third baseman, he’s really only playable in right field and/or at designated hitter. He fits best with a contender that needs offense at either or both those positions.
The Cleveland Indians have been getting better offensively with each passing month, but they still need another impact hitter to help out Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana. Said hitter would preferably bat right-handed, and there would be room for him in right field or at DH.
In short, they’re perfect for Castellanos. And after cutting so much payroll over the winter, they would seem to have room for his salary.
Worst Fit: St. Louis Cardinals
Because of his defensive limitations, Castellanos certainly fits better in the American League than he does in the National League.
He would be an especially awkward fit on the St. Louis Cardinals. Their slumping offense needs help, yet they have an outfield logjam that features a platoon of Jose Martinez and Dexter Fowler in right field.
The Cardinals would be better off seeking a second baseman or simply waiting for Marcell Ozuna (fingers) to get healthy and for Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter to heat up.
3 of 8
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
As well they should be. The Royals’ focus should be on rebuilding their farm system. Trading a 30-year-old with a club-friendly deal, a versatile glove and escalating offensive returns would help with that.
Best Fit: Colorado Rockies
Merrifield can play pretty much any position. He came up as a second baseman, however, and his metrics indicate that it’s still the best place for him on defense.
That’s a cue for the Colorado Rockies to see Merrifield as a solution for a second base slot that’s produced an MLB-low minus-1.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.
One potential complication would be Merrifield blocking top prospect Brendan Rodgers from second base in 2020 and beyond. But that could be avoided by simply moving Merrifield into a super-utility role wherein he could be a veritable Ben Zobrist.
Worst Fit: Houston Astros
On account of how well he hits and how many different defensive homes he has, it’s frankly difficult to conjure bad fits for Merrifield.
The Houston Astros, however, are certainly the least good fit for him.
Even if a rough June has them thinking about going shopping for a bat, they really only have room for a new one at first base. Merrifield’s talents would be wasted there, and the likes of Jose Altuve, George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick would be blocking him from other spots.
4 of 8
Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
The San Francisco Giants’ two best trade chips are both left-handed pitchers who are nearing free agency. There should be no doubt by now that Will Smith is the better of the two.
The 29-year-old southpaw quietly posted a 2.55 ERA in 2018. He’s thus far been even better with a 2.16 ERA and 51 strikeouts in his first 33.1 innings of 2019. Factor in his modest $4.2 million salary, and he’s a rental that just about every bullpen-needy contender should want.
Best Fit: Los Angeles Dodgers
Smith belongs with a win-now team that needs a dominant lefty for the late innings. Basically, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers’ much-maligned bullpen salvaged some dignity with a 3.26 ERA in June, yet its depth chart is still thin around veteran closer Kenley Jansen. Specifically, it lacked a reliable lefty even before Scott Alexander (forearm) landed on the injured list.
Ah, but would the Giants and Dodgers really hook up on such a big trade despite their longstanding rivalry? According to Morosi, the answer is yes.
Worst Fit: Boston Red Sox
This isn’t a question of whether the Boston Red Sox need relief pitchers. They absolutely do, as their pen has struggled with a 4.37 ERA and an AL-high 17 blown saves.
Yet the Red Sox must be choosy with the relievers they go after. Right now, there’s no guarantee they’ll earn a wild-card spot even if they do shore up their bullpen. That should point them in the direction of controllable relievers only, and ones they can afford with prospects from MLB’s worst farm system.
In other words, not Smith.
5 of 8
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Matthew Boyd is the best pitcher the Detroit Tigers have to trade. According to George A. King III of the New York Post, however, their asking price for him is in the Gleyber Torres range.
Since that’s not happening, a trade of Shane Greene will have to do. The 30-year-old right-hander has a 0.87 ERA in his penultimate season of club control, in which he’s making only $4 million.
Best Fit: Tampa Bay Rays
If there’s a catch with Greene, it’s that his rate of 9.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings isn’t that great by relief pitcher standards. It would be ideal if his next team could put a good defense behind him.
The Tampa Bay Rays can do that, and they happen to need a pitcher like Greene. Their bullpen has done well with a 3.46 ERA, yet its MLB-high 393.1 innings suggest an imminent need for reinforcements.
The Rays typically aren’t the type to sacrifice prospects in high-profile trades. Yet a trade for Greene wouldn’t be that high-profile, and they can spare plenty from their third-ranked system.
Worst Fit: Texas Rangers
Like the Boston Red Sox, the Texas Rangers could indeed use help in their bullpen. It’s posted a 4.70 ERA and done more harm than good to their win probability.
However, Shawn Kelley is doing just fine in the closer’s role. And while his 4.58 ERA suggests otherwise, Jose Leclerc still has the stuff that led to a breakout 2018 season. There would also be an element of danger in pairing Greene’s pitching style with Texas’ inefficient defense.
Besides which, the Rangers should be prioritizing their rotation ahead of their bullpen anyway.
6 of 8
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Ken Giles got a scare when he landed on the IL with elbow inflammation in June, but he’s since returned to work on a bounceback performance.
After posting a 4.65 ERA amid a tumultuous 2018, the 28-year-old righty has a 1.29 ERA with 49 strikeouts through 28 innings in 2019. He’s making $6.3 million, and he isn’t slated for free agency until after 2020.
Best Fit: Atlanta Braves
In light of his outstanding production and two-and-a-half remaining years of club control, the Toronto Blue Jays can wait for a team with a weak bullpen and a deep farm system to take an interest in Giles.
The Atlanta Braves would be perfect. Although their pen is fresh off an MLB-best 2.59 ERA in June, they nonetheless have a need for additional power arms around upstart closer Luke Jackson.
The Braves have more than enough in their No. 2 farm system to pay the price for Giles. And with a trip to the World Series within reach, they may as well dig in their heels by doing exactly that.
Worst Fit: Houston Astros
The Houston Astros probably aren’t looking for relievers, period. Even if they are, it’s a safe guess that they’re going to steer well clear of Giles.
Giles was with the Astros from 2016 through 2018, but neither side has fond memories of their last season together. Giles pitched poorly to the tune of a 4.99 ERA, and his composure deteriorated by way of a self-administered punch to the face and a demotion-inducing argument with manager A.J. Hinch.
Even though the Astros arguably got the worse end of the deal that sent Giles to Toronto in exchange for Roberto Osuna, they probably don’t want a mulligan.
7 of 8
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
However, underneath the 29-year-old’s ERA are encouraging signs such as his revitalized strikeout rate. Between those and his extensive track record of ace-like pitching both in the regular season and the postseason, he’s worth a gamble for contenders with needs atop their rotations.
Best Fit: Minnesota Twins
Since he’s a roll of the dice with free agency in his near future, Bumgarner should only appeal with teams that have clear paths to the World Series. With his ground-ball rate at a career-low, he also requires a big ballpark and a good outfield defense.
Minnesota Twins, come on down. The AL Central frontrunners could offer Bumgarner an outfield defense that’s put out an AL-high 27 defensive runs saved. They could also offer Target Field, where fly balls have been underperforming.
The San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, could probably find items to their liking in Minnesota’s 10th-ranked farm system.
Worst Fit: Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers are in the market for starting pitchers, but Bumgarner doesn’t fit their preference for “controllable” arms.
Beyond that, he wouldn’t be a good match for either their defense or their ballpark. The Rangers play bad defense generally, and their outfield (minus-12 DRS) isn’t immune from it. To boot, fly balls are overperforming at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
There’s also the reality that the Rangers are AL wild-card contenders first and AL West contenders second. They must be protective of what few prospects they have.
8 of 8
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Following a difficult and injury-marred 2018 season, Marcus Stroman is showing in 2019 that his 2017 breakout was the real deal.
The 28-year-old righty has a solid 3.18 ERA through 18 starts. He’s making a reasonable $7.4 million, with still another season to go until free agency. At least among the reasonably available options, these things make him the top starting pitcher on the trade market.
Best Fit: Houston Astros
In the wake of their difficult June, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reported that the Houston Astros have their eye on pitching upgrades ahead of the July 31 deadline.
Stroman has been on their radar in the past, according to Peter Gammons of The Athletic. That’s no surprise. This year, especially, Stroman fits the bill as the kind of high-spin pitcher the Astros covet.
On top of that, the Astros have the infield defense to accommodate Stroman’s ground-ball style. Sacrificing parts from their No. 8 farm system to get him would go a long way toward helping them win a second World Series in three years.
Worst Fit: Texas Rangers
We’re not trying to pick on the Texas Rangers. It just so happens that Stroman is another high-profile pitcher who doesn’t fit their needs.
He does have superior results and an extra year of controllability over Bumgarner, but Texas’ infield is no better suited to play behind Stroman than its outfield is to play behind Bumgarner.
Plus, there’s the Rangers’ farm system depth (or lack thereof) to consider. Even if they really wanted Stroman, it’s hard to imagine them winning a bidding war for him.