MLB Free Agents After 2017 Who Could Be Trade Targets

Sep 30, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy (25) touches the beard of relief pitcher Sam Dyson (47) after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Texas won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 30, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy (25) touches the beard of relief pitcher Sam Dyson (47) after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Texas won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Typically the MLB free agents for an upcoming offseason are hot trade options during the season for the team about to lose them. Who could be driving the trade market this summer?

In the new collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players’ union, the draft pick compensation became likely lessened for most players who will become free agents, meaning teams with a potential free agent would have significant reason to trade during their final year with the team to maximize return value if the team is not competing in that season.

While this by no means will be an extensive list at every upcoming free agent in the 2017-2018 season, this will be a look at the guys who are currently eligible for free agency after the 2017 season and could be very intriguing pieces in the trade market this summer.

We’ll start with probably the most barren position…

Catcher

The obvious jewel of the free agent class in 2017-2018 at this position (and arguably overall) is Texas Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Having just acquired Lucroy (along with reliever Jeremy Jeffress) for a significant prospect package last summer, it’s hard to imagine he’d be easy to pry away, however, if the Rangers have an “everything went wrong” sort of season where they’re completely out of contention in June/July, Lucroy could be a very attractive piece to the right team.

Beyond Lucroy, there really are not many players who would qualify as “attractive” in the trade market. The one worth discussing is Miguel Montero of the Cubs.

With the Cubs having found their catcher of the future in Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini working his way up the system to very likely make the major league team in 2017, Montero could be expendable for the Cubs at midseason, and they may be willing to move him for the right deal.

There are a couple of guys with options that could be interesting, including Welington Castillo, who may decline to exercise his $7M player option if he believes he can fetch more in the market, Tyler Flowers, whose $4M club option looks quite affordable when compared to his 2016 production, and Yadier Molina, whose $15M club option is almost certainly going to be exercised.

Outside of that, there are primarily backup catchers, but we did see those players get moved in the 2016 trade season, so guys like Chris Iannetta, Kurt Suzuki, Alex Avila, Nick Hundley, or others could end up being moved, but likely not for much in value.

Next, let’s examine the corner infielders…

Oct 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) celebrates with third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) after hitting a two-run home run against the Houston Astros during the ninth inning in game four of the ALDS at Minute Maid Park. Royals won 9-6. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) celebrates with third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) after hitting a two-run home run against the Houston Astros during the ninth inning in game four of the ALDS at Minute Maid Park. Royals won 9-6. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

First Basemen

Many know of the fate of the 2017 Kansas City Royals, with a large portion of their big contributors to their playoff runs over the last few years being up for free agency after the 2017 season.

One of the biggest is Eric Hosmer, the first baseman that has been a key member of the Royals organization since the day he was drafted 3rd overall in the 2008 draft. If the Royals are out, a fire sale could ensue, and Hosmer would absolutely fetch a significant haul in the midseason trade market.

Probably the next most desirable name on the 2017 free agent list will be Carlos Santana. Santana has been an unusual leadoff hitter for the Indians the last few years due to his extreme walk rate in spite of lower-than-typical contact rates. He should be a guy that would fetch a big return if the Indians find themselves out of the race, and with Edwin Encarnacion in hand now through the 2019 season, Santana may not be long for Cleveland as it is.

The rest of the free agent crop include a few guys who really will come off as “failed future sluggers”, guys who were expected to be big-time power hitters but never turned into that – Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda, Mitch Moreland, and Logan Morrison.

There are also your “have power, will travel” guys as well that make excellent trade candidates each season, like Matt Holliday, Mike Napoli, and Mark Reynolds, any of whom could end up solid trade pieces if they’re showing value to a playoff team looking for power off the bench or at a DH spot.

Third Basemen

The third base crop is headlined by another Royal in Mike Moustakas, though he could be a guy who takes a while to develop a trade market due to his major injury in 2016 scaring off teams from jumping in too early in the season on him.

The other big names will be Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, both members of the Chicago White Sox. As seen this offseason, the White Sox are certainly looking to listen on anyone not fastened down, so it would be very feasible that one or both of Frazier and Lawrie get moved during the season.

There are a number of other guys who fit for teams depending on what they are looking for – Yunel Escobar showed solid defense with a contact-only bat at third for the Angels, Eduardo Nunez had a breakout 2016 but could be available if the Giants fall out, and Danny Valencia makes a corner infield platoon option for the right team.

July 27, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart (2) throws to first after second baseman Brandon Phillips (4) tosses the ball to him during the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

July 27, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart (2) throws to first after second baseman Brandon Phillips (4) tosses the ball to him during the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Second Basemen

Really, the best second basemen will be on option for 2018, and many of them will be exercised, like Jose Altuve‘s $6M club option, Logan Forsythe‘s $8.5M club option, and Ian Kinsler‘s $10M club option.

Of that group, Kinsler is the one guy who could move for a team who finds the option enticing as the buyout is fairly significant at $5M.

From the guys who will be pure free agents, there really are few that could be big trade pieces. Recently traded Brandon Phillips could certainly be on the move again from the Atlanta Braves, and division foe New York could move their second baseman, Neil Walker, if they were out of the running as well.

To continue around the NL East, while he won’t be playing 2B for the Phillies, Howie Kendrick played much of his career at the position and will be a free agent after the season, and with the Phillies unlikely to be involved with contention, he could be a trade candidate as well.

Shortstops

The shortstop crop is again highlighted by a member of the Kansas City Royals, Alcides Escobar. If the Royals do fall out, there could be a major influx of players available on the market, and while Escobar’s offensive value may be higher in KC than in most other organizations, he can definitely pick it at short, and that has value as well.

Outside of Escobar, Jhonny Peralta is also staring at free agency, and while it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals not only missing the playoffs two seasons in a row, but also being out early enough to make this kind of decision, it also could be a situation where the team simply has enough healthy, productive players at positions that Peralta could play and choose to move him as well.

Zack Cozart is also a free agent, and if he can stay healthy and produce early in the season, you can almost guarantee that the Reds will be moving him off to a contender.

Asdrubal Cabrera and Jed Lowrie both have fairly affordable options ($8.5 club option and $6M club option, respectively) that their teams could leverage to get a pretty good deal for them as well if they’re out of it and looking to move pieces.

Let’s next take a look at a fairly deep group of outfielders…

Sep 4, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Detroit Tigers right fielder J.D. Martinez (28) hits a solo home run against the Kansas City Royals during the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 4, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Detroit Tigers right fielder J.D. Martinez (28) hits a solo home run against the Kansas City Royals during the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Outfielders

While the outfield group is fairly deep, there’s certainly some different groups within the position:

Free Agent Starter/Star Players

If not the premier guy, one of the premier guys in the class will be J.D. Martinez. With the unfortunate recent news of the passing of the owner of the Tigers, it could be feasible that the team chooses a path of rebuilding if they’re out of it at midseason, and Martinez would absolutely fetch a tremendous return on the market, even for a half season.

Perhaps only behind by a notch in the class will be the Royals Lorenzo Cain, yet another Royal in the 2017 class. He’s been a huge beneficiary of BABIP over his career, and many are waiting for that other shoe to drop in his career on that number, but it still hasn’t through multiple injuries and as he’s now passed 30.

When he is healthy, there are few better than Carlos Gonzalez. However, he has worked to shed that “injury prone” tag the last two seasons, playing 150+ games each season and combining for 67 doubles and 65 home runs to show he still has the power to be a factor in a lineup.

He may have been unceremoniously shipped out of Cincinnati in 2016 for a middle infield prospect, but Jay Bruce still has some legit power in his bat, and if the Mets find themselves either overloaded with corner outfielders or out of the playoff picture (or both), he could be on the move.

While not among the elite available, Melky Cabrera is nothing if not consistent at the plate. He may not be the best defensive outfielder for sure, but he will give a team solid at bats with a decent average and contact skills.

Curtis Granderson may not be a spring chicken at 37, but he has continued to be productive when he’s healthy, and if Carlos Beltran can fetch a former top-5 draft pick, Granderson could certainly be a valuable piece in the summer if the Mets cash in his chips.

Once a top prospect, Cameron Maybin has simply worked his way into two of his best seasons the last two years. If he can hold off Ben Revere (another free agent who fits in this class), he could have a very solid return for the Angels if they were out of it.

Colby Rasmus is one of the more underrated players in the game. He plays an excellent corner outfield and can still pass in center, and his offensive game is solid enough to play every day, and premier in a platoon.

Option/Opt-Out Players

Michael Brantley missed much of 2016 with injury issues, and frankly, he’s missed a lot of a lot of seasons with injury issues. He has an $11M option after 2017 with a $1M buyout, which could make him a prime trade candidate if the Indians either fall out surprisingly or if someone like Bradley Zimmer or Greg Allen (or both) pushes his way to the big leagues and forces Brantley out.

The Tigers have to be hoping that Justin Upton chooses to opt out of the 4 years and $88M left on his contract if he stays, or they could leverage that if he’s playing well as a negotiation point for his new team that he’ll choose to opt out after the season, meaning he’s only a rental and the new team is not stuck with the nearly-$100M price tag.

Andrew McCutchen was floated around trade rumors all winter long, and now the news has come that he will be moving to right field for this season. It seems natural that the Pirates will entertain offers for his services with a very-affordable $14.75M club option remaining for 2018.

Though he just signed it this winter, Jose Bautista was certainly not a happy camper to take the $17M mutual option for 2018 on his contract, and he very well could be convinced to decline it for an acquiring team if the Jays attempt to trade him.

If they can convince anyone to take it, it seems this could finally be the year the Dodgers rid themselves of the Andre Ethier contract as he has a $17.5M club option for 2018 with a $2.5M buyout that many teams could consider financially viable more than his salaries have been recently when the team has attempted to move him.

Bench/Platoon Players

Rajai Davis, Jarrod Dyson certainly offer you speed, but they have other glaring holes in their games. With Davis, it’s his defense. With Dyson, it’s contact skills. They could be find pinch-runner/platoon types, however.

While he was once an elite starter, Carlos Gomez has had enough ups and downs that I have to put him in this category as a team would have to be hoping to catch one of his lightning-in-a-bottle sort of hot streaks if they did acquire him and not really plan on him being a guy with a consistent presence in the lineup.

Now, onto the pitchers. First, the starting pitchers…

Oct 26, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws a pitch against the Cleveland Indians in the fifth inning in game two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 26, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws a pitch against the Cleveland Indians in the fifth inning in game two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Starting Pitchers

Typically, pitching brings in bigger prices at the trade deadline, so with some big names available in this class, there could be some fairly big movement.

The cream of the crop would absolutely be Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and Chris Tillman as far as guys who are pure free agents are concerned. Each of the three is likely to be his team’s ace this season, and all three are on teams with postseason aspirations, so it’s unlikely they will move.

The next group would be the guys with options or opt-outs that could be intriguing. Those would include Masahiro Tanaka (can opt out of 3/$67M), Chris Sale ($12.5M club option), Matt Moore ($9M club option), Ian Kennedy (can opt out of 3/$43M), Gio Gonzalez ($12M vesting club option), Johnny Cueto (can opt out of 4/$84M), Wei-Yin Chen (can opt out of 3/$52), and the likely big news story as the season wears on, Madison Bumgarner ($12M club option).

There are a number of second-tier guys who are feasible options for trade, though, and that market could be very intriguing. The names of Brett Anderson, Clay Buchholz, Tyler Chatwood, Alex Cobb, Marco Estrada, Jaime Garcia, Jeremy Hellickson, Michael Pineda, and Hector Santiago may not all be the most “sexy” names, but they could give a team quality innings.

There’s also a very interesting group of “old and injured” that could be intriguing options. That list would include CC Sabathia, Tyson Ross, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Francisco Liriano, Ualdo Jimenez, Derek Holland, Andrew Cashner, and the “Big Sexy” himself, Bartolo Colon.

In 2016, relief pitchers brought back ridiculous trade returns. Who could be on that market?

Aug 17, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Tony Watson (44) throws a pitch during the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kenny Karst-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 17, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Tony Watson (44) throws a pitch during the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kenny Karst-USA TODAY Sports

Relievers

Typically, the guys with closer experience or elite performance are the guys who draw the best returns. In the 2017 market, those guys would be Wade Davis, Neftali Feliz, Steve Cishek, Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed, Francisco Rodriguez, and Tony Watson.

Some very intriguing option cases come up with relievers. Glen Perkins may not pitch again, but at $6.5M, his club option is very reasonable if he can return well this year. Huston Street has been a closer his whole major league career, though his peripherals haven’t really indicated lately that he should be closing. His $10M club option shouldn’t likely dissuade a club, especially with a $1M buyout. Craig Kimbrel could be the most interesting with a loaded Boston bullpen and his $13M club option for 2018, especially if Boston somehow ends up stinking up the joint. Last, but not least, Greg Holland has a vesting option for 2018 in his contract with the Rockies that could be very enticing if he’s pitching well after returning from injury.

From there, the two groups are the right-handed set up guys and left-handed LOOGY types. In the first group, you’d find John Axford, Andrew Bailey, Matt Belisle, Joaquin Benoit, Trevor Cahill, Jesse Chavez, Jeanmar Gomez, Luke Gregerson, Brandon Kintzler, Jason Motte, Pat Neshek, Sergio Romo, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith, Drew Storen, Pedro Strop, and Koji Uehara.

Last, the lefty relievers. Those would be guys like Fernando Abad, Antonio Bastardo, Jake McGee, Oliver Perez, and Clayton Richard. Boone Logan could be another intriguing LOOGY option with a $7M club option for 2018.

I hope this gives you an idea of the large group of players that could be trade prospects this season!

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