By Adam Brown
The hot stove is merely lukewarm right now, a few trades but activity on the whole remains seldom seen. The proverbial first domino is yet to fall, and it’s seemingly dependent on David Price signing and setting the market for the rest of the free agents. This will inevitably get expensive, more than likely too expensive for a myriad of teams on the fringes of contention. Then attention turns to the trade market and acquiring players on more modest contracts to bolster a team’s roster.
The lion-share of trading is and continues to be done during the season, with teams having a greater knowledge of which direction their club is heading. The offseason is a generator of hope, which in theory should offer willing sellers a tighter grasp on the market itself. Arguably this theory has been in practice recently, with Boston parting with a glut of prospects to acquire Padres Closer Craig Kimbrel.
With this in mind, here are five potential players that could be changing uniforms over the winter.
Jay Bruce – Outfielder (Reds)
Whilst Aroldis Chapman has dominated trade talks as far as the Reds are concerned, and with the frequency of which relief pitching is traded, rightfully so, Bruce lurks for a team in need of power in a corner outfield spot.
Bruce, who in 2016 is owed $12.5m with a Team Option of $13m for 2017 offers a potential value play for a team in need of a potential middle-of-the-lineup bat. It would be disingenuous to suggest that Bruce is the same player who hit 30 home runs and amassed a rWAR of 5.3 in 2013. It isn’t a stretch however to suggest he is likely to outperform his .226/.294/.434 slash line of last season.
A victim of viscous BABIP luck the previous two seasons, .269 in 2014 and .251 last year, Bruce should anticipate a number more in tune with his career average of .287 in the coming season. His ability to draw a walk is also a potentially valuable asset; a career walk rate of 9.3% is comfortably above the ML average of 8.2%.
Whilst Bruce and his peripherals suggest a potential bounce-back year, his traditional numbers have probably diminished his trade value, creating a solid buy-low proposition for a willing team.
Realistic landing spots – Nationals, Angels, Yankees
Ken Giles – Relief Pitcher (Phillies)
At this point it’s no secret to say the Phillies are rebuilding. Trading away Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels and Chase Utley is indicative of the complete rebuild happening in Philadelphia. Whilst Giles, at just 24 is a young player with team control through 2020, trading him now maximises his potential value, giving a team five seasons of a future closer.
An ERA of 1.56 across his two seasons in the Majors (115.2IP), and an eye-popping 11.7 K/9 ratio to boot shows the dominant late-inning guy he is and should continue to be. A potential Giles trade offers any interested team a key piece to shorten the game, mimicking the Royals and how they’ve built success this way. Having seen the price for two years of Kimbrel, the Phillies could anticipate big offers for their young flamethrower, which doesn’t maximise his value on a 63 win team in the midst of a total rebuild.
Realistic landing spots- Every team with any chance of contention.
Starlin Castro –Shortstop (Cubs)
Castro is an anomaly on this list. He is the only player on a team that could be seriously considered a contender. He is a victim of depth, with the Cubs blessed with young middle infield talent in Addison Russell and Javier Baez, which in turn have made him expendable to the franchise.
Castro’s advantages are his age and contract situation. At just 25 and signed through 2020 at an Average Annual Value (AAV) of roughly $10.1M he provides a cost effective shortstop of the future for a financially flexible team. Coming off a down year last season, where his mark of 83 was 14 points lower than his career OPS+. This was hindered by heavy decline in walks, with a drop from 6.2% in 2014, down to 3.6% last term indicative of his struggles at the plate. Plate discipline has long been a concern with Castro, with his career 4.9% rate being over 3% short of the ML average.
Castro has the advantage of possessing underrated power, topping double digits in home runs each of the last 5 seasons, led by a career high 14 in 2014. This in addition to his steadily improving defence, where he now rates as an average shortstop makes him a highly valuable player to a team with a pressing need.
The Cubs will be looking for a trade where they receive a pitcher ready to pitch in their rotation this season, meaning there’s no need to part with prospects in a trade like this. It does, however, limit the number of possible trade partners.
Realistic landing spots – Mets, White Sox
Tyson Ross – Pitcher (Padres)
In terms of likelihood of being traded, Ross seems to be atop of the list. With his team already showing signs of heading into rebuild with the aforementioned trade of Craig Kimbrel, Ross is surely their next valuable chip to sell. With three years of control left, Ross will command a ransom of prospects, but with many teams more than likely priced out of not only David Price and Zack Greinke, but the second tier of Mike Leake and Wei-Yin Chen, the price of prospects might be more realistic than that of dollars.
For the Padres, selling now would indicate that they are headed toward a full rebuild, but also that they are selling at an apex, with Ross submitting a career year in 2015. With a FIP of 2.98 and a career high of 9.7 K/9, Ross has proven himself to be a top of the rotation power pitcher would be a top 2 starter in almost any club.
Over the past two seasons, Ross has become the paragon of consistency, with 43 quality starts and a QS% of 67 to demonstrate his reliability every time out.
Realistic landing spots – Cubs, Orioles, Tigers, Yankees, Pirates
Carlos Gonzalez – Outfielder (Rockies)
After a down year in 2014, Carlos Gonzalez had somewhat of a renaissance last season, hitting 40 home runs and owning a 116 OPS+. Long been a beneficiary of Coors Field, Gonzalez has an OPS of .986 in Colorado and .752 away. This indicates that teams trading for him need not apply if they play in a pitcher friendly park.
Conversely, however, 16 of the Venezuelan’s Home Runs came on the road last year, and had a higher than league average OPS+ on the road at 113. This should prevent teams in slightly more hitter friendly parks from being scared off at his career home/road splits.
Gonzalez is owed $37m over the next two seasons, but it’s likely that the Rockies would be willing to eat a portion of that money for the right trade. Gonzalez has long been hindered by sub-par defence, so could and should be an option to AL teams with the use of the Designated Hitter meaning Gonzalez can have days-off without losing his bat from the lineup.
With the trade of Troy Tulowtzki, the Rockies have made it clear they are willing to move on from the cornerstones of their franchise, and with Gonzalez and Jose Reyes making nearly $40m next season, the club will realistically be trying to move on from at least one of them in the near future.
Realistic landing spots – Yankees, Nationals, Angels, Mets