By Rich Arleo
MLB trade season began in a big way this past week with some major names already switching teams ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Left-hander Jose Quintana, a name that was mentioned as a top trade target even before the season started, stayed in Chicago but moved from the White Sox to the Cubs in exchange for four prospects, including two top prospects — outfielder Eloy Jimenez and pitcher Dylan Cease. After relief pitchers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle were acquired by the first-place Washington Nationals, and the Arizona Diamondbacks got JD Martinez from the Detroit Tigers for a trio of prospects, the New York Yankees joined the fun. The Yankees acquired infielder Todd Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the reloading White Sox for the Yankees’ No. 3 prospect, outfielder Blake Rutherford, reliever Tyler Clippard and two additional prospects — pitcher Ian Clarkin and outfielder Tito Polo.
While some major players have already been dealt, there’s still a number of big names expected to be moved by July 31. A lot can change in the next week as teams on the fringe determine whether they are buyers or sellers, but here are the five players likely to be dealt by the Deadline.
Sonny Gray, P, Oakland Athletics
The A’s are rebuilding, again. Even when they aren’t rebuilding, they kind of are. President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane is always looking to cut costs and acquire cheap prospects for the small-market A’s, so it’s obvious that their best pitcher is on the market.
After a disastrous 2016 season, Gray has bounced back nicely this year and reestablished himself as the front-line starter he was in ’14 and ’15 for Oakland. The 27-year-old right-hander owned a 3.66 ERA in 91 innings over his first 15 starts this season. Gray’s 8.4 K/9 would be his highest ever in a season and is well above his career 7.70 K/9. His velocity is back at or near his career averages after a down ’16, and his Swinging Strike Percentage (SwStr%) of 11.8 is more than two full points higher than his career 9.3%. Gray is also getting batters to swing at outside pitches better than ever (32.8 O-Swing%) and hitters are making contact less than ever (75% compared to 79% career). Gray has mixed in his curveball and slider almost evenly, and both pitches have been very effective — batters are hitting .211 against the curveball and just .160 against the slider. Any teams looking to court great can put any concerns over last year aside.
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Gray is making just $3.575 million this year and is under team control through ’19 as he is arbitration eligible the next two years. He will likely garner slightly more money next season but will still be a relative value for any team.
What’s The Price?
Given his age, skill and value, Gray is going to bring Oakland at least one, probably two top prospects. The A’s probably aren’t looking for any major big league talent in return as they will continue to stock their farm system. Look for a return similar to what the White Sox got for Quintana.
Basically every team in contention has been linked to Gray. The American League-leading Houston Astros are rolling this season, but beyond Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers their rotation has questions. The Milwaukee Brewers are also a top contender for Gray. The Crew recently lost starters Chase Anderson and Junior Guerra to injury, and Gray would be Milwaukee’s answer to the Cubs’ acquisition of Quintana as it tries to fend off Chicago in the Central. The Yankees, Cubs, Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves are also potential landing spots, and while the Los Angeles Dodgers have a strong rotation, they shouldn’t be ruled out of the mix here.
Zach Britton, P, Baltimore Orioles
After a loss in the AL Wild Card Game last season, one many attribute to manager Buck Showalter’s decision to NOT pitch Zach Britton late in the game, many expected the Orioles to be a top contender for the AL East this season. After a hot start, the club has struggled to get consistent pitching and has fallen well below .500 and likely out of contention. Team ownership has granted executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette permission to trade top relievers Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day.
Britton was baseball’s best reliever, and possibly best pitcher, last year, saving 47 games with a miniscule 0.54 ERA. Britton unfortunately missed two months with a forearm injury but has returned and proven he is back in top form.
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Britton makes $11.4 million this season and has another year of team control. He is arbitration eligibile in ’18 before heading to free agency in ’19, so any team acquiring Britton would have one of the best arms in baseball in their bullpen not only for the stretch run this year but for all of next season as well.
What’s the Price?
The Yankees traded reliever Andrew Miller and closer Aroldis Chapman last season. Miller had two-and-a-half years of club control when dealt, while Chapman was an impending free agent. Miller and Chapman both yielded a top 25 prospect along with another Top 100 prospect. For Britton, the return should be similar.
While most contenders are looking for a starter, they are also mostly all looking for bullpen help. The Astros, Nationals, Dodgers and Rays are all potential landing spots.
Yu Darvish, P, Texas Rangers
The Rangers are still technically alive, just a few games back in the Wild Card, but in such a big hole in the AL West and with a number of teams ahead of them in the Wild Card, Texas is likely leaning towards being sellers at this year’s Deadline barring a hot streak. While Darvish has been in trade rumors for much of this season given his expiring contract, the Rangers hadn’t openly said they would move him until recent reports that Darvish will become available if Texas continues to drop in the standings.
Darvish is having another nice season. His numbers are right in line with his career stats, for the most part, with a bit of a dip in strikeouts and slight bump in ERA. Darvish had 131 strikeouts in his first 125 1/3 innings this year, and he had 132 strikeouts in 100 1/3 innings all of last season. His 9.4 K/9 is off his 11 K/9 career pace, as is his SwStr%, though he’s still on pace to fan close to 200 hitters if he makes 30 starts. The biggest risk associated with Darvish is his injury history. Darvish underwent Tommy John Surgery and missed the entire ’15 season and the start of the ’16 season. He also missed some time last year with shoulder discomfort.
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Darvish will be a rental for whatever team goes after him. He makes $11 million this season and is an unrestricted free agent in ’18.
What’s the Price?
Darvish is healthy and pitching well, but given that he is a rental, teams may be hesitant to throw a ton of talent the Rangers’ way. There is mutual interest between the Rangers and Darvish in him returning with a new contract next season — what would a trade do, if anything, to alter those feelings? Texas should obviously see what they can get for him considering the chance they lose him at the end of the year, but they aren’t going to just give him away. The price here will probably depend on the team, but if a deal is made, the Rangers will be getting at least one major prospect in return.
As mentioned before when discussing Gray, every team in contention could use a front-line starter, and that’s exactly what Darvish is. Gray will likely be dealt first, but whichever team doesn’t get Gray will probably turn its attention to Darvish.
Brad Hand, P, San Diego Padres
After a few roller coaster seasons with the Miami Marlins, transitioning back and forth from the rotation and bullpen with mostly disappointing results, Hand was cut by the Marlins at the start of last season and landed with the Padres. He was moved to the bullpen full-time last season and put together by far his best year, and he’s been able to improve and put together an even better year in ’17.
Hand no longer throws the curveball and changeup he used to mix in as a starter and has been able to use just fastballs and sliders effectively. His K/9, which sat around 6 as a starter, rose to 11.18 last year and has gone up to 11.44 this year. His walks are down this year to a career-low 2.44 BB/9, and he’s proven over his 130-plus innings over the past two seasons to be one of the most effective relievers in baseball.
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Hand makes just $1.375 million this season and is under team control for two more seasons. He is eligible for arbitration in ’18 and ’19
What’s the Price?
Hand fits into any team’s payroll and is more than just a rental so the Padres can ask for a lot. While they may not be able to get quite as much as the Orioles would get for Britton, or the Yankees got for Miller last year, the price tag won’t be too far off. The Padres are reportedly asking for top prospects, and while they may not be able to bring in multiple players, they could probably get at least one top prospect in return.
The Yankees were linked to Hand before getting two big relievers from the White Sox, so they seem unlikely now. The Nationals also added two relievers but may still be in the mix along with the but the Astros, Dodgers and Rays.