MLB Offseason: Finding Homes for the Hottest Trade Candidates

The MLB offseason will continue to be dominated by the ongoing free agencies of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But the relatively quiet trade market — which features a number of high-profile individuals who might be traded — has been a significant talking point this offseason too. Here are landing spots for some of the most discussed trade candidates.

Trevor Bauer – Atlanta Braves

The Braves are coming off an impressive 90-win season and have a respectable starting rotation, but deepening their pitching staff is a necessity to take the next step in becoming a contender. Why not swing a trade for Bauer?

The Indians have been one of the busiest teams this offseason on the trade market when it comes to sending some of their most prominent players elsewhere. Bauer and former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber have been mentioned as candidates to be traded next, but the Indians would be wise to only pull the trigger on a trade if it’s a haul; the Braves can offer them that. They have one of the deepest farm systems in the sport, and given where the rest of their roster stands, now is the time for management to make a big trade.

Bauer is coming off the best season of his career. In 28 appearances — 27 of which were starts — the crafty right-hander recorded a 2.21 ERA and 1.09 WHIP while totaling 221 strikeouts and surrendering just nine home runs. Bauer is on the rise and under contract for two more seasons, so it wouldn’t be a one-year rental for the Braves’ sake. A combination of Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Julio Teheran, and Bauer would give the Braves a potent rotation to call their own. And with the likes of Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, and Ender Inciarte in their lineup, manager Brian Snitker would have one of the most well-rounded rosters in MLB.

The Washington Nationals have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and free agent signee Patrick Corbin. The New York Mets have Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler. The Philadelphia Phillies have Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. If the Braves acquire Bauer they would come close to posing the same threat as those rotations and would likely be the favorites to win the National League East for a second consecutive season.

Braves Receive: Bauer

Indians Receive: Ian Anderson, Greyson JenistaAlex Jackson

Edwin Encarnacion – Tampa Bay Rays

In a three-team trade involving the Indians, Seattle Mariners, and Rays, Encarnacion landed on the West Coast, but it’s unknown if the first baseman/designated hitter will stay put in Seattle given the organization’s offseason trading frenzy — leading to rumors and speculation. And if Encarnacion is indeed going to be traded again before spring training, the Rays would be a great landing spot for the 36-year-old.

The Rays are fresh off a 90-win season and have added All-Star right-hander Charlie Morton to a pitching staff that features American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and the trendy bullpen day strategy. At the same time, they’ve lost some prominent pieces to their everyday lineup. In a November trade, the Rays sent young outfielder Mallex Smith to the Mariners for catcher Mike Zunino and minor league left-hander Michael Plassmeyer. The Rays also designated first baseman C.J. Cron for assignment despite him totaling 30 home runs and 74 RBIs — which was a decision that puzzled many.

Encarnacion is one of the most feared power hitters in baseball. He has compiled 70 home runs over the last two seasons and totaled 30-plus home runs and 107-plus RBIs every season since 2015. Now, the power-hitting Encarnacion doesn’t play the field as much as he used to, but after the Rays were supposedly interested in signing Nelson Cruz before he agreed to a one-year deal with the Minnesota Twins, it’s reasonable to think they’d look to add power to the middle of their order. And Encarnacion would fit the bill.

Encarnacion is under contract for $20 million a season, and absorbing a contract of that magnitude would be extremely un-Rays-like. With that said, he’s only under contract for two more seasons and would provide the Rays with veteran pedigree.  If it doesn’t work out, the Rays should be able to trade him next winter.

Rays Receive: Encarnacion

Mariners Receive: Nathaniel Lowe

Sonny Gray – Milwaukee Brewers

Gray and the New York Yankees started off as a perfect fit and are now a marriage in desperate need of a divorce. In his first full season with the Yankees, Gray struggled immensely, to the point where he was bumped out of the team’s starting rotation, and finished the 2018 season with a 4.90 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. General manager Brian Cashman is on the record this offseason saying the Yankees are going to trade Gray — though he remains present. While his time in the Big Apple was a total train wreck, Gray should be able to go elsewhere and have success; sometimes a change of scenery is a necessity, and the Brewers could be the light at the end of the tunnel for the right-hander.

The Brewers made it clear in the postseason that they’re going to be a bullpen-savvy team moving forward. Manager Craig Counsell let a starting pitcher go through five innings just three times in 10 postseason games, and the Brewers stockpiled their pen so that no pitcher would be overworked. But they’re still going to need reliable starting pitchers to get through the regular season, and, if they reach the postseason, setup their relievers. Even if he doesn’t pitch deep into games, Gray can help the Brewers accomplish such a goal.

Gray pitched 200-plus innings in both 2014 and 2015 and has postseason experience with the Oakland Athletics and Yankees. He also recorded ERAs under 3.00 in 2013 and 2015; he has shown the ability to be a reliable force on the rubber every fifth day. Will the potent Gray ever make a return? It would be unrealistic to expect him to go to Milwaukee and be an All-Star, but the 2018 version of Gray is more of an uncharacteristic season than a reality of the pitcher he actually is. Plus, despite them not wanting to trade him away for a lower-end prospect, Gray is a free agent after 2019 and publicly claiming they want to trade him does the Yankees no favors in potential trade negotiations; the Brewers won’t have to gut their farm system to acquire him.

Sure, Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, and a revitalized Zach Davies gives the Brewers a trio of reliable starting pitchers, but they will have to hold off the St. Louis Cardinals — who have added Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller this offseason — and the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. You can never have enough pitching, and if Gray gives the Brewers 30 starts and resembles the pitcher the league grew accustomed to in his time with the A’s, the two parties could explore renewing his contract at year’s end.

Brewers Receive: Gray

Yankees Receive: Jake Gatewood, Adrian Houser

J.T. Realmuto – Colorado Rockies

There isn’t a player who has been discussed more in trade talks this offseason than Realmuto, and if you’ve followed the coverage of the Miami Marlins All-Star catcher, you’d think he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer; well, he’s not exactly that yet, at least. But he is one of the best catchers in the sport and would further advance an improving Rockies team.

The Rockies have been a Wild Card team in each of the last two seasons and have their most well-constructed roster since their 2007 World Series appearance. They have a dangerous lineup, reliable starting rotation, and despite its struggles through the first four months of 2018, a bullpen of veterans capable of bouncing back this upcoming season. But the Rockies don’t appear likely to add to their pitching staff. Adding a premier catcher would be a wise alternative.

Over the last three seasons, Realmuto has recorded batting averages of .303, .278, and .277 and is coming off a year in which he totaled a career-high in home runs (21) and RBIs (74). Behind the plate, he’s just as efficient. He was third in MLB in stolen bases allowed (34) and has a strong arm.

Kyle Freeland recorded a 2.85 ERA, German Marquez totaled 230 strikeouts, and Tyler Anderson started 32 games in 2018. The three pitchers combine for an average age of 25.7. Perhaps Jon Gray gets back on track and adds more reliability to manager Bud Black‘s rotation. Having a steady force and fixture behind the plate in Realmuto would do wonders for the Rockies young pitching staff. Plus, given his ability to produce at the plate, Realmuto would make a lineup that features Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl, and free agent signee Daniel Murphy formidable.

Rockies Receive: Realmuto

Marlins Receive: Peter Lambert, Ryan Vilade, Reid Humphreys

Marcus Stroman – Minnesota Twins

Stroman and the Toronto Blue Jays have supposedly been through brutal arbitration hearings, and perhaps it’s a vital reason for why he’s been mentioned in trade discussions over the last couple seasons. Inconsistency could also be a part of it, but if you’re the Twins, running the risk on Stroman righting the ship makes all the sense in the world.

Last season was a discouraging period of time for Stroman. He made just 19 starts and recorded an abysmal 5.54 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. After finishing 2017 with a 3.09 ERA in 33 starts, it appeared as if Stroman was turning the corner and becoming the ace the Blue Jays always hoped he would become. But, at this point, the Blue Jays have a pivotal decision to make: should they move on from Stroman? They’re the fourth-best team in the AL East behind the Boston Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays. Outside of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., they have few bright spots to point to going forward with their youth. Given that he has pitched a complete season just twice in his five-year career and is a free agent after 2020, it would be justifiable for the Blue Jays to maximize Stroman’s trade value before spring training.

The Twins had high hopes for 2018 after a busy offseason, but they ultimately won just 78 games, missed the playoffs, and fired manager Paul Molitor after the regular season. This offseason, they’ve been busy once again, signing Cron, Cruz, and Jonathan Schoop. Adding a young right-hander who, while inconsistent, is still 27 is just the type of trade the Twins should be looking to make.

Jose Berrios is one of the best young pitchers in the sport, and Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi are reliable right-handers, but the two veterans are free agents after 2019. And the Twins, in general, need more depth on their pitching staff. Ideally, they would add an intriguing young arm, and rolling the dice on Stroman could pay dividends. A one-two pitching punch of Berrios and Stroman could be lethal and help propel the Twins to an AL Central division title in the near future.

Twins Receive: Stroman

Blue Jays Receive: Brusdar Graterol, Jorge Alcala, Gabriel Maciel

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