We’re into the MLB offseason now. While we miss the games, it’s always fun to think about what trades might go down in the Hot Stove season.
The biggest name that we’ve heard is National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. But while the Miami Marlins’ slugger would be the splashiest move that any team could make, we only see two teams that should make him the absolute top target.
Other teams, like the World Series champion Houston Astros, should have their focus on more under-the-radar trade targets. Those moves may not be splashy now. But they can help the teams grab headlines in October, which is what really counts.
Every MLB team has one player who it needs to pursue harder than anyone else before the 2018 regular season gets underway. These are those players.
Houston Astros: Brad Hand, relief pitcher, San Diego Padres
You don’t win 101 games and a World Series being a deeply flawed team. But the Houston bullpen was shaky in 2017 and certainly in the postseason. Hand finished the year with a 2.16 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 104 strikeouts in 79.1 innings. He’s a lefty but as the opponent’s slash line of .208/.265/.312 will tell you, Hand can get the right-handed hitters out just fine. He’d be a valuable addition to a team looking to defend its title.
St. Louis Cardinals: Avisail Garcia, right fielder, Chicago White Sox
The lack of production from the right field position really hurt the Cardinals in 2017. With that in mind, the natural target would be Giancarlo Stanton. That would be a huge acquisition, but it would cost St. Louis big money, big prospects, or even both. Things just aren’t bleak enough for the Cardinals to make that kind of move. Garcia is coming off of a .330/.380/.506, 18 home run season. He would provide a huge shot in the arm to a lineup that needs one.
Toronto Blue Jays: Ian Kinsler, second baseman, Detroit Tigers
Toronto second basemen scored 52 runs in 2017. That was the worst total in MLB and truthfully, it wasn’t that close. Detroit traded the likes of Justin Verlander, Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez during the season. It’s no secret that the Tigers are rebuilding. Kinsler had a down year, so he represents a nice buy-low option. But even in that down year, he scored 88 runs. So, he’d be a noticeable upgrade for the Jays at the keystone.
San Francisco Giants: Giancarlo Stanton, right fielder, Miami Marlins
If the Giants treat 2017 as though it was just a fluke and think that the veterans who struggled are due for a bounce back, then 2018 isn’t going to be any better. San Francisco needs a monumental shift in offensive philosophy. Stanton’s 59 home runs led MLB in 2017. Meanwhile, no four Giants combined for more than 57. San Francisco doesn’t have great prospects, so it would need to eat a good portion of Stanton’s salary. Even with that in mind, the Giants need to continue hard in their pursuit of the slugger.
Minnesota Twins: Raisel Iglesias, relief pitcher, Cincinnati Reds
Bullpens are becoming more prevalent in baseball. If the American League Wild Card taught us anything, it was that the Twins didn’t have the relievers to hang with the Yankees. Let’s change that. Iglesias finished the year with a 2.49 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 92 strikeouts in 76 innings. Additionally, while Iglesias was primarily used as a closer in 2017 (28 saves), he’s been a starter as recently as 2016. So, he’s capable of eating innings if need be. He’s the kind of player that can help a good Minnesota team find the next level.
Atlanta Braves: Mike Leake, starting pitcher, Seattle Mariners
While bullpens are becoming more prominent, we can’t forget about the starting pitching. Atlanta’s starters had a 4.80 ERA in 2017, good enough for 22nd in baseball. That’s just not going to get the job done. Even if we assume that Julio Teheran will bounce back, the Braves still need some quality arms behind him. Leake finished 2017 with a 3.92 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. While nobody will confuse those numbers for being overwhelming, they’d slot in nicely at the No. 3 or even No. 2 spot in the Atlanta rotation.
Detroit Tigers: Anthony Alford, centerfielder, Toronto Blue Jays (prospect)
Ian Kinsler to the Blue Jays not only works for Toronto, but it works for a rebuilding Detroit team, as well. Alford is a top-tier athlete. And in 2017, that athleticism produced a darn good Minor League season. At three Minor League stops, he slashed at .299/.390/.406 and stole 19 bases. In order for the Tigers to land a top prospect like Vladimir Guerrero or Bo Bichette, more than Kinsler would have to be headed to the Blue Jays. That’s fine. We like Alford just fine as a foundational top of the order guy in Detroit’s rebuild.
New York Mets: Eugenio Suarez, third baseman, Cincinnati Reds
While guys like Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes will do in a pinch, the Mets need to land an everyday third baseman. Granted, Todd Frazier and Mike Moustakas (possible bad blood aside) represent decent free agent options. Still, we also like the idea of New York getting younger. Suarez had a nice season in 2017, hitting 26 home runs with a .260/.367/.461 slash line. Additionally, he’s only 26. Suarez would be a nice short and long-term addition to the young infield that includes Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith.
Boston Red Sox: Giancarlo Stanton, right fielder, Miami Marlins
The Red Sox are similar to the Giants in two notable ways. They need a power upgrade and definitely have the money to eat a good portion of Stanton’s deal. The differences are that unlike San Francisco, Boston is coming off of a good season and the Red Sox do have quality young talent that could be sent Miami’s way. Breaking up the young outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts would be tough. But seeing Stanton launching balls over the Green Monster all year would ease that sting.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Ryan Braun, left fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
Off the bat, we’ll make it known that re-signing J.D. Martinez should be Arizona’s No. 1 priority. But given his reported asking price and the number of teams that will be interested, that may not be plausible. That’s where Braun enters the equation. Braun hit 17 home runs in only 104 games in 2017. He’s not the overall player he once was, but the power is still there. Braun has a limited no trade clause. But Arizona has been a place he’s been willing to go in the past. If bringing Martinez back isn’t realistic, Braun fits.
Los Angeles Angels: David Price, starting pitcher, Los Angeles Angels
This potential trade would be a gamble. You risk losing him after one year, or getting stuck paying him $127 million from 2019-2022. But for the Angels to get back into contention, they need to reshape the starting rotation. That will include taking some gambles. Price hasn’t been a smashing success in Boston. We get that. But he has posted a 3.84 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in two seasons and was second in Cy Young voting in 2015. Maybe a change of scenery and a move to a better pitcher’s park is what he needs.
Chicago Cubs: Zach Britton, relief pitcher, Baltimore Orioles
Chicago needs to retool its bullpen. If it does, then this team is on a small list of World Series favorites for 2018. Over the last four years, Britton has posted a 1.61 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and has struck out nearly a hitter an inning. Britton is one of the game’s best relievers. Should Wade Davis leaves in free agency, Britton can replace him as closer. If he doesn’t, Britton and Davis can combine for one of baseball’s best late-inning duos. If we get the latter, the Cubs will be an awfully hard team to beat.
Baltimore Orioles: Domingo Santana, right fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
We acknowledge that coming off of an 86-win season, Milwaukee isn’t a classic “seller” that would trade two-thirds of its outfield. But with Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips ready to go and Corey Ray looming, the Brewers have some flexibility. The Orioles need to take advantage of that. Baltimore ranked at or near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories at both corner outfield positions. Santana slashed at .278/.371/.505 and hit 30 home runs. He would be an instant upgrade in the Orioles’ lineup.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Nick Castellanos, third baseman, Detroit Tigers
It’s not that David Freese is a bad third baseman. But he’ll be 35 in April and as such, we wonder if how much long-term value he has for the Pirates. Pittsburgh is not rebuilding like Detroit is, but the Pirates need to get younger. Castellanos will be 26 on Opening Day. Better yet, he’s coming off of a 26 home run, 101 RBI season. The Tigers are going into a deep rebuild. So even at Castellanos’ young age, he should be available. Pittsburgh is a sensible destination.
Oakland Athletics: Christian Yelich, center fielder, Miami Marlins
We’ve heard offseason rumblings that the A’s might be interested in Yelich. That’s a good thing. They should be. Yelich will be 26 in 2018. He’s a career .282/.369/.432 hitter and has a combined 39 home runs and 25 steals over the last two seasons. Even better is that his contract is quite manageable for Oakland. The A’s had minimal production from the center field position in 2017. Bringing in Yelich would instantly turn a weakness into a strength.
San Diego Padres: Starlin Castro, second baseman, New York Yankees
The Padres are an interesting team. A lot of young talent is in place, but it doesn’t feel like San Diego is ready to make the same leap in 2018 that the Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies made in 2017. But regardless of what 2018 has to offer, finding someone to play shortstop until Fernando Tatis Jr. is ready will be essential. Castro was a regular shortstop until 2016, so he knows the position. His contractual situation is perfect to wait out the arrival of Tatis. The Friars should be looking to make this one happen.
Cleveland Indians: Marcell Ozuna, left fielder, Miami Marlins
Another Marlin outfielder leaving town? The Indians should certainly beat down the doors to make this one happen. With Jay Bruce likely going elsewhere in free agency, Cleveland needs to reshape its outfield. If Ozuna can come anything close to 2017’s 37 home runs and .312/.376/.548 slash line, he’ll do that quite adequately. A potential fire sale is looming in Miami. Several teams need to be beating down the doors on that sale. The Indians should be among the first in line.
Philadelphia Phillies: Dan Straily, starting pitcher, Miami Marlins
The Phillies are similar to the Padres in that while there’s some unquestioned talent in place, it doesn’t feel like they’re ready to compete just yet. With that said, what this team can use is an innings eater in the rotation. The Aaron Nola led starting rotation is talented, but still young. Straily has topped 180 innings in each of the last two seasons. He’s in arbitration but doesn’t figure to be too expensive. If he works out and Philadelphia is out of the race, mid-rotation pitchers like Straily can be flipped to any team in baseball.
Chicago White Sox: Harrison Bader, center fielder, St. Louis Cardinals (prospect)
Since the end of the 2016 season, the White Sox have done a tremendous job restocking their farm system. Bader would be another prospect but unlike the others, he’s ready to come up now. Bader grades as a prospect who is not great at anything, but is good at everything. His Triple-A stats of 20 home runs, 15 steals, and a .283/.347/.469 slash line really validae that point. While some of the other prospects are still 2-3 years away, Bader can be a very good player at that point, which is what Chicago needs.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Gerrit Cole, starting pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
Stanton would certainly be a flashy move. Given the fact that the Dodgers have a huge payroll, young talent, and that Stanton is from Southern California, we can’t discount the possibility. That said, it wouldn’t be the right move. The Los Angeles rotation didn’t look great in the World Series. It needs some depth added to it, especially given that Yu Darvish is a free agent. Cole would slot in beautifully behind Clayton Kershaw and would give the Dodgers a more than formidable 1-2 punch atop the starting rotation.
Tampa Bay Rays: Matt Adams, first baseman, Atlanta Braves
With the free agency of Logan Morrison, Tampa has a rather large void to fill at first base. It will be awfully hard to replace Morrison’s .246/.353/.516 slash line and 38 home runs. But Adams can certainly help that cause. In 2017, he hit 20 home runs in only 39 at-bats. The year before, he hit 16 in less than 300 at-bats. Adams does need to work on getting on the field more. Some of that will be healthy. Some of that will be learning how to hit lefties. But Adams’ raw power would make him a useful asset to the Rays.
Milwaukee Brewers: Jeff Samardzija, starting pitcher, San Francisco Giants
Milwaukee’s starters threw 873 innings in 2017. That’s was MLB’s 10th lowest total and only one playoff team (the Twins) came in behind them. Samardzija is an innings eater. He’s topped the 200 inning plateau in each of the last five seasons. Certainly, some numbers can be improved on. Still, 205 strikeouts and 32 walks in 207.2 innings is fantastic. Finally, given the Brewers’ aforementioned outfield depth and the Giants’ glaring need (even if they do acquire Stanton), the two teams are strong trade partners.
Seattle Mariners: Anthony DeSclafani, starting pitcher, Cincinnati Reds
If Seattle is going to end MLB’s longest active postseason drought, it will have to upgrade the starting rotation. Of course, adding a guy who just missed an entire season is risky, but we like this particular risk. Prior to his injury, Desclafini had steadily improved every year of his career. His ERA and WHIP had steadily decreased, while his K/9 mark had steadily increased. Given that he finished 2016 with a 3.28 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and a 7.7 K/9 ratio, it’s worth it for a team like the Mariners to see if he can continue to get better.
Washington Nationals: Felipe Rivero, relief pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Nationals are in a strange spot. This team doesn’t have many glaring flaws. Yet it can’t win a playoff series. The closest thing the Nats have to a glaring flaw is the bullpen. That’s also an essential part of winning in October. Rivero — a former National — posted a 1.55 ERA and 0.88 WHIP with 88 strikeouts in 75.1 innings. That kind of season would go a long way towards solving any problems Washington might have when it comes to closing games. The Nats should be pursuing a reunion and pursuing it hard.
Kansas City Royals: Albert Almora Jr., center fielder, Chicago Cubs
Given the immense talent in free agency, this is probably the hardest team to project. But we’d be quite surprised if Lorenzo Cain returned. In trying to replace him, the Royals should turn to the Cubs. Almora has done well, but Chicago’s depth in the outfield has limited his playing time. Kansas City could give the Cubs a chance to bolster the rotation by offering someone like Danny Duffy. Chances are, that wouldn’t be a straight trade. But Almora and Duffy would be a heck of a starting point.
Colorado Rockies: Brad Hand, relief pitcher, San Diego Padres
Much like Houston, Colorado needs to be in hot pursuit of relief help in the offseason. The Rockies relievers pitched well in 2017 but Jake McGee, Pat Neshek, and Greg Holland are all headed to free agency. As such, Colorado will need to retool the bullpen. Hand is not only capable of retiring both lefties and righties, but he’s also capable of closing out games. Should Holland go elsewhere, that will come in handy.
Texas Rangers: Hunter Strickland, relief pitcher, San Francisco Giants
The Rangers’ bullpen has been bad for a long time. In 2017, it was a contributing factor towards Texas being one of the season’s most disappointing teams. That has to change in 2018. Acquiring a player from another disappointing 2017 team can help make that change. As the saga around his brawl with Bryce Harper showed, Strickland can be a headache. But he also strikes out nearly a hitter an inning and has a career 2.64 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Headache or not, those are good numbers for a reliever.
Cincinnati Reds: Stephen Gonsalves, starting pitcher, Minnesota Twins (prospect)
The Reds have fallen on hard times in recent years. Much of that can be attributed to a consistently abysmal pitching staff. While unproven at the Major League level, Gonsalves has thrived in the minors. There, he has a 2.39 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 514 strikeouts in 78.1 innings. That’s the kind of arm that Cincinnati should be looking to build around. That highly touted of a prospect probably wouldn’t go straight up for a reliever like Iglesias. But the Reds should start there and try to round the trade out elsewhere.
New York Yankees: Gerrit Cole, starting pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Yankees enter the 2017-18 offseason much like the Dodgers. New York has a good starting rotation. But the postseason showed that adding some depth is necessary. Additionally, New York is faced with the strong possibility of losing C.C. Sabathia to free agency. The Yankees are one of the teams that can afford Giancarlo Stanton, both in terms of finances and prospects. But while the potential pairing of Stanton and Aaron Judge is fun to think about, bolstering the pitching makes more sense.
Miami Marlins: Andrew Benintendi, left fielder, Boston Red Sox
We’ve sufficiently gutted the Marlins. Now, it’s time to see who the Marlins might want in return. If the reason to trade these names (namely Stanton) is just clearing payroll, the possible targets are imponderable. If the focus is on clearing payroll and getting competitive, Benintendi is the man. Benintendi was once baseball’s top prospect, is only 23, is coming off of a 20-20 season, and won’t hit arbitration until after 2019. It wouldn’t likely be a straight trade. But if Stanton is to be moved, Benintendi is the best primary target.