We saw robust free agent activity prior to the December 1st lockout, with 30 of our top 50 free agents signing contracts. Over $2 billion was committed to 62 players on Major League contracts, by our count.
With all the focus on free agency, the trade market was relatively quiet. Position players Tucker Barnhart, Adam Frazier, Jacob Stallings, Joey Wendle, Jorge Alfaro, Hunter Renfroe, and Jackie Bradley Jr. were the biggest names on the move.
Though the lockout does not appear close to an end, we can assume it will conclude at some point. Once that happens, a scramble roughly four-to-six weeks in length seems likely to commence, in which both Spring Training and all remaining offseason transactions will take place. Aside from the expected free agent frenzy for the top remaining names, the trade market figures to kick heavily into gear.
Recently, I got together with Steve Adams and Anthony Franco to assess the potential trade market. We wound up putting trade candidates into several buckets. The first bucket, covered in this post, is simply players we feel are likely to be traded, whether stars or regulars. One caveat: many of these trade candidates are interconnected. For example, the A’s are almost certain to trade at least one of Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, and Frankie Montas, but we don’t expect them to trade all three. Without further ado, we present MLBTR’s 14 Likeliest Trade Candidates:
1. Matt Olson / 1B / Athletics
The A’s are widely expected to hold a fire sale as a means of reducing their payroll. Olson, who we project to earn $12MM in 2022 through arbitration, seems highly likely to be dealt. Olson is controlled for two more years through arbitration. He provides huge power from the left side and is set to turn 28 in March. Olson’s 39 home runs were tied for fifth in the AL last year, as was his 146 wRC+. Olson is not only known for his bat; his defense at first base ranked second in the game in the 2021 Fielding Bible Awards. It’s simply quite rare to find a 5-WAR player with two years of control like Olson available on the trade market; the last decent offseason comparable we can find is when the Marlins traded J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies three years ago.
There aren’t too many teams that couldn’t find a spot for Olson. He’s probably the one reasonable replacement for Freddie Freeman that Braves fans might find palatable. The Yankees, Dodgers, Rays, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers, Phillies, Padres, and Giants are other speculative fits, especially if the DH comes to the NL as expected. The Realmuto trade was led by Sixto Sanchez, considered a 65-grade prospect by Baseball America at the time of the deal. Teams these days are extremely reluctant to part with prospects of that caliber, who generally fall within the top 30 in the game. The A’s are in the driver’s seat as they look for the best overall offer.
2. Matt Chapman / 3B / Athletics
The Matts have been teaming up at the infield corners for the A’s since 2018. It’s quite possible both could be traded once the lockout ends. Chapman has consistently been an above average hitter in every year of his MLB career, though in 2021 he was only a tick above average with a 101 wRC+. In the three seasons prior, Chapman posted a 130 mark, hitting a career-best 36 home runs in 2019. Combine that level of offense with Chapman’s Gold Glove defense at the hot corner, and he was an MVP candidate in 2018-19. He’ll turn 29 in April.
Chapman’s stellar defense – ranked second in the game at third base in the ’21 Fielding Bible Awards – gives him a high floor even if his bat slips like it did in 2021. Chapman is so good defensively at third base that ESPN’s Buster Olney has reported that the Yankees talked internally about the possibility of acquiring him to play shortstop, which he has done for all of ten innings in the Majors. The result is a player who is worth more than 3 WAR with an average bat, and 6+ when he’s mashing. A new team would look to solve Chapman’s recent slide in contact and line drives at the plate, but the A’s aren’t selling Chapman quite at his peak.
Like Olson, Chapman is an arbitration eligible player with two more years of control remaining. We project him to earn $9.5MM in 2022. The Mariners, Blue Jays, Phillies, Yankees, Rays, Rockies, and Dodgers could be possible landing spots.
3. Sean Manaea / SP / Athletics
The A’s also have multiple strong trade candidates in their starting rotation. We’ll start with Manaea, who has only one year of control remaining and is projected to earn $10.2MM through arbitration. Manaea, a southpaw who recently celebrated his 30th birthday, made 32 starts in 2021 with a 3.91 ERA. While Manaea has a mid-rotation profile, he did show career-best velocity and his best swinging strike rate in ’21, with his customary excellent control.
After a July 28th gem in San Diego, Manaea had his ERA down at 3.01. He then posted a brutal 9.90 ERA in August before returning to form in September. Manaea’s Statcast indicators are not particularly impressive, whether you’re looking at exit velocity or spin rate.
Aside from Carlos Rodon and Clayton Kershaw, Manaea is still better than just about every starting pitcher still available in free agency. He’d benefit many teams’ rotations, including the Tigers, Angels, Twins, Orioles, Yankees, Mariners, Rangers, Braves, Cubs, Rockies, Dodgers, Mets, Giants, and Nationals.
4. Chris Bassitt / SP / Athletics
Bassitt, projected to earn $8.8MM in 2022, is yet another A’s trade candidate. It’s unclear whether the A’s would deal multiple starting pitchers, but again, we wouldn’t rule it out. Manaea and Bassitt make particular sense because both are headed for free agency after the ’22 season.
Bassitt, a righty, is approaching his 33rd birthday. Since 2020, he sports a 2.90 ERA in 220 1/3 innings – seventh in all of baseball for those with at least 200 innings in that time. In 2021, Bassitt’s 18.8 K-BB% was a career best. Unlike Manaea, Bassitt also boasts above average Statcast indicators, especially an 88th percentile hard-hit percentage. Whether that’s enough for Bassitt to continue outpitching his SIERA as he has is unknown, but you can’t argue with the results so far.
Bassitt suffered a scary injury in August when a Brian Goodwin line drive struck his face, but fortunately he was able to return for a pair of outings in September. He should command a higher price on the trade market than Manaea, although the two pitchers are not that far apart in projections for 2022.
Wondering about Frankie Montas? He’s a trade candidate as well, but we’ve put him into more of a “plausible” bucket than “likely,” and he’ll be covered in an upcoming post by Steve Adams.
5. Lou Trivino / RP / Athletics
Trivino makes it a quintet of A’s to lead off this post. The 30-year-old righty is a decent reliever projected to earn $2.9MM in 2022. He still has three years of control remaining and he’s not making a lot of money yet, but there’s also not a compelling reason for the A’s to hang on to him this offseason.
Trivino posted a 3.18 ERA in 2021, along with a 95.8 mile per hour average fastball velocity and 85th percentile hard-hit rate. Still, his K-BB% was only 10.6. After picking up his 21st save against the Giants on August 20th, Trivino’s ERA stood at 1.72. Then he went through a rough five-outing patch in which he allowed 13 earned runs in only 3 2/3 innings. After that, Trivino recovered and pitched well in his final 11 outings.
Trivino doesn’t have great control, and he hasn’t always been a strikeout artist either. So it’s not an amazing profile, but he’s had success at times and is affordable and controllable. He can fit in somewhere as a seventh or eighth inning reliever.
6. Craig Kimbrel / RP / White Sox
The Cubs’ June 2019 signing of Kimbrel was going poorly until the 2021 season, when he put up a dominant 0.49 ERA and 46.7 K% in 36 2/3 innings. The Cubs sold high and shipped Kimbrel across town to the White Sox for Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer. Kimbrel struggled with the Sox, posting a 5.09 ERA while being done in by the longball. The White Sox still chose to pick up Kimbrel’s hefty $16MM club option instead of taking a $1MM buyout. They’ve already got Liam Hendriks in the closer role, and signed Kendall Graveman to a $24MM contract.
As I wrote in December, White Sox GM Rick Hahn spoke openly about trading Kimbrel, saying, “We’ve had conversations with other clubs and have a sense of what is potentially available.” Hahn added, “It’s easy to make the assessment that if you put him back in the closer’s role, it’s what he’s accustomed to and he’s more likely to have success.” I don’t find that to be a particularly reliable assessment: put Kimbrel back in a closer role, and he’ll be good again. That didn’t prove true for the Cubs in 2019 or 2020.
I think the White Sox would very much like to trade Kimbrel, but they may have overestimated his popularity in the market at his salary. Perhaps they’ll need to kick in a few million or take a decent-sized contract back to make it more palatable. I’m not sure if an intra-division trade could be worked out, but the Royals have spoken of trying to upgrade their bullpen. The Rays, Rangers, Blue Jays, Marlins, Mets, and Phillies could make some sense, but only if the money can be worked out and if the White Sox finds a team that actually believes Kimbrel will succeed in ’22.
7. Kevin Kiermaier / CF / Rays
Kiermaier, 32 in April, has been the Rays’ primary center fielder for the past seven seasons. He’s picked up three Gold Gloves in that time, and ranked third in the game in the ’21 Fielding Bible Awards. With the bat, a league average season is generally the best case scenario. Kiermaier signed a six-year deal with the Rays back in 2017. He’s owed $12MM this year plus a $2.5MM buyout on a $13MM club option for ’23.