Sometimes things don’t work out. Or they stop working. And that’s certainly true in professional sports, where it is difficult to form a long-standing relationship between a player and a team. For whatever reason -- comfort or coaching or some quirk -- there are certain players who only prove capable of delivering their best after being sent to a new squad.
What follows is a list of guys for whom that could conceivably be the case. Be it a veteran in need of a bounce back or a youngster who is blocked, these trade candidates might benefit from a change of scenery this offseason.
In the wake of the Teoscar Hernández acquisition, the Mariners are still looking for other ways to update their outfield, and that could mean moving one or both of these players. Kelenic has bounced between the Majors and Minors and struggled to live up to the acclaim that accompanied his arrival in a blockbuster trade with the Mets, and Winker’s attitude and conditioning have come into question in the short time since his arrival in a swap with Cincinnati last winter. Considering Winker was an All-Star for the Reds in 2021 (.949 OPS, 24 homers, 32 doubles) and Kelenic was not long ago considered one of the absolute best, can’t-miss prospects in the sport, it’s not a stretch to think they might succeed elsewhere.
Keston Hiura, 1B/2B, Brewers
In college at UC Irvine, in the Minors and in his first season in the big leagues (2019), all this dude did was hit. But he appears to have sold out for more power and suffered as a result, slashing .205/.293/.394 with a 38.5% strikeout rate over the last three seasons. His defensive issues have also hurt his standing with the Brewers, who tendered him a contract for 2023 but might not want to devote the DH spot to him. Perhaps another club could get his swing -- and career -- back on track. Hiura is only 26.
Jo Adell, OF, Angels
The 10th overall pick in the 2017 Draft, Adell was the Angels’ top prospect and rated the No. 6 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline at the time he was first called up in 2020. But his big, physical skillset simply hasn’t translated to big league success. Adell has slashed .215/.259/.356 in 161 games. The Halos’ addition of Hunter Renfroe makes Adell expendable, but he’s only 23 and might benefit from some new voices.
Gleyber Torres, 2B, Yankees
A supposed sure thing when acquired from the Cubs as a prospect in the 2016 Aroldis Chapman trade, Torres has had an erratic tenure in pinstripes. He was an All-Star in each of his first two seasons in 2018-19 before posting a combined OPS+ below league average while struggling defensively at shortstop in 2020-21. A full-time shift to second base was part of a better 2022 in which Torres slashed a more respectable .257/.310/.451. Torres is entering his age-26 season and had above-average hard-hit and barrel percentages last season. So unlike fellow Yankees trade candidates Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks, an acquiring team could speculate that his best days are still ahead of him.
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, D-backs
It just hasn’t worked out for the former World Series hero in Arizona. Three seasons into a five-year, $85 million contract, Bumgarner is 15-29 with a 4.98 ERA with the D-backs. There was hope that his work with new pitching coach Brent Strom would help unlock the Bumgarner of old in 2022, but a strong start to the season didn’t really take. The peripherals aren’t pretty, and the D-backs would have a hard time moving the money attached to him, but you never know if there’s an arrangement out there that could make Bumgarner at least a league-average rotation option again.
Javier Báez, SS, Tigers
The Tigers made Báez their darling of the offseason last year with a six-year, $140 million deal, and he – like the team itself – turned out to be a massive disappointment. All of the concerns about Báez’s free-swinging ways played out to the extreme when he slashed .238/.278/.393 with one of the league's worst walk rates (4.4%). The Tigers are far more likely to just root for a bounce back in 2023, but Báez is worth including here just in case some creativity on the part of new general manager Scott Harris comes into play and Báez is shipped elsewhere. We did see a stretch at the end of 2021 in which he was dealt to the Mets and was briefly at his best, so maybe another move would motivate him.
Victor Robles, CF, Nationals
The 69 OPS+ (31% below league average) is not very nice, but let’s not forget that Robles was a solid everyday player (who finished sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting) for a World Series championship club in 2019. And he’s only 25. Robles still provides excellent defense (90th percentile in Outs Above Average) and 86th percentile in sprint speed, but he’s had trouble barreling up the ball consistently. The rebuilding Nats aren’t known to be shopping him (struggling starter Patrick Corbin, who might also be a change of scenery candidate, is another story). But the difficulty of filling the center-field spot could entice some other team to take a good look at Robles and see if there are tweaks to his swing or approach that would yield better results.
Neither of these players figures prominently into Boston’s plans for 2023, and you could make the case that either might benefit from moving to a market with less scrutiny and more opportunity. Dalbec struggled in '22 after posting an .819 OPS, 33 homers and 24 doubles in 156 games from 2020-21, and he’s blocked at first base by the club's No. 2 prospect, Triston Casas, and Eric Hosmer. Duran was a highly touted prospect (No. 84 in MLB, per MLB Pipeline, at the start of 2022) who is instead off to an uninspiring start to his big league career (.219/.269/.354 slash in 91 games) and is viewed only as a depth option for a Boston club looking into other ways to improve its outfield production.
Zach Plesac RHP, Guardians
Plesac had once seemed another positive product of the Cleveland pitching factory when he emerged with a 3.32 ERA and 140 ERA+ in 171 innings over his first 29 career starts in 2019-20. But over the past two seasons, he has fractured his thumb while “aggressively ripping off his shirt,” broken his pitching hand punching the mound and labored to the tune of a 4.49 ERA and 90 ERA+. The Guardians are open to dealing him, and perhaps in another place he could recapture his success and eliminate the self-inflicted injuries.
Nick Castellanos, OF, Phillies
The vibes are a lot stronger after a postseason in which he suddenly looked like a Gold Glove-caliber corner outfielder. But there’s no denying that Castellanos’ first season of a five-year, $100 million contract was not what anybody signed up for. His slugging percentage dropped by nearly 200 points from his 2021 season in Cincinnati, and Bryce Harper’s inability to play the outfield because of an elbow injury only exposed a decidedly not Gold Glove-worthy performance in the field for Castellanos in the regular season. It’s unlikely he gets dealt because of the money involved, but one does have to wonder if there might be a better fit for Castellanos. With Harper on the mend from Tommy John surgery, Castellanos’ iffy defense is an ongoing concern.
Paul DeJong SS, Cardinals
In the first two years of the six-year extension DeJong signed with the Cardinals after finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2017, he provided league-average offense along with excellent defensive metrics. Alas, the last three seasons have been a mess (.631 OPS, 76 OPS+), and DeJong bottomed out and got demoted to Triple-A for a stretch this past season (and struggled upon his return). The Cards are likely stuck with the $9 million owed DeJong for 2023, but perhaps there is a team willing to roll the dice on the 29-year-old returning to viable offense to go with the still-strong D (87th percentile in Outs Above Average in 2022).