'Tis the season for both free agency and trade talk, so why not combine them into one conversation?No, the players on this year's free-agent market obviously can't be traded, but next year's crop of potential free agents is expected to be one of the most prolific groups ever, meaning that
'Tis the season for both free agency and trade talk, so why not combine them into one conversation?
No, the players on this year's free-agent market obviously can't be traded, but next year's crop of potential free agents is expected to be one of the most prolific groups ever, meaning that several of those players could be on the move as their contracts near expiration.
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Last year, we projected Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart, Wade Davis, Danny Espinosa, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, Matt Garza, Carlos Gonzalez, J.D. Martinez and Anibal Sanchez as 10 free-agents-to-be to watch on the trade market.
Davis and Espinosa were moved before the season, while Bruce, Frazier, Garcia and Martinez were traded during the summer. So while all of the players below may not end up in new places by Opening Day, their names will likely continue to surface in trade talks until next summer's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Below are 10 players whose contracts are set to expire at the end of 2018. For the purpose of this exercise, any player with an opt-out clause or a '19 option was not considered. So while Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, Red Sox left-hander David Price and Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus could end up on the free-agent market a year from now, they also may decide to stay where they are.
With that in mind, here's our list of 10 players who might be on the move, ranked from the most likely to be traded to the least.
1. Ian Kinsler, second baseman, Tigers
Trade winds are already swirling around Kinsler, who has been connected to the Angels and Mets in reports. The 35-year-old keystoner -- who is also reportedly being considered as a possible third baseman -- is clearly on the downside of his career, posting a .236/.313/.412 slash line with the Tigers in 2017.
But Kinsler did hit 22 home runs in 139 games, so he would provide some pop at a relatively team-friendly cost of $10 million. Detroit began its rebuild with trades of Martinez, Justin Verlander, Justin Upton and Justin Wilson, so a Kinsler trade would not surprise anybody.
2. Kelvin Herrera, right-hander, Royals
With Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain on this year's free-agent market, the Royals' rebuilding phase could be entering its beginning stage. We've seen what quality relievers can bring back in trades: Davis and Albertin Chapman were each dealt during the past two offseasons, while a number of relievers seem to be moved every July.
If Kansas City can't bring back any of its three stars, Herrera -- even off a down year -- would be an obvious candidate to be moved, as contending teams are always looking to strengthen their bullpen. He's projected to make about $8 million in arbitration next season.
3. Zach Britton, left-hander, Orioles
Speaking of relievers who could be on the move, Britton was nearly traded last summer before the Orioles opted to keep him. Given the return top closers have brought back -- and the high price it would likely take to keep Britton in Baltimore beyond 2018 -- the left-hander is the most likely of the O's big three potential free agents to land elsewhere in '18.
Britton is projected to earn more than $12 million in his final year of arbitration, though his injury issues last season could impact the haul the Orioles could expect. Perhaps they hang on to him and hope for a strong first half, which would make him one of the most sought-after arms next summer.
4. Andrew McCutchen, outfielder, Pirates
The Pirates exercised their $14.75 million option on McCutchen, but like nearly every other offseason in recent years, the trade talk involving the face of the franchise figures to dominate the team's offseason. The five-time All-Star and 2013 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner led the Bucs with 28 home runs and an .849 OPS in '17, bouncing back after his slash line dipped the year prior.
General manager Neal Huntington recently said his team's best lineup is one with McCutchen in center field, but given the back-to-back disappointing seasons, another slow start -- or an offseason offer they can't refuse -- could entice the Pirates to move the 31-year-old.
5. James Dozier, second baseman, Twins
A year ago, it seemed like a near certainty that Dozier would be in a new uniform before the end of his contract, which will pay him $9 million in the final year of his four-year, $20 million deal. But the Twins' surprise postseason berth in 2017 has sped up their timeline, making Dozier -- who led the team with 34 home runs and posted an impressive .856 OPS -- a key cog in the lineup.
Still, Minnesota is reportedly pursuing starting pitching, so if the free-agent prices prove to be too cumbersome, Dozier could become a valuable trade chip.
6. Player Page for David Robertson, right-hander, Yankees
If the Yankees decide to deal from a strength, trading a bullpen piece makes perfect sense given their incredible depth. Dellin Betances would appear to be the likeliest relief arm on the trade block, but his late-season struggles might diminish the return.
Robertson, on the other hand, is a proven closer with one year and $13 million remaining on his contract. For a team looking for a veteran presence in the ninth, Robertson is about as steady as they come.
7. Nelson Cruz, outfielder/designated hitter, Mariners
The Mariners expected to be a contender in 2017, but they never recovered from a slow start, finishing at 78-84. Their core remains strong: Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager remain the lineup's big three, while Mitch Haniger had an impressive first year with Seattle. But the age of the Mariners' stars -- Cruz is 37, Cano is 35 and Felix Hernandez turns 32 in April -- presents them with a limited window.
Cruz had a monster season, hitting 39 homers with an American League-leading 119 RBIs and a .924 OPS, making his $14 million salary next season seems like a bargain. For teams seeking an impact bat without having to make a nine-figure commitment, Cruz would be an attractive alternative, if Seattle makes him available.
8. Josh Donaldson, third baseman, Blue Jays
Donaldson's name comes up often in trade rumors, but the Blue Jays have said they plan to keep the 2015 AL MVP Award winner as the centerpiece of their lineup next season. Donaldson is projected to make more than $20 million in his final year of arbitration, setting him up for a huge free-agent contract a year from now.
Toronto reached the AL Championship Series in both 2015 and '16, and despite its disappointing '17 season, general manager Ross Atkins believes Donaldson is the key to a rebound next season. Why might the Blue Jays move Donaldson? Top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a third baseman and projects to be in Toronto by '19.
9. Manny Machado, third baseman, Orioles
Like Donaldson, Machado will be one of the biggest names on the free-agent market next year. Unlike Donaldson, who will be entering his age-33 season when he hits the market, Machado will be only 26 when he reaches free agency, making him one of the most sought-after players out there.
The Orioles have not historically traded their stars leading up to free agency, but they've also never had one expected to earn as much as Machado, making his return to Baltimore feel like a long shot. A poor start by the O's could make Machado a staple on the rumor mill next summer.
10. Adam Jones, outfielder, Orioles
For all the reasons listed above, it feels unlikely that Jones will be dealt this offseason. That said, if the Orioles decide to blow it up and try for a quick rebuild of their system, then Jones could join Machado and Britton on the trade market.
Jones has been the face of Baltimore's franchise for several years, so keeping him in black and orange might be seen as a way to appease fans going forward as the roster undergoes a makeover.
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.