Pros and cons of 9 top trade candidates

July 28th, 2023

Buy or sell? Go all in or take a measured approach? Which players should we target? Payroll. Prospects. Clubhouse chemistry. 

MLB front offices have a lot to consider leading up to the Trade Deadline. 

But for all the due diligence a team might do on a given player, the decision of whether to actually go through with a trade or not might come down to one or two major factors when the clock is ticking down toward the Deadline.

Below, we've broken down some of the major pros and cons potential suitors are surely mulling over when it comes to nine of the top candidates to be dealt before Tuesday's 6 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.

, SS, White Sox
Contract status: 2024 club option

Pros: Anderson is a former AL batting champion who posted an average over .300 in every season from 2019-22, slashing .318/.347/.474 with 51 homers and 53 steals in that span. The 30-year-old is a career-long shortstop, but he’s reportedly open to moving to second base if he’s traded, after playing the keystone for Team USA during the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Such a move could be a boon for his defensive value.

Cons: Anderson has looked better at the plate since the All-Star break, slashing .378/.440/.422 over 11 games, but he’s still sitting at .245/.285/.285 on the season and remains without a home run. His ground-ball rate has skyrocketed to 64.7%, contributing to his MLB-worst slugging percentage.

, OF, Cubs
Contract status: 2024 mutual option

Pros: Bellinger’s career has been a roller coaster filled with incredible highs (his 2019 NL MVP Award) and frustrating lows (his .611 OPS across 2021-22). The outfielder was non-tendered by the Dodgers last offseason, but he's back on the upswing after signing with the Cubs. Over 70 games with Chicago, he’s recorded a .312/.360/.545 slash, 15 homers and just a 16.8% strikeout rate, down more than 10 percentage points from 2022 (27.3%). Still just 28, Bellinger also remains a plus defender and baserunner.

Cons: Bellinger’s numbers may be back in a good place, but in terms of his contact quality, this isn’t the same hitter who won the NL MVP four years ago. That season, the left-handed slugger ranked in the 88th percentile in barrel rate, the 86th percentile in hard-hit rate, the 95th percentile in walk rate and the 100th percentile in expected wOBA. This year, he’s in the 34th, 12th, 38th and 48th percentiles, respectively, so it’s a bit questionable whether he can maintain his current performance level.

, 3B, Nationals
Contract status: pending free agent

Pros: Another 2022 non-tender who has found new life elsewhere, Candelario has been a bright spot for the Nats this season after being cut loose by the Tigers. No primary third baseman has more extra-base hits (47) than the 29-year-old, and only two have produced more WAR (3.0), per Baseball-Reference. He's made dramatic strides on defense as well, going from -5 outs above average in 2022 to +4 this season.

Cons: Candelario is crushing fastballs (.324 BA/.599 SLG) and offspeed pitches (.253 BA/.520 SLG) this season, but he's struggling mightily against breaking balls (.131 BA/.242 SLG). No hitter (min. 100 PAs ending on breaking balls) has a lower batting average than Candelario against breakers, and only three have a lower slugging percentage. That seems like the type of weakness a good team may be able to exploit in a postseason series.

, SP, Cardinals
Contract status: pending free agent

Pros: Flaherty has pitched better of late, posting a 3.45 ERA, a 3.44 FIP and a 2.48 K/BB ratio over his past 12 starts after putting up a 6.18 ERA, 5.65 FIP and 1.44 K/BB over his first eight outings in 2023. He’s still only 27 years old, and interested teams will hope a change of scenery helps Flaherty tap into the ability that he showed when he finished fourth in the 2019 NL Cy Young race (2.75 ERA, 231 K’s).

Cons: In the four years since that breakout season, Flaherty really hasn’t come close to recapturing his ace form, posting a 4.12 ERA and a 4.31 FIP since the beginning of 2019 while dealing with myriad injuries. He has a 1.55 WHIP this season, tied with Patrick Corbin for the highest among qualifying pitchers, and his once elite slider isn’t generating whiffs or K’s the way it used to.

, OF, Mets
Contract status: pending free agent

Pros: Pham is having a resurgent 2023 season after signing a one-year deal with the Mets, and his expected stats are even better than his actual numbers. The veteran outfielder ranks in the 90th percentile or better in average exit velocity, chase rate, xBA, xSLG and xwOBA this year.

Cons: A right-handed hitter, Pham has had the platoon advantage in 40% of his plate appearances this season, up from 26% over the previous three years -- a stretch in which he had a .696 OPS -- so teams have to wonder what kind of production he’ll provide if he’s exposed to right-handed pitching more down the stretch. Now 35, Pham has been a minus defender going back to 2019. He’s tied for the third-fewest OAA (-25) among outfielders in that span.

, SP, Tigers
Contract status: has opt-out (three years left on deal)

Pros: Rodriguez’s numbers this season are Cy Young Award-caliber, including career bests in ERA (2.95), FIP (3.18), WHIP (1.03) and K/BB ratio (4.33). The 30-year-old has shown a consistent ability to limit hard contact throughout his career, and this year is no different. He ranks in the 80th percentile in hard-hit rate and the 77th in average exit velocity.

Cons: Rodriguez has never been this good before, entering this season with a career 4.15 ERA and 3.89 FIP. The lefty’s performance has been uneven since he returned from a ruptured pulley in his left index finger earlier this month, resulting in two solid starts and two poor ones. He’s signed through 2026, but he can opt out of the final three years on his five-year, $77 million deal this offseason.

, SP, Padres
Contract status: pending free agent

Pros: After a rocky start to this season, Snell has been incredible for more than two months, posting a 0.78 ERA with 99 strikeouts and a .483 OPS against in 69 innings over his past 12 starts. The 2018 AL Cy Young winner’s curveball, slider and changeup are all generating whiffs at a 49% clip or better -- no other pitcher across the Majors has a whiff rate that high on more than one pitch type (min. 100 swings on that pitch type).

Cons: Snell throws a lot of pitches out of the strike zone. Some of that is by design as he looks to get chases with his exceptional breaking stuff. But such an approach can lead to elevated walk totals, especially given the southpaw’s less-than-stellar fastball command. Snell has one of the highest walk rates (13.4%) in the Majors this year, and he’s issued 22 free passes in 27 innings during July.

, SP, Cubs
Contract status: has opt-out (one year left on deal)

Pros: Stroman has a long track record of success that includes a 3.28 ERA and a 3.64 FIP over 112 starts since the beginning of 2019, and he’s allowed only 29 extra-base hits in 520 plate appearances this season -- a product of his exemplary ability to target the bottom of the strike zone. The veteran also has been traded at the Deadline before -- from the Blue Jays to the Mets in 2019 -- so changing teams in the middle of the season shouldn’t faze him.

Cons: As evidenced by his 18th-percentile fastball velocity, 24th percentile whiff rate and 35th percentile strikeout rate, the 5-foot-8 Stroman isn’t a prototypical ace, but he’s expected to be one of the costliest starters on the market (if the Cubs even decide to sell at all). He’s also in the midst of a rough patch, having allowed 24 earned runs in his past 27 innings. Plus, the 32-year-old is essentially a rental -- he can opt out of the final year on his three-year, $71 million contract -- but he comes with the downside risk of being able to opt in for $21 million next year if he gets hurt.

, SP, Mets
Contract status: signed through 2024 (2025 vesting option)

Pros: Verlander is one of the most accomplished pitchers in baseball history, with three Cy Young Awards -- including AL honors in 2022 -- nine All-Star selections and two World Series titles. The right-hander has started to look like his old self after spending April on the injured list with a right teres major muscle strain and notching a 4.50 ERA over his first nine starts. In his past six outings, he’s held opponents to a miniscule .168 batting average while registering a 1.46 ERA over 37 innings.

Cons: Verlander’s improved performance of late hasn’t come with an increased K-rate -- he’s punched out only 21.5% of the batters he’s faced over his past six starts and has a 20.9% mark on the year, which would be his lowest in a season since 2014. He’s also 40 years old, already has one injury under his belt this season and is owed $43.3 million in 2024 -- plus another $35 million in 2025 if he throws 140-plus innings next year. Any team acquiring the righty would be taking a significant financial risk, though the Mets could mitigate it a bit by paying some of his salary to improve the trade return.