With the holiday season in full swing, teams around the Majors continue to monitor the free-agent and trade markets in advance of the Winter Meetings.
Although their offseason goal is to put together a team capable of contending for one of the 10 postseason berths, we all know that some will inevitably find themselves in sell mode come July.
Names such as Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson might be dominating the headlines right now, but a whole new group of free agents will do the same a year from now. Many of those players will also be the focus next summer, when contending teams will be looking to add talent for the stretch run. So, who has the best chance to be traded come July?
Below are 10 players whose contracts are set to expire at the end of the 2020 season and who figure to be in the trade conversation. For the purpose of this story, any player with an opt-out clause or a 2020 option was not considered. With that in mind, neither Kris Bryant nor Francisco Lindor -- both slated to become free agents after the 2021 season -- received a mention on our list.
This marks the third straight year we’ve gone through this exercise, trying to predict the future. Two years ago, we hit on seven of 10. This past season, only three of the 10 players changed teams, though others including Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler were among the most talked-about players leading up to the Trade Deadline.
Without further ado, here's our list of 10 players who might be on the move between now and July 31, ranked from the most likely to be traded to the least.
Robbie Ray, LHP, D-backs
Ray was a popular name on the trade rumor mill last summer, but the D-backs opted to keep him as Arizona remained in the National League Wild Card race. That might be the case again this summer, though general manager Mike Hazen dealt Zack Greinke while still trying to compete, so the decision to keep or trade Ray -- who will be a free agent next winter -- and the desire to contend might not be mutually exclusive.
Starting pitching is always in demand come July, so if Ray is in the midst of a season reminiscent of his 2017 performance -- he went 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 28 starts that year -- the left-hander will be a sought-after commodity.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Reds
This could mark the second straight summer that Bauer finds himself on the move, having been dealt by the Indians to the Reds prior to the Trade Deadline last July. Bauer earned $13 million last season and is set to receive a raise in his final year of arbitration; Cot’s Baseball Contracts estimates his 2020 salary at $18 million.
The Reds will try to chase down the Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs next season as they seek their first postseason berth since 2013, but Bauer would be a prime trade candidate if they’re out of the race. Being traded would work in Bauer’s favor, too; the brash pitcher has said that he plans to sign one-year deals once he hits free agency, and a trade would make him ineligible to receive a qualifying offer.
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Mets
The Mets made a surprising move to acquire Stroman last July, though many believed the move was made with 2020 in mind, as New York expected to lose free agent Wheeler. Stroman is arbitration-eligible for the third and final time this season, and after earning $7.4 million in 2019, it’s not outlandish to assume he’ll receive a raise next season.
Stroman was one of the most prominent starters on the trade market last summer, and given the loaded NL East -- the Braves will be seeking their third straight division title, the Nationals are the defending World Series champs and the Phillies have high expectations once again -- it’s not a stretch to think the Mets could be on the outside looking in. Stroman -- who could be a borderline candidate to receive a qualifying offer -- will be one of their most marketable commodities.
Alex Colomé, RHP, White Sox
With no proven closers available on the free-agent market, the White Sox could dangle Colomé in trade talks this offseason. The right-hander is arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter, after which he’ll be a free agent at the end of the 2020 season.
Chicago already made a big splash with the signing of Yasmani Grandal, so there’s every expectation on the South Side that the Sox will contend in a division that lacks a juggernaut. But relievers are always a hot commodity in July, and just as we’ve seen teams try to make a run while shedding a player or two before the Trade Deadline, Colomé could become expendable if others in the White Sox bullpen step up during the first half.
Ken Giles, RHP, Blue Jays
Giles would likely have been traded last July if not for an elbow injury that damaged his value, but the reliever should be among those on the market this summer -- assuming, of course, that Toronto doesn’t trade him before the season begins.
Giles made $6.3 million last year and is arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter, when he could be in line for a raise of more than $2 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. That would mean a team acquiring him in late July would be on the hook for less than $3 million, which is a reasonable price for a reliable reliever in a pennant race.
Kirby Yates, RHP, Padres
Ask anybody associated with the Padres and they’ll tell you that San Diego is more likely to be a buyer than a seller next summer, when they hope the club is in the midst of a pennant race. Having signed Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer in the past two offseasons, and promoted breakout stars Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack, the Padres are anticipating big things in 2020.
But the Dodgers remain the class of the NL West for now, and the Padres have a long way to go before they can consider themselves true contenders; they haven’t been to the postseason since 2006 and their last winning season came in '10. The Padres could conceivably take a major step forward and still sell off a piece or two come July, and Yates -- who made a little more than $3 million last year and is arbitration-eligible for the third and final time this winter -- would be a prime target for most teams in need of bullpen help. San Diego signed Drew Pomeranz to a four-year deal earlier this week, meaning the club could already have its replacement for Yates on the roster.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Angels
Simmons is entering the final year of a seven-year, $58 million extension that he signed with the Braves in February 2014 (he was traded to the Angels in November 2015). The 30-year-old has won two Gold Gloves during his four years in Los Angeles, but the Angels haven’t made the playoffs since he arrived.
Between Simmons and Zack Cozart -- another player whose contract is set to expire after next season -- the Angels will be clearing more than $27 million from the payroll next winter, but Simmons could be an appealing addition for a contender next summer if GM Billy Eppler becomes a seller.
Marcus Semien, SS, A’s
Semien, who finished third in American League MVP Award voting, is said to be interested in an extension to remain in Oakland, but the Athletics have never given out a contract worth more than $66 million -- and that came back in 2004, when they bet on Eric Chavez to be the face of the franchise after watching the likes of Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Barry Zito and others leave as free agents.
It feels more likely that Oakland would trade Semien between now and July 31, though that would be a tough sell to the fanbase if the club is contending and Semien is having another MVP-caliber season.
Mookie Betts, RF, Red Sox
Red Sox ownership has let it be known that getting the payroll beneath the Competitive Balance Tax threshold of $208 million is a priority (though supposedly not a mandate), meaning new baseball operations chief Chaim Bloom has his work cut out for him. Trading Betts -- the 2018 AL MVP -- would be the quickest way to slash payroll, as he’s projected to get $27.7 million by MLB Trade Rumors in his final year of arbitration and the Red Sox are currently projected to have a payroll in the $235 million range.
But trading Betts would weaken the team and infuriate the fanbase, so it’s no lock that he gets moved. If the right deal comes along anytime between now and July 31, it’s completely reasonable to believe he can be moved. Should the Red Sox decide to go into the season with Betts on the roster, things could get tricky if Boston finds itself in contention.
If Boston opts not to deal Betts, the payroll-cutting process might very well involve a trade of Jackie Bradley Jr., who could earn at least $10-11 million in his final year of arbitration.
Shin-Soo Choo, DH/OF, Rangers
Choo hit a career-high 24 homers last season while posting his highest OPS (.826) since 2015, showing that he can still be a presence in a lineup at the age of 37. The DH/outfielder is set to make $21 million in 2020, the final year of the seven-year, $130 million deal that he signed prior to the '14 campaign, so he’ll have roughly $7 million remaining on his contract at the Trade Deadline.
Texas hopes to contend next season, evidenced by its interest in some of this winter’s top free agents, but the AL West should be as competitive as any division in the AL, potentially giving the Rangers an opportunity to sell a piece or two at the Deadline. Choo does have a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to 10 teams each year, which could give him some control over his short-term future if Texas tries to move him.