Solid alternatives to big-name trade options

Ross, Lucroy, others could be vital for contender, may be had for lower cost

June 22nd, 2018

The trade market has heated up earlier than usual, with this week's trade of serving as evidence of the active discussions taking place well in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The market is deep with star-caliber talent in some places and woefully shallow in others. But as is the case every year, you don't have to be a big name to have a big impact.
With that in mind, here are five areas in which lower-profile names might be worthwhile targets for contending teams.
1. Starting pitchers (Padres), (Blue Jays) and (Tigers)
Alternatives to: J.A. Happ (Blue Jays) and Cole Hamels (Rangers)
Happ and Hamels front a predominantly weak starting-pitching market (that is, unless the controllable likes of , and are actually dealt). But these guys rate as more affordable and, therefore, possibly more attractive options.
Ross, viewed as a reclamation project the past couple years, has been outstanding for the Padres, boasting a 3.34 ERA and 117 ERA+ in 15 starts. He actually has better numbers away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park than in it. And though he doesn't get as many ground balls or swings and misses as he did in his rising-star turn in 2014 and '15, before injuries set in, he has been a dependable weapon on a very reasonable (and expiring) contract, so he could augment a contending rotation right now. By and large, Estrada's 2018 numbers resemble the numbers from his 2017 decline. In fact, he entered Friday's start with an ERA+ of 91, identical to his '17 mark. But his string of quality starts this month are a positive step in the right direction, and it's worth noting that his hard-hit percentage allowed (31.7) and barrel percentage allowed (7.0) are more similar to his 2016 campaign (30.4, 7.1), when he was an All-Star, than 2017 (36.5, 10.7). So this might be the right time to buy in.

And if clubs are dead set on a left-handed starting rental, Liriano has once again established himself as worthy of consideration. He's returning this weekend after missing several weeks due to a hamstring issue, but prior to the injury, he had a respectable 112 ERA+ in 10 starts for the Tigers.
2. Relief pitchers and (Padres)
Alternatives to: Brad Hand (Padres)
As is the case every summer, there are loads of interesting options in the relief market, and there could be opportunities for clubs to uncover an unexpected gem. I'm singling out the Padres only because their closer, Hand, has been a known trade commodity for what feels like forever, yet he's surrounded by other, less discussed but very interesting relief assets.
Stammen is a veteran pitching well (2.04 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) on a two-year deal that runs through 2019, and Yates has been fantastic (0.93 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) on a cheap one-year contract. Rookie is also an attractive bullpen option here, but with so much contractual control attached to him, the price tag would be extremely high -- as it is with Hand, who signed an extension with the Padres not long after they were unable to find a team to meet their asking price for him last summer.

3. Lefty reliever Jake Diekman (Rangers)
Alternative to: Zach Britton (Orioles)
Britton is another guy with huge name recognition who is also worth singling out in this discussion. He's still working to build up strength and trade value in his return from a ruptured Achilles, and it probably shouldn't be surprising that his velocity is down slightly following his injury.
Diekman, a fellow lefty relief rental, might be the safer pickup. He's not having an extraordinary season (1.39 WHIP, 5.3 walks per nine), but the Rangers feel he has become more comfortable with the 40 pounds he has added since surgery to remove his colon, and he has thrown the ball very well in recent weeks. The Blue Jays' is another lefty rental worth consideration here.

4. Catcher (A's)
Alternative to: (Rays) and J.T. Realmuto (Marlins)
Ramos, like Lucroy, is a rental, and the Marlins' Realmuto is the big Fish (pun intended) behind the dish. But while both of those guys are having All-Star-caliber campaigns and Lucroy's value is nowhere near what it was two years ago with the Brewers, don't lose sight of what an impact acquisition Lucroy can be. His help in developing the young A's pitching staff has been profound.
Lucroy might not give a club as much offensive thunder as he showed when he joined the Rockies in the second half last year (including a 1.016 OPS at Coors Field), but this is still a guy who can help a pitching staff reach its ceiling down the stretch.

5. Infielder (Blue Jays)
Alternative to: Manny Machado (Orioles), Mike Moustakas (Royals), Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays), (Rangers), (Twins), (Marlins), Josh Harrison (Pirates) and Scooter Gennett (Reds)
As you can see, there is a healthy inventory of high-profile names available in the infield. (Not long ago, I would not have considered Gennett a "high-profile" guy, but he's third in the National League All-Star voting at his position, leading the league in batting average and has double-digit homers, so he certainly has earned the label.) Long story short: A buyer's market could develop here.

Solarte has never been an All-Star or anything close to it, but he has been a really valuable piece for a Blue Jays club in transition. He can play anywhere in the infield and has done a decent job filling in at third when Donaldson has been hurt. After an offseason trade from the Padres, he has made the adjustment to the AL with a solid wRC+ mark of 112 (or 12 percent better than league average). He's under control through 2020 with two affordable team options. Because of that last point -- and the wealth of infield options in this market -- I tend to doubt he'll get dealt. But he's a worthwhile trade target worth mentioning in a market loaded with more recognizable names.