These 5 players might be Trade Deadline steals

July 5th, 2019

Giants reliever Will Smith is likely to get traded, probably soon. So is Madison Bumgarner, most likely, and Tony Watson and Sam Dyson, and even some players who aren't pitchers on the Giants -- maybe Marcus Stroman, or Zack Wheeler, or Nicholas Castellanos, or, if you really want to get wild, Trevor Bauer.

But you know those names, and no one will be surprised if they get moved. What about the more under-the-radar candidates? Remember, in 2018, the biggest names traded were Chris Archer, Manny Machado, Brian Dozier, Mike Moustakas and Kevin Gausman ... but the deals that had the biggest impact were probably for Ryan Pressly, Nathan Eovaldi and Luke Voit.

(Okay, Voit came out of nowhere, but we were trying to tell you about Pressly when he was still with Minnesota.)

So: Who are some of the less obvious possibilities to be moved by the end of the month? It can't just be "any impending free agent," because Josh Donaldson, Didi Gregorius and Gerrit Cole aren't very likely going anywhere. It's not Howie Kendrick, because we already highlighted how valuable he is, and it's not Clint Frazier, since he seems the most obvious candidate of all. It's probably "any reliever with a pulse," but that's not terribly interesting. Here are five names you might not be thinking about.

Ian Kennedy, RHP, Royals

Back in 2016, the Royals followed up their stunning World Series championship by signing Kennedy to a five-year, $70 million contract. Kennedy was useful the first year (3.68 ERA in 195 2/3 innings), but not so much the next two years (5.06 ERA, around injuries to his oblique and hamstring), and found himself headed to the bullpen this year.

Working as a full-time reliever for the first time in his 13-year career, Kennedy has been... fantastic, actually, with a 3.18 ERA, posting a 41/7 K/BB ratio in 34 innings. In his first three years with the Royals, he'd struck out between 20 and 22% of hitters; this year, that's nearly 29%. When Wade Davis was helping to finish off that World Series in 2015, his strikeout rate was 31%.

While his 3.18 ERA is obviously a big step up, that's not even the extent of it; by advanced Statcast metrics, he's been pitching like one of the 20 or so best relievers in baseball this year. (It doesn't hurt that his four-seam fastball has jumped from 91.9 MPH to 93.9 MPH.) The issue here is that Kennedy is still owed the remainder of $16.5 million this year and then $16.5 million more next year, but if the Royals are willing to eat some of that contract, they could find themselves with a surprisingly valuable trade asset in a world where every contender needs relief help.

Starling Marté, OF, Pirates

It's true that the Pirates are only three games out of first place, but they're also two games under .500 and have been outscored by 46 runs, which is why their playoff odds hover at 11.4 percent, per FanGraphs, after winning the first three games of a series with the Cubs. While fellow outfielders like Melky Cabrera or Corey Dickerson might be more likely to be on the move, let us at least put the idea of moving Marté out there, just because he would likely bring a larger return.

That's because of two reasons; first, Marté comes with ultimate flexibility for interested suitors, because his 2020 and '21 options are reasonable ($11.5 million and $12.5 million, respectively) and also easily avoidable should a new team choose not to exercise them.

Second, he's been consistently good. Setting aside his suspension-interrupted 2017, Marté has been a league-average or better bat each year of his career, he's generated positive defensive value each year of his career and he's on track for his seventh straight 20-steal season. Even just within the context of what looks like an only OK 2019, he's been getting better each month -- his monthly OPS has gone from .641 to .789 to .882 as his strikeout rate has declined from 20% to 18% to 14%. It's not hard to see a team like the Indians or Phillies showing interest.

Billy Hamilton, OF, Royals

One of these years, some contender is going to take us up on the plan we've been advocating for some time -- take Hamilton out of the starting lineup, and add him as the dangerous defense/baserunning weapon he's best utilized as. (Remember that the Cubs found room for Terrance Gore on their Wild Card roster last year.)

We say this because nearly six years after his debut, Hamilton has proven he's not a Major League caliber hitter. (His .215/.284/.266 line is the second-weakest of anyone with 250 plate appearances this year, and his .243/.297/.327 career line is one of the 25 weakest of any player with 3,000 plate appearances since the divisional era began in 1969.)

Yet Hamilton remains one of the most elite speedsters in baseball, just like he is every year, and he's still one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, just like he is every year. No, you don't really want him to hit, but imagine him adding speed to a team like the Braves, or providing defensive support to a club like the Cubs or Rockies. There's a fit here, for the contender willing to make one.

Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays

It's tempting to look at Sanchez's 6.31 ERA -- and the 5.33 mark he's put up in three seasons since his 2016 All-Star breakout thanks in part to repeated blister issues -- and write him off completely. What contender would want a pitcher who has literally the highest ERA of any qualified pitcher?

One who thinks they can turn a buy-low chance into big returns, that's who, and while we're not only talking about the Astros, this absolutely feels like the Astros. Back in 2016, Sanchez was known for the deadly high-velocity sinker he threw two-thirds of the time, but as his velocity has dropped (95.4 MPH in 2016, 94.0 MPH this year) and his movement has gone from slightly more sink than average to less than average, it's been pounded. Both of his fastballs have been, actually. Compared to other pitchers, his four-seam has been 7th-worst, and the sinker has been the worst.

But: the curveball. Only five regular starters have higher curve spin -- names you know like Rich Hill, Cole and Charlie Morton -- and he gets four inches more break and four inches more drop than other curves at his velocity. In terms of results, the .218 average and .241 slugging against put it in the top 15. While he's been throwing it more than ever, that's still just 23%, well behind the four-seamer (30%) and sinker (29%). High-spin, under-utilized curve, with an under-performing fastball? This has Houston (or Minnesota, or the Dodgers, or the Yankees) written all over it.

If it works, there's 2.5 more seasons before Sanchez can become a free agent. If it doesn't, well, it probably didn't cost that much to acquire a guy with a 6.31 ERA anyway.

Domingo Santana, OF/DH, Mariners

It's fair to say that the way GM Jerry Dipoto operates, no Mariner is ever off the trading block, but it also seems like Santana isn't a name that's come up too often, perhaps because he only turns 27 next month and can't be a free agent until after the 2021 season. He doesn't fit into the "expensive, aging veteran" mold of Edwin Encarnación, Jay Bruce, Robinson Cano or the rest of the recent Seattle departures.

Still, if you're a contender looking for a bat, you could do a lot worse than Santana. He slammed 30 homers for the 2017 Brewers, then spent most of 2018 in the Minors because Milwaukee acquired Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. This year, he already has 18 homers while hitting .281/.352/.496, thanks to a hard-hit rate in the 85th percentile -- and his red-hot June (.295/.375/.554) made him one of the 30 best hitters in the Majors last month.

If there's a downside here, it's that his best position is definitely "hitter," as his -11 Outs Above Average is the lowest of any outfielder. But for teams like Cleveland or Oakland, who haven't necessarily received a ton from DH or corner outfield, the bat could be a welcome addition.