The Washington Nationals made the first big transaction of the 2016 season by signing Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $175 million contract extension. Washington kept their free agent-to-be as they make a push towards the World Series, but teams that aren’t in contention for a championship could soon be looking to trade top players that are in the final year of their contracts.
A few of baseball’s best players were dealt last summer as teams fell out of contention. The Detroit Tigers weren’t going to the postseason, so they dealt David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays before he hit free agency. The Tigers did the same with Yoenis Cespedes in a deal with the New York Mets, even though they were projected to be a playoff team before the season began.
If any team has a chance to become this year’s version of the 2015 Tigers, it’s the New York Yankees. The Yankees are never in the conversation regarding the sellers before the trade deadline, but the team has been so bad in 2016 that they might have to consider unloading a few of their veterans. Even after winning four of five games, the Yankees are 13-18 and in last place in the AL East.
There is plenty of time for New York to turn things around, and teams like the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays have underachieved in the division. But things are looking bleak for the Yankees, who are lacking a true offensive star and need to revamp their farm system. First baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Carlos Beltran and relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman could all be expendable as they play in the final year of their contracts.
Teixeira has a no-trade clause, so he could be difficult to move. But Beltran has been a more productive hitter this season, and he could help a team that finds itself in a pennant race. Aaron Judge, maybe the Yankees’ top prospect, is playing well in Triple-A, potentially making Beltran available later in the season.
Chapman has only pitched twice for the Yankees, but he might be the most logical player for New York to shop. The closer will be a free agent in the winter, and even without Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances give New York among the best backend relief pitchers in baseball. Miller could be a trade piece, as well, and New York would get a significant return for the reliever that is signed through 2018.
The Los Angeles Angels find themselves in a similar position. After winning 85 games a year ago, L.A. wasn’t projected to make the 2016 postseason by odds makers and most pundits. The Angels have done little to prove those predictions wrong, starting the season at 13-19, and they could also be looking to unload some veterans for younger talent.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler recently responded to speculation that L.A.’s slow start could force them to look into the possibility of trading Mike Trout. The team’s best player isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean they won’t explore moving a few of their starters that aren’t under contract beyond this season.
With Garret Richards done for the year and Andrew Heaney and C.J. Wilson out with injuries, Los Angeles’ rotation likely won’t be able to make up for the team’s offensive struggles. Jered Weaver is no longer one of the top pitchers in baseball, but he could prove useful to a team that needs help in their rotation. The 33-year-old has pitched at least 159 innings in every season since 2007, and he has a 2.60 ERA in seven playoff appearances.
Wilson hasn’t pitched in 2016, but like Weaver, he’ll be a free agent in November. He could return in early June, making him a trade piece, as well. Wilson had a 3.89 ERA last year, and he’s gone 51-35 since joining L.A. in 2012.
As bad as the Angels have been on the major league level, the team’s farm system is even worse. Baseball America ranked the organization’s minor-league talent 30th out of 30 MLB teams, making it more likely that L.A. will look to move some of their veterans.
Neither the Yankees nor Angels have been as bad as the Atlanta Braves, who entered the season with low expectations. Through 31 games, they are MLB’s worst team, going just 7-24, potentially on their way to a historically bad season.
Atlanta decided to sacrifice the present for the future before the start of last season. The Braves traded Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. to the San Diego Padres in April 2015, and they sent Andrelton Simmons to the Angels and Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason. The team has yet to budge on trading Freddie Freeman, but it’s not inconceivable to think the first baseman could be on his way out sometime in the next two and a half months.
The Braves could certainly get a lot in return for Freeman. He’s signed through 2021, and he’s posted an OPS of at least .841 in each of the last three years. Atlanta would like him to be their first baseman when the team is ready to compete again in a few years, but they might not be averse to dealing him. The Braves reportedly discussed a deal with the Houston Astros in the winter, though nothing was close to being finalized.
The first big trade of last season came on April 27 when the Angels sent the troubled slugger Josh Hamilton to the Texas Rangers.