Spring Training is starting to get going, and teams are adding their final pieces or getting ready to go to war with what they’ve got already on their roster. The teams competing and the teams rebuilding have become abundantly clear, and while some free agents remain on the market, it is safe to say most of the winters major moves have already been completed. So which players might become available within the next year that seem untouchable right now? We identified four players that could be surprising additions to the trade market come winter 2018.
Madison Bumgarner, LHP San Francisco Giants
By all indications, the Giants are ready to be contenders again. They’ve added Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, and Austin Jackson to a team that finished last in the National League West with a 64-98 record last season. With Madison Bumgarner at full strength, Hall of Famer Buster Posey still behind the plate, and three World Series titles since 2010, the Giants have every reason to believe they can compete.
But what happens if this all falls flat? Longoria and McCutchen, while still undoubtedly productive, are in the decline phases of their careers. The Giants have a farm system that is depleted in talent, and beyond what is on their major league roster; don’t have many more building blocks on the way. Should San Francisco struggle again in 2018; is it possible they would consider dealing Bumgarner to restock their farm system? For how long he has been around, MadBum will play most of this season at just 28 years of age. He is still in the prime of his career. However, his contract contains a $12 million option for 2019 (which will absolutely be exercised), and after that he is eligible for free agency. If the Giants can’t rebound in 2018, they might be best cashing in before potentially losing Bumgarner for nothing.
Even with just one year of control left after 2018, the Giants would be in a position to ask for multiple top prospects in return. We are talking about an in-his-prime ace that is one of the best post-season pitchers in baseball history. The Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, Angels, Astros, and Twins, just to name a few, would all be lining up to land Madison. Even rebuilding clubs could convince themselves that Bumgarner could anchor their rotation as they transition to contenders. All 29 other teams would be interested in some capacity. It seems more likely the Giants will be big spenders next winter than big sellers, but if they decide they’ve maximized their potential with this core, the king’s ransom they could demand for Bumgarner could help get a head start on a rebuild.
Kyle Seager, 3B Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are in a similar position to the Giants. They have a lot of talent on the major league roster that is either in or near the end of their prime. They also don’t have a lot of minor league talent on the way to supplement those players, and their big money commitments could age them into irrelevance sooner rather than later. For 2018 they will likely be aiming for a wild card spot, but if they miss the playoffs again, Seattle might look to do a little retooling next off-season.
Of the players on their major league roster, one of the few with substantial trade value is third baseman Kyle Seager. Seager is entering the fourth year of a seven-year, $100 million contract (with a club option for an eighth year), and is one of the most consistent, if underrated, infielders in the game. He has hit at least 20 homers in each of his seasons as a full time player, with at least 25 in each of his last four. Add in steady glove work, and Seager has been worth at least 3.5 fWAR in each of his full big league seasons.
Several teams with long-term openings at third will be looking to spend next winter, and once Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson sign contracts, a few of those teams will be left with nothing. The Mariners would be in a solid position to take advantage of that market, and there would be no shortage of teams interested in Seager at his four year, $71 million price tag. The Atlanta Braves strike me as an obvious match, as they are loaded with the young talent, especially pitching, that could interest Seattle. Both New York teams, the Cardinals, Red Sox, and Phillies are just a few other teams that jump out as potential suitors. Either way, for teams that miss out on the big names in free agency, Seager would be a great consolation prize. The Mariners would be in a position to get a strong package for Seager that could help them either deepen their major league roster, or start a rebuild all together.
Didi Gregorius, SS New York Yankees
Many have speculated on a possible contract extension between Didi Gregorius and the Yankees. However, it’s not inconceivable to think a separation might instead be in the cards. The Yankees are loaded with infield talent, with Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, Brandon Drury, and Miguel Andujar all ready or near ready for major league roles. They have also been mentioned as one of the most likely destinations for Manny Machado next winter. However, Machado wants to play shortstop, which is the same position Didi currently mans for New York. Should the Yankees land Machado to play short, Gregorius would become expendable.
Gregorius will start his next deal at 30 years old, and the Yankees haven’t exactly been excited to hand out long-term contracts to middle infielders in recent years (see Cano, Robinson). Though Gregorius is one of their only left handed hitters, with so much depth at the position, the Yankees could instead flip Didi’s final year of team control to fill needs elsewhere. The Padres, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Orioles, and Mets are just a few teams that could have openings at short next winter. Perhaps one of those teams would be more inclined to sign Gregorius long-term. Though a break-up between Didi and the Yankees seems unlikely at the moment, each day that passes by without an extension makes it that much likelier New York will move on.
Jacob deGrom, RHP New York Mets
Jacob deGrom was a bit late to establish himself in the majors. He didn’t debut until he was 26 years old and didn’t pitch his first full major league season until he was 27. They don’t check ID’s on the mound though, and deGrom has been a bona fide top of the rotation starter since he arrived in the Queens. deGrom is still under control for three more seasons, through 2020, and won’t reach free agency until he is 32 years of age. The Mets have recent first hand experience seeing how fast pitchers can break, and might not be inclined to give deGrom a new deal well into his 30’s.
Should they struggle in 2018, the Mets might explore the market on their ace righty. Next winters free agency crop is packed with hitters, but short on pitchers. Should he become available, he would instantly become the best pitcher on the market, assuming Clayton Kershaw isn’t leaving LA. Similar to what we attested to with Madison Bumgarner earlier, every contender and team close to contention alike would be knocking at GM Sandy Alderson’s door.
The Mets might not be willing to undergo a full rebuild, so it’s possible they would be looking for major league pieces instead of prospects, or some combination of both. Maybe swapping deGrom to the cross town Yankees for Gregorius and some of their prospects would be worth considering. Maybe the Mariners put do Kyle Seager on the market, and there is a match to be made there. Regardless if they request a package of minor leaguers or established big league talent, the Mets would be in a position to ask for whatever they wanted.