The 2023 MLB season is right around the corner, and it is never too early to start thinking about how it might unfold. Seemingly every year, we have a decent handle on who should contend and who is likely to struggle, which makes looking ahead to the trade deadline inevitable. Veteran players on mediocre teams are always on high alert in July. Their clubs often look to capitalize on some of their value by bringing back talented minor leaguers. With that in mind, let's speculate about 25 guys whose names you could hear much about in just a few months.
The only potential player on this year's trading block that could rival the seismic Juan Soto trade from last summer is Shohei Ohtani, though it is still not an apples-to-apples comparison. Soto was considerably younger and came with several years of control when Washington sent him to the Padres. Ohtani is a two-way star, the likes of which we have literally never seen, but he's also set to be a free agent at year's end. The Angels have repeatedly been reluctant to trade him and continue to express their desire to keep him in LA long-term. But Ohtani wants to win, and the Angels have consistently failed to build a good enough team around him and Mike Trout. And signing Ohtani to a massive contract extension is simply not going to help the team's financial ability to bring in an all-star caliber supporting cast. Los Angeles should probably have seriously considered a winter trade this off-season, as waiting until July will limit the number of interested clubs. And holding him all year and then allowing him to sign elsewhere is just a bad business decision. This will be an incredibly interesting situation to monitor all season.
Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds' name has consistently been mentioned in trade discussions for years now, and he actually asked to be traded this winter. Yet here we are in spring training and the all-star switch-hitter is still in Pittsburgh. That's mostly because the Pirates have understandably placed an enormous price tag on their best player, but at some point, they're going to have to be more flexible. Reynolds is still in arbitration so he has years of team control remaining, though the longer the Pirates put off a decision the lower that value becomes. There's also the fact that Reynolds is now 28 years old. Pittsburgh is deep in a rebuild that is seriously unlikely to be complete before he reaches free agency, and the player has already publicly stated a desire to leave. The Pirates will never get more for Reynolds than they could this summer when an acquiring team would have him for three pennant pushes. As stated with Ohtani, at some point not pulling the trigger just becomes a bad business decision.
Corbin Burnes' inclusion here might come as a surprise to many especially since he's not due to become a free agent until after the 2024 season. But the equation conceivably could have changed drastically just a couple of weeks ago. Burnes and the Brewers failed to come to an agreement in arbitration, and the dispute went to a hearing. Listening to Burnes talk afterwards, he was understandably disappointed to hear Milwaukee blaming their lack of a playoff berth in 2022 on him and acknowledged that his relationship with the club was severely damaged. How that plays out moving forward will be fascinating. On paper, the Brewers look like they should again be right in the thick of things in the NL Central, but what if that doesn't materialize? If they are not in the race in July and a team comes calling to try to acquire Burnes for a year and a half Milwaukee would have to listen. But would they actually trade their ace?
Speaking of potentially impact starting pitchers on the move this summer. Rockies' righty German Marquez has been a topic in trade rumors for a while, but the stars seem to be aligned for this to be the time something actually happens. Marquez has been a dependable innings eater for his entire career, and has been on the injured list only once in six full seasons. Pitching all of his home games in Colorado has inflated his ERA a bit, but this is a pitcher that has been an all-star and has often gone toe to toe with other team's aces for a long time. He's also set to be a free agent at the end of the year. Colorado is unlikely to compete in a division that includes powerhouse teams in Los Angeles and San Diego, and if they are indeed out of the race in July, Marquez will almost certainly be changing uniforms.
The Diamondbacks could have found a taker for their slugging first baseman, Christian Walker, last summer but ultimately chose not to move him. Unless anything unforeseen happens over the next few months, they'll almost definitely have another opportunity should they so choose. Last season Walker slashed .242/.327/.477 with 36 homers and 94 RBI. Yes, he strikes out a ton, and no, he is not especially skilled defensively. But he also mashes the ball over the fence with as much authority as any right-handed hitter in the National League. Contenders would give up talented young prospects to add his power, and it would be surprising if Arizona didn't try to capitalize on that.
The Rangers poured resources into their offense a year ago by signing both Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, and this winter, tried to address their rotation by adding Jacob deGrom and Nathan Eovaldi. But are they ready to compete in a division that includes the defending World Champs in Houston, a playoff team in Seattle, and an Angels team that has two of the best players in the sport? If that answer proves to be no, their closer, Jose Leclerc could become a valuable trade chip. The righty required Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2021 and some of last season, but when he returned he pitched well. In 39 outings he put up a 2.83 ERA while holding opponents to a sub-.200 batting average and punching out over a hitter/inning. Leclerc's contract includes a club option for 2024 but that wouldn't be a deterrent to a potential trade.
Right-hander David Bednar represented the Pirates in the all-star game last summer, and the 28-year-old has quietly been one of the better relievers in the National League the past two years. In 2022 Bednar converted 19 saves, finished with a 2.61 ERA, and struck out 69 hitters in 51.2 innings across 45 outings. Pittsburgh is certainly not under any pressure to move him, as he's still in arbitration and isn't eligible for free agency until the end of the 2026 season. But a good closer is a luxury a bad team doesn't need, and pairing Bednar in a potential Bryan Reynolds trade could really net quite a haul for the Pirates.
In 2021 veteran second baseman Jonathan Schoop hit .278 with 22 homers, 84 RBI, and 30 doubles and was one of the most productive offensive infielders in the American League. Unfortunately for him and the Tigers, his '22 campaign was not nearly as impressive. In 131 games Schoop slashed just .202/.239/.322 with only 35 extra-base hits. He will be a free agent at the end of the upcoming season and it's fair to say he's looking to rebound in a major way. From Detroit's prospective, the AL Central does not appear to be overly daunting, though they are far from the favorite to win it. If they fall out of the race this summer and Schoop is swinging the bat well, he is absolutely somebody they should look to deal.
Southpaw Aroldis Chapman endured a completely lost campaign while with the Yankees a year ago, as multiple stints to this disabled list--including one caused by a tattoo infection--prevented him from being an important part of New York's AL East winning ballclub. When he was on the mound, Chapman was mostly ineffective, pitching to a career-worst 4.46 ERA in 43 games. He struggled mightily with his command, issuing 28 walks in only 36.1 innings, and the Yankees were content to let him walk this winter. His landing spot ended up being Kansas City, where the veteran will try to reestablish himself as an upper-echelon closer. If he can, and the Royals fall out of the race, Chapman will become an enticing deadline option for contenders.
Sticking in Kansas City, starting pitcher Brad Keller has had an up-and-down career to date, pitching to a lifetime 4.25 ERA in 139 games, but he stands out as someone who potentially could use a change of scenery. The big right-hander has been a good soldier for the Royals for six years now, and showed flashes of how good he can be when he's right during the 2020 pandemic truncated season. Keller will be a free agent at year's end and almost certainly will not be back in Kansas City in '24, so look for some team to take a low-risk flyer on him later this summer.
The idea of the Reds trading away electric right-handed reliever Alexis Diaz may sound insane, but perhaps it should not be so far-fetched. Cincinnati is heading towards a serious transitional period. The face of the franchise, all-star first baseman Joey Votto, is potentially headed into his final season with the team. In the last twelve months the Reds have traded away longtime stalwarts Eugenio Suarez, Luis Castillo, and Jesse Winker. Simply put, this team needs a reset. Enter Diaz, who just delivered a dominant rookie season that saw him put up a 1.84 ERA in 63.2 innings, while striking out 83 hitters and holding the opposition to a ridiculous .131 batting average. But as mentioned in the David Bednar slide, an elite closer is simply a luxury a rebuilding team doesn't need. The price would be exorbitant, and the Reds don't have to trade him, but if a team approached them offering a king's ransom for a legitimate high leverage late inning reliever, Cincinnati would be crazy not to listen.
Veteran Andrew Chafin has been one of the game's better left-handed set-up men for quite some time now, and it feels like he's annually mentioned as a potential bullpen addition for a contending club. After a strong season in Detroit a year ago, this winter Chafin inked a free-agent deal back with his original team in Arizona. The contract he signed with the Diamondbacks does include a club option for 2024 but that has no bearing on his attractiveness to other teams at the deadline. Every contender could use a reliable lefty that can neutralize powerful left-handed hitters, and you can count on Chafin's name being tossed around front offices in July.
Seemingly since debuting back in 2017, right-handed swinging Garrett Cooper has been a man whose best position is in the batter's box. The Marlins have consistently tried to find a defensive position for him, trying him in both outfield corners and first base, before the National League adopted the DH a year ago and alleviated some of their struggles. Offensively, Cooper is a valuable piece. Just last year he slashed .261/.337/.415 with 44 extra-base hits in 119 games. But both injuries and lack of a true defensive home have prevented him from realizing his full potential. Cooper will be a free agent at the end of the upcoming season and at 32 years old he doesn't figure seriously into Miami's future. If he gets off to a good start in the first half the Marlins will almost assuredly make him available in a trade.
While most of the players projected to be potentially traded later this summer are currently on teams that aren't expected to contend, that is not really the case here. The Mets acquired Darin Ruf from San Francisco last year with the hopes that he could mash left-handed pitching as part of a DH platoon. To put it simply, that didn't materialize. Ruf collected only 10 hits in 66 at-bats as a Met, didn't hit a single home run, and struck out 20 times. New York was forced to go in other directions down the stretch, and it's a little surprising he's still in Queens to be honest. Should the veteran get off to another rough--pun intended--start in 2023 the Mets will not hesitate to try to ship him off and give younger players like Mark Vientos or Francisco Alvarez the opportunity.
Veteran switch-hitter, Carlos Santana suffered through a mostly difficult 2022 season split between Kansas City and Seattle, slashing just .202/.316/.376 in 431 at-bats. Somewhat encouragingly, however, was the fact that his power was still there, as evidenced by his 19 homers and 18 doubles. Pittsburgh brought Santana aboard as a free agent this winter, but at 36 years old, he is certainly not part of their future. The Pirates are almost certainly hoping the veteran can get off to a good start, pass some knowledge on to their younger players, reestablish some of his value, and then get traded away to a bat-needy contender in a few months.
The Twins acquired righty Sonny Gray in a spring training trade with the Reds last year, and the veteran pitched well for them a year ago, turning in a 3.08 ERA in 24 starts. The AL Central was surprisingly weak a season ago, as the White Sox and Twins both disappointed, and the Tigers and Royals failed to progress, leaving Cleveland to almost win the division by default. Minnesota fully intends on competing seriously for the Central crown in 2023, but if they should fall out of the race, Gray, who's a free agent at year's end, could become an interesting trade option for contenders.
Reliable relief pitching is always in high demand in July, and this summer will assuredly be no different. Veteran righty Ryan Tepera inked a two-year deal with the Angels last March, and his first season in Los Angeles went extremely well. In 59 outings the Sam Houston State product finished with a 3.61 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, while holding the opposition to a .202 batting average. Tepera is an experienced middle reliever who should eclipse 400 career Major League games this season, and if the Angels aren't in a race, he could certainly help a contender.
Over the last two winters the rebuilding A's have shipped off essentially every valuable veteran player they had in an effort to stockpile their minor league system. The talent void in Oakland is incredibly noticeable now, but potentially their most valuable remaining trade chip is starting pitcher, Paul Blackburn. The righty got his first chance to be a full-time member of a big league team's starting five in 2022, and pitched well, finishing with a 4.28 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 21 starts. Blackburn is not necessarily going to move the needle in a pennant race, but he could help improve a team's starting pitching depth. And Oakland would seem to have very little use for him in the future, as at 29 years old he will not be a member of the next good Athletics team.
Sticking in the Bay Area, in an effort to at least attempt to field a competent big league team while their prospects develop, Oakland signed veteran right-handed hitter Jesus Aguilar to a one-year free-agent contract this winter. The 32-year-old split last season between Miami and Baltimore, slashing .235/.281/.379 with 16 homers and 51 RBI. Aguilar is no longer the feared slugger that once crushed 35 homers while with Milwaukee, but he's a serviceable veteran bat who should help Oakland both at first base and DH. At least during the season's first four months. If he's having a remotely productive campaign, you can bet that at the deadline, the A's will look to flip him to a contending club.
Trading away Juan Soto last summer essentially ushered in a new era of Nationals baseball, and brought on a rebuild that will take a long time to come to fruition. Washington is going to be an extremely young team in 2023 and will unquestionably endure growing pains as they try to compete in arguably the best division in baseball. This team is almost the most certain July seller even before the season begins, and thinking ahead to what they could have to offer the one name I keep coming back to is Kyle Finnegan. The Texas State product is a hard-throwing right-handed reliever who has consistently punched out over a hitter/inning in his career. Last season he turned in a 3.51 ERA in 66.2 innings, while converting 11 saves and registering 14 holds. He's also still arbitration eligible and is under contract through 2025, meaning Washington could recoup more for him in a trade than if he were a simple rental.
Fresh off the best season of his career as a Met in 2021, left-hander Aaron Loup secured a two-year free-agent agreement with the Angels last winter. He pitched well in his first year with Los Angeles, albeit not quite to the tune of his remarkable 0.95 ERA the previous season. Regardless, Loup has long been one of the better and more dependable southpaw set-up men, and if the Angels are not seriously contending this summer, you'd have to speculate he could be on the move.
Speaking of former Mets' relievers, let's talk about righty Trevor May. The 33-year-old spent the past two seasons calling Queens home, and well, he pitched very well in '21, injuries kind of derailed some of his consistency a season ago. The down year did not prevent him from landing a free-agent contract from the A's, who actually brought him on with the intention of making him their closer. This is a good opportunity for May. If he pitches well during the first four months of 2023, he'll position himself as one of the higher-tier relievers available at the deadline.
There was a time not all that long ago when Nick Senzel was one of the best prospects in all of baseball. Cincinnati selected him 2nd overall in the 2016 draft coming out of the University of Tennessee and had visions of him becoming an important part of their core for years to come. Fast forward to the present, and in 273 big league games Senzel owns just a .240/.303/.360-lifetime slash line with just 67 extra-base hits. The Reds are clearly a team in transition at the moment and Senzel is signed through 2025, but this could be a situation where he needs a change of scenery and Cincinnati could look to find a team willing to bet on his past upside.
If Rockies' closer Daniel Bard can match his dominant 2022 season during the upcoming campaign, he may well be the most sought after late-inning reliever available this July. In 57 games a year ago Bard put up a 1.79 ERA with a 0.99 WHIP, while holding the opposition to a .162 batting average and striking out 69 hitters in 60.1 innings. He converted 34 of his 37 save chances, and was easily the most consistent player on Colorado's team. Bard will turn 38 in June and the Rockies do have him signed through next season, but if they fall out of the race early and a team indicates they're willing to pay a premium to acquire Bard for two stretch runs, Colorado should pull the trigger.
It would be incredibly strange to see Charlie Blackmon donning a new uniform, but it's a possibility that is at least feasible later this summer. The veteran outfielder has spent his entire career in Colorado but he'll turn 37 in July and is in the last year of his contract. Blackmon has no trade rights as a ten-and-five player so he could certainly veto any potential deal if he wanted to remain in Denver. But if the Rockies are not involved in a playoff race, going to a contender for a chance to win could become enticing.