The week of the 2021 MLB Trade Deadline is upon us! We’ve seen a handful of deals thus far — Nelson Cruz to the Rays, Rich Hill to the Mets, Adam Frazier to the Padres, Joc Pederson to the Braves — but most of the market’s top names are still waiting to learn their fate. The stage is set for a chaotic few days of deal-making.
As always, this list is loosely ordered in terms of both likelihood of being traded and value to an acquiring club in a trade. Rental players are inherently going to carry less long-term value but are generally likelier to be moved by virtue of their impending free agency. Those who aren’t qualifying offer candidates are particularly likely to be flipped elsewhere. Some of those names will outrank more impactful players with a lower likelihood of being dealt.
It’s all subjective and debatable, and that’s part of the fun of the whole exercise. No one’s here for preamble, so let’s dive right into the list!
1. Max Scherzer, RHP: The Nationals are 1-5 since GM Mike Rizzo said his team’s upcoming play would determine his deadline approach, including a sweep at the hands of the Orioles and a crushing walk-off loss to one of the teams they’re directly chasing in the NL East: the Phillies. The Nats are 8.5 back in the division and 11.5 back in the Wild Card hunt. Now, the Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty reports that Scherzer is open to trades and would waive his 10-and-5 no-trade rights. Scherzer’s enormous contract and deferred money still make a trade complicated to sort out, and he’s dealing with what seems to be a minor triceps issue. He’s slated to start Thursday, the day before the deadline. It seems quite possible that’ll be his Nats farewell.
2. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF/1B, Cubs: At the time of our last Top Trade Candidate list, the Cubs looked like they’d have no choice but to hold onto Bryant. However, their stay atop the NL Central is a distant memory following a catastrophic losing streak and president Jed Hoyer’s acknowledgment that his team will operate as a seller. This was probably the direction the front office envisioned all along after trading Yu Darvish this winter, and Bryant’s resurgent season has likely bolstered his value considerably. He can help clubs with outfield or corner infield needs, and his .269/.356/.500 slash would be a boost to the heart of any order. With a $19.5MM salary in 2021, however, Bryant could be a tough financial pill for some teams to swallow.
3. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Cubs: The first year-plus of Kimbrel’s time in Chicago made the team’s three-year investment in the All-Star closer look regrettable, to say the least. But the now-33-year-old Kimbrel has engineered a rebound so impressive that next year’s $16MM club option now looks like a potential bargain. Kimbrel has been better than ever in 2021, pitching to a 0.49 ERA with a superlative 46.7 percent strikeout rate and a 9.5 percent walk rate in 36 2/3 innings. The salary might limit his market, but deep pocketed clubs should all have interest in Kimbrel, who very suddenly has a good bit of trade value.
4. Starling Marte, OF, Marlins: If the Marlins truly only offered a player of Marte’s caliber three years and under $40MM on an extension, it’s hard to believe they were ever serious about extending him. Regardless, with those efforts now in the rear-view mirror, Marte is one of the best and likeliest players to be traded. He’s enjoying one of his best seasons ever at the plate — arguably his best — playing good defense and running more than he has since 2018 (21-for-24 in stolen bases). He’s a rental, and not an especially cheap one with a $12.5MM salary ($4.37MM owed post-deadline), but few players represent a larger potential upgrade.