The crop of free-agents on the market is solid, both in terms of quantity and quality. But for teams looking to upgrade — before or after the expected lockout — there are lots of options on the trade market, too.
Here are 12 players who could be wearing a new uniform when the 2022 season starts, whenever that might be.
Byron Buxton, CF, Twins
Why he could be moved: The Twins are in a legit difficult situation with Buxton, who’s set to be a free agent after the 2022 season. They love Buxton and the fans love Buxton, as they should. He’s a hard-working player who has as much upside as any outfielder in baseball. In 61 games in 2021, he hit .306 with a 1.005 OPS, with 19 homers, nine stolen bases and a 4.5 bWAR. Read that last one again. He had a 4.5 bWAR in just 61 games; Aaron Judge finished fourth in the AL MVP race with a 6.0 bWAR through 148 games. If Buxton ever puts together a couple of healthy seasons, his could easily win multiple MVP awards. But that’s the rub. He hasn’t stayed healthy, an array of different injuries hamstringing his opportunity to reach his potential. He’s played more than 87 games in a season only once. How do you figure out a contract for a player like that? The Twins would love to get an incentive-laden extension done, but if Buxton is actually healthy in 2022, some team would pay him significant guaranteed long-term money heading into his Age 29 season in 2023. So, considering that it seems like a stretch to see the Twins as contenders in 2022 — the starting pitching is as thin as any team in the bigs — maybe they just trade Buxton, if they find a team willing to gamble that he’ll be healthy next year. They can’t sell low, of course.
Where he could go: That’s the million-dollar question. What team has enough top prospects to trade for Buxton and the willingness to deal for a risky player like Buxton?
Matt Olson, 1B, A’s
Why he could be moved: The A’s reportedly will listen to trade offers for everyone, and you can bet there will be plenty of teams interested in a first baseman who hit 39 homers with a .371 on-base percentage, 153 OPS+ and 5.8 bWAR while playing his home games in the notoriously pitcher-friendly ballpark in Oakland. Those four numbers we mentioned were all career highs, and here’s another sign Olson’s just getting better: In 2018, he had 93 more strikeouts than walks (163 to 70) and in 2019, he had 87 more strikeouts than walks (138 to 51). But in 2021 that gap dropped dramatically, to just 25 (113 to 88). He’s entering his Age 28 season and under club control for two more seasons.
Where he could go: The Yankees make a lot of sense, because it seems like they’re moving on from their former first baseman (more on that in a moment). The Dodgers could permanently move Cody Bellinger to center field. He’d be an upgrade in Boston, but the Sox might not be willing to give up on Bobby Dalbec and/or the Kyle Schwarber experiment (if they re-sign him).
Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, SPs Reds
Why they could be moved: The Reds let Wade Miley walk for nothing, and they traded catcher Tucker Barnhart for, well, not much. Those two were huge pieces to Cincinnati’s 2021 puzzle, and their departures seem to signal — as did these words from GM Nick Krall — what could be a painful offseason for Reds fans who were hoping the club could build on last year’s above-.500 finish. If the Reds truly are in the process of clearing salary, it makes sense that they’ll move Castillo and/or Gray. Castillo, whose stuff is elite, is projected to earn around $7.5 million in arbitration and a free agent after 2023. That’s a bargain any contender would gladly take on this offseason.
Gray, too, has a reasonable salary that’s free from arbitration variations: $10 million for 2022, with a $12 million club option for 2023 (with various potential bonuses). His ERA has jumped a bit, from 2.87 his first year with the Reds (2019) to 4.19 in 2021, but his K/9 was still excellent, at 10.3 and his FIP (3.99) wasn’t too high above his 2019 mark (3.42). Getting out of the Reds’ hitter-friendly park figures to help; in 2021, his ERA in 14 starts in Cincinnati was 4.89 and it was 3.44 in 12 road starts.
Where they could go: Castillo’s prospect asking price likely limits him to World Series-or-bust teams such as the Yankees or Dodgers. Gray won’t be cheap, but his appeal as a No. 3/4 starter on a contender will be more widespread. It’s not hard to see him somewhere such as San Francisco or Detroit.
Tyler Glasnow, SP, Rays
Why he could be moved: Glasnow, who has been Tampa Bay’s best starter when healthy over the past few years, is a free agent after the 2023 season. He’s also out for the 2022 season with Tommy John surgery. Normally, that means a pitcher might be tough to trade, but with the Rays? It’s reasonable to think they won’t want to pay the estimated $6 million he’ll make in 2022 while on the shelf, plus whatever he’d be due in his final arbitration season. For the right offer of prospects, they’d almost certainly move him. And for a team that has designs on the 2023 World Series, adding a high-upside guy such as Glasnow would be worth a shot.
Where he could go: The Dodgers immediately pop to mind, and not just because of Andrew Friedman’s long-time connection with the Rays franchise. They also have the means — and the motivation — to wait through a year without anything from Glasnow hoping that 2023 is worth the wait.
Matt Chapman, 3B, A’s
Why he could be moved: Same as with all the A’s on this list (and they’re not the only A’s who could be dealt, just the most prominent), Chapman could/will be moved because Oakland (Las Vegas?) is shedding payroll, and at a projected $9.5 million in 2022, Chapman’s salary is not small. He’s the best defensive third baseman in the AL, a claim nobody disputes; that defense that helped him finish seventh in the 2018 AL MVP voting and sixth in 2019. Like the other Matt (Olson), Chapman is set to be a free agent after the 2023 season.
Unlike the other Matt, Chapman’s value at the plate is not increasing. Chapman hit 27 homers in 2021, which was nice, but his slash line dropped to .210/.314/.403, for an OPS of .716. That’s down significantly from his two MVP contender years, at .263/.348/.507, for an .855 OPS. And remember how we talked about Olson cutting the gap between his walks and strikeouts? Chapman’s going the opposite way. In 2019 that gap was 74 (147 Ks, 73 BBs) and in 2021 it was 122 (202 Ks, 80 BBs). Getting into a more hitter-friendly stadium — that’s pretty much every other stadium — would seem to offer a boost, and a lot of teams could be interested in Chapman as a change-of-scenery candidate.
Where he could go: There are two NL East contenders that could use a Gold Glove option at third base next year, the Phillies and the Mets — three if you think the Nats are contenders.
Jose Ramirez, 3B, Guardians
Why he could be moved: Just look at what the team did with franchise icon Francisco Lindor. Ramirez is set to become a free agent next offseason, which means the best time to trade their perennial All-Star — and four-time top-six MVP finisher — is this offseason. He’s coming off yet another stellar season, with 36 homers, 103 RBI, 27 stolen bases, a 6.7 bWAR and 141 OPS+, and there are lots of contenders who could use that type of lineup impact.
On the other hand, would the Cleveland franchise really trade its most marketable player in the offseason when it’s selling the new Guardians merchandise? Well, yeah, probably. They’re unlikely to sign him to a long-term deal and he’s worth more than the draft pick they’d get if he left as a free agent.
Where he could go: Ramirez would fit nicely at the hot corner in Toronto or Philadelphia or Seattle.
Ketel Marte, CF/2B, Diamondbacks
Why he could be moved: Marte’s contract is very team-friendly, calling for $8 million in 2022 — his Age 28 season — with options for 2023 ($10 million) and 2024 ($12 million). He finished fourth in the NL MVP voting in his break-through 2019 season and was outstanding when healthy in 2021, playing 90 games and posting a ..318/.377/.532 slash line with a 143 OPS+, 14 homers and 50 RBIs, while playing second base and center field. He’s not a Gold Glover at either position, but he’s not a detriment at either. The versatility is a nice bonus.
The Diamondbacks lost 110 games in 2021 and don’t figure to be competitive anytime soon, so it makes sense to deal Marte now, if the price is right.
Where he could go: Who wouldn’t want Marte? Teams from both coasts — the Yankees in the East, the Giants in the West — will be interested, as will teams in the middle, such as the Astros and White Sox.
Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, SPs, A’s
Why they could be moved: When you take a look at Oakland’s pitching staff last year, it’s easy to wonder how in the world the A’s missed the playoffs — the three pitchers here all threw at least 157 innings with ERAs and FIPs under 4.00 and all three averaged more than a strikeout per inning. The A’s probably wonder the same thing, but here they are, entering an offseason that will almost certainly see several familiar names shipped away.
Montas finally came into his own in 2021, posting a 3.37 ERA and a 3.37 FIP — yep, identical — with 207 strikeouts in 187 innings. He had a 3.34 ERA at home and 3.40 on the road, and posted a stellar 2.17 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break. He’s a free agent after the 2023 season.
Bassitt survived one of the scariest moments of the season, when he was hit in the face with a batted ball in August. He came back, though, throwing 6 1/3 innings in two starts in late September. Add in his tremendous 2020 season and Bassitt, who turns 33 in February, has a 2.90 ERA in his past 38 big league starts. He’ll be a free agent after 2022.
Manaea, the lefty who turns 30 in February, had what was probably his best season in the bigs, tying for the AL lead with 32 starts and two shutouts, while posting a 3.91 ERA and career-bests in FIP (3.66), bWAR (3.2), K/9 (9.7) and innings (179 1/3). Like Bassitt, he’s a free agent after the 2022 season.
Where they could go: All three would make for fantastic 2/3/4 starters for a contender. The list of teams that will not be interested is smaller than the list of team that will be.
Luke Voit, 1B, Yankees
Why he could be moved: It sure feels like his time in New York is done. Voit led the majors in home runs during the shortened 2020 season, but injuries and inconsistencies seemed to move him out of the long-term plans last year. The Yankees have made their interest known in bringing back Anthony Rizzo or chasing other available first basemen, on the free-agent market (Freddie Freeman?) or via trade (Matt Olson?).
Where he could go: The anticipated expansion of the DH to the National League won’t hurt Voit’s prospects. Still, don’t expect the Yankees to get a big haul back if and when they trade him.