MLB trade rumors: Outfield market buyers and targets

Harry How

A number of outfielders could prove to be hot commodities on this summer's trade market.

This year's trade market for outfielders is among the most peculiar in recent memory. For starters, despite a number of early injuries to high-profile outfielders, the cupboard of teams that could seek external help is surprisingly bare. Unlike their treatment of starting pitching holes, teams seem more content with their internal options. As you'll be able to tell from the list below, there are really only a handful of teams (in my opinion) that could realistically explore the trade market in search of a starting outfielder, and two of them most likely won't considering most of their issues are caused by injuries that should be fully recovered within the next couple months. So, unless someone is looking for a short-term fix, deadline buyers have yet to emerge. It will be interesting to keep a watchful eye on outfield situations around the league as the season further progresses (injuries and performance issues become more apparent) as the market develops.

Of course, a lack of interested parties does not mean the market isn't flush with potential targets. However, it does mean that quite a few names that seem like good bets to be traded as of today, will be playing for the same team on August 1st.

Unlike in year's past, this season's market lacks any bonafide top-tier players, unless you count any of the Dodgers' trio as stars in more than name only. This year's options are more likely to fall along the lines of David DeJesus than a Hunter Pence or Matt Holliday in terms of value provided. However, that doesn't mean one of these player's won't play a pivotal role in a pennant chase.

Potential Buyers

Washington Nationals

Losing the game's best 21-year-old is tough to swallow, but the Nationals may be more prepared to handle Harper's two month vacation than other teams due to their signing of Nate McLouth (who should make up a pretty decent half of a platoon in Harper's absence) this winter. Washington has also seen Denard Span crippled by a concussion this season (which has limited him to a 61 OPS+ in 19 games), and they have already lost Ryan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, and Wilson Ramos for extended periods of time. Their recent rotten luck with injuries could push them into making a rash decision in order to fulfill the lofty expectations they had entering the year.

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles seem to be fine playing the platoon of David Lough (who has a .467 OPS in 63 plate appearances) and Delmon Young in left, but that doesn't mean they won't be active in seeking an upgrade, especially if they hope to remain competitive in the AL East this season. Still, this isn't a dire need for Baltimore, and they may be better off just holding onto their assets. The Orioles could also turn into sellers if they slide towards the bottom of the standings by the time July rolls around. Nelson Cruz, who will be a free agent after the season, could see himself unhinged were that scenario to come into play.

Los Angeles Angels

When healthy, the Angels might actually have one of the best outfields in baseball, consisting of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Kole Calhoun. Unfortunately, the latter two are currently hurt, with Hamilton likely out until early June, and Calhoun until late May. Both were off to sizzling starts before their injuries (Hamilton was hitting .444/.545/.741 while Calhoun was hitting .250/.297/.500), and should provide an ample boost to an already strong Angels lineup when they get back. However, considering the Angels' desperate postseason aspirations, they may not be able to afford to wait another month to recoup some of their lost production. While they have trudged along without making a move so far, they could pursue a second or third tier option, such as Chris Young or Seth Smith, to tie them over. It also helps that they could plug that guy in as their backup outfielder when Hamilton and Calhoun return, as it isn't too hard to replace the likes of JB Shuck and Collin Cowgill.

Detroit Tigers

Detroit also seems to be a stretch, as Rajai Davis is a capable starting outfielder, and the Tigers don't have too many resources to use in a trade. Of course, for a team seeking a World Series title, there is always room to improve, and Detroit could go after one of the "bigger", more expensive names available such as a Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier, since the Tigers have shown a willingness to spend in the past, and acquiring a highly-paid player is probably the only way to add any significant, impactful players considering their dearth of talent below the big league level. There is also the fact that Torii Hunter will be a free agent this winter, and Davis next, so the Tigers could look into someone whom they can plug in as an everyday option long-term.

Seattle Mariners

Seattle seems to have an overload of outfield/first base/DH options, but that probably wouldn't stop them from adding another, given the opportunity. This is also an option for the Dodgers' trio, since there seems to be some financial freedom in Seattle at the moment.

Potential Targets

Emilio Bonifacio, Cubs

Bonifacio is off to a hot start this year (.333/.388/.400, 1.0 WAR), and is capable of playing every position on the diamond sans first, catcher, and pitcher. Primarily a centerfielder this year (he's also played 11 games at second), he's been strong in the field with a 4.1 UZR/150. He also provides a hefty surplus on the base paths, as he is currently 3rd in the NL with 9 steals, to go along with 1.9 base running runs above average. As a 29-year-old, Bonifacio is making just $2.6 million this year, and is eligible for free agency following the season. For a non-contender like the Cubs, he is a luxury, and it's likely that Chicago looks to deal him to recoup some value. He could be a valuable rental for a club looking for a super-utility player or a decent injury replacement.

Nate Schierholtz, Cubs

Like Bonifacio, Schierholtz is an opulence for the Cubs as a 30-year-old rightfielder coming off a season in which he hit .251/.301/.470 with 22 home runs, a .331 wOBA, 106 wRC+, and 1.4 WAR. Schierholtz is playing everyday for a Cubs team devoid of options, but his best role would be on the right side of a platoon. Against right-handers, Schierholtz owns a career .738 OPS, whereas he has hit just .686 against southpaws. His splits were even more drastic last season, with a .799 OPS against righties and a .553 mark against lefties.

Schierholtz is off to a rough start to the season, hitting just .215/.220/.266, a performance largely attributed to hyperbolic tallies in walk rate (1.2%), strikeout rate (26.8%), and home run per fly ball (0.0%). At this point, it's still early enough to brush those numbers off as the product of a small sample size, but if his performance doesn't pick up in the near future, his value will certainly plummet.

He is currently making just $5 million, and like Bonifacio, is an impending free agent.

Andre Ethier/Carl Crawford/Matt Kemp, Dodgers

The Dodgers are in an envious position right now, with a quintet of outfielders (including Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson) who would be starting on nearly any other team. The Dodgers appear likely to deal from their bounty of riches, as evidenced by their shopping of all three this offseason, and the matter of having a $15.5 million fourth outfielder* is probably unsettling to even the Dodgers (not to mention the possible clubhouse/playing time issues).

*Ethier is the low man on the financial pole, making "just" $15.5 million this season. He is locked up through 2017 with a deal that will pay him $69 million, not including a $17.5 million vesting option for 2018. Crawford is due $82.5 million through 2018, while Kemp will be paid a total of $128 million through 2019.

The exorbitant price tags of this trio will make each of them difficult to move, but if the Dodgers can eat a significant amount of money, then a deal could very well get done. Of the three, it seems that Crawford or Ethier would be the most likely to get dealt since they are cheaper than Kemp, and also probably worse.

Chris Young, Mets

The Mets signed Young to a one-year, $7.25 million deal this offseason, hoping to capitalize on a 30-year-old former All-Star coming off a down season. So far, the move hasn't worked out as expected. Right now, Young is hitting just .194/.237/.389 for a -0.2 WAR. If Young can rebound to even three-quarters of his 2012 value (2.0 WAR, 98 OPS+), the Mets could move him at the deadline for a prospect or two.

Jose Tabata, Pirates

The Pirates might be in a more enviable situation than the Dodgers, since their glut of outfielders is incredibly good, young, and three of them are locked up to long-term, team-friendly deals. With top prospect Gregory Polanco nearly ready, Pittsburgh is going to need to make room for him as an everyday player, and Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte aren't going anywhere. Currently, the Pirates are platooning Tabata and Travis Snider in right, but that may not last long, as Polanco could be up as soon as the Super Two cutoff date passes. Tabata is young (25), cheap (owed just $11.5 million through 2016, with a trio of team options worth a combined $22.5 million from 2017 to 2019), and relatively good (1.3 WAR, 119 OPS+ last season), so he should be an appealing target were Pittsburgh to try to deal him.

Seth Smith, Padres

Smith is a free agent after the season, and is currently serving in a platoon role in San Diego. The 31-year-old is a strong offensive option, owning a career 110 OPS+. With a .844 OPS against righties, Smith should have much the same value as Schierholtz, as an early-30's corner outfielder who is excellent against right-handers, and an impending free agent.

Jon Jay, Cardinals

The Cardinals have an embarrassment of riches at pretty much every position, but it's especially evident in the outfield, where Jay, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Peter Bourjos, and Randal Grichuk all currently lay on the team's 25-man roster. Plus, top prospects Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty are lurking in the high minors. Jay seems to be the most realistic option to go, and could fetch a decent return as a 29-year-old centerfielder under team control through 2016.

Alejandro De Aza/Dayan Viciedo, White Sox

Chicago expressed interest in dealing both outfielders earlier this spring, as the organization focuses on a youth overhaul. Both of them are rather intriguing trade chips. De Aza is coming off a year in which he hit .264/.323/.405 while stealing 20 bases and hitting 17 home runs, while Viciedo has just a 97 OPS+ over the past two years as a defensively-challended slugger, but is hitting a robust .354/.413/.524 so far this season. They both also carry multiple years of club control, with De Aza eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, and Viciedo after the 2017 season.

Dexter Fowler, Astros

The Astros acquired Fowler this offseason for a bargain price, and while his performance has been underwhelming so far this season (.238/.319/.381), the deal still looks like a steal in retrospect. Fowler can be a free agent after next season, so his control doesn't exactly align with Houston's probable timeline for contention, meaning the Astros could trade him this summer for a net positive. However, if his play doesn't pick up, the Astros will probably keep him, and possibly try again this winter or next summer.

Josh Willingham/Jason Kubel, Twins

The pair of Twins have had a bit of a resurgence for Minnesota, as Willingham currently has a 124 OPS+ (his best mark since 2012), and Kubel is hitting .303/.376/.447 for his former team (after a two-year layover in Arizona and Cleveland). The two of them are set to be free agents at season's end, and the Twins certainly don't plan on contending this year, making the duo expendable, and valuable, if they can maintain their strong performances.

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