It is still, by any definition, early in the 2016 season. It's only the start of May and few teams have yet to throw in the towel on the season. And most of those that have were never planning to be competitive anyway. It's also too early for clubs to be looking to replace guys they trusted on Opening Day a little more than five weeks ago.
But it's not too early for us to look ahead to see who might be switching clubs this summer, especially as their clubs' fortunes sink further and contenders become more desperate for help. We'll rank the top 10 from least to most likely to be dealt.
10) Brandon Phillips
Phillips would have to waive his no-trade clause, which he wasn't willing to do to go to Washington over the offseason. But he has really continued his resurgence, hitting .286/.313/.533 with six homers while still playing excellent defense. That's the highest slugging percentage of his career, so he's likely to regress, but he'd still be a great pickup for the Royals at the trade deadline, especially if the Reds are willing to take Omar Infante in return.
9) Matt Kemp
The Padres are bad again, but Kemp has hit eight homers and has a .541 slugging percentage. He isn't walking anymore, and he's still owed a ton of money, but if the Padres are willing to kick in some money to defray his salary, they might be able to get something for him.
Which teams are most likely to make trades?
8) Ricky Nolasco
The Twins will be motivated sellers if they can convince anyone that Nolasco is back to normal. He's had two bad starts in a row after a strong April, so things aren't looking great at the moment.
7) Trevor Plouffe
A market for third basemen never really materialized this offseason, so the Twins held on to Plouffe (or never shopped him to begin with, if you believe Terry Ryan) and moved Miguel Sano to right field. That has been a...well, it's been an adventure. The Twins could solve a lot of their roster crunch by dealing Plouffe to the Astros or the Marlins.
6) Ryan Braun
Like Kemp, Braun comes with a hefty price tag, owed at least another $80 million over four years. Unlike other players, however, Braun actually gets less expensive as time goes on. He's killing the ball right now (.367/.430/.615 with seven homers), so maybe the Brewers want to keep him to build around.
5) James Shields
Shields's ERA is something of a mirage. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up for the second year in a row. Still, he's not far removed from being a rotation stalwart on some really great Rays and Royals teams and can opt out of his contract at the end of the year, reducing the financial burden on whoever acquires him.
4) Nick Markakis
The Braves very specifically did not trade Markakis this offseason, keeping him around because of his veterany goodness. That's not sarcastic; they rave about him. Still, that example he's setting for the kids, and his .395 OBP aren't helping the Braves, who have scored just 90 runs in 30 games. He'd have a ton of value at the top of somebody's lineup.
3) Jay Bruce
Man, this list is heavy on corner outfielders. Bruce can't get on base to save his life, but still has a lot of power, is only signed through the end of the year, and the Reds are motivated sellers because A) they suck and B) Bruce is not worth a qualifying offer. Whatever they can get for him will be great.
2) Jonathan Lucroy
There is no doubt that Lucroy is back, hitting .327/.393/.505 to dispel the concern about his head injuries and other physical issues. He's so cheap, amking just $4 million this year and only $5.25 million next. And given the state of catching in the Major Leagues right now, he's going to be the most valuable target on the board. If he was going to be around once the rebuild is done, the Brewers would hold onto him, but he's not. So their leadership, who have acquitted themselves very well in the rebuilding process so far, need to get this one right.
1) A whole mess of relievers.
Am I cheating? Damn right I'm cheating. I'm not going to sort through all the relievers who will be available this summer. That's crazy. I have a life and you people don't own me. We know how valuable a lights out bullpen is in this league at this moment, especially once we get to the postseason. Expect major names with crazy-high strikeout rates to be in play all summer long.