Could it be? Could there actually be baseball in 2020 after all the back-and-forth between the league and the players?
While the exhausting financial bickering between the two sides has drained the patience of baseball’s devoted faithful, it’s being reported as I write this that we are indeed one step closer to baseball this summer.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan has reported that the Players’ Association has agreed to report to training camps on July 1 and play a 60-game season as implemented by commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday night.
With one final health and safety protocol hurdle to be jumped – namely the players agreeing to the league’s mandates – it appears baseball is indeed back.
Additionally, Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com has tweeted something interesting that may be flying under the radar right now, but will become the talk of the town in short order:
MLB trade deadline is expected to be Aug. 31, not July 31.
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) June 23, 2020
Indeed, the trade deadline is annually one of the busiest times of the season for front offices and media alike.
I, for one, would like to get ahead of the curve and offer up five names that are almost certainly going to be trade deadline targets and the subject of rumors throughout the month of August.
Let’s get into those names, why they’re on the block and what they bring to the table.
5 MLB Trade Deadline Targets in 2020
Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
One piece of an elite crop of shortstops around the league, trade rumors will be nothing new to the 26-year-old Indians shortstop.
Lindor saw his name as part of a staple of trade rumors all winter long, and it’s no secret as to why.
Lindor and the Indians always appeared far apart in any extension talks that may or may not have taken place, and on March 9 it was reported that the player and team has halted talks all together.
Even so, it appeared Lindor never fully intended to re-up with the notoriously frugal Indians, telling The Athletic at the time: “My agent knows my value. I know my value. But that’s something that’s a little more private. But I do know what’s fair for both sides. I’m aware. I’ve studied it.”
While he and the club had “good conversations” there seems to be zero chance of an extension and the Indians will therefore look for maximum value for him at or before the trade deadline.
That said, this is a tricky situation for interested suitors.
Clearly, teams are feeling the financial pressure that the coronavirus pandemic has put on baseball and the remainder of the world. In turn, it’s expected to have a major impact on free agent spending next winter. Long-term, big-money contracts could be scarce on the open market.
Since it’s not a great year to be a pending free agent, it’s worth pondering whether a superstar player such as Lindor would opt for a one-year deal this winter in hopes of landing a lucrative, multi-year deal the following winter when teams could be more flexible financially.
Therefore, an acquiring team could be getting a rental for the remainder of the 2020 season, or perhaps could get him signed on a one-year term and get his services for an additional campaign before he possibly tests the open market for real.
Nonetheless, an acquiring team would also be getting a player who posted a 7.4 fWAR as recently as the 2018 season and posted a .284/.335/.518 slash line with 32 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 2019, all while dealing with a nagging calf injury from spring training forward.
We’ve heard other superstar names in the rumor mill such as Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado, but no other superstar is likelier to move than Lindor.
Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Royals
This is one of those deals that creates hot debates.
A late bloomer, Merrifield has accumulated just 3.1 years of service time in the big leagues, but he’s already 31 years old.
As a result of the short service time, the Royals were able to sign him to a four-year, $16.25 million extension that kicks in this season and doesn’t make him a free agent until after the 2023 season.
He’s also paced the American League in hits two years running and posted a big-time 5.9 fWAR in the 2018 season.
— FOX Sports Kansas City (@FSKansasCity) October 1, 2018
He’s a fixture for the rebuilding Royals and player that the team wants around to mentor the team’s up-and-coming prospects.
Still, such feats have not kept his name out of the rumor mill at trade deadline time over the last couple of seasons.
If you’re the Royals, you have to look at what you know.
To me, that would be that he’s already 31, and while there are still years of quality baseball ahead, players generally do not improve into their 30s and Merrifield’s stock may never be as high as it is right now.
Of course, the team needs to consider the quality of any and all offers.
For a player that has upside to deliver four or even five wins above replacement making an average of $4,062,500 for each of the next four seasons, you would think any offer would have to be lights out to get him out of Kansas City.
We’re not mistaking Merrifield for an MVP-caliber player here, either.
I mean, outside of the 5.2 fWAR he posted in 2018, he posted a 2.8 mark in 2017 and 2.9 mark in 2019. He’s coming of a 16-homer 2019 season where his 110 wRC+ represents his bat being 10% above league average with park factors included.
Some may also worry about a potential decline in on-base value as he plummeted from a league-best 45 steals in 2018 to 20 in 2019.
Still, he provides a ton of defensive versatility, will hit at or near the top of your lineup and still boasts an attractive power/speed combination with the former likely playing up at many venues not named Kauffman Stadium.
He’s a very attractive player right now, and the Royals would be well served to listen to offer and potentially net a pair of high-end prospects for a player past the age-30 plateau.
One thing I know is teams will call the rebuilding Royals to gauge interest and Merrifield will indeed be a trade deadline target again this time around.
Jonathan Villar, 2B/SS/OF, Marlins
The Marlins could make out like bandits in their acquisition for the versatile Villar after a resurgent campaign with the Orioles.
After slashing .274/.339/.453 with 24 homers, 40 stolen bases and a 4.0 fWAR with the Orioles last season, the team surprisingly designated him for assignment before trading him to the Marlins for pitching prospect Easton Lucas.
Miami has already seemingly saved money on Villar when they signed him to an $8.2M deal in his final trip to arbitration as opposed to the $10.4M projection made by MLB Trade Rumors.
It’s really only been a down 2017 season that’s hurt Villar to this point.
After hitting 19 homers and leading baseball with 62 steals as part of a 3.0 fWAR 2016 season, Villar plummeted across the board while posting a -0.4 fWAR in 2017.
He came back with 14 homers, 35 steals and a 2.0 fWAR in 2018 before ramping that up to a career-best 2019 campaign.
Like Merrifield, Villar is versatile defensively.
He’s logged more or less an equal amount of big-league time at shortstop and second base – as he did with the Orioles last season – but also has experience, albeit minimal, at left field and center field as well while tallying 429 innings at third base in his career to boot.
Where the Marlins plan to play the 29-year-old remains to be seen, but clearly there’s plenty to like about this player that we’ve seen in three of the last four seasons.
His home run power is set to regress in the pitcher-friendly Marlins Park, but Villar also logged 33 doubles last season, a number that would very well rise in the deeper left and right field alleys at this venue.
Add in the speed factor, his relatively young age and the defensive versatility and the rebuilding Marlins are in a good spot to ship Villar at the deadline and make their trade with the Orioles a fruitful one.
Ken Giles, CL, Blue Jays
Giles suffered an elbow injury in late June of the 2019 season that put a steak through the Blue Jays’ chances of trading him during a big-time campaign.
After submitting a 4.65 ERA and 9.48 K/9 between the Astros and Blue Jays in 2018, Giles turned in a lights-out 1.87 ERA/2.27 FIP with a 14.09 K/9 clip across 53 innings as the team’s full-time closer in 2019. He saved 23 games for the then-rebuilding club.
The club brought Giles back on a one-year, $9.6M deal this season, however Giles is set to hit the open market after the 2020 season, which should be enough to get his name back into the rumor mill in itself.
Now, there’s no guarantee that Giles will be available.
The shortened 60-game campaign gives almost everybody a chance to sustain a hot stretch long enough to get into the postseason. The Jays added 2019 NL Cy Young candidate Hyun-Jin Ryu to head their rotation while injecting depth in behind him.
Add in a young-yet-dynamic offense, the Jays are a sneaky contender. FanGraphs’ Tony Wolf explained in February why the Blue Jays were his personal favorite to surprise their way to the dance.
At the end of the day, the shortened season favors the underdog clubs. A smaller sample means an increased chance of crazy stuff going down, so while the Blue Jays were previously in tough behind the Yankees and Rays in the AL East, the new division alignment may very well mitigate that concern.
Nonetheless, this is a club that should still be forward-thinking as their young talent develops. Given the volatile nature of relief pitchers in general – and clearly Giles is no exception – the Jays should certainly look long and hard at a Giles deal if he comes out throwing the way he did a season ago.
Premium prices are paid for relief pitching at the deadline these days, and Giles is certainly already on the radar of many clubs across the league after a dominant 2019.
Jeff Samardzija, SP, Giants
Generally, this list has contained free agents to-be on clubs unlikely to contend, and Samardzija fits that bill as well.
The big right-hander is on the final year of the five-year, $90M contract he signed with the Giants prior to the 2016 season, and while his $18M salary for 2020 may be a hindrance for some clubs, expect the Giants to at least receive some calls on the veteran. Keep in mind players are getting roughly 37% of their salaries this season as part of the full pro-rated salary given to players, meaning he will make $6.66M this season.
At 35, Samardzija’s best baseball is behind him, but he would add rotation depth down the stretch and possibly slip into a team’s four-man postseason rotation.
After a dreadful 2018 season that was limited to just 10 starts due to injury, Samardzija bounced back nicely in 2019 while pitching to a 3.52 ERA across 32 starts and 181.1 frames.
Now, it’s worth noting her greatly outpitched his peripherals in the form of a 4.59 FIP and 5.02 xFIP and was worth just 1.5 fWAR at the end of the day while striking out just 6.95 batters per nine innings.
His fastball velocity also sunk to just 91.9 mph, by far a career-low and well under his 94.8 career mark.
Still, the large-market Giants will be able to eat some salary to make a Samardzija trade work that are certainly motivated to at least obtain something in return for their lofty investment in him.
He’s not the sexiest name on the board and won’t be heavily sought-after in all likelihood, but teams will be looking for postseason pitching help and Samardzija proved capable of getting the job done in 2019.