The list of qualifications to be a great low-cost pick up consists of 3 categories: the value of the player, the cost of acquiring the player, and of course, the intangibles. The value of the player should be self-explanatory, but in case it isn’t, that consists of what he will produce on the field (statistics-wise) as well as the flexibility and depth he provides to the team. The low-cost aspect is what separates this from the standard “Top 10 Trade Candidates” list. Sure, guys like Jonathan Lucroy and Arodys Vizcaino have a good chance of being dealt, but they’ll cost a pretty penny. Whether it’s because of age, an inconsistent past, or contract status, the players on this list will not require an arm and a leg to acquire. The intangibles allude to the character traits that affect a team’s “clubhouse chemistry”, and other non-statistical contributions the player will bring to his new team. Ever since the second wild card spot was implemented, teams have been more and more reluctant to sell of at the trade deadline. That extra spot has given many teams the confidence to stay in win-now mode, meaning there are only a few sellers on the trade market this year.
Honorable mentions: 1B Chris Carter – Twins (.221 BA, 18 HR), 1B Mark Reynolds – Rockies (8 HR, .818 OPS), UTL Andres Blanco – Phillies (.276 BA, 16 XBH), 3B Yangervis Solarte – Padres (.356 OBP, 22 RBI), 2B Jed Lowrie – A’s (.288 BA, 19 RBI)
- 1B/DH Pedro Alvarez, Baltimore Orioles
Current Stats – .236/.315/.459, 17 XBH (9 HR), 26 RBI, 17 R, 0.1 WAR
This one is all about the potential for a breakout. He’s batted .315 and hit 6 dingers so far in June. The O’s already have Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis at 1B/DH, and it’s not a good idea to be playing either of those guys in the outfield. Alvarez has been a nice pickup for Baltimore, but they really don’t need him, and have no room for him either. His contract is very affordable ($5.75 million) and he’s a free-agent at the end of the season, meaning he won’t cost much to acquire. As far as his intangible traits, Alvarez seemed to fit very well in the renowned Pirates clubhouse, and has never had any red flags in terms of behavior or attitude. The White Sox have expressed interest in acquiring a lefty bat, so they could have interest in him. With the recent news that Alex Rodriguez may be heading towards a platoon, the Yankees might be interested in the lefty slugger as well.
- CF Jon Jay, San Diego Padres
Current Stats – .296/.345/.407, 26 XBH (2 HR), 23 RBI, 35 R, 2-for-2 SB, 1.2 WAR
Jon Jay isn’t going to wow anybody with his power or speed, but he gets the job done. He’s the type of player that makes his living on contact and defense, and as the reigning World Champion Royals can attest, that’s an excellent game plan. Based on his skillset though, he won’t cost much to acquire. Jay is basically never in the spotlight, so it’s hard to identify his intangible traits. His best clubhouse quality might just be that he’s the guy that puts his head down and does his job, those guys are important, too. With all their outfield injuries, the Cardinals might be interesting in a reunion with Jay. The Nationals also seem to be a good fit, considering their issues in center field.
- LF Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
Current Stats – .260/.368/.360, 14 XBH (5 HR), 15 RBI, 44 R,11-for-13 SB, 1.1 WAR
It’s looking like one of those rare seasons where the Yankees are going to consider selling at the deadline. Carlos Beltran’s name has popped up quite a bit in the news lately, but he’s on a power-binge these days (19 HR, .891 OPS), and the Yankees will want a decent upper-level prospect or two in return. Gardner, on the other hand, is a much more affordable option. He’s still owed $38 million through 2018 (minus the prorated portion of this year’s $13 million salary), meaning the Yankees be absorbing some of his remaining salary in any trade. They would likely be looking for young starting pitching in return, but Gardner isn’t worth an ace. A team looking to acquire Gardner probably wouldn’t have to sacrifice much more than a mid-tier prospect or two, and maybe less if they were willing to take on more of his contract. Gardner seems to have that “X Factor” trait, and he’s always been a professional player. So to me, his intangible traits are all positive. The Indians are rich in pitching, and might want to find a lefty bat to fill in for Michael Brantley. The Nationals could also be interested in the speedy outfielder, as Ben Revere (.535 OPS) and Michael Taylor (.657 OPS) are both struggling heavily this season.
- 3B Aaron Hill, Milwaukee Brewers
Current Stats – .277/.353/.415, 17 XBH (7 HR), 24 RBI, 28 R, 4-for-6 SB, 1.1 WAR
Once an All Star slugger with the Blue Jays, Aaron Hill is no longer the player he once was. After two consecutive years of below-average performance, the Diamondbacks had enough, and shipped him off to Milwaukee (full trade details here). Aaron Hill’s role in the trade was that of a salary dump, but he’s been much more than that so far. The Brewers are in a rebuild these days (and openly, I might add), which makes a veteran like Hill expendable to them. The Blue Jays might be missing their old two-bagger these days, as Devon Travis is having a tough year, and they’re fighting to stay in contention despite their pitching staff being one of the best in the American League. The Royals also need help at second base, and Hill’s recent experience at third could make him appealing to the Giants and Mets as well.
- CP Fernando Rodney, San Diego Padres
Current Stats – 17-for-17 SV, 0.31 ERA, 28.2 IP, 33/12 (K/BB), 0.87 WHIP, 0.8 WAR
Fernando Rodney etched his name in the records books back in 2012, when the set the record for lowest ERA by a relief pitcher at 0.60. So far this year, Fernando Rodney is once again the best closer in the game. He’s yet to blow a save, and gave up his first run of the season just a few days ago. To make things more appealing, he’s getting paid less than $2 million this year, and a maximum of $2 million next year. So how could a team acquire him at a low-cost? Well, Rodney struggled greatly with the Mariners last season, and was a very mediocre pitcher prior to 2012. He’s had spurts of greatness, but any team that acquires Fernando Rodney is truly rolling the dice with their bullpen. The Padres are a rebuilding team, and will take all the young talent they can get their hands on. Any promising offensive prospect, or even a decent Major League hitter should be enough to acquire Rodney from the Padres. That’s a higher price than most on this list, but it’s still a bargain for a player that’s performing at his level. The Red Sox seem like the most obvious fit here, considering they need relief pitching and are practically swimming in prospects. The Orioles are another offense-rich team that surely wouldn’t mind having Rodney in their pen, making for a potential trade matchup here. Realistically though, any contending team will benefit from having Rodney.
- LF Melvin Upton Jr., San Diego Padres
Current Stats – .261/.312/.424, 21 XBH (11 HR), 36 RBI, 36 R, 17-for-22 SB, 1.3 WAR
The man formerly known as B.J. Upton has had a career resurgence since he was traded to San Diego and decided to go by Melvin. After spending two years in Atlanta as one of the worst everyday players in baseball, Upton has begun to turn things around. Last year, he was an actual contributor for the first time since he was with the Rays, and this year he’s been even better. Back in Spring Training he stated that he was ““I’m tired of trying to live up to other people’s expectations,” and so far he’s been able to his combine speed, power, and contact for just the second time in his 11-year career. Aside from his improved mental approach, Upton should also be recognized as a leader for his time with the Rays, when he slugged 7 home runs during the Postseason to propel his team to their first and only World Series appearance. By the way, he was only 24 years old at the time. He’s 31 now, appears to have worked through some major hurdles. The Padres will probably have to eat a portion of his contract in any deal they make, but even selling high on him isn’t likely to bring in a huge return. Considering the Padres are becoming a “rebuilder’, it only makes sense for them to try and turn a 31-year old who’s on a hot streak into some future stock. With all the outfield issues St. Louis has been dealing with, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cardinals pursue Upton. The Rangers and the Giants also seem like a good fit to me.
- 3B Yunel Escobar, Los Angeles Angels
Current Stats – .310/.359/.409, 21 XBH (3 HR), 20 RBI, 33 R, 0-for-2 SB, 0.7 WAR
Yunel Escobar has always been a good hitter, though his days as plus defender are seemingly behind him. His numbers this year aren’t the result of a small sample size, as he owns a .313/.369/.413 batting line since the beginning of 2015. At $7 million/year through next season, Escobar’s contract is a steal. With offense back on the rise and the fact that he’s only really valuable with his bat, I can’t imagine any team giving up more than a back-end starter or mid-level prospect to acquire him. His ability to be a team player has never come into question, though Escobar was suspended for 3 games back in 2012 for a homophobic slur written in Spanish under his eyes. While he did explain where he was coming from and apologize for being offensive, that sort of behavior seems pretty childish. This happened four years ago, and there haven’t been any issues with him since, so I think it’s safe to say he won’t disrupt a clubhouse. If not for the fact that he was playing for the Blue Jays when this incident occurred, I would have Toronto as a potential destination for him. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported last week that the Angels are listening to offers for Escobar, and the Giants have been tabbed as a team of interest. I could also see the Royals going after him if they believe he can hold down second base.
- 3B Danny Valencia, Oakland A’s
Current Stats – .335/.386/.545, 21 XBH (11 HR), 30 RBI, 36 R, 0-for-0 SB, 1.2 WAR
Danny Valencia is a bit of a strange case. When you hear of a player that’s been on six teams in six years, you’d probably think he isn’t very good. Judging by his statistics, that couldn’t be the reason. One thing about Valencia is that he is a pretty terrible defender, and another thing is that for some reason, he (for a time) had the reputation of a bad teammate. He has really found his groove in Oakland, but there’s a good chance that Valencia is going to be on team number seven by the time August comes around. The A’s are basement dwellers this year, and Billy Beane is notorious for trading everyone of value once a season is considered lost. Obviously, all of Valencia’s value is in his bat. That would be more of a problem if he wasn’t hitting so damn well right now, so expect to hear his name daily until he’s been moved. The Indians have been making due with Juan Uribe and Jose Ramirez splitting time at third, but Uribe is struggling offensively and Ramirez has been needed in the outfield due to the suspensions of Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd, as well as the injury to Michael Brantley. To me the Indians look like a good fit on paper, but if you ask Fangraphs, it’s already a foregone conclusion that he’ll be a New York Met.
- SP Rich Hill, Oakland A’s
Current Stats – 8-3, 2.25 ERA, 64.0 IP, 74/24 (K/BB), 1.13 WHIP, 2.1 WAR
If he wasn’t currently on the Disabled List, Rich Hill would most likely be the the No. 1 player on this list, but such is life. In fact, this injury might actually bode well for a team trying to acquire Hill, as the A’s will almost definitely have to lower their asking price for him. He’s never pitched this well in his entire career, and he hasn’t thrown more than 58 innings in a season since 2008. This is the biggest reason that Rich Hill will come at a discount rate. Also, he’s 36 years old and only on pace for about 140 innings as a starter. So while he is pitching great, he isn’t pitching very often. The last reason he will cost much less than someone like Julio Teheran is that he’s strictly a rental option, as his contract expires at the end of the season. The Red Sox are an obvious matchup here for the same reason as they are for Fernando Rodney: they need pitching, and they have a ton of prospects. The Rangers, Royals, and Marlins are all in the playoff mix, and would makes sense for going after Hill.
- SS/3B Eduardo Nunez, Minnesota Twins
Current Stats – .312/.342/.473, 21 XBH (10 HR), 29 RBI, 35 R, 17-for-22 SB, 1.2 WAR
This was probably not who you were expecting to be the top choice. It’s not Drew Pomeranz, it’s not Jay Bruce, and it definitely isn’t Jonathan Lucroy. It’s none other than Eduardo Nunez. Typically, shortstops that can play all over the diamond and hit above .300 aren’t considered a low-cost trade candidate when they’re still being paid through arbitration (contract details here). Once considered the heir to Derek Jeter, Nunez never figured things out with the Yankees, but never because of attitude issues. His intangible qualities are all positive, though he’s got a funny history of hitting popups intentionally. The simple facts are: he’s 29 years old on a team that needs to rebuild, and just a year away from free agency. Considering these factors, the Twins will likely have to be reasonable in trade talks if they expect to get anything in return for Nunez. Don’t get me wrong, the Twins aren’t going to give him away. I just think that a team in need of a shortstop/second basemen/third basemen could get him for a decent price. The Mets, Giants and Royals are all logical landing spots for Nunez.
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs