MLB trade deadline: Ranking the top 12 position players who could be traded, and their best team fits

MLB trade deadline: Ranking the top 12 position players who could be traded, and their best team fits

Earlier this week, I ranked the top starting pitchers who could be on the move before the MLB trade deadline, which built upon my big board list of the 125 players most likely to be dealt between now and Aug. 2. Now, it’s time to rank the top position players who are available, and identify their best team fits.

The best fits include teams that have expressed interest in a specific player, according to sources, or make sense as a potential trade partner.

This year, five position players stand out as potential difference-makers in pennant races: Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds, Royals left fielder Andrew Benintendi, plus two middle-of-the-order impact bats, the Orioles’ Trey Mancini and the Nationals’ Josh Bell. Of course, other quality contributors will also garner interest in the trade market.

Here is my ranking of the top 12 position players who could be traded before the deadline, and what I’m hearing about them in my conversations with major-league executives and people around the game.

1. Bryan Reynolds, CF, Pirates

Age: 27
Slash line: .259/.333/.453 HR: 11 RBI: 22
WAR: 1.4 OPS+: 121

Reynolds got off to a slow start this season, batting .194 in April and .224 in May, but he’s been hot since the calendar turned to June, hitting .370/.407/.603 this month with four home runs and 10 RBIs. At 27, he’s just beginning his prime years and is not eligible for free agency until after the 2025 season, which adds to his trade value. The rebuilding Pirates prefer to keep Reynolds, but he’s the most sought-after outfielder on the market and they’re listening to offers. If someone wants to overwhelm them, they’d have to consider trading the 2021 All-Star.

Best team fits: Yankees, Rays, Padres, Red Sox, Guardians, White Sox, Astros, Marlins, Brewers, Giants

2. Willson Contreras, C, Cubs

Willson Contreras is having his best offensive season. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

Age: 30
Slash line: .269/.383/.505 HR: 12 RBI: 27
WAR: 2.7 OPS+: 147

The Cubs have not been able to extend Contreras and he is eligible for free agency after this season, so their best play is to trade him before the deadline and then try to re-sign him in the offseason. Several contending teams will have interest in Contreras, who can play catcher, DH, and first base or left field on occasion. He ranks seventh in the National League in on-base percentage (.383) and seventh in OPS (.883) in what has so far been a career-best offensive season. The Cubs should land a haul of prospects for the two-time All-Star, even though he will be a rental.

Best team fits: Mets, Padres, Giants, Angels, Guardians

3. Josh Bell, 1B/DH, Nationals

Age: 29
Slash line: .295/.380/.472 HR: 11 RBI: 44
WAR: 2.2 OPS+: 146

Bell is a switch hitter and that really increases his trade value for teams with right-handed-heavy lineups. Last season, he slashed .261/.347/.476 with 27 home runs and 88 RBIs and he’s on pace to match or improve upon those numbers this year. A strong clubhouse presence, Bell comes to the park with positive energy. He’s improved defensively at first base and can play there full-time, DH, or do both. Bell will be a free agent after this season, but some contender is going to get a big boost by adding his impact bat.

Best team fits: Blue Jays, Rays, White Sox, Brewers, Giants

4. Trey Mancini, OF/DH, Orioles

Age: 30
Slash line: .286/.365/.427 HR: 7 RBI: 27
WAR: 1.7 OPS+: 128

Mancini is the Orioles’ most popular player and no matter what they get back in a trade, it won’t be enough for their fan base. He will decline his side of a 2023 mutual option after this season, according to sources, and become a free agent. Since the Orioles haven’t extended him, they have no choice but to trade him at the deadline. Mancini’s best position is first base but he can also play the corner-outfield spots and DH. Mancini has hit .272 for his career and averaged 28 home runs and 81 RBIs per 162 games. He’s a cancer survivor and one of the most respected Orioles players in recent times. It’ll be interesting to see where he lands.

Best team fits: Padres, Brewers, Mariners, Rays

5. Andrew Benintendi, LF, Royals

Age: 27
Slash line: .295/.360/.390 HR: 3 RBI: 25
WAR: 1.4 OPS+: 114

Benintendi won the American League Gold Glove for left fielders last year and should challenge for the award again this year. He ranks in the 65th percentile in Outs Above Average for all outfielders. His batting average dipped below .300 this week, but he’s reaching base at a 36 percent clip. He has figured out his best role: to create traffic at the top of the lineup and prevent runs with his leather. Benintendi is eligible for free agency after the season, and if the Royals aren’t going to be able to re-sign him, they should trade him before the deadline.

Best team fits: Padres, Marlins, Yankees, Rays, Brewers, Braves

6. Anthony Santander, OF, Orioles

Age: 27
Slash line: .246/.342/.440 HR: 13 RBI: 36
WAR: 1.4 OPS+: 124

Santander is under team control through the 2024 season, but I keep hearing from sources that the Orioles would trade him for the right prospect package. He hit 20 home runs in 2019, 11 homers in the shortened 2020 season, 18 in 2021 and 13 in 232 at-bats so far this year. His biggest improvement this season is his ability to take walks. He has 29, which is already a career-high and should help his trade value.

Best team fits: Padres, Guardians, Giants, Brewers

7. Dominic Smith, 1B, Mets

Age: 27
Slash line: .198/.292/.275 HR: 0 RBI: 14 (91 ABs)
WAR: 0.0 OPS+: 65

Smith was recalled by the Mets on Monday after playing 15 games with Triple-A Syracuse. He’s blocked at first base by Pete Alonso, and although Smith can play left field or DH, his best position is first base. Smith is expected to be the Mets’ lead trade chip at the deadline, but he’s hit .198 in 106 major-league plate appearances this season. (He hit .266/.347/.438 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 72 plate appearances at Triple A.) I think Smith is a plus-plus defender at first base and will develop into a .300 hitter with 15 to 20 home run power if given an opportunity there. Most contending teams don’t need a first baseman, but Smith could fit for rebuilding teams, such as the Pirates, Nationals and A’s, or teams that might need a first baseman in 2023, such as the Astros or Giants. He is under team control through the 2024 season and will be arbitration-eligible next year.

Best team fits: Pirates, Nationals, A’s, Rays, Astros, Giants

8. Ramón Laureano, OF, A’s

Age: 27
Slash line: .241/.323/.355 R: 17 2B: 10 SB: 5
WAR: 0.4 OPS+: 100

Laureano’s best season was in 2019 when he slashed .288/.340/.521 with 24 home runs, 29 doubles, 67 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. He should be able to put together that type of production again, but he hasn’t. Injuries, the pandemic and, most significantly, a suspension for nandrolone, a performance-enhancing drug, have played a role. He returned from his 80-game suspension on May 8 and has hit .241 with two homers and five stolen bases in 158 plate appearances. It’s only a matter of time before he is traded. Laureano can play all three outfield positions, and he plays the game with passion, though that sometimes hurts him. He is under team control through the 2024 season and will be arbitration-eligible next year.

Best team fits: Marlins, Giants, Brewers

9. Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Royals

Age: 33
Slash line: .232/.277/.318 R: 33 SB: 9 2B: 15
WAR: -0.7 OPS+: 69

Merrifield has led the AL in hits twice, stolen bases three times, doubles once (last season) and triples once. But, at age 33, he’s having the worst year of his career. Merrifield can play second base, right field and left field, versatility that helps his trade value. He is making $7 million this year, and if he spends fewer than 110 days on the injured list in 2021, he’ll make $6.75 million next year plus another $500,000 when the Royals buy out his $18 million mutual option for 2024. He has to play better leading up to the deadline for the Royals to get anything significant back in a trade. If he doesn’t, they’ll have to wonder if they waited a year too long to trade him.

Best team fits: Padres, Brewers, White Sox

10. Mitch Haniger, RF/DH, Mariners (on IL) 

Age: 31
Slash line: .200/.222/.486 HR: 3 RBI: 7 (35 ABs)
WAR: 0.2 OPS+: 100

Haniger hit 39 homers and drove in 100 runs in 157 games last year, but this season a serious ankle injury and COVID-19 have limited him to 35 at-bats. He suffered a right high-ankle sprain in late April and has been out since. The Mariners, who have fallen eight games below .500, really miss Haniger’s power in the middle of their lineup. If he gets healthy, returns and the Mariners haven’t jump-started their season, they might trade him. Haniger will be a free agent after this season.

Best team fits: Brewers, Giants, Rays, Guardians

11. Nelson Cruz, DH, Nationals

Age: 41
Slash line: .248/.332/.380 HR: 7 RBI: 38
WAR: 0.6 OPS+: 106

Age and decline are finally catching up to the 41-year-old Cruz, who might be playing in the final year of his career. He has slashed .248/.332/.380 this season with seven home runs in 242 at-bats (one per 35 ABs) after hitting 32 homers in 513 at-bats (one per 16 ABs) last year. The Nationals won’t stand in Cruz’s way if he has an opportunity to catch on with a contender and play in his eighth postseason, but they won’t get more than a low-level fringe prospect in exchange. Maybe a return to the Rays would make sense as Cruz, at the very least, could be another resource to help their struggling young hitters.

Best team fits: Rays, Brewers

12. Adam Frazier, 2B/OF, Mariners

Age: 30
Slash line: .221/.287/.298 2B: 12 R: 28
WAR: -0.4 OPS+: 73

The Mariners were buying and selling at last year’s trade deadline, and they might repeat that strategy this year. If so, expect Frazier to be dealt because he will be a free agent after this season. Frazier was batting .324 and leading the majors in hits last July when the Pirates traded him to the Padres for three prospects. He hit .267 with San Diego the rest of the way but still finished the season fifth in the NL in batting average (.305) and 10th in OPB (.368), then was traded to Seattle before the lockout. Frazier has struggled at the plate this season, particularly in June when he’s slashed a dismal .116/.182/.130. He’s hitting .221 overall and will have to fare much better over the next six weeks to have any trade value.

Best team fits: Braves, Brewers, Giants, White Sox, Angels

(Top photo of Bryan Reynolds: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

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