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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Top 10 MLB trade deadline candidates

Ryan Braun

The MLB trade deadline is nearly two and a half months away, but it isn’t too early to start assessing the market.

Teams are off to good and bad starts, and those struggling may soon have to confront the reality that they’re just not going to contend this season. Those that aren’t going to compete will likely be met with tempting offers to move impending free agents and other veterans who probably won’t factor into the team’s next title bid.

Here are 10 players who could find themselves on the move in July or earlier.

1. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Athletics

Another of the Oakland Athletics’ traditional discount signings, Alonso came in with a reputation as a light-hitting first baseman. He’s promptly homered 11 times in the first 32 games of 2017, which is already a career-high. The team will be hoping he keeps it up — not just because it helps them, but because it could boost his trade value.

Alonso is on an inexpensive one-year deal with Oakland, and the A’s almost certainly won’t be in contention come July. He’s batting .303 on the season with an OPS over 1.000 — certainly the kind of numbers that would interest any team.

If the first baseman can continue to demonstrate that he’s experiencing a surprise hitting renaissance, he could be a good fit for teams looking for an extra bat — or a solid glove at first base.

2. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers

Will this be the year Milwaukee unloads Ryan Braun? He’s come up in trade rumors frequently and recently, and the Brewers aren’t close to contention. His PED suspension pretty much tanked his public image, but even after that ordeal, he remains a good hitter. Braun hit .305 with 30 home runs last season, and he’s off to a good start in 2017 as well.

There would be big hurdles to completing a Braun trade, though.

He’s on a long-term deal, and he’s owed $60 million between 2018 and 2020. It would have to be decided who would be on the hook for that money. He also has a partial no-trade clause and will soon receive his 10-5 rights, allowing him to veto any deal, which could limit his options.

Braun is still a name to watch come July.

3. Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals

Get ready to see a lot of Kansas City Royals on this list.

This is a team with financial limitations, a core that won a World Series two years ago, a lot of impending free agents, and an 13-21 start that has left them with the American League’s worst record. Cain is one of the more prominent of the lot — a good defensive center fielder who can hit would be a nice addition for a lot of teams, even on a rental basis.

Cain is off to a solid enough start, with a .284 average and a .399 OBP. He’s starting to rebuild his value after an injury-plagued 2016.

If the Royals are out of contention and decide they won’t be able to pay him, don’t be surprised to see him show up in trade talks.

4. Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals

Cain won’t be the only Royal whose name pops up in trade rumors if this keeps up.

Escobar does not have the offensive upside that Cain does, and he’s gotten off to a truly awful start to 2017, hitting just .189. He’s never been much of a hitter, but he’s a solid defensive shortstop.

Escobar still plays a premium position, and as far as cost goes, he’s probably not going to command an enormous prospect haul if the Royals decide to sell. He, too, is a free agent at the end of the year, but teams looking for a stopgap solution at short could do much worse.

5. Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Phillies

Hellickson was mentioned prominently in trade rumors last season, and with virtually the same situation this year, he likely will be again.

Set for free agency at season’s end, the 30-year-old pitcher is off to another solid start for Philadelphia, opening the season 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA. Teams are always looking for pitching in July, and he’s a decent arm who could be of use to a number of organizations.

Teams will have to be wary of Hellickson’s salary if they’re making a trade for him, though. Because he accepted Philadelphia’s qualifying offer last offseason, he’s making $17.2 million in 2017. He’s not cheap at all, but probably manageable for the right contender.

See Nos. 6-10 on Page 2

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