Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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MLB trade matchmaker: Juan Soto to Yankees, Dylan Cease to NL contender among fits for top 10 players on block

Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings have arrived. More often than not, MLB’s offseason tends to reach its fever pitch right around this four-day stretch — it’s only natural, given that the meetings plop down the league’s top dealmakers in a single hotel with little else to do but avoid job seekers.

The next few days, then, promise to be chock full of trades, free-agent signings, rumors, and — perhaps above all — unhinged rosterbation. We here at CBS Sports aren’t above partaking in that sort of thing this time of the year. As such, we’ve decided to play matchmaker with 10 players we feel have a better than average chance at being traded over the coming weeks. 

Below, you’ll find those 10 players, as well as the team we’ve identified as a good fit and our explanation for why it’s a sensible pairing. Do note that we’ve tried to mix up the players — you’ll find several stars for search engine optimization purposes, along with a collection of role players who don’t get talked about as often. Please, folks, do not be the one to get mad at fake trades.

Now, onto the gasbaggery.

1. Juan Soto, OF, San Diego Padres

The match: New York Yankees

The reason: The Yankees need an offensive boost after ranking 25th last season in runs scored. Soto, younger than Eternal Rookie Estevan Florial, is undeniably one of the game’s best hitters. (For his Padres career, considered by some to be a disappointment, he’s hit .265/.405/.488.) Soto isn’t a perfect fit for the Yankees roster; he’s a below-average defender in left who should relocate to the DH spot over the coming years — an accommodation the Yankees cannot provide given Giancarlo Stanton’s presence — but it’s hard to fret about that given his offensive capabilities. The Padres, for their part, have been unable to extend Soto and are expected to cut payroll this winter. Soto’s lack of team control makes him the most obvious candidate to go, even if the return could be muted by his impending free agency and $33 million projected salary. The Yankees could still send over young pitching in exchange. 

2. Dylan Cease, RHP, Chicago White Sox

The match: Los Angeles Dodgers

The reason: The White Sox have signaled that they’re open to trading just about anyone on their roster, save for star outfielder Luis Robert. Cease had a down season in 2023, but he’s only a year removed from finishing second in Cy Young Award voting for a reason. He has two well-above-average pitches, in his fastball and slider, and there appears to be room left for improvement. The Dodgers happen to be one of the best teams in professional sports at maximizing production. Andrew Friedman and Brandon Gomes need the rotation help, and they certainly have the prospect war chest to give the White Sox a promising return without damaging their own long-term plans.

3. Corbin Burnes, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

The match: Arizona Diamondbacks

The reason: This is, perhaps, a pie-in-the-sky match since there’s no public indication the Diamondbacks have shown interest in obtaining Burnes. On paper, it makes a lot of sense. Burnes, who has received Cy Young Award consideration four years running, would bolster a D-backs rotation that’s set to include Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and youngster Brandon Pfaadt. The Brewers may prefer to keep Burnes until at least the deadline in an attempt to repeat as National League Central champions. That’s a fair pursuit. The Diamondbacks have the prospect talent to change their minds, however, and they may feel emboldened after making a surprise run to the NL pennant. 

4. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

The match: Cincinnati Reds

The reason: Does anyone believe the Rays are going to pay a single player (a pitcher at that) $25 million over a single season? We think not. The post-Joey Votto Reds have the financial flexibility to do something big this winter. They have the competitive incentive as well, having finished just outside of the playoff field. Adding Glasnow, always brilliant when healthy, to the top of the rotation would improve Cincinnati’s chances of qualifying for the playoffs after a 162-game season for the first time since 2013. The Reds, by the way, have the kind of intriguing young talent, specifically on the infield and the mound, that should appeal to Tampa Bay’s desires.

5. Shane Bieber, RHP, Cleveland Guardians

The match: Chicago Cubs

The reason: Truth be told, we have some reservations about Bieber. He showed diminished stuff last season, and he pitched just twice after July 9 because of right elbow inflammation. Someone is going to sign up to employ him for his walk year with the hopes that he can give them an above-average season. The Cubs, who have youngsters Cade Horton and Ben Brown on the rise, are in position to gamble if the price point is right. Given the aforementioned circumstances, we suspect the Guardians will not be landing the kind of return for Bieber that they may have if they had traded him a year ago.

6. Jorge Polanco, 2B, Minnesota Twins

The match: Toronto Blue Jays

The reason: The Twins have an abundance of infielders and a desire to slash payroll this winter. That makes Polanco, limited to 184 games the past two seasons, a high-probability trade candidate. He’s been an above-average hitter in five of the last six seasons, and he’s potentially under contract through the 2025 campaign for less than $25 million. The Blue Jays are slated to lose both third baseman Matt Chapman and second baseman Whit Merrifield to free agency. In theory, they have several internal options they can turn to — Davis Schneider, Addison Barger, Cavan Biggio, and Santiago Espinal included; in practice, Polanco’s track record and cost certainty make him hard to pass on.

7. Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota Twins

The match: Miami Marlins

The reason: To stick with the Twins for another beat, Kepler is entering the final season of his contract. He’s served as a walking trade rumor for most of the last few years, and now seems like a good time for the Twins to make a move given that he’s coming off the second-best offensive season of his career. In addition to being a 20-plus home-run threat in any given year, Kepler remains a well-above-average defender in right field. It’s to be seen what new Marlins boss Peter Bendix wants to do this offseason, but we can envision him swapping out a young arm for Kepler with the hopes of reaching the postseason in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.

8. Harold Ramírez, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

The match: Seattle Mariners

The reason: This began as a joke made by CBS Sports writer Mike Axisa — it used to be that the offseason had not officially begun until the Rays and Mariners made a trade — but we’ve talked ourselves into there being a possible match. Ramírez doesn’t populate rumors as often as teammates Manuel Margot or Isaac Paredes do, yet he’s expected to make more than $4 million in 2023 and he’s coming off a good two-year run despite being heavily reliant on ground-ball singles. The Mariners have bidden farewell to a pair of strikeout-prone hitters in Teoscar Hernández and Eugenio Suárez, and if that’s by design then we suspect they’d have a lot of interest in someone as prone to contact as Ramírez. Even the Rays, who have gotten a lot of mileage out of this kind of profile, have to concede this is probably his value’s apex.

9. Alex Verdugo, OF, Boston Red Sox

The match: Cleveland Guardians

The reason: We believe the Red Sox will trade Verdugo, whose projected arbitration prize is $9.2 million. Finding a fit for him was tougher than it may appear. Verdugo is a safe bet to hit at a league-average clip and, seemingly, a safer bet to pace the league in Managerial Headaches Created. The Guardians have been in near-constant need of outfield help the past few years. We’re not so sure the Guardians want to test rookie skipper Stephen Vogt‘s mettle out of the gate but, faute de mieux, we must concede they’d otherwise make sense in a trade, with Cleveland sending back a young infielder from their collection.

10. Hunter Harvey, RHP, Washington Nationals

The match: Texas Rangers

The reason: You can’t do a column like this without mentioning the reigning World Series champions. Harvey, long ago a top prospect, has endured countless injuries en route to becoming a quality reliever. The Nationals have to know they’re playing with house money at this point. Harvey would slot into a high-leverage role in a Rangers bullpen that has lost Aroldis Chapman, Chris Stratton, and Will Smith to free agency.

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