Inside the Clubhouse: 5 early MLB trade candidates

This week on Inside the Clubhouse, we’re looking at a few big names who already find themselves in the middle of serious MLB trade rumors.

There are over 2.5 months left until the MLB trade deadline, but there are already a number of intriguing players who could become available. Here is a list of five of the most intriguing options, starting with Boston Red Sox star shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

MLB trade candidates: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

Right now, Xander Bogaerts looks like the top candidate to be traded before the deadline. He can opt-out of his contract and become a free agent at the end of the season, which is widely expected among rival executives, and discussions about a new contract have been tabled after the Red Sox reportedly offered a one-year, $30 million extension before the season.

The Red Sox should do everything possible to extend Bogaerts before exploring a potential trade. But Bogaerts’ agent, Scott Boras, prefers that his players establish their value on the open market, so such a scenario in-season feels unlikely.

If that is indeed the case, and the Red Sox remain on the periphery in the American League playoff picture in mid-July, Bogaerts will be among the most coveted players on the trade market. The Cardinals are the best fit on paper, though there is skepticism about a potential match. A trade might cost top prospect Nolan Gorman and other prospects while it will take a significant nine-figure contract to keep him in St. Louis long-term, with the Cardinals already having two massive contracts in Nolan Arenado (can opt out after 2022) and Paul Goldschmidt on the books.

Other potential fits include the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Angels.

Frankie Montas, Oakland A’s

The A’s had a historic sell-off after the lockout, trading Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea. The next to join that list figures to be Frankie Montas.

During the offseason, the A’s prioritized moving Manaea before Montas. Manaea is a free agent at the end of the 2022 season while Montas is signed through 2023 and the A’s, barring a massive offer, preferred to open the season with him in the rotation and shop him before the trade deadline while teams have more urgency to make a big trade.

Montas, 29, will be the top pitcher on the trade market and the early buzz from rival executives is that there will be massive interest in the right-hander. In the offseason, the list of teams to show interest in Montas included, per sources and reports: the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and others.

The haul for Montas figures to be substantial, with the A’s asking the White Sox for young slugger Andrew Vaughn in trade talks before the regular season. The White Sox, meanwhile, balked at the proposal and talks went nowhere. But with teams in desperate need of starting pitching, and a likely bidding war for Montas, perhaps there is a team or two who are finally willing to meet the A’s demands.

Nelson Cruz, Washington Nationals

Once Nelson Cruz signed with the Washington Nationals, a move that sent shockwaves throughout the industry, one rival executive texted that he would be traded during the season.

On May 12, the Nationals are 11-22 and 11 games back in the National League East, and such a scenario feels likely. Cruz, 41, has struggled this season, posting a .174/.266/.284 slashline with four home runs and 17 RBI, and is perhaps finally showing signs of slowing down after a prolific 18-year career.

But there will once again be interest in Cruz. Among the teams that showed interest in Cruz this offseason, according to major-league sources, were the Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego, Atlanta Braves and a handful of American League teams.

Cruz, however, is not the only trade option on the Nationals. First baseman Josh Bell is hitting .349/.445/.523 with four home runs and 21 RBI and is a name already being monitored by rival executives as a potential trade option.

Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals

Whit Merrifield is seemingly mentioned in trade rumors every year and I thought I might as well get ahead of it.

The Royals have been willing to listen on Merrifield for years, but the price has been steep, and rightfully so. He offers positional versatility (can play both the infield and outfield), has a good bat and great speed. But he has struggled this season, hitting only .161/.198/.214 with one home run and eight RBI, leading some to wonder if a change of scenery and more consistent time at second base could benefit him.

But what makes Merrifield, 33, an attractive trade option is how affordable his contract is. He will earn $7 million this season and only $2.75 million in 2023 (with $4 million in incentives) after restructuring his contract before the season in a move to give him more money in 2022 to reward him for what he has done and what he is doing (playing in the outfield rather than at second base).

“I think that’s exactly right,” one rival evaluator said, when asked if the contract makes him more tradable. “Makes him a more valuable trade asset and gives them more financial flexibility next season when they are likely to want to add pieces to try to make a real run at it.”

Corey Knebel, Philadelphia Phillies

There is a chance that Corey Knebel is not even available at the trade deadline. But with the Phillies at 14-17 and seven games back in the NL East, the right-hander is a name worth mentioning.

Knebel, 30, was signed to a one-year, $10 million contract this offseason and so far, has been a solid addition to a Phillies bullpen that was in desperate need of revamping. In 12 games, he has posted a 2.70 ERA, recorded six saves and a 14/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13.1 innings.

My skepticism that Knebel won’t be available in July stems from the fact that I believe the Phillies will be in contention by then, considering the overall talent on the roster. But if they remain out of the race and consider trading some of their pending free agents, teams in need of bullpen help figure to be lining up for the chance to acquire the reliever.