MLB trade deadline candidates: 10 players to watch and possible tweaks for Willson Contreras, Josh Bell, and more

Major League Baseball’s trade deadline will fall later than normal this year, due to the owner-imposed lockdown that delayed the season. Rather than skip July 31, as is customary, this year’s deadline is August 2 at 6 p.m. ET. That is, for those who hadn’t noticed, exactly two months from now.

Some might read this sentence and state that it is too early to think about which players might be available on the trade market. Rest assured, we should not be included in this group. As such, below are 10 players that CBS Sports has identified as legitimate trade candidates.

We have been legally advised to note that a player’s inclusion does not mean they are guaranteed to be moved before the deadline. Likewise, more than 10 players will be traded by then, so don’t worry if your favorite candidate is missing.

That said, let’s move on to premature speculation. (Players are listed in alphabetical order.)

Bednar, not Bryan Reynolds or José Quintana, is the only Pirates representative on this list. (For what it’s worth, we think Quintana is moved if it continues to be even somewhat effective.) Hackers are rarely under the national microscope (for good reasons, anyway), so you can be forgiven if you didn’t notice he sports a 1.97 ERA and 4.67 strikeout ratio in 82 appearances with the Pirates since last season. Our belief is that bad teams aren’t aggressive enough when it comes to moving their good relievers. In that case, it’s true that Bednar won’t qualify for refereeing for another year, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to make the Pirates’ next playoff squad. (Heck, the reliever attrition rate is such that he may not make it to the next poor team.) Trade it for someone who might be, then, should be in play sooner than seems necessary. Possible adjustments: All suitors.

Between Bell and Nelson Cruz (whose ball tracking metrics are more encouraging than you might think), the Nationals could dictate the market when it comes to stationary bat types only. While Bell may not be the picture of grace in the cold corner (or on the base paths, for that matter), his two seasons in DC saw him hit .271/.355/.458 (127 OPS+) with 31 home runs in 194 games. Bell has something notable under the hood so far this season, as its strike rate and power output have dropped. He makes contact at a pace that puts him in the company of José Altuve, Tim Anderson and Nicky Lopez…or three infielders who have and can flirt with a batting title. Teams typically desire more power from their first basemen, so it will be interesting to see if Bell’s metamorphosis continues and if it costs him any potential suitors. Possible adjustments: Red Sox, twins, giants.

The Royals’ offense underperformed to such an extent that Dayton Moore, historically as loyal as any executive in the company, fired his coach two weeks ago. Benintendi, a free agent at the end of the season, did his part to keep Terry Bradshaw employed. It has hit 0.328/0.395/0.424 (138 OPS+) so far with improved takedown and walk rates; he also hits nearly half of his balls on the dirt, which is notable since his career-high full-season ground ball percentage is 42%. So Benintendi basically mixed parts of his past form – the contact and walk version that was good enough to start for a World Series champion – with the stereotypical approach to balls hit by the Royals. It’s working for him, and some teams will likely take notice and make sure they can plug him into the top of their roster come August. Possible adjustments: Cardinals, Blue Jays, Braves.

Castillo was not traded as part of the Reds’ mini-fire sale over the winter and then missed the start of the season with shoulder problems. Ruh roh. The good news is that he’s had solid performances in five starts since returning to the mound, including the last time when he struck out 10 Red Sox batters on six one-hit frames. However, Castillo’s speed has dropped by over a mile per hour and he’s had a few starts this year where he just hasn’t missed many bats. Some suitors will be more than willing to look past these issues, but the Reds wouldn’t mind him recording a few more starts as his last between today and August. Possible adjustments: Mets, Rays, Cardinals.

Contreras, a late-season free agent, is having one of the best offensive seasons among receivers. He entered Monday batting .271/.393/.514 (155 OPS+) with eight home runs. He’s also shown growth with his strikeout and contact rates, indicating he could reach a new threshold of true talent at home plate. Unfortunately, Contreras is also having one of the worst defensive seasons among receivers. TruMedia’s metric ranks him as the second-worst cameraman in the game, ahead of only Baltimore’s Robinson Chirinos. As nice as Contreras’ back-picking methods are – and he attempted a 16 at the top of the majors, up to second and third place combined – his inability to massage the strike zone as a receiver limits his overall appeal. Possible adjustments: Astros, Rays, Yankees.

6. Tyler Mahle, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

Mahle’s season didn’t go as planned. He sports what would be the worst ERA of his career as well as what would be his highest walk rate all season. He fires more walks because he throws fewer throws into the zone, and he throws fewer throws into the zone apparently as part of a strategic shift to induce more chases. (We think there’s intent because he’s using his splitter as his primary secondary offering.) This formula works for Corbin Burnes and for Max Fried, but it hasn’t worked for Mahle yet. Maybe he’ll drop out soon, or maybe he’ll adjust to his old approach. Either way, we think other teams will consider him a rebounding candidate. Possible adjustments: Mets, Giants, Cardinals.

Mancini picked a bad year to start shooting and elevating the ball at a career high rate, huh? Although he’s been robbed by the new dimensions at Camden Yards once or twice, he hits .308/.379/.423 (133 OPS+) with four homers and seven doubles. (Four of those extra hits and one of the homers came at home.) Mancini ranks in the 65th percentile or better in both percentages of balls hit at 95 mph or harder and in the 10-30-degree window . Simply put: he’s a good hitter. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season, ensuring that Mike Elias’ attempt at a green monster won’t haunt him much longer. Possible adjustments: Red Sox, Twins, Braves.

Montas was the only veteran member of the Athletics rotation last season to stick around all winter. You need to understand that he will be filing his change of address forms soon enough. Although Montas has had a topsy-turvy few years, with injuries and suspension, he has settled in since the start of last season. In 43 starts combined, he amassed a 120+ ERA and a 3.86 strikeout ratio. Montas has lost speed and has an unusual profile – the slowest pitch he regularly throws is an average of 87 mph – but some teams are sure to start playing him in front of their rotation for the next season and a half. Possible adjustments: Mets, Rays, Twins.

9. Sean Murphy, C, Oakland Athletics

Competent two-way catchers are always a sought after quantity. Murphy qualifies as that. He’s a good framer with a Gold Glove Award to his name, and he’s regularly hit for an OPS+ in the 90s or better. Murphy will celebrate his 28th birthday in October, months before his first arbitration hearing, meaning he is both in his statistical and controllable peak for years to come. It’s a nice combination. The Athletics got Shea Langeliers as part of the Matt Olson trade, and it only seems like a matter of time before they flip the switch and install him as their catcher for the show. Possible adjustments: Astros, Rays, Yankees.

Peralta is an imminent free agent who will celebrate his 35th birthday less than two weeks after the deadline, making him an obvious candidate for a change of address. (The chances of a trade are further aided by the Diamondbacks’ employment of several talented outfielders, including recent promotion Alek Thomas, future promotion Corbin Carroll and, when Carson Kelly is healthy, Daulton Varsho.) Peralta is a pure platoon bat whose OPS against right-handed pitchers ranks in the 70th percentile in the pandemic era. For perspective, that puts him in the same neighborhood as Eddie Rosario, who, of course, turned out to be a consistent deadline addition last year for the Atlanta Braves. Peralta probably won’t produce as many memorable playoff moments as Rosario, but he should give his next team a boost against right-handers. Possible adjustments: Blue Jays, Yankees, Cardinals.

Neal T. Doss