While the big-name free agents Shohei Ohtani, Blake Snell, and Cody Bellinger will generate most of the headlines this offseason, there will also be at least a couple of blockbuster trades involving well-known players moving from one team to another. As a result of various circumstances, the following five players could be trade candidates this off-season.
Five MLB 2023 Offseason Trade Candidates
1. Corbin Burnes
Milwaukee Brewers’ ace starting pitcher Corbin Burnes has had a significant imprint on the club’s perennial success over the past few years. Drafted in the fourth round out of Saint Mary’s College in 2016, Burnes finished his first Major League season (2018) with a 7-0 record and 2.61 ERA in 30 relief games. He finished sixth in the National League Cy Young voting in 2020’s shortened season. In 2021, the elite pitcher won his first Cy Young Award, accumulating an 11-5 record, 2.43 ERA, and 234 strikeouts in 167 innings pitched. He just helped his club win its division for the second time in the last three years, pitching to a 10-8 record with a 3.39 ERA in 32 games started.
Unfortunately, the Brewers suffered another early exit from the playoffs, and the team’s co-ace, Brandon Woodruff, underwent offseason shoulder surgery that will sideline him for all of 2024, which just so happens to be Burnes’ last year under team control. Before the season started, the Brewers beat Burnes in a salary arbitration case, affecting their relationship with their star pitcher. The club is moving forward without longtime baseball operations leader David Stearns, as the New York Mets hired the native New Yorker to lead their front office. He had stepped into an advisory role before this season, handing his job to longtime lieutenant Matt Arnold. Additionally, the team’s manager since 2015, Craig Counsell, is out of contract and entertaining offers from the Mets and Cleveland Guardians.
Given the Brewers’ small-market status and Burnes’ salary increase next year, it is unsurprising that he will be one of the top names available via a trade. Due to his talent and pedigree, Milwaukee will probably only trade him if they receive a sizable return of talented young players that can help them improve their offense to stay competitive next year and beyond. While any contending team would be thrilled to acquire Burnes, the Baltimore Orioles, and Los Angeles Dodgers match up well because both teams need a durable, consistent, elite pitcher and have two of the sport’s best farm systems with multiple highly-thought-of prospects the Brewers can choose from.
2. Tyler Glasnow
Tyler Glasnow is another ace pitcher on a small market team entering the final year of his contract. Six years ago, he came to the Tampa Bay Rays in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The oft-injured right-hander has developed into one of the Rays’ best pitchers, leading a pitching staff that is annually one of the best in the league and a key reason behind the club’s consistent success. In 71 starts with the team, Glasnow has averaged a 3.20 ERA and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He finished 2023 10-7 with a 3.53 ERA over a career-high 21 games started and 120 innings pitched, helping his club make the playoffs despite fellow members of the starting rotation Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, and Jeffrey Springs all suffering season-ending arm injuries.
Next year, he will earn $25 million, a record single-season salary in the penny-pinching Rays’ history. While they may decide to keep him and stomach the salary for one more postseason run in 2024, it would be very Rays-like for the club to trade him to a bigger-market team just like they did with Snell and countless other players. By embracing this strategy, the club has always kept their farm system aflush with young prospects and still managed to win at the Major League level yearly.
If Glasnow is on the trade block, multiple contending teams will likely be involved. The Dodgers and Cardinals have the prospects to entice the Rays and a need for starting pitching. The San Francisco Giants also make sense as a trade fit because Logan Webb could use some support in new manager Bob Melvin’s first season in charge.
3. Juan Soto
The San Diego Padres came into the 2023 season with championship aspirations, featuring a roster headlined by Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr, and Snell. However, they failed to make the playoffs, needing a late-season surge to finish with a winning record. Their manager Melvin departed to manage the Giants. Now, trade rumors are swirling around Soto, who is one year away from getting a monster free-agency contract. In his first 162-game season in San Diego, the 25-year-old superstar had another outstanding season, batting .275 with 35 home runs, 109 RBIs, and drawing a league-leading 132 walks.
As Soto’s salary will rise in his final year of arbitration and the Padres’ owner publicly said that the team would cut player payroll by 20%, it is not out of the question for them to move him. Links are already popping up connecting the New York Yankees to Soto, a trade the Yankees may need to make in the wake of the team’s vastly disappointing offensive performance this past season. The Cubs have also shown interest in a potential deal for this franchise-changing phenom. If he does end up moving teams, the Padres are likely to get some top-tier talent in return because players like Soto are one in a million.
4. Shane Bieber
The Cleveland Guardians’ ace over the past few seasons, starting pitcher Shane Bieber is another player one year out from free agency who is already popping up in offseason trade rumors. A product of Cleveland’s acclaimed minor-league pitching development lab, the University of California Santa Barbara alum has largely fared well in the Major Leagues since his debut in 2018.
In 2019, he finished 15-8, earning his first trip to the All-Star Game and American League Cy Young nomination. The following year, he won his first Cy Young Award, finishing the COVID-shortened season 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA in 12 games started. In 2023, Bieber did not fare as well as he missed time with injury, going 6-6 with 107 strikeouts in only 21 games.
Bieber’s absence did not affect the Guardians’ pitching, as they got excellent contributions from rookies Gavin Williams, Logan Allen, and Tanner Bibee. The team lost the division to Minnesota because they lacked enough offensive firepower outside of superstar third baseman José Ramirez and talented second baseman Andrés Giménez. Moving forward with a new manager following Terry Francona’s retirement, Cleveland could keep the status quo or trade Bieber to get offensive support in return and free up the money owed to him to splurge on offense in free agency.
5. Lane Thomas
28-year-old outfielder Lane Thomas has taken advantage of everyday playing time and emerged as a cornerstone of the rebuilding Washington Nationals’ lineup over the past couple of years. In 2023, he played in 156 games, batting .268 with 28 home runs. 86 RBIs and 20 stolen bases for an improving squad.
Now, the club has to decide whether they want to keep him for a 2024 season in which they hope to move another step closer toward a return to postseason contention or flip him to a club better equipped to make a playoff run next year and open up that outfield spot for the future arrivals of top prospects James Wood and Dylan Crews. The Toronto Blue Jays and Yankees are two teams that could use Thomas in their lineups.
The fact that the offseason has not technically begun yet and these five players are just some of the names already being thrown about in trade rumors signals that the 2023 MLB offseason may bear witness to a lot of action on the trade market in addition to all of the free-agency shenanigans.