With the season more than two weeks old, impatient owners are likely ready to push the panic button with their struggling squad. This makes the middle of April the perfect time for smart owners to make reasonable offers for talented players who are off to a slow start.
However, the real value in the April trade market comes in the opposite direction. Almost every owner is currently enjoying unsustainable production from at least one player on their team. Often, the surprising performer has been one of the true difference-makers on the squad thus far. Successful owners will take a hard look at their most effective players to determine if their improvements are skill-based or merely benefits of good fortune. And they will be ready to make the courageous move and trade away a red-hot player. Those with a long memory will know that Eric Thames owned a 1.373 OPS on April 15 of last year before batting .237 with an .839 OPS the rest of the way. Those who sold high on Thames in mid-April were likely very happy in the long run.
With the goal of looking at the trade market from a variety of angles, here are 10 players who should be the topic of many discussions right now.
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Shohei Ohtani, Starter (Angels): The inclusion of Ohtani on this list is by no means a comment on his talent. The kid is terrific and is at the outset of a memorable career. But the 24-year-old is by far the biggest story in baseball, which creates a hype train that can speed out of control. Ohtani is going to be a premium source of whiffs on a per-inning basis, but the Angels’ plan to use a six-man rotation is going to limit is opportunity to compile innings and victories. However, while he is going to be a ratios asset, he won’t continue his initial success when his .125 BABIP rises to a normal mark. Ohtani owners should be willing to at least consider moving him in return for someone who was selected in the initial 3-4 rounds of their draft.
Jake Junis, Starter (Royals): Having thrown 14 scoreless innings in his initial two starts, Junis has quickly gone from waiver-wire fodder to active-lineup staple. But something isn’t adding up for a starter who has held opposing hitters to the lowest batting average (.089) of any qualified pitcher despite lacking stellar swing-and-miss skills (5.8 K/9 rate). Junis could remain a useful starter, but he is unlikely to be a difference-maker once his .111 BABIP normalizes towards the .300 mark. Owners of the 25-year-old should consider offering him in exchange for someone who is off to a mediocre start but has a longer track record.
Jeurys Familia, Reliever (Mets): Although all the league-leaders lists are deceiving at this time of year, the saves leaders are especially tough to trust. Save chances often come in bunches and those who have had many April opportunities will likely appear to be better assets than they really are. Such is the case with Familia, who leads the Majors with seven saves and beyond being the most valuable reliever has been one of the 10 most valuable players overall. Although Familia is a fine saves source, he is no more valuable than closers with three or fewer saves such as Cody Allen, Aroldis Chapman and Sean Doolittle.
Miguel Sano, Third baseman (Twins): Owners who selected Sano despite his tumultuous and injury-impacted offseason should be shopping the imposing slugger right away. Off to a strong start on the surface (.908 OPS), Sano has thrived on the strength of a .467 BABIP and a 33.3 percent HR/FB rate while striking out in a whopping 48.9 percent of his plate appearances. While the hard-hitting 24-year-old can produce a lofty homer total, he could soon become a batting-average drain who logs a string of weeks with a sub-.200 mark.
Eric Hosmer, First baseman (Padres): Hosmer owners are likely feeling pretty good about their decision to add the 28-year-old despite seeing him choose a less-than-desirable landing spot over the winter. Sure, he has launched just one home run, but the lifetime .284 hitter is producing a helpful .288 batting mark while logging an improved 10.6 percent walk rate. However, Hosmer has tallied just three RBIs while taking his low-trajectory tendencies to a new level (14.0 percent fly-ball rate) thus far in 2018. With mediocre power skills and a poor supporting cast, the native Floridian will have a hard time driving in 80 runs this year.
Zack Godley, Starter (D-backs): Godley fits the rare description of a player who is a buy-low candidate despite being off to a great start (0.64 ERA, 0.64 WHIP). Simply put, the right-hander has all the makings of a mixed-league ace. Featuring an elite curveball, Godley can compile plenty of whiffs while also inducing ground balls at an elite rate. Given his lifetime 4.62 ERA at home (career 3.44 ERA away), he should be one of the main beneficiaries of the addition of a humidor to Chase Field. Owners who need an impact starter should avoid dealing for the likes of Luis Severino or Carlos Carrasco and instead acquire Godley for a smaller return.
Jose Ramirez, Second baseman (Indians): Ramirez continues to be one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball (.116 BABIP) and is currently batting just .160 despite striking out in just 6.7 percent of his plate appearances. Overall, Ramirez is hitting too many fly balls (52.2 percent) this year. A fly-ball percentage at that level is fine for a one-dimensional slugger, but not for a complete player who can bat .300 and run the bases aggressively. The smart money is on Ramirez returning to his balanced batting profile in the coming days and getting his season back on track.
Anthony Rizzo, First baseman (Cubs): Rizzo is likely to log the most disappointing April of any early-round pick, as he has produced miserable results (.107/.219/.214 slash line) and is now on the disabled list with a back injury. Further, everything that is happening with the 28-year-old flies in the face of the reasons his owners drafted him. With a career-high of 32 homers, Rizzo lacks the sky-high ceiling of most early-round picks but was known as a reliable slugger who has produced similar stats every year and missed a total of 36 games across five seasons from 2013-17. With his reliability now in question, the Cubs’ three-hole hitter is ripe for a buy-low offer.
Ryan Zimmerman, First baseman (Nationals): The Ryan Zimmerman detractors are out in full force these days, as those who said he couldn’t repeat his bounce-back 2017 season have thus far been proven right (.116/.191/.233 slash line). However, the advanced stats tell a different tale, as the veteran has been plagued by a .133 BABIP despite logging high rates of line drives (29.0 percent) and hard contact (41.9 percent). Zimmerman remains a long-term injury risk (eight DL stints from 2011-16), but he stayed off the disabled list last season, hits cleanup in one of the best lineups in baseball and is due for a major luck correction.
Carlos Santana, First baseman (Phillies): Much like Zimmerman, Santana is a power-hitting first baseman who has thus far been plagued by poor fortune. The 32-year-old continues to show a strong grasp of the strike zone (0.86 BB:K ratio) and is logging whopping rates of fly balls (57.5 percent) and hard contact (40.0 percent). However, while all of those hard-hit flies should translate into a slew of homers, Santana has gone deep just twice and produced a lowly .159 batting mark. By continuing his current batted-ball trends, the slugger will soon enjoy a string of multi-homer weeks.