Brent Rooker, Eduardo Rodríguez and 7 Players Emerging as Surprise Trade Candidates

Brent Rooker, Eduardo Rodríguez and 7 Players Emerging as Surprise Trade Candidates

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    CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 10: Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (57) delivers a pitch to the plate during the first inning of the Major League Baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Guardians on May 10, 2023, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH.  (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    One of the beautiful things about baseball is how difficult it is to predict what’s going to happen, and every year there are dozens of players who turn in surprise performances that very few saw coming.

    Inevitably, there are always at least a few players who enter the season well off the radar who wind up emerging as valuable trade chips.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates signed what looked to be a washed-up José Quintana to a one-year, $1 million deal prior to the 2022 season and ended up flipping him for a pair of quality prospects at the deadline when he returned to peak form.

    The Seattle Mariners turned an out-of-nowhere breakthrough from catcher Austin Nola during the 2020 season into Ty France and Andres Muñoz in a seven-player trade with the San Diego Padres.

    Ahead we’ve highlighted seven players who are emerging as surprise trade chips this season, and while they will need to continue performing at a high level over the next few months, these players could be at the heart of trade rumors leading up to the deadline.

LHP Aroldis Chapman, Kansas City Royals

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 04: Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) delivers a pitch during an MLB game against the Baltimore Orioles on May 04, 2023 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The first time Aroldis Chapman reached free agency, he signed a record-setting five-year, $86 million deal with the New York Yankees, and when he exercised an opt-out after the third year of that contract, he re-signed on a new three-year, $48 million deal.

    His second trip to free agency came with far less fanfare.

    After struggling to a 4.46 ERA and 1.43 WHIP with 28 walks in 36.1 innings during the 2022 season and eventually being relegated to middle relief work, he found limited interest on the open market and eventually signed a one-year, $3.8 million deal with the Kansas City Royals.

    Through 16 appearances, he has a 3.68 ERA and 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings, and he has also seen a resurgence in his fastball velocity (97.5 to 99.6 mph) and spin rate (2,362 to 2,491 rpm).

    As a result of that strong start, the Royals are already receiving calls on his availability, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

SS Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals

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    St. Louis Cardinals' Paul DeJong follows through against the Seattle Mariners during a baseball game Sunday, April 23, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

    AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson

    It feels like a lot longer than four years ago that Paul DeJong slugged 30 home runs and earned an All-Star selection during a 5.3-WAR season in 2019.

    The years since have been riddled with injuries and under performance, and last season he hit just .157/.245/.286 for a 52 OPS+ in 237 plate appearances and spent a significant chunk of the year demoted to Triple-A.

    The 29-year-old is in the final guaranteed season of a six-year, $26 million extension that also includes club options for 2024 ($12.5 million, $2 million buyout) and 2025 ($15 million, $1 million buyout), and he began the year in a bench role.

    In 55 plate appearances, he is hitting .320/.382/.560 with three doubles, three home runs and six RBI, and his 52.8 percent hard-hit rate represents a career high.

    The upcoming free-agent class is void of viable everyday options at shortstop, outside of Amed Rosario, who is off to a slow start, so teams with a need at the position could roll the dice on DeJong’s bounce back being the real deal with an eye on exercising his club option for next year if he continues to perform.

RHP Anthony DeSclafani, San Francisco Giants

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 08: Anthony DeSclafani #26 of the San Francisco Giants pitches in the top of the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Oracle Park on May 08, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Veteran right-hander Anthony DeSclafani was a complete non-factor in the first season of a three-year, $36 million deal with the San Francisco Giants last year, making just five starts and posting a 6.63 ERA and 2.00 WHIP with 34 hits allowed in 19 innings.

    He earned that multiyear deal by going 13-7 with a 3.17 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 152 strikeouts in 167.2 innings during the 2021 season pitching on a one-year deal with the Giants, and he has looked a lot more like that pitcher in the early going.

    The 33-year-old has a 3.06 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and a 35-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50 innings of work, making him one of the few early standouts on a Giants team that sat five games below .500 entering play Sunday.

    Alex Cobb (8 GS, 1.70 ERA, 47.2 IP) and Alex Wood (4 G, 3 GS, 2.45 ERA, 11.0 IP) already looked like potential trade candidates heading into the year if the Giants fell out of contention, but DeSclafani’s bounce back has been a pleasant surprise.

    A reasonable $12 million salary for 2024 makes him more than just a rental and could ultimately help add to his trade value.

RHP Keynan Middleton, Chicago White Sox

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    CINCINNATI, OHIO - MAY 07: Keynan Middleton #99 of the Chicago White Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 07, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Once upon a time, Keynan Middleton looked like the closer of the future for the Angels.

    After posting a 3.86 ERA and 9.7 K/9 with six wins, three saves and 10 holds in 64 appearances as a rookie, he began the 2018 season as the team’s go-to option in the ninth inning.

    He went 6-for-7 on save chances with a 2.04 ERA in 16 games to start the year before he was sidelined with an elbow injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery. He made just 24 total appearances in 2019 and 2020 before he was non-tendered, and that was followed by forgettable one-year stints with the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks.

    The Chicago White Sox signed him to a minor league deal this past offseason after he struggled to a 5.29 ERA in 18 games with the D-backs last year, and he posted three scoreless appearances at Triple-A Charlotte before he was called up to the majors.

    The 29-year-old has a 2.19 ERA and 13.9 K/9 with one save in 14 appearances for a White Sox team going nowhere fast, and there is always a high demand for low-cost bullpen help if he can keep it up.

CF Victor Robles, Washington Nationals

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    PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 06: Victor Robles #16 of the Washington Nationals gets ready in the batters box against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 06, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Prior to landing on the injured list with a back injury earlier this month, Victor Robles was putting together what looked like a long-awaited breakout season offensively.

    The No. 5 prospect in baseball at the start of the 2018 season and a 4.4-WAR player as a rookie in 2019 when he was a key contributor on a World Series-winning club, Robles has struggled to live up to lofty expectations in the years since.

    In 291 games over the past three seasons prior to this year, he hit .216/.291/.306 for a 69 OPS+, and while he still managed to log 1.4 WAR during that span thanks to his speed and defense, this looked like a make-or-break year for him to prove he can be more than just a fourth outfielder on a good team.

    He hit .292/.388/.360 for a 115 OPS+ through 107 plate appearances prior to his injury, and after walking just 17 times in 407 plate appearances last year he had already tallied 10 walks in 31 games.

    Still only 25 years old, he will be a free agent for the first time following the 2024 season, and if he can make a quick return to the field and pick up where he left off, the Nationals will have a golden opportunity to sell high.

LHP Eduardo Rodríguez, Detroit Tigers

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    CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 10: Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Cleveland Guardians during the second inning at Progressive Field on May 10, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)

    Ron Schwane/Getty Images

    The Detroit Tigers looked like a team on the rise after going 37-34 during the second half of the 2021 season, and the front office took an aggressive approach that offseason, signing Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodríguez for a combined $217 million in free agency.

    His first season in Detroit was a forgettable one for both team and player.

    The left-hander missed time in May with a ribcage injury before stepping away from the team for a personal matter. He ultimately missed three months and finished with a 4.05 ERA in 91 innings over 17 starts. The Tigers finished 66-96 and went from dark-horse contenders to firing GM Al Avila and seemingly entering a rebuild once again.

    The five-year, $77 million deal that Rodríguez signed looked like a bust when the 2022 season came to a close, but now it looks like a potential bargain and a valuable factor in assessing him as a trade candidate.

    The 30-year-old is 4-2 with a 1.57 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 51.2 innings, and those numbers would look even better if not for a rocky start, as he has a 0.43 ERA over his last six starts with just 22 hits and two earned runs allowed in 41.2 frames.

OF/DH Brent Rooker, Oakland Athletics

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    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MAY 05:  Brent Rooker #25 of the Oakland Athletics reacts after doubling during the 4th inning of the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on May 05, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    It’s not hyperbole to say that Brent Rooker has been the best hitter in baseball.

    The 28-year-old leads the majors in slugging percentage (.667), OPS (1.091) and OPS+ (208) and he is hitting .316/.424/.667 with 11 home runs, 29 RBI and 19 runs scored in 34 games.

    A first-round pick by the Minnesota Twins in the 2017 draft who hit 102 home runs over five minor league seasons, he was traded to the San Diego Padres last offseason in the Taylor Rogers-for-Chris Paddack swap.

    He was traded again in August, going from San Diego to Kansas City, and the Oakland Athletics selected him off waivers in November.

    Along with his stellar surface-level numbers, he also ranks among the MLB leaders in average exit velocity (90th percentile), hard-hit rate (95th percentile) and barrel rate (98th percentile), which all lends further credibility to his breakout performance.

    Since he’s off to a brilliant start and extremely valuable with club control through the 2027 season, the Athletics will almost certainly trade him away the first chance they get this summer.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Saturday’s games.