Baseball's trade season doesn't typically begin to take shape until after the MLB Draft, which is still a month away. But I don't recall agreeing to any draconian limitations on my ability to banter about barters. So just for some good, clean fun (as opposed to "staying out until 4 a.m. and not showing up for work the next day" fun), let's read some tea leaves and make a few way-too-early predictions.
Spaghetti, meet wall!
1. Pirates trade Gerrit Cole to the Yankees
The Yankees are a dangerous club. Their system is deep in natural shortstops, power outfielders and, at the Double-A level, live arms. They could probably command their pick of the Deadline litter. The Pirates are going to make every effort to stay in contention this season, and the National League Central is currently a muddled mess. But if the Starling Marte suspension does catch up to them and they start to even entertain the possibility of moving Cole (a Scott Boras player who is highly unlikely to be with the Bucs after his final arbitration year in 2019), a Yankees team in contention (and at the moment, there's little reason to believe the Yankees won't be in contention) would undoubtedly be one of the strongest and most well-equipped suitors to land him.
We've seen many instances in the past in which Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who long ago came to the club from Cleveland, values players similarly to his former organization, and it just so happens that two of the Yankees' most well-regarded prospects -- outfielder Clint Frazier and left-hander Justus Sheffield -- came over from the Tribe in last year's Andrew Miller trade. It would take more than just those two to land Cole, but there's a possible starting point.
Cole is something of a white whale to the Yanks, who drafted him at No. 28 overall in 2008 but couldn't get him to listen to a contract proposal (even though as a kid he took a sign to the 2001 World Series saying "Yankee Fan Today Tomorrow Forever") because he was adamant about going to UCLA.
2. Giants trade Johnny Cueto to the Astros
There is a pretty strong sentiment in the industry that the Giants aren't likely to blow it up and rebuild because they perpetually draw well, they're perpetually built to contend, they have a tremendous amount of organizational pride, etc.
Of course, that's all stuff we were saying about the Yankees a year ago. Ultimately, sound baseball sense prevailed for a club at a crossroads, and the Yanks did what they had to do to maximize their assets on hand.
So while I don't suspect the Giants are going to go totally crazy and start unloading Buster Posey or Hunter Pence or Brandon Crawford or Brandon Belt, I do think there could be some organizational incentive to move Cueto. For one, he's really their only "expiring" asset with real trade value -- and that's assuming he exercises his opt-out clause at season's end. But whichever way the wind is blowing on that front come midseason (Cueto's early season performance has yielded only a 93 ERA+), you could also argue that the Giants, who are already paying luxury tax penalties, could have financial incentive to move the last four years of the Cueto contract in advance of his age-32 season.
The Astros will quite likely be looking for an experienced, October-ready arm to further strengthen their starting five. Because of the opt-out situation, this would basically rate as a rental, with Houston -- a team that has greater financial flexibility than San Francisco in the big picture -- potentially taking on the remainder of the Cueto contract. So the Giants' return wouldn't be outlandish, though even a rental return for a pitcher of his caliber typically calls for a package headlined by a Top 50-type prospect. The Astros' system is still well-stocked, in that regard, with right-handers Francis Martes and David Paulino and outfielder Kyle Tucker all currently in MLBPipeline.com's Top 50.
3. Royals trade Lorenzo Cain to the Indians
Ever since the Adam Eaton injury, everybody and their mother (maybe even Nationals GM Mike Rizzo's mother) expects Cain to go to the Nats, which can only mean there's no possible way that happens.
So here's another clear contender in need of a real center-field solution.
Yes, this would be an intradivision trade, which, while exceedingly rare, is at least a little more likely when it involves a rental. The Indians have had to shift Lonnie Chisenhall to center field out of necessity but he profiles best in right. The Tribe's outfield defense was a big issue in the World Series last year and could be again if it doesn't find a more natural fit. It's simply uncertain whether a prospect like Brad Zimmer or Greg Allen could come up and make an instant impact, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Tribe could look outside here. The Indians had to raid their farm system to pull out the pieces for Andrew Miller last year, but it's still a solid system with good depth in the lower levels that could appeal to a Royals club that's probably about to undergo a major transition.
4. Rangers trade Yu Darvish to the Cubs
You might remember the Cubs finished second in the bidding for Darvish when he came over from Japan. They only missed him by $35 million.
Not hard to see the Cubs making another run at Darvish this summer. Obviously, if the Rangers decide to sell -- and there is very little in the early results that implores them to do otherwise -- Darvish would be a rental among rentals. He's in the final year of his contract, and the vast majority of elite players who don't have an extension completed by Opening Day wind up testing the open waters.
The Cubs have the need and the resources here. The currently DL'd Brett Anderson obviously doesn't and hasn't offered much upside in the No. 5 spot, and there have been signs that the hangover effect on the rest of the rotation is real. Going all-in on a short-term solution is in the Cubs' recent history (see: Chapman, Aroldis), and they've got quality prospects like Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez (once healthy) who are blocked at the Major League level.
5. Jose Quintana stays put
This is shaping up to be a particularly starting pitching-rich trade market, which is why this column skews in that direction. Beyond the aforementioned possibilities involving Darvish, Cueto and Cole, there's plenty other meat on the bone, from Marco Estrada to Ervin Santana to Jeremy Hellickson to Jason Vargas to Francisco Liriano to Derek Holland and a host of others. If the White Sox had trouble finding a suitable swap for Quintana in the midst of that barren starters' market this offseason, it appears they might have double the difficulty in-season, especially considering Quintana simply wasn't at his sharpest early on.
Even independent of those factors, there was an argument for the rebuilding Sox to keep Quintana, because they have control over him through 2020 with just $31 million owed to him in the last three years of that deal. But even if they are adamant about moving him eventually, an offseason market in which he can be dangled as a more cost-effective alternative to high-end free agents like Darvish or possibly Cueto or Jake Arrieta might actually make more sense than this summer does.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.