The best trade candidate at every position

While the free-agent market continues to move at a deliberate pace, the Padres showed last week that the trade market is as alive as ever.

San Diego’s deals for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish thrust the club into the early lead for “most impactful offseason,” but there’s still plenty of time for other teams to make their marks between now and Opening Day. Then there’s the Trade Deadline, which could see an incredible amount of action this summer.

• Hot Stove Tracker | Free agent and trade rumors

For the fourth consecutive year, MLB.com has put together an “All Trade Rumor Team,” one position at a time, looking at the key players whose names continue to be bandied about on the Hot Stove rumor mill and, eventually, into next summer.

C: Willson Contreras, Cubs
For the second year in a row, Contreras is the choice here. Contreras won’t be a free agent until the end of the 2022 season, which separates him from Chicago’s other potential trade chips. Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and Anthony Rizzo are slated to become free agents next offseason, so if the Cubs choose to shed another significant salary, Contreras’ additional year of control should net them more in return.

Buzz factor: Medium. The Cubs have already non-tendered Kyle Schwarber and traded Darvish, so it’s not a lock that another one of their core players gets moved.

1B: Brandon Belt, Giants
The Giants have been rumored to be a potential spender this offseason, but some industry insiders believe San Francisco — which can shed nearly $90 million from its payroll next winter — is still a year away from making a big splash in the top-heavy National League West. Belt’s stellar 2020 season (.309/.425/.591 in 51 games) could make him an attractive option for teams in search of help at first base or DH, even with his $17.2 million price tag.

Buzz factor: Low. Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hasn’t been one to trade away talent with an eye on the future, so even with the loaded Dodgers and Padres in the division, it would be a bit surprising to see the Giants trade any core pieces despite the impending free agency of Belt, Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, Kevin Gausman and Brandon Crawford after 2021.

2B: Starlin Castro, Nationals
Castro’s first season in Washington lasted just 16 games before a fractured wrist ended his year. He’ll be 31 in March — yes, he’s still only 30 despite playing more than a decade in the Majors — as he enters the final year of his two-year, $12 million deal with the Nationals.

Buzz factor: Low. Castro should open the season as Washington’s everyday second baseman, and if the Nats are competitive as expected, it seems unlikely they would move him. But if things go awry as they did in 2020, Washington could decide to save a few bucks and give 20-year-old Luis García another look.

SS: Francisco Lindor, Indians
The easiest call to make in this exercise, as just about everybody in the game believes Lindor will be moved prior to Opening Day. The All-Star shortstop is entering his final year before free agency, and with virtually no realistic chance at signing him to a new contract, Cleveland will look to maximize its return for Lindor.

Buzz factor: High. One of five premier shortstops headed for free agency after the 2021 season (Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Javier Báez and Corey Seager are the others), Lindor is the only one who feels like a lock to be traded. The speculation will continue to be heavy until the day a deal gets done.

3B: Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Another repeat entrant on our list, Arenado has been a constant focus of trade rumors for more than a year. His eight-year, $260 million extension made it seem as though he would be in Colorado for the long haul, but a pair of fourth-place finishes appears to have soured Arenado’s desire to remain with the Rockies.

Buzz factor: Low to Medium. Arenado’s no-trade clause and his ability to opt out of his contract after the 2021 season make a trade more complicated, as does the fact that his performance in 2020 was below his typical standard. For the Rockies to trade Arenado, a lot of things will have to fall into place.

OF: Joey Gallo, Rangers
Gallo hit 40-plus homers in back-to-back seasons (2017-18) and was an All-Star in 2019 before an injury ended his season. A poor performance in 2020 may have altered his value, but a strong first half in 2021 would thrust Gallo into trade conversations this summer.

Buzz factor: Medium. Texas traded Lance Lynn earlier this offseason, a sign that the Rangers don’t expect to contend in 2021. If 2022 figures to be another year in a rebuild, then trading Gallo — who is slated to become a free agent at the end of that season — makes perfect sense.

OF: Starling Marte, Marlins
Miami will look to build on its 2020 playoff season in 2021, evidenced by the decision to exercise Marte’s $12.5 million option. Marte posted a career-high .845 OPS in 2019, but he’s been traded twice in the past 12 months.

Buzz factor: Low — for now. The NL East is arguably the toughest division in the game, so the Marlins’ first-half success (or lack thereof) could determine whether the team’s highest-paid player (and a 2021 free agent) remains in Miami for the entire season.

OF: Nick Castellanos, Reds
The Reds reached the postseason in 2020, but the (presumed) departure of free agent Trevor Bauer and the trade of Raisel Iglesias could mean a step backward for Cincinnati. Castellanos has three years and $48 million ($12 million of which is deferred) left on his deal, though he can opt out of the contract after 2021.

Buzz factor: Low. Opt-out clauses make potential trades very tricky and this is no exception. Castellanos had a decent 2020 season, but he didn’t match the production the Reds had hoped for when they signed him last winter. The Reds might make him available at some point, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be dealt.

DH: J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
Martinez chose not to opt out of the remaining two years and $38.75 million on his contract, though he can still opt out again after the 2021 season. Fresh off his worst season since 2013, Martinez will have to hit well during the first half to reestablish his value if Boston wants to trade him.

Buzz factor: Low. Martinez was a Dave Dombrowski signing, so the idea of Chaim Bloom trading him to free up some payroll isn’t far-fetched by any means. Whether there’s a market for a 33-year-old DH making more than $19 million per year, however, would very much be in question if he’s made available.

SP: Luis Castillo/Sonny Gray, Reds
The Padres’ trade for Snell set the market for reasonably priced controllable starters, giving the Reds an idea of what they might get for either Castillo or Gray. Bauer is the top free-agent starter, but with Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi and Taijuan Walker considered to be the next tier of available arms, Cincinnati has two very attractive arms to shop around.

Buzz factor: Medium to High. Castillo and Gray have each drawn interest from clubs around the Majors, and while the Reds might not trade both starters this year, it seems inevitable that at least one will be moved.

RP: Josh Hader, Brewers
Liam Hendriks and Alex Colomé headline a deep free-agent reliever market, so much of the trade action for relief pitchers will come this summer. Hader won the Trevor Hoffman Award as the NL’s top reliever in both 2018 and ’19, and although he’ll turn just 27 in April, he’s entering the second of four arbitration-eligible years.

Buzz factor: Medium. Hader lost his arbitration case to the Brewers last year, but whatever his raise is in 2021, the lefty will start becoming pricy for cash-conscious Milwaukee. Hader has been one of the best relievers in the game, so he would likely bring back a nice return for the Crew.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.