Teams have made their 40-man roster additions, the non-tender deadline passed on Monday, the winter meetings loom next week and there have already been a few signings and trades of note this MLB offseason. So let's play everyone's favorite party game: Blockbuster Deals for Humanity, because we all deserve a little transaction intrigue during the holiday season.
The rules: We dream up one blockbuster signing or trade for every team -- but each team can be used just one time. Good luck!
Here's what we know: The Red Sox, for reasons known to only billionaires, reportedly desire to get under the $208 million luxury tax threshold. Their payroll currently sits at an estimated $221 million. Thus, with Betts one year away from free agency, unlikely to sign a long-term deal before then and set to make an estimated $27.5 million in arbitration, the never-ending rumors put the 2018 MVP on the trade block. Welcome to Boston, Chaim Bloom!
I've seen three interesting trade idea for Betts that at least give us an idea of how Betts may be valued. Let's run through those:
-- From MLB.com's Mark Feinsand: Betts to the Dodgers for OF Joc Pederson, RHP Dustin May and C Keibert Ruiz. I get that the Dodgers might need to be willing to give up surplus value to finally get them over the top, but I'm not sure they would trade May straight up for Betts given May's top-of-the-rotation potential. Why trade May and pay Betts, when you could just spend that money on Anthony Rendon or Gerrit Cole?
-- From the New York Post's Joel Sherman: Betts, Eovaldi and David Price to the Angels for a minimal return of prospects. As Sherman points out, this would be reminiscent of the Red Sox-Dodgers trade from 2012, when the Red Sox traded the big contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in what was essentially a salary dump. The Angels get Betts and take on the $96 million remaining on Price's contract and $51 million with Eovaldi, taking a one-year cap hit of $76.5 million, but with the potential side benefit of Price and Eovaldi also contributing on the mound. Interesting idea, and certainly gives the Red Sox a payroll reboot, but that 2012 deal was made with an old-school general manager running the Dodgers in Ned Colletti. I'm not sure Billy Eppler takes on that much payroll for just one year of Betts.
-- From MLB.com's Richard Justice: Betts to the White Sox in a trade revolving around second baseman Nick Madrigal. The White Sox are desperate to bring in a star, but trading a top prospect for one season of Betts when you just won 72 games seems like a risky idea.
All this points to the difficulty of pulling off a Betts trade. As ESPN's Jesse Rogers reported last week, 15 MLB insiders were doubtful the Red Sox will even be able to make one. For it to work, my take is it has to be with a team seeking that one final piece of the puzzle while also willing to absorb a big payroll hit (eliminating a team like Cleveland or Oakland). The Cardinals may be the best fit. Using Sherman's idea, I've included Eovaldi, while the Red Sox get Edman, who could replace Betts in right field or take over at second base, as well outfield prospect Arozarena and useful bat Martinez. Cecil is included as a salary offset.
The Red Sox drop from $221 million in payroll to about $187 million, and the Cardinals go from $176 to $210. Betts is a big step up from Marcell Ozuna in the outfield, and the Cardinals still have plenty of outfield depth with Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader,Lane Thomas, Tyler O'Neill and top prospect Dylan Carlson. The big question is whether the Cardinals would be willing to enter payroll territory they haven't come close to before. For one year of Betts, plus added payroll depth, it's worth aiming higher than another 91-71 team.
We couldn't get Betts to the Dodgers, but it's a little easier to get Lindor there because he has two years of team control and ... wait, don't the Dodgers already have Corey Seager to play shortstop? I know, this deal may not make sense at first glance, but the Dodgers are one of the few teams with the prospect wealth to deal for Lindor
Here's what the Dodgers do: play Lindor at shortstop, Seager at third base, rookie stud Gavin Lux at second base and Max Muncy at first base (Cody Bellinger moves full time to the outfield). Justin Turner, in the final season of his contract, plays some third, second and first. Plenty of starts for everybody:
Lindor: 145 starts
Seager: 140 starts
Lux: 120 starts
Muncy: 130 starts
Turner: 113 starts
Everyone stays fresh, and when the inevitable injury crops up, you have plenty of flexibility. More importantly, you add a switch-hitter to the lefty-heavy Dodgers lineup, and Lindor's energy and enthusiasm adds a new dimension that the Dodgers could use in October. The Indians get Taylor as a replacement for Lindor, plus two of the Dodgers' top five prospects in Ruiz and Gray. Peters is a wild card as an athletic, power-hitting, strikeout-prone outfielder, but he's worth the roll of the dice.
The Rangers are moving into a new park, which should mean a big boost in revenue stream due to a projected attendance increase. Attendance has fallen from a peak of 3.46 million in 2012 (following back-to-back World Series appearances) to 2.13 million in 2019 (with a third straight losing season). While Rangers fans will be able to enjoy air-conditioned baseball with a retractable roof featuring transparent panels that allow natural light, the best shiny new toy for 2020 would be signing Rendon to a $200 million long-term deal.
The Rangers need a third baseman (25th in the majors in wOBA), they need offense in general, they need to improve on defense and they have more money to burn than an unethical Swiss banker -- their current payroll is about $52 million less than it was in 2017 and sits $93 million below the tax threshold. The Houston native Rendon may love a return to Texas -- and Joey Gallo would love Rendon batting in front of him.
The Padres have already been busy this offseason, signing Drew Pomeranz and making the interesting challenge trade with the Brewers, acquiring Trent Grisham and Zach Davies for Luis Urias and Eric Lauer. Most insiders expect Strasburg to return to the Nationals, so this is a long shot, but it's the homecoming Padres fans can dream on.
Sure, the Angels are the favorite to land Cole, but we just put Rendon on the Rangers and Strasburg on the Padres and the Nationals don't want to be the team without a date to the prom.
Whoa! This one has more moving parts than your typical sign-stealing scheme. Let's review each team:
Cubs: Reports say the Cubs are looking to make some trades, with Contreras and Bryant the two candidates we're hearing about in the rumor mill. They need young pitching to replenish a system that has failed miserably in developing arms. They get Whitley, who was the game's top pitching prospect a year ago before a lost 2019 season (although he still struck out 86 batters in 59 innings), the Reds' first-round pick from 2019 in TCU southpaw Lodolo, plus a good bat in Toro, who had a .938 OPS in the high minors but is blocked in Houston.
Astros: With Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado both free agents, their current catching tandem is Garrett Stubbs and Dustin Garneau. Unless Stubbs emerges as a stud we didn't know about, they need a catcher. Contreras is a two-time All-Star with three years of team control who hit .272/.355/.533. Garrett for James is basically an exchange of hard-throwing relievers, but the Astros acquire a lefty for the bullpen -- one might have come in handy for Juan Soto in the World Series, you know.
Reds: The Reds say they're going to spend to build from pretender to contender, and they just signed Mike Moustakas to play second base. That's a good start to boost an offense that ranked just 12th in the NL in runs (despite their homer-friendly park), but let's go another step and add Bryant. This move requires some creativity as the Reds already have Eugenio Suarez to play third base. But Bryant is going to play the outfield on this team (and his versatility is an added benefit). He started 29 games there for the Cubs in 2019, and he's plus-3 DRS in the outfield in his career. He's fine out there and, in fact, given his back issues a move to the outfield could be better for his career. The Reds give up two of their top four or five prospects, but here's the new lineup:
CF Nick Senzel
1B Joey Votto
We had the Angels losing out on Cole and not getting Betts or Bryant or another big bat via trade, but we know they want to build a better team around MVP of MVPs Mike Trout. The Angels didn't have any pitcher make 20 starts last season or any starter other than openers finish with an ERA under 4.00. So maybe signing two starters instead of one superman is the way to go.
The Pirates have cleaned house, hiring a new team president, general manager and manager, and expectations are they will have some roster turnover as well. With two years remaining of team control at reasonable prices of $11.5 million in 2020 and a team option at $12.5 million for 2021, Marte is a popular candidate in trade rumors, with the Mets an interested party as they seek a center fielder.
Currently, the Mets have Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil in the outfield, along with the bad-wheeled Yoenis Cespedes, whose return remains unknown. McNeil's positional flexibility gives the Mets a lineup that could look like this:
1B Pete Alonso
LF Michael Conforto
SS Amed Rosario
On the bench, you have J.D. Davis, Jed Lowrie, Luis Guillorme and a backup catcher. In the process, you've upgraded defensively in center field with Marte over Nimmo (although Marte's metrics weren't great there in 2019 at minus-9 defensive runs saved) and definitely at third with McNeil over Davis. More importantly, you have depth here to move guys around: Davis can play left field or third base and McNeil can move to the outfield or second base as needed.
But let's make this even bigger than just Marte and add Archer to give the Mets a No. 5 starter and Kela for some needed bullpen depth. Archer had a terrible 2019 with a 5.19 ERA, but he did strike out 143 in 119 innings. He could even be a potential bullpen weapon and is signed for two more seasons.
The Pirates get Peterson, a polished lefty who is No. 7 on the Mets' prospect list on MLB.com and near major league ready. Smith, who hit .285/.355/.525 in 197 plate appearances in 2019, doesn't really have a role in New York with Alonso entrenched at first base, and while the Pirates have Josh Bell, they can try Smith in left field, where's he's passable, or flip him to another team.
We know Liberty Media is too cheap to re-sign Josh Donaldson, so let's think outside the box for a way the Braves can replace his bat. Whit Merrifield is the player everyone keeps trying to have the Royals trade, but maybe we should look at AL home run champ Soler, who is eligible for free agency after 2021. Are the Royals going to be a playoff team in the next two years?
The Braves deal from their arsenal of pitching prospects. Wright was the fifth overall pick in 2017 out of Vanderbilt and made four starts for the Braves in 2019, but his stuff has backed up a little and he looks more mid-rotation starter than potential ace. Jackson hit 26 home runs at Triple-A, although that came with a .229 average and a lot of strikeouts. Inciarte is included to offset most of Soler's salary -- remember, Liberty Media and the Braves may be maxed out on payroll after signing Will Smith and Travis d'Arnaud-- and the Royals can keep him or flip him to a team looking for a center fielder.
The Braves can then slide Austin Riley to his natural position at third base, play Soler in left field and run with a Nick Markakis/Adam Duvall platoon in right. And Ronald Acuna Jr. permanently settles into center field for the next nine years.
The Maikel Franco era never quite panned out as once hoped, but he'll always have those two days at Yankee Stadium in 2015 when he hit three home runs and drove in 10 runs. The Phillies need some pitching, but they also need some hitting. They were 11th in the NL in OBP, ninth in batting average and ninth in slugging. Donaldson is a beast and improves their defense. And they will still have funds left over to address the rotation via free agency.
Ray-to-the-Yankees rumors popped up last season, and the Yankees would love to see what new pitching coach Matt Blake and the club's analytics staff could do with the hard-throwing lefty who has averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine over the past three seasons but still fights his control (84 walks in 174 innings). He has one year left until free agency, but the Diamondbacks feel like they have rotation depth and they need an outfielder until top prospects Alek Thomas, Kristian Robinson and Corbin Carroll hopefully develop in a few years. Frazier has been overhyped as a prospect, but he does have five years of team control remaining. Yes, Yankees fans would like Madison Bumgarner, but dude wants to hit. He'll stay in the National League.
There are good reasons not to trade Boyd: He's still under team control for three more seasons, he's coming off a season in which he fanned 238 batters in 185 innings and lord knows the Tigers need somebody on the big league team who doesn't actually belong in Toledo. There also are good reasons to trade Boyd, namely that the Tigers may not be good again for another half
The Twins did have Jake Odorizzi accept their qualifying offer, but Kyle Gibson signed with the Rangers and Michael Pineda is a free agent, so that's 55 starts they have to replace. The Tigers get a bat-first outfield prospect in Larnach and a 2020 rotation candidate in Thorpe, plus a starter/reliever type in Littell.
Jerry Reinsdorf bought the White Sox in 1981 for $19 million. The Royals just sold for $1 billion, which suggests Reinsdorf is sitting on $1 billion or so in profit if he ever sells the team -- aside from what he has made through the years as owner of the White Sox and Bulls. He's 83 years old. He went the entire decade without making the playoffs. Why would he want to own a crappy baseball team when he's 83 years old and worth over a billion dollars?
This would be a fun lineup:
3B Yoan Moncada
SS Tim Anderson
1B Jose Abreu
RF Eloy Jimenez
CF Luis Robert
2B Nick Madrigal
Do I want to see the Orioles trade Mancini? No, but the only blockbuster deal involving the Orioles must include Mancini -- especially since they just waived Jonathan Villar. Oakland's outfield production was so-so in 2019, ranking 16th in the majors in OPS and wOBA, and that was with a surprising year from Ramon Laureano. Mancini can play either corner and give the A's a DH option if Khris Davis flatlines again. Mancini's projected salary is $5 million, so he fits in the A's tiny budget. They give up a promising starter in Puk, but the emergence of Jesus Luzardo, Frankie Montas and Chris Bassitt means the A's suddenly have rotation depth to deal from.
What's one season of Ken Giles -- coming off a superb season as the Blue Jays' closer -- worth? I'd say a good fourth outfielder, except the Blue Jays already have seven of them on the 40-man roster. What an amazing collection. Anyway, before diverging too far off the task at hand, Giles to the Rockies. He has one year left before free agency, and the Blue Jays may wait until the trade deadline and hope a contender is desperate for a closer. Or they can trade him to the Rockies for a couple of prospects (Shaw is included to offset salaries and to help erase the stink of the 2019 Rockies bullpen).
I know, I know ... once a player reaches free agency, he almost always leaves for a new team. Bumgarner is still a good pitcher and the Giants need good pitchers and he should never throw a pitch for another organization. Give us another decade of Bumgarner-Kershaw showdowns please, even if they're throwing Jamie Moyer fastballs by the end of it.
You know we can't have a speculative article about speculative trades without some tongue twister involving Jerry Dipoto and the Rays. As ESPN's Jeff Passan reported last week, the Mariners are actively shopping Narvaez, who is coming off a strong season with the bat (fourth-best wRC+ among backstops), as they have Tom Murphy and Austin Nola, who can handle the immediate catching duties with prospect Cal Raleigh perhaps ready in 2021.
The Brewers need a catcher to replace Yasmani Grandal, and Narvaez fits the bill, even if he's viewed as a poor pitch framer. The rest of the players are intriguing prospects, with Scott, the 13th overall pick in 2018, going to the Rays to give them a high-upside outfield prospect, and Baz, the 12th overall pick by the Pirates in 2017, going to the Mariners. The Marlins get Ashby, the nephew of former All-Star Andy Ashby, a lefty coming off a strong season in Class A ball with a nasty hook, and a potential future closer in Gerber.
Whew. Now, smart guys in the front office, go make some deals.