When you’re a fan of a small market team, you can often spend your offseason living vicariously through other teams. Last season, it was common knowledge around these parts that the Reds would not be active in pursuing anybody in the first, second, third or tenth tiers of the free agent class, yet many of us still excitedly followed the rumblings around Zack Greinke, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and others - and that’s to say nothing of Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, who we followed for more personal reasons.
Going into 2017, the Reds are still very much a small market team, and they are still very much not going to be calling agents to inquire about top-flight free agents. What’s different this year, however, is the number of top-flight free agents that are available. After a 2015-16 offseason that saw eight players ink nine-figure deals, this offseason could only see one or two of them. It’s the kind of free agent class that has forced us to step into a reality where “Wow, Jeremy Hellickson not being available anymore is huge,” is a thing people say in earnest.
So how do we make an offseason in which Justin Turner legitimately might be the best player available fun? With a bunch of good ol’ fashioned bartering. Any team, big or small, buyers or sellers, can make trades. And when you open up the conversation about who teams can go get to beyond the free agent class, things get a whole lot more interesting.
Here’s five deals that could happen this winter that I think work out well for all sides involved. I fully anticipate harmonious agreement with this statement in the comments as I am *extremely* sensitive.
Minnesota Twins trade 2B Brian Dozier to New York Yankees for INF Jorge Mateo, OF Aaron Judge, RHP Domingo Acevedo, UTIL Rob Refsnyder and RHP Chance Adams
So, it turns out the Twins aren’t the small step away from competing that many thought they were back in March. The bright side for Twins fans is that they have Brian Dozier, who went from all-star snub to genuine world-beater in the second half, putting together the second best home run total for a second baseman in history. He’s on the books for cheap through 2018, and could bring home a significant haul that could prove to help the Twins get competitive faster than they would if they simply held onto him.
Enter the Yankees, who just built up a spectacular farm system thanks to the selling job they did in the summer, yet still finished six games above .500, because the Yankees are jerks. This is still New York, though, and you know Brian Cashman doesn’t want to wait for that giant 2018-19 free agent class to start making big moves again. The upgrade from Starlin Castro to Dozier would be significant, and would give the Yankees a genuine star that fits perfectly between the aging and regressing half of their roster and the younger, emerging pieces. They’d also get him without sacrificing either of prizes they got over the summer, their 2016 first round pick, or their breakout stud of a catcher.
For the Twins, they get a future second baseman in Mateo that they can pair with current top prospect Nick Gordon, and a right fielder of the future with plenty of promise in Judge, both of whom are major league ready or close to it. They also get a stellar arm in Acevedo, an intriguing right-hander in Adams, and a utility guy in Refsnyder who is still just 25 and should be a perfectly useful 24th or 25th man on their roster. In all, it’s three top-60 prospects in baseball to add to their current two.
Detroit Tigers trade RHP Justin Verlander to Philadelphia Phillies for OF Nick Williams, C Jorge Alfaro, RHP Franklyn Kilome, RHP Kevin Gowdy and INF Scott Kingery
This one’s about money for Detroit. Verlander is owed $84M over the next three years, and that’s without mentioning the vesting option he has for 2020 and 2021. The Tigers as a whole have between $132M and $150M committed to 2018, and $105M more committed to 2019, all going to guys well over 30 years old and on the downswings of their careers.
Trying to unload any of this money is going to require finding a team that A) wants to win soon/now, B) has gobs of money to spend, and C) can’t find anyone to spend it on. That sounds a lot like the Phillies, who are finally rid of all of their contract demons from yesteryear and are ready to play the part of a big-market spender again. With the aforementioned dearth of free agent talent, however, the Phillies may be motivated to search for deals like this one. What the Phillies gain in Verlander, and his contract, is a 33 year-old who just pitched himself into being a Cy Young finalist and could provide great veteran leadership for a bright young pitching staff headlined by 23 year-old Aaron Nola and 26 year-old Vince Velasquez. They also get him without burning top prospect J.P. Crawford or No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak, which is a plus.
What the Tigers get, in addition to a bit of financial freedom, is a very similar package to what the Phillies got from the Rangers for Cole Hamels. For starters, pair of top-60 prospects in Williams and Alfaro who could be able to contribute as early as July. In addition, they get the Phillies’ best pitching prospect in 6-foot-8 righty Kilome, a 2015 first-round type talent in Gowdy, and a high-floor pure hitter in Kingery.
Chicago White Sox trade LHP Chris Sale to the Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Tyler Glasnow, OF Austin Meadows, SS Kevin Newman, 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, UTIL David Freese and C Elias Diaz
When people talk about the Chris Sale sweepstakes and the prospect load it would take to get him, people often mention the Red Sox, Dodgers, or lately, the Braves. Oddly enough, the Pirates, who had four top 30 prospects before Jameson Taillon pitched his way out of prospect status, are never brought up as a possible destination.
This strikes me as a perfect storm for Pittsburgh, though. Sale’s contract is team-friendly enough to fit inside their small-market budget, and their on-field product at the moment has few enough holes that top prospects may only be “nearly” off limits. This is especially true in the outfield, where Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco seem more than capable of fielding their positions for years to come. Same thing goes for Jung-Ho Kang, who has been highly productive in the hot corner in the past two seasons.
For the White Sox, it’s tough to find a better package with this. Glasnow and Meadows give you lots of starpower right out of the gate, and Newman and Hayes have both looked the part that their first-round selections in 2015 predicted. Freese is the definition of a replacement-level utility guy, and Diaz is the top catching prospect in the Pirates’ system, rounding the haul out at five of the Pirates’ top ten prospects.
It would be incredibly out of character for the Pirates to make a move like this, but if they ever were to, this would be the time. Sale, Gerrit Cole and Taillon isn’t something I’d be excited to face in a division playoff series, and you also do away with a potential outfield logjam. Plus, you hold on to your first baseman of the future in Josh Bell, another top-100 prospect arm in Mitch Keller, and your 2016 first-round pick in Will Craig. Things could be worse. You have Chris Sale now.
Okay, here’s my favorite trade:
Baltimore Orioles trade 3B Manny Machado, RHP Darren O’Day to Los Angeles Dodgers for LHP Julio Urias, OF Yasiel Puig, 1B Cody Bellinger, UTIL Charlie Culberson, RHP Yadier Alvarez and SS Gavin Lux
So, let’s say you’re the Orioles. You’re playoff team, with a good offense, good defense, a stellar bullpen, a mediocre rotation and no real farm system to speak of. Your best player is going to be a free agent in two years, and there is no chance you are going to be able to re-sign him. There’s a firm foundation around him, enough that you’re pretty sure you’ll be in the playoff hunt each of the next two years. But after 2018, everything goes up in the air. Do you stay the course for two years and hope one year is magic? Or do you cash in on your perennial MVP candidate and build a roster whose window extends years beyond what it did before?
Let’s build the blockbuster of the offseason.
The Orioles need pitching. That’s step one. If they’re going to trade their MVP candidate and give him to a team that will control him for two years and has the pockets to extend him beyond that, they’re gonna require a damn good major league ready, controllable, young starting pitching talent. The epitome of that in the big leagues at this moment is Urias, the prodigy who just turned 20 years old in August and had a rocky but overall promising first turn against big league hitters. He could be a future ace. That’s where you start.
Arms are a risky gamble, though, no matter where they come from. So, you need insurance. Do they have a young major league ready guy who can supplant some of Machado’s power from the right side of the plate as soon as he arrives? Get him. Do they have another near-ready position playing prospect at the top of their system? Get him too. This is Manny Machado we’re talking about.
Remember why you started this, though. You need arms. Go get another top-100 pitching prospect out of their system. And it wouldn’t hurt to have another infielder. Did the other team just draft one of those in the first round? Good. Grab him too. And throw in another utility infielder who can act as a 25th man type while you’re at it.
There’s a lot of talent flying both ways, but who says no to this? The Dodgers now have three guys who are going to be MVP candidates each of the next two seasons in Machado, Corey Seager and Clayton Kershaw. They also grab a time-tested, consistent back-of-the-bullpen arm in Darren O’Day. You can never have too many of those.
Losing Urias hurts, but they still have Jose De Leon ready to enter what is already a crowded (if oft-injured) stable of starting-caliber arms. Bellinger would be great to have, but they already have Adrian Gonzalez at first base for a while. We know they’ve been shopping Puig, and losing Lux doesn’t hurt much because, you know, Corey Damn Seager.
For the Orioles, you’ve rebuilt a large segment of the franchise. Urias is a huge boost to your rotation, for starters. Bellinger could come in and boot Davis into the DH role full-time, or could even play in the corners. Puig replaces Mark Trumbo in right, and is a great candidate to bounce back to form in a new environment far away from LA. Lux is a legitimate shortstop of the future candidate, if a bit of a long-term project, and another pitching prospect who could end up being a future No. 2 starter.
It does create a big hole on the left side of the infield for Baltimore, though. Which brings me to my final deal:
Baltimore Orioles trade OF Adam Jones to Cincinnati Reds for 3B Eugenio Suarez, LHP Brandon Finnegan and RHP Rookie Davis
The “Reds make a win-now move for a veteran leader-type” move that Wickster’s been buzzing about in these parts for a while now. For this one, I used the Scott Rolen deal for reference. Then, the Reds traded a major league third baseman along with two exciting but ultimately disappointing arms to the Blue Jays for a 34 year-old Rolen. So, I went into this with the same idea.
Suarez, 25, has made some great strides toward being a productive big league regular in the hot corner. With incoming top prospect Nick Senzel only about a year away from (hopefully) taking over the everyday third base spot, along with Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera ready to take over the middle of the infield for the future, Suarez could still find himself on the outside looking in.
In addition to unloading Suarez, the Reds also give away a durable, young arm in Finnegan who has proven himself ready to take on big league hitters as a starter and could jump right into the middle of the Orioles’ rotation. They also add in Rookie Davis, a top ten prospect in the Reds’ system who projects as a mid-rotation starter and is close to being able to contribute at the big league level.
Jones, meanwhile, could slide into right field for the Reds to with Jesse Winker in left and Billy Hamilton in center. He’s always hovered around average defensively in center, so there’s little doubt he could handle right. He’s coming off a season in which he was worth just 1.1 bWAR, his first season of fewer than 3.0 bWAR since 2010. That was largely due to a dip in slugging, but it could be worth gambling on that just being a blip, as Jones remains just 31 and still knocked out 29 homers in 2016. He’ll be due $33.7M over the next two seasons, but with the Reds having little to spend money on outside of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey, that won’t be a dealbreaker, especially if the Reds aren’t giving up any of their top seven or eight prospects to get him.
Are any of these trades especially likely? No. And that’s what makes them fun. Spring training is still about three and a half months away. Until then, all we can do is play the guessing game of the offseason, assuming the role of GM in our minds to build a roster that could *definitely* get our favorite team a parade of sports achievement in November.