Last year, as the baseball industry headed for the the winter meetings in Las Vegas, most of the interesting action in the transaction market had taken place in the form of trades. This time around, the news has centered around an MLB offseason free-agent market that is moving much more swiftly than the glacial pace of the past couple of hot stove seasons.
However, the trade market has lagged a bit. Most deals have sprung from the need to create roster space or to move arbitration-eligible players not deemed worth the investment. The Padres and Brewers pulled off a present-value for present-value deal of sorts, with San Diego swapping LHP Eric Lauer and IF Luis Urias for OF Trent Gresham and RHP Zach Davies and San Diego was back at it with a deal bringing in outfielder Tommy Pham from the Rays. Solid stuff, but not exactly blockbuster material.
That hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning out names at the usual pace, and perhaps when everyone convenes on the West Coast on Sunday, some of these rumors will turn into actual news. It has been a while since we’ve seen a true winter meetings blockbuster, but if there is anything that can be gleaned from the early offseason activity, it’s that a number of teams are actively trying to improve their short-term outlook.
With that in mind, we’ve plucked a few of the leading names from the rumor mill and asked ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield and Bradford Doolittle to play general manager. These are trades we want to see in the next few days. Well, maybe not want — trading good players is both a risky and sensitive proposition. But these names are out there and if their teams plan on moving them, these are the deals we deem palatable. We’ll also give you a chance to weigh in on their proposed moves.
The Boston Red Sox should trade Mookie Betts to the …
Mookie Betts to the Reds for LHP Nick Lodolo, OF Jesse Winker and RHP Lyon Richardson: Let’s start with this: If you’re going all-in for 2020 – like the Reds clearly are doing with the Trevor Bauer last July and the Mike Moustakas signing earlier this week – then you should go all in. Perhaps that will be the case. As Jeff Passan tweeted after the Moustakas signing, “The Reds have plenty more money to spend this winter and they see the National League Central as ripe for the taking.”
It is. The Brewers have lost 88 home runs from their roster in Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal and Eric Thames. They traded away Zach Davies, who led the rotation in ERA and innings, and may trade Josh Hader. The Cubs are apparently actively shopping Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant. The Pirates are the Pirates. Only the Cardinals look like they’re not taking a step back and they’re hardly a formidable powerhouse.
So go for it, Cincy. Yes, the Reds have nine outfielders on their 40-man roster. But add them all up and you don’t have one Mookie Betts. You don’t know what you’re going to get from Aristides Aquino after his wild ride from a 14-homer August to a .196 average and 34 strikeouts in September. Winker’s primary calling card is his on-base ability, but he can’t hit lefties. Nick Senzel didn’t exactly tear it up as a high-profile rookie. Enter Mookie. In fact, Mookie would probably be the team’s best outfielder, so you can play him in center, slide Senzel over to left where he projects as a plus defender and play Aquino in right, with Josh VanMeter and Phillip Ervin around as passable reserves if Aquino struggles.
Is this enough of a haul for Betts? With just one season and a potential $30 million salary, Betts’ trade value is more limited than it might appear for one of the game’s best all-around player. They get Cincy’s first-round pick from 2019 in Lodolo, a staring outfielder in Winker, and an interesting lower-level arm in Richardson, a second-round pick in 2018. If you buy into Lodolo’s upside as the seventh overall pick out of TCU who should move quickly, it’s a worthwhile gambit.— Schoenfield
Chicago White Sox for OF Luis Alexander Basabe, RHP Dane Dunning and RHP Reynaldo Lopez: I feel strongly that this is the offseason for the White Sox to go in heavy to lock down the top couple of spots on their roster. They missed out on Zack Wheeler. Good! Go after Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. Is Anthony Rendon a luxury? Who cares? Call him up. Move some future value for one season of one of baseball’s best players? Absolutely.
Betts is the kind of player who can crystallize the emerging White Sox lineup into one of baseball’s top units. If they break through — and pretty much everything Dave wrote about the NL Central applies even more to a highly winnable AL Central — then it will be the kind of feel-good season on the South Side that would serve as a nice selling point for Betts’ impending free agency. If he walks? Take the draft pick and reinvest the funds. He could be to the White Sox what Kawhi Leonard was to the Toronto Raptors.
The Red Sox get three young cost-controlled players from the White Sox’s solid organizational depth chart. They know Basabe already — he was part of the package sent to Chicago in the Chris Sale trade. He’s close to ready for at least a part-time gig in the majors. He wouldn’t fill Betts’ shoes by any stretch, but he could at least offer some of the same dynamic as a defender. Dunning is coming off surgery and will have to be eased in, but he’s got mid-rotation potential. Meanwhile, a fresh start for Lopez could unlock what has been his biggest bugaboo to date: consistency. — Doolittle
The Cleveland Indians should trade Francisco Lindor to the …
Philadelphia Phillies for RHP Spencer Howard and 3B/1B Alec Bohm: Here’s the curious thing about a potential Lindor trade: It’s actually hard to find a good trade partner given a player of Lindor’s ability. He has two years of team control, so he’ll cost more than Betts. Most of the good teams/playoff contenders already have a good shortstop. The bad teams that do need a shortstop won’t be trading future value for present value. It means a limited pool of teams that Cleveland can work with.
Take the Mets. They could try to upgrade from Amed Rosario to Lindor, trading four seasons of Rosario (and other stuff) for two years of Lindor. But Rosario was worth just 1.8 WAR in 2019. Lindor has averaged 6.3 WAR the past two seasons. Even if Rosario projects as a 2-WAR player, his four-year value is well below Lindor’s two-year value. You need some good other stuff to even get the Indians to return a phone call on a trade starting with Rosario.
So I fall to the Phillies. The Zack Wheeler signing makes it less imperative that the Phillies just focus on the rotation. They can now look to add another bat to what was a mediocre offense in 2019 and they obviously have openings in the infield after non-tendering Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. They could trade for Lindor — and as a switch-hitter he helps balance a lineup that leaned right-handed last year aside from Bryce Harper — and move Jean Segura to second base and install Scott Kingery at third base.
Howard and Bohm are the team’s top two prospects. Maybe that price feels too steep if you’re a Phillies fan, although these aren’t top-20 overall, can’t-miss prospects we’re talking about. Maybe it feels too light if you’re an Indians fan, although both players might be ready to help contribute at midseason (except the Indians have Jose Ramirez at third base and the rotation should be strong). So maybe the Phillies aren’t a perfect match, either. Which points to: Keep Lindor and, you know, try to win or something with him. — Schoenfield
Los Angeles Dodgers for IF Max Muncy, C Keibert Ruiz and RHP Dennis Santana: As Dave mentioned, moving a player of Lindor’s caliber is problematic. Philosophically, I’d have to be blown away to be talked into trading him — even if I knew I was going to lose him after the 2021 season. The calculus changes if I don’t think I have a real short-term chance to win, but that’s not where the Indians are. They have a chance to win, especially in the AL Central, and the reason you scour the planet looking for players like Lindor is to fly flags. Give me the next two years with him and then I’ll figure things out.
But … if the Indians do feel compelled to take action by the quest for sustainability, efficiency or a less-equivocating word like frugality, then the Dodgers match up with them as well as anyone. They have a dire need to get over the hump and win it all, probably more than any other team on the current landscape. (Well, except for maybe the Indians.) Lindor makes them better the day he pulls on the Dodger Blue. Corey Seager? He can play somewhere else. He’s an excellent player but he’s not Francisco Lindor. If the Dodgers are, as rumored, willing to shuffle their infield deck to accommodate Rendon, they ought to be able to do it for Lindor. And they are more than able to offer him the setting and the money to stay on past his two remaining controllable seasons.
The Indians don’t want to take on money, of course, but neither are they willing to punt on contention. Muncy becomes superfluous on a Dodgers roster with Lindor. In Cleveland, he can play first or second and at least mostly replace Lindor’s offensive production. The Tribe can then go out and look for a league-average stopgap shortstop such as Jose Iglesias or Addison Russell. Ruiz gives them a catcher of the future, one who might be ready to help immediately if needed. And Santana’s power arm is just the kind of thing with which Cleveland’s pitching program can work wonders.
Is that a lot of give up for the Dodgers? Perhaps, but they’ve got the depth to do it and for a needle-mover like Lindor, it’s worth it. — Doolittle
The Chicago Cubs should trade Kris Bryant to the …
Texas Rangers for RHP Cole Winn and 3B Josh Jung: Rangers third basemen ranked 25th in the majors in wOBA, which is why Texas is on the prowl for free agent Anthony Rendon. That will work, but imagine Bryant in those new powder blue Sunday home uniforms with the left-field corner just 329 feet from home plate. The Cubs get the Rangers’ first-round picks from 2018 in Winn and 2019 in Jung. Heck, if you really want to have fun, the Rangers’ catchers hit .193/.241/.298 last year. Maybe the deal can be expanded to include Willson Contreras (who still has three years of team control left). Imagine this lineup in the first year of Globe Life Field:
2B Nick Solak
3B Kris Bryant
CF Joey Gallo
C Willson Contreras
RF Nomar Mazara
SS Elvis Andrus
And then sign Gerrit Cole. See? Building a winning team isn’t so hard. — Schoenfield
Atlanta Braves for CF Cristian Pache: The Cubs have been looking for a long-term, plus center fielder for, well, pretty much forever, as was outlined recently by the Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. Pache — the Braves’ top prospect — could well end that quest.
Bear in mind, this almost certainly wouldn’t actually be a one-for-one deal. It’s the heart of what would surely be a larger swap and the Cubs would certainly want a taste of Atlanta’s organizational pitching depth. You could see the deal expanding to include Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber or even Contreras, if the Braves would include Tyler Flowers. And if there is a sour aspect to the Cubs’ lack of progress on an extension with Bryant, perhaps the Braves would fare better.
It would raise a lot of eyebrows for Alex Anthopoulos to deal his No. 1 prospect for one season of Bryant so, yes, Bryant’s service-time grievance is a point of contention, but the Braves at least can take solace in their young depth, from Ronald Acuna Jr. to Austin Riley. There is a lot of shuffling that could be done between these two NL powers who are trying to find the right formula to get over the hump. So if it looks like Bryant would be a one-year acquisition, then maybe the Braves downshift into Riley and the Cubs dip deeper into Atlanta’s pitching depth.
The short-term motivations for the basic Bryant-for-Pache structure are simple for Atlanta: Bryant is an MVP-caliber player who could put them over the top. The Cubs would get a possible Rookie of the Year candidate and a long-term solution in the middle of the field, while at the same time freeing up money to plug other holes. — Doolittle
The Pittsburgh Pirates should trade Starling Marte to the …
Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP Levi Kelly, RHP Taylor Widener and RHP Matt Peacock: Marte to the Mets seemed like a good fit until the Mets acquired Jake Marisnick from the Astros to help fill their center-field needs. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have just three outfielders on their 40-man roster: Ketel Marte, David Peralta and Tim Locastro. Marte shuffled between second base and center field in 2019 and although he has said he prefers the infield, the Diamondbacks have more options there at the moment, so Marte likely returns to the outfield in 2020.
Starling Marte has two seasons remaining on his contract at $11.5 million and $12.5 million and is coming off a .295/.342/.503, 2.9-WAR season. His defensive metrics in center field were below average, so maybe he moves back to left field where he was a Gold Glove winner in 2015 and 2016. Peralta has played mostly left field the past two seasons, but has played right in the past and has a strong arm. That would be a strong outfield and there would have to be some good marketing opportunities with both Martes on the roster.
The Pirates get three righties: Kelly, who had a strong first full season in pro ball with 126 strikeouts in 100⅓ innings; Widener, who led the minors in strikeouts in 2018 but suffered through a horrendous 2019 at Reno with a 8.10 ERA; and Peacock, a ground ball specialist. — Schoenfield
For the Rays, Marte is the kind of cost-efficient player from whom they they can extract unfulfilled potential, and he increases the versatility of Kevin Cash’s 2020 outfield rotation. He would join an outfield that now has right-handed hitting Hunter Renfroe — acquired from San Diego in the Tommy Pham deal — along with lefties Kevin Kiermaier and Austin Meadows. Along with Renfroe and Meadows, he can slide around the outfield as needed, or DH against lefties. And he adds depth to cover if Renfroe doesn’t improve on his .289 OBP or if the Rays suffer another injury to the rambunctious Kiermaier.
The Rays have plenty of organizational pitching depth to spare. Banda is a future rotation possibility, if he can ever get over that hump between Triple-A and the majors. Baz would then return to the Pirates after being the third wheel in the trade that sent Meadows and Tyler Glasnow to the Rays for Chris Archer. You figure that two years of Marte would merit at least one hurler ranked on the prospect charts and while Tampa Bay has several to choose from, Baz jumps out as someone who fits the bill. — Doolittle
The Milwaukee Brewers should trade Josh Hader to the …
Washington Nationals for IF Carter Kieboom: Reports surfaced earlier in the week that the Brewers are actively engaged in trade talks involving their All-Star closer. OK, we’ll play along with this idea. Hader fanned a remarkable 47.8% of the batters he faced in 2019, with 138 strikeouts in 75⅔ innings. He also allowed 15 home runs, so maybe that home run number scares the Brewers a little bit about the future.
With Mike Moustakas now in Cincinnati and Travis Shaw non-tendered, the Brewers need a third baseman. Kieboom is the Nationals’ top prospect and has come up through the system as a shortstop, although he clearly doesn’t have the defensive chops to play there in the majors. He hit .303/.409/.493 at Triple-A Fresno with 16 home runs in 412 at-bats — keep in mind that the overall PCL OPS was .831 — and was just 21 years old, so he should have the bat to move to third base or second base.
Right now, the Nationals also have a hole at third base with Anthony Rendon in free agency, but if Rendon re-signs or they go in another direction like Josh Donaldson, Kieboom could be trade bait to shore up the bullpen that remains problematic behind Sean Doolittle. Is six seasons of Kieboom worth four seasons of Hader? Yes, that’s a potential steep price if Kieboom develops into a star, but defending a title requires a little boldness. — Schoenfield
Houston Astros for RHP Josh James and 3B Abraham Toro: Hader’s presence in a bullpen changes the dynamic of any game; it looms particularly large in a postseason setting, as we saw when the Brewers played the Dodgers in the 2018 NLCS. That is precisely the dynamic the Astros lacked during a 2019 playoff run that came up one game short.
The real question here is whether the Astros have enough ready-to-win talent in their pipeline to engage in a trade sweepstakes involving Hader. Frankly, it might be tough to pull off. While the Brewers certainly need a starting third baseman, it remains to be seen if Toro could be that guy. They’d need to acquire a stopgap to cover themselves. But I’m more sure about James, who owns a powerful arm and the versatility to work in either the rotation or in a number of bullpen roles. He also has the kind of cerebral approach to embrace and maximize the benefit from the Brewers’ pitching program.
The other thing here that has to be mentioned is money. The Brewers’ concerns over spending have seemingly fueled much of their behavior since the World Series ended. Yet with Lorenzo Cain and, especially, Christian Yelich still on board, you have to think David Stearns is planning to somehow restock for another run in 2020. So perhaps he would see James as a Hader replacement, but at a much lower price point, and he could then use the savings to address the holes at third and in the rotation.
But the Astros are financially pinched as well and might not want to acquire Hader just as he’s about to become expensive — even if he is exactly the kind of pitcher the Houston roster is crying for. — Doolittle