MLB trade tiers: The big names who could move this winter

0
6

For the many thousands of hours executives have spent talking with their counterparts about potential trades since the end of the baseball season, there have been a grand total of four deals involving players who spent all of 2019 in the major leagues. Half of them took place before Monday’s tender deadline and involved players who otherwise would’ve been cut.

To those feeling generous, baseball’s offseason is simply a slow burn, building toward a climactic scene, like, say, the 2019 winter meetings, which start Monday in San Diego. And to others, who see the hot stove as a microcosm of the sport’s greater issues — it’s … so … slow — this is just another tease, baseball’s promise falling short.

With free agency beginning to churn into high gear — the first nine-figure deal could be coming sooner than later — and teams that miss out needing fallback options, the trade market is always there. And conversations with more than two dozen executives in recent weeks illustrate a trade market that is filled with available players — for the right price. The prices have been high, clearly. How exactly they shift will determine whether the winter meetings are indeed livelier than last year’s festival of tedium.

Trade discussions, it should be noted, do not take place strictly at the president/general manager level. Midlevel executives talk. Lower-level executives converse. These parleys are not in and of themselves of great import. Talks are talks, simply the first layer of blocks for deals. But now that those foundations are set, teams know the available player pool and can maneuver in that space.

Because so many names have been bandied about, it’s easier to separate them into categories for assessment. Some of the strata are overloaded. Others contain a few names. The first consists of just one.

WE MIGHT TRADE MOOKIE BETTS

play

2:25

Jeff Passan and Keith Law discuss the tough dilemma facing the Red Sox this offseason: Will they keep Mookie Betts or trade him for more pitching?

Candidate: Mookie Betts, of course

Multiple executives this week said they believe a potential trade involving 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts is unlikely to happen. The Boston Red Sox, who are looking to cut payroll, instead are trying to move salary in the form of a pitcher — either David Price or Nathan Eovaldi. Which is all well and good, except that to do so, the Red Sox will need to include someone of value.

Because new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom inherited one of the game’s worst farm systems, attaching prospects as a sweetener is tricky. Because the Red Sox want to remain competitive, attaching major league players — outfielder Andrew Benintendi has been a popular ask this offseason — is likewise difficult.

It’s what makes Boston’s position so precarious. All of it stems from the desire to sneak under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold. Why the Red Sox, who are worth more than $3 billion and have won four championships in the past 16 years, need to practice austerity is a reasonable question. Particularly if it brings them back to dealing Betts.

He is the sort of player the Red Sox would seemingly dream of locking up to a long-term deal: homegrown, supremely skilled, beloved. Problem is, Betts wants to test free agency after this season, and if the Red Sox don’t re-sign him, the best they get is a compensatory pick around 80th overall. (Or, if they’ve exceeded the luxury-tax threshold, closer to the 135th-pick range.)

If Boston were to deal Betts now, not only would it dip below the threshold — Betts could earn upward of $30 million in arbitration this year — but the return in prospects would far exceed that of a post-2020 draft pick.

Still, as much sense as that makes in the vacuum in which the Red Sox need to get under the threshold — they don’t need to get under the threshold, whispered the narrator — Betts is going to serve as a reasonable litmus test for the Red Sox under Bloom. If he is working in a world in which the unspoken-but-kinda-spoken mandate is to sneak under the threshold, he must operate there. If Bloom is operating there and believes it is the clearest and most intelligent way to maneuver the Red Sox back to World Series contention, then he will trade Betts. Simple as that. Feelings cannot get in the way. The Red Sox hired Bloom from Tampa Bay to bring a little of the Rays’ calculation to an organization that has been guilty of lapsing into operating on emotion.

WE ARE TRADING SOMEONE

Candidates: Willson Contreras, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr.

The Chicago Cubs have been, according to various executives, “aggressive,” “manic,” “motivated” and “obvious” in their desire to trade someone. Or someones. The Cubs are going to make a move. They’re just not sure what yet.

Contreras is the name bandied about the most, partially because at $5 million or so as a first-time arbitration-eligible player, he’s cheap and comes with three full years of control. Bryant, who turns 28 in January, is only four months older than Contreras but could cost quadruple the amount as a third-time-eligible player.

Because Bryant is so costly — and because there’s a risk, albeit slight, that an arbitrator could rule in his favor that the Cubs manipulated his service time and award him an extra day of service, giving him free agency after this season — teams are hesitant on him. And that complicates matters, because a former MVP going on the trade market for a team with aspirations to win in 2020 is as weird as it sounds. It’s simply the calculus these days, in which the balance between now and next is ever-harder to strike.

It’s why Rizzo’s name comes up in discussions. He seems untradable. The likelihood of the Cubs moving him certainly is lower than the others. But even he could move in this climate.

The Cubs know they need to be creative. They also know the first move they make is perhaps the most important and will set the tone for their winter.

WE ARE PROBABLY NOT TRADING NOLAN ARENADO … BUT SHOULD WE?

Candidate: Nolan Arenado

Multiple teams have approached the Colorado Rockies expressing interest in their star third baseman, according to club sources. While those conversations went nowhere, they at least raise a decent question for the Rockies to ask themselves: Why don’t we move him?

Now, some context. Less than a year ago, the Rockies signed Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million deal. It dwarfed their previous biggest deal, Troy Tulowitzki’s, by more than $100 million. It was one of the biggest contracts in the sport’s history.

It also included an opt-out clause after the third year. And while it’s too early to say whether Arenado would really leave five years and $164 million on the table, it’s at least a distinct enough possibility that if you’re the Rockies, you must consider it. The issue, of course, is that the acquiring team would be dealing with the same concern, and it would price the risk of the opt-out into what it would pay in trade capital. And the Rockies aren’t simply going to part with Arenado for payroll flexibility — unless …

WE DON’T HAVE TO TRADE HIM BUT THE CLOCK IS TICKING

play

1:58

Keith Law and Jeff Passan predict whether the Indians and Cubs will make moves this offseason involving stars Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant.

Candidates: Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien

These are three players in similar circumstances with teams facing distinctly different potential outcomes.

Lindor, multiple executives said, “is going to get traded.” They’re not sure if it’s this winter or this summer, but considering how disciplined the Indians are, they want to maximize Lindor’s value, and doing so means trading him before the July 31 deadline. Maybe if Cleveland is excellent it’s a different story, but executives who covet Lindor believe it’s the logical outcome, because the Indians don’t want to find themselves in a similar situation as Boston, with Betts’ value diminished because he’s so close to free agency.

Story is part of the ridiculous shortstop class of 2021, along with Lindor, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. The notion of the Rockies carrying two $30 million-plus players simultaneously is laughable. And if they’re stuck right now without any additional payroll, as they’ve suggested to other teams, and spend 2020 hamstrung by the disastrous 2018 offseason — in which they guaranteed $106 million to Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, who have combined for 327⅓ innings of 5.69 ERA ball — then that puts the onus on them to act decisively now, when they have at least some control over how to dictate their future. Because the true mess, in which the Rockies hold onto Arenado and Story through 2021 and both leave via free agency, cannot happen. Inaction, in this case, is inviting disaster.

Semien, who finished third in AL MVP voting this year, is set to be a free agent after this season. His case is slightly different from Lindor’s and Story’s in that he reached stardom the year before free agency. The clear answer for Oakland is to extend Semien, though doing so after a career year is always tricky. At the same time, trading him now (or in July) probably won’t bring a huge bounty. Holding onto him to win again this year is palatable … until Semien signs elsewhere and all the A’s have to show for it is a compensation pick in the 80s. (In 2020, they are fully market disqualified, according to the collective bargaining agreement, which means they no longer will receive revenue sharing.)

WE DON’T HAVE TO TRADE HIM BUT WE’D BE DUMB NOT TO LISTEN

Candidates: Whit Merrifield, Mitch Haniger, Andrew Benintendi, Noah Syndergaard, Matthew Boyd, Tommy Pham

All of the above have generated various levels of interest. Merrifield is the only one under a long-term contract. He also turns 31 in January, and considering where the Royals are in the rebuilding process — they’re not spending this winter and, best-case scenario, graduate some pitching this season and start trying to win in 2021 — dealing Merrifield before his decline begins and extracting value out of his cheap contract (three years at $15.25 million guaranteed with a 2023 option for another $5.75 million) makes too much sense not to explore. If Merrifield’s former teammate Mike Moustakas is getting $64 million to play second base for four years in Cincinnati, teams are going to see Merrifield at $21 million over four years in an even better light.

The remainder of the players are under control for two (Syndergaard and Pham) or three (Haniger, Benintendi and Boyd) more seasons. The Mariners have said they’d like to hold on to Haniger. The Red Sox aren’t budging on Benintendi. Syndergaard is the ur-candidate but is seen by executives as more of a July target. Boyd is often mentioned, never moved. And it would be nice to see Pham not part of the Rays’ revolving door.

WE’VE DISCUSSED PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE, SO MIGHT AS WELL

Candidates: Josh Hader and just about any Brewer who isn’t Christian Yelich

For more than a month, as Ken Rosenthal said Monday, the Milwaukee Brewers have told opposing teams they’re open to trading super reliever Josh Hader. Their penchant for creativity — or at least a willingness to discuss anyone not named Christian Yelich — extended even to center fielder Lorenzo Cain, according to sources. With three years and $51 million remaining on his contract, Cain is the Brewers’ biggest financial liability. Ryan Braun‘s deal is up after this season. Yelich has three more years remaining, including a 2022 option. And with the trade of Zach Davies and non-tenders of Travis Shaw, Junior Guerra, Jimmy Nelson, Alex Claudio and Tyler Saladino, the Brewers slashed more than $20 million from their payroll.

Source link

LEAVE A REPLY