As we near Opening Day there are still contenders with holes to fill. Valuable assets remain available via trade that could shake the foundation of the division races league wide. Let’s explore a few deals that could still realistically be made before Spring Training that would fill needs and further along rebuilding efforts for several clubs involved.
Detroit Tigers trade RHP Michael Fulmer to the New York Yankees for OF Clint Frazier, RHP Chance Adams, IF Nick Solak, and IF Dermis Garcia
The Yankees have made no secret their desire to add one more starting pitcher before Opening Day. They have been linked to Yu Darvish in free agency and trade targets such as Patrick Corbin and Gerrit Cole (before he was traded to the Astros) at different points this off season. Trouble is, with New York trying to get under the luxury tax in 2018, adding a top of the rotation starter while accomplishing their payroll goal will be difficult. The options that check both boxes are slim.
One option that does fit quite well is 24-year-old Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer. Last year in his sophomore campaign, the former Rookie of the Year posted a 3.83 ERA (3.67 FIP) and 3.5 fWAR in 164.2 innings. He still has five years of team control left, and will make the league minimum this season before hitting arbitration as a Super-Two player next winter. His addition to the Yankees rotation would give them a rock solid #3 starter behind Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka to form one of the best rotations in baseball. His contract for next year would fit right in with the Yankees plans and would give them four starting pitchers under control for at least three more seasons.
The Tigers on the other hand have said they need to receive a “lop-sided offer” to consider dealing Fulmer. While not necessarily lop-sided, this deal checks all the boxes of one a rebuilding team should look for when dealing a controllable asset. They get two top-100 prospect talents in Clint Frazier and Chance Adams that they could instantly plug into their major league roster to jump start their rebuild. They also add two interesting infielders on opposite sides of the risk spectrum. Nick Solak is an advanced bat-first prospect without a sure position, and he could make for an interesting bench/utility player in the future. Dermis Garcia is the classic big-strikeout, big-power righty who will likely end up at first base in the future. He is the lottery ticket in this deal, and one with humongous upside if everything breaks right.
Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP Chris Archer to the Chicago Cubs for SS Addison Russell, RHP Adbert Alzolay, C/1B Victor Caratini, and LHP Jose Paulino
This is one of those trade scenarios that seems destined to happen, it’s just a matter of when. The match is obvious. The Cubs need a young, controllable, ace pitcher that they can plug in front of Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana to really maximize their contention window. Since 2015, Chris Archer is 8th amongst starting pitchers with 13 fWAR and he is owed just $34MM over the next four years after signing an early-career extension. He would instantly step in to the top spot in the Cubs rotation and considerably strengthen their case for best team in the National League.
The Rays of course aren’t going to give up one of the best pitchers in baseball for cheap. Luckily, the Cubs have several controllable infielders to offer in exchange. Addison Russell and Javier Baez are both under contract for four more years and either would make sense as a centerpiece. Ian Happ is another option on the Cubs roster, and he comes with a full six years of control. I chose Russell here because he is the well rounded of the bunch and feels like the one most likely to be dealt, but the Rays could realistically ask for any of the three and the Cubs would have to consider.
The secondary pieces in the deal add some value as well. Adbert Alzolay reached Double-A last season and with further refinement of his secondary pitches could become a middle of the rotation starter. Victor Caratini has Rays written all over him. He is a primarily a catcher, though he has experience at first and third in his professional career, and even dabbled in the outfield with Chicago in 2017. His versatility would fit the classic Tampa Bay mold, though he is more of a bat-first player than a sound defender at this point. Jose Paulino throws strikes and has a hard sinking fastball that has hit 96 on the radar gun. There is room for growth in his frame so he can hopefully hit that velocity more consistently, and maybe a move to the bullpen would help his sinker play up a level.
Miami Marlins trade C J.T. Realmuto and RHP Kyle Barraclough to the Washington Nationals for SS Carter Kieboom, RHP Erick Fedde, OF Andrew Stevenson, and RHP Joe Ross
Of the teams considered sure contenders in 2018, few have a hole the size of the one the Nationals have at catcher. Incumbent starter Matt Wieters was both a negative with the bat and the glove last season, and is probably better suited as a back up on a team trying to win the World Series. J.T. Realmuto, under control for three more years, is the best catcher available and is sure to be traded after the Marlins dealt Christian Yelich last week. The Nationals are said to be unwilling to deal top outfield prospects Victor Robles or Juan Soto in a deal for Realmuto, and the Marlins have expressed a willingness to build a package around other players.
This deal is more of a quantity over quality type deal for Miami. They get one borderline top-100 prospect in Carter Kieboom, though he is the furthest away from the majors of any of the players in this deal. Erick Feede is a major league ready starting pitcher, something the Marlins need. Joe Ross is recovering from Tommy John Surgery and may very well not pitch at all in 2018. However, he posted strong numbers in his 2016 rookie season and would be ready to step into a rotation spot in the big leagues when healthy. Andrew Stevenson is near ready, and could provide elite defense while holding down one of the spots in the suddenly wide-open Marlins outfield.
The Nationals get the best player in the deal in Realmuto and solidify their biggest area of weakness. Realmuto would make the Nationals line-up deeper and be a vast improvement behind the plate defensively, as he ranked 6th amongst catchers in fielding runs above average in 2017. The Nationals also get a power arm in the deal, adding Kyle Barraclough to a bullpen that could use some depth. Barraclough has four years of team control left. Both players would add value next year and beyond and could help extend the teams contention window even if they lose Bryce Harper to free agency.
Kansas City Royals trade LHP Danny Duffy and 2B Whit Merrifield to the Milwaukee Brewers for OF Keon Broxton, RHP Corbin Burnes, 2B Keston Hiura, and 1B Jake Gatewood
It was just over seven years ago that the Brewers and Royals matched up in a deal for another top of the rotation starter, when Kansas City sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee for four players. Among the return was outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar, and pitcher Jake Odorizzi, three players that either helped or were traded for players that helped get the Royals to the World Series. That trade set the foundation for the successful Royals rebuild that is just now coming to a close. The Royals can again restart their rebuild by matching up with the Brewers for their best pitcher.
Milwaukee, of course, just signaled very loudly to the other 29 teams that they are going for it. They brought back Lorenzo Cain, and acquired fellow outfielder Christian Yelich. Though both strong moves, the consensus is they probably need another starter to be considered serious contenders for anything other than a Wild Card spot. They have primarily been linked to free agent starters, though Duffy’s $61MM price tag over the next four years might prove more attractive to a smaller market club that just shelled out big money on two players. Assuming he bounces back from elbow surgery, Duffy would instantly become the Brewers best starter, and would add a controllable ace just as they begin to transition from rebuilding club to contender.
Not to be forgotten in the deal is second basemen Whit Merrifield, who is controllable for five more seasons. After a productive 81-game rookie season in 2016, Merrifield posted a strong 3.1 fWAR in his first year as a full time player. He was a bit of a late bloomer and is already 29 years old, so perhaps Kansas City should consider trading him, as he will likely be past his prime years come the next great Royals team. He would be a massive upgrade over Eric Sogard for the Brewers and would add a dynamic player atop their restructured line-up.
The Royals get a major-league ready piece in outfielder Keon Broxton, who is a raw power and speed guy not unlike Lorenzo Cain was when he arrived in Kansas City. He has one more option year remaining, so the Royals could choose to stash him in the minors for part of the season to gain another year of team control. They also gain a high floor, high upside pitcher in Corbin Burnes who could work his way into the major league picture by the end of the year. Keston Hiura was one of the most advanced hitters in last years draft and could reach the big club by the end of 2019. Jake Gatewood had a decent year, but as a first basemen he must continue to make strides at the plate to provide value. He would be a potential first basemen of the future for the Royals if it all comes together.