Four blockbuster trades that could happen before Spring Training

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Arizona Diamondbacks

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.

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What would signing Bryce Harper mean for the Cubs core?

Harper
Future Cubs middle of the order? (Credit: Chicago Sun-Times)

Bryce Harper’s free agency has been a topic of discussion for baseball fans seemingly since he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year old. The time is almost finally here. Harper will hit the market next winter as the leader of an uber-talented free agency class. All the top market teams will be in on him in one way or another.

It was long assumed that the New York Yankees would be the top suitor for Harper’s services. That changed this off-season when they instead acquired OF Giancarlo Stanton from Miami, presumably filling the spot that was open for Harper. Since then, the rumor linking Harper to the Chicago Cubs has gained more and more traction. Harper grew up playing baseball with current Cubs superstar Kris Bryant, who he remains good friends with to this day. Also, Harper’s dog is named Wrigley, which may or may not mean anything at all. Bryant expressed this off-season that he would be open to the idea of signing Bryce. Theo Epstein didn’t exactly downplay the rumor, telling a Cubs fan to “ask Kris Bryant” when asked when the fan could buy a Harper Cubs jersey.

As I said, surely there will be many teams interested in Harper come November. Several clubs have been saving their money for next off-season, and will come ready to spend. But where there is smoke, there is fire, and it is a very real possibility Harper will be wearing Cubbie blue on Opening Day 2019. So what would his arrival mean for the rest of the Cubs current core players? Explore, we shall:

The Contract

With a healthy and effective 2018 season, Bryce Harper will be aiming to beat Giancarlo Stanton’s mammoth 13-year, $325 million contract. With several big market teams ready to cut a check, he should do so rather easily as Bryce is a generational talent and will start his new contract as a 26-year old. Rarely do players this talented and this young reach free agency. The last was Alex Rodriguez, and his 10-year, $252MM contract before the 2001 season shattered previous records.

There have been rumors of a $400 million contract, a rumor to which Harper himself said “don’t sell me short”, indicating he is either trolling us all or genuinely expects between $400 and $500 million in guarantees. His contract will also almost certainly contain at least one opt-out clause. No matter which way interested clubs look at it, they will be adding at least $30-35 million in AAV to their payroll by signing Harper. Not many clubs can afford that, but that won’t dry up Harper’s market with big pocket teams lining up. The rest of the market will be waiting on Bryce, not the other way around.

Current Roster

Due to exceptional drafting and player development, the Cubs have a ton of young, cheap, controllable talent on their roster. From all the players that have contributed to the Cubs resurgence, only one has signed an extension, and that was Anthony Rizzo who signed a 7-year, $41 million deal during the 2013 season. The rest are still pre-arbitration, or just beginning the process now. Here are the current contract situations of Chicago’s core players:

Kyle Hendricks – Controllable through 2020

Tyler Chatwood – Through 2020

Jose Quintana – Through 2020 (club options for 2019 & 2020)

Kris Bryant – Through 2021

Anthony Rizzo – Through 2021 ($16.5MM club options in 2020 & 2021)

Addison Russell – Through 2021

Javier Baez – Through 2021

Kyle Schwarber – Through 2021

Jon Lester – Through 2021 (vesting option for 2021)

Willson Contreras – Through 2022

Ian Happ – Through 2023

Jason Heyward – Through 2023 (opt-out options after 2018 & 2019)

In the short-term, the Cubs are in an enviable position. A lot of these guys are a ways away from getting paid. According to Spotrac, before arbitration salaries, the Cubs have $122.5MM and $93.5MM committed to payroll in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Those aren’t small numbers by any means, but for a large market club it’s manageable. The Cubs could sign Harper, enjoy a few years worry free, and bask in the success. It’s after 2020 and 2021 that things begin to get more fascinating.

As you can see, the Cubs are due to lose 60% of their rotation following the 2020 season. Jon Lester, who will most likely be further along in his decline, will follow the year after. The North Siders will have to worry about re-signing or replacing some of these guys just as their best position players get expensive. Regardless, with few pitching prospects on the way, the Cubs will have to invest in their rotation. That is true with or without Bryce Harper, though a potential Harper contract on their books could limit how much they can invest in arms.

The more interesting part is the offense. Following 2021, the Cubs two cornerstone players, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, will be eligible for free agency. At the same time, infielder Javier Baez, shortstop Addison Russell, and outfielder Kyle Schwarber will be free agents as well. The year after, rapidly improving catcher Willson Contreras will hit the open market.

Certainly, not all of these guys will be in Chicago come the turn of the decade. Schwarber, Russell, Baez, and Happ have all been mentioned in trade rumors at one point or another. There will be other prospects that come along between now and then that could potentially replace some of these guys. But their free agency is looming one way or another, and replacing all of them internally will be difficult.

Bryant, Rizzo, and Contreras are the special cases here. It would be hard to argue against those three being the most irreplaceable players currently on the Cubs roster. The time to pay those three will arrive at roughly the same time. Bryant will be 29 when he reaches free agency, Rizzo will be 32, and Contreras will be 30. Harper will be just 29 by the time Bryant and Rizzo begin their new deals. The elephant in the room is outfielder Jason Heyward’s contract. Given the chance to go back, you’d think the Cubs would rather not have signed Heyward. He is two years into an eight-year, $184 million deal that has opt-outs following the next two seasons, but with his recent production it’s near impossible to see him terminating his contract.

It’s entirely likely that, with adequate health, Rizzo, Bryant, and Contreras will be lining up for contracts near or above $200 million in total value. With Harper already on the books for somewhere near $35 million a year, committing to those three players long-term would mean committing more than $120-150 million to five total position players. That is before handling the free agency of all the other players mentioned. Tying up near 50-60% of payroll to five players likely doesn’t make sense. The Cubs could sign Harper with the intention of letting one or more of their own players leave when they reach free agency. No matter how you slice it, landing Harper would likely mean saying goodbye to several of the players the Cubs have developed in recent years.

So What?

Does any of this mean anything? Like I said, the Cubs could sign Byrce Harper next off-season, enjoy the powerhouse line-up for three years, and worry about it later. It’s possible that some of these players will be traded, become ineffective, or get hurt. There’s no point in trying to predict contracts four plus years from now.

Additionally, the Cubs television deal expires following 2019, and there have been rumors of them starting their own TV network. The spawning of their own TV production would pump ridiculous amounts of money into the franchise’s pockets. The Cubs have also been in the Top-6 in attendance since 2015, and being from Illinois myself, I can confidently say as long as the Cubs are good, fans will sell Wrigley out. This is all without mentioning that Chicago is one of the biggest markets in all of sports. The Cubs are not going to be hurting for money to pay their players anytime soon.

However, the looming decisions will have to be in the back of the mind of the Cubs front office when pursuing Harper. While it would without a doubt increase their chances of winning the World Series in 2019-2021, it may shorten their contention window in the long-term. Having $50-60MM committed to just Harper and Heyward would mean having to make tough decisions on their rotation and the rest of their line-up later. It could also mean letting one or both of Bryant and Rizzo, two mega-stars in the Chicago area immortalized for helping break the Cubs curse, leave in free agency. Does adding Harper now make more sense than distributing that money amongst several players later? That is the ultimate question Theo Epstein and company must answer next winter.

Should more teams be lining up for Domingo Santana?

Domingo
Santana. (Credit: Chicago Tribune)

While there hasn’t been much action this off-season on the free agent market, the trade market has been a bit more active. One rumor that has kind of flown under the radar has been the Milwaukee Brewers willingness to shop young outfielder Domingo Santana. The Brewers are fresh off a second place finish in the NL Central and are looking to improve their club, particularly their rotation that lacks a clear-cut #1 starter. They have outfielders Brett Phillips and Lewis Brinson waiting in the minors with Ryan Braun and Keon Broxton manning everyday outfield roles in the majors. It makes sense that the Brewers are willing to explore trading from a position of depth to improve their rotation.

Originally acquired by Milwaukee in the Carlos Gomez trade, Santana is coming off his first season as a full-time player. He is 25 years old and has four years of team control remaining, meaning he will be arbitration eligible after next season. While Santana is far from a perfect player, consider the following stats:

Santana vs. Yelich 1
Stats via FanGraphs

Player 1 is Domingo Santana in 2017. Player 2 is Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich in 2017. At the moment, Christian Yelich is probably the best player available on the trade market. Near every team in the league has been connected to him at one point or another. There have been rumors that the Marlins asked for best-prospect-in-baseball Ronald Acuna from the Braves in a potential trade, and that’s probably not all that unreasonable. Yelich is cheap, under control, and would make any team better.

The Brewers, meanwhile, have found the market for Domingo Santana to be drier than they anticipated . Should teams that are interested in Yelich have interest in Santana? Let’s compare the two in more depth.

Differences

I’m going to start here because there are some notable differences in the numbers above. The discrepancy in overall value is most noticeable, as Yelich produced over a full win more (1.2) in total value than Santana. At least some of that value is tied to defense. Even though Santana had a slightly better DRS, Yelich was clearly better in terms of UZR/150. That is even more notable considering Yelich was playing center full-time while Santana was in right field. Yelich posted a better mark at a harder position.

There is also a difference in their ability to make contact. Santana struck out in nearly 30% of his plate appearances, well above the league average of 21.6%. Yelich was much better, posting an above average mark of 19.7%. There was also the matter of base running. Domingo added 3.2 runs above average on the bases, a number that while impressive, was still squashed by Yelich’s 6.8 runs above average, a mark that was 8th in all of baseball. Santana was good on the bases, Yelich was elite.

Similarities

Yelich ran the bases better, played better defense, and made more contact than Santana in 2017. That much is clear. Once we look past those numbers, things become a lot more similar. The offense seems to favor Santana in most every offensive category listed above. Santana’s biggest flaw (strikeouts) did not prevent him from posting a higher OBP and walk rate than Yelich. While there is undoubtedly more swing-and-miss in Santana’s game, the holes in his swing have not impeded his ability to get on base.

It is also obvious that Santana has more power. His 30 round-trippers in his first full season are nine more than Yelich has ever hit in a season, and 12 more than Yelich hit in 2017. There is a reputation that big-power, high-strikeout guys are pull-hitters only. That is not the case with Santana, and as we dig deeper into the batted-ball profiles of the two players, there is not that much of a difference:

Santana vs. Yelich 2
Stats via FanGraphs

Santana is a righty, Yelich a lefty. As you can see above, both players use the whole field. Santana does hit the ball to the pull side a bit more than Yelich, but his opposite field and center field percentages are still both above league average and both players go up the middle at a nearly identical rate.

Domingo Santana also hits the ball harder than both Yelich and the league average of 32.2%. The most impressive thing about Santana is his ridiculously low amount of soft contact. His 11.7% soft contact was good for 6th best in all of baseball – the names above him are Matt Olson, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, J.D. Martinez, and Rhys Hoskins. While there is a stereotype that comes along with Santana’s high-power, high-strikeout profile, he actually uses the whole field better and hits the ball harder than most.

Cost

Cheaper than Yelich. Possibly. Nobody is going to argue that Yelich isn’t the better overall player. His ability to run the bases at an elite level, play a premium outfield position, and make high amounts of contact are advantages over Santana. But if you’re a team looking for just an upgrade with the bat, the profiles of both players aren’t that different. You could even argue that Santana is actually pretty clearly the more impact hitter. He hits the ball hard at an elite rate, uses the whole field, gets on base, and adds value with his legs. Take away the strikeouts and Santana is a pretty complete hitter.

So what would the Brewers want for their dynamic outfielder? Despite the other numbers, you can’t ignore the strikeouts. You also can’t ignore that Santana was a negative in the field. Those two flaws will limit his trade value. He is also about to enter arbitration after 2018, so his cheapest years are basically behind him. Additionally, there is a similar (albeit older and more expensive) player available in free agency in J.D. Martinez.

A comparable deal might be one the Milwaukee themselves made two years ago when they sent a very similar player in OF Khris Davis to the Athletics for prospects C Jacob Nottingham and RHP Bubba Derby. Davis, like Santana now, had four years of control left at the time of the trade. Santana gets on base at a better clip than Davis and is a better all-fields hitter. He is also a considerably better base runner than Davis. Santana’s 3.3 fWAR from last year is far and away better than Davis’s career high of 2.4 fWAR from 2016. I think the Brewers would want more for Santana than they got for Davis.

The Brewers have asked for an impact starting pitcher in exchange for Santana, and there aren’t many of those available via trade right now. The Diamondbacks are looking to replace J.D. Martinez’s production and might be a match. They have been willing to discuss LHP Patrick Corbin, but he is a free agent after the year and I doubt the Brewers would trade Santana for a rental. Perhaps Arizona would be willing to deal RHP Zack Godley straight up for Santana. Godley has five years of control left and is pre-arbitration. While he is not a top-of-the-rotation guy, Godley posted a fabulous 3.37 ERA (3.32 FIP) and 3.5 fWAR in his first full season in the rotation. With some pitching depth coming through the Diamondbacks system, perhaps a Godley for Santana swap would make sense.

The Braves have been in talks for Yelich and might be another match. They have one of the top farm systems in all of baseball that is loaded with pitching prospects. They also have RHP Julio Teheran who has been mentioned in trade rumors for some time and has three years of team control left. I mentioned Atlanta as a potential destination for J.D. Martinez, but it may instead make sense to deal from an area of depth to get a similar player in Santana for much less money.

Milwaukee could also choose to upgrade their bullpen and stick LHP Josh Hader in the rotation. The Cincinnati Reds have dangled closer RHP Raisel Iglesias, who has three years of control left, in trade talks this off-season and swapping a closer for a controlled power bat might make sense for a rebuilding club. However, there is always the obstacle of inner-division trades to overcome, and that may hinder a potential deal.

Regardless, to trade Santana I feel like the Brewers will need to get exactly what they are looking for. However, I just don’t see any teams willing to deal a top of the rotation starter, and for that reason the Brewers might be better off holding. Though they have outfield depth to spare, Santana is the best hitter of that bunch and losing him for less than equal value would be a blow to the Brewers chances in 2018 and beyond.

For teams considering emptying the farm for Christian Yelich or the bank for J.D. Martinez, Domingo Santana would prove a cheaper alternative with similar production. It all comes down to what the Brewers ask in return. If they are willing to lower their demands, perhaps one of the trades mentioned above or one similar might make sense. But until the Brewers either lower their price or a team surprises them with an offer, I don’t see a trade on the horizon.

Finding the “mystery team” for seven free agents

MLB: SEP 30 American League Wild Card - A's at Royals

This off-season has been painfully slow. It is the middle of January and most of the top free agent’s are still available. Outside of a few trades there hasn’t been much action at all. People are calling collusion, blaming next years free agency crop, or just debating whether these guys that are available are even any good. Most free agent deals don’t end well and investing in the down years of a player’s career rarely seems wise. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be had in free agency.

Let’s take a look at who the elusive “mystery teams” might be that could swoop in and sign some of these players. I say mystery team loosely because at one point or another, these individual players might have been linked to these teams. What I mean is organizations that are less than an obvious fit.

RHP Yu Darvish – Angels

It was recently reported that Yu has narrowed his choices down to 5 teams – the Yankees, Astros, Cubs, Rangers, and Twins. Darvish himself then chimed in on twitter that there is one more team still in the mix as well. Since those tweets took place, the Astros have traded for RHP Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates, which may or may not take them out of the mix for Darvish. Now it’s up to us to figure out who that last team may be.

For me, that team should be the Los Angeles Angels. Even after securing the biggest prize of the off-season – RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani – in December, the Angels pitching depth leaves something to be desired. For a team that has best-player-in-the-world Mike Trout and recently shelled out big money for Justin Upton and Zack Cozart, they lack the top of the rotation starters that could realistically help them compete with the mega-powers of the American League. That is especially true if Ohtani shows up to Spring Training and needs Tommy John surgery before Opening Day. Shelling out the money to land Darvish might help shift the Angels from a Wild Card team to legit pennant contenders.

Darvish isn’t without risk himself. He missed all of 2015 with Tommy John Surgery of his own and just got shelled in back-to-back World Series starts. However, when Darvish is on he is amongst the most dominating pitchers in the game. Even when he is not at his best, Darvish is still more reliable and productive than most any of what the Angels currently have on their roster. Add in the potential of a Darvish-Ohtani-Richards rotation in a short series and this is an opportunity Anaheim should not pass up.

1B Eric Hosmer – Rockies

I don’t really advise that anyone sign Eric Hosmer, as his contract will most assuredly be amongst the worst in baseball upon being signed. That’s not his fault! Hosmer is a good player. But name value exceeds his actual production at this point. We’ve heard the Padres and Royals as his most interested clubs thus far. However, if his prices drops down enough, his list of suitors could broaden just a little bit and Colorado could be in a position to make a move.

The Rockies have two of the best players in baseball in 3B Nolan Arenado and OF Charlie Blackmon, and rode the production of those two to the second NL Wild Card spot in 2017. They also just invested a ton of money in their bullpen. Blackmon is a free agent after next year and Arenado could follow him out the door the year after. It is no guarantee they will let both of those players walk, as they have shown a willingness to spend in the past – Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki come to mind. However, paying Blackmon into his late 30’s and investing $300MM+ in Arenado might not be the best use of assets for a club with limited payroll.

Colorado may instead choose to invest their money in a cheaper option. That is where Eric Hosmer could fit in the black pinstripes. Instead of committing huge dollars to Blackmon and/or Arenado, it could make sense to take that money and invest it elsewhere. Hosmer has his flaws, but as is true with most players, his left-handed bat and the thin air in Coors Field could make an interesting match.

OF/DH J.D. Martinez – Braves

This was a tough one for me. Right now it seems like it’s Red Sox or bust for J.D. Martinez. That’s a shame, because for a player coming off a robust .303/.376/.690 season with 45 home runs, .430 wOBA, and 166 wRC+ in just 119 games you’d think there would be more teams who could use his services. Part of it has been his contract demands, part of it could be his declining skills in the field, or it could be a combination of both. He reportedly has a 5-year, $100 million offer on the table from the Red Sox, but is willing to wait out for more.

martinez2

I was tempted to pick the Rockies here, but I ultimately settled on the Braves. They recently opened a new ballpark, have one of the top farm systems in baseball, and will have cash to spend with big money coming off the books after this season. However, next year they run the risk of bidding against financial giants like the Dodgers and Yankees, not to mention tens of other clubs that have been saving their money for next off-season’s free agents. Maybe the time for the Braves to pounce is now.

Obviously adding Martinez’s bat speaks for itself in terms of impact. I imagine an Inciarte-Acuna-Freeman-Martinez top of the line-up mashing the Braves into the playoffs as their crop of pitching prospects begin to establish themselves. Beyond Acuna, a majority of the Braves top prospects are pitchers, and Martinez can fill one of the open long-term spots in the outfield.

The Braves would have to live with Martinez’s below average defense in right that will likely only get worse as he ages, but with sound defenders around the diamond elsewhere they may be better equipped to deal with it than other potential suitors. Teams with top farm systems can come together quicker than expected, and adding Martinez could advance the Braves timeline into 2019 if everything breaks right.

RHP Jake Arrieta – Mariners

The Mariners are in a confusing place. They have a ton of money invested in their aging core, yet don’t have much to show for it in terms of success. They are entering or are already in the twilight years of Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez’s careers. If they want to compete with the players they have now they’re going to need some more help.

Jake Arrieta is also in a confusing place. He was the best pitcher in baseball in 2015 after finally escaping the Orioles organization. He was very good again in 2016, though not as good as 2015, and then he watched his numbers fall off a little bit further in 2017. Nobody would argue he is a solid pitcher who would make most teams better. However, with his large contract demands and limited track record of success, teams are understandably hesitant to commit long-term to Jake.

The longer the off-season progresses, the more you’d think the price on players like Arrieta would drop. If his demands come down to the 4-year, $85-100MM range, the Mariners might be in a position to add a top of the rotation starter at a discounted price. If James Paxton can stay healthy, a one-two punch of him and Arrieta could propel Seattle into Wild Card contention before their core ages them into irrelevance.

RHP Greg Holland – Giants

The Giants are an organization that has always confused me with the moves they make. This off-season has been no different. They added former Rays 3B Evan Longoria and former NL MVP outfielder Andrew McCutchen, two players that, while still productive, are past the primes of their career. Maybe the moves aren’t as crazy as they seem as the Giants have three World Series championships since 2010 to show for their confusing moves, and have proven to me that I have no idea how to run a baseball team.

There is an urgency to win while C Buster Posey and LHP Madison Bumgarner are still productive and in their primes. For that reason enough you might as well try to compete if you aren’t going to rebuild. Both of those guys are on track to be in the Hall of Fame and you don’t waste those guys when you have them. Now that the Giants have shored up two positions of weakness, perhaps addressing the bullpen could be next.

The Giants of course already have an expensive closer in RHP Mark Melancon. Melancon is coming off a not-so-good season and has spent the off-season recovering from surgery on a rare muscular disorder. With the way baseball teams are built these days, the Giants could surely use another potentially dominant reliever. A decrease in ground balls, increase in fly balls, and diminishing fastball velocity have stalled Holland’s market. Red flags didn’t stop the Giants from acquiring Longoria and McCutchen, and at a certain cost Holland might make sense to help shore up the Giants bullpen.

Holland

RHP Lance Lynn – Reds

The Reds are in an enviable position. They have two of the Top 20 prospects in baseball in 3B Nick Senzel and RHP Hunter Greene, and five of the Top 100 prospects overall according to MLB.com. At the major league level they have generational hitter 1B Joey Votto to mix with promising young pieces in 3B Eugenio Suarez, RHP’s Luis Castillo and Raisel Iglesias, and C Tucker Barnhart. They might be closer to competing than people think, but boy oh boy do they need pitching. Their rotation was second to last in ERA in 2017 (5.55) and could desperately use a reliable innings eater.

Lance Lynn returned to the Cardinals rotation in 2017 after missing all of 2016 to Tommy John surgery. While his 3.43 ERA in 186 innings looks solid on the surface, his 4.82 FIP and .244 BABIP paint a different picture. It is not all bad, however, as he got more soft contact than he had the year before surgery, and his hard contact wasn’t all that much higher than his career average. Perhaps most importantly in terms of his fit in the Great American Ballpark, his 44%GB was right in line with his career and the league average. It is also not uncommon to see pitchers further bounce back as they distance themselves from surgery.

To realistically compete soon the Reds need arms. That much is clear. In a depressed market, the Reds might be able to get Lance Lynn at a price that makes sense for them. He may not help them get over the hump right away, but could provide value eating up innings in a rotation that desperately needs improvement.

Alex Cobb – Athletics

Every once in a while the Athletics are good for a random move that nobody saw coming. Remember the Matt Holiday trade? In a market that is moving as slow as plans to build a new ballpark in Oakland, the A’s could be in a position to add a discounted player that fits their budget. In a rotation full of pitchers still establishing themselves, perhaps veteran righty Alex Cobb would make a welcome addition.

Cobb returned from Tommy John surgery to post a 3.66 ERA (4.16 FIP) and 2.4 fWAR in 179 innings. A deeper look into the numbers paints a grim picture of Cobb’s future, but like Lance Lynn, it is not unreasonable to think Cobb could improve as he furthers himself from surgery. Cobb’s rise in home runs would also be less of a concern in the spacious Coliseum, especially with the solid defense likely to roam Oakland’s outfield.

It would likely take an even further depression in the market for these stars to align. Though if Cobb is willing to accept a 2 or 3-year pact, I could see Oakland swooping in to make a deal. Adding a veteran arm to the rotation is generally a wise move for rebuilding teams even if it doesn’t move the needle in terms of competing. Even if he is not part of the next great Athletics team, Cobb could help the club get through its transition period and even potentially be used as trade bait in the future.

Would a Zack Greinke for Jacoby Ellsbury swap benefit both teams?

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Greinke. (Getty Images)

It is always hard to match up bad contracts in trades. Fans and writers alike spend time contemplating which sunken costs could be exchanged in an attempt to rectify value for different teams. Very rarely do the proposed exchanges make sense for both sides. We’ve seen it once this off-season  with the Braves and Dodgers matching up for what amounted to a wash in total money (about $50MM) and player value (essentially zero). It did however accomplish different payroll goals for each team and seems to be the rare win-win salary dump trade.

The Yankees have had a difficult time finding a bad contract trade of their own this off-season when shopping their sunken cost, Jacoby Ellsbury. After acquiring Giancarlo Stanton in December, the former MVP Runner-up Ellsbury has become a $22 million dollar fifth outfielder on New York’s roster. His expensive salary in addition to his full no-trade clause has made him nearly impossible to deal.

Of the few teams that make sense for Ellsbury, one that has been mentioned is the Arizona Diamondbacks. It has been reported that Ellsbury would only consider waiving his no-trade clause for teams near his off-season Arizona home. Obviously, the Diamondbacks fit that description.

The Diamondbacks have an expensive player of their own in RHP Zack Greinke. In terms of production, the comparison to Ellsbury is night and day. Greinke is coming off a fabulous season where he led the top of a rotation for a team that won the 2017 NL Wild Card game. However, his massive salary will be in the back of the front office’s mind when trying to upgrade the rest of the Arizona team in the future. There have been some rumblings that Arizona tested the market on Greinke this winter, but nothing serious has come from it thus far. Would a swap of these contracts benefit both teams? Let’s dive in.

The Contracts

Might as well start here. Jacoby Ellsbury, 34 years old, will be in the fifth year of a massive 7-year, $153 million dollar contract that he signed with the Yankees following the 2013 season. The move seemed questionable at the time given the redundant fit with Brett Gardner already on New York’s roster, and has become only more odd over time. Ellsbury has three years and $68.5MM left on his contract and comes with a payroll hit of just under $22MM a year. He has a full no-trade clause, as previously mentioned.

Zack Greinke, also 34 years old, will be entering the third year of an even more massive 6-year, $206.5 million deal that he signed following a 2015 season where he finished 2nd in Cy Young voting with the Dodgers. I remember thinking at the time “next year we will be hearing Zack Greinke rumors”. I was wrong, it took two years, but my point stands. Huge contracts with smaller market teams often financially handcuff those teams pretty quickly. Zack has 4 years and $138.5 million dollars left on his contract. His yearly salary will count as about $34.5MM per year toward the payroll.

Greinke’s contract is a bit more interesting in that according to Spotrac it has $62.5MM in deferred money from 2022-2026. He also has a built in $2MM bonus if he is traded. Finally, Zack has a no-trade clause that includes 15 teams. It is unclear if the Yankees are one of those 15 teams, but those lists often change from year to year and there is no way of knowing for sure what Greinke’s preferences are. It is worth noting that Greinke once tried to convince Yankees GM Brian Cashman into trading for him. Both the Yankees and Diamondbacks have expressed willingness to eat salary in potential Ellsbury or Greinke trades, respectively.

The Production

I feel there is a perception that Jacoby Ellsbury is completely useless. That is not the case. He is coming off a season in which he hit .264/.348/.402 with a .326 wOBA, 101 wRC+ and 1.6fWAR in 409 plate appearances. He can still give you some production, just not $22MM worth of production. Take a look at the following graph:

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 7.28.15 PM
Credit: FanGraphs

As you can see, there are some gradual trends that have developed as Ellsbury’s career has gone on. His K% has gradually increased as he has aged, and he has posted his two highest strikeout marks of his career, 17.2% in 2015 and 15.4% in 2017, in his four years as a Yankee. The increase is indeed concerning, though his 2017 mark is not all that far off from his career mark of 13.7%.

Luckily for Jacoby, with the increase in strikeouts has also come an increase in walks. That is encouraging because usually that is the opposite as hitters begin to age and try to cheat on fastballs. Ellsbury has set a new career high in BB% in three of the four years he has played in New York, peaking last year at 10%.

In terms of batted balls, Ellsbury was remarkably consistent his last two years. In 2016, Ellsbury finished with a contact profile of 22.2%/51.3%/26.6% in terms of Soft%/Medium%/Hard%. He then went on to post almost exactly the same line in 2017 with 22.7%/51.2%/26.1%. These numbers, compared to his 19.8%/54.6%/25.5% career line, show a decrease in medium contact that has resulted mostly in a spike in soft contact, with a small increase in hard contact as well.

Defensively, Ellsbury has begun to trend downward since donning pinstripes. That is not unusual for a player in his 30’s whose value comes mostly from his legs. That trend did not reverse last year, as Ellsbury posted -3 DRS and an -8 UZR/150 in just over 800 innings playing center field. It would not be hard to argue that Ellsbury is best suited for left field at this point in his career, and he grades much better defensively in left in 536 career innings.

Overall Jacoby has posted a .264/.330/.386 line with a .314 wOBA, 96 wRC, 39 homeruns and 102 stolen bases 2,171 plate appearances for New York. That calculates out to 8.6 fWAR. So like I said, Ellsbury is not a useless player but he also is certainly not worth the price tag. There are some signs of decline in Ellsbury’s game, namely his increase in strike outs and soft contact with declining defensive numbers, but nothing extreme enough to indicate he is going to suddenly drop off and become an unusable player.

Zack Greinke is coming off a fabulous bounce back season where he posted a 3.20 ERA (3.31 FIP), 9.56 K/9 and 5.1 fWAR in 202 innings. 2017 was the 7th time Greinke had at least 4.0 fWAR and his 4th time with at least 5 fWAR in a season. Translates: Greinke is really good. He is this generations Mike Mussina, as reliable as they come.

Greinke doesn’t come without flaws of his own though. His 35.1% hard contact was the second highest of his career – his worst mark was in 2007, before he became Zack freakin’ Greinke. Though that number jumped, his med% and soft% remained solid and he gave up less line drives while getting more ground balls than his career average. The biggest concern for Greinke is depicted below:

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 7.30.28 PM
Credit: FanGraphs

You can see that fastball velocity has steadily decreased from his masterful 2015 season through his first two seasons in Arizona. His 91.0 vFB in 2017 was 1.2mph below his previous career low (which came in 2016). It’s a concern that since arriving in the desert (where it should be easier to get loose in theory) Greinke has lost 2.5mph off his fastball. He also posted career lows in velocity on his sinker and slider. Now if I had to pick one pitcher to bet on figuring out how to pitch with diminished stuff, Greinke would be on a short list of pitchers I would consider, but these are obvious red flags.

Expanding a deal

I don’t imagine this would be as simple as a one-for-one deal. Greinke vastly outperformed Ellsbury in 2017 and no matter which way you slice it, losing him would likely make them worse next year. Additionally, the Yankees stay committed to staying under the $197MM luxury tax threshold next year and have about $18MM-$22MM left to play with before hitting that line. The ~$13MM difference in salaries between the two players would put them right up against that line with New York having to leave some room for in-season additions. Luckily these two teams match up well in other areas that could allow them to expand a deal.

With Fernando Rodney likely to depart as a free agent, the Diamondbacks have a void at closer. Though Archie Bradley could easily slide into that role, the D-Backs could still use to upgrade their bullpen. The Yankees have a couple high priced relievers in Adam Warren ($3.3MM) and David Robertson ($11.5MM AAV) that are set to become free agents after this season and could help offset the salary impact on New York’s books. Dellin Betances ($5.1MM) has two years of control left and also fits the bill as someone that might interest Arizona.

Beyond the rotation, the Yankees only other real need is their infield. They have been mentioned to be interested in Arizona infielder Brandon Drury. Would Ellsbury and Warren/Robertson be enough to get Arizona to deal Greinke and Drury? It feels like Arizona might need more. I don’t think New York would offer any of their top prospects to get a deal done, but they may consider putting RHP Chance Adams on the table to give the Diamondbacks a ready made replacement to step into the rotation.

Does it make sense for what both teams are trying to accomplish?

This is the ultimate question. As I referred to, these bad contract swaps often don’t make sense for both teams. Does the money outweigh the production gap in the two players? It depends how much Arizona values saving the ~$70MM total (or less if they take on a reliever) that they could potentially spend elsewhere. They have been mentioned as one of the most aggressive suitors for Manny Machado and could possibly use the savings to put toward acquiring him.

Arizona also may be feeling the pressure to win before their window closes. They lost J.D. Martinez this year. They are set to lose CF A.J. Pollock and LHP Patrick Corbin to free agency next off-season. Face of the franchise 1B Paul Goldschmidt will be a free agent the following year. The time to win in Arizona is now.

Undoubtedly losing Greinke would weaken Arizona’s rotation. However, they might be better off re-allocating the money invested in Greinke with LHP Robbie Ray and RHP Taijuan Walker ready to step in as top-of-the-rotation guys, prospects RHP Taylor Clarke, LHP Anthony Banda, and RHP Jon Duplantier either knocking on the door or close to it, and the Shelby Miller experiment set to return sometime this year. That is not to mention a possible Chance Adams acquisition we attested to earlier. Is Ellsbury, Robertson/Warren, Adams, Machado and ~$40MM in long-term savings (potentially toward a Goldschmidt extension) a better plan than to just keep Zack Greinke and sign someone like Jon Jay who will give you production similar to Ellsbury for a fraction of the cost?

For New York, acquiring Greinke and Drury would fix their two biggest needs. Greinke would step in as a #2 behind ace Luis Severino and give them a dynamic 1-5 in their rotation. Drury would be able to hold down second until prospect Gleyber Torres is ready. It would likely come at the cost of weakening their bullpen and giving up one of their better prospects to shed a bad contract, a questionable decision when your pockets are as long as the Yankees.

A Greinke for Ellsbury/Robertson swap would ultimately be a wash in terms of salary implications, leaving the Yankees room to replace Robertson and possibly still shore up third base. It depends how comfortable they are bringing a right-handed pitcher with diminishing velocity into a left-handed hitters heaven. The $70MM difference in committed money is no joke either, and agreeing to pay Greinke deferred money for 5 years after he is no longer with the team might be a bad idea as Giancarlo Stanton begins to enter the back-loaded years of his contract.

There is a lot of moving parts here. It is not unreasonable that another wrench in a deal could be either team asking for money to offset the salaries. There is also the issue of the no-trade clauses. So does it make sense? In a vacuum, yes. Kind of. Not Really. The Yankees shore up their biggest needs, keep some wiggle room, and shed their worst contract. The Diamondbacks save money that they could choose to reinvest in Machado or extensions for their own players (or both), replace J.D. Martinez, and shore up their bullpen. But it isn’t that simple. It comes down to how these organizations value each of the players mentioned. And since it makes sense to us means it probably doesn’t make sense for them.

Should the Red Sox pull off a Marlins blockbuster of their own?

Yelich_Realmuto
Realmuto and Yelich

It’s no secret the Boston Red Sox are looking to upgrade their offense. In the first year of the post-David Ortiz era, the team lacked the noticeable thump in the middle of their line-up that we’ve grown accustomed to since the turn of the century. For a team that ranked 27th in baseball last year with 168 home runs and finished near the middle of the pack in several other offensive categories, it was a clear priority of Dave Dombrowski and company this off-season to add a little bit of pop. However, as the has calendar flipped to January with MLB teams and the remaining free agents engaged in a seemingly never ending stare-down, not much has changed in terms of the middle of Boston’s line-up.

Following their playoff elimination at the hands of the eventual World Series champions, the dots between the Red Sox and top free agent bats Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez didn’t take long to connect. Earlier this month the Sox instead went another route and retained incumbent first basemen Mitch Moreland on a 2-year, $13 million dollar contract, seemingly taking them out of the race for Hosmer. They still remain a (if not the) favorite for Martinez, though Boston has reportedly offered a 5-year contract while Martinez is willing to hold out for a sixth year.

It’s obvious that Dombrowski needs to do something before opening day. The rival New York Yankees added reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton last month, and much of the discussion has been how the Red Sox can counter that move to stay atop the AL East standings. Maybe they should look no further than the team that sent Stanton to the Bronx in the first place, the Miami Marlins.

The Marlins, led by Derek Jeter and a new ownership group, have once again been stripped down to their bones. Not only did the Marlins ship out Stanton, they also traded All-Star outfielder Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals leaving outfielder Christian Yelich, catcher J.T. Realmuto, and newly acquired infielder Starlin Castro as the only notable names left on the team. That hasn’t stopped them from continuing to shop Yelich and Realmuto.

You can make the argument that every team would benefit to add a player like Christian Yelich. He is young, cheap, controllable through 2022, and extremely talented. The same argument can more or less be made for J.T. Realmuto as well. Only a few teams can realistically say they’re better off with the catcher they have now instead of him. Even teams with full outfields and a decent starting catcher might make sense. That is where the Red Sox come in. Would adding a talented though expensive package of Yelich and Realmuto work?

The Fit

There is no clear fit in the Red Sox outfield for Christian Yelich and he is too talented to be a full-time DH. It’s obvious the Red Sox already have a great outfield. Andrew Benintendi just finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting, Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, and Mookie Betts is one year removed from finishing 2nd the MVP voting. However, there was no real fit in the Yankees outfield for Giancarlo Stanton, an above average outfielder himself, though the Bronx Bombers made the move anyway.

While free agent target J.D. Martinez himself is still a passable outfielder, his -5 DRS and -14.8 UZR/150 in 2017 suggest he is best suited in the DH role as often as possible. Yelich himself was actually worse in terms of DRS, posting a -6 mark while grading out better in terms of UZR/150 at -0.7. It must be noted that Yelich, unlike Martinez, was playing center field full time and happens to show better defensively in his career playing left field, posting 32 DRS and 4.4 UZR/150 over the course of 3,535 innings.

Whereas Martinez would ideally be a full time DH, acquiring Yelich could enable the Red Sox to employ the strategy the Yankees plan to use in 2018, rotating the four outfielders among three outfield positions and the DH spot. The Red Sox might also consider using Yelich at first base from time to time. Yelich was a first basemen when he was drafted, though he has not played the position professionally and playing first in the majors is considerably different than in high school. This is just to say first base would not be completely foreign to him and the Red Sox might consider giving him reps there with the position open long-term.

The Sox also have a pretty talented catcher already in Christian Vazquez, who is known more for his defense and leaves some to be desired with his bat. However, you would be hard pressed to find many people willing to argue that J.T. Realmuto would not be an instant upgrade over Vazquez offensively. In terms of overall value, FanGraphs pegged Realmuto at 3.6 fWAR in 2017, compared to 1.6 fWAR for Vazquez (in just 99 games it must be noted). The projections for 2018 paint a similar picture in terms of overall value, with Realmuto (2.8) nearly doubling Vazquez’s projection (1.5).

Does it move the needle?

Like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the Red Sox weren’t THAT bad in terms of offense overall. It was home runs specifically that was their weakness, and in a league where baseballs are flying like never before that is an issue. Would acquiring Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto move the needle for the Red Sox in terms of fixing their biggest flaw?

We already discussed how Yelich might fit the Sox defensively. Offensively he is more of an all-around hitter than a power hitter. Power wise he has only cracked 20 homeruns once, and that was in 2016 when he set a career high with 21. In 2017, he hit 17 long balls and he projects just a tick above that number in 2018. Career, Yelich is a .290/.369/.432 hitter with 17.2 fWAR over 5 seasons.

Let’s take a look at Yelich’s career spray chart:

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 11.44.30 AM
Credit: FanGraphs

On the left is everything; on the right are just line drives, home runs, and fly balls. Despite being a left-handed hitter, you can see a huge portion of Yelich’s batted balls are to the opposite field. For a player that has averaged 33.5 doubles per season since he became a full-time player, Fenway Park would play right to his strengths. Would he provide the power boost the Red Sox need by himself? Probably not. However, he would add yet another above average all around hitter to a line-up full of them and have room for added production aiming for the Green Monster 81 games out of the year.

Now for the Realmuto/Vazquez debate. There is no doubt that the better offensive player is. J.T. Realmuto. He set a new career high in the power department last year, cranking out 17 homers in the Marlins balanced attack. In his three years as a full time catcher, Realmuto has set a new career high in home runs each year. Vazquez, in his first season coming close to being a full time player, set a new career high last year as well with 5 home runs. Digging into his minor league numbers he has shown signs of pop before, blasting 18 round-trippers in the 2011 minor league season. As offense is usually the last thing to come for young catchers it is not unreasonable to think Vazquez could see his numbers jump in a way similar to how Realmuto’s did.

However, for sake of this post we are going to go with the “what have you done for me lately” argument. In 2017 Realmuto posted an above average .332 wOBA compared to Vazquez’s slightly below average .318 mark. There was a similar discrepancy elsewhere, as Realmuto posted a 105 wRC+ compared to Vazquez’s 93 wRC+. Like Yelich, Realmuto, a righty, has a spray chart that would seem to fit Fenway’s dimensions well:Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 12.20.37 PM

As you can see, while most of Realmuto’s power from the right side is pull power his batted ball profile shows he generally hits well to all fields. It is easy to envision an uptick in home runs and doubles playing in Fenway for half of his games. As the numbers suggest, it would be hard to argue that Realmuto would not be an instant upgrade to a Boston offense that is desperate for one.

When we start to compare defense is where it gets more interesting. Even though Vazquez has a significantly smaller sample size, he saved 9.9 runs with his pitch framing in 2017 which is a huge number compared to Realmuto’s 3.8 runs. Additionally Vazquez has been far more consistent in his career in terms of throwing runners out, gunning out 43% of runners in his time in the majors, compared to Realmuto’s 32%. Now advanced catching measures are an imperfect science, and stolen base percent is not always indicative of catcher’s ability, but the number gap here is big enough that it must be taken seriously. It’s not to say Realmuto is a bad catcher by any means, it is just that Vazquez is exceptional. Does the obvious offensive upgrade outweigh the defensive downgrade for Boston?

The Cost

This is the fun and difficult part. Even though the Marlins traded away Stanton for mostly salary relief and didn’t seem to get market value for Ozuna, the feeling is the return would have to be much different for Yelich and/or Realmuto. Even bad rebuilding teams need familiar faces for the fans to root for. I don’t think the Marlins would entertain the idea of dealing Yelich and Realmuto, especially in the same package, without getting significant value back. As previously mentioned, Yelich is under control for just $44.5MM through 2021 with $15 million option for 2022. Realmuto is eligible for arbitration for the first time this off-season and is under control through 2020. There is no rush for the Marlins to deal these guys.

That doesn’t mean Boston shouldn’t try. But what do they have to offer? A series of trades and graduations to the majors have left the Red Sox system looking pretty dry in terms of high-end talent. LHP Jay Groome is their top prospect, though I would have to think they would make him untouchable even in a blockbuster deal such as this. Michael Chavis mashed in the minors last year, and MLB.com compares his profile to that of former Marlin Dan Uggla. I don’t think the Marlins would agree to a package with Chavis as the headliner however, and he may have to be a second or third piece in the deal to make it work.

The only real way to make a deal work might be dealing from the Red Sox major league roster. Jackie Bradley Jr. has been mentioned in trade talks this offseason, though his salary ($6.1MM) and him already being in his arbitration years make it unlikely he would make sense for the Marlins. Maybe they could get a third team involved to take on Bradley, but even Bradley would be unlikely to land the prospects the Marlins would likely seek in a trade.

The other interesting names on the Sox roster are outfielder Andrew Benintendi and infielder Rafael Devers. I find it extremely unlikely the Red Sox would entertain trading Benintendi, especially since him and Yelich have similar offensive profiles. Maybe adding Kyle Barraclough or Dan Straily on the Marlins part might make the Red Sox reconsider, but I find even that far-fetched. Devers might be the only realistic option to complete a deal.

Now I know Red Sox fans would laugh at the idea of dealing Devers. He is just 21 years old, making the league minimum, and more than held his own in his first extended stay in the majors. However, it is not impossible to see him moving across the diamond in the near future where his value would then come exclusively from his bat. Add in J.D. Martinez and a few years down the line the Red Sox will have two bat only players limiting their offensive flexibility. That didn’t stop the Red Sox all those years with David Ortiz, but it is something worth considering.

Turning Devers into two controlled up the middle players now might make sense for improving the Red Sox as a team overall. They’d get an offensive upgrade behind the plate without a noticeable drop defensively, and add an all around hitter built for Fenway that they could rotate around the outfield and DH spots. Additionally, the void left from dealing Devers could open the door for the Red Sox to potentially sign free agent third basemen Mike Moustakas, who hit 38 home runs last year and could come at a reasonable price.

Now it would certainly cost more than just Devers. However, I believe if the Red Sox put him on the table the Marlins would have to consider that they might not get a better single player in any other deal. The Marlins could have interest in first basemen Sam Travis, or some of the Red Sox lower touted players such as pitchers Tanner Houch and Alex Scherff or outfielder Cole Brannen to fill out a deal. Miami could also potentially have interest in Christian Vazquez himself. Who would blink in a straight up Devers and Vazquez for Yelich and Realmuto trade? Maybe the deal can be expanded if the Red Sox still like the versatile Martin Prado. The Marlins would surely welcome shedding his salary.

I can see the arguments brewing from both sides. I probably wouldn’t want to deal Devers if I was a Red Sox fan. I would be skeptical trading 5 years of Yelich for 6 years of Devers+ if I was a Marlins fan. On the other hand, the idea of adding Moustakas, Yelich, and Realmuto to their lineup for the same price (in terms of dollars) instead of tying up $150MM+ and roster flexibility to J.D. Martinez might make more sense than it seems for the Red Sox.

Pirates trade outfielder Andrew McCutchen to Giants

The Pittsburgh Pirates have made their second significant trade of the past 72 hours, as Pittsburgh has reportedly dealt 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants.

McCutchen spent nine seasons in Pittsburgh and compiled a .291/.379/.487 career slash line with the Pirates. In addition to the 2013 MVP, he was named to the NL All-Star team five times.

Pittsburgh appears to be set to undergo a rebuild as they dealt starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros on Saturday afternoon.

San Francisco, meanwhile, has had a busy offseason. They acquired Evan Longoria in December and remain active on the free agent market as they look to rebound from a dreadful 2017 in which they won just 64 games, their fewest wins in a season since 1985.