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MLB’s Hot Stove season has yet to produce any blockbuster trades. Perhaps what it needs is a few ideas.
Ahead lie 10 blockbuster trade concepts that are within the realm of possibility. Some exceptions aside, they involve star players on sellers who make sense for buyers with enough assets for big deals.
There’s just one three-part catch: None involve Giancarlo Stanton, the San Francisco Giants or the St. Louis Cardinals. That particular section of the offseason rumor mill doesn’t leave much room for imagination for now, and should come to a resolution soon. It’s best to just let that play out.
Otherwise, it’s on to the aforementioned 10 trade ideas, going in order from smallest to biggest blockbuster.
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The Pittsburgh Pirates can no longer count themselves among the top NL Central powers, so now’s a good time for them to see what they can get for Andrew McCutchen.
There may not be a better match for him than the Toronto Blue Jays.
Theoretically, the Blue Jays should take their 76-86 record in 2017 as a cue to rebuild. Instead, they indicated with their trade for 2016 All-Star Aledmys Diaz that they want to make at least one more push before Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada hit free agency after 2018.
The club’s next move should be to shore up its need for power in its outfield. Following a lost 2016, McCutchen reestablished his thump with an .849 OPS and 28 home runs in 2017. A move to Rogers Centre, which favors right-handed power, could help him improve on that performance.
The 31-year-old is under contract for one more year at a reasonable $14.5 million, giving him decent trade value for a one-year rental. A trade could be centered on well-rounded catcher Max Pentecost, who would fit in a Pirates system that needs upside behind the dish.
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It’s all but a given that the Washington Nationals will be NL East favorites in 2018, but they have an Achilles’ heel that threatens to keep them from their goal of winning the World Series: catcher.
FanGraphs’ Travis Sawchik pointed out the most obvious fix: Yasmani Grandal, who the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly have deemed expendable, per Jon Morosi of MLB Network. He has the strike-framing skills that Matt Wieters lacks. He’s also a steady supply of walks and home runs on offense.
The elephant in this room is that the Dodgers may have qualms about dealing with a key National League rival. And, obviously, vice versa.
Still, a possible solution is a deal that would send right-hander Erick Fedde to Los Angeles.
The 24-year-old is one of Washington’s top prospects and makes the grade as “MLB-ready.” As Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post broke down, however, it’s unclear how he fits with the team’s plans for 2018. He’s likely not going to back to an experimental bullpen role but isn’t a cinch for the rotation either.
Fedde thus serves the Nationals better as a trade chip that could enrich the team’s immediate future. The Dodgers, meanwhile, could throw him right into a pitching staff that largely eschews typical labels.
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The Miami Marlins have more than just Stanton to offer the offseason trade market. Also on the chopping block is Dee Gordon.
The speedy second baseman was a toxic asset as recently as 2016, when he was hit with an 80-game ban for using performance-enhancing drugs. Then came a solid (and ostensibly clean) comeback in 2017. Gordon played in 158 games with a .716 OPS, an MLB-best 60 stolen bases and good defense.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels badly need an upgrade at second base.
The fact that they’re sorely lacking in prospect talent would seem to preclude them from trading for a player of Gordon’s caliber. One way around that, however, is an appeal to the Marlins’ desire to cut payroll by offering to take on all of the remaining $38.9 million Gordon is owed.
That would enable a trade centered around unspectacular yet not unskilled prospects. Athletic outfielder Jahmai Jones, perhaps. Or sweet-swinging first baseman Matt Thaiss. Or fast-rising righty Jaime Barria.
If the Angels pull it off, they’d have an excellent up-the-middle trio of Gordon, Andrelton Simmons and Mike Trout, plus a supporting cast of Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols. Pretty good weapons with which to chase the reigning champion Houston Astros.
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The Chicago Cubs must replenish a starting rotation that lost Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. Trouble is, they have neither unlimited payroll space nor a deep cache of prospects to use in trades.
The latter reality makes them an awkward fit for top-shelf trade targets. Danny Duffy, on the other hand, is doable.
The Kansas City Royals have the oft-injured yet talented lefty, who owns a 3.47 ERA since 2014, signed through 2021 for $60 million. But with a losing season in their wake and several stars floating on the free-agent waters, nobody’s off-limits as they approach a rebuild.
“If somebody blows your doors off on something, you always have to look at it,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore told Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. “You always got to look at it.”
The Cubs have young pitchers (e.g. Adbert Alzolay and Jose Albertos) who would fit well in a Royals system that lacks arms. The centerpiece of the deal, however, could be Kyle Schwarber. His designated hitter profile makes him an expendable asset for the Cubs and a fit for the Royals.
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Along with McCutchen, Cole is another Pittsburgh cornerstone who should be on the block.
Were the Pirates to actively shop him, their first call should be to the New York Yankees.
In a normal offseason, they’d fill their need for a starting pitcher by chucking stacks of cash at a top free agent. This offseason, they’re committed to getting under the luxury-tax threshold, per David Lennon of Newsday.
That’s partly why the Yankees coveted Japanese two-way wunderkind Shohei Ohtani. So much for that, however. Shockingly, the Yankees didn’t even make the cut for his finalists, according to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com.
They should turn to Cole if they want to blow off some steam with a Plan B.
He’s an experienced starter who contended for the National League Cy Young in 2015, and pairing him with Luis Severino would give the Yankees the two hardest-throwing qualified starters of 2017. Plus, he’s under club control through 2019.
The acquisition cost wouldn’t be cheap, but that’s where the Yankees can afford pretty much anything. Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield and Domingo Acevedo are arms that could appeal to Pittsburgh. Should they trade McCutchen, they could just as easily be drawn to Clint Frazier, who may not be needed in New York.
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The Yankees adding a power arm would only heighten their biggest rival’s need for a power bat.
The Boston Red Sox won 93 games and a second straight AL East title in 2017, but they’ll be hard-pressed to repeat that if they don’t add a masher to a lineup that produced an AL-low 168 homers.
Boston’s need could attract one of the top free agents, such as J.D. Martinez or Eric Hosmer. But since their payroll is already heavy, they need to consider reasonably priced options. Such as Carlos Santana on the free-agent market or, even better, Jose Abreu on the trade market.
I already covered the prospect of the Red Sox acquiring Abreu from the Chicago White Sox in a full article, so I don’t have much to add to it here. He’s a good fit for Boston both in the sense that he’s an established slugger (124 homers since 2014) and a tough out.
With roughly $40 million headed his way via arbitration over the next two years, Abreu also doesn’t have the same trade value as former White Sox teammates Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana. A deal for him ought to include just one top prospect. Fast-rising third baseman Michael Chavis is just the guy.
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There’s been little indication that the Dodgers are actively involved in the Stanton sweepstakes. That still isn’t stopping everyone from doing their best Judge Smails impression: “Well, we’re waiting.”
How about Marcell Ozuna instead?
Ozuna isn’t Stanton’s equal as a player, but he is nonetheless fresh off a 2017 season in which he realized his outstanding potential. He had a .924 OPS, mashed a career-high 37 homers and won a Gold Glove.
Ozuna also doesn’t have a 10-year, $295 million commitment hanging over his head. He’s controlled for two more seasons, over which he might not even earn $30 million via arbitration.
Compared to Stanton, he’s a better fit for a Dodgers organization that seems sincerely committed to avoiding any more exorbitant payrolls. While the downside for most teams would be a huge cost in terms of prospects, the Dodgers have a deep farm system and, following their loss in the World Series, incentive to use trades to enrich their major league roster.
In sweet-swinging outfielder Alex Verdugo, the Dodgers have an ideal centerpiece for an Ozuna trade. The benefit for them, of course, would be patching their left field weakness with one of the best left fielders in the business.
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Welcome to the “Hear me out” portion of the program.
Michael Fulmer is a year removed from being AL Rookie of the Year. He’s also still only 24 and is under club control through 2022. However, none of these things make him exempt from the Detroit Tigers’ housecleaning effort.
“We need to continue to add and acquire, and quite frankly, if we do make any more trades down the road, it’s going to be one of those young guys—maybe,” Tigers GM Al Avila told FanGraphs’ David Laurila, referring to Fulmer and fellow young starters Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd.
With outfielder Mickey Moniak, right-hander Sixto Sanchez and second baseman Scott Kingery headlining one of MLB’s deepest farm systems, the Philadelphia Phillies are one of few teams that can afford a multi-blue-chip price tag for Fulmer.
The question, obviously, is why they would coming off a 96-loss season.
Well, their rebuild has already provided a solid core of young major leaguers. What they lack is a co-ace for Aaron Nola. Fulmer would fit the bill nicely, and adding him now would signal to the many talented free agents set to hit the 2018-19 market that there will be more than just riches to find in Philadelphia.
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The Milwaukee Brewers weren’t supposed to be an NL Central contender in 2017. Suddenly, there they were with an 86-76 record that put them in the wild-card hunt.
Given the depth of the Brewers’ farm system, the future holds even better days. Especially if they follow through on their ambition for a No. 1 starter (via Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe) and use that depth to trade for Chris Archer.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times indicated the hard-throwing righty isn’t unavailable as the Tampa Bay Rays seek a course correction. Between his All-Star track record and a contract that’ll pay him, at most, $33.75 million through 2021, Archer is the guy they can deal for a monstrous haul of prospects.
Milwaukee is one of few teams out there that could satisfy such a desire. Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips, Monte Harrison and Corey Ray are talented outfielders who could interest the Rays. Right-handers Corbin Burnes and Luis Ortiz are two more top bargaining chips.
Put Archer on the Brewers, and an up-and-coming team will have a tried-and-true No. 1 starter. That’s a team to watch. And, if you’re the competition, one to watch out for.
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Stanton is the expensive superstar. Ozuna is the poor man’s Stanton. Then there’s Christian Yelich, who’s Miami’s most valuable trade chip for these reasons:
- With a career .800 OPS and an average of 4.1 wins above replacement per year since 2014, Yelich is excellent.
- At just 26 years old, Yelich is still young.
- With a contract that will pay him a maximum of $58.25 million through 2022, Yelich is both controllable and cheap.
Due to their needs for defensive and offensive stability in their outfield and their relatively restrained spending power, the Cleveland Indians are an ideal fit for a player of this caliber.
In top-ranked catcher Francisco Mejia, Cleveland has an excellent trade centerpiece to offer Miami. If the Marlins are happy with J.T. Realmuto behind the dish, the Indians could instead offer right-hander Triston McKenzie and add on with first baseman Bobby Bradley. Or perhaps some established major leaguers, such as Bradley Zimmer or Danny Salazar.
Any combination of these players would be a huge price to pay, and such a trade would put the Indians in “all-in” mode. But after losing the World Series in 2016 and following a 102-win season with an early playoff exit in 2017, that’s the mode they should be in.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. Payroll and contract data courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.