Blockbuster Deals That Can Turn MLB Pretenders into Contenders
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The 2013 MLB season is still young, so many of the apparent "pretenders" have time to improve their playoff prospects by completing blockbuster deals. Each of the following teams can use trades to address their glaring weaknesses.
As of April 29, 12 ball clubs that spent last October on the couch have begun 2013 with losing records. We'll discuss seven of them in depth.
The Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Miami Marlins were excluded because they have committed to long-term rebuilding plans. Though they'll put forth strong efforts on the field in the coming months, their front offices wouldn't dare relinquish young talent and mortgage the future for short-term success.
This article doesn't address the Tampa Bay Rays or Toronto Blue Jays either. The former has a large concentration of MLB-ready pitching in the high minors. With so much depth, the Rays belong in the contention conversation despite their sub-.500 winning percentage. And the Blue Jays already have the necessary veteran talent to excel immediately. Panicking and making significant roster changes wouldn't better their situation.
Critique all trade proposals independently because they were devised under different assumptions. The first slide, for example, makes sense in a universe where the San Diego Padres struggle, while another speculates about what the team might do to build off an encouraging start.
With all that written, enjoy this list of potentially transformative swaps.
Chicago White Sox
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Chicago White Sox get: 3B Chase Headley and C Nick Hundley
San Diego Padres get: 2B Gordon Beckham, RHP Erik Johnson, OF Trayce Thompson and RHP Kevin Vance
Chicago finds itself toward the bottom of the standings with several impact players on the disabled list. If the offense continues to average 3.46 runs per game, the club won't finish above .500, much less make the postseason.
Despite their current winning streak, the Padres have been even less competitive overall. They may decide to peddle major league talent unless their NL West rivals regress.
Headley evolved from respectable third baseman to legitimate MVP candidate in 2012. His 144 OPS+ ranked fourth in the National League, as he nearly doubled his career home run total. The soon-to-be 29-year-old would definitely strengthen the White Sox lineup.
Also, acquiring a reputable catcher should be a high priority. Chicago basically handed the starting job to Tyler Flowers when A.J. Pierzynski left as a free agent, and thus far, his performance has been lousy (.171/.250/.371 in 20 G). San Diego's Hundley has started off hot. His contract guarantees $7 million through 2014 and includes a 2015 team option at $5 million.
Making these additions, however, would force the White Sox to deplete an already-weak farm system.
Gordon Beckham's broken hamate bone might sideline him through Memorial Day, but the injury is relatively common across baseball (via Yahoo!'s Jeanne Rose). The recovery is predictable and, as we observed with Pablo Sandoval last season, the hitter's strength eventually returns.
Chicago's front office could begin negotiating this blockbuster shortly after Beckham gets healthy.
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Cleveland Indians get: RHP Jeff Samardzija
Chicago Cubs get: 1B Jesus Aguilar, RHP Trevor Bauer and RHP Bryan Shaw
In spring training, Samardzija told MLB.com's Carrie Muskat that the Cubs had not seriously discussed a contract extension with his representatives. Until the sides reach a long-term agreement, there's a chance he could be made available to other teams.
Based on service time and production, Samardzija's asking price could be in the neighborhood of Matt Harrison's five-year, $55 million deal. Even the low-revenue Indians would gladly make that kind of commitment. They desperately need rotation help with Brett Myers injured and top starters Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez lacking consistency.
The Tribe cannot get this done without sacrificing several high-ceiling prospects.
Bauer came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks as the centerpiece of an offseason trade. His stuff is comparable to Samardzija's, though similarly, locating it has been a challenge early in his professional career. The 22-year-old does own a sexy strikeout rate, particularly during his current stint at Triple-A.
Fortunately, Cleveland has a handful of capable relievers, so losing Shaw would barely affect the pen.
Los Angeles Angels
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Los Angeles Angels get: LHP Cliff Lee and $10 million
Philadelphia Phillies get: 3B/2B Alberto Callaspo, RHP Garrett Richards, RHP Austin Wood
The southpaw has been Philly's most consistent pitcher since beginning his second tour of duty with the club in 2011. In that time, he leads all of baseball in strikeout-to-walk ratio and ranks third among qualified starters in WAR, according to FanGraphs.
However, the cost of keeping him is prohibitive. After earning $25 million this season, Lee's salary remains the same in 2014 and 2015. A $27.5 million option vests so long as he continues to surpass the 200-inning benchmark.
Price be damned, L.A. needs to bolster its starting rotation. There isn't a single trustworthy option behind injured ace Jered Weaver. C.J. Wilson suffers from shaky command, while the rest have anemic strikeout rates. The cash included in this potential deal would cover part of Lee's 2013 cost and ensure that the Angels stay below the luxury tax threshold.
Callaspo has been on the disabled list with a strained calf, though his return is imminent, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. He could be back with the Angels this weekend following a brief rehab assignment. Rookie Luis Jimenez can replace him at third base.
Moving Richards is the most painful part of this. Under team control through 2018, he'll be an inexpensive innings eater. But even reaching his ceiling and staying healthy doesn't put him on par with Lee.
New York Mets
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New York Mets get: OF David DeJesus, RHP Matt Garza and $1.5 million
Chicago Cubs get: RHP Greg Burke, OF/IF Jordany Valdespin and RHP Logan Verrett
The Mets obviously wouldn't rush into any Garza discussions. He is more than nine months removed from his last MLB appearance and facing yet another setback. Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com reports that there's no clear timetable for Garza's return after a "dead arm" forced him to skip a rehab start.
But beyond Matt Harvey and Jon Niese, New York's rotation is highly suspect. Inserting Garza behind them forms a trio that could match up with any other in the NL East.
The front office backed away from Michael Bourn when the free agent sought a multi-year deal. It's a decision the Mets probably regret considering the futility of their center fielders in 2013 (via MLB.com). Even at age 33, DeJesus is a superior platoon player to Collin Cowgill. The $1.5 million listed above represents the cost to buy out his $6.5 million team option for next summer.
Burke and Valdespin will be cheap to retain for much of the next decade, which is an important consideration for the rebuilding Cubs.
Of course, these talks only gain momentum if Verrett, 22, changes uniforms. He boasts a sparkling 4.97 strikeout-to-walk ratio across three minor league levels and a spotless win-loss record at Double-A.
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Philadelphia Phillies get: OF/1B Corey Hart and RHP Mark Rogers
Milwaukee Brewers get: OF/1B John Mayberry and LHP Adam Morgan
Hart is a famously fast healer, so the baseball world was understandably surprised when Milwaukee placed him on the 60-day disabled list shortly after Opening Day. However, the free-agent-to-be admitted that his surgically-repaired knee isn't close to 100 percent anyway (via Todd Rosiak, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). He'll be eligible to return on May 30.
The Phillies offense sputters against left-handed pitching. Delmon Young is closing in on his 2013 major league debut, but the club can't seriously expect to contend while using him regularly. Hart actually contributes with the glove and could occasionally spell Ryan Howard at first base. He also approaches plate appearances with more discipline.
The Brew Crew would reluctantly move their productive veteran onto the trading block if they tumbled into mediocrity by midseason. Rogers' off-kilter performance and lack of minor league options make him a candidate for departure.
There's no indication that Mayberry can imitate Hart's power-hitting, though they share the same body type and defensive skill set. Milwaukee could find on-field opportunities for him. Morgan is thriving in the minors, perhaps only a few months away from that final promotion.
San Diego Padres
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San Diego Padres get: RHP Ricky Nolasco and RF Giancarlo Stanton
Miami Marlins get: RHP Matt Andriese, OF Jaff Decker, LHP Max Fried, LF/1B Jesus Guzman, 3B/2B Jedd Gyorko and RHP Dale Thayer
It's going to take a boatload of young players to pry Stanton from the Fish this summer, particularly if his fiery streak continues (via The Miami Herald). Moreover, San Diego would need to expand the proposal to have any chance of vaulting into contention. The team's rotation is among the National League's weakest, so Nolasco represents a major upgrade.
The right-hander is merely a rental, as his contract expires after the season. In Stanton's case, the front office would make every effort to lock him up for years to come.
Guzman, Gyorko and Thayer could all contribute upon arriving in Miami. Decker is just one level below the majors, while Andriese has been dominating at Double-A. The Padres chose the 19-year-old Fried with the seventh overall pick in the most recent amateur draft. He's a potential No. 1 starter.
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Seattle Mariners get: SS Asdrubal Cabrera and RHP Vinnie Pestano
Cleveland Indians get: SS/2B Nick Franklin, LHP Danny Hultzen and LHP Lucas Luetge
Quite a few teams pestered the Indians over the winter about Cabrera. For two straight seasons, he has been an excellent offensive force (by middle infield standards).
Pestano is arguably Cleveland's top reliever, though he continues to set up Chris Perez. Regardless of which particular inning the right-hander appears, he certainly has the ability and demeanor to succeed in high-leverage situations.
The M's should chew on this offer for another month or so before officially making it. Dustin Ackley enters April 29 with a nine-game hitting streak, and manager Eric Wedge has Robert Andino and Brendan Ryan battling for playing time, according to MLB.com's Greg Johns. Maybe the current personnel is adequate after all.
Then again, doesn't this franchise owe its fanbase a blockbuster after 11 straight playoff-less seasons? Many of Seattle's offseason transactions generated national buzz. One more big splash could be the difference between relevancy and legitimacy.