What if Robinson Cano left the Yankees? WHAT IF, I say!
Major League Baseball's offseason rumor mill is 90 percent hogwash. Maybe even 95 percent. Heck, I wouldn't rule out 99 percent.
It exists for a reason, though. In between baseball seasons, taking in rumors and then sitting back to ask "What if?" makes for a decent way to pass the time. Nobody ever said fun can't be had with hogwash.
That's what we're here to do today by playing THE ULTIMATE game of "What if?" by asking: What if one juicy offseason rumor came true and kicked off a domino effect of other juicy offseason rumors coming true?
Basically, what if a whole bunch of rumors suddenly ceased to be hogwash all at once?
Hoo boy. OK, then. Let's pull up MLB Trade Rumors, put on our imagination-ing hats and see what we can do with 10 of the biggest rumors around.
Note: All stats from Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Just about every sign above ground points to Robinson Cano returning to the Yankees. There's just no obvious fit (or, seemingly, enough cash) for him outside of The Bronx.
But maybe the Mets will be the team to crash the party.
It's been a while since the Amazin's last threw a truckload of cash at a big-name free agent, but the New York Post has reported that the club's brass met with Jay Z, Cano's high-profile representative, over dinner to discuss the free-agent second baseman.
Will Cano end up with the Mets? Most likely not. But since we're imagination-ing here, let's say it does.
What it would mean for the Mets is a huge offensive upgrade at second base over Daniel Murphy, and Cano's left-handed bat would go nicely next to David Wright's right-handed bat in the middle of the Mets' lineup.
The Mets could use one, as only two clubs got less power from lefty hitters in 2013 than they did. Goodness knows the Wright-Cano duo would also be mighty handy once Matt Harvey gets healthy and Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard are well-established.
Meanwhile on the other side of town, Cano signing with the Mets would leave the Yankees without their prized possession at second base. They would thus be forced to make good on their interest in...(see next slide!)
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported in early November that the Yankees had inquired about the Reds' second baseman, who seems to have fallen out of favor in Cincinnati by being too me-me-me.
Making a deal happen would be complicated, but the $50 million remaining on Phillips' contract wouldn't be a huge barrier if the Yankees are turning to him as a replacement for Cano. Letting him go would mean a lot of money that could have gone to him suddenly lying around waiting to be used elsewhere.
Phillips wouldn't be able to replace Cano's offense. He has a 103 OPS+ over the last three seasons, compared to Cano's 142 OPS+. One of those things is not like the other.
However, the Yankees would be getting a defensive upgrade at second base, where Phillips is still one of the best. And if Brendan Ryan were to end up getting the bulk of the starts at shortstop, the Yankees would have arguably the best double-play combination in the game up the middle of the field.
But of course, what's great defense without great pitching to go with it? After acquiring Phillips, the Yankees' next move would be to go after...(see next slide!)
Both MLBTR and Jon Heyman have Tanaka ranked as the top free-agent (a term that only kinda-sorta fits) starting pitcher on the market, and the general vibe is that he's the only guy who has No. 1 starter potential.
Many have said that the Yankees are interested, including Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. He wrote earlier this month that landing Tanaka is one of club's top priorities and that it will be "bold" in pursuing him.
I've already chimed in with my belief that the Yankees' heavy interest in Tanaka is not misplaced. He's a pitcher with excellent control and a lethal split-finger fastball. His style could play well enough in the majors that, yeah, he could be a No. 1.
And don't underestimate the Yankees' need for one of those. CC Sabathia was their No. 1 for a while there. But after posting an 85 ERA+ in 2013, he may not be capable of being that guy anymore.
But if something gets done and the Yankees land Tanaka, they will have scored one of the top targets of the Dodgers. That would force them to respond by making a deal for...(see next slide!)
ESPN's Buster Olney said in October that the Dodgers were going to be aggressive in going after Price, and one general manager told Peter Gammons that the Dodgers have the pieces to get it done.
“They have the minor league talent to get Price,” said the GM, via Gammons Daily. “If they would trade Corey Seager and Julio Urias and a couple out of Zach Lee, Joc Pederson or Chris Withrow, it would get it done."
Per FanGraphs, Dodgers starters led the league in ERA in 2013. They don't need Price.
But if they get him? Holy smokes.
In Price and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers would have maybe the two best left-handed starters in baseball in their rotation. Add in Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and you get one of the best rotations in the known universe.
It would certainly be the best in the NL West. To such a staggering degree, in fact, that the Rockies would be convinced to say "Screw it!" and trade...(see next slide!)
It was Jeff Passan who reported that the Rockies and Cardinals were expected to discuss a deal involving Tulo at the GM meetings earlier this month. The Cardinals are a logical fit, as the Rockies are ever in need of pitching and the Cardinals have more young pitching than they know what to do with.
And for the Cardinals, such a deal would be worth sacrificing a young arm or two (or three). According to FanGraphs, only three clubs got less WAR from shortstop in 2013.
Since Tulo led all shortstops in WAR, acquiring him would mean turning a dire weakness into a humongous strength.
More so than his defense, the Cardinals would be glad to have Tulo's bat. He posted a career-high 140 OPS+ in 2013, and he's a rare Rockies hitter who boasts solid numbers (.819 career OPS) away from Coors Field.
Adding Tulowitzki's bat to the lineup would lessen the need for the Cardinals to bring Carlos Beltran back into the fold. That would leave him free to sign with the very-much-interested...(see next slide!)
George A. King III of the New York Post reported earlier this month that the Red Sox were hot after Beltran. More recently, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald let everyone know that things are getting serious:
Heard the #RedSox have had "serious dialogue" with free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran— Scott Lauber (@ScottLauber) November 19, 2013
If Beltran comes to the Red Sox, he'll basically be replacing Jacoby Ellsbury. That's both good and bad.
Bad because, even with Shane Victorino likely moving to center field, it would mean a downgrade for Boston's outfield defense. Victorino is no Ellsbury in center field, and Beltran was the worst everyday outfielder in MLB in 2013, according to FanGraphs.
Offensively, however, it would be a different story. Beltran owns a 136 OPS+ since 2011, compared to a 122 OPS+ for Ellsbury. And if David Ortiz were to part ways with the Red Sox after his contract is up in 2014, Beltran could easily slide into a role as Boston's everyday DH.
If Beltran goes to Boston, the rumblings would be felt in The Bronx. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com reported earlier this month that the Yankees are serious about signing Beltran this winter.
Him signing with their biggest rivals would lead them to go after...(see next slide!)
According to Jon Heyman, Beltran is option 1A on the Yankees' wish list for their outfield. Option 1 is Choo, who would be more attainable if the Bombers are indeed left with a pile of cash to spend elsewhere if Cano leaves for the Mets.
Bringing Choo aboard would mean stashing him in right field, pushing Ichiro Suzuki either to the bench or to the freebie pile on the trade market. And rather than putting him at the top of their lineup, the Yankees would have the option of using Brett Gardner at leadoff with Choo in the middle.
And why not? Choo's on-base prowess plays well anywhere, and the power he boasts from the left side of the plate would help make up for some of the power the Yankees will have lost with Cano's departure. Choo owns a .171 ISO over the last five seasons. He would likely be able to do a lot better than that with regular action at Yankee Stadium.
One club that wouldn't be too thrilled about this union is the Rangers, who Heyman says prefer Choo over Ellsbury.
But if it's Choo's lefty power the Rangers really desire, they would shrug their shoulders and move on to...(see next slide!)
The Rangers were largely quiet last winter. If you believe MLB.com's Richard Justice, things are going to be different this winter. And if you believe Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston, the guy Texas GM Jon Daniels likes the most might be McCann:
FWIW, one baseball source said Texas pushing hard for McCann. '"They're knocking his door down," source said— Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) November 13, 2013
The Rangers got a decent amount of power from A.J. Pierzynski in 2013, but McCann ranked behind only Jason Castro in ISO among catchers with at least 400 plate appearances, according to FanGraphs.
Going from Pierzynski to McCann would mean a huge power upgrade at catcher.
McCann's not too shabby behind the plate either. In particular, he's known as a guy who has good rapport with pitchers. Adding him could conceivably make Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Matt Harrison (remember him?) that much better.
If McCann departs for Texas, the Braves would officially be missing a significant part of their 2013 club that they wouldn't be able to fully replace.
That would inspire the Phillies to get bold and trade...(see next slide!)
This is the most out-of-left-field trade rumor of the offseason so far, and it was whispered by Philadelphia radio host Howard Eskin:
Jon Heyman quickly swooped in to debunk this one...but there's still something about it that strikes a chord.
Maybe that's because it wouldn't be a totally indefensible deal for either side.
The Blue Jays would be swapping an aging power hitter for a younger power hitter, one who swings from the left side of the plate to boot. Putting Brown next to Edwin Encarnacion would mean a strong lefty-righty power combination in place of the righty-righty combination of Encarnacion and Bautista.
By that same token, Bautista would bring some nifty power balance to the Phillies' lineup. Rather than three straight lefties in Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Brown, Ryne Sandberg would be able to line up a nice left-right-left trio of Utley, Bautista and Howard. The righty-swinging Marlon Byrd would follow.
That's a lineup the Phillies could do some damage with. The response by the Nationals would be to go big and try for...(see next slide!)
The Tigers have many reasons to hold on to Scherzer. But since his contract status is a pretty big reason for them to not hold on to him, it makes sense that they're open to dealing him. That's the word from Jon Heyman, anyway.
The Nats enter the picture via Ken Rosenthal's speculative mind. He pondered a while back that Scherzer could be a good fit for Washington based on his connection to GM Mike Rizzo and the club's relationship with Scott Boras, who represents Scherzer.
It would take everything the Nats have to get a deal done. Power relievers. Power arms from their minor league system. Maybe a bat as well. And a case of beer on top.
But if they were to pull it off...Criminy. What a rotation that would be.
The trio of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann was good enough to help the Nats to the seventh-best starters' ERA in 2013, according to FanGraphs. Scherzer has a 2.63 ERA over his last 42 regular-season starts, and he recently won an award for his pitching in 2013.
Of course, the only follow-up to a blockbuster development like this would be...(see next slide!)
...Damned if I know.
Sorry. I know there are plenty more hot rumors out there—Jacoby Ellsbury to the Mariners, Jeff Samardzija to the Diamondbacks, and so on—but you can only do the whole domino effect thing until your mind starts to cramp and, subsequently, the clever transitions cease to materialize.
But hey, we just remade Major League Baseball into a place where the Mets have swiped a superstar from the Yankees, the Yankees have made enough moves to deal with it, the Red Sox and Cardinals have found ways to stay really good, the Dodgers and Nationals have both arranged super-rotations and the Rangers and Phillies have both added some key power bats to their lineups.
That'll do for a way to recreate the league in a mighty-interesting image. And that, of course, is what the rumor mill is there for.