Mat Latos headed to the Cincinnati Reds this weekend, and ripples will be felt for the next fortnight through the MLB trade market. To land Latos, the Reds sent the San Diego Padres Yonder Alonso, Edinson Volquez and prospects Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger. That sent the going rate for top-pitching talent skyrocketing, and somewhere, Billy Beane and Gio Gonzalez smiled.
Beane means to trade Gonzalez, as the Oakland Athletics look to get younger and cheaper, and build toward a season far down the road. His leverage on that deal just got better. Though the Reds were one potential landing spot for Gonzalez, the loss of that destination is outweighed by the message the trade sends to the rest of the league.
Gonzalez is nearly as good as Latos, and under control for as long. The amount the Padres extracted from frustrated Reds GM Walt Jocketty, raises the market value of pitchers like Gonzalez and Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Garza. It also loosens the sediment enough to get some serious rocks rolling downhill during this Hot Stove season.
Here's the latest buzz on the 10 biggest names on the market right now.
Hanley Ramirez rumors have as much weight to them as the average Seventeen magazine feature. He's not going anywhere. The Miami Marlins may be stingy, but they're not stupid. Bringing in Jose Reyes was part of a coherent plan to contend; a plan centered around Reyes and Ramirez as the competitive and marketing core of the franchise.
Where could he land? It sounds like the Boston Red Sox would have interest. The Detroit Tigers make sense. It's all hypothetical, though, because the notion of Miami actually trading the face of their franchise is preposterous.
No one needs pitching less than the Atlanta Braves. Even if one stipulates that they lack a true, top-five ace, the sheer depth of their rotation makes Jair Jurrjens expendable. He isn't better than Brandon Beachy, Tim Hudson, Julio Teheran, Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor or Randall Delgado, so he doesn't really have a place on Atlanta's 2012 roster.
The market will take time yet to develop. The logical landing spots are teams uninterested in expending big resources on top talent. The Colorado Rockies could build a smart deal around Seth Smith (see the next slide for more there). The Minnesota Twins could reach out if the price drops a bit.
The Kansas City Royals make perhaps the most sense, since they seem unwilling to turn top prospect Wil Myers around for a higher-profile starter. Expect Jurrjens to go after Gio Gonzalez and at least one other pitcher are dealt, and a few free agents sign.
Michael Cuddyer finally got grossly overpaid, as the Colorado Rockies inked him to a three-year deal worth in excess of $30 million. With that, a trade of Seth Smith became nigh inevitable.
Smith no longer has a ready home in Colorado. Cuddyer fits only in right field, pushing Carlos Gonzalez back to left and leaving Dexter Fowler in center field. Smith becomes a bench bat, and though he's a better platoon guy than pure starter, he's not getting a fair shake from here for the Rockies.
The Braves are a good fit, but hardly an ideal one, as they have more left-hitting players than they want already. Smith could help a bad team as a full-time player, but is better used in trade if he is dealt as part of a package to a team like the Tampa Bay Rays for Wade Davis.
The segues just keep on comin'. Davis could be a fit for the Rockies, San Diego Padres, Tigers or Texas Rangers. He doesn't have much utility to Tampa Bay, though, or at least, not the kind of utility he might have elsewhere. He's under a team-friendly contract and has the stuff to become a mid-rotation starter, but he's clearly behind David Price, Matt Moore, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson on the depth chart.
The price for Davis would be interesting. It's certainly a question of potential and contract value, not performance. He really hasn't pitched like a future stud, compiling defense- and park-neutralized skill-independent numbers considerably worse than league average in each of his two full seasons. Yet, he's under control through 2017; turned just 26 in September; and has stuff that promises more success than he has had thus far.
Davis needs to emphasize his slider more, and his fastball less. He's had a negative platoon split in 2011; he was better against lefties than against righties. Davis has a good pitch mix, but isn't mixing his pitches well.
Davis is a project, and he's 26, so he's not worth as much as Mat Latos. He might not even be worth what the A's got for Trevor Cahill. He should, however, command an everyday player, or a package of prospects and complementary parts not unlike the one Tampa extracted from the Cubs last winter in exchange for Matt Garza.
This is San Diego's most fascinating new dilemma, post-Latos: Whither should Anthony Rizzo go, cherry of the Adrian Gonzalez deal and erstwhile top prospect?
Rizzo climbed the ladder fast en route to a call-up to the parent club in June. There, he collected three hits (a double, a triple and a home run) and four walks in his first three games. Thereafter, he hit .121/.238/.187 before being demoted in late July, then .133/.278/.167 during a more tentative look in September.
In short, his rookie season was a nightmare, one Rizzo hopes to put far behind him. He clobbered Triple-A pitching in 2011, in his first look at the level, but since he did it at hitter-friendly Tucson, those numbers are suspect. He will need to prove himself again this spring, and even if he did so, it's unlikely he could unseat the older, more polished Yonder Alonso at first base.
The Padres, then, have little reason to retain Rizzo. A huge part of the reason for his struggles might well have been the difficulty of transitioning to big-league pitching, but it also had to do with the drastic adjustment of hitting in PETCO Park. Rizzo's natural swing is to pull the ball to right field for great power, but that's virtually impossible in San Diego.
Josh Byrnes has no motivation to simply give away this good hitter. He would do it in the right deal, though, and with good reason. Free Anthony Rizzo!
The A's are stuck in something worse than purgatory out in Oakland, watching a community die around them from a miserable hole of a ballpark. The only possible relief, the only salvation from the hell that is MLB assuming ownership, would be a new home in San Jose, and it is that for which the team is fighting hardest this winter, not talent.
Bailey is a useful piece. He's a closer with great command and a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. He owns a career WHIP south of 1.00 and (because I know you're wondering) has faced 682 big-league batters without hitting one.
Ultimately, this is the easy sale, but that's because it's a sale-priced item. Closers are a dime a dozen on the market this winter, even more plentiful than starting hurlers, and from competition comes discount. Billy Beane will get the most he can out of the Red Sox in return for Bailey, but it will end up looking like Boston won the deal—because they will.
If Brian Cashman takes both Hiroyuki Nakajima and Eduardo Nunez to camp this spring, he's doing it wrong. This should be the New York Yankees' play every winter, albeit with the names and dollar figures changing a bit.
Despite an utter lack of a need for a middle infielder, the Yankees bid $2.5 million for Nakajima, a solid hitter with a low ceiling but the ability to play well on either side of second base. It's possible they did it because they really liked Nakajima. He's a fine player.
It's more likely, though, that they did it because they saw him as a valuable, saleable asset. It's a wonder the Yankees don't flex their financial muscles every winter and bid highest on some second-tier Japanese stars, putting themselves in position to trade those players and fill needs on their club or bolster their farm system.
Nakajima could help the team land a pitcher worthy of the middle of their rotation, since they currently have CC Sabathia and four No. 4 starters. It's hard to find just the right fit, however.
Carlos Zambrano is available, though expensive. The Cubs would gladly do this deal, and even kick in money, but the Yankees probably find that idea less than appetizing. The Rays have Davis and a hole at shortstop, but the divisional trade stigma figures to head that one off. Nakajima would be but a throw-in in a deal for Gio Gonzalez.
The San Francisco Giants, who reportedly love Nakajima, pose a unique problem. They're the most logical fit, too, or so it would seem, since they have an abundance of pitching. However, their rotation is split between players the team almost certainly deems untouchable (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner) and those who the Yankees rightly view as inadequate returns for Nakajima (Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito). The deal that happens could be one nobody expects, like Nakajima to the Braves or Reds for a spare starter.
Rough ride in 2011 aside, John Danks might be the best blend of good and cheap of any player on the trade market. He's only a year from free agency, and with the White Sox rebuilding, GM Kenny Williams figures to unload Danks for a lighter price than a player like Matt Garza (two years away) or Mat Latos (four years) would command.
Danks, however, is nearly as good as those guys. He was too aggressive in the strike zone last season, compromising in key situations and allowing doubles or homers when walks were an option. Still, he posted solidly above-average numbers in skill-indicative stats like FIP and SIERA.
His repertoire is dominated by variations on the fastball, and he can throw the two- and four-seamer with equal power. He has a good change-up, but needs to believe in it enough to throw it more than 12 percent of the time in ambivalent or unfavorable counts. That was his number in 2011, and it hurt him.
The Rangers have the best use for Danks' skills, and the best staff to turn him into a front-line guy. In fact, they're the only realistic suitor for Danks. That mass of leverage will allow Texas GM Jon Daniels to con Danks out of Williams on the cheap.
The Cubs, Rangers, White Sox and Padres are all run by smart people. Therefore, here's how this will go down:
Matt Garza is headed to the Padres. The last two general managers who acquired Anthony Rizzo both work at Wrigley Field now. They want Rizzo, and they want more. The Padres are going to put up a fight about just what else might be included, though they're ultimately open to the move. The Cubs will get what they want from San Diego by flirting with Texas, who have their eye on Garza themselves.
Texas, however, will talk to the Cubs only in order to gain leverage against the White Sox. Danks is the better fit for them. He will cost much less, but have only slightly less marginal value for them. By demonstrating their willingness to go across the street for the extra year of control (and Garza's edge in upside), the Rangers can bring the price of doing business down without losing anything. They have options; the Sox don't.
In the end, the Cubs and Rangers will win these deals, though all four teams are going to feel closer to building the roster they want, when they want, after the trades are finished.
Billy Beane now needs to move quickly.
The Reds were a major Gonzalez suitor; they are now off the board. The Royals and Tigers have soured early in talks over the asking price for the A's top left-hander, which would include Wil Myers (from the Royals) or Jacob Turner and Nick Castellanos (from the Tigers) as starting points.
That leaves the Blue Jays, Rangers and (yes) Yankees as the key players in this drama. One these teams is going to have officially won the rights to Yu Darvish, according to the consensus report du jour. Within the week, Beane needs to play the remaining two teams off one another quickly, and get the best offer he can. By Christmas, for instance, the Jays might have Darvish, and the Rangers might have locked in on John Danks. At that point, getting three top prospects—even out of the Yankees—becomes nearly impossible.
Right now, the A's are demanding a package including Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos and more from the Yankees. That's a non-starter at the moment, but it can still happen. Beane needs only to be opportunistic.