Finding Trade Partners for MLB's Bloated Superstar Contracts on the Block

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIDecember 13, 2015

Finding Trade Partners for MLB's Bloated Superstar Contracts on the Block

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Finding logical trade destinations for notorious underachievers like Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp is no enviable task.

    Once upon a time, Ramirez and Kemp were mashing together in the heart of the order for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, those guys headline the list of potential trade chips playing on bloated superstar contracts.

    Fortunately for the executives who could be tasked with trying to move players like Ramirez and Kemp, there are strategies to help facilitate such deals. The first option is to attach the overpaid big leaguer to an intriguing prospect. The second is to eat some (or potentially a lot of) cash.

    After digging through the stats, examining all the contracts and surveying the markets for bats and arms, there's no question some of these players will be easier to move than others. It's a race to the bottom, but ultimately it looks like Kemp wins the regrettable distinction of most untradeable of all.

James Shields, SP

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    Don Boomer/Associated Press

    The Contract Situation: Owed $63 million over the next three seasons, plus a $16 million club option for 2019

    • 2016: $21 million*
    • 2017: $21 million
    • 2018: $21 million
    • 2019: $16 million club option (with a $2 million buyout)

    *Note: James Shields can opt out after the 2016 season.

    2016 Opening Day Age: 34

    There is a lot on the line for Shields in 2016.

    The right-hander, who stumbled through a dud of a debut season with the San Diego Padres in 2015, is eligible to opt out of his current contract at the end of the upcoming campaign.

    As you can see per Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors, the 2016-17 class of free-agent starters is looking awfully shaky (aside from Stephen Strasburg). Considering the lack of options, Shields, with a stellar showing, could set himself up to rake in a more lucrative payday than the $44 million he'll be guaranteed from 2017 on.

    According to ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney, the Padres are getting "major interest" on the Shields trade front.

    Looking around the league, the upstart Minnesota Twins are one club that could use an established vet like Shields atop the rotation. The American League Central has been kind to Shields in the past, as the starter compiled a 3.18 ERA in his two seasons with the Kansas City Royals. As Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press noted, a swap of Shields and Ricky Nolasco would be one avenue to explore.

    Even after signing Jeff Samardzija, the San Francisco Giants are another team that could use a guy like Shields. The National League West squad has certainly had interest in Shields in the past. Last February, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported the hurler rejected a four-year, $80 million offer from the Giants.

    Logical Trade Partners: Giants and Twins

Prince Fielder, 1B/DH

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Contract Situation: Owed $120 million* over the next five seasons

    • 2016: $24 million
    • 2017: $24 million
    • 2018: $24 million
    • 2019: $24 million
    • 2020: $24 million

    *Note: The Detroit Tigers will pay $30 million of the remaining salary.

    2016 Opening Day Age: 31

    That's a lot of 24s.

    According to Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Texas Rangers aren't entirely opposed to the idea of lopping Prince Fielder's salary off the payroll.

    “We haven’t had conversations about Prince with other clubs,” general manager Jon Daniels said, per Stevenson. “We’re open to talk about anything [with other teams], but I don’t want to create concern.”

    It's not out of the question to think teams will be calling up Daniels after Fielder made his sixth All-Star team in 2015 and snagged the AL Comeback Player of the Year honors.

    The Baltimore Orioles are one club that could end up having an opening for a middle-of-the-order type—especially if free agent Chris Davis departs. Per Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun, the team has pulled back the seven-year, $150 million offer it made to the left-handed hitter. Meanwhile, his agent Scott Boras told Connolly the dialogue is still "open" between the two sides.

    Based on that figure, acquiring Fielder, who makes $90 million over the next five seasons (plus the prospect(s) the Rangers want) could prove to a significantly safer and cheaper investment for Baltimore.

    Logical Trade Partner: Orioles

Carlos Gonzalez, RF

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Contract Situation: Owed $37 million over the next two seasons

    • 2016: $17 million
    • 2017: $20 million

    2016 Opening Day Age: 32

    How does a guy who hit 40 bombs in 2015 end up on this list?

    Easy. It's all about the splits. Take a look at the breakdown for Carlos Gonzalez from a season ago:

    • Home: 24 HR, .299 AVG, .355 OBP, .617 SLG and .978 OPS
    • Away: 16 HR, .243 AVG, .294 OBP, .464 SLG and .758 OPS

    Looking at those stats, it's impossible not to wonder if CarGo is a Coors Field mirage. At a price of $37 million over the next two seasons, there will be suitors willing to gamble he's not.

    "Carlos Gonzalez's name is getting out there as possible trade candidate now. Teams seeking OF bat: Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals, etc.," Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted.

    After just losing out on the derby for Jason Heyward, the St. Louis Cardinals stand out as a compelling destination for Gonzalez. However, according to Jim Bowden of ESPN and SiriusXM, free-agent left fielder Alex Gordon is currently ahead of Gonzalez on the team's wish list.

    A trade to the Kansas City Royals would also make a lot of sense for the reigning World Series champs. Last season, the club's right fielders ranked No. 30 in baseball with a .617 OPS. Plus, Gonzalez has the defensive prowess to cover plenty of terrain at the spacious Kauffman Stadium. Last season, Gonzalez saved the Colorado Rockies five runs in right, per Baseball-Reference.com.

    Logical Trade Partners: Cardinals and Royals

Matt Kemp, LF/RF

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Contract Situation: Owed $86 million* over the next four seasons

    • 2016: $21.5 million
    • 2017: $21.5 million
    • 2018: $21.5 million
    • 2019: $21.5 million

    *Note: The Los Angeles Dodgers will pay $14 million of the remaining salary.

    2016 Opening Day Age: 31

    This is one difficult sales pitch.

    According to Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the San Diego Padres "have shopped" Matt Kemp. Yes. The same Matt Kemp who is 31, rebounding from a season in which he posted a .755 OPS and who is still owed $72 million over the next four seasons by the Padres.

    But there's more than meets the eye with this trade chip.

    Kemp was actually an All-Star-caliber player in the second half of 2015, posting an .868 OPS and clubbing 15 home runs in his final 65 games.

    And it's worth noting that $72 million buys you surprisingly little on the outfield market. After all, Jason Heyward is a defensive master—who has made the All-Star Game just once in six seasons—and just hauled in an eight-year, $184 million payday, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

    So, just who could be in the market for a corner outfield bat like the one Kemp provides? How about the Los Angeles Angels? Last year, left field was a dumpster fire for the Halos. The players who patrolled that spot combined to post a .592 OPS—baseball's worst mark.

    If the Pads were willing to chip in $12 million in a potential deal, Kemp would be a $15 million-a-year player for the next four seasons. The other option for San Diego would be to attach the veteran outfielder to one of the organization's promising farmhands.

    Logical Trade Partner: Angels

Hanley Ramirez, 1B/DH

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The Contract Situation: Owed $66 million over the next three seasons, plus a $22 million vesting option for 2019

    • 2016: $22 million
    • 2017: $22 million
    • 2018: $22 million
    • 2019: $22 million (guaranteed if Ramirez has 1050 plate appearances in 2017-2018 and if he passes a team physical after the 2018 season)

    2016 Opening Day Age: 32

    Admittedly, this is a really big ask.

    "A roll of the eyes is the normal reaction on Ramirez," wrote Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe after surveying "baseball people" about the Dominican's trade value. "The feeling about him is nearly universal. 'Don’t want him on my team,' said one AL evaluator about Ramirez."

    Cafardo went on to spell out just how challenging it would be for the Boston Red Sox to get out from under Ramirez's hefty contract.

    "If [president of baseball operations] Dave Dombrowski can move him, he’ll win executive of the year hands down."

    Fortunately for the Red Sox, Dombrowski is one of the game's shrewdest execs. And for all of Ramirez's detractors, the one-time slugger still has his fans.

    “Hanley could really hit,” said Don Mattingly, his former boss with the Los Angeles Dodgers and now the skipper of the Miami Marlins, per Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald. “I don’t know if he’s healthy or not. I don’t know what’s going on with him. But I know he’s capable of it.”

    Back in 2013, Ramirez hit .345 with 20 jacks in just 86 games for Mattingly's Dodgers. As the manager explained, there was no secret to coaxing that production out of Ramirez, who placed eighth on the National League MVP ballot that season.

    “Nothing special,” Mattingly told Mastrodonato. "I just wanted to make Hanley a part of the team. Clean the slate for him as far as anything that happened in the past. Just going forward, just kind of laid out our expectations for him, what we needed."

    While Ramirez hasn't been linked to the Fish, a reunion with Mattingly in South Beach could provide the right-handed hitter with that clean slate. After all, Ramirez enjoyed some MVPish seasons during his first stint with the Marlins.

    Boston could send Ramirez (and cash) to Miami for a prospect. The caliber of the prospect would be determined by just how much money the Red Sox would hand over.

    Then, the Marlins could plug Ramirez in at first and trade the incumbent at that spot—Justin Bour. With 23 homers in 409 at-bats, Bour would be a sneaky-good trade chip for the Marlins.

    Logical Trade Partner: Marlins

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com. All salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts on BaseballProspectus.com.

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.