Predicting the 2016-17 MLB Offseason's Biggest Blockbuster Moves
With the World Series set to begin on Tuesday, we're less than two weeks away from the start of another action-packed MLB offseason.
This year's crop of free agents is loaded with impact power bats and high-octane relievers but is historically lacking in starting pitching options.
As a result, it could be a busy winter on the trade market, with contenders forced to wheel and deal in an effort to upgrade their rotations and non-contenders looking to sell high on their controllable arms.
At any rate, expect the usual inundation of trade rumors and speculation once the 2016 season officially wraps up and a new champ is crowned.
With that in mind, it's never too early to start doing some speculating of our own, so here's a look at five potential blockbuster deals that could come to pass this offseason.
Brian McCann to the Atlanta Braves
To ATL: C Brian McCann
To NYY: RHP Chris Ellis, RHP Zach Bird
Adding a veteran backstop to anchor their young pitching staff figures to be priority No. 1 for the Atlanta Braves this offseason after A.J. Pierzynski finally decided to call it a career.
Matt Wieters, Jason Castro, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Nick Hundley and Kurt Suzuki are all viable options on the free-agent market, along with All-Star Wilson Ramos, who will be working his way back from ACL surgery.
However, the most intriguing name might be a longtime Braves staple.
Brian McCann is expected to be on the block this winter as the New York Yankees get set to hand everyday catching duties over to phenom Gary Sanchez.
According to Mark Bowman of MLB.com, the Braves are considering making a push to acquire McCann, but the current asking price seems to be centered around one of Mike Foltynewicz or Ender Inciarte.
That price will be a non-starter for the 32-year-old McCann, who is owed $34 million over the next two years, so a trade will depend on how far the Yankees are willing to come down from that in the name of shedding some payroll.
McCann is not the elite offensive catcher he once was, but he still posted a .748 OPS with 20 home runs and 58 RBI this past season.
More than anything, his wealth of experience handling a staff and familiarity with the organization makes him an attractive option for the rebuilding Braves.
The Yankees could opt to target a couple of boom-or-bust pitching prospects in the Braves system who have a chance of outperforming their current prospect rankings.
Chris Ellis was acquired last offseason as part of the Andrelton Simmons trade and has No. 3 starter upside, although he struggled with the jump from Double-A to Triple-A last season.
Zack Bird was added from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Alex Wood trade. While he has the physical tools to start, a slow-developing changeup could mean a full-time move to the bullpen, where his fastball-slider combination has a chance to be a serious late-inning weapon.
The Yankees unload a good chunk of salary and get two intriguing arms, and the Braves get the veteran catcher they're seeking without giving up any top-tier prospects. Seems like a win-win.
Wade Davis to the Washington Nationals
To WAS: RHP Wade Davis
To KC: RHP Austin Voth, OF Rafael Bautista
It will be interesting to see how the closer carousel plays out this winter.
Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon are all headed for free agency, which means the Chicago Cubs, Dodgers and Washington Nationals will all be in the market to either re-sign their current closer or make a run at signing one of the other options.
Then there are the San Francisco Giants, who failed to add the ninth-inning arm they desperately needed at the trade deadline and paid the price when the postseason rolled around.
Prediction: Chapman and Jansen re-sign with the Cubs and Dodgers, respectively, while Melancon joins the Giants on a four-year deal.
That leaves the Nationals as the odd man out for that trio of top-tier options, prompting them to turn their attention to the trade market and Kansas City Royals bullpen ace Wade Davis.
Teams are already reaching out to the Royals about the 31-year-old's availability, according to Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball, though it's likely his market won't fully develop until that aforementioned trio choose their new homes.
Davis amounts to a rental player with a $10 million option in 2017 before hitting free agency, and he made multiple trips to the disabled list last year with forearm issues that lend to some long-term concern.
That being said, we're still talking about a player who has pitched to a 1.18 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 185 appearances over the past three years since making the full-time move to the bullpen.
It won't quite take a Chapman-esque haul to acquire him, but the Royals will still be looking for a pair of quality prospects.
Looking at the second-tier of prospects in the Nationals system, right-hander Austin Voth would give the Royals a solid middle-of-the-rotation candidate who is nearly MLB-ready. Speedy Rafael Bautista would add some much-needed position-player talent in the form of a potential future leadoff hitter.
A lower-level prospect or two might need to be kicked in depending on how many teams are pushing to acquire Davis, but that's a reasonable price as far as the headliners of the deal are concerned.
Vincent Velasquez to the Texas Rangers
To TEX: SP Vincent Velasquez
To PHI: UT Jurickson Profar, RHP Connor Sadzeck, RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez, UT Josh Morgan
The Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers made it "pretty deep" into trade talks surrounding young right-hander Vincent Velasquez leading up to the trade deadline, according to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly.
No deal was reached in July, but it's something that both sides could revisit this offseason, something Todd Zolecki of MLB.com sees as a realistic possibility.
Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish will be back to front the Rangers rotation in 2017, and finding a quality No. 3 starter to slot ahead of Martin Perez and A.J. Griffin could give the team a truly formidable staff.
Colby Lewis is a free agent, and Derek Holland has an $11 million option with a $1.5 million buyout, per Spotrac, so both of those veterans could be headed elsewhere. Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez are also in-house options, but they appear to be best served as organizational depth.
It's also worth nothing that Darvish himself will be headed for free agency following the upcoming season, and acquiring someone like Velasquez would give the Rangers a potential front-line replacement if he were to walk.
Velasquez joined the Phillies last offseason as part of the return package for reliever Ken Giles, and he flashed legitimate ace stuff at times.
All told, the 24-year-old finished the season 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 152 strikeouts in 131 innings of work over 24 starts before being shut down at the beginning of September.
So what will it cost to land a high-upside starter with five years of team control remaining?
The centerpiece could be Jurickson Profar, who still has no long-term position in Texas with Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus locked in as the starting middle infield.
He's yet to deliver on his top-prospect pedigree, but Profar is still just 23 years old, and a change of scenery with an opportunity for more regular playing time could lead to a breakout.
Connor Sadzeck is an intriguing 6'7" right-hander with a legitimate 80-grade fastball and developing secondary stuff that will determine whether he sticks as a starter. The 24-year-old Gonzalez is a former top prospect who has spent the past two seasons shuttling between the MLB rotation and Triple-A.
Josh Morgan has seen time at second base, third base and even did some catching in the instructional league, and he has the hit tool to be an impact utility option, batting .300 with 28 extra-base hits at the High-A level last season.
Jake Odorizzi to the Miami Marlins
To MIA: SP Jake Odorizzi
To TB: C J.T. Realmuto
Even before the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez, the Miami Marlins were expected to push hard for starting pitching help this offseason.
Jeremy Hellickson looks like a potential target in free agency despite the likelihood he'll have a qualifying offer extended by the Phillies.
Regardless of what happens in free agency, though, the Marlins figure to also be active on the trade market.
The issue there is a lack of impact prospects down on the farm, which could mean trading an MLB bat in order to solidify the rotation.
The Marlins engaged briefly with the Tampa Bay Rays leading up to the trade deadline in their search for starting pitching help before eventually settling on acquiring Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from the San Diego Padres.
According to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, the Rays were asking for both Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto in exchange for Matt Moore or Jake Odorizzi.
That's an outrageous asking price and would have been too much to give up for Moore and Odorizzi, but there could be something to dangling Realmuto in a trade to upgrade the rotation.
The Rays have long been searching for stability at the catcher position, and the 25-year-old Realmuto enjoyed a breakout season in 2016 when he hit .303/.343/.428 with 31 doubles, 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases for a 2.6 WAR.
That would force the Marlins to turn to someone like Suzuki, Castro, Hundley or a handful of others in free agency to fill the void at catcher, but it will take a creative shift of talent like that to address the rotation in an ultra-thin pitching market.
Odorizzi was rock solid once again in 2016, going 10-6 with a 3.69 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over a career-high 187.2 innings of work. He's pitched to a 3.72 ERA and 1.21 WHIP while averaging 175 innings over the past three years.
The Rays would get an extra year of control in the deal with Realmuto arbitration-eligible through 2020 and Odorizzi headed for free agency following the 2019 campaign.
Some prospects might be needed to round out the deal, but a blockbuster trade with those two as the centerpieces would appear to make sense for both sides.
Ryan Braun to the Los Angeles Dodgers
To LAD: LF Ryan Braun
To MIL: RF Yasiel Puig, RHP Brandon McCarthy, UT Willie Calhoun, RHP Brock Stewart
Just how close was a Ryan Braun-for-Yasiel Puig trade to happening prior to the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline?
Here's what Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote on Sept. 14 on the subject:
Braun and Puig were about 20 minutes from being traded for one another two weeks ago, according to several executives with direct knowledge of their trade talks, but the teams ran out of time at the Aug. 31 trade deadline. ...
Braun was being traded to the Dodgers, who would pay the entire $76 million in his contract, for outfielder Yasiel Puig, injured veteran pitcher Brandon McCarthy and prospects.
Negotiations lasted all the way to the 11:59 p.m. ET waivers trade deadline on Aug. 31. Officials vowed to revisit the talks again this winter. ...
The deal was so close, with just one last prospect being negotiated, that Braun was advised to stay around until the deadline expired. Several of his teammates even stayed with him in the clubhouse, prepared to say their goodbyes.
Puig returned from his minor league demotion with a .300/.362/.620 line over 58 plate appearances in September, but that's no guarantee he'll be productive next season or that he'll stop being a headache for the organization.
If anything, it boosted his trade value a bit, making an offseason trade an even more appealing option for the Dodgers.
Offsetting the money still owed to Braun by including McCarthy, who is due $23 million over the next two years, still seems like an obvious move.
The question is which prospects the Dodgers will need to also include to make it worthwhile for the Brewers to trade Braun, who hit .305/.365/.538 with 30 home runs and 91 RBI in 2016.
Jose De Leon, Cody Bellinger and Alex Verdugo are probably off the table, but breakout slugger Willie Calhoun could be enough to get the wheels turning.
He doesn't have a clear defensive home, but the 21-year-old should be able to ride his bat to a big league job after he posted a .788 OPS with 25 doubles and 27 home runs in Double-A.
Rounding out the proposed package is right-hander Brock Stewart, who went 9-4 with a 1.79 ERA in 121 minor league innings and got his feet wet with five starts and two relief appearances in the majors.
The 25-year-old is still lacking a quality breaking pitch, which will determine whether he's a No. 4 starter type or a reliever going forward, but he should be a useful arm in some capacity.
The Dodgers have arguably the deepest farm system in baseball, so if it takes sweetening the pot even further for a chance to acquire Braun, they could certainly do it.
Braun looks like the perfect fit as a right-handed slugger to slot between the left-handed-hitting duo of Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez, and his over-the-fence pop would be a welcome addition to a Dodgers team that ranked 17th in the majors with 189 home runs.
On the other side, the Brewers free up a good chunk of payroll and potentially buy low on Puig, who still has the physical tools to emerge as a centerpiece of their rebuilding efforts. Calhoun looks like a quality prospect, and McCarthy could turn into a trade chip in his own right with a healthy 2017 campaign.
There are a lot of moving parts here, but it has all the makings of the offseason's biggest blockbuster.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.