One YOLO Risk That Could Skyrocket or Destroy Each MLB Contender's Future
"You Only Live Once" is either a great excuse for doing something bold or a bad excuse for doing something stupid.
Since this is as true in Major League Baseball as it is in life, let's consider the biggest YOLO risks that contenders might pursue this offseason.
At play are realistic (yes, the emphasis is necessary) big-ticket transactions that, if all were to go well, would elevate a given contender to a new level or, if all didn't go well, would pull the wings off that given contender's future and cause it to plummet.
Since there are 17 teams that can be fairly deemed as contenders—i.e. teams that aren't rebuilding or somewhere between contending and rebulding—you'd better strap in for this one. Starting in the AL East, we'll go division by division and in order from best 2017 record to worst 2017 record.
Boston Red Sox: Sign Eric Hosmer
True, a trade for Giancarlo Stanton would cost the Boston Red Sox a basket of arms and legs. But after hitting an American League-low 168 homers in 2017, their need for power is strong enough to justify such a risk.
Something riskier would be spending, say, $150 million on Eric Hosmer.
The 28-year-old fits Boston's need for a lefty-hitting first baseman. He's also coming off a career year highlighted by an .882 OPS and 25 homers, which might be just the tip of his power iceberg.
"If you told Eric Hosmer, 'We need you to hit 40 home runs,' he would be able to hit 40 home runs," said Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com.
However, Hosmer's power seems held in check more by a ground-ball habit than by choice. And wins above replacement captures how his production, in general, has been inconsistent. If that were to continue, he'd become an expensive blight on an already bloated payroll.
New York Yankees: Trade for Gerrit Cole
The New York Yankees can afford either Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, but what would be more interesting is if they saved their money and reached over to the National League to trade for Gerrit Cole instead.
Since he's just two years removed from a Cy Young-caliber campaign and still two years away from free agency, the Pittsburgh Pirates won't be parting with him unless they get multiple top prospects.
With MLB's No. 3 farm system, as ranked by B/R's Joel Reuter, the Yankees are one of few teams that could work such a deal. The appeal would be in slotting Cole next to Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray to form one of baseball's most star-studded rotations.
The downside, however, is that Cole's last two seasons have been marred by injuries and ineffectiveness. If more of that were to follow in 2018 and 2019, the Yankees would have sacrificed a good chunk of a farm system that they've only just rebuilt following years of neglect.
Cleveland Indians: Trade for Marcell Ozuna
The Cleveland Indians don't require major tweaks but could benefit from adding a right-handed bat to an outfield that skews left-handed.
Bypassing the open market and trading for Marcell Ozuna is doable. He's projected by MLB Trade Rumors to be paid $10.9 million in 2018 by a Miami Marlins team that's trying to cut payroll.
Because he's only 27 and coming off a career year punctuated by a .924 OPS and 37 homers, the Indians would have to trade from an already thinning farm system to land Ozuna. His earnings would be another issue as they're already in uncharted territory with their payroll.
It would be worth it if he picked up where he left off in 2017, as such outstanding production would be of great help to an Indians team that has oodles of unfinished business.
But then there's the potential pitfall: Ozuna falling back into a pattern of inconsistency and doing little for Cleveland before leaving as a free agent after 2019.
Minnesota Twins: Sign Jake Arrieta
But since his final price tag should fall closer to $100 million than to $150 million, Arrieta is more their speed. He also showed in winning the National League Cy Young in 2015 that he has more upside than Darvish, whose only Cy Young-caliber season came back in 2013.
If the Twins were to sign Arrieta and receive something like his best self in return, then the trio of him, Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios could prove instrumental in snapping the club's seven-year playoff drought.
Alternatively, the 31-year-old could continue a pattern of regression and the Twins would stay stuck below the Indians in the AL Central pecking order. The Twins would not only be out a lot of money but also a draft pick due to his qualifying offer ties.
Houston Astros: Trade for Giancarlo Stanton
The Houston Astros aren't being mentioned as one of Giancarlo Stanton's prime suitors, but they're as good a dark horse as anyone.
They have the funds to accommodate the $295 million he's owed, for one. For two, they have incentive to up the ante as they seek to turn one World Series title into a run of multiple World Series titles.
The idea would be to take a strength that's already ironclad and clad it in adamantium. Houston's offense was MLB's best in 2017. Add Stanton, who clubbed an MLB-high 59 homers, and the Astros could give even the 1927 Yankees a run for their money.
Stanton himself is a risk, however. He's had injuries over the years and, at 28 years old, isn't exactly young anymore.
And while the Astros can afford to try their luck, they wouldn't be able to simply shrug off Stanton's contract if it were to turn into an albatross. They don't have that much payroll space and prospect depth.
Los Angeles Angels: Sign Yu Darvish
Having already locked up Justin Upton for five more seasons, the Los Angeles Angels must now see to a starting rotation that requires stability.
Darvish would do the trick.
Despite his two-part flop in the World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Darvish still had a successful 2017. He put up a 3.86 ERA in 186.2 innings, striking out 209 batters along the way. The Angels could use a guy like that. Only Ricky Nolasco topped 150 innings for them in 2017, and he did so with a 4.92 ERA.
The cost would be tremendous, however. Given his track record and lack of ties to draft pick compensation, Darvish's price is likely to exceed $150 million. That's a lot of money for an Angels team that already has a top-heavy payroll.
Then there's the question of whether Darvish would truly do anything other than fill a need. Would the Angels be anywhere near good enough to topple the Astros? And before free agency beckons Mike Trout after 2020?
Seattle Mariners: Trade for Chris Archer
The Seattle Mariners weren't good at anything in a 78-win 2017 season, but at least there's hope that their offense will improve in 2018. It's their pitching that needs an upgrade.
Ideally, it would be Chris Archer.
As a guy who's averaged 227 strikeouts and 202 innings since 2014, Archer is just the guy to patch a rotation that needs something solid to account for James Paxton's fragility and Felix Hernandez's decline. The next stop could be the Mariners' first postseason since 2001.
It would cost them, though. Archer's contract runs as far as 2021, where it would max out at an $11 million salary. Thus can the Tampa Bay Rays demand a team drain its farm system to acquire him.
Seattle's system has been drained plenty already, so the club would be putting all its chips on Archer if he came over in a trade. There are two problems with that: He's not terribly consistent, and the Mariners would have the same Astros problem as the Angels.
Texas Rangers: Sign Jake Arrieta
The Texas Rangers must also rebound from a 78-win season. To do that, they must find a leader for a rotation that features Cole Hamels, Martin Perez and little else.
A reunion with Darvish is plausible, but the Rangers are about as likely as the Twins to take the less costly route to Arrieta.
What could help Arrieta more so in Texas than in Minnesota is defense. Although the Twins got all sorts of credit for their defense last year, the Rangers were more efficient at turning batted balls into outs. Of particular relevance to a ground-ball pitcher like Arrieta is that the Rangers have the better infield.
However, excellent defense didn't have much power to stop Arrieta's decline in Chicago. And even if he were to turn things around in Texas, there's still the Astros factor.
In either case, the Rangers would be left to bemoan not just the financial cost of signing Arrieta but also the lost draft pick.
Washington Nationals: Trade for (At Least) Andrew McCutchen
Since 2018 could be their last hurrah with Bryce Harper, few teams have as much incentive to really go for it next year like the Washington Nationals.
The trade market is arguably the best avenue for them to do so. Because Jayson Werth's free agency opens up a hole for a righty-hitting outfielder, one option is to rekindle talks with the Pirates about Andrew McCutchen.
If the Nationals really wanted to push the envelope, they could seek McCutchen in a package deal with Cole and/or Francisco Cervelli. The cost would be enormous—perhaps even Victor Robles-sized—but the effect would be a 97-win team getting substantial upgrades.
However, McCutchen is only signed through 2018. Cole and Cervelli are only signed through 2019. Dealing for them would only prop up their short-term window rather than keep it open for the long term.
In other words: It really would be World Series or bust.
New York Mets: Sign Mike Moustakas
The New York Mets' 2017 season was as painful to watch as it was for their players to experience. However, they have enough talented arms and might just be one more bat away from a turnaround.
Since said bat would fit well at third base, Mike Moustakas comes into focus.
He'll be expensive coming off a year in which he launched a career-high 38 homers but perhaps not too expensive for a Mets team that loves to pinch pennies. If the Mets were to sign him, they'd be adding even more power to a lineup that led the NL in homers in 2017.
Trouble is, signing Moustakas could be spending a lot of money on a mere Band-Aid.
With just a .305 career OBP to his name, Moustakas isn't the guy to solve New York's on-base percentage problem. After posting bad ratings in 2017, he also might not be the guy to solve the club's defensive efficiency problem.
Chicago Cubs: Trade for Chris Archer
It took just one season for the Chicago Cubs to go from champions to a team in need of serious retooling. Their top need is an ace starter to fill Arrieta's vacated spot.
The safe play would be the Cubs flexing their financial muscle to bring back Arrieta or reel in Darvish. A far riskier move would be using the trade market to find an ace, particularly if said ace is Archer.
A trade would re-team the Rays ace with former manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey, who surely wouldn't mind seeing Arrieta's shoes filled by a younger, more electric starter. With Archer alongside Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana, Chicago's rotation could be one of MLB's best.
But with their farm system already sucked dry, the Cubs would likely have to sacrifice Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Addison Russell and/or Ian Happ to make this happen. A deal for Archer would thus be a do-or-die gamble on a pitcher who, once again, isn't terribly consistent.
Milwaukee Brewers: Trade for Chris Archer
It's on to a different NL Central team, but the arrows once again point to Archer.
The Milwaukee Brewers went from rebuilders to contenders in 2017, riding a wave of young talent to an 86-win campaign. But to take the next step, they need to bolster their starting pitching.
The Brewers might spend big bucks on a free agent, but they're better suited to take advantage of the trade market. In fact, they're one of few suitors who wouldn't have to sell the whole farm for Archer. Their system is about as deep as the Mariana Trench.
The danger, though, is the possibility that 2017 overstated their readiness for contention.
Milwaukee's roster isn't short on potential regression threats and also features an ominous unknown in the long-term health of 2017 breakout star Jimmy Nelson. This is also a team with limited spending capacity, so it would certainly be ruing its lost prospects if an Archer trade were to land with a thud.
St. Louis Cardinals: Trade for Giancarlo Stanton
Every indication is that the St. Louis Cardinals are sincere in their pursuit of Stanton, and nobody needs to convince yours truly that the pursuit makes sense.
Although the Cardinals offense was mired in mediocrity in 2017, it was more due to the lack of a standout star than a lack of depth. Stanton would obviously fix that and turn St. Louis' lineup into one of the better units in the National League.
That alone would level the playing field in the NL Central. With a few more stars aligned just right, Stanton could be the key to the Cardinals snapping a lengthy (by their standards) two-year postseason drought.
However, Stanton's enormous cost and sketchy injury history would still loom as potential pitfalls. And since he wouldn't solve the Cardinals' pitching needs or—like he could in Houston—turn their offense into an all-time great unit, adding him would be more of a shot in the arm than a cure-all.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Trade for Giancarlo Stanton
With deep pockets, a loaded farm system and a roster that just produced 104 wins and a National League pennant, the Los Angeles Dodgers are in a position where they don't need to take big risks but can if they want.
So even if it's not terribly likely, the idea of Stanton in Dodger blue is too good to brush off.
It would be a homecoming for the Sherman Oaks native, and his bat would elevate Los Angeles' offense from merely good to truly great. With elite pitching already in place, the Dodgers could then go on to capture an elusive World Series title.
Yet it's for good reasons that a Stanton trade would be out of the Dodgers' character.
Andrew Friedman, the club's president of baseball operations, values sustainability and has built a good model for it. Sacrificing prospects and payroll space for Stanton would throw this model out of whack and potentially send them back to the drawing board a lot sooner than they'd like.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Re-Sign J.D. Martinez
If the Arizona Diamondbacks want to pick up where they left off following their return to the postseason, it would help to bring back the guy who got them there with a 1.107 OPS and 29 homers in only 62 games.
Because, like Darvish, J.D. Martinez is an excellent player who'll only cost teams money and no draft picks, he's a relatively low-risk superstar free agent. But since this and Scott Boras' representation will ensure an intense bidding war, the Diamondbacks can't hope to re-sign the slugger for a hometown discount.
If all were to go well, he'd continue to be one of baseball's elite sluggers and be worth every penny for a budding NL West powerhouse.
The flipside involves Martinez being felled by his faults, which include bad defense and being prone to injuries. That would be a disaster for a team like the Diamondbacks, whose $206.5 million investment in Zack Greinke creates little space for an albatross.
Colorado Rockies: Sign Eric Hosmer
After their $70 million roll of the dice on Ian Desmond fell flat in 2017, the Colorado Rockies can now shift him back to the outfield and shop for a new first baseman.
According to Thomas Harding of MLB.com, Hosmer is "high on the early wish list." He would give the Rockies Gold Glove winners at three of four infield spots. He would also be an upgrade over Carlos Gonzalez (who had an awful 2017) as a middle-of-the-order lefty slugger.
But even Coors Field would be powerless to make Hosmer's ground-ball habit less of a sticking point, and don't think the Rockies wouldn't need his offense to live up to the hype. By weighted runs created plus, which adjusts for ballpark factors, they're coming off a year in which they ranked 27th in offense.
Thus, Hosmer might not be the Rockies' ticket from thin air to rarefied air. Considering that he could cost twice as much as Desmond, that's not a good omen.
San Francisco Giants: Trade for Giancarlo Stanton
For most suitors, acquiring Stanton would be an act of bravado. For the San Francisco Giants, it would be an act of desperation.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Giants have been the "most aggressive" team after Stanton. In a related story, they hit an MLB-low 128 home runs in 2017.
Although that power outage was part of a miserable 98-loss campaign, it's not impossible to imagine a Stanton trade kicking off a return to form. With their power problem solved, the Giants would only need their in-house collection of stars to return to good health.
But of those stars, only Madison Bumgarner and Joe Panik won't be on the wrong side of 30 next season. To boot, the Giants are already loaded with long-term financial burdens and have long since seen their farm system turn into a barren landscape.
It's thus hard to imagine how they can even afford a Stanton trade, much less how they could recover if the trade were to go south.