Salary-Dumping #SZN: Trade Ideas for MLB's Worst Contracts
The salary dump is a common move in the NBA, where teams are constantly battling to stay under the salary cap and actively seeking out expiring contracts.
However, the idea is not completely foreign to Major League Baseball.
Chicago Cubs fans might remember when the team shipped outfielder Milton Bradley to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Carlos Silva in a swap of bad contracts. That's one way to approach a salary dump.
Another is to package something of value with a bad contract in hopes of enticing a team.
A perfect example of this was when the Arizona Diamondbacks attached Bronson Arroyo's bloated contract to pitching prospect Touki Toussaint and sent them to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for utility infielder Phil Gosselin.
So as we get set for the MLB offseason to kick into high gear, ahead is a look at five potential salary-dump trades that could be the answer to moving some of the league's worst contracts.
Other Notable Bad Contracts
1 Year Remaining
While these are all bad contracts, we only considered players with multiple years remaining on their deal for this exercise.
- Joe Mauer, MIN ($23M)
- Adrian Gonzalez, LAD ($22.357M)
- James Shields, CWS ($21M, $11M paid by SD)
- Hunter Pence, SF ($18.5M)
- Victor Martinez, DET ($18M)
- Scott Kazmir, LAD ($17.667M)
- Denard Span, SF ($11M + $12M mutual option w/$4M buyout)
Never say never, but it's hard to imagine anyone taking on these contracts.
- Miguel Cabrera, DET (6/$184M + $30M vesting option)
- Wei-Yin Chen, MIA (3/$60M + $16M vesting option)
- Chris Davis, BAL (5/$115M)
- Alex Gordon, KC (2/$40M + $23M mutual option w/$4M buyout)
- Phil Hughes, MIN (2/$26.4M)
- Russell Martin, TOR (2/$40M)
- Kendrys Morales, TOR (2/$23M)
- Albert Pujols, LAA (4/$114M)
- Yasmany Tomas, ARI (3/$46M, can opt out after 2018)
- Mark Trumbo, BAL (2/$26M)
- Troy Tulowitzki, TOR (3/$54M + $15M club option w/$4M buyout)
- David Wright, NYM (3/$47M)
San Francisco Giants
If the Giants are, in fact, planning to make a push back toward contention on the heels of a 98-loss season, it's unlikely they'll be looking to sell low on the likes of Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon, so they were excluded from consideration.
That trio will earn a whopping $61.8 million in 2018, and they're owed $195.4 million over the remainder of their collective deals.
Heyward has a bad contract, there's no question.
Assuming he doesn't opt out after the 2018 or 2019 seasons, he's owed $142.5 million through 2023. To this point, he's posted a brutal 76 OPS+ during his time with the Cubs.
However, he's still one of the league's elite defensive players on a team that values those abilities as highly as anyone. He's also an important veteran voice in that young locker room.
The Cubs might be open to moving him, but not in a straight salary dump.
Jordan Zimmermann to the Washington Nationals
Washington Nationals Receive: SP Jordan Zimmermann, RP Shane Greene, $30 million
Detroit Tigers Receive: RP Shawn Kelley, SP Jaron Long
There's not much to work with on the rumor mill for most bad-contract players, but there have been some rumblings that the Nationals are interested in a reunion with Jordan Zimmermann.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote: "The Tigers are hoping that the neck injections Jordan Zimmermann received at the end of the season will allow him to pitch as he once did for the Nationals and become a tradeable commodity again...The Tigers would subsidize some of the contract. The Nationals have some interest as they search for a back-end starter."
The 31-year-old has three years and $74 million remaining on a five-year, $110 million deal. He pitched to a disastrous 5.60 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in his first two seasons in Detroit. Prior to that, he spent the first seven years of his career with the Nats, going 70-50 with a 3.32 ERA while finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young voting twice.
Eating $30 million of that remaining salary would push his annual price tag under $15 million. Throwing in reliever Shane Greene while also taking back the contract of Shawn Kelley could be enough to grease the wheels.
Greene is under control through 2020, and he's coming off a season where he posted a 2.66 ERA and 9.7 K/9 with nine saves and 14 holds in 71 appearances.
Meanwhile, Kelley is owed $5.5 million in the final season of a three-year deal. His 7.27 ERA in 33 games last season was rough, but he has a long track record of success and could turn into a tradable asset if he bounces back.
We'll throw in 26-year-old Jaron Long for good measure. He doesn't offer much in the way of upside, but after posting a 3.61 ERA over 164.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this past season, he'd at least be useful depth as the Tigers continue rebuilding.
Matt Kemp to the Detroit Tigers
Detroit Tigers Receive: OF Matt Kemp, SP Bryse Wilson
Atlanta Braves Receive: RP Bruce Rondon
With the Tigers already unloading Jordan Zimmermann in this scenario, they could then explore the idea of taking on a different bad contract for a chance to add more prospect talent.
The Braves are loaded with high-end pitching prospects. Packaging one of their second-tier arms with Matt Kemp could be a way for them to kill two birds with one stone—ridding themselves of Kemp's contract and clearing a path for uber-prospect Ronald Acuna.
Kemp is owed $43.5 million over the next two years, with the Braves on the hook for $31.5 million of that as the Dodgers and Padres are both still paying him.
The top-100-caliber guys—Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Luiz Gohara, Joey Wentz and Max Fried—are off the table, but someone like Bryse Wilson would be a welcome addition to the Detroit rebuild. The 19-year-old was a fourth-round pick in 2016, and he went 10-7 with a 2.50 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 137 innings with Single-A Rome.
MLB.com wrote: "Wilson is strong and durable, not your typical tall and lanky high schooler, so there isn't a ton of projection to him. Some amateur scouts saw a future reliever in him, but he'll begin his Braves career in earnest as a starter and see where it takes him."
The Tigers would be forced to use Kemp in the outfield in 2018 with Victor Martinez still under contract, but he could move into the full-time DH slot in 2019 once he reaches free agency.
This deal wouldn't be about the return package for the Braves, but hard-throwing reliever Bruce Rondon does carry some intrigue. The 26-year-old has struggled at the MLB level (123 G, 5.00 ERA) and is out of minor league options, but a career 10.7 K/9 rate and a 98.5 mph average fastball velocity is enough to warrant a look.
Keep in mind, new Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos dumped Vernon Wells against all odds during his time in Toronto. He has some experience with this sort of thing.
Homer Bailey to the Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore Orioles Receive: SP Homer Bailey, $25 million
Cincinnati Reds Receive: LHP Chris Lee
What were the Reds thinking when they gave Homer Bailey a six-year, $105 million extension?
At the time, they were still a contending team, and Bailey had gone 24-22 with a 3.58 ERA (110 ERA+) and 1.18 WHIP while averaging 32 starts and 208.5 innings over the previous two seasons. Back then, it wasn't entirely unreasonable.
However, the 31-year-old has been hit hard by injuries since signing that deal. He pitched a combined 125.1 innings the past three seasons while undergoing surgery to repair a torn flexor mass tendon in his forearm and then Tommy John surgery.
He finally returned to action in June. While his 6.43 ERA over 18 starts wasn't pretty, he finished strong with a 3.89 ERA in his last six starts—including seven shutout innings against the Brewers in his final appearance.
If the Reds are willing to pay $20 million of the $44 million he's still owed while also taking care of his $5 million buyout in 2020, it would lower his price tag to $12 million per season. That could be enough for a pitching-starved team like the Orioles to take a chance.
The O's ranked last in the majors with a 5.70 starters' ERA last season, and they have three spots to fill in the rotation behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
Going to Cincinnati in this deal is left-hander Chris Lee, who Baseball America ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the Baltimore system prior to the 2016 season. However, he struggled last season, finishing with a 5.11 ERA and 4.2 BB/9 in Triple-A.
While he was used primarily as a starter last season, his future might be in the bullpen. MLB.com praised his fastball-slider pairing and strong track record against lefties.
Quality lefties are always in demand, so he's at least worth a flier.
The other perk for the Reds would be opening up a spot in the rotation for one of the many young arms expected to be in the mix this spring. If Bailey is still around and earning $21 million, they'll no doubt feel compelled to plug him into one of those slots.
Jacoby Ellsbury to the Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Angels Receive: LF Jacoby Ellsbury, $34 million
New York Yankees Receive: IF Nolan Fontana, LHP Conor Lillis-White
With Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge penciled into starting jobs and Clint Frazier expected to push for playing time as well, the Yankees have already made it clear that Jacoby Ellsbury no longer has a starting spot in the outfield.
With three years and roughly $63 million left on his contract, as well as a $5 million buyout on a $21 million club option in 2021, there isn't a more obvious salary-dump candidate in MLB.
The 34-year-old is not the same impact player he was when he signed that massive seven-year, $153 million deal, but he still has some useful skills. He swiped 22 bases in 25 chances last year and posted a .348 on-base percentage while walking at a 10 percent clip and striking out just 15.4 percent of the time.
The Angels got a .253/.320/.383 line from the leadoff spot this past season, so Ellsbury would be an immediate upgrade and a potential catalyst hitting ahead of Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout and Justin Upton. The fit here all boils down to whether the Angels are willing to use Albert Pujols as the everyday first baseman, which is no guarantee.
As for the moving parts, eating half of the money still owed to Ellsbury seems like a reasonable approach by the Yankees. It would provide them more flexibility looking ahead to the 2018-19 free-agent class.
The return package, while less than inspiring, gives the Yankees someone to challenge Ronald Torreyes for the utility infield job in Nolan Fontana. They'd also receive a lefty bullpen arm in Conor Lillis-White who won't take up a spot on the 40-man roster.
Lillis-White, 25, was a 32nd-round pick in 2015 out of Canada. He pitched to a 3.90 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 67 innings between High-A and Double-A last season.
3-Team Trade: Shin-Soo Choo/Ian Kennedy/Rusney Castillo
Boston Red Sox Receive: DH Shin-Soo Choo, $14 million from TEX
Texas Rangers Receive: SP Ian Kennedy
Kansas City Royals Receive: OF Rusney Castillo
Let's dive right into this one.
We'll start with Boston, who adds Shin-Soo Choo and $14 million to help offset the $62 million he's owed over the next three years while dumping Rusney Castillo.
A lot has been made about the Red Sox's need for a power bat after they slipped from ninth (208) to 27th (168) in home runs. However, they also fell from first (.348) to 11th (.329) in on-base percentage, which is an area where Choo could help. The 35-year-old has gotten on base at a .378 clip for his career, and even in a down year, he still hit .261/.357/.423 with 20 doubles and 22 home runs.
If trading for Giancarlo Stanton or signing someone like Eric Hosmer or Carlos Santana doesn't happen, Boston could do far worse addressing the DH situation.
That brings us to Texas, who saves $48 million by dumping Choo and immediately re-invests it into Ian Kennedy, who is owed $49 million over the next three years. The 32-year-old has been extremely durable, tallying at least 30 starts in each of the past eight seasons, and he's just one year removed from going 11-11 with a 3.68 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.
The Rangers have two spots to fill in the rotation behind Cole Hamels, Martin Perez and recently signed Doug Fister, and Choo is expendable with prospects Willie Calhoun and Ronald Guzman both knocking on the door.
And finally, that brings us to the Royals, who look like the perfect team to take a chance on Castillo.
The 30-year-old signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox after defecting from Cuba, but he was never able to carve out a spot at the MLB level. He was eventually removed from the 40-man roster.
However, he quietly hit .314/.350/.507 with 22 doubles, 15 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 369 plate appearances for Triple-A Pawtucket last season. His salary doesn't currently count against the luxury tax since he's off the 40-man roster; otherwise, he likely would have at least been a September call-up.
The Royals have a hole to fill in center field following the departure of Lorenzo Cain, and it appears they're headed for a major rebuild. Taking a chance on a change-of-scenery guy while also shedding Kennedy's contract looks like a win-win.