1 Controversial Move Each MLB Team Must Make This Offseason

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2018

1 Controversial Move Each MLB Team Must Make This Offseason

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    The winter meetings kick off Dec. 10 in Las Vegas. All 30 MLB clubs are pondering a roll of the dice.

    At the risk of muddying the metaphor, some teams will push in their chips, while others will play it safe. Still, every team has at least one controversial move it should make before Opening Day.

    By "controversial," we mean anything that will anger a segment of the fanbase and inspire hot takes from media scolds like us. 

    In some cases, it's spending big on a pricey free agent or engineering a blockbuster swap. In others, it's shedding salary and/or trying to add prospects to accelerate a rebuild.

    In all cases, it would grab headlines—and not all of them positive. 

American League East

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    Baltimore Orioles: Eat salary to move Alex Cobb

    The Baltimore Orioles moved their most enticing trade pieces at the 2018 non-waiver deadline, including shortstop Manny Machado and closer Zach Britton. Baltimore should keep selling after a 115-loss season as it lurches into a protracted rebuild.

    Back in March, the O's signed right-hander Alex Cobb to an ill-advised four-year, $57 million deal. Cobb "rewarded" them with a 5-15 record and 4.90 ERA. That said, he was an effective pitcher as recently as 2017, when he posted a 3.66 ERA in 179.1 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays. 

    If the Orioles are willing to eat a chunk of his inflated salary, they could pry a decent prospect or two from a contender in a relatively thin pitching market.

           

    Boston Red Sox: Let Craig Kimbrel walk

    Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel has been an All-Star in each of his three seasons in Beantown. He averaged 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 2018 and nailed down 42 saves as the Sox hoisted another Commissioner's Trophy.

    That said, Kimbrel's ERA ballooned to 4.57 after the All-Star break. He'll turn 31 in May and is seeking a six-year deal, according to ESPN's Buster Olney. Translation: yikes.

    Warm and fuzzy memories aside, Boston should let someone else overpay Kimbrel into his declining years. Instead, the defending champs could target a number of relievers who could be had on shorter, less costly deals, including right-hander David Robertson. 

             

    New York Yankees: Stay away from Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

    The New York Yankees could theoretically use an outfielder and have a temporary need at shortstop while Didi Gregorius recovers from Tommy John surgery. That means rumors linking the Yanks to top-shelf free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will swirl until both players sign somewhere.

    The Yankees' bigger need is starting pitching, however, even after they acquired James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners. They might also need to bolster the bullpen if Robertson and Britton exit via the open market. 

    Bigger picture, they should save their cash and throw it at third baseman Nolan Arenado next winter.

    There will be pressure on the Yankees to make a splash this offseason after winning 100 games but falling to the Red Sox in their American League Division Series matchup. Yet, avoiding gaudy contracts for Harper and/or Machado, adding arms instead and waiting for next winter to boost the offense is the prudent play. 

       

    Tampa Bay Rays: Sign Nelson Cruz

    The Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games last season and could be sneaky contenders in 2019. If that's the goal, they need to add thump to a lineup that finished 27th in home runs.

    The Rays could go bargain hunting and hope for the best. Or they could offer a lucrative short-term deal to designated hitter Nelson Cruz.

    Cruz will turn 39 in July and won't come cheap after swatting 37 home runs with an .850 OPS for the Seattle Mariners. It's possible Tampa Bay could blow a significant portion of its budget on the six-time All-Star only to watch him fall off the production cliff as many players do at his age.

    The Rays will never compete for the Harpers and Machados of the world. If they want to stay within striking distance of Boston and New York, this is a gamble worth taking.

         

    Toronto Blue Jays: Trade Justin Smoak

    The Toronto Blue Jays can't hang with the top dogs in the AL East. Only the lowly Orioles saved them from a last-place finish in 2018. It's time for a rebuild north of the border.

    The Jays aren't loaded with tradable assets, but first baseman Justin Smoak could draw interest.

    Smoak led Blue Jays qualifiers in RBI (77) and OPS (.808) and tied for the lead in home runs (25). He's signed for an affordable $8 million in 2019. 

    Toronto fans who harbor hope of the team contending in 2019 will balk, but this is the type of move the franchise must make while it awaits the arrival of touted prospects such as future superstar Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

American League Central

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    Chicago White Sox: Stay away from Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

    The Chicago White Sox lost 100 games last season but are in the midst of an advancing rebuild and have added bushels of young talent. They're on the verge of contention in a weak AL Central.

    On the other hand, the ChiSox lost top pitching prospect Michael Kopech to Tommy John surgery. Their window should open at some point soon, but probably not in 2019.

    Enter rumors, via MLB Network's Jon Morosi, that Chicago is interested in both Harper and Machado. It's an exciting notion, no question, and would awaken the South Side faithful. It could also erase the financial flexibility the White Sox have labored diligently to re-establish and undermine their long-term success.

    They have holes to fill across the roster and multiple questions to answer regarding youngsters such as Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez. The time for gaudy contracts isn't here quite yet.

    Nothing ventured, nothing gained...but in this instance, it's a tad too soon to venture Harper and Machado money.  

          

    Cleveland Indians: Trade a top-tier starting pitcher

    The Cleveland Indians are the defending division champs and have a clear path to retain that title. They'll also never hang with baseball's deepest-pocketed spenders in free agency.

    Thus, the Tribe must get creative to address areas of need. This winter, Cleveland must grit its teeth and part with a top-tier starting pitcher.

    Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer's names have all floated on the rumor breeze. Kluber is a two-time Cy Young Award winner who's controllable through 2021 with a pair of team options. Any team would have to decimate its farm system to get him. And Cleveland is negotiating an extension with Carrasco, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

    Bauer, meanwhile, was a 2018 top-10 AL Cy Young Award finisher whom the Indians are "much more inclined to trade," per USA Today's Bob Nightengale. If they can flip him for a needed outfield bat, they should pull the trigger.

               

    Detroit Tigers: Sell low(ish) on Michael Fulmer

    Speaking of trading promising starting pitchers, the Detroit Tigers should be open to offers for right-hander Michael Fulmer.

    After winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016 and making an All-Star appearance in 2017, Fulmer posted a 4.69 ERA last season. That's not great for his trade value, to state it gently.

    Then again, with pitching always at a premium, any number of contenders might be ready to take a chance on the 25-year-old and give the rebuilding Tigers quality prospects in return.

    Detroit shouldn't sell Fulmer for the sake of selling. But it should shop him through the winter and see what offers it gets.

        

    Kansas City Royals: Eat salary to move Ian Kennedy

    Like other clubs in the AL Central, the Kansas City Royals are rebuilders. They need young, controllable players, and they want to shed salary.

    They won't be able to acquire any blue-chip prospects for right-hander Ian Kennedy. And they'd have to choke down a portion of the $33 million he's owed through 2020.

    Still, Kennedy was a top-five National League Cy Young Award finisher with the Arizona Diamondbacks once upon a time (2011) and posted a 3.68 ERA in 195.2 innings as recently as 2016.

    He won't single-handedly restock the Royals' MiLB stable. And it's never popular to pay part of a player's salary and send him packing. If anyone's interested in a veteran arm, however, and willing to send back something of value, this is a savvy move for K.C.

        

    Minnesota Twins: Trade Miguel Sano

    The Minnesota Twins went from surprise playoff qualifier in 2017 to sub-.500 afterthought in 2018. They don't need to overhaul the roster to get back to contention, but they need to do something.

    One obvious weakness is a bullpen that ranked 22nd in ERA and blew an AL-leading 28 saves. The Twins could and should scour the free-agent market, but they could also go the trade route.

    The Cincinnati Reds recently inked closer Raisel Iglesias to a three-year, $24.1 million deal that bought out his arbitration years, though a trade remains possible.

    The Twins could offer 25-year-old slugger Miguel Sano, who has battled injuries and off-field issues but was an All-Star in 2017 and possesses eye-popping power. Add a prospect or two from the upper echelon of the Twinkies' system and Minnesota might pry Iglesias away from Cincinnati and allow Sano to press the reset button with a new team. 

American League West

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    Houston Astros: Let Dallas Keuchel walk

    It's been a great run for Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros. During their time together, Keuchel won an American League Cy Young Award (in 2015) and the 'Stros won a title (in 2017). He's a franchise icon whose departure would be met with teeth gnashing in the Lone Star State. 

    All good things must come to an end, however, and so it is for Keuchel and Houston.

    The Astros might want to add to the back end of their rotation behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Their more acute need, though, is behind the dish, where Max Stassi and his .226 average tops the depth chart.

    Houston could pursue a catching upgrade and court Keuchel, but the southpaw will have many suitors and could strain the club's budget. Better to remember what was and part as friends. 

       

    Los Angeles Angels: Sign Yusei Kikuchi

    The Los Angeles Angels are hoping to retain Mike Trout, the best baseball player on the planet, for the long haul. They've made overtures about a "lifetime" contract. On the other hand, Trout has never won a playoff game with the Halos. He's signed through 2020. After that, who knows?

    Last winter, they tried to win him over by signing two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani showed flashes of excellence on the mound and in the batter's box but ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery as the Angels stumbled to a fourth-place finish. 

    So now they should sign another touted Japanese star? Sure. They need starting pitching. And here comes 27-year-old Yusei Kikuchi, who owns a 2.81 ERA in eight seasons in Japan.

    He isn't Ohtani and would tax an already-strained payroll. As MLB.com's Maria Guardado noted in linking Kikuchi to the Angels that he "spent time on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury in 2018 and he has dealt with shoulder issues throughout his career."  

    That said, he'd enhance Los Angeles' rotation and give Trout a signal the club is committed to winning.

       

    Oakland Athletics: Acquire Sonny Gray

    The Oakland Athletics won 97 games in 2018. They may be small-market underdogs, but they're coming into this winter with justified plans to contend. 

    They need to upgrade a starting rotation that finished 17th in ERA and lost burgeoning ace Sean Manaea to shoulder surgery. Given their budget constraints, they'll have to target a high-upside reclamation project. Paging Sonny Gray. 

    The right-hander posted a 4.90 ERA for the Yankees in 2018, and he's been mostly awful in the Bronx. Back in 2015, however, he was an All-Star who finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting for the A's. 

    Oakland and New York have "had contact" about a Gray trade, per Morosi. Provided the Yankees aren't demanding an astronomical haul for the 29-year-old, the Athletics should bring him back to the East Bay and hope you can go home again. 

       

    Seattle Mariners: Keep Dee Gordon

    The Seattle Mariners have decided to blow it up this winter by trading essential pieces such as ace James Paxton, closer Edwin Diaz, second baseman Robinson Cano and shortstop Jean Segura. It stands to reason Dee Gordon is next.

    But maybe not yet.

    Gordon is coming off a ho-hum season in which he posted a .637 OPS and saw his stolen base total dip from 60 in 2017 to 30 in 2018. Speedy, glove-first center fielder Billy Hamilton was cut loose by the Cincinnati Reds and is dangling in free agency. Is this really the moment for Seattle to maximize Gordon's value?

    Instead, the M's should keep him and hope for a rebound in the first half of 2019. He's controllable through 2020 with a team option for 2021. Seattle put out the "for sale" sign, but that doesn't mean they should give all their chips away.

       

    Texas Rangers: Trade Mike Minor

    Mike Minor authored a solid turnaround for the Texas Rangers last season and posted a 2.97 ERA in the second half. He's under contract for a reasonable $9.8 million in 2019 and 2020.

    The 30-year-old southpaw seems like a commodity the rebuilding (or at least retooling) Rangers would keep around. 

    But, as MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan noted, "The simple fact is the Rangers lost 95 games, and all things must be considered."

    Sullivan used the Paxton-to-New York trade for comparison. The Rangers wouldn't get nearly as much for Minor, but any prospects they can add would be found money. 

National League East

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    Atlanta Braves: Acquire Madison Bumgarner

    After winning the National League East in 2018, the Atlanta Braves are poised to become an elite team. They could use a postseason-tested ace, however. Like, say, the San Francisco Giants' Madison Bumgarner.

    There will be multiple suitors if the Giants truly dangle MadBum this winter. Morosi mentioned the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers as plausible fits. 

    Bumgarner is originally from North Carolina, meaning he would be closer to home, and he'd add veteran gravitas to a young Braves roster. He's coming off a down season marred mostly by a broken pinkie suffered in spring training. He'd be a one-year rental. And he'd surely cost at least a couple of top prospects from Atlanta's system.

    There are risks and downsides, hence the possible controversy. He's also possibly the greatest playoff pitcher of all time. For a guy like that, you take the chance. 

       

    Miami Marlins: Keep J.T. Realmuto

    J.T. Realmuto emerged as arguably the best catcher in baseball last season, posting an .825 OPS with 21 home runs for the lowly Miami Marlins. The Fish sold big last winter and might do the same this offseason. 

    That stipulated, they should hang on to Realmuto for now. With quality catchers such as Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos available on the free-agent market, teams with a need behind the dish may not be willing to cough up the prospect trove the Marlins will demand for Realmuto, who's entering his age-28 season and is controllable through 2020.

    Instead, Miami should gamble on Realmuto enjoying a strong first half in 2019 and then flip him at the deadline to a team desperate for catching help. It could backfire if his numbers regress, but this is an instance where the sell-happy Marlins should hold out.

       

    New York Mets: Trade Noah Syndergaard

    The New York Mets just added second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz in a blockbuster swap with the Seattle Mariners. Next up? Trade Noah Syndergaard.

    It sounds counterintuitive. It would spark outrage in Queens. But the Mets need to be bold after another losing season. 

    Fancred's Jon Heyman reported last month that New York was "seriously considering" trading Syndergaard, who has battled injuries but is one of the most electric arms in the game when healthy. General manager Brodie Van Wagenen said it would require "very special circumstances" for the team to trade Thor, per MLB.com's Anthony DiComo.

    That's not an outright denial. If the Mets can get multiple top prospects and/or MLB-ready talent from a club like the San Diego Padres, they should make another seismic deal.

       

    Philadelphia Phillies: Don't sign Manny Machado

    The Philadelphia Phillies have lots of money to spend this offseason, if they so choose. Manny Machado is going to get lots of money. And per MLB.com's Stephen Pianovichprior to the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline, Machado said of the Phillies: "They're young, they're hungry, they want to win."

    It seems like a match.

    Yet, Philadelphia already acquired All-Star shortstop Jean Segura from the Mariners. It has third baseman Maikel Franco and up-and-coming infielder Scott Kingery. Sure, Machado is better than all of those players, but should the Phillies blow a large portion of their payroll to gild an area of not-so-obvious need?

    Machado is a generational talent. But with Segura in the fold, he'd be an overly expensive luxury as opposed to a necessity.

       

    Washington Nationals: Don't re-sign Bryce Harper

    By signing ace left-hander Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal, per Heyman, the Washington Nationals signaled their intent to contend after a disappointing 82-80 season. 

    Now, we turn our attention to free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper.

    The Nats could open the wallet and re-sign their franchise star. But they've got up-and-coming outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles ready to take over at a fraction of the cost and could instead spread their remaining budget around to shore up the bullpen and add infield depth.

    With its newly formed super-rotation, Washington doesn't need Harper. That will raise the ire of some fans in the nation's capital, but it's a fact.

National League Central

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    Chicago Cubs: Part ways with Addison Russell

    The Chicago Cubs tendered a contract to shortstop Addison Russell, to no one's great surprise. Despite his 40-game suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy and declining production (.657 OPS in 130 games in 2018), Chicago did not want to let him go for nothing. 

    That said, the Cubs should aggressively pursue options to ship Russell out of town in a change-of-scenery trade. 

    One avenue would be to flip him for a quality reliever since the team could use bullpen depth, and then make a play for Machado. That's mere speculation at this point, but one way or another, the Russell/Cubs relationship should be terminated. 

       

    Cincinnati Reds: Trade Raisel Iglesias

    We mentioned the Minnesota Twins as a possible trade partner for the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds, who have no hope of contending in 2019.

    Swapping closer Raisel Iglesias for Miguel Sano and multiple prospects from a Twins system Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked No. 6 in the game would be a worthwhile gamble for both sides. Shortstop Royce Lewis is off-limits, but outfielder Alex Kirilloff and right-hander Brusdar Graterol are appetite-whetting options.

    The Reds should also shop second baseman Scooter Gennett and any other players who could return quality, controllable talent. It isn't a nice feeling to part with your best players, but Cincinnati needs to embrace its rebuild and set its gaze on tomorrow.

       

    Milwaukee Brewers: Sign Matt Harvey

    Maybe the Milwaukee Brewers will be in on remaining free-agent aces such as Dallas Keuchel. They did win the NL Central in 2018 and could use a top-of-the-rotation arm.

    But temper your expectations, Brewers fans. Your team isn't averse to spending, but it isn't a big-market juggernaut, either.

    Instead, the Brew Crew could go for a reclamation project such as Matt Harvey. Milwaukee claimed the former New York Mets ace off waivers in 2018 but couldn't work out a deal, per Mike Axisa of CBS Sports. Harvey wound up on the Reds, where he enjoyed a modest renaissance.

    Harvey brings baggage and is far removed from his days as an All-Star and top-five NL Cy Young Award finisher in 2013. On the other hand, he's still only 29 years old and would probably come on a short-term, show-me contract.

       

    Pittsburgh Pirates: Trade Francisco Cervelli

    Are the Pittsburgh Pirates selling, as they did last winter when they dealt ace Gerrit Cole and franchise outfielder Andrew McCutchen? Or are they buying, as they did at the 2018 non-waiver deadline when they acquired right-hander Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays?

    No one knows for sure. The Bucs are in a state of flux. Here's a thought, though: They should shop catcher Francisco Cervelli.

    The 32-year-old posted an .809 OPS in 2018 and is signed for a palatable $11.5 million in 2019. A contender looking for an experienced backstop might be willing to surrender a decent prospect or two while giving Pittsburgh salary relief.

    It would further muddy the buying/selling quandary, but such is the reality these days by the shores of the Allegheny River.

    St. Louis Cardinals: Sign Manny Machado

    We mentioned the Cubs as a possible suitor for Machado if they jettison Russell. Now let's consider Chicago's nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals.

    St. Louis has Paul DeJong and Jedd Gyorko penciled in on the left side of the infield, but neither is irreplaceable. The Cards ranked 14th in OPS and 17th in team batting average in 2018. Offense is a priority, even after they announced they acquired slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a blockbuster trade on Wednesday.

    Goldschmidt cost projectable young players and a draft pick. Machado will cost cold, hard cash. Cutting enormous checks isn't often the Cardinals way. 

    There's also the matter of Machado's questionable hustle and how it would be viewed by St. Louis' notoriously discerning fanbase. 

    All in all, this would be a risky move. But if the Cardinals want to catch the Brewers and Cubs for division supremacy, risks are required. 

National League West

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    Arizona Diamondbacks: Trade Zack Greinke

    The Arizona Diamondbacks made the playoffs in 2017. They spent 125 days in first place in the NL West in 2018. Yet, they chose to wave goodbye to Paul Goldschmidt. Next, they should unload right-hander Zack Greinke.

    Greinke is owed $104.5 million through 2021. The D-backs will almost surely have to pay a portion of that salary to find a taker.

    At the same time, Greinke posted a 3.21 ERA in 207.2 innings in 2018 and remains a productive top-of-the-rotation arm. He won't bring back the haul Goldschmidt did, but he could help restock the Snakes' farm as they slither into a rebuild.

    The Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves could be interested, as could a number of other contenders with pitching needs. Goldschmidt was a franchise cornerstone for years, but his days in the desert are over. Now, Greinke's may be numbered. 

             

    Colorado Rockies: Let DJ LeMahieu walk

    DJ LeMahieu has made two All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves and a batting title for the Colorado Rockies.

    He's also entering his age-31 season and is blocking top prospect Brendan Rodgers at second base.

    Rodgers ascended as high as Triple-A last season and is ready to make his MLB debut. He can also play shortstop, but the Rockies have Trevor Story there.

    Losing LeMahieu will mean the end of an era for Colorado, but the money they would spend to retain his services would be better spent upgrading the pitching staff or adding depth to a thin outfield corps. 

       

    Los Angeles Dodgers: Go all-in on Bryce Harper

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have ample outfield depth but a dearth of outfield stars, unless you count the mercurial Yasiel Puig.

    Bryce Harper is a star outfielder with Hollywood flair. The dots connect

    Harper may or may not be worth the $300 million-plus he and superagent Scott Boras will seek. But he's 26 years old, loaded with talent and would unquestionably improve the Dodgers' chances of winning a title in 2019 and beyond.

    Considering L.A. hasn't bathed in confetti since 1988 despite playing in a massive market and wielding a Goliath-sized payroll, that matters. A lot. 

       

    San Diego Padres: Acquire Noah Syndergaard

    Just as trading Noah Syndergaard would be a contentious move for the New York Mets, acquiring him would spark controversy for the San Diego Padres.

    The Friars made a big move last winter when they signed first baseman Eric Hosmer to a franchise-record eight-year, $144 million deal. Hosmer posted minus-0.1 WAR, per FanGraphs. Ouch.

    San Diego could be gun-shy this offseason and hoard its cash and trade chips. Or, it could be bold and make a charge for Syndergaard, whose crackling fastball could be optimized in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

    It might cost them elite prospects up to and including left-hander MacKenzie Gore and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. It might leave egg on their face if Syndergaard again succumbs to injury. But it'd be a daring gambit for a franchise on the ascent.

       

    San Francisco Giants: Trade Madison Bumgarner

    The San Francisco Giants' run of even-year magic is over. Their core, including catcher Buster Posey and shortstop Brandon Crawford, is aging. 

    With new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi holding the wheel, it's time for significant changes in the City by the Bay. 

    The Giants don't own many obvious trade assets aside from Bumgarner. He's a fan favorite. The glorious postseason memories will never fade. But it's time to bite the bullet and move on.

    We mentioned the Atlanta Braves as a suitor. The New York Yankees are also lurking. San Francisco could demand top prospects in any case. 

    Sure, the Giants could hold Bumgarner until the 2019 non-waiver trade deadline and hope his numbers warrant an even larger summer haul. That's the safe course. Will Zaidi throw caution to the wind and deal now? Stay tuned. 

       

    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs