10 No-Brainer MLB Offseason Moves That Should Have Happened Already
There are still plenty of transactions left to be made before the 2018-19 Major League Baseball offseason gives way to spring training, including a few possibilities that make us want to scream, "Get on with it!"
We've focused on 10 (three trades and seven free-agent signings) in particular that are matches made in heaven. Each represents a perfect fit between player and team, and most have even been rumored to be in the works to some degree or another.
We'll go roughly in order of player quality.
Sonny Gray to the Cincinnati Reds
Sonny Gray officially hit the trade market in November when New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters: "We are going to move him if we get the right deal because I don't think it is going to work out in the Bronx."
Thus, speculation about a deal to the Cincinnati Reds began in earnest.
The National-League-worst 4.97 ERA owned by Reds starters since 2015 is a good enough of an excuse for them to take a chance on Gray, who owns a 3.66 career ERA despite his recent stumbles. What's more, new pitching coach Derek Johnson may be just the guy to restore the 29-year-old's All-Star ability. Gray pitched under Johnson when he was in college at Vanderbilt, and the two remain close.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Reds and Yankees have talked about Gray, who's due for free agency after 2019. The Reds balked at surrendering top outfield prospect Taylor Trammell, but Gray's iffy value could cause the Yankees to eventually lower their price.
If so, the Reds would add Gray to a collection of 2019 upside plays that already includes Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark.
Robbie Ray to the Houston Astros
In the American League, the Houston Astros have an upside play of their own in mind: Robbie Ray.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Astros are one of two teams (the other being the Philadelphia Phillies) who are "very interested" in a trade for the Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander. Because of course they are.
Free agency (Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton) and injuries (Lance McCullers Jr.) have thinned out the Astros rotation behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. To address this problem, it would be in their character to pursue a good pitcher whom their analytics department could help turn into a great pitcher.
Ray, 27, fits the bill. He's used his electric stuff to strike out 11.8 batters per nine innings since 2016, but he hasn't quite put it all together. Beyond simply staying healthy—he's made fewer than 30 starts in each of the last two seasons—he would benefit from getting his walk and home run rates down.
Were the Astros to come up with solutions to these issues, they could ace-ify Ray the same way they did Cole after acquiring him from the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter.
Chicago White Sox Sign A.J. Pollock
Despite losing 100 games in the second year of their rebuild in 2018, the Chicago White Sox are determined to do something this winter.
"It is time now," executive vice president Ken Williams said in December, per Scott Merkin of MLB.com. "The conversations are very different in the room this year than they were in the last few years. We have our eye toward getting better."
That's asking a lot, however. Though the White Sox should address an outfield that finished last in the American League in wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference, they're a little too far away from real contention for such a monumental gamble.
Instead, A.J. Pollock is more their speed. The 31-year-old has been nearly as valuable as Harper since 2017, yet he's worth a small fraction of the latter's market value. Signing him would therefore be a relatively low-risk step toward respectability for the South Siders.
Colorado Rockies Sign Yasmani Grandal
There seems to be a general assumption of a huge gap between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies in the NL West. Yet the two clubs were separated by a single game in 2018, and the Dodgers haven't been loading up their roster this winter.
The Rockies thus have an invitation to top their signing of Daniel Murphy by addressing their big need behind the dish, ideally by signing Yasmani Grandal.
The 30-year-old doesn't deserve the air of indifference that surrounds his free agency. With a .799 OPS and 73 home runs since 2016, he's an elite hitter by catcher standards. He's also an excellent pitch-framer. Per Baseball Prospectus, the combination of these qualities made him MLB's best catcher in 2018.
Based on what's come out of the rumor mill, the Rockies seem to have little to no interest in Grandal. However, the rate at which other catching-needy teams have found other solutions is turning him into a potential bargain. To boot, the Rockies would pay a light draft pick penalty to sign him.
In all, they have several excuses to majorly upgrade one of MLB's worst catching corps.
Boston Red Sox Sign Adam Ottavino
The Boston Red Sox won their fourth World Series championship in 14 years in 2018 in large part thanks to their bullpen. Now said bullpen is suddenly in peril.
Joe Kelly has already bolted for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Red Sox might still re-sign Craig Kimbrel, but giving him nearly $20 million per year would give them virtually no shot at avoiding dire luxury-tax penalties in 2019. They're already projected to pay out $239.7 million, which is close to the $246 million no-go zone.
This helps explain why the Red Sox are interested in Adam Ottavino, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com.
Per MLB Trade Rumors, the 33-year-old projects to earn $10 million per year. Though that figure would still mean luxury-tax trouble for the Red Sox, it would at least mean less trouble for a pitcher who may be at least as good as Kimbrel.
The Northeastern alum is fresh of whiffing 13 batters per nine innings in 2018, mostly thanks to his stellar slider. To boot, Statcast's xWOBA metric—which is based on quality of contact—rated him much better than Kimbrel.
Ottavino alone wouldn't restore Boston's pen to its former glory, but he'd be a lot better than the nothing the team has added so far.
Atlanta Braves Sign Craig Kimbrel
Speaking of Kimbrel, the best fit for him is back where it all started.
Granted, the Atlanta Braves may not feel this way. The reigning NL East champions do want an impact closer, according to The Athletic's Jim Bowden, but they desire a corner outfielder and top-of-the-rotation starter more. Mark Bowman of MLB.com speculated that Atlanta would only jump in on Kimbrel if he were amenable to a three-year deal. Per ESPN's Buster Olney, Kimbrel wants a deal twice that long.
All the same, the fit is very real. Though the Braves have plenty of good talent in their lineup and starting rotation, their bullpen is more uncertain. It showed in 2018, as their relievers weren't great at avoiding meltdowns despite their semi-decent 4.15 ERA.
Kimbrel, 30, would certainly stabilize Atlanta's pen in the here and now. He owns a 1.91 ERA and a 14.7 K/9 for his career, and he mustered a 2.74 ERA and 13.9 K/9 even in a "down" year in 2018.
Besides which, it's possible at this point that the Braves will get their wish. With seemingly few eager suitors pursuing him, Kimbrel may indeed have to settle for a lesser deal than he has in mind.
Los Angeles Angels Sign Dallas Keuchel
The Los Angeles Angels have thus far filled out their depth with short-term, low-risk adds such as Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Justin Bour, Jonathan Lucroy and Tommy La Stella.
Now all they need to do is sign Keuchel, which Cafardo reported is something that interests them.
It's about time that somebody was interested in the 31-year-old lefty. He may not be what he was when he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, but he's still good. He was an All-Star in 2017, and he put up a 3.74 ERA over 204.2 innings in 2018.
Keuchel would be the de facto ace in an Angels rotation currently headed by Harvey, Cahill, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs. Moreover, his ground-ball style would mesh well with an infield led by Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart and David Fletcher.
Yet, here's the deal: With Mike Trout under contract for only two more years, the Angels darn well better be prepared to go all-out.
J.T. Realmuto to the Los Angeles Dodgers
Sure, the Dodgers could gain some distance on the Rockies by simply bringing back Grandal. But why do that when a better option is within their reach on the trade market?
The Miami Marlins appear to be serious about trading All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto this winter, and there may be no team more interested than the Dodgers. As Morosi wrote in December, there seems to be a fundamental question at play: "Will the Marlins or Dodgers blink first in their stalemate over Realmuto?"
Regardless, the match is certainly there. The Dodgers have a top-10 farm system to barter with. And unlike, say, Harper, they could add Realmuto—who's projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $6.1 million this season—and still be safely under the luxury-tax threshold in 2019.
Otherwise, the fit is quite simple. Grandal's free agency opened up a sizable hole behind the plate at Dodger Stadium. Realmuto realized his potential as baseball's best catcher in 2018, and he's even a right-handed hitter who would balance the Dodgers' left-leaning lineup.
Even if it means they have to do the blinking, the Dodgers should go get this guy.
Philadelphia Phillies Sign Bryce Harper
For all the talk about Harper bolting to the Dodgers or Chicago Cubs or reuniting with the Washington Nationals, the Phillies have always been the most logical landing spot for him.
They've essentially cut their payroll in half since peaking at $177.8 million back in 2014. That was in service of a rebuild that finally turned a corner with a respectable 80-win showing last season.
From here, the Phillies still need an impact hitter even after adding Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen. Harper owns a .900 career OPS and 184 home runs. And one can only dream of what the 26-year-old could do in regular action at a notorious bandbox like Citizens Bank Park.
Perhaps a deal hasn't already happened because Harper doesn't particularly like Philadelphia, according to Sherman. If so, the Phillies will have a chance to address his issues in a face-to-face meeting that, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, is on tap for "the next week or so."
Beyond that, all the Phillies have to do is show Harper the money. To this end, ESPN.com's Jeff Passan reported that they're already willing to do a 10-year deal. That'll do for a start of what could be a $400 million agreement.
New York Yankees Sign Manny Machado
The big question, however, was whether it took them out of the Manny Machado sweepstakes. According to Passan, the answer is rightfully no.
The Yankees are only guaranteeing Tulowitzki—who's owed $38 million by Toronto—the major league minimum in 2019. Yet, the fact that he hasn't played since July 28, 2017, should keep the Yankees from viewing him as a solid solution for their shortstop conundrum, which materialized when Didi Gregorius underwent Tommy John surgery in October.
Machado, on the other hand, absolutely would be a solid solution. The 26-year-old was a three-time All-Star as a third baseman between 2012 and 2017, and he didn't slow down upon moving to short in 2018. He made yet another All-Star squad on the strength of a .907 OPS and 37 long balls.
Mind you, a deal of $30 million per year for Machado would put the Yankees well over the $206 million luxury-tax threshold. But for the sake of catching up to the Red Sox in the AL East, they darn well should be prepared to pay a little extra for such a massive upgrade.