Let's Make a Deal: Offseason MLB Trade Predictions Before 2019 Winter Meetings
An already perplexing MLB offseason will kick into overdrive once executives convene in San Diego, California, for the 2019 winter meetings.
As everyone buckled up for another long wait on the free-agent front, the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox pounced early enough to express gratitude for their signings at the Thanksgiving table. But before anyone could celebrate a return to days of hot-and-heavy spending, the Baltimore Orioles put their best player on waivers.
Jonathan Villar hit .274/.339/.453 with 24 home runs, 111 runs scored, 40 steals and 4.0 wins above replacement in his age-28 campaign. He was worth $31.7 million last season, according to FanGraphs, but he's projected to earn $10.4 million in arbitration for 2020.
If getting rid of last season's fifth-best second baseman required such drastic measures, will any team give up anything for anyone commanding more than an entry-level salary?
This uncertainty could create strange proceedings once the winter meetings commence this Sunday. The Villar saga may foreshadow a lack of interest in valuable and experienced contributors on the block. Or maybe teams will eventually cave in lieu of paying higher-priced free agents.
In a sensible world, the following players should all draw healthy intrigue if made available. Before the enhanced activity begins, let's play matchmaker and explore a few possible trade scenarios that could unfold this offseason. To avoid getting anyone's hopes up, these predictions steer away from groundbreaking blockbusters involving Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor or Kris Bryant.
Dylan Bundy to Oakland Athletics (for Jurickson Profar)
Back in 2012, MLB.com rated Jurickson Profar and Dylan Bundy as its Nos. 1 and 2 prospects, respectively. Now they're each getting shopped after yet another disappointing season.
Per The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, the Oakland Athletics are looking to exchange Profar a year after they snagged him from the Texas Rangers. Although he hit 20 homers for the second straight season, his weighted runs created plus (wRC+) dropped from 107 in a breakout 2018 to 89.
Bundy, meanwhile, once again struck out over a batter per frame and demonstrated spurts of brilliance. He also, however, notched a 4.79 ERA with 29 home runs distributed in 30 starts. According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, the Baltimore Orioles are shopping him before his fifth big league campaign.
This could be an interesting opportunity to swap disappointing players.
By moving on from Profar, Oakland would clear second base for Franklin Barreto or Jorge Mateo, both of whom are out of minor league options. While Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas and Jesus Luzardo potentially form a potent trio, the A's have routinely lacked rotation depth over the years.
Few pitchers seem poised to benefit from a change of scenery more than Bundy. Opponents crushed his four-seam fastball to a .333/.400/.642 slash line, but his superb slider conversely netted a .152/.231/.265 line and 40.8 strikeout percentage. A more analytical organization could unlock some of the 27-year-old's upside by altering his pitch usage a la Patrick Corbin in 2018.
The change in home parks would also help. Per ESPN, Camden Yards rated as the fourth-most conducive venue to long balls last season. Oakland Coliseum placed 26th.
Given their bizarre desire to give away Villar, the Orioles are going to need some warm bodies in their lineup. Profar, who will be 27 next Opening Day, has major league experience in left field and every infield position. While it wouldn't make sense to abandon Villar and acquire a downgrade, Baltimore could justify yet another head-scratching decision by landing a prospect or two in the exchange.
Although this wouldn't save either franchise much money, it's likely a lateral move on the ledger. MLB Trade Rumors projects Profar and Bundy to earn $5.8 million and $5.7 million, respectively, in arbitration. Each former prized prospect also has one year left of team control, so everything aligns for the ultimate change-of-scenery gambit.
Or maybe the Orioles will just place their whole roster on waivers so they don't have to pay anyone.
Ken Giles to Minnesota Twins
A hot name on the summer trading block, Ken Giles might have gotten dealt if not for poorly timed elbow inflammation. With the Toronto Blue Jays unlikely to bounce back into contention so soon, it makes sense to shop their closer before his final year of arbitration eligibility.
Back in November, TSN's Scott Mitchell assessed a winter trade as "unlikely" amid a mum market. That was right before Will Smith signed with the Atlanta Braves, leaving Giles as arguably the best relief pitcher available.
A lack of saves (23 in 24 opportunities) concealed his dominance on a layman's level, but the righty rebounded from a poor 2018 to record the fourth-best strikeout rate (39.9 percent) and FIP (2.27) among qualified relievers.
The biggest question is likely when rather than if Giles gets traded.
Late-inning pieces are popular commodities during a pennant push, so Toronto can wait and see if young phenoms Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are ready to spark a surprise contender. On the other hand, the American League East squad shouldn't risk the possibility that a pitcher with an erratic past and recent health woes damages his value early in 2020.
It's never difficult to locate teams in need of a high-leverage reliever. But who will be willing to pay the price in the way of young talent and an anticipated raise from Giles' $6.3 million salary last season?
Last summer, the Minnesota Twins were linked to Giles before they acquired Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo on expiring contracts. They now need another high-end righty to pair with southpaw Trevor Rogers. Beyond its five top-80 prospects, per MLB.com, Minnesota can still build an acceptable package around 20-year-old shortstop Wander Javier.
Blake Treinen to Los Angeles Dodgers
Any team afraid to pursue Ken Giles can point to Blake Treinen as yet another cautionary tale of bullpen volatility. After yielding just seven earned runs throughout a spectacular 2018, he served up nine home runs and a 4.91 ERA during 2019's calamitous decline.
That same squad could pick up the phone and land Oakland's fallen closer at a discount.
Per Rosenthal, the A's are also dangling Treinen in hopes of slashing their payroll. Perhaps it'd be more prudent to instead shop Liam Hendriks before watching their latest breakout performer also regress to the mean. Treinen, however, is still projected to receive a higher 2020 salary ($7.8 million) through arbitration.
The Los Angeles Dodgers once again paid dearly in October for not building a reliable bridge to Kenley Jansen. They need at least one high-quality setup man to avoid again overexposing Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs.
Treinen doesn't qualify based on 2018's collapse, but he's also not a one-year wonder. The 31-year-old wields a career 2.97 ERA and 3.36 FIP in 400 frames. If the sinkerballer repairs his ground-ball rate back to elite norms, he'd benefit immensely by pitching in front of a team that led the way in defensive runs saved (DRS) last season.
Often remiss to part with their best prospects, the Dodgers could utilize their farm system's depth to orchestrate this low-risk, high-reward trade. Depending on Oakland's urgency to cut costs, it may only take a couple of mid-level minor leaguers such as right-handed pitcher Michael Grove and infielder Devin Mann.
Joc Pederson to Chicago White Sox
The Dodgers need more bullpen depth, but they're not lacking in outfield talent.
Alex Verdugo earned a featured role following a strong rookie campaign, and Cody Bellinger's move to right field may be permanent as Gavin Lux joins an already crowded infield. A.J. Pollock will play when healthy, and they can fill the injury gaps with Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor and Matt Beaty.
At full strength, an admittedly rare classification, Joc Pederson is expendable.
Despite never fully meeting the immense hype, the left-handed slugger has found his footing as a reliable power hitter with a keen batting eye. He's hit between .245-.250 with a wRC+ in the 126-128 range during three of the last four seasons, including both 2018 and 2019.
Pederson would represent an upgrade for most teams entering his age-28 season. It's also his last before entering free agency, and the National League West champions would at best keep deploying him in a platoon because of his career ineptitude (.188, 57 wRC+) versus southpaws.
Last year, the Chicago White Sox reportedly explored a Pederson deal with Los Angeles. After sprinting into the offseason by signing Yasmani Grandal and extending Jose Abreu, the timing is now better for a potentially short-term acquisition. They can prove they truly mean business by adding another big bat to their outfield, which posted an AL-worst .393 slugging percentage against righties last season.
The Dodgers may prefer to exchange Pederson for an impact reliever. Going that road with the White Sox would lead to Aaron Bummer, a southpaw with four more seasons of team control who boasted a 2.13 ERA and 72.1 ground-ball percentage last season.
Yet if they can land Treinen at a cheaper acquisition price, they might be content to balance their books with a money-saving move. Neither first-round pick has maintained enough value to headline a swap, but Carson Fulmer or Zack Burdi would make interesting fliers as part of a prospect package. A better—but also riskier—option would be to roll the dice on Dane Dunning's returning strong from Tommy John surgery.
Mitch Haniger to Cleveland Indians
In case you haven't heard, Jerry Dipoto makes lots of trades.
Last year, the Seattle Mariners' restless general manager executed the winter's two biggest deals, each of which sent high-profile talent to New York. The jury remains out on how a package led by Justus Sheffield will shake out for James Paxton, but he might have pulled off a heist by unloading Robinson Cano's massive contract on the Mets alongside Edwin Diaz for top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn.
Even if those transactions improve its long-term future, Seattle looks likely to extend its 18-year playoff drought another season. If Dipoto wants to keep unloading, he'll risk selling low on Mitch Haniger.
After posting a 137 wRC+ and 4.5 WAR in 2018, the outfielder hit .220 with a pedestrian 106 wRC+ and 1.1 WAR in just 63 games. A highly unpleasant injury ended his season in early June, well before Seattle could test his trade value with a pre-deadline deal.
According to Rosenthal, the Mariners are "open to trading" Haniger, who is still attracting interest. Set to turn 29 in December, the outfielder remains an affordable option with three more seasons of arbitration.
The Athletic's Zack Meisel and Corey Brock proposed the Cleveland Indians as a trading partner. The need is there. Franmil Reyes is best suited as a designated hitter, and fellow deadline acquisition Yasiel Puig is now a free agent. That leaves the corner spots open alongside Oscar Mercado.
Projected to earn just $3 million in arbitration next season, Haniger would serve Cleveland's penny-pinching ways. Rather than prematurely moving Francisco Lindor, the organization should reload for one last run behind the superstar shortstop and a dominant starting rotation with depth to spare.
Since Haniger only has one full MLB season under his belt, Seattle might be worried enough about his durability (and last year's elevated strikeout rate) to make a deal. Meisel and Brock suggested a trade involving Aaron Civale, but Zach Plesac or Adam Plutko could also offer an immediate rotation piece.
While Seattle should probably give Haniger a chance to restore his trade value, one can never bet against Dipoto to disrupt the status quo.
Starling Marte to New York Mets
After falling back into losing habits, the Pittsburgh Pirates will likely shake up their roster following a front-office overhaul. If sufficiently discouraged by 2019's last-place finish in the NL Central, they have one precious trade asset in Starling Marte.
In need of a center fielder who can handle the spot's defensive demands, the New York Mets stand out as an obvious suitor. While the Pirates are unsure whether they'll move the two-time Gold Glove winner, per MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the Mets are indeed interested in his services.
The feeling is mutual. According to Hector Gomez of Deportivo Z 101, Marte said he'd like to play for a World Series contender if traded, and he described the Mets as "in position to do that." He said it would "be an honor to play with them."
Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen demonstrated some unconventional aggressiveness to start his new career path. The former agent swung for the fences by trading the prior year's first-round pick (Kelenic) and more for Diaz and Cano last winter. Then, despite a disappointing first half, he doubled down and acquired Marcus Stroman when everyone thought he'd instead deal Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard.
On one hand, we now know he's not the type to hang on to minor leaguers too tightly. He's also backed himself into win-now expectations despite the unlikelihood that ownership endorses checks for expensive free agents.
Yet he'll find a diminished farm system will make another bold maneuver tougher to execute. Landing Marte would require some ingenuity.
Perhaps the Mets could tempt the Pirates with a younger, cheaper position player from their big league lineup card.
J.D. Davis is a popular name in trade speculation because he played out of position in left field during the 2019 season. But if free agent Todd Frazier leaves, Davis and his 136 wRC+—higher than Marte's 119 during a season in which he set personal bests in home runs and slugging percentage—would be needed at third base.
Shipping off Dominic Smith would make a great deal of sense for the Mets, who have Pete Alonso locked into first base. Pittsburgh, however, also has first base blocked by Josh Bell.
If the Mets truly desire Marte, they may need to take a big risk by offering Brandon Nimmo. While he hit .221 during an injury-marred year, the walks wizard has posted a splendid .387 on-base percentage over his career. In 2018, his only full season in the majors, Nimmo earned 4.5 WAR.
Giving up on him could backfire, but he might get shoved out of the starting lineup with Marte in tow anyway. If the Pirates are scared off by Nimmo's neck issues, Van Wagenen could still mortgage more of the future by offering a substantive package led by 21-year-old shortstop Andres Gimenez.
Robbie Ray to Houston Astros
With all the speculation fixated on Robbie Ray in July, the Arizona Diamondbacks instead traded Zack Greinke and replaced him with Zac Gallen. As of now, Gallen and Ray headline a staff also hoping to welcome back Luke Weaver and Taijuan Walker. Alex Young showed promise as a rookie, and Merrill Kelly and Mike Leake also command rotation spots.
In other words, the Diamondbacks can shop a starter without compromising any contention hopes. Finding a taker for Leake—currently their highest-paid player at $15 million—would be ideal, but they'd get far more for Ray in his last year of arbitration.
According to The Athletic's Jayson Stark, the Diamondbacks "seem more open to moving [Ray] than in the past." Looking ahead to next year, when Ray, Leake and Walker can all bolt, they're reportedly seeking pitchers with more years of team control.
A pair of AL powerhouses stand out as strong fits. The New York Yankees have balked at top-tier free agents in recent years, so don't be surprised if they turn to the trade market once more rather than paying Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg.
Arizona, however, would need to walk back last summer's reported asking price. Per Heyman, the club wanted Clint Frazier and three prospects (including Clarke Schmidt) for Ray. A transaction headlined by Frazier, though, would admittedly make sense for both sides if the Bronx Bombers can trim down the accompanying demands.
Before surprisingly pivoting to Greinke, the Houston Astros were also a commonly predicted landing spot for Ray. With Cole likely to leave, the AL champions can now revisit those talks.
Granted, general manager Jeff Luhnow sacrificed much of his young talent when dealing four prospects for Greinke. The reservoir isn't drained just yet. In fact, he can still offer plenty of cost-controlled pitching in Jose Urquidy, Josh James, Framber Valdez, Francis Martes or Bryan Abreu.
Abraham Toro would need injuries to receive any playing time in Houston, but Arizona could present him an immediate shot at the hot corner by sliding Eduardo Escobar to second base. The 22-year-old batted .324/.411/.527 in Double-A and Triple-A before notching a .688 OPS in 89 major league plate appearances.
Given all their young options, Ray isn't a dire need for the Astros. That didn't stop Luhnow from leveraging that depth to acquire Cole, Greinke and Justin Verlander in the past three years. Even amid a tumultuous offseason, he's not likely to sit back after falling one win short of another title.