Breaking Down All the Early MLB Trade Rumors at 2019 Winter Meetings
Anyone who couldn't pay close attention to the opening of Major League Baseball's winter meetings missed out on a handful of juicy trade rumors.
Worry not. We've got you covered.
We've rounded up the biggest trade rumors to come out of San Diego on Monday, plus a few that emerged from the calm before the storm Sunday. These cover which players are being discussed and why the teams in question would be interested in a trade.
We shall proceed more or less in chronological order.
The Cleveland Indians Are 'Listening' on Corey Kluber
The Cleveland Indians might be more willing to trade ace right-hander Corey Kluber than superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Indians are "listening" to offers for Kluber. Moreover, there are teams out there that are willing to buy low on the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Previously, however, Kluber established himself as one of baseball's elite pitchers with a 2.85 ERA over 1,091.1 innings from 2014 to 2018. That contextualizes why the Indians felt comfortable picking up his $17.5 million option for 2020 as well as why other teams are eyeing him as a trade target.
But unless somebody blows them away with an offer, it makes more sense for the Tribe to hold on to Kluber. If he gets back on track in 2020, he can be a leader for their rotation or trade bait ahead of the July 31 deadline.
The Chicago Cubs Making a Big Move 'Seems Inevitable'
Following three straight seasons of diminishing returns since their long-awaited victory in the 2016 World Series, the Chicago Cubs should probably be looking to add.
Instead, Rosenthal reported they're telling agents "they need to clear money before engaging in serious negotiations" and that "a big move or two seems inevitable."
The driving force is Chicago's luxury-tax situation. The Cubs will have to pay penalties after finishing the 2019 season over the $206 million threshold. They're also projected to pay more penalties for the 2020 season, which has a $208 million threshold.
ESPN's Jeff Passan highlighted Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras as the Cubs' top trade chips, though he also previously mentioned Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. The Cubs could clear the most salary by moving Bryant, who's projected to earn $18.5 million in 2020.
Granted, a trade of the 2016 National League MVP maybe isn't likely. But at this point, every indication is that somebody from the Cubs' core will soon be on the move.
The Los Angeles Dodgers Rebuff Interest in Gavin Lux
According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, teams that call the Los Angeles Dodgers about top prospect Gavin Lux are being "rebuffed."
Those clubs at least have the right idea. As Heyman noted, the Dodgers have been eyeing superstar third baseman Anthony Rendon on the free-agent market. If they were to sign him, Lux would be squeezed out of a starting role at second base by Justin Turner, who would move to first with Max Muncy shifting to second.
But while that explains why Lux is attracting interest, the Dodgers obviously haven't signed Rendon yet. And even if they do, it figures they still won't be in a hurry to move the 22-year-old.
Though Lux didn't impress while sipping his first cup of major league coffee in September, his 2019 season was otherwise a monumental success. He hit .347/.421/.607 with 26 home runs over 113 games at Double-A and Triple-A. He earned Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year honor, and he's going into 2020 ranked as baseball's No. 2 prospect by MLB.com.
Rather than cash in Lux on the trade market, the Dodgers have every reason to keep him for themselves.
These Are the Players the Dodgers Are Willing to Move
Just because Gavin Lux isn't available doesn't mean the Dodgers are closed for business. Per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, players who are available "at the right price" include:
- LF Joc Pederson
- CF A.J. Pollock
- 2B/CF Enrique Hernandez
Pollock is presumably the object of some buyer's remorse on the Dodgers' part. The 32-year-old struggled with injuries and inconsistency in the first season of a four-year, $55 million deal. Per Baseball Reference, he accumulated only 0.2 wins above replacement.
But since a Pollock trade would likely be little more than a salary dump, the Dodgers might stand a better chance of moving Pederson or Hernandez.
Pederson, 27, is coming off a career-best 36 home runs and is due to make only $8.5 million in his final season before free agency. Hernandez, 28, is a versatile defender who's clubbed 38 homers over the last two seasons and in his walk year is slated to earn a modest $5.5 million.
The Dodgers don't need to trade any of these guys. But since they're expendable and varying degrees of expensive, they might as well see what's out there.
Whom the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners Might Deal
There were plenty of interesting nuggets in Passan's winter meetings preview, including the latest on three notable trade candidates:
"Kansas City continues to listen on super-utilityman Whit Merrifield, but the ask is rightly big. Pittsburgh could move center fielder Starling Marte, particularly with a paucity of available players at the position. Teams have continued to poke around on outfielder Mitch Haniger with Seattle in hopes that GM Jerry Dipoto might get twitchy."
Merrifield, 30, might be the most obscure of those three players, but the Kansas City Royals have every reason to set their sights high in trade talks. The 2019 All-Star is a versatile defender who's hit .303 with an .809 OPS, 28 home runs and 65 steals over the last two seasons. He's also signed for cheap through as far as 2023.
Marte, 31, has racked up an .816 OPS, 43 homers and 58 steals over the last two seasons, so neither his $11.5 million salary for 2020 nor his $12.5 million club option for 2021 seem unreasonable. Trading him should indeed be the first move of the Pittsburgh Pirates' rebuild.
After missing most of 2019 with a ruptured testicle, Haniger is more of a buy-low candidate. The 28-year-old is controlled through 2022, however, and his All-Star campaign in 2018 highlights why some teams might want to try to steal him from the Seattle Mariners.
The Indians Won't Rush to Trade Francisco Lindor
While the Indians listen on Corey Kluber, they're also putting a nigh-impenetrable wall around Francisco Lindor.
Per Jon Morosi of MLB Network, the Indians haven't even had "substantive" trade talks with the Atlanta Braves, who are one of very few teams with enough prospects to trade for Lindor. According to Heyman, the Indians prefer "to wait a year on a trade."
The Indians could net a huge haul of talent by trading Lindor. The 26-year-old leads all shortstops in WAR since he debuted in 2015, and he's under team control for two more years. He is projected to earn a reasonable $16.7 million salary in the first of those.
But because he is two years from free agency, there's no hurry for Cleveland to cash in his exorbitant trade value. And unless somebody offers a heaping helping of MLB-ready talent, simply keeping him is almost certainly the best thing for its near-term contention chances.
The Indians might make Lindor available at the summer trade deadline if they flop out of the gate in 2020. But for now, he's seemingly off the table.
The Philadelphia Phillies Have Checked In on Kris Bryant
There may be at least one team that's serious about taking Kris Bryant off the Cubs' hands.
According to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score, the Cubs have "had talks" with the Philadelphia Phillies about the 27-year-old third baseman. He did, however, caution there's "nothing there at the moment."
There's a straight line between the Phillies' interest in Bryant and their need at third base. The position put out only 0.6 WAR in 2019. That was mainly Maikel Franco's doing, and he's since been non-tendered.
With their 2020 luxury-tax bill projected at $191.9 million, the Phillies might be able to squeeze in Bryant's $18.5 million salary without triggering the $208 million threshold for penalties. And by the time Bryant reaches free agency, top prospect Alec Bohm could be ready to take his place.
Of course, there's still the question of what the Cubs would get out of a deal with the Phillies. Apart from salary relief, there isn't a clear answer. The Phillies don't have much major league talent to spare, and their prospect cache isn't terribly well-stocked after Bohm.
The Boston Red Sox Might Move These Outfielders
Waiting for the Boston Red Sox to trade 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts?
Don't count on it. Passan reported a trade involving the superstar right fielder is "unlikely to happen." Likewise, Nightengale reported rival officials are "highly skeptical" such a deal will come to fruition.
The Red Sox could still move other outfielders, including Andrew Benintendi. Rosenthal raised the possibility that the left fielder could be used as a sort of a counterbalance in a trade headlined by a high-priced albatross such as David Price or Nathan Eovaldi.
The 25-year-old's value is down at the moment, as he regressed from a strong 2018 season to post just a .774 OPS and 1.7 WAR in 2019. However, said 2018 campaign underscores Benintendi's upside, and he's only heading into the first of three arbitration-eligible seasons.
Meanwhile, Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe reported the Red Sox are "actively trying" to move center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. His $11 million salary projection for his walk year could complicate matters, yet the Red Sox might still interest teams in his combination of stellar defense and decent power.
The New York Yankees Are 'Actively' Trying to Trade J.A. Happ
Speaking of AL East powerhouses looking to deal, the New York Yankees have a veteran left-hander they'd like to unload.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Yankees are "actively looking to trade" J.A. Happ. It's either that or keep him for 2020, which isn't the most exciting proposition.
Happ, 37, posted a 4.91 ERA and surrendered 34 home runs in 2019. That was the first year of a two-year, $34 million contract, which also contains a vesting option for 2021 that kicks in if he tops 165 innings or 27 starts in 2020.
Clearing Happ's $17 million average annual value would have the added bonus of getting the Yankees under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold in 2020. Presently, they're projected to go over it by $6.2 million.
To be sure, the Yankees would probably have to eat some of Happ's contract to move him. But if they do get him off their books, their next move might be to reinvest the savings in a bigger fish from the free-agent market.
The Detroit Tigers Aren't Shopping Matthew Boyd
Meanwhile in Detroit, the Tigers aren't actively trying to find a taker for left-hander Matthew Boyd.
That according to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News, who got it straight from Tigers general manager Al Avila. Moreover, Avila hasn't initiated contract extension talks with Boyd's agent, Scott Boras.
The Tigers are mired in a rebuild that still has a ways to go, and Boyd is a talented pitcher who's only 28 and three years away from free agency. Combine those two things, and you get a fairly standard case for why Boyd should be trade bait.
The Tigers, however, might be thinking Boyd's trade value can go higher. Though he finished 2019 with 238 strikeouts in only 185.1 innings, his first half was much stronger than his second. If he were to find more consistency in 2020, pitching-needy contenders could come to value him as a top-of-the-rotation target.
Alternatively, such a performance could just as easily strengthen Detroit's resolve to extend Boyd. In either case, it can afford to sit and be patient with him.