No-Brainer Trade Ideas Coming out of the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings
After the free-agent market moved at a snail's pace a year ago, it was a bit surprising to see many of the market's top names already off the board by the time the winter meetings came to a close.
With so many free-agency dominoes already toppled, the trade market could dominate the second half of the offseason as teams search for alternative options to upgrade their rosters.
Based on a mix of rumors and speculation, we've fleshed out seven potential trade ideas to address needs throughout the league, including a full return package in each proposed swap.
Let's get to it.
SP J.A. Happ to the San Francisco Giants
Lost in the excitement of Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon signing for a combined $814 million, the San Francisco Giants made one of the more interesting moves at this year's winter meetings.
They acquired Zack Cozart and his $12.7 million salary for 2020 from the Los Angeles Angels along with infield prospect Will Wilson in exchange for a player to be named. Left-hander Garrett Williams, a fringe prospect with command issues, eventually completed the trade.
Not the kind of trade you see every day.
In essence, the Angels paid the Giants in the form of a prospect to absorb Cozart's remaining salary, and it was not just any prospect. Wilson was the No. 15 overall pick this past June and one of the top college bats in his draft class.
For a rebuilding team like the Giants, it's a brilliant use of their payroll flexibility and much more productive in terms of the long-term picture than signing a couple of mid-level free agents.
So what's to stop them from doing it again?
After signing Cole, the New York Yankees have blown past the $208 million luxury tax threshold with an estimated $245.2 million on the books for 2020, according to Spotrac.
Unloading J.A. Happ's $17 million salary—which makes him the fifth-highest-paid player on the team—would go a long way. It might even be worth parting with a quality pitching prospect like Clarke Schmidt.
The 23-year-old was the No. 16 overall pick in the 2017 draft, and he posted a 3.47 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 102 strikeouts in 90.2 innings over three minor league levels last season.
Trade Proposal: San Francisco Giants acquire SP J.A. Happ, SP Clarke Schmidt from the New York Yankees in exchange for a player to be named.
RP Ken Giles to the Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals have spent the past several summers scrambling to throw together a passable relief corps at the deadline. Wouldn't it be easier to address the bullpen during the offseason?
Veteran Daniel Hudson was one of the team's summer acquisitions in 2019, and he wound up serving as the team's closer in October, nailing down four postseason saves after pitching to a stellar 1.44 ERA in 24 appearances during the regular season.
The Nationals are pursuing a reunion in free agency, and Hudson's preference is to stick around, but the two sides are still far apart, and there are other offers on the table, according to Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post.
Tanner Rainey (52 G, 9 HLD, 3.91 ERA) and Wander Suero (78 G, 19 HLD, 4.54 ERA) are the top returning setup options ahead of closer Sean Doolittle (63 G, 29/35 SV, 4.05 ERA), who was far from lights-out last season.
While they wait to see how things play out with Hudson, it might be wise to pivot to another potential upgrade in the form of Toronto Blue Jays closer Ken Giles.
An ill-timed trip to the injured list kept him from being traded last July, but he returned strong down the stretch and finished 2019 with a 1.87 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and career-high 14.1 K/9 in 53 appearances while nailing down 23 of 24 save chances.
The rebuilding Blue Jays should be motivated to deal ahead of his final year of club control, and polished upper-level starter Wil Crowe and former college standout and high-floor outfielder Nick Banks would be a terrific return.
Trade Proposal: Washington Nationals acquire RP Ken Giles from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for SP Wil Crowe, OF Nick Banks
CF Starling Marte to the Philadelphia Phillies
A Starling Marte trade has felt like an inevitability since the Pittsburgh Pirates began the offseason by gutting their front office and firing longtime manager Clint Hurdle. So who is in the mix to land the former All-Star?
"The Mets, Padres and Reds have all checked in. And there could be a fit with the Phillies, as well. Stay tuned," wrote Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
As teams continue to jostle for position in the NL East, the Phillies are an interesting potential landing spot, in part because it would block a trade to the rival Mets, who have been linked to Marte all offseason.
Marte, 31, is owed a team-friendly $11.5 million in 2020, and he's controllable for 2021 by way of a $12.5 million club option. He logged his second straight 20-20 season this past year, posting a 120 OPS+ with 23 home runs and 25 steals in a 2.9 WAR campaign.
While Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper are locked into the corner outfield spots in Philadelphia, center field is still up in the air.
It looks like Scott Kingery will serve as the primary third baseman after filling a super-utility role in 2019 that included 65 games in center field, and there's a good chance Odubel Herrera has played his last game in a Phillies uniform, leaving Adam Haseley as the leading in-house candidate.
He looked the part defensively and posted a respectable 85 OPS+ in 242 plate appearances as a rookie, but the team might prefer a more established option.
A Marte-for-Haseley swap makes sense for both sides, and padding out the package with an MLB-ready starter (Enyel De Los Santos) and a defensive-minded catcher with some pop (Rodolfo Duran) might be enough for the Phillies to get a deal done.
Trade Proposal: Philadelphia Phillies acquire CF Starling Marte from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for OF Adam Haseley, SP Enyel De Los Santos, C Rodolfo Duran
SP Jeff Samardzija to the Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels are in desperate need of a veteran workhorse to provide some stability to the starting rotation.
Here's a look at the 2019 innings pitched totals for the current projected six-man rotation, per Roster Resource:
- Andrew Heaney: 95.1 IP
- Dylan Bundy: 161.2 IP
- Griffin Canning: 106.1 IP (including minors)
- Patrick Sandoval: 119.2 IP (including minors)
- Jaime Barria: 131 IP (including minors)
- Shohei Ohtani: Injured, did not pitch
They could still make a play for Hyun-Jin Ryu or Dallas Keuchel in free agency, but with a ton of money already on the books, they might prefer the one-year commitment that a trade for Jeff Samardzija would represent.
Samardzija, 34, is set to make $19.8 million in the final season of a five-year, $90 million deal, and he was quietly one of the better starters in the National League last year with a 3.52 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 181.1 innings. That marked the seventh time in the past eight seasons he has pitched at least 170 innings.
Even if the Giants kick in some money for a better return, it's not going to take a top-tier prospect to get a deal done. A return of mid-level pitching prospect Aaron Hernandez and 26-year-old utility infielder Jose Rojas, who posted a .938 OPS with 39 doubles and 31 home runs at Triple-A last year, might be enough.
Trade Proposal: Los Angeles Angels acquire SP Jeff Samardzija, cash from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for SP Aaron Hernandez, IF Jose Rojas
SP Robbie Ray to the Minnesota Twins
The Arizona Diamondbacks just signed Madison Bumgarner to a five-year, $85 million deal. So why would they be sellers on the trade market?
"The Diamondbacks may have just created the starting pitching scarcity they need to trade Robbie Ray for his best value," Zach Buchanan of The Athletic tweeted immediately following the Bumgarner signing.
The D-backs have taken an interesting approach over the past calendar year, trading Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke for solid returns built around MLB-ready talent, yet they have shown no indication that they intend to embark on a larger-scale rebuild.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, top remaining free-agent starter Hyun-Jin Ryu is expected to sign for a "minimum four years, $80 million," and that is going to scare off a lot of teams.
A team like the Minnesota Twins, who ranked 18th in the majors with a $125.3 million payroll in 2019, are the perfect example.
Even with Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda back in the mix alongside ace Jose Berrios, the Twins still need rotation help. The projected $10.8 million owed to Ray in his final year of arbitration would be far more palatable than breaking the bank to sign Ryu.
Ray, 28, posted a 4.29 FIP in 174.1 innings last season, racking up a career-high 235 strikeouts along the way.
A package of left-hander Lewis Thorpe and utility man Travis Blankenhorn would stick with the trend of acquiring MLB-ready talent, while 20-year-old outfielder Gabriel Maciel would offer a high-ceiling flier.
Trade Proposal: Minnesota Twins acquire SP Robbie Ray from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for SP Lewis Thorpe, IF/OF Travis Blankenhorn, OF Gabriel Maciel
SS Trevor Story to the Cincinnati Reds
There has been nothing to suggest the Colorado Rockies would be open to moving Trevor Story this offseason. However, with Nolan Arenado (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network) and Charlie Blackmon (via Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com) both popping up in trade rumors since the summer, it's not out of the question to think he too could hit the block.
Story, 27, is two years removed from free agency and has developed into one of baseball's most productive shortstops, posting a 122 OPS+ while tallying 72 home runs, 50 steals and 12.0 WAR over the past two seasons.
If the Rockies are going to turn things around after a 91-loss season, it's going to take a vastly improved pitching staff to do it, and flipping Story for multiple arms would be one way to accomplish that.
Meanwhile, after missing out on signing Didi Gregorius, a Cincinnati Reds team eyeing contention in 2020 currently has Freddy Galvis penciled into the starting shortstop spot. The 30-year-old hit a career-high 23 home runs last season, but it came with a .296 on-base percentage in a 1.8-WAR season. He's better served in a utility role.
After trading for Trevor Bauer last summer and then signing Wade Miley in free agency, the Reds have some starting pitching depth to pull from, and building a package around Tyler Mahle could get the Rockies' attention.
Mahle, 25, posted a 4.66 FIP with 129 strikeouts in 129.2 innings, and he's under team control through the 2023 season.
Rounding out the package with 2019 first-round pick Nick Lodolo (No. 3) and Lyon Richardson (No. 7), who both rank among Cincinnati's top 10 prospects in the latest update from Baseball America, while taking on $11.5 million still owed to reliever Jake McGee, could be enough to get a deal done.
Trade Proposal: Cincinnati Reds acquire SS Trevor Story, RP Jake McGee from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for SP Tyler Mahle, SP Nick Lodolo, SP Lyon Richardson
3B Kris Bryant to the Atlanta Braves
Until the Chicago Cubs say Kris Bryant is off the market and the Atlanta Braves either re-sign or replace Josh Donaldson, this rumor is going to persist.
The Braves need a third baseman, and the Cubs need young, controllable pitching, so it's a match made in heaven on paper.
The general consensus seems to be that a package of young third baseman Austin Riley, an MLB-ready arm like Max Fried or Sean Newcomb and a quality upper-level pitching prospect like Bryse Wilson or Patrick Weigel might be enough to get a deal done.
However, before a Bryant trade is made, the grievance he filed against the Cubs for service time manipulation will need to be resolved. The "likely outcome" is that Bryant will lose the grievance and maintain two remaining years of club control, according to Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic. However, if he wins, he would be a free agent after the 2020 season, so the ruling has a significant impact on his trade value.
Assuming that is resolved soon and he is still arbitration-eligible through 2021, the Braves would be wise to pounce at the opportunity to acquire the three-time All-Star while their title window is wide-open.
The latest report has the Washington Nationals leading the pack for Donaldson, so a reunion is looking less and less likely, and replacing his production is a must. Riley has a chance to develop into that kind of player, but his second-half struggles are a good indication that he's not quite there yet.
It would be a tough trade for Cubs fans to swallow, but it would go a long way toward solving their financial and pitching issues.
Trade Proposal: Atlanta Braves acquire 3B Kris Bryant from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for 3B Austin Riley, SP Sean Newcomb, SP Bryse Wilson