8 Win-Win Trade Ideas to Shift MLB's Balance of Power in 2020
In our experience, the best way to pass the time between the start of a new year and the arrival of spring training is to dream up some earth-moving Major League Baseball trades.
So, we did exactly that in thinking up eight deals that would shift MLB's balance of power in 2020. For this, our only stipulation was to disregard any possibilities involving buyers sending unproven prospects to rebuilders in exchange for a star player or two.
Instead, we imagined swaps between teams that are either obviously or ostensibly set to contend this season and that are centered on players who are either established major leaguers or who have at least gotten their feet wet in The Show.
Let's dive right in.
Miguel Andujar to the Texas Rangers
Nothing could help the Texas Rangers make the leap from a 78-win surprise in 2019 to a contender in 2020 like a right-handed-hitting third baseman.
Josh Donaldson is still a free agent, and Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant are available on the trade market. However, their price tags don't align with the Rangers' limited payroll flexibility and farm depth.
The Rangers are more so in a position to seek an upside play. For instance, MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reported in December they're "definitely intrigued" by New York Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar.
Andujar, who's 24 and under club control through 2023, was the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2018 after posting an .855 OPS and 27 home runs. But thanks to shoulder surgery and Gio Urshela's breakout, Andujar was rendered expendable in 2019.
The Yankees aren't hurting for much, but the Rangers might pique their interest with an offer of MLB-ready arms. For example, left-handers Kolby Allard and Taylor Hearn, who's touched triple digits with his fastball, would bring potential to the starting rotation and bullpen.
The Deal: 3B Miguel Andujar to TEX; LHPs Kolby Allard and Taylor Hearn to NYY
J.A. Happ to the Los Angeles Angels
Elsewhere on the topic of expendable Yankees, there's J.A. Happ.
The veteran southpaw was a notable prize during New York's 2018-19 offseason, as he parlayed a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Yankees down the stretch of 2018 into a two-year, $34 million contract.
But in 2019, Happ disappointed with a 4.91 ERA and 34 home runs allowed in 161.1 innings. With Gerrit Cole aboard and Luis Severino in good health heading into 2020, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reported the Yankees are "open to trading" Happ rather than use him as their fifth starter.
There is perhaps no team that makes more sense for Happ, 37, than the Los Angeles Angels. Assuming they don't want to cash in super-prospect Jo Adell on the trade market, their best hope of landing a much-needed stabilizer for their rotation lies in simply taking on an unwanted salary.
If the Yankees don't want to do a straight-up salary dump, they could eat some of Happ's $17 million and demand a player who could help them right away. Matt Thaiss, who could platoon with Gio Urshela at third base and Luke Voit at first base, would be one possibility.
The Deal: LHP J.A. Happ and Cash to LAA; 3B/1B Matt Thaiss to NYY
Mike Clevinger to the San Diego Padres
Mike Clevinger is the guy the Angels really want, according to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com. But short of letting Jo Adell go to the Cleveland Indians, they don't have an avenue to the right-hander.
Clevinger, 29, is a bit of a late bloomer, but he's quietly been one of baseball's best pitchers as he's racked up a 2.96 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings over the last three seasons. And he still has three more seasons until free agency.
If the Indians must deal Clevinger—and they certainly don't have to—they could go back to the well that is the San Diego Padres, who hooked up with Cleveland on deals involving Brad Hand in 2018 and Trevor Bauer in 2019.
The Padres have enough talent to snap their string of nine straight losing seasons. But if they want to contend, they'd do well to add a No. 1 to a rotation that lacks one.
Out of all the player combinations Cleveland could demand from San Diego, an outfielder and a replacement pitcher would make the most sense. To throw one idea out there: Franchy Cordero and fast-rising righty Luis Patino, who's MLB.com's No. 30 prospect, could work.
The Deal: RHP Mike Clevinger to SDP; OF Franchy Cordero and RHP Luis Patino to CLE
Robbie Ray to the Houston Astros
Elsewhere in the National League West, the Arizona Diamondbacks can spare Robbie Ray after picking up Madison Bumgarner on a five-year, $85 million deal.
The 28-year-old lefty is projected to make $10.8 million in his final season under club control. Rather than simply pay the man, the D-backs might seek to save some money and get some prospects back in a trade.
Ray's impending free agency does limit his trade value, but his upside might still draw a crowd on the trade market. Though he has only one All-Star season under his belt, he has blown hitters away to the tune of 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings since 2016.
The Houston Astros were in on Ray ahead of the 2019 trade deadline, according to Morosi. They look like an even better fit for him now, as he would help fill the sizable void in their rotation left by Cole's departure.
The Snakes will presumably only move Ray in exchange for a piece or pieces that could help them contend in 2020 and beyond. The Astros can offer third baseman Abraham Toro, who broke out in a big way with a .938 OPS at Double-A and Triple-A last season.
The Deal: LHP Robbie Ray to HOU; 3B Abraham Toro to ARI
Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers
Everyone's watching and waiting for the Los Angeles Dodgers to do something to redeem what's thus far been an inexplicably quiet offseason. How about a trade for Mookie Betts?
According to Morosi, the 2018 AL MVP has leapfrogged Francisco Lindor as the Dodgers' top target on the trade market. He further added that the Dodgers might seek a deal with the Boston Red Sox in which they get both Betts and veteran left-hander David Price.
For the Red Sox, the main appeal of such a trade would be all the money they would save. Price is still owed $96 million through 2022, while Betts is projected to earn $27.7 million in his final trip through arbitration.
However, the Red Sox are also trying to contend in 2020. If they do trade Betts and Price, they can't hope to do that unless they get impact replacements for both of them.
To wit, the Red Sox would at least need Dustin May, who's MLB.com's No. 32 prospect. They could also make a play for 23-year-old outfielder Alex Verdugo, but the Dodgers might prefer to balance out the financials by offloading A.J. Pollock and the $50 million he's still owed.
If so, the Red Sox could demand a bit more upside by insisting on Triple-A outfielder DJ Peters, who has loads of power.
The Deal: OF Mookie Betts and LHP David Price to LAD; RHP Dustin May, OF A.J. Pollock and OF DJ Peters to BOS
Francisco Lindor to the Cincinnati Reds
If the Indians don't trade Francisco Lindor to the Dodgers, there could be an opening for the Cincinnati Reds to swoop in.
The Reds enjoyed some fantastic pitching in 2019, but their lightweight offense rendered much of it moot, as they finished with only 75 wins. Though they've since brought in Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama, their offense still isn't liable to strike fear into the opposition.
There's no better spot for the Reds to upgrade now than at shortstop. It produced only 1.2 wins above replacement last season, according to Baseball Reference. The position is in the hands of Freddy Galvis, who has averaged 0.8 WAR per year in his eight-season career.
Lindor, meanwhile, is firmly established as the best shortstop in all of MLB. He's also still only 26 years old and controlled through the 2021 season.
If the Indians are going to deal Lindor to their cross-state rivals, they're at least going to need Nick Senzel in return. He didn't impress much as a rookie in 2019 but went into the year as one of baseball's best prospects, and he's still only 24 and under club control through 2025.
The Indians could push the envelope further by making a play for 23-year-old third baseman Jonathan India, who's blocked by Eugenio Suarez anyway.
The Deal: SS Francisco Lindor to CIN; INF/OF Nick Senzel and 3B Jonathan India to CLE
Kris Bryant to the Atlanta Braves
If not Francisco Lindor, teams on the lookout for a superstar with club control through 2021 might consider Kris Bryant.
That is pending the ruling on his grievance against the Chicago Cubs, of course, which could move his free agency up from 2021 to 2020. If that happens, the Cubs might decide to keep him rather than cash in his diminished trade value.
For the moment, however, Bryant's two remaining years of club control and his outstanding track record—he boasts Rookie of the Year and MVP awards and a .901 career OPS—make him a hot item on the trade market. For the Cubs, he represents a chance to get back talent and shed an $18.5 million projected salary.
The best fit for Bryant, 28, is arguably the Atlanta Braves. He'd fill their Josh Donaldson-size holes at third base and in the middle of the lineup, and they have precisely the kind of talent the Cubs would require.
Namely, Austin Riley could step right into Bryant's shoes and stay in them all the way through 2025. The Cubs could also go after one of Atlanta's many young arms, such as Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried or Sean Newcomb. Among those three, Fried might be the only one that could get the Cubs to budge on Bryant.
The Deal: 3B Kris Bryant to ATL; 3B Austin Riley and LHP Max Fried to CHC
Nolan Arenado to the Washington Nationals
More so than Miguel Andujar or Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado looms as the top third baseman on the trade market. Yet the hard part is figuring out what, exactly, he's worth.
Arenado, 28, has cemented himself among baseball's elite by averaging 40 home runs and 6.2 WAR per year over the last five seasons. But his contract pays out a whopping $234 million over the next six seasons—unless he chooses to opt out after 2021.
Factor in the inconvenient question of how well Arenado will survive away from Coors Field, and you get plenty of reasons why teams might balk at whatever exorbitant asking price the Colorado Rockies put on him.
The Rockies don't need to hurry to lower their ask, however, and they might get what they want if the Washington Nationals become dead-set on acquiring Arenado to replace Anthony Rendon.
Specifically, the Rockies could push for Victor Robles. The 22-year-old is already a superb defender in center field, and he has five more seasons until free agency in which to unlock his offensive potential.
Provided the Rockies also kick in some cash, a one-for-one swap could get it done.
The Deal: 3B Nolan Arenado and Cash to WAS; CF Victor Robles to COL