Predicting Where Top Players Involved in MLB Trade Rumors Will Finish '20 Season
Just because spring training has arrived doesn't mean the trade rumors have to stop.
There's still chatter coming out about three of Major League Baseball's brightest superstars: Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor. It's doubtful all three will be moved, but one or more could certainly change addresses at some point in 2020.
Meanwhile, the unraveling of an agreed-to trade between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels may not necessarily mean Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling are now unavailable.
There's plenty to unpack just with these five players alone. So, we went ahead and did just that, also rolling the dice with predictions for where they'll finish their 2020 seasons.
Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
At least publicly, Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has taken the stance that the offseason is over.
He told reporters, including Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, on Tuesday that "there's still some chatter going on across the industry, but we're kind of turning the page."
Privately, however, it seems Epstein hasn't actually turned the page on trading Bryant. Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com reported the same day that the Cubs "remain engaged in communication with other clubs" about the 2016 National League MVP.
But because Bryant's free agency was recently confirmed for after 2021, the Cubs' only motivation for moving him now is to get under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold by ditching his $18.6 million salary.
The longer the Cubs hold on to Bryant, the more pressure they may feel to keep him for the sake of contending in 2020. And they will indeed contend if they reverse the bad luck that plagued them last season, in which case trading Bryant would be akin to an auto racer slashing his own tires.
So, we'll go out on a limb and guess that Bryant stays.
Final Team: Chicago Cubs
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
So how is the Colorado Rockies' relationship with Arenado at the outset of spring training? Good question.
"Nothing. There is no comment," Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said Tuesday when he was asked by reporters, per ESPN. "I haven't had any comment to this point, so we'll move past that. Next question."
This is mere weeks after Arenado went public about his dissatisfaction with the Rockies, yet it's still hypothetically possible for all this to become water under the bridge. Perhaps if Bridich stops taking calls about the five-time All-Star and then the team reestablishes itself as an NL West contender.
Yet such a happy ending isn't likely. The Rockies lost 91 games in 2019, and their strategy for improvement in 2020 has inexplicably involved no significant new pieces. If Arenado doesn't want out now, he may warm to the idea as more and more losses pile up.
Arenado's contract, which has $234 million remaining, plus a no-trade clause and an opt-out after 2021, is a gigantic complication in trade talks. Yet he makes sense for third base-needy teams such as the Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals, and it wasn't long ago that the latter was hot after him.
Because the Cardinals will need a big bat to keep up in the NL Central, there's a good chance they could get hot after Arenado again.
Final Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
More than Bryant in Chicago or Arenado in Colorado, Lindor seems safe with the Cleveland Indians for now.
To wit, both manager Terry Francona (MLB Network Radio) and president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti (MLB.com) have downplayed the probability of a trade involving the four-time All-Star. And while a Wednesday report from Joel Sherman of the New York Post alluded to a strong push by the New York Mets for Lindor, it's telling that he's indeed not a Met right now.
However, it's also not much of a secret that Lindor's time with Cleveland is running out.
Though he isn't a free agent until after 2021, he's getting expensive—he'll make $17.5 million this season—and he had a simple explanation in January for why he hasn't signed a long-term extension: "Because they haven't offered me the right thing."
Like the Cubs with Bryant, the Indians may feel compelled to retain Lindor at least for 2020 if they find themselves back in contention in the American League Central. Then again, last year's trade of Trevor Bauer is an indication to rule nothing out. And this time around, the Indians may be the division's third-best team after the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox.
Such things add up to a strong probability of the Indians ultimately moving Lindor. If so, there will be no more obvious suitor than the Cincinnati Reds, who have young talent to spare and a major need at shortstop.
Final Team: Cincinnati Reds
Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
Pederson was supposed to be an Angel by now. But according to Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, club owner Arte Moreno got impatient and killed the deal.
Though Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman insisted on MLB Network Radio that Pederson and Stripling are happy to still be with the organization, he also granted that it was "awkward" when word of the Angels trade got out prematurely.
Might that awkwardness linger and force trades of either player? Not necessarily. Pederson, specifically, has an everyday job in left field lined up. Plus, cutting his $7.8 million salary wouldn't get the Dodgers under the luxury tax.
The Dodgers might want to save the money anyway, however, and Pederson's bat, which has produced 61 home runs over the last two seasons, may become superfluous if A.J. Pollock carries over his strong finish to 2019. In that case, the Dodgers could shop Pederson to clubs looking to rent his left-handed stick for the remainder of 2020.
The Angels could get back involved in that scenario. Other fits could include the Cardinals, Rangers, San Diego Padres and maybe even the Indians. But since Nomar Mazara is no sure thing as a left-handed power supply, we're thinking the White Sox could sneak in as a dark horse for Pederson at some point.
Final Team: Chicago White Sox
Ross Stripling, Los Angeles Dodgers
And then there is Stripling, who is good.
That much needs to be clarified given how he seemed to be a mere throw-in to the deal that was going to send Pederson to the Angels. Stripling was an All-Star as recently as 2018, and he's excelled as both a starter (3.71 ERA) and a reliever (3.12 ERA) with the Dodgers.
With Price and Alex Wood now aboard in the Dodgers' starting rotation, there's no room for Stripling to make regular starts in Los Angeles during the 2020 season. That wouldn't have been the case in Anaheim, so he has more of a right than Pederson to be disappointed that the trade didn't go through.
Still, that might not necessarily compel either Stripling or the Dodgers to seek a trade. He's still going to see plenty of action as a reliever, spot starter and opener in 2020. And because he's making only $2.1 million, the Dodgers don't have much of a financial incentive to cut him loose.
If the Dodgers do put Stripling on the block, his talent, versatility, affordability and controllability through 2022 would make him a fit for...well, everyone. Rather than make a 1-in-29 roll of the dice, it's safest to just assume he'll stay where he's at.
Final Team: Los Angeles Dodgers