MLB Trade Ideas for League's Most Desperate Buyers and Sellers

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IDecember 23, 2020

MLB Trade Ideas for League's Most Desperate Buyers and Sellers

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    The 2020-21 MLB offseason always had the makings of being on the slow, deliberate end of the spectrum, especially regarding free agency.

    Most of the market's top stars remain unsigned, and it could stay that way for the next month-plus. This might lead teams to be more aggressive on the trade front.

    Two of the more high-profile offseason moves have come via trade. The Chicago White Sox acquired a front-line starter in Lance Lynn, while the Los Angeles Angels began their bullpen makeover by dealing for Cincinnati Reds closer Raisel Iglesias.

    Speaking of the Reds, they have multiple assets who could facilitate a bidding war from contenders. Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported over the weekend Cincy is discussing deals involving young right-hander Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray.

    So for clubs seeking an alternative to free agency's glacial pace, here are some trade ideas for buyers and sellers.

    These templates are based on team needs, fit and the likelihood the included clubs will buy or sell. This is not a list of deals we expect to happen, but rather one that establishes frameworks for potential swaps.

Cleveland and Blue Jays Engage in Megadeal

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Toronto Blue Jays get: SS Francisco Lindor, RHP Triston McKenzie

    Cleveland gets: OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., SS Jordan Groshans, RHP Simeon Woods Richardson

    The Toronto Blue Jays have shown clear interest in either signing or acquiring a shortstop this offseason, as evidenced by their inquiries regarding Ha-Seong Kim, among others.

    But if you want a shortstop out of a large talent pool, why not get the best one available?

    Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer reported Cleveland would "love" to work with the Blue Jays on a Francisco Lindor trade, ideally a package centered around outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

    This proposed deal would be a blockbuster.

    Cleveland gets Gurriel, but there's a caveat: It also has to give up 23-year-old starter Triston McKenzie. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays give up top prospects in Jordan Groshans and Simeon Woods Richardson without the certainty of extending Lindor, but they also get an electrifying young pitcher who could be part of the rotation immediately.

    Perhaps this seems like a bit much for Cleveland to offer. But if the team wants immediate, impact assets for possibly just one year of Lindor, it will have to get creative. Plus, this framework gives Cleveland an eventual Lindor replacement in Groshans and a power arm in Woods Richardson, who had a 2.54 ERA at High-A ball in 2019.

    The Blue Jays can immediately work on extending Lindor while also acquiring a potential front-line guy in McKenzie.

Twins Make a Move for Sonny Gray

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Minnesota Twins get: RHP Sonny Gray

    Cincinnati Reds get: IF Luis Arraez, RHP Jhoan Duran, OF Brent Rooker

    The Minnesota Twins have an opportunity to be active in the trade market, and they could seize it by acquiring Gray.

    As mentioned, the Reds are discussing both Gray and Castillo with opposing clubs. Gray, 31, is under contract at just over $20 million for the next two years combined, with a $12 million club option for 2023.

    Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the Twins are receiving trade interest in top infield prospects as well as guys like Luis Arraez.

    Minnesota could use another impact starter, and the Reds need controllable assets. 

    So the Twins get Gray, giving them a front-line starter alongside Kenta Maeda, and one under club control for at least two years. This is vital considering Michael Pineda will be a free agent after next season, and Jose Berrios can hit the open market in 2023.

    Cincinnati receives Arraez, who can play all over the diamond and has hit .331 with an .819 OPS in just under 500 career plate appearances. Arraez would be a nice asset if the Reds try to move Eugenio Suarez or Mike Moustakas, as ESPN's Jeff Passan reported they've considered.

    The Reds would also get a top pitching prospect in Jhoan Duran—who reached Double-A as a 21-year-old in 2019—and Brent Rooker, who has an .861 OPS in 259 games in the minors.

    For the Twins, the swap could mean moving Jorge Polanco to second base and spending on a short-term shortstop such as Didi Gregorius or Marcus Semien. It would also solidify the rotation.

    While Cincinnati gives up Gray, it gets a proven, versatile left-handed bat in Arraez, and a pair of other assets who can give the Reds long-term production. In fact, Rooker could get at-bats immediately, whether in the outfield or spotting Joey Votto at first base.

Mets Pivot to Nolan Arenado

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    New York Mets get: 3B Nolan Arenado, cash

    Colorado Rockies get: IF Robinson Cano, IF J.D. Davis, LHP Thomas Szapucki

    A Nolan Arenado-to-New York trade could get wacky, but there is reason to believe the sides could make a deal.

    Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported the Colorado Rockies have interest in working with the Mets on an Arenado swap, though it would require them to take salary back and then some.

    This framework would have the Mets sending Robinson Cano to Colorado—a possibility Morosi speculated on—to alleviate some of the burden of the remaining $199 million on Arenado's contract (though he has an opt-out after 2021). Cano forfeited his salary for 2021 after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but he is still owed $48 million combined through 2023.

    Thus, New York gets Cano off its payroll. But Colorado's willingness to take on Cano also gives it a tiny bit of leverage in asking for a bit more. The Rockies add J.D. Davis to replace Arenado at third and pick up left-handed pitching prospect Thomas Szapucki.

    Davis was not the same kind of hitter in 2020 as he was in 2019, when he clubbed 22 homers to go with an .895 OPS. But he still had a .761 OPS and 112 OPS+ and might just need consistent playing time over a full season. The 24-year-old Szapucki had a 2.63 ERA at three levels in 2019 and gives the Rockies much-needed pitching prospect capital.

    If an Arenado deal seems unrealistic for the Mets, don't rule it out. President of baseball operations Sandy Alderson said recently New York would explore the trade market and hinted the team could use a defensive upgrade at the hot corner, per Anthony DiComo of MLB.com.

    Acquiring Arenado would give the Mets a legitimate star at third who would presumably opt in to the rest of his deal in a more competitive environment, and New York could be willing to take on that pact given the change in ownership to billionaire Steve Cohen.

Padres Pony Up for Luis Castillo

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    San Diego Padres get: RHP Luis Castillo

    Cincinnati Reds get: LHP Adrian Morejon, LHP Ryan Weathers, C Luis Campusano

    Robert Murray of FanSided reported the San Diego Padres are interested in Gray. However, despite Gray's team-friendly salary, Murray also noted the Friars might not be able to afford him.

    Still, it's evident San Diego wants a top arm. That makes sense, considering Mike Clevinger will miss the 2021 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery and Garrett Richards' free-agent status. Plus, Zach Davies will be a free agent in 2022.

    Why not pursue Reds right-hander Castillo, if Gray's $10 million is too much?

    Baseball Reference estimates Castillo will make $5.8 million in his first year of arbitration this upcoming season. The 28-year-old is also under club control through 2023. San Diego would have to give up quite a bit, though it might be worth the investment. 

    The proposed trade would send left-handers Adrian Morejon and Ryan Weathers to Cincinnati along with top catching prospect Luis Campusano.

    Morejon has gotten big league experience in each of the past two years, and Weathers even pitched 1.1 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his first MLB appearance during the NLDS. Both are 21 or under and would give the Reds impact lefty arms to complement top left-handed pitching prospect Nick Lodolo.

    Campusano hit 15 homers and had a .906 OPS at High-A ball in 2019. He profiles as a power-hitting backstop, with the potential to move to another position. The 21-year-old was arrested and charged with the "purchase/possession/manufacture/distribution/sale/controlled (substance)" in October, per the San Diego Union-Tribune's Kevin Acee, so a deal would be dependent on his legal status.

    The Reds reset with talent, while the Padres acquire a controllable young starter in Castillo, who has posted a sub-3.50 ERA in consecutive seasons and had a career-high 2.65 FIP in 2020.

Astros Play to Win Now

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Houston Astros get: C Willson Contreras, RHP James Norwood

    Chicago Cubs get: RHP Forrest Whitley, RHP Enoli Paredes, IF Jeremy Pena

    The Houston Astros are pressed into win-now mode given their lack of minor league depth, and they might need to make a splash to address a key need.

    Rosenthal reported Houston could have interest in top free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto. However, signing Realmuto would likely preclude the Astros from bringing back Michael Brantley and making bullpen upgrades.

    Instead, let's construct a deal with the Chicago Cubs, who might look to sell top assets given the contract uncertainty surrounding several key players. 

    Chicago would send All-Star catcher Willson Contreras to the Astros in addition to right-hander James Norwood. This gives Houston one of baseball's best catchers through 2023. Norwood has had brief showings in the bigs and could be an intriguing piece for one of the sport's best pitching-development teams.

    The Cubs, meanwhile, get future assets in top Astros pitching prospect Forrest Whitley and infielder Jeremy Pena in addition to a relief arm in Enoli Paredes.

    Whitley had a rough go in 2019, posting a 7.99 ERA across four levels. He has also dealt with a number of physical setbacks. But he is still just 23 years old and would give Chicago much-needed arm talent. 

    Pena can play practically any infield position and had an .825 OPS at two levels of Class-A ball in 2019. He would bolster Chicago's infield depth in the pipeline, which is vital considering Kris Bryant's and Javier Baez's free agencies loom after this season. 

    Finally, Paredes is coming off a debut in which he had a 3.05 ERA in 20.2 innings. He has good velocity and wipeout breaking stuff and could be a back-end reliever for a Cubs team in desperate need of late-inning arms.

Giants Go Hard After Trevor Story

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    San Francisco Giants get: SS Trevor Story

    Colorado Rockies get: SS Brandon Crawford, C Joey Bart, OF Alexander Canario

    If the Rockies fail to move Arenado, they could instead attempt to deal Trevor Story.

    The 28-year-old is in the final season of a two-year extension that covered his last two years of arbitration. Story ranks fifth in FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) among shortstops since he debuted in 2016. He has a pair of 30-homer seasons and is fresh off a year in which he led the NL in stolen bases (15).

    Story could be in high demand if Colorado makes him available, and the San Francisco Giants should pounce.

    They have a ton of money coming off their payroll after 2021, more so when considering they are all but guaranteed to decline club options on Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto. Thus, they could extend Story almost immediately after acquiring him while gaining a star as top prospect Marco Luciano develops. 

    San Francisco also has ideal assets. The Giants could offload Brandon Crawford in what would amount to a contract swap, considering Crawford will be a free agent in 2022. But the key guys here are Joey Bart and Alexander Canario.

    Bart has long been San Francisco's heir apparent to Posey and finally made his debut last year. Though he had a mere .609 OPS in 2020, Bart would undoubtedly be a top target for a Rockies team that has needed a high-upside backstop for years.

    Canario hit 16 homers with a 1.000 OPS across two levels in 2019. His slugging potential is there with good bat speed, and there is decent defensive upside with good arm strength.

    The Giants are giving up quite a lot here. But they also drafted NC State catcher Patrick Bailey in the first round in June and have a lot of outfield talent in the system. 

    There might be questions about Colorado's willingness to move Story to another National League West club, but San Francisco could create any number of packages that would be hard to pass up.

Angels Bet on Carlos Carrasco

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Angels get: RHP Carlos Carrasco

    Cleveland gets: OF Jo Adell

    The Los Angeles Angels need more starting pitching.

    While the ideal scenario might see the Halos sign Trevor Bauer (a North Hollywood native), it's unclear if they are willing to pay a big sum for his services. Plus, Los Angeles has to consider its vast bullpen needs even after acquiring Iglesias.

    Might this mean the Angels could go after a starter in the trade market? If they do, Cleveland fits the mold of a potential partner.

    Carlos Carrasco rebounded from a cancer diagnosis in 2019 to post a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts this past season. Cookie has quietly been one of the most valuable starting pitchers of this generation, ranking 10th in fWAR since 2015.

    The Angels have an opportunity to get an effective, controllable starter on an affordable contract. Carrasco will earn $24 million combined in the next two years, with a $14 million vesting option for 2023. But Los Angeles would have to ship off Jo Adell. 

    The 21-year-old outfielder underwhelmed in his MLB debut in 2020, hitting just .161 with a .478 OPS. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old also has an .878 OPS in the minors and finished the 2019 season as MLB.com's No. 5 prospect. 

    Despite Adell's upside, however, the immediate need for premium starting pitching and a desire to contend could make him expendable, especially considering the Halos also have Brandon Marsh waiting in the wings.

    This framework allows Cleveland to cut costs while grabbing a top young outfielder.

Blue Jays Get Controllable Starting Pitching

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Toronto Blue Jays get: RHP Joe Musgrove

    Pittsburgh Pirates get: C Alejandro Kirk, OF Dasan Brown

    The Blue Jays are still making a lot of noise regarding some of the top free-agent position players, including George Springer and DJ LeMahieu, per Passan.

    But Toronto also needs rotation help. Blue Jays starters produced 2.6 fWAR in 2020, though 2.4 of that came from Hyun Jin Ryu (who produced 1.9 fWAR) and Taijuan Walker. Moreover, Walker, Chase Anderson and Matt Shoemaker are all free agents. 

    The Blue Jays could spend on a second-tier starter. Or, if Toronto signs Springer or LeMahieu, general manager Ross Atkins could flex the farm system and trade for a starter. 

    Morosi reported the Blue Jays have interest in Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Joe Musgrove, who is under team control through 2022. The 28-year-old recorded some of the best rate stats of his career in 2020, posting a 3.86 ERA in eight starts while also notching a career-high 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

    Murray reported Musgrove's value is "sky-high." However, considering he paired the right-hander with Blake Snell in that statement, perhaps it should be taken with a grain of salt. 

    Either way, the Blue Jays have the talent to acquire the top starters on the market, and they have depth at a position where the Pirates are lacking.

    In fact, not one of the Bucs' top 30 prospects is a catcher, per MLB.com. Toronto, meanwhile, has a surplus of catching talent, including the 22-year-old Kirk.

    While the Jays might have reservations about 19-year-old Dasan Brown's inclusion, they are trying to win now, and it is probably worth it to acquire a controllable arm with upside in Musgrove.

Nationals Trade for Corner Outfielder

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Washington Nationals get: OF Mark Canha

    Oakland Athletics get: LHP Ben Braymer

    Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has suggested he's after a corner outfielder, per Mark Zuckerman of MASN.

    While this might mean Washington will show interest in a Marcell Ozuna or Brantley in free agency, cheaper trade options exist.

    Rosenthal reported the Oakland Athletics could slash more payroll. He also noted the cuts might lead the A's to trade arbitration-eligible players such as Mark Canha.

    Washington should pursue the 31-year-old. Canha is just one season removed from posting 26 homers and a .913 OPS. His slugging dipped last season, but a 126 OPS+ still would have ranked third on the Nats among their full-time starters. Canha can also play first base, another need for Washington.

    Oakland can't ask too much for Canha given he is already entering his age-32 season and heading into his final year of arbitration. But left-handed prospect Ben Braymer could still be of interest, considering he has experience as a reliever and starter.

    Braymer allowed one run in 7.1 innings with the Nats last year. He has strikeout stuff, and the A's could use another left-hander in the bullpen aside from Jake Diekman.

    This trade satisfies Washington's need for a corner outfielder and gives the Nats a relatively low-cost power bat while also saving Oakland money.

Yankees Add a Left-Handed Starter

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    New York Yankees get: LHP Steven Brault

    Pittsburgh Pirates get: OF Canaan Smith

    In addition to Musgrove, the Pirates could also sell left-hander Steven Brault.

    Brault had a 3.38 ERA in 42.2 frames, also posting a career-best 1.20 WHIP in 2020. He is hardly an innings-eater, and a career ERA of 4.68 looks less appetizing. However, Brault induces a lot of soft contact—he ranked in the 89th percentile in average exit velocity, per Baseball Savant—and is under club control through 2023.

    Morosi reported last month teams have been asking about him. 

    The New York Yankees make sense as a suitor. They might well have to spend extra to re-sign LeMahieu, but they still have rotation needs. Luis Severino will be back at some point to slot in behind Gerrit Cole, but he might not return until midsummer after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

    It looks like the Bronx Bombers could slot top youngsters Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt into the rotation, as well as Jordan Montgomery. But there is not a whole lot of experience there.

    Brault is a cheap, controllable back-end rotation arm the Yankees might desire. General manager Brian Cashman said he does not want to be "scrambling" for arms midseason, per Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. Why not gamble on Brault, considering his 2020 improvement, especially when he still has three years of team control?

    The Bucs could ask for someone rated higher than the Yankees' No. 21 prospect, outfielder Canaan Smith, but the 21-year-old hit .307 with 11 homers, 16 steals and an .871 OPS at Class-A last season. He might appeal to a Pittsburgh club in search of assets.

            

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, FanGraphs or Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted. Prospect rankings via MLB.com unless otherwise noted.