Buying or Selling Gleyber Torres and the Latest MLB Trade and Free-Agency Buzz

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 21, 2021

Buying or Selling Gleyber Torres and the Latest MLB Trade and Free-Agency Buzz

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Things are finally starting to heat up in Major League Baseball's 2020-21 offseason market, and the heat only figures to increase as the start of spring training creeps closer.

    In the meantime, let's size up some rumors.

    We played a game of "buy or sell" with eight of the juiciest stories that have come through the rumor mill in recent days. These involve the latest whispers about the markets for key free agents, as well as ones indicating which players may or may not be traded.

    Let's get to it, starting with five free-agent rumors and ending with three trade rumors.

Could Masahiro Tanaka Leave MLB to Return to Japan?

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Source: Jon Heyman of MLB Network

    At the outset of the offseason, the odds Masahiro Tanaka would re-sign with the New York Yankees seemed good. But then they signed two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber.

    According to Heyman, there's "a good chance" Tanaka will sign elsewhere. And it might not even be in MLB, as there is the possibility for "a much bigger deal" in his native Japan.

    Per Andy Martino of SNY, Tanaka is seeking a one-year deal in the $15-20 million range. Because the Yankees' projected 2021 payroll is less than $3 million in average annual value away from the $210 million luxury-tax threshold, it's easy enough to believe a reunion is out of the question.

    What's harder to believe is that a deal to Tanaka's liking is most likely to come from Japan.

    The 32-year-old's partially torn UCL is a red flag, but he was an All-Star as recently as 2019 and pitched to a well-above-average 120 ERA+ in 2020. Given how hard it is to dig up a quality starter these days, there must be at least one MLB team that thinks Tanaka is worthy of $15-20 million.

    Verdict: Sell

Marcell Ozuna Is 'Highly Unlikely' to Reunite with Atlanta

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Source: ESPN's Buster Olney

    Atlanta got more than it bargained for out of its one-year, $18 million deal with Marcell Ozuna in 2020. He played all 60 games and went off for a 1.067 OPS and 18 home runs.

    Nonetheless, the organization has yet to re-sign the 30-year-old. And while this is more conjecture than rumor, Olney wrote Atlanta seems "highly unlikely" to do so because of its payroll structure.

    Its projected 2021 payroll is $37 million south of what it would have been in 2020 if the coronavirus pandemic hadn't shortened the season, so that might seem like a reach. Then again, the pandemic did indeed shorten the season, and Atlanta missed out on tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

    There's also the conundrum of whether the designated hitter will remain universal in 2021. The winds seem to be blowing toward "no," in which case Ozuna will appeal more to American League clubs after starting at DH 39 times last season.

    If Ozuna lingers on the market long enough for his asking price to drop, perhaps Atlanta will swoop in at the last minute. But for now, it is indeed hard to imagine a reunion.

    Verdict: Buy

Marcus Semien Will Be the Dodgers' Next Third Baseman

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Source: Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic

    The reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers don't have many needs to fill, but by far their biggest one is at third base.

    To this end, Rosenthal wrote that former Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien is on the Dodgers' radar. The idea would be to buy low on him after he struggled with a 91 OPS+ and 0.5 rWAR in 2020. Ideally for them, he would subsequently revert to the form that led him to a 139 OPS+, 33 homers and 8.9 rWAR in 2019.

    Yet one can't help but wonder if this is a smokescreen meant to light a fire under Justin Turner. Re-signing him is reportedly the Dodgers' first choice, which is understandable given their history and his reliability. The 36-year-old has done no worse than a 121 OPS+ in any season since he joined them 2014.

    There's also the question of what Semien thinks is best for him.

    Perhaps the 30-year-old simply wants the best deal he can find regardless of the position he plays. But if he wants to prove he can still hack it as a superstar-caliber shortstop, he may prefer to sign with a club that doesn't have a Corey Seager at short.

    Verdict: Sell

Nelson Cruz Could Be a Fit for NL Clubs

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Source: Jon Morosi of MLB Network

    It wasn't long after the Minnesota Twins' 2020 season ended that they and star slugger Nelson Cruz openly expressed their desires to keep their partnership going.

    But nearly four months later, the 40-year-old is still a free agent. He also has options, as Morosi reported Cruz is receiving interest from "multiple teams" in both the American League and National League.

    Which is interesting considering Cruz is strictly a designated hitter at this stage of his career.

    Of the 173 games he played for the Twins across 2019 and 2020—in which he put up a 168 OPS+ with 57 home runs—Cruz started at DH for 166 of them and in the field for zero of them. Indeed, you have to go back to 2016 to find the last time he played more than even five games in the field.

    Whichever NL clubs are poking around must be hoping for or perhaps banking on the universal DH to return. Though that's not out of the question, it's not a given, and Cruz may not be willing to wait as patiently as his NL suitors might be.

    Verdict: Sell

Will J.T. Realmuto Accept a $110M Offer from the Phillies?

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Source: Jon Heyman of MLB Network

    The Philadelphia Phillies really can't afford to lose J.T. Realmuto, who only further cemented himself as the best catcher in baseball during his time with them in 2019 and 2020.

    Accordingly, Heyman reported the Phillies have made the 29-year-old an offer worth "about" $110 million. Though Joe Mauer and Buster Posey secured nine figures via extensions, Realmuto would become the first catcher to land such a deal in free agency.

    The Phillies are a big-market club with a front office that's now captained by David Dombrowski, who has a long history of making big offseason splashes. So, it's easy enough to believe their reported offer is the real deal.

    If there's any intrigue here, it's over whether Realmuto thinks he can do better. His 17.4 rWAR since 2016 is by far the most of any catcher, and that figure exists courtesy of his above-average hitting (i.e., a 115 OPS+) and his well-rounded defense.

    That Realmuto's corner of the market has nonetheless been oddly quiet reflects two hard realities: not many teams need a catcher, and few of the ones that do can spare over $100 million for one. So if Philly is indeed offering $110 million, Realmuto should probably take it.

    Verdict: Buy

Joey Bart Is a Potential Trade Chip

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Source: Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic

    Though Joey Bart has only 33 major league games under his belt, Rosenthal reported teams nonetheless ask the San Francisco Giants about the young catcher.

    Perhaps they aren't wasting their time. There are few players who are truly unavailable, after all, and Bart is part of a deep cache of San Francisco backstops that includes veterans Buster Posey and Curt Casali and 2020 first-rounder Patrick Bailey.

    Though Bart was the No. 2 pick in 2018, Rosenthal correctly pointed out that the selection was made by former general manager Bobby Evans and not current president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.

    But while all this is reason enough to think "never say never," the odds Bart will go anywhere this offseason are surely slim.

    His trade value didn't exactly skyrocket as he debuted with a 69 OPS+ in 111 plate appearances. He's nonetheless still universally regarded as an elite prospect—No. 13 in MLB for B/R—and he's only 24 years old and under club control through 2026. The Giants have every reason to wait to see what he can do for them.

    Verdict: Sell

The Possibility of a Sonny Gray Trade Is Fading

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Source: Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic

    The Cincinnati Reds stand to lose reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer via free agency, and fellow aces Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo are reportedly trade candidates.

    But it doesn't sound like anyone should expect Gray or Castillo to go anywhere. Rosenthal wrote that Gray is more likely to be dealt but that "even that possibility might be fading."

    Gray's trade value isn't the problem. The 31-year-old has dominated in his two seasons with Cincinnati, putting up a 153 ERA+ with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He's also relatively cheap, as he's due to earn just $10.2 million in each of the next two seasons and has a $12 million club option for 2023.

    Yet these are also reasons for the Reds to hang on to Gray, especially if they mean to contend in 2021. That's certainly what they should be trying to do after making the playoffs in 2020, and it's not as if the rest of the National League Central has left them in the dust this offseason.

    Besides, there aren't many obvious suitors for Gray. The San Diego Padres looked like one for a while, but the last thing they need right now is more starting pitching.

    Verdict: Buy

Gleyber Torres Could Be Traded

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Source: Jon Heyman of MLB Network

    Speaking of the Reds and their potentially available aces, Luis Castillo was reportedly on the Yankees' radar before the Bronx Bombers signed Corey Kluber.

    That's presumably no longer the case, and Reds GM Nick Krall sure doesn't sound like someone who wants to trade Castillo. Yet Heyman reported Cincinnati and New York did indeed talk about the right-hander and also that the Reds were eyeing Gleyber Torres as a possible centerpiece.

    The Yankees said no, but it's nevertheless worth asking: Could they be willing to trade the shortstop this offseason?

    In theory? Maybe. It could depend on how much New York cooled on him as a long-term building block throughout 2020. His OPS+ fell to a modest 102, and he struggled defensively, resulting in a perfectly replacement-level 0.0 rWAR.

    Yet Torres was an American League Rookie of the Year contender in 2018 and even better in 2019, finishing with a 127 OPS+ and 38 home runs in 144 games. He's also still only 24 years old and under club control through 2024. You simply don't trade a player like that after one down year.

    Verdict: Sell

             

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.