Whispers wandered around the web earlier this week that the New York Yankees had called the Chicago Cubs to inquire about the availability of the Cubs' ace, Carlos Zambrano. A lot has been written already about that potential marriage, so I won't waste a lot of space on it other than to mention it as a foundation for the discussion I'm about to begin.
Who hates the Yankees? Okay, everyone outside of New York. But the hatred is especially deep in Boston, where the rival Red Sox watched the Bronx Bombers spend a billion dollars to buy a World Series championship in 2009.
So, in an effort to compete with the Yankees incredible rotation, Boston GM Theo Epstein added John Lackey to the Red Sox rotation this winter already, and improved his outfield defense by adding Mike Cameron as a free agent. He has also added Jeremy Hermida to his outfield mix via trade with the Florida Marlins.
In fact, the only thing that hasn't gone the way Epstein would have hoped was a proposed salary dump of Mike Lowell to Texas for a minor league catcher.
But, of course, the Yankees did their annual tweaking by adding Curtis Granderson from Detroit, and the Red Sox are still staring at a formidable hill to climb in 2010.
Which is where the Cubs enter the dialogue.
I'm going to throw a proposal at you, and then break it down. Please don't throw out the baby with the bathwater until you work your way through my full rationale for the offer and its' implications to the two teams.
The Chicago Cubs should trade Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto to the Boston Red Sox for Josh Beckett, JD Drew, Mike Lowell and Casey Kotchman.
OK, now is where the knee jerk reaction is screaming at the computer that I'm absolutely crazy, and should have my laptop revoked. But let's look at what this deal would mean to both the Cubs and Red Sox in 2010 and beyond.
First, we'll look at the deal from the Cubs' perspective.
The Cubs would be trading the ace of their staff, 28-year-old Zambrano, out of town. That's pretty tough to swallow. But, as the Chicago Tribune 's Paul Sullivan tweeted on Wednesday night, if the Cubs are listening to offers for Zambrano are they trying to send him a message or actually listening?
In Zambrano's place at the top of the rotation in this proposal would be Beckett, who has three World Series rings in his safe deposit box more than Big Z does in Chicago. Beckett, only one year older than Zambrano, wouldn't present a big dropoff in ability for the Cubs rotation next year.
Trading away Soriano is a bit of a pipe dream for Cubs fans right now, but this deal would have the Cubs taking a lot of dead paper back in exchange. Drew wouldn't come cheap, and Lowell has injury issues (he failed a physical to kill the Rangers deal) and is also expensive. Lowell wouldn't have a natural position on the Cubs because of Aramis Ramirez at third base either, meaning the Cubs would be putting a $12 million player on their bench.
Also, moving Soto to Boston would leave a hole behind the plate for the Cubs. It would also open room for questions to come if he regains his 2008 Rookie of the Year form when he landed in Boston, where he would have veteran mentors in Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez as a support system.
But moving Soto is a gamble I'm willing to take to give Boston the younger catcher they looked for in the proposed Texas deal involving Lowell, as it appears the Red Sox will likely move Victor Martinez to first base on a more regular basis in 2010; this move also makes Kotchman disposable for Boston.
You're probably asking (assuming) right now that the money in this proposed deal is way out of whack, with the Cubs taking back a ridiculously bigger amount of money. The dollars aren't that far apart, actually.
In 2010, Soriano, Zambrano and Soto will make, depending on Soto's arbitration figure, somewhere in the neighborhood of $38 million; just Soriano and Zambrano together will factor in $35.875 million next year.
The salaries for Drew, Lowell, Beckett and Kotchman have a little wiggle room because Kotchman is also arbitration eligible, but that figure should be somewhere around $41 million. For a $3 million difference, the offsetting salaries certainly isn't a deal breaker for either team in this proposal.
There are a couple benefits to consider to the Cubs in this deal. I've already touched on replacing Zambrano with Beckett, which could amount to a roughly even swap on the mound. The biggest difference between the two pitchers, though, is that Beckett's contract expires after 2010, while Zambrano has two remaining seasons owing him another $36 million.
The benefits of adding the position players also begins with money in mind. Drew has only 2010 and 2011 left on his contract, at $14 million per season. Lowell, as we've already discussed, has only the $12 million 2010 season remaining on his contract. Exchanging these two players for Soriano's albatross contract, which has his salary of $18 million on the books through 2014, would serve a similar junk-exchanging purpose that the Milton Bradley-Carlos Silva deal did with Seattle.
Adding Kotchman would give the Cubs an elite defensive first baseman to back up Derrek Lee who is a better bat than current back-up Micah Hoffpauir. With Lee's contract expiring after 2010, Kotchman might become the heir at first base in Chicago.
Financially, this deal is almost break even in 2010 but swings overwhelmingly in the Cubs favor long-term; the total dollar amounts, not including potential arbitration numbers for Kotchman and Soto, would see the Cubs sending $143.75 million to Boston in exchange for $52 million.
The Cubs would add a pretty good left-handed bat in Drew (24 home runs, .392 OBP, .914 OPS in 132 games last year), a potential Lee replacement at first base in Kotchman, a significant upgrade to the offensive depth and leadership with Lowell, and move a ton of money off the books long-term.
For the Cubs, this deal makes a lot of sense.
But if the deal looks that good for the Cubs, why on Earth would Epstein pull the trigger?
This is why I premised this discussion with a token mention that Yankees' GM Brian Cashman was interested in Zambrano. The rivalry between these two teams has involved players (A-Rod, Manny) in the past, and very easily could again.
And when you consider what a rotation of Zambrano, Lackey, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka would look like for the next three years against the Yankees' rotation, there's a good chance Epstein would be able to stomach sucking up the two extra seasons on Zambrano's contract to add him to the rotation.
Having Zambrano under contract, rather than dealing with the decision of whether or not to keep Beckett, would make Epstein's life a lot easier next winter as well.
After adding Hermida and Cameron to their outfield, the Red Sox don't necessarily need another outfielder in Soriano. But I don't think Soriano's long term role would be in left or right field for the Sox.
David Ortiz and his $12.5 million salary can come off the books after 2010 if the Sox don't pick up a buyout-free club option after the season. Moving Soriano to his DH role would limit Soriano's impact on the Sox defense while allowing him to focus on the batter's box. If Soriano can keep his legs healthy, with Monster in Boston, he could be a huge impact player for the Sox moving forward. And with Ortiz's salary gone, it would cushion Soriano's $18 million hit to the payroll.
But for 2010, with questions regarding Hermida's effectiveness at the plate, a platoon with Soriano in the field until one of the two forced Terry Francona to play them more often wouldn't be out of the question.
Finally, swapping the less-expensive Soto for Kotchman allows the Sox to move Martinez to first base full time and platoon Soto with Varitek behind the plate. If Soto doesn't bring back his 2008 form, the Sox have two viable options to catch games. if he does, they won't miss Varitek after 2010 when he leaves/retires, and the Sox added a solid backstop for minimal cost.
From Boston's perspective, they would unload a lot of dead weight in exchange for a top-of-the-rotation starter who's under contract for three more seasons and a potentially dynamic outfielder/DH. Perhaps more importantly, this deal allows the Sox to leave Ellsbury in center, Kevin Youkilis at third base, and Martinez at first.
Circling back to the Cubs part of this deal, moving the $90 million off the future books would allow the Cubs to address other needs as well. If a deal presented itself where the Cubs wanted or needed to add salary to improve the team, like Cuban Aroldis Chapman or even Felix Hernandez in the next couple seasons, this deal would allow the Cubs to do so.
Cubs GM Jim Hendry has saddled the team's future payroll with a lot of terrible deals, but some of the key players on the roster (Lee, Lilly, and potentially Ramirez) will be gone after 2010. If he could unload that $90 million in a trade like this, he could essentially hit the reset button on four years of bad deals and stay competitive in this make-or-break season.
After 2010, the Cubs could have Kotchman replacing Lee at first base, at least Drew and Fukudome in their outfield, and (without considering a Ramirez departure) roughly $63 million to spend from the expiring contracts of Lilly, Lee, Beckett, and Lowell.
This is a trade that improves both the Red Sox and Cubs, accomplishes a number of each team's goals, and works within the payrolls of both clubs.