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November 9, 2010

Prospectus Perspective

Five Deals That Must Happen

by Christina Kahrl

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Some 176 players became potential free agents when the World Series ended, and other big names are always rumored to be on the block for their respective teams. Within the context of all this, there are moves that seem to be "musts," and in this case, they all involve teams that didn't make the 2010 fall classic. Here are five options:

The Yankees getting Cliff Lee

He had a less-than-ideal World Series, yes, but this is a Sabathia-level no-brainer as signings go. It's obvious and it's predictable, and indeed, by trading for Javier Vazquez to fit into that one-year budget slot, it was even more obvious and predictable. The Yankees have the financial muscle to add another player in the $20 million-plus price range, not just because they're shedding Vazquez's expense, but also because they can pitch the rest of the Core Four to take pay cuts in their (less) golden years, just as Andy Pettitte has already done the last two.

When the Yanks signed A.J. Burnett for what they did ($82.5 million over five years), they did so knowing he was flaky and wouldn't give them a full five seasons' worth of starts. Remember, the Yankees didn't have to pay $82.5 million, but they had to outbid competing suitors to get him at that price. They'll similarly, understandably get bid up a bit on Lee, but they'll win—and they need to, because they finished 20th in the major leagues in SNLVAR.

The Reds should trade for Zack Greinke

First, consider Walt Jocketty's nice problem: He has 2011 options to pick up or reject on Aaron Harang (goodbye) and Bronson Arroyo (exercised), and he has Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez already in place, with Travis Wood, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey all recently arrived. Then there's Cuban superman Aroldis Chapman, plus guys like Matt Maloney and Sam LeCure, who would be getting much bigger touts in other organizations. Set against that, the Reds are in the same division as the Cardinals, who own two of the 10 best starting pitchers in baseball in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and with a postseason that demonstrated something about the value of having a stopper, Jocketty has to confront the fact that his depth doesn't provide him one of those—at least not until Chapman comes into his own.

Against that, the Royals need everything. Happily, beyond that rotation depth, the Reds also have a little bit of everything to help spruce up a deal. With just two years but $27 million yet to go on Greinke's commitment with the Royals, Dayton Moore has to deal with the likelihood that he'll never have a better opportunity to convert that into significantly better value than he'll get once his ace becomes just a memory and draft picks.

The Reds should offer Leake, Bailey, outfielder Chris Heisey, and a fourth player—say, shortstops Zack Cozart or Didi Gregorius, or a low-level pitcher. Two rotation starters and an Opening Day outfielder might qualify as the beginnings of a doable deal, but if Moore balks, there's always the Reds' overflow of corner bats blocked by Joey Votto and Jay Bruce: Yonder Alonso, Todd Frazier, or Juan Francisco. That would be a lot of talent to put into play, but Greinke is a former Cy Young winner and legit rotation front man.

The Padres should sign Carl Crawford

With Petco Park squelching offense, the Padres managed to rank just 11th in the National League in team True Average, suggesting they need to do Adrian Gonzalez the favor of bringing in better help than just renting Miguel Tejada or adding a year and two months of Ryan Ludwick before he reaches free agency. Perhaps just as importantly, they need to show Gonzalez that any effort to re-sign him will be sincere. And finally, with a payroll that was in the vicinity of $40 million in 2010, they figure to be on the union's watch list for clubs possibly pocketing revenue-sharing cash.

So the easy fix is to pay top dollar for a player whose blend of skills and profile would give them an excellent answer to many of these problems. Because of his stolen-base tallies, it might seem obvious that Crawford would give the Pads a real leadoff man, someone who would give Gonzalez that many more RBI opportunities (when he isn't being intentionally walked at a Pujolsian pace). He'd end up offering more than that, though: speed and tremendous defense, yes, but also the ability to make quality contact (.331 career BABIP), and enough power to play well in their home park, which becomes that much tougher in divisional matchups in the bandboxes in Arizona and Colorado. Add in the benefit of coming over from the toughest division in the tougher league, and the Petco effect shouldn't deter the Padres from getting into the thick of what figures to be one of the biggest bidding wars of the winter. Since he's only just heading into his age-29 season and speed players tend to age better, Crawford is the sort of big-ticket offensive help Padres GM Jed Hoyer should make a point of affording.

The Red Sox need to get Victor Martinez back

This is fairly straightforward, because while Theo Epstein can afford to entertain ideas about moving Kevin Youkilis to third base if Adrian Beltre is not retained, and replacing David Ortiz with the overflow from a crowded outfield, the Red Sox can't really afford to lose V-Mart to free agency because of the paucity of quality alternatives behind the plate. While Jarrod Saltalamacchia makes for a nice home-schooling project to see if the Red Sox can extract the value the Rangers couldn't, Boston got 1 ½ wins more worth of additional offense out of their catchers last season than the average major-league team. Losing that on top of Beltre's possible defection is only going to add that much more ground for Boston's offense to make up in other lineup slots, and the market is not replete with happy answers for needy shoppers. Naturally, some fans will complain about Martinez throwing out just 21 percent of opposing baserunners last year, but hey, at least Crawford just left the division, right? So sign V-Mart to a three-year deal, rent a veteran for first base for a year, and move Martinez to first base (or DH) once they feel Salty is really ready.

The Rays should get Adam Dunn to DH

The Rays do a lot of things right—but managing the DH slot isn't one of them. Cutting Pat Burrell, using Willy Aybar, and then not even learning from the Orioles' Garrett Atkins experience by adding an altitude-starved Brad Hawpe? These are the choices of a team that deserves to fail. So close the book on that nonsense and sign this winter's heavy hitter to fill a need once and for all, or for at least the next three years. Dunn walks, he slugs, and with his .308 TAv, Andrew Friedman will have just given Evan Longoria the left-handed complement in the middle of the order to frighten opposing pitchers.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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