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May 9, 2011
Divide and Conquer, NL Central
Why Would They Do That?
If there is one thing a fresh, new baseball season is good for, it’s bringing fans out of the woodwork to spew silly, uninformed trade suggestions. Most of these proposed swaps yield few surprises, as they always seem to involve trading either an underperforming player whom the armchair GM never liked anyway or an overperforming player with few prospects for sustained success (invariably, in the latter case, in exchange for the best player in the league at the same position). For example, a fan of the 2003 Brewers might have seen Royce Clayton get off to a good start and turned that bit of good fortune into a list of reasons why the Rangers would trade Alex Rodriguez, while eating some of his contract, for Clayton and maybe a young Doug Davis.
One way to analyze each team's performance thus far is by proposing the most ludicrous trades imaginable. At the heart of every trade, after all—even ones as misguided as Royce Clayton for Alex Rodirguez—are assets and needs. The right trade, then, can tell us a lot about the current nature of a team. With that said, here’s a ludicrous trade proposal for each NL Central team, along with a quick explanation of what makes it illuminating. And remember, when I say "ludicrous," I mean ludicrous.
Explanation: There is little doubt about it: Lance Berkman is destroying opposing pitchers like he never has before. This is probably due to the stash of magic beans Berkman found along the highway on his way to Busch Stadium on his first day of work. By trading these magical beans, the Cardinals will get back one of the greatest weapons they've never had: a shutdown closer's strikeout pitch. In light of the much-publicized struggles of Ryan Franklin, a reliable closer is a key target for the Cardinals, especially considering Tony La Russa's proclivity for changing pitchers. Adding a great closer to the Cardinals could be the nail in the coffin for every other Central team.
Explanation: The biggest hole in Cincinnati's lineup is at third base, where Miguel Cairo has been starting in Scott Rolen's stead since Rolen's injury. The Reds need a third baseman to fill that hole, but he doesn't need to be an all-time great, just someone they'd be happy with as their fill-in at the hot corner. The 2002 version of David Bell, starting third baseman for the NL Pennant-winning Giants, is a perfect example of this vanilla starting third baseman. Cincinnati can afford to sacrifice two-time World Series MVP Edgar Renteria, since he’s contributing very little on the field and the team is looking increasingly unlikely to take advantage of any particular affinity he might have for the fall classic. The 2002 Giants, on the other hand, might love to get their hands on the World Series MVP.
Explanation: Yes, it's true that the Brewers traded Escobar to the Royals for Zack Greinke a few months ago, but Milwaukee's defense has been worse than expected (even if the error totals don't agree). Escobar would bring a fantastic glove up the middle, capable of gloving a number of balls that Yuniesky Betancourt would let by and preserving the pitching staff's arms. The Royals, meanwhile, are a small-market club looking for recognition for (finally) doing things the right way. Few things bring more press than a contract negotiation with a well-regarded Scott Boras client like Prince Fielder.
Explanation: The Pirates are playing good baseball so far this season, hovering near the .500 mark as young stars like Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker combine with veterans like Garrett Jones, Kevin Correia, and Paul Maholm to give Pirates fans hope. But eighteen years of losing and disappointment begins to wear on anybody, and Pittsburgh's start isn't exactly lighting any fires in the fan base. The McCourt regime in Los Angeles, however, has been fraught with poor management and terrible decision-making since day one. In that time, the Dodgers have made the playoffs four times, including two visits to the National League Championship Series. If Pirates fans could just allow themselves the possibility of things breaking their way as things have broken the Dodgers' way since the McCourts took over, the city of Pittsburgh might go crazy with excitement.
Explanation: Wrigley Field is the midwest Mecca of ballparks. As such, it has created a big demand for tickets on any given day. For years, the Cubs would sell 40,000 tickets night after night, even with the team far out of contention. Scalpers have caught on to Wrigley's profile, and over the years, have come out in force to help move tickets on the secondary market. However, even with a less-than-sold-out Wrigley Field this season, what the Cubs need more than anything is a productive year from $10-million man Carlos Pena, who is batting .195 on the season. If Pena could add to his average while maintaining his current patience and power, he could have another MVP caliber season. The Cubs would gladly make that trade.
Explanation: Time machines are hard to come by, so this one might cost a little more than the average ludicrous trade, but it's necessary nonetheless. Houston’s lineup is composed of players at different stages of their careers, but only a few, like Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, and Wandy Rodriguez, are where the Astros would like them to be. The others, like Bill Hall and Lee, are well past their primes and probably due to be put out to pasture. Brett Wallace and Bud Norris, though, are a couple of years away from being the best players they could possibly be. With a time machine, Houston would be able to bring the super-team together. Anything else, I'm afraid, might not be enough.