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October 19, 2012

Prospect Push

Prospect-for-Prospect Trades

by Jason Churchill

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Clubs don't often make trades unless some major-league talent is involved. The typical swap is centered on the immediate needs of a contending club or one that plans to do so in the immediate future. So, while one side may sacrifice pieces of the future in the form of top prospects, the other is looking to add such assets to its organization in exchange for veterans.

There are instances, however, where it appears two teams match up well in prospect-for-prospect trades that benefit all parties, most of which include talents who are close to being big-league ready. Here are five such examples.

Note: The suggested trade scenarios below may require additional pieces to complete if broached in the real world; focus instead on how the prospect needs match up, not how plausible a straight one-for-one swap is. 

SS Ronny Rodriguez to St. Louis Cardinals
RHP Tyrell Jenkins to Cleveland Indians

The St. Louis Cardinals' starting pitching depth goes beyond top prospect Shelby Miller and down to right-handers Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Tyrell Jenkins. The Cards also boast depth in the outfield and have an impact right field prospect on the way. What they lack down on the farm and on the 25-man roster is a long-term answer at shortstop.

Ronny Rodriguez possesses a plus arm, average range and above-average power at the plate and has convinced many that he can stick at shortstop for the long haul. He's within a few years of the big leagues and could burst onto the scene for the Redbirds in 2014, likely snatching the job from Pete Kozma or whatever veteran might be brought in between now and then.

The Cleveland Indians have Asdrubal Cabrera signed through 2014 and 2011 first-round draft pick Francisco Lindor, one of the top prospects in the game, working his way through the ranks, rendering Rodriguez expendable in the right deal. The Indians lack pitching options, both now in the big leagues and down the road. An arm like Jenkins fits the the future and would immediately give the Indians a starting pitching prospect to dream about.

RF Oswaldo Arcia to Seattle Mariners
LHP James Paxton to Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins needs starting pitching in the worst way and the Seattle Mariners need offensive production from anywhere on the field. While GM Jack Zduriencik is certainly going to seek proven MLB talent this offseason, adding a hitter like Oswaldo Arcia—who could mash his way into the big leagues next summer—is perhaps the next best option. The Mariners have starting pitching depth and, even if they moved James Paxton in a trade, left-hander Danny Hultzen and right-hander Taijuan Walker would remain.

The Twins aren't built to win in 2013, but could rebound sooner than later with a rebuilt rotation. The lone option within their own farm system is right-hander Kyle Gibson, but more is necessary if they wish to stave off multiple losing seasons going forward. Paxton profiles as a No. 2 starter and flashes ace stuff with inconsistent control and command. His best pitch is a curveball that serves as an out pitch and he sat 92-96 with his four-seam fastball in 2012.

The left-handed hitting Arcia entered this past season with questions surrounding his ability to handle left-handed pitching. After his slow start, he started to stay back better after his promotion to Double-A. There's plus power in the bat and he showed better discipline and a more patient approach than in years past. He's not a finished product, but another similar step forward next spring and he'll be ready for the big league test. Such a timeline fits well with the Mariners' chances to contend in 2014.

3B Mike Olt to Arizona
RHP Trevor Bauer to Texas

Mike Olt could fit into the Rangers' plans in 2013 as a first baseman, but he could also be trade bait as the club looks to improve both their outfield and starting rotation. The Arizona Diamondbacks have identified their needs as shortstop and third base, and Olt is an above-average defender at the hot corner and is primed to break through at the plate in the majors next season. It's also worth noting that Olt is a better defender than D-backs prospect Matt Davidson and his bat is a full year or more ahead.

The Diamondbacks have expressed their desire for Trevor Bauer to make specific adjustments—perhaps to his pre-game regimen that includes playing loss toss from one outfield corner to another—and rather than hoping he complies the club could maximize his value in trade.

Arizona can afford to make such a deal thanks to the presence of a young corps of big-league pitchers in Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill , Wade Miley and Daniel Hudson, and due to the emergence of Tyler Skaggs, who passed Bauer as a prospect over the summer. The Snakes have depth, too, namely Archie Bradley, Chase Anderson, Andrew Chafin and David Holmberg. Bauer, who finished very strong in Triple-A issuing just four walks in 22 frames, could step into the Rangers' starting rotation immediately and would likely benefit from the presence of both veteran pitchers and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.  

RHP A.J. Cole to New York Yankees
CF Mason Williams to Oakland Athletics

The Yankees traded for two young pitchers last winter—right-handers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, acquired in the trade with Seattle—and hoped to pair them with their own young arms in Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos to form a young group to lead their rotation for years to come. That didn't work out, as Betances is the only one of the four that did not spend significant time on the disabled list in 2012, and it's looking like he belongs in the bullpen, anyway.

As a result, the Yankees lack high-ceiling pitching in their system that don't have surgeries on their resume (Banuelos is expected to miss all of 2013 after having Tommy John surgery, Campos did not have surgery but missed most of the season, and Pineda had shoulder surgery and his timetable for a full recovery is unknown) and adding A.J. Cole to the mix would reset the club's fortunes.

Cole projects as a No. 2 starter who can reach the mid-90s with his fastball and can put away hitters with a curveball that teases as an out pitch. His changeup has come along steadily since signing a pro contract and his control is well above-average at this stage. With improved command of his arsenal within the zone there's room for his ceiling to rise.

Williams, if he remains with the Yankees, is the heir apparent in center field and could be on the Opening Day Roster in 2015. He's a future All-Star based on his tools and polished approach to the game, and he offers above-average defense that could result in a Gold Glove-caliber career. The A's have a hole at that position and could use someone to take over soon, since Coco Crisp's contract is up following next season. The club attempted to slide former shortstop and first round pick Grant Green to center field, but the transition hasn't been smooth.

3B Nolan Arenado to Miami Marlins
1B/OF Christian Yelich to Colorado Rockies

The Marlins have a need in the outfield, too, but Christian Yelich profiles best at first base, where Logan Morrison is expected to take over in 2013. Filling a need at third with Nolan Arenado—a player who may have fallen out of favor in the Colorado Rockies organization—by sacrificing Yelich appears to be a perfect fit.

Arenado should end up a .280 hitter with 20-plus home run power; while he's not a great defender, he's shown he can handle the position when he's focused. A change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for the 21-year-old.

Yelich, whom scouts deem an outfielder only in title, could take over at first base for the Rockies in a year or two and features a line-drive approach that figures to play well at Coors Field. He's not likely to hit a lot of long balls, but he could pepper the gaps with doubles and his approach and swing set him up to hit for high average.

The Rockies should be fine at third base without Arenado, as Chris Nelson, a natural shortstop, took to his new position this past season and ended the season with strong offensive numbers, including a .345/.379/.503 mark after the trade deadline.

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