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December 5, 2013

The Lineup Card

Seven Trade Ideas for the Winter Meetings

by Baseball Prospectus


1. Braves acquire David Price from the Rays for Christian Bethancourt, Ernesto Mejia, and Lucas Sims
Maybe it's time that the Atlanta Braves made the news for making a big, unexpected move. That doesn't involve a new stadium. The Tampa Bay Rays might just trade former AL Cy Young Award Winner David Price at the Winter Meetings, I guess because they're always about to trade David Price. That's what the Rays do, apparently. Do we have a match?

The logic behind "Why the Rays will deal David Price" is always the same. Price will soon be able to demand a high... price for his services, and with two years left on his arbitration clock, the Rays could cash in now. Two years is a long time, especially for a team that made the playoffs last year, and will return most of that nucleus. If the Rays didn't have Price (and were correspondingly a few games worse in their projection for 2014 and 2015), they'd be talked about as the kind of team where it would make sense for them to trade some prospects for a guy like David Price. But, even saying that David Price is "cost controlled" is a little misleading. He will walk into arbitration with a Cy Young Award trophy on his mantle and already having made $10 million last year (in an arbitration-avoiding one year contract) in his first year of eligibility. Maybe he could get more in a completely free market, but he's not exactly a freebie.

The Braves could use a guy like Price (who couldn't?). There aren't that many ways to upgrade your team by four wins this off-season (six, if you believe that Price is, deep down, still the 2012 Cy Young winner version of himself) but maybe the Braves have a little extra incentive. Since 1991, the Braves have made the playoffs 17 times, and (don't remind me...) have only won the World Series once, in 1995. The team, as currently constructed has several "emerging" position players on the correct side of 30 (Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman), and an outstanding bullpen. The starting rotation isn't bad, it's just that the pitchers all tend to be just sorta above average. For the past few seasons, the question has always been whom to start in Game One of a playoff series against Clayton Kershaw or (former Atlanta farmhand) Adam Wainwright? David Price answers that question and makes the prospect of another "93 wins and out in the first round" season seem less likely. Plus, I'm sure it would be nice to have fans talking about something other than the stadium thing.

I propose that the Braves send minor-league pitcher Lucas Sims, catcher Christian Bethancourt, and first baseman Ernesto Mejia to the Rays in exchange for David Price. Sims is a 19-year-old who has some killer stuff and took a big step forward... in A-ball. He could be "The Next David Price" or "The Next David Clyde." Bethancourt is a legitimate catching prospect who answers all questions starting with "Jose Molina is 39 and Jose Lobaton is still on your roster, so..." Ernesto Mejia is the "While we're on the phone..." player in the deal. He will be 28 next year and still hasn't popped his major-league cherry, and won't be displacing Freddie Freeman. He has a big bat, which he allegedly uses to both hit long home runs and field with. The Rays seem to enjoy staffing first base with market inefficiencies. While their type lately has been first basemen who hit (and field) like second basemen (cf. Casey Kotchman, James Loney), cheap potential value is cheap potential value, no matter what package it comes wrapped in. Maybe Mejia makes it and maybe he doesn't, but he'll make the minimum. The Braves give up the six years of maybe with Sims (and years that are a couple of calendar turns away) for two years of Price who will be useful while all those young position players are still in their arb years as well. They pay a premium in giving up Bethancourt, which does leave them very exposed behind the plate. Brian McCann is now gone, and Evan Gattis is not actually a catcher.

There's a lot of risk in that package, and the Braves have a history of trading away prospects for veterans and not having it go so well (cf. Wainwright for J.D. Drew; Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, and Neftali Feliz, for Mark Teixeira... and Ron Mahay). I'm sure there will be Braves fans who balk at the idea of giving up so much, although they'd love to have Price. Remember that while, yes, you could put together an offer that doesn't include Sims or Bethancourt, someone may simply offer something better. If you want quality, you have to give quality. I'm sure that there will be Rays fans who worry about whether Sims is all that he's cracked up to be because TINSTAAP. #ThereIsNoUnicorn

(Post-script: I wrote this before the Winter Meetings pre-party that took place on Tuesday. The Rays acquired Ryan Hanigan, which might make a trade for Christian Bethancourt redundant... or maybe it's all an elaborate ruse. In any case, the Braves would do well to ask after Price.) —Russell A. Carleton

2. Yankees acquire Aramis Ramirez from the Brewers for Dante Bichette Jr., Mark Montgomery, and a PTBNL
This deal is all about the dollar signs. The three-year contract that Ramirez inked with the Brew Crew prior to the 2012 season was heavily backloaded, such that his 2014 salary of $16 million equals the sum of his combined compensation for 2012 and 2013. With their fall to the underside of the ultra-competitive NL Central, the Brewers have little incentive to carry such a heavy financial burden from a 35-year-old player coming off of a season that was marred by injuries, even though his offensive prowess remains intact.

In exchange, they get Dante Bichette Jr, who has the bloodlines and the familiar face to continue to inspire optimism, though his inability to crack a .340 SLG across 1,000 plate appearances in the Sally League may have worn out his welcome in the Yankees front office. Bichette still has his backers, and if the bat can come around, then he could eventually be a solution at a corner infield spot for the Brewers. Montgomery is a quality bullpen arm whose wipeout slider gives him end-game upside, and though his delivery can fall out of whack and lead to control issues, he could provide big-league value in short order if he can iron out some of the mechanical wrinkles.

The Yankees have some of the greatest financial resources in the game, but they are also keeping a close eye on the 2014 luxury tax figure of $189 million. In this sense, Ramirez is an ideal match, as the luxury-tax accounting uses the average annual value of the contract rather than individual-season totals, and the AAV of A-Ram's guaranteed deal is just $12 million. In addition, $6 million of his 2014 salary is deferred, with $3 million owed in 2017 and the other $3 million coming in 2018, a factor which allows the Yanks to delay much of the cost until some of their biggest contracts come off the books (Teixeira, Sabathia). Ramirez's $4 million buyout for 2015 is deferred as well, further spreading out the monetary burden.

And then there's the baseball ramifications to this deal: the Yanks get a source of power at the hot corner in the likely event that they are sans A-Rod for part or all of 2014, and even if Rodriguez gets back in the lineup, there will be room for Ramirez in the DH spot. An AL team is a more desirable destination for Ramirez given his age and recent injuries, as the presence of the DH should allow his bat to find its way into the lineup with greater regularity. With only one guaranteed year remaining on his contract, Ramirez can be shown the door after the season to allow for that other old-and-busted third baseman to get back behind the wheel. —Doug Thorburn

3. Royals acquire Brandon Phillips from the Reds
It seems that the Reds might be ready to move on from Brandon Phillips. If they do decide to go this route, the most logical destinations would be teams that need a second baseman but can’t afford Robinson Cano. Enter the Royals. Ever since the days of Frank White, the Royals haven’t had a decent second baseman. Players like Jose Offerman, Mark Grudzielanek, and Alberto Callaspo have manned the keystone for Kansas City… and those were some of the better options. Phillips is past his prime, but if last year wasn’t the new normal, he could provide some stability at the position. He won’t be an offensive cornerstone, but if he could put up a three win season that would be more than Chris Getz had provided in the past. The Reds probably won’t eat all of Phillips’ salary, but if they’re willing to take on a portion of the $50 million remaining, they should find a taker, and the Royals seem like a logical fit. —Mike Gianella

4. Tigers acquire Doug Fister from the Nationals for Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi, and Robbie Ray
The Tigers are in "win now" mode. Doug Fister is a wildly underrated pitcher, but he would still come at a price. The Nationals could use another good bullpen lefty, and the Tigers have two of them, Krol and Phil Coke. This would probably take the Tigers' top pitching prospect, Robbie Ray. Plus they can throw in Lombardozzi—Detroit already has a utility guy in Don Kelly. Fister would be a great fit in Detroit, especially since he used to pitch there. Drew Smyly will serve as valuable starting pitching depth, or they can move him to high leverage long relief. If Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo balks at this deal, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski could also trade Fister for Rick Porcello straight up, and that wouldn't be bad either. —Matt Sussman

5. Orioles acquire Daniel Murphy from the Mets for Jonathan Schoop and a lower-end pitching prospect
The Mets already made this mistake once, not dealing Jonathon Niese prior to a 2013 season that saw his value shrink. And while Sandy Alderson has publicly said that the Mets intend to keep Daniel Murphy, he will be a free agent at the end of the 2015 season and even the most beer-goggled Met fans do not see him as a big part of their Next Great Team. Enter the Baltimore Orioles, who have money to spend and a hole to fill (surprise, surprise) at second base. With two years of arbitration left, Murphy is looking at making somewhere between $12-15 million (optimistically) prior to free agency--and for a player who has been worth 4.3 WARP over the last two seasons, that's a strong value. From the Orioles' side, Jonathan Schoop seems like a name that might make sense coming back the other way given the strength of their infield and the Mets' needs everywhere (except third base). Schoop plus a lower-end arm should be able to get the job done here--or, if I take off my subjective hat for a second, the Mets should totally hold out for Kevin Gausman. He's dreamy. That could happen. That could totally happen. I'm going to order my shirsey right now. —Bret Sayre

6. Cubs acquire Brett Anderson from the Athletics for Dan Vogelbach and one or two lower-level prospects
As Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer attempt to rebuild the Cubs into a contender, the one thing they lack is frontline pitching—both in the majors and in the minors. The Cubs' farm system is teeming with bats, however, and the chance to add a high-upside starter for a hitter who won't figure into their near-term plans is too tempting to pass up.

In Anderson, the Cubs get a left-hander who does not turn 26 until February, and who would immediately boast the most electric arsenal in a rotation currently fronted by Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija. Anderson's durability is a glaring question mark, with a Tommy John surgery on his medical chart and no 150-inning seasons on his baseball card dating back to 2010, but the opportunity to acquire a potentially dominant starter at a reasonable price supersedes the risk. The former Diamondbacks prospect is owed $8 million for the 2014 season, and the Cubs would hold a $12 million club option for 2015, by which point the potent bats coming up through their system should start to settle in at the Show.

With Anthony Rizzo locked up through 2019, the Cubs are set at the only defensive position Vogelbach could foreseeably play. The portly slugger is more likely to end up a designated hitter, and barring a change in the rules, that would leave him without a role in Chicago. If he moves to the Athletics pipeline, though, Vogelbach—who is likely to start the 2014 season in High-A—could project as a long-term DH with the pop Billy Beane's system sorely lacks following the departure of Michael Choice. He could slide into the middle of the A's lineup by 2016. —Daniel Rathman

7. Nationals acquire Chris Davis and Brian Matusz from the Orioles; Cubs acquire A.J. Cole from the Nationals and Eduardo Rodriguez from the Orioles; Orioles acquire Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, and Steven Souza from the Nationals, and Jeff Samardzija and Dan Vogelbach from the Cubs
It’s always difficult to try to piece together a potential trade opportunity without intimate knowledge of a particular organization’s player valuations (and particularly so when trying to balance the wants and needs of three organizations). The above suggested deal is meant as more of a framework than anything else, and would likely need to be tweaked to account for variances in player valuations across each organization. On to the rationale…

The Nationals drop a 2013 MVP candidate into the middle of the order alongside Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Ian Desmond, forming a formidable core of a lineup that will be in place for the next two seasons. Matusz adds a quality lefty arm to the pen, which stands as a current area of weakness, particularly in light of the recent pieces shipped out for Doug Fister. The downside for Washington is moving six cheap years of Anthony Rendon and a quality prospect in A.J. Cole. Rendon isn’t a natural fit at second base and carries added injury risk at the keystone due to the physical demands of the position, but could be in Nationals long term plans at the hot corner should they be anticipating a move across the diamond for Ryan Zimmerman in 2015 or shortly thereafter. Cole is a potential mid-rotation to front-end arm with an ETA of 2015, but the impact of his loss is mitigated by the stable of arms currently populating the 25-man, including Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister. Neither LaRoche nor Souza is a significant loss, with the deal ultimately coming down to sacrificing the potential upside in Rendon and Cole for a significant upgrade in offensive production for the next two seasons—two seasons in which the Nationals will likely lineup as serious World Series contenders. It’s a steep price, but it should be when acquiring two years of a recent MVP candidate that has launched 86 bombs and triple-slashed .278/.350/.571 over the past two seasons.

The market for Samardzija is difficult to figure, with grades and production not entirely matching up for the for Golden Domer. The return of Cole and Rodriguez feels right, with each likely to start 2014 at Double A with a Major League ETA of 2015. This lines up well with the wave of impact position prospects heading to the North Side around that time, and adds pitching depth to an otherwise hitter-heavy system. With such a large influx of cheap talent set to debut over the next couple of years, and the Cubs on the hook for just around $30 million starting 2015, there should be plenty of payroll room for Chicago to augment the young talent with a handful of impact free agents, including a front-end arm along the lines of a David Price. Theo & Co. could likewise package some of that young offensive talent to address areas of need by the time the Cubbies are ready to make their aggressive push. Vogelbach has a limited profile with his raw power and hit his only potential carrying tools. With much of the Cubs system already containing power at the corners, he’s an easy trade candidate that fits best as a future DH on an American League club. If the Cubs value Cole and Rodriguez as potential no. 2 or no. 3 starters, it’s a very nice return for two years of a quality arm that has flashed mid-rotation potential, and a future DH with no clear home in Wrigley.

The Orioles find themselves in a difficult position of trying to add wins with payroll limitations likely shrinking the pool of available free agent targets, and a relatively thin and top heavy minor league system likely shrinking the pool of available trade targets. The same, small moves seem unlikely to allow Baltimore to keep pace with the rest of the AL East, making an aggressive retooling along these lines one potential avenue for maintaining the ability to compete in the present while adding a couple of solid pieces for the future. It would be a tough sell to move Davis after his 2013 campaign, but the proposed return strengthens the cost controlled portion of the team’s core talent while addressing a big immediate need in starting pitching. Samardzija steps into the rotation for two seasons, affording the Orioles some time to bring along Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy when they are ready, rather than when they are needed. Rendon slots into second base for 2014, thereafter splitting second and third base duties with Jonathan Schoop with Manny Machado sliding to shortstop in place of 2015 free agent to be JJ Hardy. LaRoche is a significant downgrade from Davis, but the improvement at second base, and in the rotation, should be enough to help Baltimore maintain its competitive potential in 2014. 2015 will see an additional $15 million come off the books via Nick Markaki , with plenty of interesting corner infield options slated to hit free agency, including Billy Butler, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval. Vogelbach and Souza inject the system with much-needed power bats and could provide some thump to the lineup in the five or six hole come 2016. —Nick J. Faleris

Related Content:  Trades

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