1. White Sox: Sign James Shields
Getting this out of the way now, so much of the range of teams that make sense as James Shields destinations comes down to whether and then how much his price has dropped. James Shields at $20 million per year doesn’t make that much sense anywhere. But if the price comes down, you’ll start to get in range of more and more teams whose valuation of Shields apart from what they think of the pitcher himself depends on:
1. How much each additional win is worth to that team
2. What their actual replacement level in the rotation is
The White Sox are a team that could enter Shields’ territory quickly in both categories if the price drops. Thanks to upgrades this year with Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke, the White Sox should be approaching contention to the point where Shields’ projected 2.0-ish WAR should mean more in expectation than to some other teams. They’ve also had a significant playoff drought, so the attendance bump from this year might be monetarily significant moreso than other places. As for reason no. 2, he’d presumably replace Hector Noesi or maybe John Danks, which is a pretty good improvement. And he’d definitely be a reliable option instead of having to rush Carlos Rodon’s service clock and/or get too much out of Rodon for 32 starts, which the team may be reluctant to do. —Zachary Levine
2. Astros: Sign Raul Ibanez
I don't know whether Ibanez wants to play any more. He was reportedly under consideration to be the new manager of the Rays until he withdrew for family considerations. The fact that he was in the running for a real live MLB manager's job says a lot about what MLB teams think of him. You don't sign Ibanez for what he can do with the bat (or the glove). You sign him to be the shepherd of a young team. He plays maybe once or twice a week as the 25th man. He's an occasional left-handed pinch-hitter who probably still has a couple home runs in his bat. Yes, he's probably a below-replacement-level guy at this point, but if there's something I've come to appreciate about baseball in the past few years, it's how important that "on-roster social worker" can be. The Astros have a very young roster, and Ibanez can DH there (remember, American League!) while their primary projected DH, Evan Gattis, trots out to left field once in a while. And maybe Ibanez helps new manager A.J. Hinch by chatting with guys and keeping them on balance. There's value in that. Even if Ibanez wouldn't be a good fit for the Astros, he's the sort of player who might just be worth it for some other team. If he still wants to play, I hope that teams take a very long look at him and recognize the full value that he can bring, sometimes without his name even appearing in the box score. —Russell A. Carleton
3. Cubs: Trade Welington Castillo
The Cubs have three major-league quality catchers in Miguel Montero, David Ross, and Welington Castillo. The latter is the only one who wasn't acquired this offseason, so he appears to be the odd man out. But wait, Joe Maddon is the new manager of the Cubs; he's as creative as it gets when it comes to a roster and maximizing every last player all the way down to the 25th man. He can surely figure out a way to make this potentially awkward situation work out, right? Well, not so much.
"In a National League setting, to have three catchers and find them suitable time, that's difficult to do," Maddon said when asked about the situation at Cubs Convention. "It might be less difficult in the American League where one guy could hit more often if he's a good offensive player. These are the types of issues we're going to have to address over the next couple weeks going into spring training and actually when spring training begins. When we do figure it out, I will be straight up with the players involved and let them know what our plans our in advance."
The Cubs just traded for Montero in December and followed that up with signing Ross, so moving Castillo and avoiding a logjam would appear to be high up on the Cubs priority list of possible transactions. The main issue is that at present the potential suitors have essentially reduced to about zero. Dave Stewart and the Diamondbacks seemed to make perfect sense, but they appear to have decided to take the road less traveled and go with Tuffy Gosewich and Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez behind the plate to start 2015. Another team that seemed like a fit was the Rangers, but they recently acquired Carlos Corporan from the Astros, drying up that well for the Cubs. So now the Cubs play a waiting game. They have a little over three weeks before pitchers and catchers report, if Castillo is still on the roster by then, it'll likely take an spring training injury to a catcher to create a clearer potential destination for Castillo. It won't be the end of the world, but every day that goes by with the Cubs carrying three catchers creates a little bit of awkwardness for the trio in a spring in which the Cubs hope to develop a bond between their core players as they embark on a season that actually has real playoff aspirations for the first time in about a half decade. —Sahadev Sharma
4. Brewers: Sign Phil Coke
At this point, Will Smith is Milwaukee’s only ironclad lefty option. Michael Strong and Wei-Chung Wang are the other 40-man southpaws, and maybe Dontrelle Willis is also haha just kidding [pulls cereal away from the Trix Rabbit]. Lefties have a baseball cheat code enabled where they receive unlimited chances to make a roster in spite of past results, and Coke went from a playoff spot closer in Detroit to the local goat, but they never released him. He’s still unsigned due to command issues but can still throw a 95-mph heater while his high ground-ball rate is also strangely similar to Smith’s. Having two identical lefties can help set up those late-inning matchups. The team lost Tom Gorzelanny, who signed with Detroit, so this would complete a perfect “trade-less trade."
On top of that, when it was evident Coke was likely not going back to Detroit, for some reason I always pictured him with a Brewers uniform. I am not sure what mixed drink a brew and coke is called, but perhaps from now on bartenders will call it a “loogy.” —Matt Sussman
5. Giants: Trade Tim Lincecum, eat the money, and install Yusmeiro Petit as no. 5 starter
Look at me over here, getting ready to tell the Giants what to do. The Giants! "Have you thought about investing in bicycles with giant front wheels?" –Me, to J.P. Morgan circa 1910. I get it, and yet I'm going forward anyway, because for all their strengths the Giants almost certainly don't read the Lineup Card.
Trade Tim Lincecum. Eat all the money. Put Yusmeiro Petit in the rotation. Boom, you just did more for your team than whoever signs James Shields will. Okay, maybe that oversimplifies the calculus: Petit probably finds his way into the rotation at some point this season, maybe in the first week of the season, maybe kicking Lincecum when it happens. In which case: Cool, trade Lincecum, he's not even in the rotation. But in any other case: No, seriously, trade Lincecum. He's been, arguably, if you buy the park factors, the worst starter in baseball over the past three years; he's tied with Barry Zito and Hector Noesi with a league-worst 73 ERA+, and he's got 220 more innings than either of those guys. To find anybody close to as bad as Lincecum (by ERA+) with as many innings you have to scoot all the way up the leaderboard to Edinson Volquez, who a) is at 83 and b) I wouldn't want starting over Yusmeiro Petit.
It takes 162 innings to qualify for the ERA title. Petit just barely tops that mark–if you count 2014, 2013, 2013, 2011, and 2010 combined. He's no sure thing. PECOTA likes him, but he's no sure thing. The Giants put him in the rotation down the stretch and he struck out 46 and walked five in 37 innings, but he's no sure thing. He was dominant in 13 more in the postseason, but he's no sure thing. Samples too small. Question marks too curvy. But the alternative comes with a huge sample and very few questions remaining: Lincecum's a siren trying to steer you into an eight-run inning. He's too tempting, all that hair and the history and the $17.5 million they're paying him. I trust the Giants more than anybody, but I don't trust anybody with Tim Lincecum. Keep him around and you're going to use him, and if you use him you're going to wonder when you'll ever learn. —Sam Miller
6. Athletics: Sign Hector Olivera
A Cuban defector who's flown somewhat under the radar with most eyes on teenage phenom Yoan Moncada, the 29-year-old Olivera might be the best MLB-ready position player left on the free agent market (pending OFAC and MLB clearance to sign). He plays second base, a position that was unfilled in Oakland before the A's acquired Ben Zobrist from the Rays, and at which a need might resurface if Zobrist bolts in free agency next winter. Brett Lawrie or Marcus Semien could slide over a year from now, with the latter potentially fitting better at the keystone than at shortstop, but if the club feels Semien can handle the 6 spot everyday, investing in a higher-upside second sacker is Oakland's best long-term plan.
Enter Olivera, a player in whom the A's have reported interest three years after their surprising dive into the Cuban market for Yoenis Cespedes. Olivera isn't as flashy and probably won't be a star, but the question marks in his profile—notably a lack of recent playing experience that's limited scouts' live looks—could keep him in Oakland's price range. And adding him to the 2015 roster would free up Zobrist to serve in the multi-position role in which he thrived with the Rays, potentially upgrading two spots (second base and left field) in one move.
Despite Billy Beane's efforts, Oakland's roster feels lighter than last year, and early win-total predictions suggest returning to the playoffs could be a struggle. Olivera wouldn't transform the A's into an on-paper pennant favorite, but he'd be a nice move with which to cap an arduous offseason retooling process—one that, at least for now, appears insufficient when viewed through a win-now lens. —Daniel Rathman
7. Orioles: Trade a starting pitcher
This concept is counter-intuitive given the Orioles' recent history of having pretty awful starting rotations. Still, the O's have six to seven perfectly good options to fill out a five-man rotation. Going into spring training, the Orioles will be looking to see which of the following pitchers should inhabit their starting five for Opening Day:
That list includes six players who, for a variety of reasons can stake a claim to one of the five (really four given off days in the first two weeks of the year) rotation spots. Be it their salary, the prospects for the future, or their left-handedness; each aforementioned pitcher has something going for him.
Not to mention that's ignoring fringe guys who could stake some claim (albeit in many circumstances these are the longest of long shots) to a rotation spot. That list includes current relievers TJ McFarland, Zaach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Tommy Hunter; prospects Tim Berry, Mike Wright, and Dylan Bundy; and other options like Steve Johnson, or the inevitable Quad-A guys Dan Duquette will bring in before Spring Training starts.
The drop off from pitcher no. 6 on the list above to the short-term and long-term replacements is minimal, and surely something another team would willingly part with prospects for. It might seem crazy for a team that has typically struggled in the starting pitching department to consider moving "excess" starting pitchers, but guys like Gonzalez or Chen could bring back a decent return to a team that must be looking to restock their farm system to support a window of contention that could close in the next few years.
With 11 players hitting free agency next year the O's will have some tough decisions to make in the very near future. An easy first step would be to start dealing from an area of extreme depth. Dealing one of their starters now would allow the club to still contend in 2015 while re-stocking for 2016 and beyond. —Jeff Long
8. Nationals: Trade everybody
When you think about it, the Nationals have already won. Play the season out 100 times. Play it out 1,000, 10,000, 100,000. You'll get the same answer. The Nationals are the best team. They'll win their division with room to spare and they'll have the best chance of any team to take home a World Series trophy once the playoffs begin. So that's it. What else is the organization supposed to do? They have the reigning Manager of the Year running things, and they've added the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner to their rotation. They've already assembled a championship team. This is it. This is the ballgame, proverbially speaking. They've won as much as they can. The only options remaining are to confirm what we already know (except that we already know it!) or to destroy it out on the field through luckless injuries and bad play. There is no upside.
So why wait for that possibility? Claim victory, I say, and move on: Trade everybody. Trade everybody now. How much could you get for Stephen Strasburg? A silly amount! If you think that's a lot, try trading Bryce Harper! Trading Strasburg and Harper would bring back the top of the best prospects in baseball, but what kind of challenge is that? Anyone can win with the best players in baseball. Trading top talent for talent is how good teams stay good, and staying good isn't fun or challenging. Getting good then getting awful, then getting good again, now that's a challenge!
The Nationals have won as much as they can win this season and the season hasn't even begun yet. The only thing the Nationals' season can do now is get worse. So make it worse before it can get worse. If you thought winning with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Bryce Harper was challenging, imagine trying with Scherzer, Alejandro De Aza, and Wei-Yin Chen. Winning is obsolete! Losing is the new winning! Emphatic slogan! —Matthew Kory
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