It’s that time of year. The time when grown men hug each other to say goodbye after five months together. It’s also the time when refresh buttons are mashed on Twitter trying to catch the news of whatever trade is about to happen. It’s all so exciting. And here at BP, we like to get into the spirit of the season, too. It’s become an annual tradition to play the BP Trade Game, where we put on disguises that make us look like general managers, and pretend to trade for someone.
There’s a new dawn arriving in Oakland for the hometown Athletics: a new ownership is at the helm, a new stadium in the planning stages. No longer dogged by whispers of relocation or contraction, the A’s can finally abandon this era of cyclical mediocrity and engage in a full, honest rebuild. And since it’s always darkest right before said dawn, the team has exactly one major trade chip: the prodigal frontline starter. Suffering through a lost and injured 2016, Gray appears to have everything back in place, posting a midway DRA of 3.18 with results happily matching peripherals. He’s no guarantee to maintain his current good fortune and health, and the team is under no obligation to move him now (he’s arbitration-eligible through 2019), but he’s also a pitcher. Let’s hear some offers.
- David Stearns (MIL) – Lukas Viahos
- Jeff Bridich (COL) – Kazuto Yamazaki
- Farhan Zaidi (LAD) – JH Schroeder
- Jed Hoyer (CHC) – Matt Pullman
- Mike Chernoff (CLE) – Matthew Trueblood
- Brian Cashman (NYY) – Eric Roseberry
- Jeff Luhnow (HOU) – Jake Devereaux
From: Jeff Luhnow
I hope this email finds you well and that your search for a new stadium is coming along. It still blows my mind that the Raiders are leaving Oakland. I’m reaching out because we are interested in the services of a couple of your players, Jed Lowrie and Chris Carter, we want them back. JK. You can have them, I’m sure one or both of them will make their way back to the Astros someday anyhow. The guy we are actually after is Sonny Gray. I know it’s always hard to trade in the division but I really believe we can make the best offer. We are prepared to offer you Derek Fisher, Franklin Perez, Teoscar Hernandez, and A.J. Reed.
Looking at your system it’s clear that you guys are stocked with pitchers, but we feel like Fisher and Hernandez can give you the outfield help you are missing. They're both great OBP guys with serious power. Hernandez has the flexibility to play all over the outfield and we have seen the guy improve every year. Fisher is the real stud though, and is crushing balls in the PCL. I could see him in the middle of your order for a long time.
In Perez you are getting a 19-year-old kid in Double-A with three legit pitches. This guy is a future rotation stalwart, guys like him don’t come around too often. Lastly, we have heard the rumors of Yonder Alonso being on the move … enter Reed. Look, we think of a lot of Reed but for whatever reason he’s struggling. A change of scenery would do him good. He’s a perfect high-upside replacement.
As you can tell from the package, we aren’t messing around and feel like Gray is the missing piece we need to win it all. Let me know what you think.
From: David Forst
Jeff, hey, hi. Look, super busy right now—you know how it is—but I had a few seconds, so I did a Ctrl+F plus "Martes" and it didn't find anything. Just checking: you sure you sent this offer to the right guy? I promise I'll get back to you and read it all the way through here in just a minute. My kid locked his keys in his car, and apparently doesn't know how to call a locksmith, or maybe know what a locksmith is. There are still locksmiths, right? Do they hang out with cobblers? I'll figure it out.
Your divisional frenemy,
From: Jeff Luhnow
I can confirm locksmiths are a thing, even though the Cardinals didn't need one when they broke into my database. I sure am glad MLB was able to cobble together a nice punishment for those stinking redbirds. OK, back to the trade before I go into a rage blackout again: Gina says it's unhealthy. If Francis Martes is what gets it done then I could be amenable to that. As Martes is currently on our 25-man roster and an important part of what we are doing I say we sub him in for Perez and keep Hernandez out of the deal. You get yourself Martes, Fisher, and Reed and I land my big fish. Should I announce or should you?
From: David Forst
OK, crisis averted: car is unlocked again. You know, I was just thinking: why is it so bad to trade in the division? We don’t have any problem with you being good now, and we want you to spend the future to get it. Why wouldn’t we? I don’t know, it’s just weird. Anyway, catching up: I can get why you’d have a hard time giving up Martes. There are some folks who might like Perez more, but I like the idea of him having spent a year getting closer to being ready without getting hurt. This is a pretty promising offer, but let me clear out all these other voicemails and I’ll get back to you. I swear I should make that kid ride around on a segway from now on.
Your divisional pal,
2. Chicago Cubs
From: Jed Hoyer
Almora and Alzolay, or Alzolay, Paredes, Zagunis, Butler. Take one of the two offers. It’s probably too much, but you know we like Sonny. Let us know soon.
From: David Forst
Hey there, Jed. Guess you’re a little busy for pleasantries—I know you have a lot to worry about these days
I guess you were feeling inspired by the David Phelps deal with that last one, huh? Or maybe you’re just still taking a victory lap from the Jeff Samardzija deal. Not to get into it with you—I mean, you guys did win the world championship and all—but these are the kinds of offers … well. You know how it seems like Beane can have his job as long as he wants? If we accepted this, I’m not sure that’s still true. Almora’s a fine center fielder, and it’s nice to see him drawing a couple of walks, but if he’s the headliner we get back for our best starter?
Alzolay is having a nice little season, and it looks like he could put it together. But he’s hardly a top prospect. Butler is a guy you picked up off waivers and who’s striking out the same number of batters as Jeremy Hellickson. Let’s just put it this way: they’d ban us from playing Out of the Park if we took this. We could use Almora, but he’s not the kind of player who’s going to rally the fan base. Include Trevor Clifton alongside Zagunis, and maybe Beane won’t kick me out of his office when I bring it to him.
From: David Stearns
Hope things are going well. Sorry that team I put together for Jeff in Houston has been thrashing you so badly this season. Maybe look into hacking them? Kidding aside, I have a serious trade inquiry. With our team still in first place in the division, we’re looking to add a piece that might help us this season and be around for the next couple years as well. Gray fits the bill, and I think we have the pieces to move without sabotaging our rebuilding efforts
Right now, we have a bit of a crowded outfield situation, so we were thinking we could build a deal around Keon Broxton, giving you a center fielder in his prime who is a virtual lock to go 20-20. I’d complement that offer with our top pitching prospect, Josh Hader, giving you another future top-of-the-rotation lefty to go with A.J. Puk. As a kicker, we’d include a high-upside, toolsy outfield prospect in Monte Harrison (we’d have some flexibility on the last piece, if there’s a similarly raw prospect you like more).
Let me know what you think.
From: David Forst
Hey there, David. This is actually Dave Forst. I know, awkward. Look, it’s no big deal. You honestly have no idea how often people get confused on that.
I gotta say, I like this offer. I don’t know why, but I like Milwaukee in general; always felt like the Oakland of the Midwest. This is the offer that could get me my own presidency sooner rather than later, when all three of them go to the All-Star game. It could also get me fired in two years. (Although even as you’re selling me on Broxton, I just read on the wire that you sent him down to Triple-A. Mixed message? Was that to make him feel more like a prospect?)
The trouble is that Broxton really is “in his prime”—he’s 27 and he still strikes out between at-bats. We could get away with that here in Oakland 10 years ago, but the fans have stopped being entertained by that profile, and even then we’d have Khris Davis starting alongside him. And Hader, he could be the big selling piece in five years (not that we’d ever do that, we’re making it a priority to hold on to our great players now (well, not right now)). But that lack of control worries the hell out of me, and it’s not all because of that stupid Triple-A launching pad you guys use.
Look, this rebuilding thing is hard for us. We don’t like it. We’re used to scraping together those cheap wins, going with the safe two-win player. And I know that this new project means taking on a little bit more risk, but this is just a little too much risk for me to handle. Add in the fact that Broxton will be 30 by the time the rebuild is in place, and I can’t pull the trigger on it. I appreciate the thought. Still, wishing you luck: hold off the Cubs, please, and avenge us for Addison.
Your NL Central Ally,
From: Brian Cashman
First of all, I want you to know that I still feel bad about the state of our relationship at the turn of the century. I didn’t enjoy knocking you out of the playoffs in 2000 and 2001. It hurt me as much as it hurt Oakland fans to sign Jason Giambi when he was the heart and soul of the A’s franchise. I hope we can put those things behind us, and you can see that the Yankees aren’t that different from the A’s. This season we’re just a group of scrappy young players trying to end a one-year playoff drought. You can appreciate that right?
We need a starting pitcher, and I’d love to acquire Sonny Gray. Here is what I am willing to do for you. Actually, let me tell you what I won’t do first. I’m not going to insult you by including Gleyber Torres in the deal. Who knows when he’ll be back from his torn UCL, and far be it from me to try and send you damaged goods. Also, I’m not going to make you deal with Clint Frazier. He’s been through a lot with this whole facial hair thing. They say once you shave your beard there’s no guarantee it grows back. I’d hate for you to have to deal with that if there were problems.
Here is what I’m willing to do for you:
I know Mateo got off to a slow start this season, but he’s been on fire since getting promoted to Double-A. He might be one of those players who gets better every time you promote him. Think about how good he could be in the majors! The speed is elite, and he could be a long-term option for you in the middle infield. Adams is pitching well at Triple-A, and he could quickly fill the hole in the rotation left by Gray. Mateo and Adams are players who could be on your major-league roster sooner rather than later. You don’t want to have to sell your fan base on prospects who are still years away. Finally, I’ll include Florial in the deal as well. He’s only 19 years old, and he has the potential to be an impressive talent.
Hopefully, you’ll take the opportunity to make both of our teams better.
From: David Forst
Hi, there. I wish I could say that I missed having you on the buyer’s end of these conversations, but I guess it was pretty inevitable.
Surprised you’re not trying to package in Alonso here; I guess we’ll talk about that one separately. In the meantime you’ve made a pretty fair offer, but unfortunately it just doesn’t really provide a great fit for our current ball club. Mateo’s promising, although given that we already have a shortstop prospect who might not be a shortstop, I’m a little worried about rolling the dice on another one. And Adams, well, he’d slot in for Gray pretty quickly, sure, and that’s probably the biggest part of his prospect value. He’s pretty close to ready; I’m not sure why you guys haven’t given him a shot already. But we don’t really need a guy right away. We’re going to be losing right away. And that lower ceiling means that he won’t be as valuable when the losing stops, whenever that is. Pitching prospects are just terrible, you know?
If you ever decide Clint Frazier’s emotional facestate isn’t an obstacle to getting an ace starter, let me know. Him we could figure out how to use.
Talk to you again in 20 minutes,
From: Farhan Zaidi
Shouldn't I be talking to Billy about this? Does Billy want to talk to Andrew? But in all seriousness, it looks like you guys have really missed me since I left. Our starting pitching has been awesome this season, but this is the time of year where the rich get richer so we'd like to put in an offer on Sonny Gray.
To headline the package, we're going to send you the best pure hitter in the minor leagues, Willie Calhoun. Willie has a lot of power in a small package, and though he's probably not an everyday second baseman, we know you can figure out how to handle a defensive liability. In addition to Willie, we would be willing to send you Dustin May, a high-school guy we just gave $1 million to in the third round, and who's killing full-season ball at age 19. You also have your choice of Ronny Brito, O'Neill Cruz, and Carlos Rincon. All these guys received big international bonuses. Finally, just to be creative, and because you guys might be interesting next season, we will offer your choice Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Scott Kazmir. Of course, we will pick up all the salary for whichever of these three pitchers you select for this year and 2018.
From: David Forst
Hey there, Farhan. I have to say, it’s nice to see you guys start to use dead money as a chip for trading for prospects. That was sarcasm, by the way. It’s not nice. Thanks for reminding me how much worse we have it up here compared to you big city folk. You know you miss the budget crunch—constraints are what make you feel alive.
I have to give you points for the creativity, but even if I were to take McCarthy, the best of the three you offered and an obvious plug to the Twitter quality gap we created when we shipped off Sean Doolittle, there’s not a lot we can do with it. It’d be a waste to start him here with the rebuild in full motion, and I doubt I could flip him for much more than a lottery ticket, even as well as he’s been pitching.
As for the other pieces … look, it’s not a bad offer, and this isn’t your fault, but I have to tell you I’m getting pretty sick of the good-stick-no-glove types, Farhan. The fans don’t shut up about errors. Go 2-for-4 and they’ll act like you’re supposed to go 2-for-4 all the time, but make one throwing error with the game on the line and that’s it. And we have a LOT of guys like that. The guy is basically a DH, and DH prospects aren’t a fun thing to bet on. Look what happened to Zduriencik after the last one.
May I like a lot. But with all the other question marks, I can’t take this to Beane in exchange for a star pitcher. Let’s talk about refocusing this deal around him and, say, Walker Buehler, and we’ll see where we can go from there. I know Kershaw’s only out six weeks, but do you really want to take chances on the postseason again? You guys can afford it.
Your old pal,
From: Jeff Bridich
While we are already in possession of a young right-hander named Gray, we could certainly use another one. In fact. we could use 50 shades of them. To make it happen, I offer you three prospects. Riley Pint is the headliner. He hasn't been able to put his stuff together, but the ceiling is higher than the altitude at our stadium. Additionally, if we can get this deal done by 7 p.m., I'll give you a 15 percent happy hour discount for Pint. See? Got it? Got it?
Second piece is Antonio Senzatela, who may or may not belong in the same sentence as Clayton Kershaw. Even if he’s not the same caliber of a pitcher as Kershaw, Senzatela can be penciled into the back of your rotation right away, with five-plus years of control. Ryan McMahon has put up a .390/.415/.667 line as a 22-year old at Triple-A, albeit in one of the most extremely hitter-friendly environments in all baseball. You can rarely get a better third piece.
I know that the name you are looking for is Brendan Rodgers, but with the Dodgers running away with the division, the best thing we can hope for is the WIld Card game. We can’t give up a overall top-five prospect for just one play-in game, even considering the fact that Gray comes with two more years of control after this season. I hope you like the three prospects on the table as much as I do.
P.S.: Can you get me Josh Phegley as well? We’d like our backup catcher to not be one of the worst framers in the game.
From: David Forst
You’re a good man, and an honest man, and a fair man, and this is a good, honest, fair deal. It’s easy to imagine all three of the players you offered in our new stadium someday, since there’s no way we would trade them once they reached arbitration. We’re over that these days. But here’s the problem: While I appreciate that you don’t want to sink a bunch of resources into a coin flip Wild Card game, well, think about it. You have a pretty great nucleus over there. The Dodgers will have half their team back on the DL next year. You’ve got a nice window shaping up, and Gray’s going to be there for you all the way through it.
I want to be fair to you, Jeff. I want to be a good person. I’m not really good at the whole negotiating thing; I just want people to be happy, or at least think they’re happy. But the problem is that I just got this call on the other line, and now I can’t make you happy. I can’t be fair to you, Jeff. I want you to understand that I understand that. So let’s try to help each other out. I’ll give you Gray, and your backup catcher in Phegley. I don’t have a ton of other parts right now—and let’s be honest, you don’t need a lot of them—but everyone could always use another reliever, so I’ll give you Liam Hendriks, who can help you get to the late innings.
In exchange, I am going to ask you for Jeff Hoffman instead of Senzatela. You are going to be unhappy, and you may curse me, and I understand. I am in a position to be hated by you, and the demands of my office require it of me. Give me Pint, Hoffman, and McMahon, and we might have a deal. I’m sorry, Jeff. I’m not allowed to be sorry, but part of me is. It’s complicated.
From: Jeff Bridich
It’s hard to part ways with my fellow Jeff, but I've made up my mind. I’ll send him your way. He’s a former first-round pick and was a top 50 prospect coming into the season. Prospect pedigree isn’t just there for a reason. But he’s more than two years older than Senzatela, who has posted nearly identical numbers as Hoffman. On top of that, the odds are against 24-year olds with DRA over five. There are only a scant few of them blossomed into a frontline starter or dominant late inning relievers. I wish the best of luck for you and Hoffman while enjoying 2.5 years of established big-league starter in Gray.
From: David Forst
Have to admit, I was really expecting you to say no on that, Jeff. You know, I throw it out there, you reject it, we both feel like big-time negotiators. Now it’s like when you have a yard sale and someone buys something the first minute you’ve opened shop, and you start wondering if you should have asked for more. Should I have included Raimel Tapia? Could I have gotten you to transfer the color purple out of your logo?
Anyway, I know I made the request, but I’m a little out of sorts. I have to get to one more email, and then I’ll let you know.
From: Mike Chernoff
I heard Keith Law said you should start by asking us for Francisco Mejia if we want Gray, so go ahead. Yes, we understand, this package would have to start with Mejia, and we're ready to do that. I assume you want more. I'm fighting Chris and ownership a little on this, because they lean much harder toward taking the long view than I do. I want to make the most of the window, but they're not going to sign off on giving up a guy like Triston McKenzie, a guy like Bradley Zimmer, and I think you know how high I am on those guys anyway.
In addition to Mejia, I'll part with Bobby Bradley and Tyler Naquin. Two years from today, you've probably got three regulars there. We really like those young hitters, but our positional depth allows us to do this, and like I said, I'm eager to make this happen. You're not going to get more impact from a single piece than Mejia can provide, and I know you'll value the cost-controlled depth around him here. Looking forward to hearing from you.
From: David Forst
You know how the best gifts are the ones where it’s like the person really thought about what you needed? A catcher, a cost-controlled first baseman, and a center fielder, you’re like the one friend who actually looks at my Amazon wishlist. I’m … I’m actually touched. Let me get back to you. You won’t have to wait long.
Your new friend,
It’s not the most fun fact in the world, but trading frontline starters is a phenomenon as deeply woven into Athletics culture as the green and gold and Ron Washington telling people how difficult things are. Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Gonzalez, Haren, Cahill … it’s a practice we’d like to stop, but in order to do so, we have to finish one last job. Hopefully Gray will be remembered as the last ace the Athletics sold. Hopefully.
Ultimately, it came down to three offers: Houston, Colorado, and Cleveland. After seeing the Indians' offer, I knew I was going to be okay making a trade, and figured I’d use that deal to shoot for the moon with the other two teams. I didn’t expect it to actually work. Maybe breaking the fourth wall during negotiation is the way to go. If they’d arrived in a vacuum, I’d be happy to accept any of those three deals. Martes, Pint, and Mejia are all fantastic prospects, and all three would look good in a new stadium (and keep the fans happily dreaming while we build it).
But it essentially comes down to arms versus bats. Much as I’d love to free those pitchers from having to work in Colorado, I’m still a little risk-averse, especially when there isn’t that much of a difference in overall talent. Cleveland, good luck in your chase for the World Series this year. I think your chances suddenly got much better.
Thanks to Craig Goldstein, Jarrett Seidler, Brendan Gawlowski and Wilson Karaman for prospect consultation. Also, thanks to Rob McQuown, who did not assist with this article but should be thanked regularly out of principle.