Prospect-for-prospect trades fascinate me. They aren’t common, which makes them all the more fascinating, like a rare comet or a good Ben Stiller movie. They often are “challenge” trades; deals where a team essentially says that they believe in the guy in your system more than you do, and they’re willing to give you something in their system to prove it.
This got me thinking: what are some prospect-for-prospect trades I’d like to see? What teams have organizational needs that can be filled by dealing from strength to address weakness?
Here’s a look at three hypothetical prospect-for-prospect trades I would make, and why — on paper, anyway — they would make sense for the respective organizations.
Trade No. 1
Why the Cubs might do it: There’s no designated hitter in the National League, and Anthony Rizzo isn’t going anywhere. Vogelbach is one of the more advanced hitting prospects in the system, but because of the limitations created by his size, he’s either scraping by at the cold corner or designated hitting.
In return for Vogelbach, the Cubs would get Stephens, a right-hander who has shown impressive stuff in his first full professional year. The fastball is plus, and he’ll supplement it with an above-average curveball and solid-average cutter that can stay off barrels – or miss them entirely. He’s already 23 and a Tommy John survivor, but there is some upside here, and it’d be a solid return on a player that has little chance to ever become a regular on the North Side.
Why the White Sox might do it: The American League does have designated hitters, and Vogelbach has a chance to be a good one. He works counts, draws walks, and can hit for both average and power. He provides almost no value on the bases, and if you do have him play first base you’d better pack some headache medicine. The twin abilities to get on base and hit dingers are a fair trade-off, but those skills work all the better without the defensive liability.
Stephens would be a tough give in a system that isn’t exactly loaded with prospects, but keep in mind that the White Sox have plenty of talented young arms on the big-league roster. So if there is a group they can afford to deal from, it’s probably pitching.
[Editor’s Note: Leave it to the Cubs to ruin everything, even a fake trade scenario.]
Trade No. 2
Why the Rays might do it: Tampa Bay’s system is loaded with right-handed pitching. They may have more right-handed depth in both quantity and quality terms than any other system in baseball. Even with his struggles in 2016 (more on that in a second), Guerrieri would be a tough loss, but with Brent Honeywell, Jacob Faria, Chih-Wei Hu, Jamie Schultz, and more in the pipeline, it’s one they’d be decently positioned to stomach.
In return for Guerrieri, the Rays would get Fisher, an outfielder who would immediately become the best upper-level outfield prospect in the system. The power is above-average, and though he’ll be prone to a strikeout or 120, he does draw walks, and he also provides value on the bases. He’s not a great defender, and he is very likely to end up in left field. But the bat can play there, and Tampa Bay could certainly use an offense-first corner bat.
Why the Astros might do it: At one point, Fisher was the best outfield prospect in the system. That’s changed pretty quickly, as the Astros now have Kyle Tucker, Daz Cameron (and maybe Alex Bregman?) in the system. Add in guys like Tony Kemp, Gilberto Celestino, and a few others, and suddenly a guy like Fisher looks a bit more expendable.
In exchange, the Astros would get Guerrieri, a right-hander who shows two plus pitches in his fastball and curve, along with a competent change that should keep him in a rotation. He has struggled to miss bats in 2016, but the stuff is there to be a mid-rotation starter and perhaps more if he can find a way to stop pitching to quite as much contact.
Trade No. 3
Why the Braves might do it: Originally, I had Bradley Zimmer going to the Braves instead of Frazier, but a source told me the Braves have some concerns with Mr. Zimmer, so we adapted. Atlanta has plenty of pitching, and that Dansby Swanson fellow is their shortstop of the future. Albies’ skillset certainly plays just fine at second base, but why “waste” him there when we can move him for a nice, value-maximizing haul? The Braves can find a future second baseman with more ease than the (potentially) first-division outfielder and (potentially) starting catcher they would receive in this deal.
In return for Albies, Atlanta gets two good players who also fill some organizational needs. Frazier has made big strides in 2016, most notably in developing a stronger approach at the plate. He still unleashes ridiculous bat speed when he does offer, and the combination gives him a better chance to hit for both average and power. Kelly has also taken positive steps forward with the bat, and he’s an above-average defender behind the plate with a strong throwing arm. It’s a risky move, but one that could pay off big time in the long run.
Why Cleveland might do it: I wouldn’t say that having Zimmer makes Frazier “expendable,” but I would say that it makes it easier to move a player of his caliber. As good as the latter is, the former has a higher upside, despite the platoon splits and the contact issues.
The Cleveland system grows stronger each year, but if there’s a weakness here it’s pitching in general (and pitching of the right-handed variety in particular). In exchange for Frazier, they’d get two future mid-rotation starters in Flaherty and Weaver, and also an intriguing bullpen arm in Morris. Some may argue that this move would amount to a case of quality-for-quantity, but the quantity here is very solid, and the long-term benefits of getting three pitchers that all project to help a big-league staff might just be worth it.
Why St. Louis might do it: If there’s any team in this fake three-way deal that I reckon might jump all over this, it’s the Cardinals. Sure, the pitching depth takes a hit here — a fairly substantial one — but the Cardinals have plenty of pitching, and with all respect due, they don’t have a shortstop like Albies. He’s a top-of-the-scale runner with the chance for a plus hit tool, and he’s certainly athletic enough to stick at the six spot, with second base a solid “safety school” option. Losing three of the top ten prospects in the system would be tough, but to get a future leadoff hitter at a premium position? Well worth it.