Yesterday I had a lengthy intro for a few creative (but plausible) trades that Seattle could pursue to make use of the extremely low payroll they currently have in 2020, without blocking the big league development of prospects or diving into the top of free agency.
Today I’ll keep it short and sweet - I have two deals, and three players, that serve a similar purpose. I welcome any feedback, but want to make it clear that the goal of these deals is to find something worthwhile for every team. Moreover, the players selected are those who have been indicated to be available, to some degree or another. Mackenzie Gore, for instance, has been referred to by several scouts per staffer Joe Doyle, as “the most untouchable pitching prospect in baseball”, so I did not bother including him. Likewise, I’m not looking at Nolan Arenado or Miguel Cabrera, for instance, in this exercise. The situation is not right for either club to deal those players, highly paid though they may be, and what Seattle needs does not line up.
With that out of the way, here goes nothing.
New York State of Pain
Yoenis Céspedes - Mets
Remaining Contract: One year/$29.5 million
While confusing reporting initially conveyed that Céspedes managed to break both his ankles in an unfortunate injury on his ranch, in reality it was just the one. Sadly, that’s meant baseball has been without the exciting Cuban slugger, and the Mets have missed him dearly. Entering the final season of his four year, $110 million deal, Céspedes hasn’t played a MLB game since before the 2018 All-Star break. Worse, it’s unclear if he’ll be able to return for 2020. Much like his Yankees parallel a few boroughs over, Jacoby Ellsbury, the Mets are recouping plenty of the actual money through insurance payments, so his absence is not as grievous on their poor bottom line as it might seem. Still, the Mets intend to compete now, and have stressed “creativity” over actually spending more to improve their roster this winter. Creativity we can do, Brodie.
Mets get: OF Mallex Smith (or Jake Fraley or Braden Bishop), RHP Sam Tuivailala
Mariners get: OF Yoenis Céspedes, 3B Mark Vientos, RHP Josh Wolf
Mets fans may reject this off-hand on principle. Heck, Brodie Van Wagenen may reject it on principle. The Mets inspired a hit single with the results of their last major deal with the Mariners, and sending another couple young prospects won’t feel good. But New York has more depth in their infield prospects than anywhere in the system, including 2019 first rounder Brett Baty, Top-50 prospect Ronny Mauricio, and Top-100 youngster Andrés Giménez. That’s not to say Vientos is fully expendable - he’s a toolsy teenager who has hit well thus far and hasn’t yet been moved off the hot corner. But he’s years from helping this Mets club who may need all the cash they can get to retain Zack Wheeler at a minimum, and/or improve on a flawed core that still has the rotation and upside to win the NL East. Wolf is even more distant, with just eight professional innings as a 2019 2nd rounder, and his inclusion may be dubious if the Mets are in fact collecting insurance on somewhere between 50-75% of Céspedes’ contract, as they’re rumored to be attempting.
For their return, Seattle can offer the Mets their pick of young, defensively able center fielders. The Mets appear to want something in particular, and Seattle has a few options for them.
Van Wagenen: Improving the club's defense in CF will also improve the defense in LF and RF, with Nimmo and Conforto playing those positions.— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) November 13, 2019
Again, very hard to find an everyday CF with a reasonable acquisition cost to fit the Mets' criteria.
Van Wagenen noted a preference for a right-handed hitter, which Bishop could certainly satisfy, but given his lack of MLB success the Mets might not see him as a clear starter. The left-handed Fraley offers a bit more recent helium, with dominant offensive numbers in AA before injuries shortened his AAA and MLB debuts. Mallex Smith comes with fewer years remaining on his contract, but a bit more MLB pedigree, and perhaps even some familiarity within the organization from his time with the Braves. Tuivailala provides a low-cost, dependable relief option for a team that imploded spectacularly in the back end in 2019. This deal hinges on what Cespédes actually costs New York, making it a bit trickier to augur, but Seattle should at least be inquiring, as both teams have pieces that fit the other’s needs.
Triple Your Pleasure
Wil Myers - Padres
David Price - Red Sox
Remaining Contract for Myers: Three years/$67.5 million, team option for 2023 at $20 million, $1 million buyout
Remaining Contract for Price: Three years/$96 million
It’s no secret that the Padres have been interested in moving the one-time top prospect. Despite being one of the few fixtures in San Diego since his arrival in 2015, Myers’ career has been erratic and frustrating. He’s had a 20-20 and a 30-20 season, but been shuttled all over the field defensively, including disastrous stints at 3B and CF. Best-suited as a Jay Bruce type 1B/cOF, Myers unfortunately doesn’t have the thump to match either his position or, to the Padres estimation, his contract. While his six year, $83 million deal has paid him just $14.5 million through the first three years, it is heavily backloaded to bring him $22.5 million each of his final three guaranteed seasons. The soon-to-be 29 year old has been stuck in between, and while he’s not a disaster to run out on the field, and his exit velocity and athleticism remain intriguing, there’s just too little to make someone think he’s much more than a more highly paid version of Domingo Santana.
The Padres are not in financial distress, but their ownership has made strong commitments to jumpstarting contention after several years adrift, amassing an impressive farm. They’ve made significant investments each of the two past offseasons, and have the local angle on both Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. With Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado under contract for the foreseeable future, several younger, more defensively capable options in the outfield, Myers is without a position and out of chances to be #TrueToTheBrown.
The Red Sox situation is a bit more peculiar. After taking the 2018 title with one of the most dominant teams of the century, Boston brought back playoff hero Nathan Eovaldi and extended shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Eovaldi got hurt and underperformed, like much of Boston’s roster, while Bogaerts responded to his payday with a career year. At the end of the season, with a new front office in place, Boston has claimed a need to get under the luxury tax and cut payroll, going so far as to float dealing superstar Mookie Betts as he enters his final year of arbitration with little interest in avoiding free agency. Despite the ludicrousness of the Red Sox claiming financial strife, if they’re dead-set on cutting payroll, a much more reasonable way would be moving aging starter David Price, whose seven year, $217 million deal remains the largest free agent guarantee given to a pitcher. Price intimated as much was possible last year, and at least one club has already reached out to Boston about dealing Price this winter.
To recap goals then... The Mariners want to augment their roster to become competitive in the 2021 time frame and be a sustainable contender. The Padres want to move from a perpetual rebuild into immediate contention. The BoSox want to compete, while cutting costs, despite possessing what is arguably the thinnest farm system in baseball. Let’s make some magic.
Mariners get: LHP David Price, RHP Luis Patiño, C Luis Campusano, SS/2B Tucupita Marcano, RHP Reggie Lawson, RHP Michael Baez, $5 million from Boston in 2021 and 2022
Padres get: OF Mitch Haniger, RHP Sam Tuivailala
Red Sox get: 1B/OF Wil Myers, $11 million in 2020
There are a few ways of going about balancing a deal of this sort, but the most straightforward is delivering not just financial relief, but an immediate impact upgrade. For the Padres, that’s Haniger, who can at least hang at all three outfield positions and is solid in right. He’s got a deserved All-Star appearance to his name and three more years under contract. The Mariners are reportedly interested entertaining offers for Haniger - something we’ll be diving into more specifically tomorrow - and even off an injury-shortened season he remains an extremely compelling player for contenders. The Padres were in on Haniger last offseason and appear to be once more. Swapping Myers for Haniger in the outfield is a dramatic upgrade, and even sending Boston a chunk of change for 2020 to help offset Myers’ immediate salary still puts them in a net positive financially, priming them to pursue Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and/or Yasmani Grandal. Tuivailala helps balance the numbers of the deal as much as anything, but he is a more established reliever than much of San Diego’s current bullpen behind Kirby Yates, and will be in his final pre-arbitration year in 2020.
For Boston, the luxury tax implications are actually pertinent, and the money gets a bit hairy. In swapping Myers for Price, plus the 2020 money sent from San Diego, Boston not only saves $20.5 million in actual money for this season, they will also save $28.2 million off the luxury tax - about $500k more than what Mookie Betts is projected to earn in arbitration this year. From 2020-2022, Boston would save a hefty $30.5 million paying Myers instead of Price (including the $10 million they’d send away, spread over 2021 and 2022 to Seattle), but they will shave a whopping $52.6 million off their luxury tax obligations in that time period - the $28.2 million in 2020, and then $17.2 million the following two seasons.
If your eyes glazed over through that explanation, I don’t blame you. Take it up with John Henry, who is dissatisfied with his title-contending roster. The point is this: Boston would be able to go into 2020 without “needing” to trade any of their core players, and could even use the short-term savings to sign a one-year deal for a veteran starter who could replicate Price’s declining production in the short-term. Myers can be a full-time 1B and be hidden defensively much more easily in Fenway’s outfield than PetCo. Boston can slot Michael Chavis at 2B full-time, unless Dustin Pedroia is exhumed successfully.
The Mariners, by the couple measurements I’ve used to check on these deals, get the rawest end of things. Losing Haniger hurts, and taking on Price at $32/$27/$27 will be a heavier commitment financially than any other deal in this proposal. But these cases are meant to highlight what Seattle is capable of considering the incredibly minimal financial commitments currently on hand. Price, for his part, is not exactly washed up, but he’s missed roughly a full season’s worth of games over the past three years, and turned 34 in August. His velocity hit a career low in 2019, and while he was solid when healthy, he is nowhere near the ace that made him one of the past decade’s best pitchers. If Seattle is willing to turn around and eat another share of the money, and Price is slightly resurgent, he could even be flipped at the deadline as an experienced playoff pitcher in a way Mike Leake could not, though that possibility shouldn’t be counted on.
By taking Price on, helping jumpstart San Diego’s contention window and extending Boston’s, they can secure both depth and star potential that can easily be seen to arrive in 2021-22. Patiño is the jewel - a Top-50 prospect who turned heads at the Futures Game and Would likely start the season at AA. He’s not the Padres’ most coveted prospect, nor even their top pitching one, but he’s an extremely exciting player who also happens to require a 40-man spot. Beyond Patiño, the depth of San Diego’s system becomes apparent. Campusano was a 2017 2nd round pick who had concerns about his glove but took a step forward last year while mashing (albeit in the Cal League). Marcano is an intriguing middle infielder who held his own at Low-A and can bring some up the middle intrigue at an area of the system lacking much. I got eyes on Lawson at the Arizona Fall League and felt his motion was a bit rigid, but his size and command gives the Mariners pitching depth beyond the big-name arms. Baez has made his big league debut, but is clearly still a project, with the size to dominate if he can improve his consistency. Swapping him for Tuivailala offers San Diego dependability in exchange for volatility (good or bad). San Diego has to start making moves on several of these players, as they simply do not have enough roster spots to retain many of them otherwise.
The trickiest part of this deal, in my mind, is whether Seattle gets enough. Any of the deals I’ve proposed have strove to be based on a combination of legitimate fit, actually available/tradable players, and a modicum of possibility. A specific trade is, by nature, unlikely to happen, and a three-teamer all the less, considering the number of necessary moving pieces. But considering the relative lack of overlap between these three clubs - Vedder Cup notwithstanding - this is as plausible as I can swing it.