Five deals that should happen before next week's MLB trade deadline
- Chris Sale to the Dodgers for Julio Urias? Carlos Beltran back in Houston? The Indians going all in? Here's why those trades and more make sense for each team.
When I examined the possibility that Chris Sale might be traded in the wake of his bizarre, retro jersey-snipping snit and subsequent suspension by the team, I initially didn't see the Dodgers as strong contenders for ace lefty's services. But a report from the New York Post's Joel Sherman indicating that Los Angeles would be open to using 19-year-old phenom Julio Urias as the headliner for a trade package is a game-changer. With the Aug. 1 trade deadline less than a week away, a blockbuster built around those two southpaws headlines my list of moves that make sense for both sides.
What follows here is a look at five trades that certainly aren't guaranteed happen over the next week, but arguably should happen. They fit the general pattern for July deals, centered around contenders sacrificing prospects and young talent with several years of club control ahead in exchange for veterans who are currently toiling for non-contenders and fit a more immediate need with their new clubs. In some cases, the two sides are even known to have discussed the top players in question.
This isn't a comprehensive list of every deal that will happen; if I've proposed where Andrew Cashner might go, that doesn't necessarily mean that I've got a great feel for where Rich Hill fits or an answer to fill each team involved’s every need. And since I'm not a general manager or a scouting director, I will concede that my knowledge of each team's farm system only runs so deep. I'm won't try to guess exactly which Hansel Rodriguez-type—a 19-year-old live arm outside of a team's top-10 prospect list—might appeal in exchange for a short-term rental. I will keep in mind the overall strength of a team's farm system, avoid intradivision trades since they're exceedingly rare, and won't overlap talent in any of these deals.
1. White Sox trade Chris Sale to Dodgers for package headlined by Julio Urias
Zack Greinke's surprising departure for the Diamondbacks via free agency left the game's richest team without a legitimate frontline starter to pair with Clayton Kershaw, and now that he's on the disabled list with a herniated disc and with his season in doubt, Los Angeles has no choice but to go big-game hunting. Sale appears to be the only No. 1 starter even remotely available, but if the Dodgers are going to acquire him, it's going to hurt, particularly given the wiry lefty's extremely club-friendly deal: He's making $9.15 million this year, with $12 million due in 2017 and then club options of $12.5 million in '18 and $15 million in '19.
Urias came into the year ranked as the game's top pitching prospect according to Baseball America and second behind the Nationals' Lucas Giolito via Baseball Prospectus, ESPN and MLB.com. Injuries and a strong performance at Triple A accelerated his timetable, and while he's been wobbly at the major league level (4.91 ERA in nine starts totaling only 40 1/3 innings), the stuff is clearly there, and the future is bright; he's whiffed 10.7 batters per nine. Age-related workload concerns will prevent Urias from providing the Dodgers with too many more innings this year, and he's likely to be constrained next year, but his advanced feel for pitching should make him a star.
The Dodgers, who haven't been to the World Series since 1988 and haven't even been to the NLCS since 2013, don't have the time to wait that out; while they can hope Urias grows up to be Sale, they need the real thing now. They'll have to include more than Urias in such a deal, but with BA, BP and ESPN all ranking their system either first or second this spring, there's little doubt that they've got enough to get this done. Some combination of midseason top-100 prospects—such as pitchers Jose De Leon and Grant Holmes, first baseman Cody Bellinger, outfielder Alex Verdugo and second baseman Willie Calhoun—would change hands, as well as some lesser talent.
2. Rays trade Jake Odorizzi to Rangers for package headlined by Jurickson Profar
In a market desperate for starting pitching, the Rays—who have lost 29 of their last 36 games—have a whole lot of it that's attracting attention, even despite getting knocked around. Chris Archer, Matt Moore and Jake Odorizzi are all under club control through at least 2019. The Rangers, meanwhile, have managed to stay atop the AL West despite losing Colby Lewis and Derek Holland (the latter of whom wasn't even pitching well) to the disabled list and receiving just five starts from Yu Darvish since he came back from Tommy John surgery. Fill-ins like Nick Martinez, Chi-Chi Gonzalez, Cesar Ramos and Kyle Lohse haven't cut it—Lohse was cut this week, period—so Texas needs help.
The Rangers have struggled to figure out what to do with the 23-year-old Profar, who entered the 2013 season as the game's No. 1 prospect and spent much of that year in Texas but missed all of '14 and most of '15 with due to a muscle tear in his right shoulder. In the meantime, Rougned Odor passed him on the second base depth chart, and this year, shortstop Elvis Andrus has stepped up his offensive game. Profar has been reduced to a utility role, making starts at all four infield positions, but he's essentially blocked everywhere but first base, where he's miscast given his size (listed at six feet, 190 pounds) and modest power, not to mention the presence of Joey Gallo. The slugging Gallo homered on Tuesday night in what was just his third plate big league plate appearance of the season despite the woeful performances of Prince Fielder (now done for the season) and Mitch Moreland.
The 26-year-old Odorizzi doesn't have Archer's upside or club-friendly contract, but he's whiffing a solid 8.3 per nine and won't reach arbitration eligibility until this winter. He would be a rewarding piece for the Rangers to acquire in exchange for breaking up a longstanding logjam. Profar would slot in for the Rays at second base, allowing the team either to spin off Logan Forsythe in a separate deal or use him at multiple positions. Neither team's system is as strong as it was a few years ago, but both have the secondary prospects to balance this one out.
3. Brewers trade Jonathan Lucroy and Will Smith to Indians for package headlined by either Bradley Zimmer or Clint Frazier
In my bold AL predictions for the second half, I predicted Lucroy would be dealt to the Rangers, but it's the Indians who have the more glaring need behind the plate given the woeful underproduction of the now-injured Yan Gomes, the previously injured Roberto Perez and Chris Gimenez. As a group, Cleveland's catchers have hit .170/.218/.293 this year, though they've managed to shepherd the team's rotation to an AL-best 3.67 ERA. Catcher isn't the only trouble spot, however. While closer Cody Allen has done a good job, the Indians' bullpen needs help, particularly from the left side. Their outfield needs help, too, particularly with Michael Brantley undergoing a procedure to remove scar tissue in his right shoulder earlier this week, pushing his return back for at least a few weeks.
The Brewers can't fill all of those needs, but in Lucroy and Smith, they can go far enough that the Indians should be willing to part with one of their near-ready outfielders, both of whom were recently promoted to Triple A and recently made BA's midseason list—Frazier at No. 21, Zimmer at 26.
Dealing either would be painful, but it's not as though the Indians would be getting back rentals. The 30-year-old Lucroy is making just $4.25 million this year, with a no-brainer $5.25 million option for 2017. After an injury-plagued 2015, he's hitting .301/.362/.486 with 13 homers and a 124 OPS+. The 26-year-old Smith, who didn't make his 2016 debut until June 2 due to a torn ligament in his right knee, has pitched just 19 1/3 innings with a 3.72 ERA and 8.4 strikeouts per nine, though his track record is stronger than that; he'll be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter. Hence the need for the Indians—who are rarely this aggressive on the trade market—to include some real talent.
Beyond the two outfielders, Cleveland’s system has some young, projectable arms with high ceilings such as Brady Aiken, Rob Kaminsky, Justus Sheffield, Michael Clevinger and Triston McKenzie. Including one of them in such a package, sweetened with lesser prospects, would probably be needed in order to get this done. If the two outfielders are untouchable, and they may well be—perhaps because Cleveland wants to give at least one of them a look this season—another option the two sides would consider would be to headline it with one of the higher-end pitchers from that group (Aiken, Sheffield and Clevinger all made BA’s midseason 100) and to include Gomes, who may not be a factor again this season but who’s under club control through 2021.
4. Yankees trade Carlos Beltran to Astros for low-level prospects
New York just dealt Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, and while the Bombers are four games above .500 for the first time all season, the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds estimate their chances at winning the AL East at just 2.5%, with an 8.5% chance at claiming a wild-card spot. The Yankees did that last year, only to lose to the Astros in their home park—their lone postseason appearance since 2012—and it only deluded the team into thinking it had enough to go further in 2016. This dull, rickety team needs to keep going with its selloff, and Beltran, a 39-year-old pending free agent, is ripe to move to an AL team given that he's enjoying a resurgence at the plate (.309/.350/.554 with 21 homers) but has become a defensive liability (-28 DRS in rightfield in his three seasons in pinstripes).
What better place to send him than Houston? The Astros' contingent of DHs—primarily Evan Gattis, with some Preston Tucker and resting regulars cycling through—has combined to hit an anemic .186/.279/.328. Beltran played for the Astros in late 2004, bopping 23 homers in 90 regular-season games and adding an eye-opening eight more in 12 postseason games, the start of his impressive October resumé. He won't cost Houston A-list talent; the Yankees aren't getting the next Zack Wheeler out of this one, but they should come away with at least a live arm (David Paulino? Michael Feliz?).
5. Padres trade Andrew Cashner to Orioles for low-level prospects
Thanks to a powerful lineup that's bashed an MLB-high 149 homers, the Orioles own the AL's fourth most potent offense (4.82 runs per game) and the league's best record (58–41) despite a rotation that's collectively managed a 4.94 ERA (12th in the league). Only Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman are preventing runs at a better-than-average clip, and the expensive Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo are smoldering like the Springfield Tire Fire. Baltimore needs rotation help, and to get it, the team will have to absorb some risk.
Enter Cashner, a 29-year-old righty who's scuffling along with a 4.74 ERA, a 4.94 FIP and a gaudy 1.5 homers per nine—numbers that aren't guaranteed to drop with a move from Petco Park to the rough-and-tumble AL East. Cashner's making just $7.15 million this year, his final one before free agency. The Orioles and Padres have already discussed him this week, and the two teams were said to be close on a deal that would have sent Melvin Upton Jr. to Baltimore in exchange for Jimenez, lefty prospect Garrett Cleavinger (a 22-year-old and 2015 third-round pick currently in high A ball), righty prospect Jhon Peluffo (a 19-year-old Colombian in the Gulf Coast League) and cash. O's owner Peter Angelos balked over the amount of money involved, however, and the Padres sent Upton to Toronto instead.
Maybe feelings are too hurt to revive a move between the two teams, but the Padres at least know what they like in Baltimore's system. And unlike the Upton deal, this move wouldn't require significant financial ballast to consummate.