Three Trade Targets That Make Sense for the Rangers
After three losing seasons, the Rangers are ready to turn themselves back into a contender. They have some exciting players in-house already and some external help may catapult them into playoff contention.
The Rangers have lowered payroll over the last couple of seasons, but are willing to shell out money this winter to acquire top-level talent to help balance and deepen the roster.
In the free agent market, they are reportedly in on free agent third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson, as well as National League Cy Young runner up Hyun-Jin Ryu. Third base and starting pitching are obvious priorities for Texas, but there are other areas of the roster the Rangers should try to upgrade before spring training, primarily catcher, first base, and center field.
There are options in the free agent market for catcher, including a potential reunion with Robinson Chirinos. When it comes to first base and center field, those positions are much more thin with valuable options that would truly help make Texas a contender. This is where Texas may have to turn to the trade market.
Looking at the trade market is often speculative. The three players fit the criteria of what the Rangers need, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are in on any of these players yet.
The Cubs are a big-market club that may be looking to retool this offseason. They have a thin farm system and need to either offload some expensive veterans or deal valuable players to get back a return of prospects.
Dealing Willson Contreras would satisfy the latter for the Cubs. Contreras is only 27 years old and is one of the most valuable catchers in all of baseball. He has a career slash line of .267/.350/.470 and has hit 20 or more home runs in two of his four seasons in the big leagues. His right-handed bat would also help balance out the Rangers' heavy-lefty lineup.
Contreras is more than capable behind the plate as well. He was right at league average at pitch framing and threw out 29% of base stealers last season, which is three percent higher than league average.
Club control is another valuable asset with Contreras. He is entering his first year of arbitration and is projected to make $4.5 million in 2020, and isn't eligible for free agency until 2023.
Contreras would cost quite a bit in prospects, considering his age and three years of club control. At least two of the Rangers' top ten prospects and then some would have to be included on a deal for the two-time All Star. Not to mention, there will be other teams that have deeper farm systems like San Diego or Tampa Bay that could outbid Texas and are in need of a catcher.
Of the three players mentioned here, Contreras would cost the most. It's a price the Rangers aren't likely to pay, but it's not out of the realm of questioning.
There has been plenty of talk around the league if the Mets will shop Smith around or not, who put up some impressive offensive numbers in a limited role. Smith slashed .282/.355/.525 with 11 home runs and a 0.7 bWAR in only 197 plate appearances in 2019.
Smith was also a decent fielder at first base in 2019, albeit in a small sample size. In only 118 innings at first base, he owned a 1.000 fielding percentage and was a +1 in DRS.
Dominic Smith was at one point the top first base prospect in baseball. His performance in his first two seasons of big-league action was pretty underwhelming, paving the way for Pete Alonso to earn a chance and the rest is history.
Smith's a left-handed hitter, which Texas already has a surplus of, but is only 24 years old. His most valuable asset is trade talks is the amount of club control left. He isn't eligible for arbitration until 2022 and won't become a free agent until 2025.
It's tough to tell how much the Mets could get for Smith. They surely don't have to deal him, but they would be remiss to not test the market and see how badly teams want a young first baseman with a high ceiling. On the flip side, potential suitors may call the Mets' bluff and only offer so much. The Mets could find themselves in a back-and-forth with several suitors.
Texas would surely have to part ways with at least one, if not two top-ten prospects, preferably a starting pitcher like LHP Brock Burke or LHP Joe Palumbo for the Mets. Add in another top-30 prospect like RHP Tyler Phillips or OF Juan Pablo Martinez and the Rangers could compete for a potential deal.
This is probably the Rangers' most realistic target of the three. He's the oldest and has the least amount of control of the three players. The main question is if the Pirates are willing to deal one of their best players.
Starling Marte is a two-time Gold Glove winner (both as a left fielder in 2015 and 2016), has stolen 30 or more bases in five of his eight major league seasons, and is coming off career-highs in slugging percentage (.503) and OPS (.845) in 2019.
Marte is a prototypical center fielder, who can also man either corner of the outfield. He has elite speed and a very strong arm from all three fields.
With a career slash line of .287/.341/.452, he would immediately provide a large uptick in offensive output from the center field spot, without sacrificing too much defensively. He is also a right-handed hitter, which Texas would prefer to help balance out the lineup. Marte is, however, coming off a down year in center field, sporting a -9 DRS with a .984 fielding percentage.
Marte is under club control for the next two seasons. He's owed $11.5 million in 2020 and has a club option of $12.5 million in 2021. The timing of his contract could work perfectly with the timing of Rangers' center field prospect Leody Taveras, who may be ready some time in 2021.
The Pirates cleaned house this winter and hired former Red Sox executive Ben Cherington as their new general manager. It's unclear what direction Pittsburgh will go or what standards they set when selling veteran players to other teams.
A good starting place for a player of Marte's caliber is two top-15 prospects. The Pirates covet young pitching and would probably start off by asking for RHP Hans Crouse or RHP Cole Winn, but may settle for aforementioned Joe Palumbo or Brock Burke. They might ask also for an outfield prospect like Bubba Thompson or third base prospect Davis Wendzel.
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