The Artful Auctioneer
Some consider Mike Baxter the greatest cattle auctioneer of all time. That should change between now and July 31, when Jon Daniels needs to claim the title. It’s time to scrap a lost season and use veteran talent to stock this team for a full youth-movement rebuild.
A note on two players: Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus. Would I love to unload both these players? Absolutely. Is it doable? Not for value. Their contracts are boat anchors, especially with both having down years for multiple seasons now. Even with a weak SS crop in the AL, Andrus’ contract makes him impossible to move unless we eat a large portion of it, which (as we saw with ARod) can sap flexibility for years. Same goes for Choo, whose lack of consistency negates his potential value in a bat-barren market. If I could find teams willing to take either contract AND deal decent prospects, I’d jump, but I can’t find a roster or team that looks desperate enough to take a flier on either.
So which pieces fit where, and what can they bring in return?
October is an arms race; we’ve seen it three out of the last six years, with the Giants riding an amazing stable of arms to a mini-dynasty. The one legitimate trade piece that this team can dangle in front of contenders needing a pitching infusion is the Trimble Tech product. He brings postseason pedigree with Milwaukee, and both his Adjusted ERA+ (138, good for 7th in the AL) and fielding-independent pitching (3.69) made him a decent All Star candidate.
Now, I’m not big on package deals; in this case, the whole is less than the sum of the parts, so breaking up and using single major pieces makes sense. Throwing in a certain positional filler, especially when a number of prospects or young major leaguers are moving, can balance the scale, but multiple marquee players in a single deal is riskier. With that in mind, here’s who I’d target for Yovani.
First and foremost is Kansas City; a solid offense, albeit in need of another power bat, and one of the best defenses in big league history, they just saw their opening day starter optioned to AAA (who was just recalled yesterday due to Jason Vargas needing Tommy John). This is a team that might be one piece away, and a veteran who is performing well and can bring post-season credentials could easily be that piece. In what is now a flooded pitching market (assuming Detroit decides it truly is a seller and puts David Price earnestly on the market), Yovani is a value-laden piece that won’t cost the farm, but can bring back true value.
In looking at what KC can send back, we have to consider their strengths, which come behind the plate, in LF, 1B and 3B.
I push for high value in mid-season trades, and so I’m digging on Raul A. Mondesi.
From Baseball America:
“Mondesi’s tools are outstanding. In the words of one scout: “Every now and then you see flashes. You could put a lot of 70s and 80s (on the 20-80 scouting scale) on him. But Mondesi has to improve his approach and his ability to work counts to get a chance to take advantage of his excellent bat speed. He is a 70 runner who will turn in top-of-the-scale 80 times occasionally. He has a strong arm, soft hands and excellent shortstop actions, and he’s sure-handed for his age (.963 fielding percentage). He projects as an above-average defender at shortstop. The wiry-strong Mondesi has a chance to one day hit 12-15 home runs as he matures.”
Mondesi showed in this year’s All Star Futures game that his speed and defense are legit, and he has solid pedigree, as the son of former Rookie of the Year and Dodger All-Star Raul Mondesi. He’s young and needs polish, as well as better disciple, but his tools are legitimately major league today, even in his teens.
Now, for Gallardo alone, he’s unlikely to be available, as his speed and glove make him a reasonable replacement for Elvis even at 18 or 19, but throwing in a young player with Gallardo might yield Mondesi plus a decent second-tier prospect.
My proposal to KC would be Gallardo and Yeyson Yrizarri from Spokane for Mondesi and lefty John Lamb, a Tommy John survivor who is showing good stuff in Omaha and has back-of-the-rotation potential. It might be a push, again, but Gallardo puts the lure of last year’s missed ring squarely in the realm of reality of KC, and we know first-hand what teams will do to chase that jewelry.
Hold off on the tar and feathers, please. I know exactly what he is: a future Hall of Famer, a member of the Rangers Franchise Four, and a reminder that, even with a bum left hand and diminished bat, defense doesn’t slump. But it’s entirely for all that that I deal Adrian. He’s an icon on a team without anything memorable to its name. His talents are wasted on this team, as he’ll be nearly 40 before this team contends for a deep October run again. His value is probably as high right now as it’s going to be in any season or offseason to come. He’s probably the only player on this roster, with the possible exceptions of Fielder and Gallardo, who can bring a deep minor league haul.
So who deals for Beltre, and for what? In looking across the true contenders, understand Beltre’s greatest value comes in the AL, where he’ll be able to spell the innings at third with occasional DH days. That cuts potential suiters in half, and perhaps more if you don’t want to deal him in the West, and I don’t. So among those that are left, and including heavy players in the National League that would take him regardless of age and wear-and-tear, I see two legit players:
Baltimore (I know, I know, but hear me out) and the Mets.
First, Baltimore. Yes, I did get the memo that they have their best all-around third baseman since Brooks Robinson hung up his spikes in Manny Machado, but you may forget Manny is not a natural third baseman. He’s a natural stud, meaning he took to third like no one has a right to, but he came up and appeared to be invaluable as a shortstop. Moving Machado back to short, displacing the replacement-level J.J. Hardy, and sliding the bat and glove of Beltre may be the one factor that gives Baltimore a shot at staying with the Yankees in the East and in the wild card standings. Assuming both Baltimore and Manny are amenable to the move (and I am making that reasonable assumption for this article), Baltimore would be trading for value, not out of desperation. They can hang tight with Machado at 3B and Hardy at SS, but they’re markedly better with a Beltre-Machado duo sealing up the left side of the infield and giving plus power from both positions.
To deal Beltre, Baltimore’s lack of desperation doesn’t lower my asking price. I’m going to need youth, and a good bit of it, for a future Hall of Famer with some prime meat still left on the bone. I start with a top-tier prospect, and for me, that conversation doesn’t get off the ground without the name Dylan Bundy, the injury-plagued righty who still brings plus stuff post-Tommy John.
He’s a flyer because his potential comes with a still-unresolved shoulder problem. Here’s Baseball America’s take:
Bundy maintains his spot atop the Orioles farm system despite tossing just 53 innings over the past three injury-plagued seasons. Bundy rocketed to the majors during his professional debut in 2012 but has been grounded by a variety of arm ailments since, including Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for all of 2013 and half of 2014, and an unresolved shoulder injury that ended his 2015 campaign in late May after just eight starts. The 2011 fourth overall pick looked like a potential front-end starter at times this season with Double-A Bowie, showing three potential plus pitches that include a 91-95 mph fastball, deceptive changeup, above-average slider and solid curveball. The Orioles hope he can begin throwing again this fall.
Tommy John is common enough it almost doesn’t scare me, but any unresolved, undiagnosed shoulder issue really worries me. So, while I still push for Bundy, I’m buying in bulk.
In addition to Bundy, I’m going to need Zach Davies. Here, again, is Baseball America on the anti-Bundy (that is, a healthy, proven commodity):
The most consistent pitcher in Norfolk’s rotation during the first half, Davies keeps hitters off-balance with an 88-92 mph fastball and an above-average changeup while mixing in an average slider. Ranked among the International League leaders in ERA, Davies throws all his pitches for strikes and could be in Baltimore’s plans for a September callup.
Davies is small (generously listed at 6’, 150) and pitches off his changeup, with his fastball sitting 88-91. That said, his stats this year bear out his pitch selection maturity, and speed and location pitchers are much less impacted by size than their fireballing counterparts. Billy Wagner is one of a kind, basically. But remember the one advantage of small size in a pitcher: the more compact a delivery, typically, the more repeatable. Small can often equal consistent, which can be a huge plus to defeating slumps.
Last, I bet on pedigree with Mike Yastrzemski. Carl’s grandson, to quote BA:
“has been viewed as an overachiever for much of his pro career, a hard-worker with baseball smarts who gets the most out of average at-best tools….He hit to all fields with some power with solid pitch recognition. Yastrzemski credits a strong mental approach as a key to his success. Scouts say he’s baseball’s equivalent of a gym rat who plays hard and never takes a pitch off. His smarts and savvy play at the plate, where he was able to often work himself into fastball counts; on the bases, as his average speed plays up; and defensively, as he takes good routes and closes on the ball well. His arm rates solid-average but is very accurate, helping him rack up 15 assists.”
He’s struggled with bumps and bruises that have hurt his production after a breakout season last year, but I’ll gamble on an overachiever as a third trade piece.
Now, the Mets are a much more needy trade partner, given David Wright’s injury troubles this year. Their third basemen are in the bottom third of MLB in WAR, and Beltre brings power and glove to bridge Wright’s return, then offers both a spell to the former All-Star and an option to move him across the diamond and protect him from the bruising that comes as a third base prerequisite.
As with Baltimore, I’m pushing for three legit prospects (or one MLBer and one prospect) from NY.
In looking at a rotation that John Smoltz claims is better than the 1990’s Braves, I have to start there. The Mets will be loathe to deal, but they have an embarrassment of riches, and need a bat. So, I push for local kid and Thor impersonator Noah Syndergaard. He may be a reach, but he’s a mid-rotation luxury the Mets may not be quite able to afford compared to power at a corner position.
From the system, I’m only going to get one other piece with Syndergaard straight up with Beltre, and it’s not going to be true crème, so I’m digging a bit and pulling out Matt Reynolds, an infield hybrid and only the third-best SS in the Mets system. Reynolds “evokes comparisons with Mark Ellis and Mark Loretta for his hard-nosed, gamer approach and his background as a college shortstop who probably fits best at second base in the majors. He challenged for the minor league batting title in 2014, ranking sixth while hitting .343/.405/.454 at Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas. Reynolds projects to be an average hitter, owing to his balanced, line-drive stroke and quiet hitting approach. He doesn’t loft the ball for home-run power, but he can put the ball in play to the gaps for doubles, particularly to right-center field. He’s a below-average runner, though quick enough to make all the routine plays at shortstop, with the sure hands and average, accurate arm to play any infield position capably.”
By adding in a small piece with Beltre – Kyle Blanks as a bench bat with power comes to mind – I might be able to get a third piece. I push for Brandon Nimmo, who Baseball America pegs as “more of a contributor than an all-star, but his handsy, athletic swing works for him, and he plays center field well enough to stick there. He doesn’t show much power in games at Double-A Binghamton and isn’t a burner, but he compensates with strong strike-zone knowledge.”
My fallback position for Syndergaard is Jon Niese. He’s a consistent lefty, but not valued as high by the Mets as their stable of younger arms, and is probably a much more legitimate target. If I pull the Niese-for-Syndergaard replacement, I am going to ask for more on the prospect front. Instead of Matt Reynolds, I hang with Nimmo and ask instead for either of Michael Conforto or Amed Rosario. Conforto is one of the most touted Mets hitting prospects in years, although he’s a left field-only outfielder with limited defensive skills.
But in terms of hit tool, MLB.com says “Conforto has an advanced approach at the plate and is more than willing to draw walks. He has a good amount of raw power from the left side of the plate and should be able to translate it into good home run totals. He should be able to continue to hit for average, even if his swing looks like it’s designed for power, with some upper-cut to his swing.
A one-two tandem of Conforto and Gallo would be a good Hamilton-to-Cruz facsimile by 2018 for an October run. Similarly, Rosario has the potential to be what Elvis was when productive; again from MLB.com:
“Always extremely young for his level. Rosario was thought to be one of the best prospects in the Appalachian League the New York-Penn League the last two years.. He continues to make progress in all areas on both sides of the ball. He has kept the same approach at the plate, driving the ball to right-center field and keeping his hands inside the ball well. He’s added strength but doesn’t sell out or get pull happy for homers, though the power will come and he’s continuing to learn the strike zone. He runs well and plays an above-average defense with a rocket for an arm at shortstop.”
How realistic are these deals? Well, the Gallardo deal truly could happen; KC needs the infusion, and the haul, while pushy with Mondesi, is still doable for a World Series contender. Each Beltre scenario is a stretch, especially prying Syndergaard away, but to rebuild into an October contender by the end of this decade, the Rangers have to push the envelope.
A note on Prince Fielder: he’s a younger piece than Beltre, with more limited value as largely a DH-only player now, and I keep him as a cornerstone bat protecting the youngsters like Joey Gallo, Nomar Maraza, and Jorge Alfaro.
What do you think? Can we get these done? Should we? Other suggestions I’ve missed? Should Cobra be on the block, and what could he bring? Is Mitch a lefty bat some contender would bet big on?
Let me know what you think, and we’ll see how things play out between now and next Thursday.