Salary Dump Mock Trades: Moving Around Money to Benefit (Both?) Teams
The Giants - Mariners trade to kick off 2024 was an exciting one to say the least. It was not reported, it was not expected, and it was fun. I have personally been a big fan of moving around constricting contracts when they are becoming a nuisance to teams. I do not see many bad contracts as untradeable, but the ones that are, have to be long-term (4+ years remaining). Here I will be exploring and concocting a few trades between teams that could benefit from moving or swapping contracts that are becoming unfavorable to them.
Note: I will conclude every trade with a “Who Says No?” section. In all of these trades, both teams would likely say no, so I will only be speaking about the team I think would be most displeased with the mock trade.
Angels Receive: Kris Bryant OF/3B (5 Years - $26 mil AAV rem.), Kyle Freeland LHP (3 Years - $12.9 mil AAV + 4th Year Vesting Option $17 mil), Robert Calaz OF (#15 Prospect MLB.com)
Rockies Receive: Anthony Rendon 3B (3 Years - $35 mil AAV), Tyler Anderson LHP (2 Years - $13 mil AAV)
Analysis: If you follow me on X (@McLovinOC8), you may have already seen a shorter explanation for this trade. There are many ways to look at this trade and provide reasons for both teams to say no. I am going to focus on why each team might say yes instead. First, we need to break down the basic financials real quick.
In terms of luxury tax, the Angels are taking on $38.9 mil AAV for three years, $43 mil in year four if Freeland’s vesting option is achieved (or they accept the club option if the vesting option fails), $26 mil AAV in years four and five if Freeland is no longer on the team and they just have Bryant on payroll. The Rockies are taking on $48 mil AAV for two years and $35 mil in year three once Anderson comes off the books. From the outside, it looks like the Rockies are taking on more money in less years, so why would they give up a prospect. Let’s be realistic, the Rockies do not care about the luxury tax salary (the Angels will), they are not going to come close to hitting the tax cap. Payroll salary is really what we need to look at.
How much money will each team actually be paying because of this trade? The Angels will be taking on $136 mil over the next five years of Bryant’s contract and $47 mil guaranteed to Freeland which raises to $64 mil if his vesting option goes through. In all, the Angels will be taking on $183 mil guaranteed and up to $200 mil. The Rockies will owe Rendon just under $116 mil plus $26 mil to Anderson. The Rockies will pay $142 million over three years, but be rid of poor contracts in time for a competitive window to open. Like I said before, taking on more luxury tax salary for the Rockies is not as important as shedding $41 mil and up to $58 mil. They pay more over a three year period in exchange for not paying anything after that. For the Angels to take on that much payroll, they need a good reason to do so. Calaz is a good answer.
Regarding Calaz, I do not know what the Rockies' feelings on him are, but he is going to take time to develop. He likely does not reach the bigs for at least four years, more realistically five years unless he never struggles. At just 18 years old, the Rockies have young players in their MLB outfield already in budding star Nolan Jones and defensive specialist Brenton Doyle. Their farm system (courtesy of MLB Pipeline) features five outfielders currently older and ahead of Calaz. That list consists of Yanquiel Fernandez (#2), Jordan Beck (#4), Zac Veen (#5), Sterling Thompson (#6) and Benny Montgomery (#8). Hunter Goodman (#12) is listed as a 1B/C but Fangraphs has him slated on the current Rockies Roster Resource as their projected starting right fielder. Calaz becomes an expendable prospect to help free up a Rockies team that might be able to open up their window of contention sooner than many may believe. He provides the Angels with more youth in their farm after consecutive drafts going college heavy taking players that will rise quickly.
Bryant’s stint in Colorado has not gone according to plan. He has been injured a significant amount playing in only 82 of a possible 324 games which is just over 25% of total games. While he was on the field, he produced in 2022 but 2023 was a different story. The young talent that should be emerging in two to three years could make the Rockies weary of holding on to the next five years of Bryant's contract. Instead, acquiring Rendon would mean that he would become a free agent within a year of their prospects reaching the MLB. Rendon has declined physically due to injury in the recent years, but a move to Coors Field could help offset his decline and allow him to maintain average offensive production while taking over Bryant’s projected role at first base or split time between third base and first base with Ryan McMahon. Tyler Anderson began his career with the Rockies and has had extremely similar numbers to Freeland. Anderson saw a deep regression after a phenomenal breakout campaign with the Dodgers in 2022. The Rockies know what they have gotten out of Anderson and know they are bringing in a starting pitcher with experience pitching in Coors Field.
For the Angels, a healthy Bryant could become a big contributor in the middle of their lineup. Freeland and Anderson have been very similar pitchers for the majority of their careers. With the emergence and development of Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval and Griffin Canning, Freeland brings a reliable veteran presence that has averaged over 27 innings in the six complete MLB seasons he has pitched. He slots in as a SP4 for $12.9 mil AAV which is cheaper than some other SP4s have received in free agency. Even if Bryant does not remain healthy, or Freeland does not benefit from a change of scenery, Calaz remains a great insurance policy as an exciting prospect full of potential.
To sum it up, the Rockies have a multitude of young position players working to take over the big league roster. Eventually, the long term contracts will become less productive cogs in the system while taking up a lot of money for a small market team. The Rockies are ditching longer term contracts and more money for potentially less talent/production and giving up a prospect because it lines up with the timeline of their youth. The Angels are acquiring longer term contracts and more money in exchange for more upside from healthy players. They are rewarded with a high upside prospect for taking on so much more money. The longer term contracts fall more in line with the Angels’ current timeline since their young players are five years away from free agency and they do not have much talent pushing the MLB roster after depleting the farm through trades. A change of scenery from these players could prove to be beneficial for both clubs. It opens up the possibility of raising their values enough for future trades, providing further benefits for these teams. Their contracts remain too large for that to realistically happen, but we’re speaking in fantasy land right now so anything is possible. A more realistic trade for the Angels would be for White Sox OF/DH Eloy Jimenez who’s contract and injury history has significantly lowered his value
Who Says No? This might be the surprise to many, but I actually think the Angels would be the more likely team to say no here. They are taking on an extra two years of money for similar production of players they already have. They would be free of this money if they just ride out their current contracts. Bryant hasn’t played too many more games than Rendon in recent years. This trade only makes sense if the players involved are healthy and the realistic chance of that happening is fairly low, which only hurts the Angels.
I don’t think acquiring just one prospect (albeit one prospect I really like) would be enough for them to take on all that added money. Adding cash considerations to the Rockies package defeats the purpose of the exercise so that is out of the question. The Angels would probably need another prospect in this deal, someone along the likes of Aaron Schunk MIF (Rockies #28 prospect) who could help them more immediately as infield depth, or Isaiah Coupet (Rockies #26 prospect) an intriguing bullpen arm drafted this year. I won’t go into these prospects much because I already think the Rockies would have a hard time parting with Calaz and having to give up even more would push them over the edge.
Edit: This was all written before Rendon’s “light hearted” comments about shortening the season via the Pat Vita show. It seems that regardless of the reasons above, Angels fans might give up (or take on in this case) whatever it may be to get rid of Rendon’s presence in LA.
Astros Receive: Andrew Benintendi OF (4 Years - $15 mil AAV), Grant Taylor RHP (#13 Prospect MLB.com)
White Sox Receive: Lance McCullers RHSP (3 Years - $17 mil AAV)
Analysis: This is probably my favorite trade on this list. I guess in my mind it’s the one I could actually see happening. It can be hard to think that after such a rough year, Andrew Benintendi could come back and be a productive hitter player again. He is one year removed from having a 2.8 WAR and 122 wRC+ with the Royals and Yankees. His big pitfall is the defense. Much of Benintendi’s career has provided subpar defense in left field. His bat has to carry him if he will continue to be successful, barring any defensive improvements. This is where he gets some leeway. Minute Maid Park has the second smallest left field in MLB. Since 2020, Benintendi has been slightly better moving back than inward, and significantly worse laterally to 1B (his armside) than laterally to 3B (his gloveside). A positioning adjustment plus less ground to cover could help improve his defense alone. Any other adjustments the Astros might make could only help him after such a down 2023. The Astros have a need in the outfield, even despite Chas McCormick’s outstanding breakout campaign in 2023. McCormack is currently projected to be their starting left fielder, but can slot in at center if Benintendi is acquired.
In a new environment, Benintendi could be a prime bounceback candidate. While the defensive progression is not overly realistic, an offensive progression is. His sweet spot % remained among the league’s best, ranking in the 96th percentile. His K rate and whiff rate both lowered slightly, but improved nonetheless. On the flip side, his BB rate and chase rate regressed a little more than slightly. They remain steady and are nothing to worry about at the moment. As long as he continues to keep putting the bat on the ball, he will be a productive complimentary piece to a currently right handed heavy Astros lineup.
A bounce back season from Benintendi provides a lot more flexibility for the Astros. They have a lot of young outfielders on the cusp of making the big league roster in the next year or two. Tucker has two years left and McCormick has three years left. Adding four years of Benintendi will shore up an outfield for the foreseeable future. A resurgent Benintendi could yield a trade possibility for the Astros as could trading a cheaper McCormick for some pitching help or a bigger first base bat. The last and I would imagine the least likely scenario is trading top prospect Jacob Melton for some major league reinforcements/starting players.
In addition to McCullers, the Astros also have Luis Garcia on the injured list on his way back from Tommy John Surgery later in 2024. He’ll join a staff anchored by Verlander and Valdez. They are looking for a rebound year from Cristian Javier (who made some adjustments down the stretch), further development from Hunter Brown, a continuance on J.P. France’s strong debut and further depth from Jose Urquidy who remains another bounce back candidate following a rough 2023 campaign.
Outside of Justin Verlander, McCullers is the oldest starting pitcher (barely older than Framber Valdez), the only one that doesn’t have any minor league options and not to mention he is far and away the most expensive starting pitcher. If the Astros were looking to clear any depth and money off the books to help improve their team, McCullers looks to be the obvious choice.
Between McCullers and Benintendi, the high upside starter is going to be more valuable. The Astros, like the Angels, are going to need something in return here. Since there is not a significant difference of money to even out the trade, the Astros are losing performance value while taking on an additional year of money. While Benintendi is making more money for the remainder of the contract, the Astros are actually shedding $2 million of luxury tax salary by trading away McCullers. Like I said above, this is not a large enough difference to deter the separation of production.
With that said, the White Sox have drafted a plethora of college arms in the last few drafts. Additionally, they acquired three pitchers drafted out of college at the deadline. There is an abundance of older pitching, getting ready to pitch in the bigs. There is always the old saying “You can never have enough pitching,”. While that looms overhead as a truer statement than ever, the White Sox have the depth to move one arm in order to clear a larger contract for a controllable player with good upside.
Grant Taylor works on both sides for a couple reasons. He sports a deep arsenal with four pitches that can grade out above average which will be attractive to the Astros. He will continue to develop as a starter but we are largely uncertain how he will play out as a starter since he never got the chance over a full college season. After injuring his elbow in a preseason scrimmage, Taylor had to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. We never got to see how he transitioned to being a starter or if he could handle the workload over a season. There is definitely reliever risk here; but a plus arsenal with improved showing of command (and presumably feel) pre-injury gives promise that an effective relief pitcher could be his floor.
He is very similar to Seth Keener in these respects. However, Taylor has a more complete repertoire than Keener with better starting potential, but the injury makes everything a wildcard. The injury is the difference maker here. Signing him for slot value in the second round gives a glimmer of insight to how much the White Sox probably believe in Taylor just as they do Peyton Pallette. Taylor will make his pro ball debut sometime in 2024 and is the reason I think the White Sox may rather part ways with him over Seth Keener. In reality, Taylor or Keener would fit the trade and probably does not move the needle enough for a deal to fall through.
Who Says No? There should not be much of a surprise here that the Astros are definitely the team that hangs up the phone first. The White Sox are giving up an outfielder with four years at $15 mil/year coming off a more than underwhelming 2023 season. It wouldn’t be very smart for the White Sox to try and sell low, so I doubt an injured McCullers would net a Benintendi plus two prospects type return if any prospects involved are in the Grant Taylor realm of value. If the Astros do not see Benintendi rebounding to be a productive player, there is no way they make this trade.
We made it clear that the Astros have a group of young outfielders waiting to make it to the MLB roster soon. The one thing none of them have is an MLB track record like Benintendi. He has proven that he could be productive as recently as 2022, when he was not with an organization going through as much turmoil as the White Sox. Nonetheless, with the outfield prospect capital the Astros command, trading none of them to acquire Benintendi is purely a win now move that could have repercussions down the line if Benintendi does not turn it around with the Astros. In addition to that, the Astros are taking on a pitching prospect that is not a sure fire starting pitcher. He could end up as a reliever, or not recover from Tommy John surgery making this a complete doozy for the Astros.
All these reasons the Astros would say no without even mentioning how much they have liked McCullers over the years. Even in 2022, his eight starts from late in the season were very productive. This trade completely hinges on how much the Astros believe in Andrew Benintendi, and how much they are in win now mode. If they really wanted to trade Lance McCullers Jr., they would probably rather get more prospects than MLB players in exchange. Paying McCullers $17 mil in 2024 to be injured for roughly at least half the season might be a tough pill to swallow considering how productive their current rotation has been. He remains an easy trade chip to help improve the current MLB roster if the Astros want to part ways.
Mets Receive: Christian Vazquez C (2 Years - $10 mil AAV), Randy Dobnak RHP (2 Years - $1.85 mil AAV + 3 club options for 2026-2028 up to $21.5 mil), Maybe a Prospect (I am personally a big fan of
Twins Receive: Starling Marte OF (2 Years $19.5 mil AAV), Tylor Megill RHP (5 Years of Team Control)
Analysis: Before we start this off, I want to emphasize that this trade is contingent on the Mets trading/releasing Omar Narvaez after reports that they were looking into moving him. Dropping to one catcher on the MLB roster would be an interesting move. In the event that Narvaez is not on the 2024 Mets, I would expect them to sign or trade for someone. That is exactly what we do here. Filling as I perceive, needs for both teams in this trade.
In the otherworldly chance you saw my 2023 Trade Deadline Plan for the Mets, you would know that I tried pushing a Starling Marte trade last year. To put in bluntly, this was not a contract I was ever in favor of, and one I specifically would like to remove at any point before 2025. Those who are looking for ways the Mets can free up money may rejoice at this trade, while those that are optimistic about Marte’s return to the Mets might accidentally spit their drink all over their computer as they see this trade proposal. Now that we have gotten the pleasantries out of the way, how about I introduce these players to their new fan bases.
I will start with Starling Marte since he is the premier player in this trade. This trade is very similar to the Astros trade; if the Twins are not optimistic about Marte’s return (like the Mets appear to be), they will not stay on the phone very long. The Twins have not appeared to have a significant amount of operating room for this offseason. Swapping Marte’s and Vazquez’s contracts would allow the Twins to acquire a starting caliber outfielder that can plug right in to left field for essentially $10 mil or so. Matt Wallner becomes a very good fourth outfielder and potentially an opportunity to play first base over Alex Kirilloff or platoon at first base with Kyle Farmer. If Max Kepler does not return next year, Wallner slots right into the open corner outfield position alongside Marte and Buxton. Marte has two years left on his contract and without any prominent outfield prospects close to the show, he solidifies the Twins’ outfield for the next couple seasons.
Another possible scenario is that acquiring Marte allows the Twins to pursue a Jorge Polanco trade. This frees up a Polanco trade since they now fill a need in their outfield and are still taking on about $10 mil. It was previously reported that the Twins would be looking for a swap instead of just a salary dump for either Polanco or Farmer. After a Marte trade, they could pursue a trade for potentially a cheaper backup catcher and reliever to fill out the rest of the roster while simultaneously cutting payroll. This would slot Edouard Julien back in at second allowing Wallner to platoon DH with Farmer. I will not go too much into Marte since he was injured last year and as I said before, this is assuming the Twins are optimistic and believe Marte will bounce back. However, outside of Carlos Correa and Kyle Farmer (depending on who is pitching that day), this Twins lineup is almost completely homegrown. Another veteran that has been in MLB and around a few teams could be a valuable clubhouse presence. That is more of a longshot and by no means, a specific or lone reason the Twins should pursue a trade for him. Marte, when healthy, will bring a very steady presence hitting second in the lineup for this Twins team. 2022 saw Marte peppering the sweet spot leading to a 92nd percentile ranking. He does not walk or strikeout much nor did he hit the ball very hard in 2022. On the defensive side, he boasts a strong arm with proven ability to be an above average outfielder. What Marte really brings to the Twins based on his 2022 season is a consistent player that is not riding the waves of the season. If they provide him with consistency (i.e. not moving him in the batting order regardless of performance as he did with Buck Showalter), he will provide it back.
Trading Marte would in theory boost the Mets already announced rough $10 mil budget for the rest of the offseason to $20 mil. This late in the offseason, that does not sound like it would matter too much. However, we have seen multiple relievers sign recently for $10 mil AAV by themselves. This would allow the Mets to go after a more high profile reliever, maybe bring David Robertson back plus another reliever. They could also stick with their initial approach to signing a reliever or two on the same budget, then allocate the rest of the new money towards a DH (J.D. Martinez or Jorge Soler).
Tylor Megil is the piece the Twins receive to offset the onset salary from Marte. In a somewhat similar situation to Angels fans, for much different reasons, I get the vibe on ‘X’ that many Mets fans are over the Tylor Megill era in Queens. I could be off-base with this one, but regardless, he does not currently fit into the starting rotation for 2024. In the next year, between the stronger free agent starting pitching class (in my opinion at least), and the prospects the Mets have on the brink of MLB, Megill does not fit into the plan as anything more than depth. In short, he is expendable, young(ish), controllable/cheap, and has more MLB experience than Louis Varland. While on the Mets, his value probably does not get any higher unless he reemerges in the rotation due to injury. Between Jose Butto, Joey Lucchesi and David Peterson when he returns, I do not think Megill is the first choice. Might as well strike while the iron is still warm in this case. Meanwhile, Megill would shore up the fifth rotation spot for the Twins. They have quietly done a good job developing arms in the past few years and just because Megill and the Mets lab have not clicked yet, does not mean the Twins can’t unlock something in him.
Megill toyed around with a splitter last year that he only threw five times. He does a great job killing spin and ride on the pitch. I have to imagine it becomes a more prominent pitch in his repertoire in 2024. He also throws his FF way too much. He uses it 55.7% of the time and it just gets hammered. He needs to throw it far less. That is the obvious part right? Yes, but from watching Megill’s starts over the years, you understand why. Megill gets so deep in counts and works from behind a lot which is reinforced by his subpar 54.3% first pitch strike percentage in 2023.
After seeing Megill’s flow of all his pitches in each count, everything starts to make more sense. Megill got into 1-0 counts more than 0-1 counts, we knew this. He went from 1-0, to 1-1 counts far more than 2-0 counts (which is good obviously). On the opposite side, when starting off 0-1, Megill ended up in 1-1 counts again more than 0-2 counts (not good obviously). Most of the time, through two pitches, Megill was ending up in a 1-1 count regardless. Winning two of the first three pitches of an at-bat is crucial to seeing success as a pitcher. Unfortunately, Megill ended up in more 2-1 counts than 1-2 counts. The patterns started to show with this flow chart. When behind in the count, Megill looks to be throwing his fastball over 60% of the time when behind in the count. 0-1, 1-2, and 2-2 counts are the only times his fastball usage is below 50%. He becomes a lot more predictable, add on the fact that his fastball shape is not good and his slider and curveball movement profiles are similar and we do not have a great recipe for success.
In summary, he has had to rely on the fastball to get him back into at bats when he continuously falls behind. It makes me question if he is comfortable throwing any of his breaking or off-speed pitches for strikes or working backwards in at bats. The fastball just is not going to cut it and a change is necessary.
Megill is 6’8” getting elite extension (7’3”) that has more so been a north south pitcher. His pitches do not have much horizontal break. His fastball has average movement and his slider is more of a backspin, north to south type pitch than a sweeping east to west pitch. He further throws a curveball with more depth and vertical break than the slider. He rounds out the arsenal with a changeup that (need to finish this part when I’m home)
This will be pure speculation, but I think it is worth exploring what developing a sinker looks like for Megill. His current movement profiles might indicate that a change to a sinker could also require revamping at least one other pitch in his arsenal (most likely the slider). He does not need to abandon the FF, but significantly lower the usage and adding a sinker gives him another avenue to attack with velocity. His FF VAA is slightly below average and adding a steeper sinker could help him a lot. His splitter could blend well with a sinker addition. Since his curveball performs better than the slider, a small tweak just to have more horizontal movement on it will help. He does not need to make any drastic changes necessarily, he can maintain the vertical break and create a more slurvy pitch just to differentiate from the curveball. This is still a pretty complete repertoire overhaul, but even smaller changes like making him a FF, curveball, splitter pitcher instead of a FF, slider, changeup pitcher can change his outlook. There is enough to work with Megill that I think he still has a good bit of intrigue to bet on. It goes without saying that if he cannot improve his command, or at least become more comfortable throwing breaking and offspeed pitches for strikes, all this will be for naught. He does throw an above average percent of pitches on the edge of the zone, so I think the pitch usages and tendencies alone can be a difference maker for him as well.
Christian Vazquez becomes the new backup catcher in New York with the reputation as a plus defensive catcher. As Francisco Alvarez continues to move towards being a franchise cornerstone, Vazquez would minimally serve as a bench bat and more so to defensively keep the Mets above water whenever Alvarez is not playing. The one key for the Mets acquiring Vazquez is to get his whiff and K rates back up to what they were in 2021 and 2022. Omar Narvaez had a very poor year for the Mets, so even if Vazquez does not hit in his playing time, the Mets are not losing production. Vazquez just needs to focus on improving getting the bat on the ball and limiting Ks. That will lead to productive outs which is good enough considering his value comes defensively.
Randy Dobnak is a structural fit for the Mets to get in return. He will replace Megill as starting pitching depth. The difference here is that Dobnak is not ready to currently pitch on the highest stage. We know he can and has performed at the MLB level, but not since 2021 where he struggled mightily along with being injured. This is notable because Dobnak will start the year in AAA and the Mets will not have to worry about whether or not to offer him a roster spot. He has three minor league options so they can practically bring him up as they please. Dobnak is under contract for two years at $1.85 mil AAV against the luxury tax. After that, there are three club options at $6 mil, $7 mil and $8.5 mil.
Some people might be turned off by trading Starting Marte (and offloading his $19.5 mil AAV contract) and Tylor Megill, two major league starting caliber players for Christian Vazquez and Randy Dobnak. Keep in mind, this is a lot more of a hindsight and forecasting trade than immediate value trade for the Mets. It’s easy to think the Twins are filling two needs while the Mets are opening another need. The Mets are presently in an unideal situation and both the above statements are true. Opening up $10 mil for next offseason (or $20 mil if they can trade Vazquez) will matter a lot to this front office when players like Corbin Burnes, Juan Soto and more hit the open market.
This would leave the Mets with a necessity to fill one outfield spot with a cheap, replaceable player to most likely hold down a spot until Drew Gilbert, Jett Williams or Luisangel Acuna are ready to come up. This could mean that DJ Stewart can open the year as a platoon outfielder with Tyrone Taylor. Other cheap outfield options include a platoon with Robbie Grossman, or more full time options like Adam Duvall, Tommy Pham or Michael A. Taylor.
Who Says No? The obvious answer here is the Mets. Although I think it’s closer than some may think. We already made it clear that for the sake of this scenario, the Twins are optimistic about Marte’s return. Regardless of that, I think taking him on for $10 mil plus probably signing another catcher considering their very limited spending would be a hard sell for them.
Anyway, the Mets are still looking to contend. Trading away a starting outfielder this late in the offseason will not be comfortable. I will say, it would absolutely be easier to make due with, if the Mets signed one of the aforementioned outfielders prior to trading Marte. This makes the most sense since the Mets were exploring the outfield market even after signing Harrison Bader.
Regardless, replacing the production they expect out of Marte this year will be difficult. With the current state of the team, I doubt they consider moving him without receiving a productive big leaguer in return. The Mets could very well look for a prospect in return, I think that might be a little rich for the Twins (again considering their lack of spending this year) if the Mets get to ditch all of Marte’s contract regardless of Megill’s (minimal) added value. Marte’s value is just about as low as it could be. A strong start to the season would make a better return guaranteed. The stars would have to align for this deal to go down, including organizational direction from both teams for this trade to make sense on both sides. Ultimately, both teams are looking to contend and stripping one team of an expected impact bat does not bode well for the prospects of a trade.
Marlins Receive: Randy Arozarena OF (3 Years of Arbitration)
Rays Receive: Edward Cabrera RHSP (5 Years of Team Control), Tanner Scott LHP (1 Year - Proj. 5.6 mil), Dax Fulton LHP (#10 Prospect MLB.com)
Analysis: This last trade is a little more fun based and far less expensive between two teams that have had rumors around the headlining players of this deal. This is not a big contract on either side, but both teams are looking to move some money around. Specifically the larger contracts on their specific payroll. The Rays and Marlins have done frequent business over in recent years and now with Peter Bendix becoming the Marlins new POBO hailing from the Tampa Bay ranks. The Rays were reported to be willing to listen to Randy Arozarena trade offers due to his definitely increasing arbitration salary in the coming years. The Rays would be able to get a great package for Randy and this trade is comprised of a team looking to move a salary, and a team looking to add an impact bat. Randy is the sole premier bat on the trade market right now and I would think he’d practically need to be ripped away from the Rays for them to trade him right now. A haul is what it would take, and a haul is what they receive.
Similarly to the Mets, trading Randy in this package might look puzzling. They are trading him to offload his future arbitration contract even though his salary right now is very affordable. Then, on top of that, they are taking on Tanner Scott’s projected one year, $5.5 million salary (spotrac.com) to Arozarena’s $8.1 million. Even though you may not like the end result, hear me out.
I will start with the players the Rays are receiving since everyone probably knows how Randy Arozarena is. Edward Cabrera is the headliner here. He turns 26 this year and has five years of team control. He has just under 200 innings over three years so staying healthy will be his biggest obstacle. Before a shoulder injury on June 14th (the day after his worst start of the season), Cabrera had a 29.4 K rate to a 14.0 BB rate with a 14.9 HR/FB rate. Post injury, in eight games (6 starts), Cabrera saw his K rate drop to 23.8% and his BB rate increase to 17.5%. These are both poor regressions, but while maintaining his GB rate over 55%, his HR/FB rate was cut in half, down to 7.4%. That is a serious gain, enough to represent a 4.36 FIP compared to his pre-injury 4.11 FIP. Outside of a 1st percentile walk rate year long, the poor HR/FB rate pre-injury was detrimental to Cabrera. Typically, the HR/FB rate is higher in ground ball pitchers, but in tandem with the walks, it becomes a killer for him. Which is why cutting that number in half allowed him to maintain a similar level of production per FIP to offset the serious regression in his K and BB rates.
The point through all of that is he is capable of striking out up to 30% of batters and giving up just 7.4% HR/FB as a ground ball pitcher. This is a small sample, but an adjustment was made, and now with a clean bill of health to start 2024, the Rays will be in charge of making his pre- and post-injury success come together. The Marlins are also known as one of the more elite pitching development teams in the league, so I would also expect a better season from Cabrera regardless.
I see ace potential and have been a fan of Cabrera for a long time. He sports an elite changeup that is coupled with a fastball and followed by a curveball that was a bit unlucky in 2023. Do not let a -6 run value turn you away from a pitch that had a 38.0% whiff rate and roughly a .260 xwOBA between 2022 and 2023. His fastball also gets pulled in the air a significant amount. He does not have poor IVB nor does he lack extension, but he comes from a higher release point. A slightly below average VAA above average makes sense when seeing that Cabrera’s FF generated a sub 20% whiff rate. Adjustments are constantly being made and I would imagine helping the FF see less damage will be a priority for him. His sinker performs even worse which leads me to believe the FF is the focus.
Surely an unproven 26 year old with some injury history will not be enough to acquire Randy Arozarena. The next big leaguer part of this trade which is what kind of makes this a money moving deal. Tanner Scott’s $5.5 million projection. Not only is Scott the most expensive lefty on the Marlins roster, he has the least amount of years left (1). Including Scott, the Marlins have four good lefty relievers. Scott is their best LHP which plays into acquiring Arozarena. On top of all that, the Marlins and Scott did not come to an agreement for a 2024 arbitration salary. Rumors have flurried throughout the offseason with multiple teams interested in him.
Here, the Rays jump on the opportunity to acquire one of the best left handed relievers in the league. It takes a quick look at his savant page to figure out why. Beyond his career 30.8% K rate, Scott took major strides towards improving his BB rate and xOBP. The Rays will acquire him with one year remaining as well as the opportunity to retain him, or trade him at the deadline to a team in severe need of bullpen help. This would not be the first time we see the Rays trading away talent at the deadline when they are ahead and I would not be surprised if that is what happens here. If that were to happen, The Rays would essentially get a young arm with frontline potential, just over half a season of an elite LHP, a prospect we will talk about shortly, and whatever return they get for Scott at the deadline. That does not sound like a terrible trade package, the question is, would anyone offer more for Arozarena? Probably.
Anyway, Dax Fulton is the last piece of this trade. He shows good upside and is still just 22. Recent draft pick Thomas White is most likely way too rich for the Marlins to give up in this package. Noble Meyer is not even near the realm of available if Cabrera is part of this trade either. Between Meyer and Fulton, both are coming off elbow injuries and Fulton is two and a half years younger than Meyer. The Marlins were naturally very excited about Meyer whom they selected 3rd overall in 2020. Considering both players having undergone Tommy John surgery, I believe they still hold Meyer in a much higher regard to Fulton. Of course, I could be wrong but then swapping Fulton for Meyer in this trade is fine unless the Rays like Fulton significantly more as well.
Fulton is an imposing 6’7” LHP that can really spin it. He has been a high strikeout pitcher with a career 27.6% K rate. He saw his career BB rate inflate to 10.0% after a rough 2023. However, in a healthy and complete 2022, Fulton showed promise of average control with an 8.3% BB rate.
He uses his size and steep angle of approach to make the most of his 93.5 mph FF. A curve with no present hump out of the hand blends well with his FF. Fangraphs gives his FF a 50 grade with some interesting traits that could elevate its performance. Fangraphs also gives Fulton a 60 grade curveball and notes that it is in the 78-84 mph range. Pipeline on the other hand grades a 60 curveball as well as a 55 slider. There is more faith from Pipeline of Fulton having two more distinct breaking pitches. The Rays could look to differentiate a slider from the curveball to give Fulton two plus breakers with different movement profiles. This would allow the changeup to, at worst, stay average as the third offspeed offering. Having two plus offerings would elevate Fulton’s profile significantly since he may only have a steep, average FF.
Randy Arozarena has been one of the young stars of the league since his historic 2020 playoff performance. In three full seasons, he has three 20/20 seasons. A dual threat that has slowly and continuously lowered his K rate and increased his BB rate, Arozarena is definitely a star. Those same three years have produced a total 10.7 WAR and a 3.2 average WAR. However, he has not lost a step due to gaining muscle, but the once above average defender in 2021 has regressed heavily in left field to become one of the worst defenders in the game. He has shown that he is capable of posting positive OAA and arm value metrics. He has not slowed down and his arm strength is the same. If a team is going to trade for Arozarena, they should be wary of this or be adamant about getting him to improve defensively. These drastic changes in his defense are the difference between him having a 3.3 WAR in 2023 and topping his career high 3.7 WAR in 2021. The flip side of the coin shows that Arozarena’s offensive peripherals have gotten better with time leading to big gains across the board with his statcast metrics. Even as a bottom of the barrel defender, Arozarena can produce a 3.3 WAR each of the next three years as he enters his prime. Improving his defense would just be the icing on the cake for the Marlins.
Who Says No? If I made a poll for this trade, I would expect the Rays to be the overwhelming choice. Rightfully so, as I think other teams could offer a better package. This is largely due to the Marlins adding in their closer to this deal instead of a better prospect. To be completely honest, I think the Marlins might also decline this trade. Truthfully, I think who says no to this trade first, depends on how much the Marlins value defense.
The Marlins are dealing from a position of strength trading three pitchers for an impact bat. An impact bat they desperately need to keep competing for a playoff spot. If the Marlins value defense in the outfield, they could see Arozarena as a future DH and not want to give up that much value for a DH. Impact bats with this much control do not appear on the market often so this is still a worthwhile trade for the Marlins.
The Rays have had some outfield production issues and with the vacancy left by Wander Franco as shortstop, the Rays are probably looking for bats up the middle of the field as opposed to more arms. You can never have enough arms, but the Marlins do not have the offensive pieces to make up a strong enough offer. Either way, I do not think the Rays decline an opportunity to negotiate for an arm with as much potential as Cabrera, plus more.
The final verdict is the Rays hanging up without a stronger offer, one preferably involving some kind of bat first prospect.
Brewers Receive: Jose Berrios RHSP (5 Years - $18,714,286 AAV + Opt Out after 2026 - $48 mil remaining), Danny Jansen C/DH (1 Year of Team Control - Est. $5.1 mil)
Blue Jays Receive: Christian Yelich (5 Years - $23,888,888 mil AAV), Cash Considerations ($25 mil) or Tyler Black 3B/1B (#4 prospect MLB.com)
Analysis: I will not deep dive into this one. I thought about it based around the likelihood of Corbin Burnes’ departure within the next year. The Brewers will lose arguably a top five pitcher in MLB and need to try replacing that value somewhere. Jose Berrios is not an elite starting pitcher, but he has elite durability and has been productive in MLB for years now. The Brewers, another elite pitching development team, could look to elevate Berrios’ performance so he is a top of the line starter. Either way they add a mainstay in their rotation that can give them 30+ starts a year to a staff that is severely lacking without Burnes.
The Blue Jays also have one year left with Danny Jansen who was great in 2023 when he was on the field. Blocked by Alejandro Kirk, Jansen was relegated to a platoon DH role for the Jays. Milwaukee’s lineup structure would pave the way for Jansen to get more at bats. He could also split catching duties with William Contreras as well. Jansen’s expiring contract has made him the product of trade rumors since the 2023 deadline. This is why I do not see catching depth or backup to Kirk as a reason they would not trade him. William Contreras’ development to become an elite defensive catcher would negate the need of any real kind of platoon. The addition of Rhys Hoskins to first base, also clogs up the lineup and gives Jansen the same role he had in Toronto, a platoon or maybe full time DH. This makes him less valuable to the Brewers. Note: I initially came up with this trade before Hoskins agreed to a deal.
Yelich’s resurgent season makes him a good target for the Blue Jays if he can play left field for them. Despite his age, he still put up a 4 OAA in 2023. The speculation that he moves to DH in 2024 is mainly because of the three young athletic plus defensive outfielders that are expected to break camp with the team in Garrett Mitchell (returning from injury), Sal Frelick, and Jackson Chourio. Yelich still has the chops to play the outfield and would be able to split time in the outfield and at DH for the Jays.
After retaining Kevin Kiermeier for one more year, the Blue Jays have a full outfield for just 2024. A plethora of infield prospects and a lack of outfield prospect depth leads the Jays with minimal internal options without Kiermeier in 2025 and beyond. Yelich can slot into left field and Varsho can move to center.
I put cash considerations or Tyler Black in this deal. I think the potential of having that big of a contract with having to attempt resigning Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on the horizon, the Blue Jays may opt for the money ($5 mil/year, effectively making them pay Yelich the same they were paying Berrios) over the prospect. That would not really make this as much of a money moving trade since it would be like swapping identical contracts. Yelich’s contract is bad enough though to create enough separation to require a prospect of Black’s caliber to make the trade fair. That is if you agree with Baseball Trade Value’s systems. I do not personally think the Brewers would even think about trading Yelich and Black for Berrios and one year of Jansen (a platoon DH).
Who Says No? The reason I made this trade an honorable mention was because I do not think the fit is good for both teams. With how scarce the Brewers rotation will look without Burnes and seeing Yelich in a DH role with a huge contract, I looked to the Blue Jays who are looking to add an impact bat and have four starting pitchers that are long time MLB vets plus Manoah. On the surface, it looks like there is a deal to be made, but in reality I do not think this could work.
First and foremost, I think the Brewers highly value the experience and mentorship Yelich could provide their young position players (especially Chourio) to help them develop and acclimate to MLB. On the Blue Jays’ side of things, how long will they expect Yelich to maintain his bounce back performance to actually pay off his contract? His four win season in 2023 more than paid it off, but he would need to average about three wins per year to make that contract worth it. Considering he had not come very close to doing that in 2021 or 2022, there should be some skepticism about it happening the next five years.
For the Brewers, losing Yelich with the possibility of losing Berrios too makes this a far more risky trade for them. After 2026, Berrios can opt out of the remaining 2 years and $48 million of his contract. Of course, whether he opts out will depend on how well he ages and how much inflation affects the future markets. Berrios’ current track record and the current market rates would indicate he would opt in to those remaining years. He will be just 32 when he has to make that decision, so a bigger deal could definitely be on the table for him. Furthermore, if the Brewers end up giving the Blue Jays the cash considerations stated above, that would essentially be like paying $23 million AAV for Berrios. If they are willing to pay him that much, they will probably just look to sign a better pitcher (in their eyes) for around $30 mil AAV.
There are multiple reasons why both teams would say no to this trade and I do not think there is a chance any trade like this between these two teams is ever be discussed. Since I spent time researching these trades, I left it in and ran with it for the fun.
I hope you all enjoyed this fun hypothetical twist from reality. This was a nice detour from my usual Mets writing and had a lot of fun coming up with these crazy ideas. Feel free to let me know what you thought of these trades, what you thought was the most realistic trade, and any other big contract ideas any of you have that I did not include in this article. As always, have a great rest of your week, and I will see you next Monday!