With the Winter Meetings beginning on Sunday, I posed a question to the TCB writers: What's a realistic trade you can see the Astros making next week, and what's an outlandish one that could happen, but probably won't?
The answers are thought-provoking insights into the psyches and preferences of deeply philosophic souls. And if they aren't that, well then, they're fun fodder for flaming in the comments.
A realistic one: Brett Oberholtzer and James Hoyt to Pittsburgh for Mark Melancon and a PTBNL.
The Pirates have been much better in recent years, but they're still a small-market team with tight budget constraints, and Melancon is probably going to get $8 million in arbitration this year, his final year before free agency. They also lost J.A. Happ to the Blue Jays recently. So sell them on Oberholtzer replacing Happ (Pittsburgh has been doing some nice reclamation work on guys like him recently, Happ himself being a notable example), and Hoyt, while maybe not being as good as Melancon, being a strong, MLB-ready reliever who will make the minimum for several years. For the Astros, they get their sure-thing late-inning relief upgrade while losing a back-end starter prospect who has no place on the current roster and an unproven prospect they got as a throw-in in the Gattis deal. Sure, maybe Oberholtzer breaks out and Hoyt becomes dominant, and the deal doesn't looking great in later years, but those are the risks a contending team has to take sometimes to acquire coveted talent. When you consider some of the insane price tags being talked about for the fire-breathing elite closers, Oberholtzer and Hoyt is almost peanuts by comparison (and yes, I like Hoyt).
An outlandish one: Jon Singleton, Mark Appel and Vincent Velasquez to Atlanta for Freddie Freeman
Let's. Get. Dangerous. Freeman to the Astros was already discussed by the clubs earlier this off-season, but they apparently died out quickly. One assumes that means the Braves said the "C word" and Luhnow hung up laughing. Maybe things pick up again when they're all face-to-face in Nashville next week. Maybe the Braves realize that Freeman, while excellent, has also had some injury issues, isn't an elite slugger like the prototypical first baseman, and is owed a large sum of money in the coming years. Maybe the vaunted Braves pitching development system looks at Appel and Velasquez and gets excited. They can just plug Singleton right into first base and let him have his shot; unlike the Astros, the Braves won't be serious competitors next season (that's still a little weird to type). Singleton's ceiling, in terms of overall value, is roughly Freeman anyway (a lesser hitter but likely with more power). Velasquez already has MLB rotation experience and could easily turn into a rock-solid #3 starter, and Appel is in AAA and has the big first-overall pedigree. It's a move they can sell to the fans as being about the very near future, when they open that new ballpark, and that's been their MO since John Hart took the reigns. All three guys could easily spend the entirety of 2016 on the MLB roster. For the Astros, they finally answer the first base question; Singleton is gone, and Carter won't be far behind him. Freeman will be the everyday first baseman, and if Gattis isn't hitting after a couple of months, A.J. Reed will be waiting in the wings. Freeman is an elite natural hitter with good power, and a lefty that can be placed nicely in the right-heavy top of the Astros lineup (Altuve, Springer, Correa and Gattis all being righties). Freeman is also quite young for an established hitter; he'll be just 31 years old in the final year of his contract, and if he's hitting like he has in the past, the $22 million per annum he'll be making at the time will certainly be reasonable, especially when you consider what prices are likely going to be for hitters of his caliber that many years of contract inflation down the road.
Realistic trade I could see happening at the winter meetings...
HOU sends: SP Akeem Bostick RP Zac Person
MIL sends: RP Will Smith
Smith is a decent insurance against losing Sipp to free agency. He has posted 11.61 or better K/9 each of the last three years (and has a career 13.35 K/9 mark against LHB), took a big step forward last year, and actually has pretty good numbers against RHB too. Bostick and Person are both young minor league guys that Stearns knows well, having been a part of acquiring each of them already once in 2015.
An outlandish trade that I'd be happy to see...
HOU sends: LF Derek Fisher 2B/OF Tony Kemp 1B Jon Singleton
CLE sends: 1B Carlos Santana RP Zach McAllister
I know Chris doesn't like Santana, but I do. His switch hitting ability to draw walks at around 90-100 a season would be pretty valuable, in my opinion. He's signed for $8 million and change in 2016 and has a team option for 2017, giving us quite a bit of flexibility with him in regards to AJ Reed's development. He had a down season (110 wRC+, .331 wOBA) in 2015 and he's 29, so that may be a sign of regression from him or it might be an outlier - prior to 2015, he'd never posted a wRC+ below 120 or a wOBA below .341. In any event, he'd be an upgrade over Chris Carter and we'd only be locked into him for a year. If it proves that Reed is indeed ready by June, then Santana is also better than Evan Gattis.
Zach McAllister is an interesting guy. Converted to a reliever in 2015, his fastball jumped from 91 or so on average to almost 95 mph on average. His K/9 jumped to 10.96, his LOB% was 78.9% in 2015, his 3.00 ERA compared reasonably well to his 3.15 FIP and 3.26 xFIP...all told, he seems a good guy to sneak in and nab.
For the Indians' part, I don't know that they'd make this deal. But I do know that they're sorely lacking in left handed power, and Jon Singleton certainly has that as a replacement at 1B for Santana. Michael Brantley is hurt and will miss the first few weeks of 2016...enter Tony Kemp. And Derek Fisher is a well-regarded left handed hitting outfield prospect with power. So, it's outlandish, sure, but I could certainly argue its merits.
Realistic trade: Cincinnati sends Aroldis Chapman to Houston for Preston Tucker and Akeem Bostick.
Tucker is the odd man out in the outfield. He'd hurt to give up, but without knowing if he'll ever get out of his platoon hole, he's worth a gamble. Bostick is exactly the kind of high-upside, far-away arm that gets a deal for a one-year rental done. Maybe he works out, but a lot of times, those guys fall away. Anyone heard from Thomas Shirley this year?
Outlandish trade: Dodgers send Yasiel Puig to Houston; Oakland sends Brett Lawrie to LA; Houston sends Carlos Gomez, Frances Martes to LA; Houston sends Jon Singleton to Oakland; Dodgers send Zach Lee to Oakland.
This one hurts. But trades on this scale have to hurt.
My thinking is this. Puig is a troublemaker and doesn't fit in well to the Dodgers clubhouse. Allegedly. If you ask Andy Van Slyke. Houston takes a chance that their loose clubhouse lets him play easily again and that he'll stay healthy.
Oakland gets involved to find a taker for Singleton, supplying a displaced Lawrie in the process. The A's pick up a cost-controlled DH or first baseman and another starting pitcher to add to their supply.
The Dodgers land a third baseman who's got a year more time left than Justin Turner, who they could flip in a separate deal. They also get a more versatile outfielder to plug into their lineup who's as exciting as Puig without being quite the clubhouse headache.
The return may look small for the Dodgers, but they get an impact player in the outfield to replace the one they're losing and an upgrade at third base. Oakland gets some more cost certainty in the future and Houston takes a gamble on a young player with tremendous upside.
It's outlandish, but couldn't you see it working?
I say this a lot because I mean it, but I really don't like trade talk like this. I'm always out of my element.
That said, for the purposes of the exercise, I'll try this:
Realistic (I guess): Astros get Brad Boxberger and Blake Bivens. Rays get Jon Singleton
It would probably be inaccurate to describe the Astros' first base situation as a 'logjam' because they don't have any actually-established players there, but they do have a lot of players vying for a limited amount of playing time. The Rays were dead last in all of baseball in wRC+ from the first base position, and Singleton provides them a low-cost option at least through the 2018 season, and possibly beyond, just in time for Casey Gillaspie to ripen. Meanwhile, the Astros get a good, pre-arb, experienced closer in Boxberger, plus a lottery pick in Bivens - a former fourth-rounder who has shown improved control and a heavy groundball tendency in the Appy League.
Outlandish (I guess): Astros get Jimmy Nelson. Brewers get A.J. Reed, Francis Martes, and Patrick Sandoval
David Stearns and Jeff Luhnow hook up one more time: Houston gets a young, cost-controlled pitcher with one of the most valuable curveballs in baseball. Shades of McHugh and Kuechel. The Brewers get a solid power-hitting first base prospect who's a bit more of a sure thing than Denson, and who could take over once Adam Lind moves on to free agency and a talented young pitcher who won't be hitting arbitration as they enter their competitive window. They also get a lottery ticket in Sandoval.
Realistic: Astros get Aroldis Chapman. Reds get Tony Kemp and Derek Fisher
At some point the price for Chapman has to go down, and this feels reasonable to both sides for me. Reds get Kemp as their long term replacement for Brandon Phillips, and a solid outfield prospect in Fisher who should start the year at Double A. Astros get the hard throwing closer they've been coveting.
Outlandish trade: Astros get Aroldis Chapman and Joey Votto. Reds get Mark Appel, Vince Velasquez, JD Davis, Tony Kemp
Maybe Jeff Luhnow wants to watch the world burn. This would address the major holes that hamstrung the 2015 club (bullpen, lack of OBP, lack of prime lefthanded bat). Votto is a huge risk because of his age and contract, but he's a major upgrade for the Astros for the next few years. Do the Reds value Mark Appel enough to make him the centerpiece of a major trade?
Boy, I would do that second trade in an instant (I'd do the first one too, probably).
I would definitely do the first one, and I'm not even a big proponent of trading for Chapman
If everyone on our side likes that Chapman deal that means it's not realistic. Fail.
I had to answer my own question, right? I'm hard-pressed to beat some of the ones above. But here we go...
Realistic: Astros acquire RP Aroldis Chapman and a PTBNL from the Reds in exchange for CF Tony Kemp and SP Michael Feliz.
I don't think that the Reds will get their reported asking price of multiple elite prospects due to Chapman's one year of team control remaining. Feliz is a MLB-ready Top 100 prospect that can immediately compete with Jon Moscot and John Lamb for the fourth or fifth spot in Cincinnati's rotation. He also fits in nicely in a depleted bullpen when Homer Bailey returns from Tommy John surgery, and is under club control for many years. Kemp makes logical sense for a club that will be short an outfielder by 2017 (assuming they aren't super-high on 27 year old rookie Adam Duvall and they trade an extraneous and increasingly-disappointing Jay Bruce). Additionally, with Brandon Phillips done after 2017 as the regular 2B, Kemp would make a superb replacement. The Astros get one of the best relievers in the game for two excellent prospects that are at positions of depth.
Outlandish: Astros trade Preston Tucker, A.J. Reed, James Hoyt, Mark Appel, and Alex Bregman for Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, and a PTBNL.
Would I really do this trade? I dunno. Maybe. The Astros would land one of the top starting pitchers in baseball, but only for one season. They'd add a great reliever, but only for one season. But the Astros (we think) value batted ball velocity. And when healthy, Ryan Zimmerman has one of the highest in the majors. And when healthy, he's a 30-home run threat with high batting average and on-base percentage. At a 1B position that seems without an immediate solution. And he's under a fairly reasonable contract through 2018, with club options through 2020. But oh, the risk. At least the Astros have the option of "resting" him at DH a couple times a week, to preserve his body. Oh, and this deal would be contingent on physicals.
The Nats would be receiving a huge talent infusion for two departing players after 2016 plus Zimmerman, who can be immediately replaced (with some bust risk) by Reed. Tucker is a decent successor for Jayson Werth after 2017, and in the meantime he's a strong backup outfielder and possibly even first baseman, if the Nats feel differently about him than the Astros apparently do. With this trade, the Nats gain a club-controlled reliever to replace Storen and two "top two" drafted players to dream on.
This one hurts. I don't know if I'd do it for sure, if I'm the Astros. My gut tells me the Nationals certainly would not.. But I daresay that it would make the 2016 Astros a fearsome team that should be among the most likely to win the World Series.