Potential NBA Style Trades

FanGraphs recently published an article, the gist of which is that, because MLB teams are self-separating into “haves” (contending teams) and “have-nots” (rebuilding/tanking teams) and because teams are essentially treating the $197 million luxury-tax threshold as a hard cap, there is a market for “have” teams that are near or exceeding the luxury-tax threshold to dump the salary of an overpaid veteran onto a “have-not” team in exchange for also sending the “have-not” team a prospect. This type of trade basically amounts to the “have-not” team buying a prospect from the “have” team and is more commonly seen in the NBA, where cap space can be just as much of an asset as draft picks or prospects.

FanGraphs did a great job of explaining the logistics of this type of trade and why it could be beneficial for certain teams, but what FanGraphs didn’t do is provide examples. That’s where I come in! As a result, here are three NBA-style trades that would be beneficial to both parties involved and why:

Matt Kemp 2.jpg

Los Angeles Dodgers receive:
RHP Blake Treinen

Oakland Athletics receive:
OF Matt Kemp
OF Yusniel Diaz
RHP Dennis Santana

A lack of bullpen depth posed a problem for the Dodgers during the 2017 World Series and could again pose a problem for the Dodgers in 2018. Blake Treinen amassed 1.3 fWAR in 2017. At 0.9 fWAR, Treinen is projected to be Oakland’s best reliever in 2018 and would project as the third-best reliever in the Dodgers’ bullpen. Treinen signed a one-year/$2.15 million contract for 2018, his age-30 season, to avoid arbitration and has two more years of arbitration remaining following the 2018 season.

After playing home to Matt Kemp from 2006 to 2014, the Dodgers re-acquired Kemp from the Braves this offseason in a trade designed to provide the Dodgers with salary relief for the 2018 season. And, given that the Dodgers owe Kemp $36 million over the next two seasons and that Kemp was below replacement-level in 2017, the Dodgers are looking to trade Kemp in order to obtain even more salary relief. That being said, Kemp slashed .276/.318/.463 with a 100 wRC+ in 2017 and still could provide value as a bat-only player in 2018. However, the Dodgers would most likely have to give up at least one high-level prospect in order to facilitate any Kemp trade.

As a result, in exchange for giving up Treinen and taking on Kemp and his contract, the A’s would receive Yusniel Diaz and Dennis Santana, the Dodgers’ fifth- and fifteenth-ranked prospects, respectively, according to Keith Law.

The Cuban-native Diaz got his first taste of affiliated baseball in 2016, slashing .267/.326/.415 across two levels. In 2017, Diaz’s slash-line improved to .292/.354/.433, earning himself an end-of-the-year promotion to double-A and a non-roster invite to major league spring training in 2018. According to Keith Law, Diaz can play all three outfield positions but profiles more as an average to above-average corner outfielder.

A converted infielder, Santana also ended 2017 in double-A, posting a 4.11 ERA with 129 strikeouts and 45 walks in 118.1 innings across two levels for the entire season. According to Keith Law, Santana sits 94–96 mph with a slider that can touch 90 mph but projects more as a reliever because of command/control problems (4.4 BB/9 throughout entire minor league career) and a lack of a viable third pitch.

Why this deal makes sense:

For the Dodgers, it’s simple: they’re decreasing their 2018 payroll by a net of roughly $16 million, while acquiring a quality bullpen piece in the process. Shedding roughly $16 million in payroll would increase the Dodgers’ space under the luxury-tax threshold to roughly $33 million. $33 million under the luxury-tax threshold would give the Dodgers enough room to sign one of the offseason’s high-prized free agents, such as Yu Darvish. And, again, while losing two highly-regarded prospects is always difficult, the Dodgers are stacked at all three outfield spots for the foreseeable future, with Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Toles, Enrique Hernandez, Trayce Thompson, and top-prospect Alex Verdugo all ahead of Diaz on the depth chart, while Santana’s base-on-ball problem limits his upside.

As for the A’s, even though giving up Treinen will hurt the team in the short-term, Diaz and Santana will provide added depth to a just-okay farm system (14th-best according to Keith Law), while Kemp could platoon with left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce in left field (or, more likely, DH against lefties while projected starting DH Khris Davis plays left field). Plus, the A’s have the payroll flexibility to add roughly $16 million in 2018, for their 2018 projected payroll currently sits at roughly $81 million, the lowest in the MLB.

Hanley Ramirez.jpg
Hanley Ramirez (Getty Images)

Boston Red Sox receive:
1B Jose Abreu

Chicago White Sox receive:
1B/DH Hanley Ramirez
1B/3B Michael Chavis
RHP Travis Lakins

The Red Sox were linked to Jose Abreu earlier in the offseason, with CF Jackie Bradley Jr. as possible trade bait. Alas, an Abreu-for-Bradley deal never came to fruition, and the Red Sox are still looking for a power bat to fill the void in the middle of their order. It seems as if the Red Sox are unwilling to go above and beyond their five-year/$100-million contract offer for J.D. Martinez, so why not give up prospects (and shed salary!) to acquire Abreu? Abreu amassed 4.1 fWAR in 2017 and is projected for 2.8 fWAR in 2018, his age-31 season. Abreu is also set to earn $13 million in 2018 and will be arbitration-eligible again in 2019, after which he becomes a free agent.

Hanley Ramirez is set to earn $22.75 million in 2018, his age-34 season, with a $22 million option for 2019 that vests if Ramirez amasses 1,050 plate appearances between 2017 and 2018. Ramirez got to 553 plate appearances in 2017, meaning he needs 497 plate appearances in 2018 for his 2019 option to vest. Consequently, it is quite possible for the Red Sox (or any other team that employs Ramirez) to determine whether or not Ramirez’s 2019 option will vest simply by controlling his playing time. Given that Ramirez was below replacement-level in 2017 and is projected for only 1.3 fWAR in 2018, my guess is that whichever team employs Ramirez in 2018 will not want that option to vest. Ramirez is certainly not worth $22 million per year, but he is not completely void of value either, most likely as a bat-only player.

In exchange for giving up Abreu and taking on Ramirez and his contract, the White Sox would receive Michael Chavis and Travis Lakins, Boston’s second- and ninth-ranked prospects, respectively, according to Keith Law.

Drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft out of high school, Chavis has always had great raw power but was limited by his propensity to swing-and-miss. As a result, he didn’t hit well in his first three years of pro ball, failing to post an OPS above .800 in any of those three years and striking out a total of 263 times in 960 plate appearances (27.4%). However, Chavis burst onto the scene in 2017, slashing .282/.347/.563 with 31 homers and only 113 strikeouts in 524 plate appearances (21.6%) across high-A and double-A. Chavis hit so well in 2017 that he received a non-roster invite to major league spring training in 2018 (if it’s not boycotted).

Lakins was drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 draft out of Ohio State. According to Keith Law, Lakins flashes “three above-average to plus secondary pitches and can touch 94 with his four-seamer,” but he can’t seem to stay healthy, having thrown only 161.1 innings in three years of pro ball after elbow injuries ended his 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Why this deal makes sense:

For the Red Sox, it’s easy: they receive two years of the power bat that they’ve been looking for and shed roughly $9 million off their payroll, which would put them under the luxury-tax threshold for 2018. And, while losing two highly-touted prospects always hurts, Chavis is currently blocked by Rafael Devers at third base, and Lakins is injury prone.

As for the White Sox, even though they’re giving up Abreu and adding $9 million in payroll for 2018, Abreu is under contract for only two more years, during the midst of the White Sox rebuild, while the White Sox 2018 payroll is currently projected at roughly $85 million, which is roughly $40 million under their average payroll from 2013 to 2017. In layman’s terms, the White Sox have no use for Abreu and have money to blow. In return, the White Sox receive Abreu’s short-term (Ramirez) and long-term (Chavis) replacements, while also adding a pitching prospect with number-two starter potential when healthy.

Jacoby Ellsbury.jpgJacoby Ellsbury (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

New York Yankees receive:
3B/OF Nick Castellanos

Detroit Tigers receive:
OF Jacoby Ellsbury
LHP Justus Sheffield
RHP Albert Abreu

After trading Chase Headley back to the Padres, the Yankees’ projected starting second- and third-basemen are two out of the following three players: Ronald Torreyes, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar. Torreyes, Torres, and Andujar are inexperienced to say the least, combining for 520 major-league plate appearances, 512 of which coming from Torreyes. And, while Torres and Andujar are both top-100 prospects according to Keith Law, the Yankees could use some experience at either second- or third-base on a team that may very well contend for a World Series title this year.

That’s where Nick Castellanos comes in (assuming he’s willing to shift back to his natural position of third-base). Castellanos has been an above-average hitter in each of the past two seasons, with a wRC+ of 118 in 2016 and 111 in 2017, while posting fWARs of 1.8 and 1.7, respectively. Castellanos may also have some untapped power potential, for his 7.5 “barrels” per 100 plate appearances in 2017 was equal to that of the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger. Castellanos recently signed a one-year/$6.05 million contract for 2018, his age-25 season, and will be arbitration-eligible again in 2019, after which he will become a free agent.

After signing with the Yankees between the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Jacoby Ellsbury has seen his productivity decrease after a 4.1 fWAR season in 2014, having failed to amass more than 2.0 fWAR in a single season since. In 2017, Ellsbury received only 409 plate appearances and had been relegated to fourth-outfielder duty by the end of the season. And now, with the trade for Giancarlo Stanton and the promotion of top-prospect Clint Frazier, Ellsbury is even further down the depth chart. Nevertheless, with the Yankees still owing Ellsbury a little over $63 million over the next three seasons, not to mention a $21 million club-option for 2021 and a full no-trade clause, the Yankees will need to include a large haul of prospects in order to move Ellsbury.

As a result, in exchange for giving up Castellanos and taking on Ellsbury and his contract, the Tigers would receive Justus Sheffield and Albert Abreu, the Yankees’ second- and fifth-ranked prospects, respectively, according to Keith Law.

Drafted in the first-round of the 2014 draft by the Indians, the left-handed Sheffield has been impressive since stepping on the mound as an 18-year-old in rookie ball in 2014, to the tune of 9.3 strikeouts and only 3.2 walks per nine innings throughout his minor-league career. However, Sheffield has really wowed since coming over to the Yankees in the 2016 trade for Andrew Miller. According to Keith Law, since then, Sheffield has sat “94–96 (mph) with a wipeout slider at 86–87 and… above-average changeup at 86–89,” spending the entirety of 2017 in double-A, aside from two rehab starts in rookie ball. Sheffield will be at major-league spring training as a non-roster invitee.

Having been signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Astros, the right-handed Abreu has spent the past two seasons bouncing back and forth between single-A and high-A, first in the Astros’ system in 2016 and then in the Yankees’ system in 2017. According to Keith Law, Abreu “pitches at 94–96 (mph) with a power curveball in the low-80s and a solid changeup in the mid-80s that has good action rather than deception,” and projects as a “nice league-average starter”.

Why this deal makes sense:

There are plenty of reasons why this deal won’t work, whether it’s the Yankees unwillingness to part with top-pitching-prospect Sheffield or Ellsbury’s close-to-untradeable contract and/or full no-trade clause. That being said, if those three things don’t prove to be problems (which, admittedly, is a lot to ask), this deal makes sense for both the Yankees and the Tigers.

For the Yankees, they get to decrease 2018 payroll by roughly $15 million, which would increase their room under the luxury-tax threshold to an estimated $35 million, while also acquiring experience and power-potential at third-base. Plus, while Sheffield and Abreu are top prospects, the Yankees are loaded with pitching prospects in their minor-league system. Aside from Sheffield and Abreu, the Yankees have another pitching-prospect (RHP Freiser Perez) in Keith Law’s top-100, while one “just missed” the top-100 and three more are in the Yankees’ organizational top 10.

As for the Tigers, they add highly-touted prospects to a weak farm system (20th-best according to Keith Law) with very little high-level talent (only two prospects in Keith Law’s top-100 and none in his top-50). The Tigers would also acquire Ellsbury who, despite his massive contract and 34-year-old age, should be a better starting center-fielder than current projected starting center-fielder Leonys Martin, who is projected for 0.6 fWAR and is coming off of a below-replacement-level season in 2017.

As always, thanks for reading. Tune in next time when my topic will be… something different.


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