Opinion Pieces

Top Trade Targets: Right Field

Prior to Thursday night, I was planning on writing about the White Sox Avisail Garcia as the top trade target among right fielders. That was until the Brewers set the Hot Stove on fire by trading for Christian Yelich (which I predicted) and then just hours later signed centerfielder Lorenzo Cain to a 5 year, 80 million dollar deal. These additions not only gave the Brewers perhaps the best outfield in the National League, it also signaled to the baseball world that the rebuild is officially over in Milwaukee.

The Brewers now feature an outfield of Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, and Christian Yelich (from left to right), leaving young outfielders Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, and Brett Phillips as the odd men out. While there have been rumors about moving Ryan Braun to first base against left-handed pitchers to platoon with the left-handed hitting Eric Thames, Braun has not played infield since 2007, and such a move would also put the role of lefty masher Jesus Aguilar into questions. 

With such an embarrassment of riches in the outfield, the Brewers should look to flip one or two of these guys in a deal for MLB-ready starting pitching. Santana looks to have the most trade value after clubbing 30 home runs, posting a .371 OBP, and finishing 6th amongst all MLB right fielders in wRC+ in 2017. Perhaps the most attractive thing about all three of these players is that they are in their pre-arbitration years and will be cheap and controllable for roughly the next half-decade.

While the Brewers lineup is suddenly one of the best in the National League, they are still hurting for starting pitching, particularly a front-of-the-rotation arm. According to Steamer Projections on Fangraphs.com, the Brewers top projected starter, Zach Davies, is estimated for 1.8 wins above replacement in 2018. Both the Cubs and Cardinals, who will be the Brewers toughest competition in the NL Central, have four starting pitchers who are projected for more than that. It is pretty difficult to have your best starting pitcher be worse than your competitors number four starter and still expect to compete. Here is a list showing the best starting pitchers in the NL Central, according to Steamer’s 2018 projections.

The NL Central’s Top Projected Starting Pitchers in 2018:

Jose Quintana (CHC) 4.3 WAR
Carlos Martinez (STL) 4.0 WAR
Jameson Taillon (PIT) 3.7 WAR
Jon Lester (CHC) 3.4 WAR
Michael Wacha (STL) 2.8 WAR
Joe Musgrove (PIT) 2.7 WAR
Kyle Hendricks (CHC) 2.7 WAR
Luke Weaver (STL) 2.6 WAR
Luis Castillo (CIN) 2.4 WAR
Ivan Nova (PIT) 2.3 WAR
Chad Kuhl (PIT) 2.0 WAR
Miles Mikolas (STL) 1.9 WAR
Zach Davies (MIL) 1.8 WAR

One look at this list and you might be telling yourself that there is no way Zach Davies will be outperformed by the likes of Chad Kuhl, Joe Musgrove, or Miles Mikolas. Davies is a more proven starter than many players on this list, but this list illustrates the absence of upside in Brewers rotation.

While the Brewers lack anything that resembles an ace, their starting pitching depth is solid. They expect to get Jimmie Nelson (their top starting pitcher in 2017) back sometime before the All-Star break and have right-handed pitching prospects Brandon Woodruff and Luis Ortiz who could outperform expectations. The signing of Jhoulys Chacin could bring some stability to the back end of the rotation as well. I think the Brew Crew have enough arms to keep them afloat, but if they want to dethrone the Cubs or outperform an improved Cardinals club, they will need to add a top end starting pitcher to their club. Not to mention, that one can’t expect to win in October when every starting pitcher you trot out there is worse than your opponents.

The Brewers can probably wait until the trade deadline to re-evaluate their starting pitching, but the time will come when the Brew Crew is going to need an ace if they are going to claim the NL Central crown. For all these reasons, look for the Brewers to try and work out a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays for the top starting pitcher available on the market, Chris Archer.

Suitors: Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies,

Possible Trade:

Brewers Receive:
Chris Archer

Rays Receive:
Domingo Santana
Lucas Erceg (#6 Prospect)
Mauricio Dubon (2B/SS, #7 Prospect)

I realize that in the “Top Trade Targets: Starting Pitcher” article, I proposed a possible trade scenario that would have sent Chris Archer to the Dodgers and now I am changing course. My analysis changes when the facts change, and as of today, the Brewers are probably a more logical trade partner for the Rays than the Dodgers are. In that same article, I outlined why the Rays should flip Archer sooner rather than later if they are going to get maximum value so I will not rehash that argument here. Instead, I will explain why this trade makes sense for both teams, given the current state of each club.

The Rays starting rotation currently features Blake Snell, Jacob Faria, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Andriese, and Austin Pruitt, with only Odorizzi under team control for less than five more years. The club also has top pitching prospect Brett Honeywell ready to stake his claim atop the Rays rotation. While the club is perhaps the best in baseball at developing starting pitching, they lack the type of offense necessary to compete in the AL East.

The Rays need team control to stay competitive and they get just that with the three players I included in this trade. At only 25 years old, Santana is signed through the 2021 season and could slide into a role in left field or designated hitter. Mallex Smith, the projected starting left fielder, has a career wRC+ of just 17 against left-handed pitching. The speedster is a plus defender, but he is essentially an automatic out against lefties. By acquiring Santana, this automatic out turns into one of the best offensive outfielders in the league.

While designated hitter Corey Dickerson enjoyed a career season in 2017, his swing-happy approach may not be sustainable in the long term. He is a prime candidate for huge regression in 2018, but if the Rays acquire Santana, they would have a contingency plan if this regression occurs.  

The second piece in this deal is one the top third base prospects in the game, Lucas Erceg. After trading away franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria, the Rays have a huge hole at third base. They will try to fill this void with former Giants prospect Christian Arroyo and Matt Duffy, but both players have limited upside and injury histories. Adding Erceg as a long-term option at third base gives the Rays enough young players at the hot corner that at least one of them will wind up in an everyday role.

The last piece of this deal is Mauricio Dubon, another high upside infield prospect who can fill their hole at either second base or shortstop long term. Current projections have the Rays current crop of second baseman ranked anywhere between 27th and 30th in terms of collective WAR in 2018. Their current starter is Daniel Robertson, who had just a .634 OPS in his brief stint with the big league club in 2017. The Rays probably have their shortstop of the future in Willy Adames, but Dubon gives the club his long-term double-play partner.

The Brewers are giving up a lot in this deal, but like recent additions Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, Archer is a player who can help them in both the short and long term. He is worth more than twice as many wins as their next closest starting pitcher and gives them an ace that can matchup with the best starting pitchers in the game come October.  

Other Trade Candidates:
Avisail Garcia

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About Traven Tapson

I am a recent graduate from Claremont McKenna College pursuing a career in baseball operations for an MLB team. I am fascinated by the analytical side of baseball and use this blog as a platform to share my insights and knowledge with those who share my curiosities.
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