We’ve reached that point of the offseason. Football can’t save us anymore. It’s the point where most signings are done, save for a few replacement-level arms and some upper minor-league depth. Where some guys have shown up in Arizona or Florida, but they probably already live there anyway. When we’re all just trying to get to the end of February before we can get a grainy glimpse of new guys in new gear and “best shape of his life” tweets. This is the stretch where it’s all about “getting through it” and moving onward toward MLB Opening Day.
With such large rosters, such extensive infrastructure at the minor league level, and the constant evolution of top-tier prospects leaves an MLB roster situation far more fluid on a much more consistent basis than other sports at this level. As such, no team currently sports a roster that is even a little bit close to being set. Trades will, of course, be made over the next six-or-so weeks. Few of them will be earth-shattering moves. Most of them will be in working around 40-man spots, out-of-option types, etc.
This leaves every team with an opportunity within the next several weeks to do something to really boost their chances for 2023. It’ll consist predominantly of “tweaks.” Most teams will opt to wait until July to really stir the roster drink. They’ll get their group in the spring jiving and not want to disrupt chemistry while it’s still in the early stages. Understandable.
There are some teams, though, that are in a situation where they need to take action on a particular player. Or maybe they’re visibly weak with respect to one component of an otherwise strong roster. Recent years have wrought more marquee free-agent signings in the spring. A byproduct of the nature of recent MLB free agency (a trend hopefully mostly bucked by a few aggressive owners & front offices). Trades, though? Not so much. Those exist primarily on the fringes and don’t necessarily change much for a team over the long term.
That’s where I come in.
The goal of this exercise isn’t to workshop some hypothetical trades. As social media shows us, such an exercise is futile and there is very little upside for the one concocting the deal. And, somehow, any hypothetical trade I could draw up would probably end up favoring the Lakers anyway. Instead, the objective here is to look at a trio of moves that make sense with respect to a particular element, leaving the particulars of such a transaction to the people who are paid a good deal of money to do so.
Trade 1: San Diego Padres Acquire a Legitimate Starter Challenge
My admiration for San Diego is no secret. The city, the team, etc. They’ve been among the more enjoyable teams to follow of late, given the aggressiveness of A.J. Preller and the financial backing from ownership in doing so. Having traded for Juan Soto, they moved to sign Xander Bogaerts. That came after attempts to move on Trea Turner and Aaron Judge. Yu Darvish is now locked into living in America’s Finest City™ after inking a six-year extension. Manny Machado could be up next. With the roster largely locked down and a good deal of inactivity from their division rivals, it’s clear that the team is pushing all in. So why stop now?
The San Diego lineup sports almost zero weaknesses. The outfield will likely consist of Fernando Tatis Jr., Trent Grisham, and Juan Soto. The infield of Machado, Bogaerts, Ha-Seong Kim, and Jake Cronenworth. Nelson Cruz adds some additional power out of the DH spot. It’s not the deepest group, but they’re versatile in terms of offensive skill set. That’s a team that maybe looks for a bench bat closer to the deadline, barring something weird along the way.
Where the immediate concern lies for this club is on the bump, specifically the starting group. Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell headline the rotation. The former two are signed beyond this year, while Snell will become a free agent ahead of 2024. Beyond that, it gets questionable. Nick Martinez is a favorite to grab a spot. Seth Lugo and Adrian Morejon will be among those battling it out for the other. It’s not an extensive group, and it’s not necessarily an inspiring one when you’ve got championship aspirations. Not even in terms of performance, as none of that trio seems particularly suited for eating innings.
Enter Corbin Burnes. Ian Anderson. Chris Sale. Somebody. There have been a number of names floated in trade talks, with any handful of articles throwing those names out in conjunction with the Friars. Burnes is of particular interest, as it was Ken Rosenthal who mentioned his name within the context of Machado extension talks. He’s one of the top pitchers in baseball, with a strong track record of maintaining health. With a depleted farm, you’re going to want certain pieces around. Burnes gives you not only a top-tier arm but a durable one to set atop the rotation with Musgrove and future junkballer Yu Darvish.
You’ve got a deep, dynamic bullpen. San Diego certainly doesn’t want to face a situation as they did a couple of years ago, with a taxed ‘pen after starters left innings on the board. A trade for someone of Burnes’ ilk would likely deplete the remainder of the top of the San Diego farm. But if you’re going all in any way, you might as well do it from the outset. You make it more likely that you can fill in smaller gaps along the way, rather than needing that one big piece in the starting five come July.
Trade 2: You’re Not Extending Him Anyway, Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Pirates are becoming interesting, but it remains to be seen how long it’ll be before they’re any good. Regardless of that timeline, Bryan Reynolds has probably priced his way out of Pittsburgh. With the Bucs seemingly only interested in locking down pre-arb guys due to their lower price tag, the $50 million gap is easily too much for the two sides to overcome (the organizational side of that discussion being tabled for another time). Even if the Pirates have continued interest in negotiating. Already a league punchline, the sooner a Reynolds trade is likely the better for Pittsburgh. It’s become pretty clear that whatever the longer-term picture looks like, he won’t be a part of it.
There isn’t any shortage of outfield options for the Pirates, even after a potential Reynolds trade. Andrew McCutchen and Connor Joe represent veteran options. Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Ryan Vilade, and Travis Swaggerty are among the younger ones. While the former two aren’t necessarily long-term solutions — Cutch being of a more nostalgic vintage to begin with — the latter group does present some intrigue. With the Pirates hoping to reach the turn of this rebuild in the near future, they’ll want to nail down who will be with them past that threshold.
The return will be significant. And as far as moving Reynolds, there isn’t a shortage of options. Miami and Boston have been mentioned. The Yankees and Dodgers, too (obviously). Any team is going to want a crack at acquiring a centerfielder who excels on both sides of the ball. Any of those teams have enough intriguing talent within the system to make it worth it for Pittsburgh, given the
unwillingness inability to extend Reynolds.
A trade prior to the MLB Opening Day makes sense. It’s not as if Reynolds is going to enhance his trade return throughout the season. Teams know he’s a top-flight player. By moving him now, you clear the slate and make way for those new veterans to continue to establish what is a pretty solid culture laid down by Derek Shelton & co.
Trade 3: Atlanta Needs a New Shortstop
We’re going to keep things National League-centric here. The moves that need to happen in the NL just feel so much more distinct, after all. And that takes us to Atlanta, where Vaughn Grissom has been tasked with stepping into the shadow of Dansby Swanson. “Shadow of Dansby Swanson” is likely an exaggeration, but a high-quality and, by all accounts, a beloved player is tough to replace. Especially for a 22-year-old who struggled defensively — and cooled off at the plate late — in 2022.
Grissom logged 347 innings at the keystone last year. He posted an Outs Above Average of -5 and a Defensive Runs Saved of -3. It doesn’t exactly lend his outlook with the glove at short to being better. And while he turned in a solid offensive performance, he was decidedly worse in September/October (110 wrC+) than in August (131). There’s just a lot of uncertainty there for a guy who has less than 250 PAs to his name above High-A. And should Grissom falter, the team then turns to checks notes Orlando Arcia. For the unitiated, you’re looking at a career wRC+ of 74, an on-base under .300, and very little pop.
And there are options. San Diego has three shortstops on the roster, which could leave Ha-Seong Kim available. Willy Adames was constantly floated as a target throughout the offseason. Amed Rosario plays in Cleveland, and those guys are always available. There are names to be had and Atlanta has the organizational infrastructure to get anyone they want. Why not cash in for a little more certainty, especially when two of the roughly five other “powers” in the NL reside in your own division?
Look, it’s entirely possible that Grissom steps into the role and thrives as Atlanta’s guy at the six. It’s also entirely possible he falters and gives way to Arcia somewhere in a pennant race. If you’re Atlanta, are you able to take a chance on the lack of linearity that is player development in the middle of a wide-open contention window? This is far more likely to take shape around the deadline, but given the massive uncertainty, it would behoove Atlanta to take a look now.
Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire | Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)