It is easy for a major league organization to be marred in mediocrity for 5–10 years (just ask the Marlins or the Mariners), but for some teams, being tied to star players a few years after their “window,” can be detrimental.
Picture this: Only 3 years ago, blue confetti was pouring down in Citi field, signaling a world championship, only this was the Kansas City Royals’ time to party. The New York Mets left the field with their head hanging, but with the hope that their 5 young and upcoming star pitchers, they would be back the next year and many after that. Boy, how things have changed quickly for these two franchises, both never returning to the glory from 2015. However, there is one clear difference between these two franchises. The Royals have started to turn the corner into their next chapter and title contending team by moving Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and not matching Eric Hosmer’s contract with the San Diego Padres. On the contrary, the Mets rotation still includes Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler, and a lineup lead by Yoenis Cespedes. It has become clear that the next Mets team to make a playoff run will not include any of these players besides Thor and a 34–35 year old deGrom. This poses the question, Would the Mets be better off with an added 3 controllable, star potential assets instead of an expensive, aging deGrom?
deGrom has made a case for being arguably the top starter in all of baseball, along with Chris Sale and Max Scherzer (more on him later), with a 1.82 ERA, 10.90 K/9, and a 4.9 fWAR, good for a place in the top 3 pitchers. Even with these amazing stats, baseball is a team game and the Mets are 8–13 in 21 of his starts. He could be an even better version of Justin Verlander, an ace who was traded midseason and lead his new team to a World Series win. He could provide his current team double or triple the value as soon as next year to the year after. Say the Mets give in and trade him along with Wheeler to the Yankees for 3 “A” level, close to MLB ready, players. With this, they could look to contend in 2020 with a core of Miguel Andujar, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and Syndergaard.
Why stop? Teams like the Reds, Rays, Cardinals, and Giants all need to find a way to take the next step after 5+ years removed from serious contention and the Nationals are entering a transition phase they can only hope to avoid.
The Reds are about to exit a lengthy rebuild in 2020 and need a new face of the franchise to take over from the almost 35 year old, on-base machine in Joey Votto. Cincinnati has intriguing youngsters in Hunter Greene, Nick Senzel, Eugenio Suarez, Taylor Trammell, and Jonathan India, but should look to add to that young nucleus by moving on from the current one.
Scooter Gennett is having a career year offensively while improving his sub-par defense to league average. He should be sold to the highest bidder as his value has never been higher, much like deGrom, and can be traded for players who will grow with the aforementioned new core. Adam Duvall is similar, except his career year was last year and could interest the Yankees post-Aaron Judge injury. Raisel Iglesias and Votto would both suit the defending champion Astros and can be packaged for a return surrounding one of their many young pitchers Forrest Whitley or Francis Martes. The Reds should turn their focus 100% into the future instead of holding onto players who will provide little value when they are ready to win instead of cashing in before it’s too late.
In a different vein, the Tampa Bay Rays have overachieved this year with Manager of The Year contender Kevin Cash, using new strategies such as “Bullpenning,” but a break-up with controllable #2 starter Chris Archer has been looming over the franchise for years. The Rays are in another position of waiting for their young guys to arrive, but with big league talents in Jake Bauers, Willy Adames, Mallex Smith, and Blake Snell, they are ahead of schedule, so why trade Archer? The current starting pitching market is very dire with many clubs not willing to take advantage of this.
The Rays can demand a big offer from any club because contenders have no other option rather than a bidding war for Archer. The Yankees and Red Sox will always be a massive hump and it can never hurt to have too many good, young prospects. As a small market team, the Rays often can not re-sign their stars when it comes time (see David Price and Carl Crawford) because they are unable to maintain the high payroll so the longer Archer runs down his contract, the less value they can obtain to eventually overcome the two heavyweights. He could interest other teams like the Braves or Yankees, who both have a nice supply of pitching prospects to send back.
Both the Cardinals and Giants could look to buy as the deadline quickly approaches, but it could benefit both in a big way. St. Louis recently traded for Marcell Ozuna in hopes to make the playoffs, but they have fallen short of expectations in a loaded NL Central. Upper management has started to make some changes beginning with the firing of Mike Matheny, but with playoff hopes fading from reality they should look to next year. Matt Carpenter, since the sunrise on May 1 has hit .309/.409/.662 with a 183 wRC+. The Cardinals currently sit at 53–51, only four games back of the second NL Wild Card seat, with three other teams ahead of them. Fangraphs gives them only a 15.7% chance to make the playoffs.
Except for Carpenter, most of the core is under control for 2019 and beyond. Carpenter has the most value now as a 32 year old with one remaining year under contract, but teams like the Dodgers and Braves could use him in a race this year and next. The Cardinals would much rather have Dustin May and Will Smith or Austin Riley and Ian Anderson in 2020 with futures than a wasted year and a half of Carpenter as a long shot team to even make the wild card game. By trading Carpenter, the Cardinals could clean almost $15 mil off the books for free agency and maybe even sell their franchise to Manny Machado.
The Giants, after finishing with the second worst record last year, traded for aging bats Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, but they have not fared much better this year. With a dire farm system outside of Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos, the future is not looking too bright. Like many other teams with an aging roster, they will have to endure a long rebuild. They could shorten this process by two or three years by starting now.
Only Alen Hanson, Joe Panik, and Madison Bumgarner are on the right side of 30 in their starting lineup, and arguably only Bumgarner has any real significant value in the future. It may be hard for the fans, but Brian Sabean should look to sell off any 30+ players with value. They could get real value from Crawford, McCutchen, and Brandon Belt while trading Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija before it’s too late and they become dead money, like Hunter Pence is now. San Francisco could keep Buster Posey to transition into full time at 1st as he mentors Bart, but its other main pillar Bumgarner should be dealt to the highest bidder. A cheap, controllable, and proven ace is the most valuable thing in baseball and he could bring a return close to those of Chris Sale and change their farm system from a bottom five farm to a top five farm while maintaining a high draft pick for a few years. The Giants could accept nothing less than 3 As and 2 Bs. Say the Padres are willing to give MacKenzie Gore, Cal Quantrill, Luis Urias and more, or maybe the Braves would part with 4 of their high end pitchers. Could they convince the Astros to part ways with both Whitley and Kyle Tucker? For San Fran, the even year magic seems to have worn out and they need to replenish the system with youngsters who can become their new Posey, Matt Cain, and Bumgarner. It will be painful, but they can speed up the process right now with the correct moves. If the Philadelphia 76ers fans can trust the process, then so can Giants fans.
All of the teams may have foggy paths to go down, but none may be more so than the Washington Nationals. Many players are up for free agency at the end of the year, including mega superstar Bryce Harper, who is having a down year for his standards. If the Nats have any doubt he may sign elsewhere, they should acquire value for him, much like the Orioles and Machado. The big difference is with or without Harper, the Nats will be ready to contend for years with Juan Soto taking over the reins. The Nats may already be prepping their powerpoints, but they have disappointed in the playoffs year after year and are outside looking in this year. If Harper is prepared to take the highest bidder regardless, they could look to a Cliff Lee situation.
Previously mentioned Max Scherzer has been utterly dominant winning two Cy Young’s in as many years, but as Washington transitions into the new era, they could listen to offers for the 34 year old. Father Time is undefeated and Mad Max will be 35 next year when they take another crack at a championship. Especially if Harper leaves they could look to move Scherzer for at least 3 impact players who could lead playoff runs for ten years and not two more maximum. The current version of the Nationals window has come and gone and it is time to decide who will be there and contributing when their new window opens as soon as next year.
It is easy for franchises to be content with the status quo, and to be hanging onto memories from the former crop of players. The best teams take a situation and evolve; they attack the future long before they get stuck in the past. For all teams, trading their stars or the faces of the franchise may not be a smart idea, but for these five, it could lead to a championship contender for years to come.
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