Something like 99 percent of the rumors in any given MLB offseason don’t come true. For the most part, it’s all just noise. Dumb, loud, annoying noise.
That doesn’t stop us from wondering, “My [insert preferred deity], what if that actually happens?” every time a juicy rumor surfaces. That’s just how the game is played.
So, what the heck. Let’s play the game.
We’re going to dive into five of the biggest rumors of the offseason and wonder what kind of domino effect there would be if they came true. Since there are obviously many to choose from, we’re focusing on ones that actually have meat on their bones. We could get into the ones that say “Team X is interested in Player Y,” but there are about a thousand of those, and most of them are just, well, noise.
To be sure, there’s a good chance all of the following speculation will be moot come 24 hours from now. But since all we’re doing is having some speculative fun, meh, whatever.
So, commence speculative fun.
David Price Signs with the Chicago Cubs
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Along with Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto, David Price is one of the marquee top-of-the-rotation starters on the open market. Unlike the three of them, though, there seems to be little question about where he’s headed.
As Buster Olney of ESPN.com reported, rival evaluators consider the Chicago Cubs to be the “heavy, heavy favorites” to sign the ace left-hander. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has indicated the same, and also that the Cubs are actually Price’s first choice.
Within the NL Central, the addition of Price to Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in Chicago’s rotation would send a strong message to the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates that the Cubs aren’t backing down after their 97-win breakout in 2015.
In turn, the Pirates could be inspired to use some of their considerable prospect depth to respond in kind with a trade for an ace. The Cardinals, meanwhile, would have incentive to re-sign John Lackey or sign one of the market’s other notable starters.
Elsewhere, there would also be a domino effect on the open market.
Alex Gallardo/Associated Press
It would probably start in Los Angeles, where Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has reported that Price is No. 2 on the Dodgers’ wish list behind only Greinke. If Price signs with the Cubs, the Dodgers would probably ramp up their efforts to re-sign Greinke at all costs.
If they did, the impact would be felt in San Francisco, where the Giants are also in the market for an ace. If they miss out on Price and then watch Greinke re-up with the rival Dodgers, it’s doubtful anything would stand in their way of targeting either Zimmermann or Cueto as a consolation prize.
A few thousand miles to the east, that could leave the Boston Red Sox with just one option to fill their need for an ace, which president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is apparently determined to fill on the open market. The result could be that they settle for what’s left, or turn their attention to a trade market that’s already netted them Craig Kimbrel.
And if the rumors are true, one guy they could find there is…
The Washington Nationals Trade Stephen Strasburg
Nick Wass/Associated Press
The Washington Nationals stand to lose Zimmermann and Doug Fister to free agency, but that doesn’t mean they’re obligated to hold on to Stephen Strasburg.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe and Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller have reported that the 27-year-old is potentially available. Because he’s a Scott Boras client who’s only a year away from free agency, this is believable. The Nationals aren’t going to extend him, so why not trade him?
If the Nationals were to trade Strasburg, they would presumably either reinvest the money saved by trading him (likely over $10 million in arbitration) in free agency, or use whatever young talent they acquire for him in a trade for a starter. Rest assured, it wouldn’t be the start of a rebuild.
Ben Margot/Associated Press
On that note, Mr. Miller is right in thinking that it will probably take a king’s ransom to pry Strasburg from Washington. If so, the Nats’ dealing him could wake up the rest of the ace trade market. If the Nats were to get a king’s ransom for Strasburg’s walk year, clubs with controllable starters (looking at you, Oakland A’s and Sonny Gray) would be in a position to demand even bigger king’s ransoms in trades.
Save for one exception: the New York Mets and Matt Harvey.
If the Nats deal Strasburg and retool with subsequent moves, the Mets would get the message that the Nats aren’t about to hand them a second straight NL East title. Holding on to Harvey, who’s been speculated as a possible trade target, would become a no-brainer.
And though there may be no force on heaven or earth that can convince the Wilpons to spend what it takes to bring back Yoenis Cespedes, the Nationals’ making moves could convince the Mets to at least bring back Daniel Murphy or sign another player from the market’s offensive B-list.
As for what else could happen in the NL East, an arms race between the Nats and Mets would be further incentive for the Atlanta Braves to…
The Atlanta Braves Trade Freddie Freeman
John Bazemore/Associated Press
The Braves have already jettisoned Andrelton Simmons and his long-term contract. Might Freddie Freeman and his long-term contract be next?
If you ask the Braves, not likely. As general manager John Coppolella told Bob Nightengale of USA Today: “I cannot make it any more clear: We are not trading Freddie Freeman. We are not. I’d give my right arm before we trade Freddie Freeman. It is not happening.”
But you can take that with a grain of salt. Rosenthal has reported that Freeman is among the players the Braves are shopping as part of an effort to cut payroll. Given that they’ve already gutted their major league roster and he’s still owed nearly $120 million over the next six seasons, yeah, he could be gone.
If the Braves do trade Freeman, Chris Davis probably wouldn’t be very happy. As of now, he’s by far the top option for teams with money to spend and in need of some left-handed thump at first base. Freeman’s availability could change that, as he’s younger (26) and will be cheaper over the long haul.
If Freeman is traded before Davis signs, the list of teams willing to invest big in a lefty-hitting first baseman would decrease by one. Between that and his ties to draft-pick compensation, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Davis found himself simply re-signing with the Baltimore Orioles. Per Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio, re-signing Davis is something they’re keen on anyway:
Orioles GM Dan Duquette just told us that they have the resources to spend and that includes both Chris Davis… https://t.co/Bamizqk8Ty
— Jim Bowden (@JimBowden_ESPN) November 15, 2015
As for the NL East repercussions that a Freeman trade could have, the Miami Marlins could see two clear non-threats in the Braves and Philadelphia Phillies and feel better about their 2016 chances. Freeman’s departure could be their cue to go find some talent for new skipper Don Mattingly.
One thing that’s for sure is that trading Freeman would pretty much exhaust Atlanta’s collection of trade chips. Teams looking for impact talent on the trade market would have to look elsewhere.
Fortunately for them, there’s always…
The San Diego Padres Trade Tyson Ross and Matt Kemp
David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The Padres have already traded Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel, but general manager A.J. Preller may not be done tearing things down. According to Rosenthal, underrated right-hander Tyson Ross and slugging right fielder Matt Kemp could be next.
If Preller were to follow the blueprint laid down by the Benoit and Kimbrel trades, we can assume he’d trade Ross and Kemp for young talent and payroll relief. Preller’s next step could be to put his newfound talent depth and payroll flexibility to use on the free-agent and trade markets, or punt on 2016 and look to take advantage of these things at a later date.
Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press
Which is more likely? Good question. We’re pretending to be able to predict many things, but pretending to be able to predict Preller is the line. Sorry. Not sorry.
One way or another, the Padres’ destroying their 2015 roster could have an impact in Arizona.
The Diamondbacks are already a big-time sleeper this winter, as they could be dangerous if they add some pitching to go with their awesome offense. The Padres’ blowing it up could embolden the Diamondbacks to think big in their search for pitching, perhaps to a point where they dip into their impressive collection of young arms to make a blockbuster trade for an ace.
As for how trades of Ross and Kemp could impact the market, it’s unlikely the package acquired for Ross would move the ace market’s needle that much. But if Kemp is traded, that’s one fewer team in the market for a big-money, power-hitting right fielder. That would mean less leverage for the Colorado Rockies and Cincinnati Reds, who may be looking to move Carlos Gonzalez and Jay Bruce, respectively.
But don’t worry. Anyone hoping to see the Reds blow it up probably wouldn’t be disappointed because…
The Cincinnati Reds Blow It Up
John Minchillo/Associated Press
At long last, the Reds are apparently ready to get on with blowing up their roster. According to Rosenthal and C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer, they’re willing to move Bruce, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Phillips and maybe Joey Votto.
Regarding the effect that a massive sell-off in Cincinnati would have within the NL Central, the answer is probably “not much.” Even if they were to hold on to everyone, it’s doubtful the Reds could contend in 2016 anyway. If they do sell, the Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals would probably just look forward to some easy wins and think nothing else of it.
However, a big sell-off in Cincinnati could have repercussions for the free-agent and trade markets.
John Minchillo/Associated Press
Because the free-agent market is weak at third base and on relief pitching, there’s a strong likelihood the Reds will at least find takers for Frazier and Chapman. If Frazier is moved, it would be harder for other teams with movable third basemen to find deals. That certainly concerns the Red Sox with Pablo Sandoval, and potentially also the Tampa Bay Rays with Evan Longoria.
As for Chapman, a trade involving him would take the top two relief targets (the other being Kimbrel) off the market. That would mean two fewer homes for targets like Jonathan Papelbon, Drew Storen, Mark Melancon and Andrew Miller, and could result in all of them staying put.
If the Reds were to move Bruce, both his and Kemp’s being spoken for would give the Rockies very little leverage in talks for Gonzalez. If the Reds were to move Phillips, there would be one fewer second-base-needy team out there, which could hurt the markets for Daniel Murphy and Howie Kendrick.
One doubts it would happen…but if the Reds were bold enough to deal Votto, that would take yet another potential landing spot for Davis off the map. If nothing else, that could be yet another force steering him back to Baltimore.
And, like that, I’ve exhausted my imagination on what kinds of domino effects the big rumors coming true would have. And I only went through one bottle of aspirin in the process!
Of course, now’s the part where we sit back and watch what actually happens. That’s bound to be a vastly different experience than wondering what could happen. One thing is just a game, after all.
The other thing? It’s real life. We can read the tea leaves and try to predict the offseason as much as we like. But inevitably, it does what it does.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. Special thanks to MLB Trade Rumors for putting all offseason rumors in one place.
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