There are a lot of fun trade candidates, but how many of them actually make sense?
For the first time in decades, the Mets find themselves in a position of strength entering the offseason. Freed from the Wilpons’ thrifty spending habits and archaic ideas of how to run a baseball team, the organization is positioned to compete at the top-end market in a manner that actually befits a large market team. This advantage is potentially even greater when the impact of COVID on the rest of baseball’s finances is considered, an idea we discussed in late October when Steve Cohen completed his purchase of the team.
Baseball’s offseason may not have been as exciting as basketball’s so far, but there has been plenty of trade speculation even if no major deals have been struck. The biggest candidate is Francisco Lindor, but plenty of other names are out there as the majority of baseball looks to cut salary. Of particular interest are the Cubs, who have a bevvy of high profile trade candidates but are seemingly strapped for cash and intent on rebuilding or, at the very least, rebooting in the short term.
Discussing each potential trade candidate in detail isn’t feasible without a ten page essay, so let’s focus on one idea: the Mets acquiring Yu Darvish and Craig Kimbrel from the Cubs. The surface level appeal of Darvish is obvious, as he just finished second in the National League Cy Young race and has a very affordable three years and $59 million left on a contract that takes him through his age-36 season. Kimbrel, meanwhile, is much more of a salary dump after two disastrous seasons in Chicago. He did look much better down the stretch last season, however, so there’s still a chance he proves a useful piece even if he’s not worth the two years and $32 million left on his contract.
By taking a large chunk of cash, the Mets would be aiming to minimize the amount of prospect capital they’d have to give up—a back-end top-10 prospect like Josh Wolf, for instance. For that price, the Mets would be adding $38 million to their 2021 balance sheet and gaining something between three and five wins, depending on how you project Darvish and Kimbrel. In any other offseason that’d be a coup.
But this isn’t any other offseason. With free agent prices heavily depressed, $38 million could go a long, long way. Working off of MLBTR’s projected free agent prices, that much money could buy Charlie Morton, Brad Hand, Kirby Yates, and Jake Odorizzi. If like me you think their numbers are a bit too low and you prefer Jim Bowden’s numbers at The Athletic, $38 million could snag you the same group of players sans Yates. That much money is near enough to pay the projected 2021 salaries for both J.T. Realmuto and George Springer.
There are many more permutations, but you get the point: $38 million goes so far in this market that it’s simply not worth trading any real assets, even a non-elite prospect, to take it on. Given that, the only trades that make sense are for the things you can’t get on the free agent market, those being generational stars (Lindor, Nolan Arenado) or cost-controlled options at positions of need (Wilson Contreras, David Dahl, Frankie Montas as some speculative examples).
Sandy Alderson perhaps put it best during his opening press conference with Steve Cohen: “There are only two currencies in baseball: players and money.” The Mets are now in the position where they have enough of the latter that they don’t need to pay out the nose in the former. In other words, enjoy all the crazy trade speculation you want, but it probably makes sense for the Mets to take a simpler approach this offseason and just sign the best players they can.