For the better part of the off-season, the Dodgers and Twins have reportedly been trying to strike a fair deal for Brian Dozier. The Twins second baseman is a highly valuable player, but with only two years left of team control, he’s probably a better fit for a contender than a rebuilder, and right now, the Twins are still in the latter category. But, for whatever reason, the two sides seem to value Dozier differently, and as of last week, it appears that both teams have decided there isn’t a fit, at least not right now.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 10, 2017
Impasse on Dozier does not preclude future talks, but #Twins had wanted to give Dozier heightened peace of mind on status with club. 2/2
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 10, 2017
So, with Dozier potentially off the table, let’s see if we can find the Dodgers another second baseman.
Various rumors throughout the winter have suggested that Ian Kinsler might be the Dodgers fallback plan if they can’t land Dozier, but I continue to fail to see why the Tigers would make him available. While they seemingly floated a trial balloon at the start of the winter that they might make some veterans-for-young-player deals, the entire extent of Detriot’s off-season so far has been shipping Cameron Maybin to Anaheim and claiming Daniel Stumpf off waivers from Kansas City. They still have almost exactly the same roster they ended last season with, and unless they have some weird February blockbusters in store, there’s no real reason for the Tigers to trade Kinsler now.
With no moves towards getting younger, the Tigers should just keep the gang together and try to win again in 2017. The fact that Kinsler has a no-trade clause and has reportedly demanded an extension to consider waiving it also makes him a poor fit for the Dodgers, so despite the speculation around a deal between LA and Detroit, I just don’t really see a trade to be made here. So let’s look at the other 28 teams and see if we can find a deal.
Obviously, guys like Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia are out, as their teams are quite happy with their options at second base and are going to try to win with what they have. Most of the good second baseman in baseball are on contending teams, and contenders generally aren’t in the business of dealing away quality big leaguers. The teams that are selling off talent are pretty weak at the position, and so while I’m sure Rick Hahn would love to get some of the Dodgers young talent, it’s hard to see Andrew Friedman being all that excited about Brett Lawrie.
So, with most of the good teams and basically all of the bad teams as poor fits, we’re left looking for trade partners who might have enough depth at the position to be motivated to make a move, or looking for another case like the Twins where there’s a solid player on a shorter contract where there’d be motivation to exchange present value for future value. And in that range, I think I can see three potential options for the Dodgers.
This isn’t an original idea or anything; Logan Forsythe’s name has been mentioned as the other Dozier alternative in rumors for a good chunk of the winter, and there are enough similarities there to suggest that if LA was interested in one, they should be interested in the other. Like Dozier, Forsythe is a late bloomer who has taken a big step forward by figuring out how to hit for power, and if you just look at their numbers since Forsythe’s big 2015 breakout, they look pretty similar.
Dozier hits more home runs, but Forsythe hits more line drives, so the difference in ISO is mostly offset by the difference in BABIP. Dozier’s track record of performing at this level is longer, and he’s got advantages in both baserunning and defensive value, but it’s easy to see why Forsythe would be a reasonable alternative for LA now that they seem to be unable to land Dozier. When you toss in the fact that Forsythe is signed to a very similar contract to Dozier, there are a lot of similarities between the two options.
That said, I’m not sure I see a strong reason for the Rays to make a deal here. While they did just move Drew Smyly and his two years of remaining club control for longer-term pieces in Mallex Smith and a low-level teenage prospect, the Rays were dealing from a source of depth in their rotation, and that isn’t really the case at second base. Nick Franklin’s weaknesses on defense at against lefties make him a platoon guy at best, and given that Steamer is projecting just a 90 wRC+, even that is a generous assessment; he fits best a bench piece. The Rays traded Smyly because they had too many pitchers, but they don’t have too many second baseman.
And while they lost 94 games a year ago, so you could talk yourself into thinking they should trade any short-term value pieces they have, they were a .500 team by BaseRuns, and the Rays are more likely to see themselves as a fringe contender than a team that needs to blow it up. I could potentially see a Forsythe deal working if the Dodgers were floating some pieces that could help Tampa Bay maintain the status quo and give them some long-term value, but Forsythe isn’t good enough to extract Jose De Leon, and I’m not sure the Rays really need more pithing depth.
On paper, you can see a potential fit here, but it’s harder to find a real reason for the Rays to trade their only good second baseman to LA for what the Dodgers would likely offer. It’s an option, probably, but maybe not the best one.
With Texas, it feels like we’ve been talking about potential middle-infielder trades for the last five years, and yet, Jurickson Profar is still a Ranger. With Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor locking up the middle infield playing time, Profar is in a bit of an awkward spot. If he’s ever going to live up to his potential, he needs to play, but the Rangers only real path to regular playing time for him is at first base or desiginated hitter, and he doesn’t have the kind of offensive abilities that justify at-bats at those spots on a contender. The Rangers will almost certainly be signing someone from the current free agent market to take over at least one of those jobs, and given that they should be trying to capitalize on Yu Darvish’s walk year, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll really leave many 1B/DH at-bats for Profar.
So, Profar probably needs a change of scenery, but we’ve been saying that for years, and the numerous injuries have sapped a lot of his value. Thanks to his DL time, he’s already arbitration eligible, so while he’s still young-ish, the Rangers would only be selling three years of control, so there isn’t even that much long-term value to offset the risk that goes along with the fact that he has had so many injuries and hasn’t yet shown he can hit big league pitching. There’s still upside here, but Texas would almost certainly have to sell low on what it was thought he could be in order to move him now, and if they still believe in his talent, it might be tough to move a 24-year-old for pennies on the dollar.
That said, the Rangers still have a significant need on the pitching side of things, and the Dodgers have a bunch of extra arms who could serve as useful pieces for the Rangers. Guys like De Leon aren’t going to be on the table, but perhaps a guy like Ross Stripling — who could start or relieve, depending on how the Tyson Ross experiment works out — might get the Rangers interested. Whether Profar is a big enough upgrade over the other interesting-but-unproven options LA already has — both ZIPS and Steamer love Chris Taylor, for instance — might be the biggest roadblock to a deal, but if the Dodgers decide they want to take a shot on lower-cost upside instead of paying the post-breakout premium, then I could see a fit between the two sides.
This isn’t going to happen, because it’s pretty rare to see the two best teams in one league make a trade that makes the other better, but there isn’t a team in baseball with a better blocked second baseman than the Cubs. The Cubs were able to get Javier Baez into the line-up in the postseason because Kyle Schwarber was hurt (and then they got the DH in the World Series), but the team’s commitment to turning Schwarber into a core piece as their regular left fielder is going to make it difficult for Baez to play regularly in Chicago any time soon, since they still have Ben Zobrist around for another three years.
Sure, having depth is nice, and there will be some playing time for Baez in Chicago between off-days for Schwarber and Zobrist, plus he can spell Addison Russell at shortstop, but for a 24-year-old with his upside, a utility infielder role is a bit of a waste. The Cubs could afford to utilize him in that role last year, because they basically didn’t have any other holes on the team, but the 2017 Cubs probably aren’t going to be quite as good as the 2016 Cubs, and they may very well be better off if they turned Baez into a starting pitcher.
Right now, their #5 starter is Mike Montgomery, who has only ever pitched well in the Majors in relief; his .329/.269 wOBA allowed split between the rotation and the bullpen is a pretty good argument for his maximum value coming in relief, particularly with the team already short on left-handed bullpen arms. Their #6 starter, should Montgomery fail or any of their big four get hurt, is, uhh, Aaron Brooks, I guess? The guy you got for Chris Coghlan, who missed almost all of 2016 due to a hip injury, probably shouldn’t be pitching significant innings in your title-defense season.
All of that to say that the Cubs need another starting pitcher, and since the Dodgers seem willing to move De Leon for a second base upgrade, there’s a fit here. De Leon would be perfect for the Cubs, as they’ve talked openly about their desire to acquire young controllable starting pitching, and his skillset and minor league track record make him a Chicago kind of pitcher. As a guy who could step into the rotation in 2017 and fill a hole, but also could be a core member of their pitching staff after Arrieta and Lackey leave, De Leon offers the blend of short-term and long-term value that the Cubs covet.
Now, given his health question marks, I don’t know that a De Leon for Baez deal works straight up; Baez certainly has his own risks, but as a guy with power and elite defensive skills, his floor is a lot higher. In order to make a deal work, I’m guessing the Dodgers would have to potentially add on to De Leon a bit, and they refused to do that in order to land Dozier, a better player who would help them more in 2017.
But during his time in LA, Andrew Friedman has regularly chosen to acquire guys with more control even if they aren’t quite as good right now, and giving up what the Twins wanted for Dozier to acquire Baez instead would fit right into that trend. Maybe they send Taylor back as part of the deal to give the Cubs a replacement utility infielder, for instance. The Dodgers have the depth of useful role players that should be able to combine with De Leon to make a fair offer for Baez.
Like I said, it’s not happening. I’m sure the Cubs and Dodgers would prefer to not make each other better, and sending this kind of upside young player to the team most directly in your path back to the World Series is a scary proposition. But in reality, there’s no better fit out there. The Cubs have one too many good middle infielders, and are short on starting pitching. The Dodgers have been emphasizing defense since Friedman got to town, and are also looking for right-handed power, which Baez certainly has. De Leon is much more valuable to the Cubs than the Dodgers, and swapping Baez is probably the best way for Chicago to get the young arm they need.
The fact that they’re potential playoff foes probably makes a deal unlikely, but if the two sides can get over that hurdle, a Baez for De Leon (and stuff) deal makes more sense than anything else out there.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.