Let’s Make Some Trades: The 2021 Edition

We’re about a week away from the trade deadline, and so far, the stage has been a little quiet. So for a little mid-week action, we need to create our own little mise-en-scène, an activity I try to do around this time every year. These are not predictions of moves that will happen, but an exercise that seeks to make fair trades that benefit both the buying contenders and the selling also-rans. In the best-case scenario, we get some fun discussions of what things are possible.

The Oakland Athletics acquire SS Trevor Story from the Colorado Rockies for OF Brayan Buelvas, C Drew Millas, and 1B Greg Deichmann

I’m starting off with a trade that I don’t think either team would do. For Rockies fans, there may be some disappointment that Story doesn’t fetch a big-name prospect. I don’t think that kind of return is suitable at this point; that boat sailed last winter. And the other team isn’t trading for Story, but for two months of Story having a distinct down year.

The Rockies have offensive problems, but given the size of the outfield, I think that a raw talent with defensive upside like Buelvas has a lot of value in Coors, something they’ve been without quite often. While some would think of Nick Allen going in a trade like this, at this point, he’s too good to trade for a rental. Colorado likes defensive-minded catchers, so Millas makes sense here (and isn’t 32 like the team’s usual backstop of choice).

The A’s would likely balk because of money. Sorry Oakland, there aren’t enough (or good enough) prospects going to Colorado to include Elvis Andrus to “even up” the money involved. Story’s not really that expensive, but he’s still too costly for the A’s to make it up by either releasing minor leaguers or making them into a roguish band of lovable Dickensian pickpockets.

The Boston Red Sox acquire 1B Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs for P Noah Song, P Chris Murphy, and 2B Cameron Cannon

The realities that will likely keep the Rockies from getting elite prospects for Story are the same for the Cubs with Rizzo. He’s an average offensive first baseman with a terrific glove, but if the Cubs are insistent on someone like Triston Casas being involved, Boston should turn its sights elsewhere or just make do with Bobby Dalbec at the position down the stretch.

Song is not an elite prospect, but he’s interesting, and at least he’s missing time due to flight school instead of a torn rotator cuff. Murphy has allowed too many homers in the minors, but he’s a hard-throwing lefty who is not clueless about where the strike zone is, two traits that are highly desirable when found together. He’s likely not that far from the majors, either, which is helpful for a Chicago team that’s paper-thin in the rotation.

The Milwaukee Brewers acquire OF Joey Gallo from the Texas Rangers for 1B Keston Hiura, P Ethan Small, OF Korry Howell, and SS Eduardo Garcia

I love Hiura and still think he has a ton of upside remaining, but his ongoing contact issues are so severe that he can’t help the Brewers right now. He’s at the point where he’d be best served by a team sticking him at DH and letting him focus solely on hitting, and the Rangers need offensive talent wherever they can find it. At this point, I’d much rather have Howell than Tristen Lutz; ZiPS still isn’t budging on thinking the latter will ever be better than replacement level. Garrett Mitchell is too high of an ask, and Aaron Ashby is likely already useful to the Brewers on the major league roster.

Ideally, you’d want Gallo in right field, where he’s excellent, rather than give that value away at first. Realistically, Daniel Vogelbach and Rowdy Tellez are complementary talents rather than long-term starters. And Gallo’s left-handed bat would absolutely play in American Family Field just as Prince Fielder’s and Eric Thames‘ did.

The Chicago White Sox acquire 3B Eduardo Escobar from the Arizona Diamondbacks for 2B/SS Yolbert Sanchez and 3B Bryan Ramos

I’m leery of counting on Leury García as the starter at second, and I’d be lying if I said I were happy with Danny Mendick. Jake Burger is theoretically an option at second, but he’s only played a handful of games there, and at third, he’d force Yoán Moncada to a position he hasn’t played in quite a while. The White Sox are serious contenders, so there’s a real argument for them being more risk-averse with a known quantity rather than starting Burger, who has a very short track record due to a whole bunch of bad luck. Escobar would also require less in return than Adam Frazier; Chicago may simply not be interested in paying beyond a two-month window for a second baseman with Nick Madrigal’s eventual return from injury next year.

As for the Diamondbacks, they don’t have a great deal of infield depth past Geraldo Perdomo and could use additional options while they wait and see on Jordan Lawlor and Ryan Bliss. I’ve also soured a bit on Perdomo anyway; he’s really been overmatched in Double-A this season.

The Houston Astros acquire P Max Scherzer from the Washington Nationals for SS Jeremy Peña, C Korey Lee, and SS Freudis Nova

I’m a huge fan of Peña and not super-worried about his recovery from wrist surgery, but this could be one of the last, best opportunities for these Astros to go over the top with the acquisition of an ace and try to secure that elusive second championship. Winning one without any whiff of trash can shenanigans would also take some of the oomph out of the criticism that they’ve faced, though they’ll remain the target of boos under any circumstance. Houston has done an excellent job patching together its non-Zack Greinke rotation, something I was skeptical about coming into the season, but with José Urquidy’s recent health troubles, the team would be smart to minimize its downside. A Greinke-Scherzer one-two makes everything behind them look that much better.

The Nats have given little indication of being aggressive sellers, but I think outside of their core young talent (Trea Turner, Juan Soto), that would be a mistake. The NL East is theoretically close enough to be up for grabs, but they probably have the weakest talent of the four teams with a shot. A four-way fight with no wild card spot likely available as a consolation prize isn’t that appealing, especially when your depth is thin enough that — even though he’s done well initially — you’re intentionally playing Alcides Escobar in 2021.

Toronto Blue Jays acquire P Craig Kimbrel from the Chicago Cubs for SS Kevin Smith, 3B Jordan Groshans, and IF Miguel Hiraldo

Smith has crushed Double-A pitching this year, so this is more about me being very high on his future than trying to give Kimbrel away relatively cheaply. ZiPS already gave Smith pretty good odds of peaking at league-average coming into the season and now sees a very good chance that he’ll be a three WAR or better player in his prime. He also really needs to be in the majors now yet is caught in a crunch with Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette above him and Orelvis Martinez coming up quickly behind. I suspect the Cubs are still hoping to retool rather than go full slash-and-burn, and Smith’s proximity to the majors helps them in that.

But no, I’m not giving the Cubs someone like Austin Martin or Alek Manoah. The Blue Jays have a definite need, with injuries thinning out a bullpen that was already top-heavy, but neither they nor any other team are desperate enough to give up that much for two months and an option year of an elite closer. At least I’m being more generous than the Padres were in acquiring Yu Darvish!

New York Mets acquire 3B Kris Bryant from the Chicago Cubs for 3B Mark Vientos and P J.T. Ginn

The natural inclination would be a shortstop given Francisco Lindor‘s injury, but I’m not convinced he’ll be on the shelf that long, and I’m comfortable with Luis Guillorme filling in at short despite his brutal three-error debut there on Monday. I think the Mets should acquire a starter as well given the uncertainty surrounding Jacob deGrom’s health, but I expect that player would be more of a lower-key innings-eater type rather than a Big Name Pitcher.

The offense has been a low point for the Mets this season, with the team ranking 14th in the NL in runs scored and getting disappointing performances everywhere but first and, when Brandon Nimmo has been healthy, center field. I like Bryant better than J.D. Davis at third or Dominic Smith in left, and his ability to play either position gives him a flexibility that’s specifically useful to New York. This is a short rental, so an elite prospect here would be inappropriate, but the Cubs need all the arms they can find, and Vientos, who strikes me as a future first baseman, has a lot better chance of replacing Rizzo than supplanting Pete Alonso.

Philadelphia Phillies acquire OF Byron Buxton and P José Berríos from the Minnesota Twins for P Spencer Howard, SS Bryson Stott, P Francisco Morales, 1B Jhailyn Ortiz, and C Rafael Marchan

I’m lopping off the top of the Phillies’ farm system with this trade, but they’re in a bit of a bind. They need to add talent to the roster, but without being willing to go over the luxury tax threshold, their choices are either to wait for prospects to develop or to trade those prospects for established major leaguers. With the Mets ailing, the Braves losing Ronald Acuña Jr., and the Nationals thinner than a punchline in a Chuck Lorre CBS sitcom, right now is the opportunity.

The Phillies have what I think is the worst center field situation of any serious contender, and Zach Eflin just landed on the IL, so these are definite needs, not extra scoops of ice cream. And I’d give up even more if I could count on Buxton being healthy; this trade is made with the assumption that he’s a risk. Philadelphia has been given the rare opportunity to make up for simply reassembling last year’s .500 team this year. Audentes fortuna juvat.

What trade would you like to see in your role as semi-benevolent-god-monarch-dictator of MLB?

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Carson Kahlamember
1 year ago

I find it hard to believe Huira has the kind of value left to be the headliner of a deal for Gallo. Even with the other prospects thrown in we’re talking about someone who is top 10 in batting War with gold glove caliber defense and has shown this production level before(2019).

OddBall Herrera
1 year ago
Reply to  Carson Kahla

I don’t agree actually. I think that an organization could easily convince themselves they are getting an all star player that Milwaukee doesn’t have the luxury to fix while contending. Those AAA stints were laughably short to make any sort of meaningful change, someone will figure that if they stick him there for the rest of the season they can get better results.

1 year ago
Reply to  Carson Kahla

yeah i think the rangers certainly hang up on that call. a hiura that literally can’t hit and 2 40+/45 FVs? lmao

Ball in Glove
1 year ago

I checked this out on Baseball Trade Values and the Brewers get the most value in that deal, but if you switch out Hiura for Brice Turang, who is now completely blocked by Adames, you get a more balanced haul…at least from a surplus value aspect.

1 year ago
Reply to  Carson Kahla

Gallo is a corner outfielder who puts up 110-120 WRC+’s. He just isnt worth that much.