Yesterday, the Dodgers were involved in the three team trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox, presumably because the Reds preferred a different type of prospect than what Chicago could offer. Andrew Friedman and his gang essentially acted as brokers for the other two teams, and took a commission for helping facilitate the trade, upgrading their own stock of prospects in the process.
But when a win-now team chooses to upgrade their prospect stock over simply just acquiring a guy like Frazier for themselves, it raises questions about what the overarching strategy really is. And when Andrew Friedman says stuff like this, the questions seem to be even more legitimate.
Friedman, asked if he is any more comfortable trading elite pitching prospects today than he was yesterday: "Yeah."
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) December 16, 2015
Of course, to be fair, Friedman also said this.
Friedman said he knows some teams are interested in players Dodgers acquired today but trade is not necessarily precursor to another.
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) December 16, 2015
Ken Rosenthal, the most connected guy out there, published a piece not long after suggesting that this deal might help the Dodgers pursue Jose Fernandez. Based on what the asking price was during the winter meetings, however, perhaps we should actually be looking at the other Florida team when looking for a partner in a mega-trade for the Dodgers.
For all the speculation about dealing with the Marlins, the Rays are the ones with the kind of players the Dodgers actively covet. For the last few months, they’re reportedly spent their time pursuing front-line starting pitchers and elite relievers, attempting to re-sign Zack Greinke and trade for Aroldis Chapman, among other pursuits. Greinke went to Arizona and the Chapman deal fell apart after his domestic dispute issue was reported, so at this point, the Dodgers off-season thus far has consisted of signing Chase Utley and having Brett Anderson accept a qualifying offer; even the reported Hisashi Iwakuma deal might be in trouble over concerns with his physical.
Concerns about Iwakuma’s health may only heighten the desire to land a lower-risk arm than a pitcher like Fernandez, who also has medical concerns, and could be a boom-or-bust proposition. So instead of trying to talk the Marlins into accepting a reasonable offer for another health-risk arm, maybe the Dodgers should just put together a blockbuster for Chris Archer instead.
Obviously, Archer would cost a ton. Over the summer, I rated him as the 10th most valuable trade asset in baseball, ranking one spot behind Andrew McCutchen. He’s a top-tier pitcher signed to an absurdly team-friendly contract, as he’s guaranteed just $23 million over the next four years, or just $38 million over the next six seasons assuming the two team options are picked up. Besides Chris Sale, Archer should cost more than any other pitcher in baseball to acquire, and the Dodgers should be prepared to pay an even higher price to extract him from Tampa Bay than what it might cost to get Fernandez from the Marlins.
And yes, that means putting Corey Seager on the table. When I worked through a potential Dodgers-Marlins trade for Fernandez nine days ago, I noted that Seager was worth more than Fernandez by himself, but that’s probably not true of Archer. For the trade value list this summer, Dan Szymborski provided five year ZIPS forecasts for all the guys on the list, Seager and Archer included. Archer’s five year WAR projection put him at +20.9, while Seager projected for +20.3 WAR over the next five years. Both players are actually under team control for six years, and Seager is more likely to be a valuable contributor in 2021 than Archer is, but the expected production during the next half-dozen years should be similar.
And of course, the time-table of Archer’s expected value is pushed forward, as he’s more of a +4 to +4.5 WAR pitcher in the short-term with expected decline because he’s a pitcher, while Seager looks like a +3 WAR player now who will climb to the +5 WAR level in his prime. Swapping Seager and Archer would move some of the Dodgers future wins to the present, and wins now are more valuable than wins in the future, especially for a contending team like the Dodgers. So while Seager was definitely placed too low on this summer’s trade value list, I’d still put him behind Archer on an updated ranking; he’s the kind of asset that you can actually justify giving up the game’s best prospect for.
And from the Rays side of things, having their franchise’s most valuable asset be a hitter rather than a pitcher should some appeal, as there’s a significantly lower chance than Seager’s value goes to zero overnight. The Rays also have a much deeper stockpile of arms than bats, and trading Archer for an elite young hitter could allow them to acquire the type of franchise hitter that is difficult for them now that they’re rarely picking at the top of the draft anymore. So, I would have to think that putting Seager in play would at least get the Rays to think about a deal, and given the other fits between the two teams, the deal could probably grow from there.
Most obviously, the Rays also have two elite relievers, and have reportedly been listening to offers for both Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger. McGee would serve nicely as a replacement for the scuttled Chapman acquisition, and might even fit better, since he’d likely be more willing to take a setup role in front of closer Kenley Jansen. McGee also has two years of team control remaining, and could be in a position to take over for Jansen as closer next year if the Dodgers let him leave via free agency, so even though he’s not quite as dominant as Chapman, he should actually be more valuable to LA.
So an Archer/McGee package would be incredibly valuable to the Dodgers, and would force them to give up not just Seager, but additional pieces of value as well. This is where the trade with the White Sox comes into play, as the continued accumulation of prospect depth should make a Seager+ deal with Tampa Bay a little easier. Montas could be a very nice piece for Tampa Bay, especially if they see him as a potentially dominating reliever in the not too distant future; turning two years of McGee into six years of Montas is exactly the kind of deal Friedman regularly made when he ran the Rays, and could allow them to keep their endless-contention strategy viable.
Austin Barnes, a C/2B who will have a tough time finding playing time in LA, would also be a great fit for the Rays, who have a weak spot behind the plate and are likely to be high on a guy with Barnes’ skillset; Kiley McDaniel noted a year ago that Barnes has a reputation as an excellent framer. Likewise, Alex Guerrero is basically useless to the Dodgers now, but could be a nice fit with a Rays team that has a weak designated hitter in Logan Morrison. A package including Seager, Montas, Barnes, and Guerrero (with the Dodgers likely picking up his salary, as they often do in trades) would at least force the Rays to consider giving up Archer and McGee.
And the two sides could even grow it beyond that, realistically. Seager’s arrival in TB would displace recently-acquired Brad Miller at shortstop, and the Dodgers showed interest in Miller last winter when they were shopping Matt Kemp. With Enrique Hernandez around as a potential platoon partner at shortstop, Miller would likely be more valuable to LA than TB at that point, and so maybe the Dodgers include some younger pitching — maybe Zach Lee? — in the deal to replenish the depth the Rays would lose by trading Archer.
The Rays don’t want to trade Archer, and the Dodgers don’t want to trade Seager, but that’s why this match probably works better than a deal with the Marlins. Archer is the kind of piece that is worth giving up Seager for, and given how both teams have other secondary pieces that could complement each other’s rosters, there seems to be at least a chance for a trade here. The Dodgers are reaching a point where it makes sense for them to start converting their prospect depth into shorter-term upgrades, but spending that capital on a guy like Archer makes more sense than paying an absurd price for Fernandez. And while the Rays would almost certainly rather not trade Archer, getting a cornerstone hitter and a some roster depth at positions of need, makes this the kind of trade they could make that would allow them to restock their talent base without punting on 2016.
As always, deals like this are harder to complete in reality than they are to speculate about on the web, but if we’re connecting the dots on the Dodgers aligning pieces to trade for an ace, it seems more likely to me that Chris Archer is the guy the Dodgers would move heaven and earth to acquire.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.