Let's discuss something other than Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Here are five moves I'd like to see. Actually, it's more than five, because the first suggestion deals with several moves that could vault the Cincinnati Reds into the thick of the National League Central race.
The Reds shake things up by...
1. Signing A.J. Pollock
2. Acquiring Sonny Gray from the Yankees
3. Trading Scooter Gennett, Scott Schebler, Taylor Trammell and Tony Santillan to the Indians for Corey Kluber
4. Installing Nick Senzel at second base
Following five straight losing seasons, the Reds have stated their intention to compete better in 2019 -- the trades for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark signify such a desire. The only problem? Those players won't push the needle enough. FanGraphs currently projects the Reds to finish 79-83. They need more.
The biggest problem with the current lineup is the lack of a true center fielder on the roster. Schebler has played there some, and they could move Puig from right field, but signing Pollock provides a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder while keeping Puig at his best position.
The Gray-to-the-Reds rumors have been active all offseason. It's time to make it happen. Gray had a 3.17 road ERA in 2018 and held batters to a .226/.295/.320 line. He simply got destroyed in Yankee Stadium (6.98 ERA), so the hope is that by leaving New York he gets back to where he was with the A's.
The Reds have allowed the most runs in the NL each of the past two seasons. Wood, Roark and Gray are solid, but none is an ace. The latest big rumor involves Kluber, the Reds and the Padres in a three-way deal, but let's just cut out the middleman. The Indians need a second baseman and outfield depth, and Gennett and Schebler provide immediate help -- and including Gennett trims $9.7 million off the payroll. Trammell is a top-20 overall prospect in the game who would project as Cleveland's center fielder of the future, while Santillan is a power arm who reached Double-A in 2019 and is close to the majors.
All this, and the Reds still have Senzel (the player the Padres are reportedly lusting over in that three-way trade). The Reds would roll out this lineup:
And this rotation:
Yes, you've added a lot of payroll. You subtract Gennett (Schebler is still pre-arbitration) while adding Kluber's $17 million, Pollock at an estimated $15 million (at four years, $60 million) and Gray at $7.5 million. That's a net of about $30 million, pushing the Reds' estimated payroll to $143 million, a big increase over 2018's estimated $111 million.
Here's the thing, though: It's really just a one-year hit. Kemp (the Reds are paying $14.75 million), Roark ($10 million), Puig ($9.7 million), Wood (estimated $9.5 million) and Gray are all free agents after 2019 -- that's $51.45 million off the payroll. In fact, the addition of all those one-year players is even more reason for the Reds to push harder in 2019.
Colorado Rockies trade Jon Gray to the Minnesota Twins for Byron Buxton
This is your classic change-of-scenery challenge trade. The Rockies grew so frustrated with Gray last season that they sent him down to Triple-A for a short spell. He finished 12-9 with a 5.12 ERA. Buxton played just 24 games with the Twins and hit .156, got injured, spent the summer in the minors and wasn't even called up in September. The Twins said it was because the wrist injury was still lingering and because there wasn't enough playing time to go around. Hmm.
At their best, both players are explosive talents. When healthy, Buxton is the best defensive center fielder in the game, and he produced a 5.2 WAR season in 2017 when he hit .253/.314/.413. Gray had a 3.67 ERA with the Rockies in 2017, a 3.1 WAR season over 20 starts. Gray has just over three years of service time, and Buxton just over two, so the Rockies would be trading three years of Gray for four years of Buxton, which seems to even the trade since Gray is probably the "safer" player given Buxton's inconsistent results at the plate.
The Rockies need a center fielder. The team's depth chart lists Ian Desmond as the center fielder, an acknowledgement that Charlie Blackmon no longer has the range to play there. Desmond did play center for the Rangers in 2016, but he wasn't great there (minus-6 defensive runs saved), and at 33 he'd be one of the oldest center fielders in the league. David Dahl and Raimel Tapia are options, but Dahl is better suited for right field and Tapia is a fourth outfielder. Buxton may not hit any better than Desmond, but he could be 30 runs better in the field.
The Rockies would still have depth in their rotation with German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Tyler Anderson, Antonio Senzatela and Chad Bettis. They could give Jeff Hoffman another shot, and prospect Peter Lambert is just about ready. They could also add one of the remaining free-agent starters like Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley or Clay Buchholz.
For the Twins, they give up on Buxton's potential but get a potential top-of-the-rotation arm who should excel away from Coors. Gray would give them a second power arm behind Jose Berrios and push Kyle Gibson into the No. 3 slot. Max Kepler can slide over to center with Jake Cave in right. Plus, prospect Alex Kirilloff may not be that far away from the majors. He hit .348 with 20 home runs in A-ball and is advanced enough that he could be ready after half a season in Double-A.
Philadelphia Phillies sign Dallas Keuchel
Yes, the Phillies' efforts have been on signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but even if they land one of them, they still have the resources to sign Keuchel. The current rotation is nice, but it still projects as only 14th-best in the majors, via FanGraphs. Nick Pivetta certainly has breakout potential after striking out 188 in 164 innings, but he allowed 24 home runs, and his 4.77 ERA wasn't just because of Citizens Bank Park -- he had a 5.33 ERA on the road. Zach Eflin also improved after rough showings in 2016 and 2017. Jake Arrieta was solid if unspectacular. Bottom line: There's room for a No. 2 guy in the rotation behind Aaron Nola.
Signing Keuchel would allow the Phillies to move Vince Velasquez to the bullpen, where he could become a dominant multi-inning weapon -- a guy who pitches 45 or 50 games and 90 innings with big-time strikeout rates. Even with Velasquez in the pen, there is backup rotation depth. The Phillies still have Jerad Eickhoff and Enyel De Los Santos as well.
Los Angeles Angels sign Adam Ottavino
Let's see. The Angels signed Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill. They signed Jonathan Lucroy. They signed Justin Bour. If the Angels were conducting a 2015 simulation replay, you might want those. Alas, it's 2019, and that's not exactly a fearsome foursome.
Hey, it could work out. There's some minor upside to all four players. The Angels actually project to 84-78, which could put them in the thick of at least the wild-card race. They've already benefited from the Mariners tearing things down a bit, and the A's haven't done anything to build a rotation. So the Angels could still contend without doing anything. But they should do something, and adding Adam Ottavino makes sense. He won't cost as much as Craig Kimbrel and may actually be better over the next three or four seasons given the monster season he had with the Rockies with 112 K's in 77⅔ innings and a .158 average allowed. The back end of the Angels' bullpen remains unsettled, and Ottavino could be the closer or the eighth-inning guy to Ty Buttrey or Justin Anderson.
The San Diego Padres acquire Austin Riley and Luiz Gohara from the Atlanta Braves for Hunter Renfroe and Francisco Mejia
A challenge trade of young players. The Padres just announced that Wil Myers is moving back to the outfield, an area where they're already overcrowded with young players who need big league at-bats. That means they need a third baseman; they could sign free agent Mike Moustakas, but rebuilding the 2015 Royals probably wouldn't work a second time. Meanwhile, the Braves need a right fielder and could use a young catcher to back up Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann (who may not have much left in the tank anyway).
Riley profiles similar to Renfroe at the plate: big power, but he probably won't hit for much average, and the walk rate is a little suspect. He rates as a good defender, is a top-100 overall prospect (MLB.com actually has him at No. 43 overall) and he's pretty much ready for the majors after reaching Triple-A. The Braves have Josh Donaldson signed for just one year, but minus Riley can just move Johan Camargo back to third in 2020, when Donaldson departs. Renfroe cut way down on his strikeouts in 2018 and emerged as a useful player (2.4 WAR).
Gohara and Mejia both lost some prospect luster in 2018, Gohara with injuries and dealing with family issues (his father died in the offseason and his mother had heart surgery) and Mejia after a so-so campaign in Triple-A with the Indians and Padres. Mejia could be a utility guy in 2019 -- catching a little, playing a little outfield, pinch-hitting -- or even hit his way into starting more games behind the plate. By 2020, he should be ready to take on full-time duties as a catcher. Gohara gives the Braves a big arm with top-of-the-rotation potential if he figures everything out.