MOVE #3: THE TRADE
Following the 2011 season, the Chicago Cubs hired Theo Epstein to run the organization. The former Boston GM volunteered to resolve more than a curse; the Cubs required an exorcism.
First thing first, extract the demons within.
Epstein inherited a 71-91 team that finished 18 games off playoff pace. He could have kept his better players, perhaps even spent some more of that big market money to add a veteran or three, with the hope of bridging the gap between their current state and true contention.
Instead, Theo did precisely what he should have done. He moved anything and everything he could that didn’t match the Cub team photo he envisioned for 2014.
He let veterans Carlos Pena, Kerry Wood and Aramis Ramirez walk. Not long after, he traded Carlos Zambrano, Andrew Cashner and Marlon Byrd. And before another year expired, he dealt Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto.
Despite what your Cub fan buddy might tell you, not every trade worked. But the key was that no one player Epstein sent away factored into his future.
(Turns out, a young prospect named Anthony Rizzo, who they got for Cashner, and a soft-tossing Ivy League pitcher in Kyle Hendricks, who they got for Dempster, did.)
And for the next two seasons, the on-field product grew worse—much worse.
All according to the plan. Epstein turned those bad finishes into high draft picks Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.
That offseason, more of the same from Epstein…
Five MORE trades of veteran players scored the Cubs Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. Another 7 game improvement—12 games in two years, which paved the way for still more veteran extraction. Good bye Jeff Samardzija. So long Jason Hammel. And suddenly…
“This house is clean.” (must be said out loud, like the weird little lady in Poltergeist)
Epstein had rid the organization of all bad money, and had rebuilt the farm system to become the envy of major league baseball. And in four years’ time, the Cubs went from a veteran-based eyesore leaning on its reputation as “the lovable losers” to the sexiest young contender in sport.
Then, in the fifth year, the Cubs ended the longest championship drought in sports history.
But it all started with…
RECOGNITION OF SELF
The 2018 Seattle Mariners finished with a solid 89-73 record this season but were eight games off the wild card pace and fourteen games shy of Houston in the West. As Jerry Dipoto has admitted, the team isn’t close to the top four teams in the American League—Boston, New York, Houston & Cleveland. By year’s end they weren’t on the same level with the young Oakland Athletics or younger Tampa Bay Rays.
Because of their fat contracts, Jerry can’t move Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon or Felix Hernandez. But make no mistake, it’s time for a trade.
The kind of trade that reloads a farm system.
A Chris Sale trade.
THE SALE SALE
December 6, 2016, the Chicago White Sox traded affordable staff ace Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for the #1 prospect in baseball (Yoan Moncada), a second top 50 MLB prospect (Michael Kopech), a third top ten organizational prospect, and a fourth lower-level talent.
Chicago recognized that even with a veteran nucleus of Sale, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera that they weren’t a playoff team. In fact, they weren’t even close— 16 ½ games out of first place, 11 games out of the wild card. So, the teardown began. The Sox dumped five of the six players mentioned, retaining only Abreu.
Jose & the leftovers have since gone 128-195, including a 100-loss season in 2018. But the Sox also went from having the 23rd ranked farm system in baseball to its’ 3rd best in the span of a year.
Now, I am well aware that the White Sox could easily screw this thing up—Rick Hahn, you are no Theo Epstein. And yes, I realize that Hahn traded a perennial Cy Young candidate, who won a World Series during his second year in Boston. But in return for Sale, who was either going to be too expensive or too frustrated to re-sign once the team returned to contention, a sad and stagnant organization created a hopeful future.
And Seattle needs to do the same.
WHO IS SEATTLE’S CHRIS SALE?
There’s really only one choice. James Paxton.
Despite having never completed a healthy Major League season, Paxton demands an attractive trade package. He has two years before free agency, and every Major League organization recognizes his upside. An affordable 29-year old top-of-the-rotation starter with a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball.
Using the Sale trade as my baseline, I think a Paxton trade should net Jerry a package of three to four prospects, including an elite farmhand.
THE PROBLEM WITH A PAXTON TRADE
The man can’t stay healthy. He can’t even consistently ascend staircases without suffering injury. Can’t avoid line drives. Can’t avoid predatory fowl.
So, although numerous National League teams are playoff contenders and most contenders would love to have a top-of-the-rotation starter, what National League team in their right mind would trust James Paxton to run bases? That’s like asking Elijah Price to enter America Ninja Warrior.
No, I think Paxton is a target for American League contenders only, which narrows the trading field considerably.
FINDING THE RIGHT PARTNER
Don’t think Paxton can handle the pressure.
They went for a World Series and won it. The farm system has been depleted.
The Indians are reportedly seeking to trade starting pitching, not acquire it.
Oh, F**k them.
WHO DOES THAT LEAVE?
Perhaps. The Twins were a playoff team in 2017 and could count last season as a hiccup.
THE WHITE SOX?
Not out of the question. They don’t want to rebuild forever.
Not the kind of move they typically make, but they did finish last year as hot as any team.
But I’m going with…
THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The man has a maple leaf tattoo on his forearm, for the sake of all that’s holy. He threw his only no-hitter in Toronto. I’m assuming he loves hockey, Molson and poutine.
The Jays could add a hometown ace to a rotation featuring Marcus Stroman and a healthy Aaron Sanchez. And they happen to boast a farm system with pieces Jerry Dipoto might find attractive.
No, Mariner fan, you’re NOT getting Vladimir Guerrero Jr!
So, here it is…
James Paxton & Mike Zunino
Bo Bichette (#2 Toronto prospect, Top 15 overall), P Sean Reid-Foley (Toronto’s #10), RP TJ Zeuch (#15) & C Danny Jansen (Toronto’s #3).
Bo Bichette is major league ready. Not a great defender but athletic enough that he could play several positions—SS, 2B, 3B, LF. What he can do is hit. He’d be in my opening day 2019 lineup.
Sean Reid-Foley misses bats. (A combined 11 Ks per 9 spread over AA/AAA/MLB in 2018). He’s no Paxton, but Reid-Foley (23) would represent a controllable, rotation-ready arm for Seattle.
TJ Zeuch (23) is a power pitching reliever with an upper 90’s fastball.
Danny Jansen (23) is another major league ready hitter, who could platoon with a veteran C addition, like Jonathan Lucroy or Martin Maldonado, and then eventually assume the full-time role.
THE CHICAGO WAY
I repeat. The Mariners need to stop making moves to end a playoff drought and start making moves to win a championship. Paxton has been given every opportunity to prove himself as a staff ace, and he has repeatedly come up lame—literally lame. But more importantly, he brings the most trade value to the table for Seattle, and the Mariners MUST RESTOCK THE FARM.
The White Sox enter the third year of their re-launch and seem ready to add payroll.
The Cubs turned the corner in year four of their reclamation project.
The Mariners don’t have to rebuild entirely, but they do need to take a step or two backward to get where they need to be—A Championship Path.