About a month ago, I used this space to present you, dear reader, with five proposals for the fast-approaching non-waiver Trade Deadline. Other than the fact that none of those deals have happened and a bunch of you jumped on me for (unwittingly) submitting five ideas that all augmented clubs from major markets, I'd say it went pretty well.
So let's do it again. And this time, I'll be sure to include a couple of the little guys.
Jay Bruce to the Royals
It has been assumed that if Kansas City does anything of significance at this Deadline to lock down its American League Central lead and help them get that elusive fourth win in the World Series, it will be the addition of a starting arm. That assumption grew stronger with this week's (brief) demotion of the struggling Yordano Ventura to Triple-A and Jason Vargas' torn elbow ligament. Perhaps that will prompt action on the Royals' part on Johnny Cueto (a blockbuster that lands the Royals both Bruce and Cueto would be heck of a lot of fun).
Having said all that, the Royals have gotten this far with the rotation at hand (and with Vargas limited by injury to just nine starts), and they might feel they can manipulate the off-day-loaded October schedule to their advantage with that deep bullpen. Maybe the newly activated Kris Medlen will prove to be every bit as impactful as another under-the-radar acquisition -- Chris Young -- has been for them this season.
You wonder, then, if the Royals might seek to address their offense instead of or in addition to the pitching staff. After all, their lineup needs an Alex Gordon replacement now and might need one in 2016, too. Bruce could fill both holes.
Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson have done a fine job filling in for Gordon for the time being. But Orlando's recent home run surge is as unsustainable as his April triple surge, and Dyson best profiles as a bench asset. Bruce would give the Royals' lineup a different dynamic. Yes, he strikes out more than they're generally accustomed to. But if he joined the Royals tomorrow, he'd be leading them in walk rate (11.7 percent) and hard-hit rate (36.9) and he'd be second in home run/fly ball rate (13.9).
Bruce is under contractual control for $12.5 million next season, with a $13 million option for 2017. Conveniently or coincidentally, Gordon has a $12.5 million player option for 2016. A move of this magnitude could ultimately come down to 1) how confident the Royals are that Gordon will delay his free agency by exercising that option (a move that seemed doubtful before the injury, at least) and 2) how confident they are that they can make one of their franchise faces a Royal for life. If there is any genuine doubt that Gordon is going to be a part of this club in '16, then a trade for Bruce would be a proactive (albeit costly) move to address that issue while also aiding the pennant push in the present tense.
Even though Bruce struggled in 2014 and at the outset of '15, a productive bat under a measure of contractual control is worth a pretty penny in this marketplace. This might be one of those deals where it actually takes an upper-echelon prospect -- like a Brandon Finnegan -- to get it done. Ultimately, it's hard to imagine the Royals going there, but a man can dream.
David Price to the Astros
Jeez, even Jeff Luhnow is picking at the low-hanging fruit that is the "David Price has a dog named Astro!" storyline. It's too perfect not to happen (which probably means it won't happen).
If the Tigers do push the "sell" button (I'm still slightly skeptical), Price instantly becomes the best arm available on the market by a mile. He doesn't present nearly as complicated an equation as Cole Hamels' contract does. He doesn't come with the injury worry that has been associated with Cueto. It's just a straight-up instant ace acquisition that boosts you for the short term and doesn't cost you a wealth of long-term assets.
(UPDATE: Since this article was published, Houston completed a trade with the A's for Scott Kazmir. That doesn't necessarily preclude the Astros from getting Price as well, since they didn't surrender their top prospects, but it might make a bolder trade a little less likely.)
This trade market can very much revolve around the Astros. They've got the perfect alignment of farm system depth and financial flexibility to make an impact acquisition. Centering a trade around a controllable pitcher like Vincent Velasquez would not totally disrupt the Astros' long-term outlook (remember, they're chasing not just a World Series this year, but that 2017 one Sports Illustrated predicted for them), and that kind of package might be enticing enough to get the Tigers to forgo the Draft pick they'd receive if they kept Price through the Deadline and he signed elsewhere this offseason.
Price -- in terms of October experience, clubhouse persona and, of course, mastery on the mound -- might be just what Houston needs to get to the next level.
And did I mention his dog is named Astro?
Aramis Ramirez to the Pirates
It would be cool to see this excellent and underrated career end where it began, wouldn't it? The trade that sent Ramirez (along with Kenny Lofton) to the Cubs in 2003 was one of those criminally dumb deals that made the Buccos' two-decade run between winning seasons possible.
Here's to a sort of cosmic correction.
The 37-year-old Ramirez, who is expected to retire at year's end, can pair with Jung Ho Kang as a satisfying solution on the left side of the infield while Jordy Mercer (out six weeks with a left MCL sprain) and Josh Harrison (still out another five weeks with a thumb injury) are out of the picture. And when Harrison gets back, the Pirates would have the option of returning him to more of a super-utility role for the remainder of the season. This would be especially helpful in spelling Gregory Polanco against lefties, against whom Polanco has been basically invisible (.372 OPS).
It's doubtful the in-division element would be much of a deterrence here. Ramirez has a .905 OPS dating back to June 12, but he's still a short-term rental, and it's not as if the Brewers are going to extend him a qualifying offer and recoup a Draft pick for him. The Brewers' main motivation might be to save the roughly $5 million they still owe Ramirez this year, so the prospect piece changing hands wouldn't be an A-lister.
(UPDATE: Hey, we were right!)
James Shields and Joaquin Benoit to the Blue Jays
I was going to write Shields and Craig Kimbrel, but that's probably getting greedy. Bottom line: The Jays need a starting arm and a reliever (yes, even in the wake of the Joba Chamberlain pickup), and San Diego has what they're looking for.
Toronto has the best offense in the game, and it'll go to waste it if the team doesn't augment this pitching staff. With general manager Alex Anthopoulos in the last year of his contract and the club trying to get into October for the first time since Joe Carter's magic moment, there has to be organizational incentive to get aggressive, even if it's just to better position the Blue Jays for a Wild Card spot.
Toronto kicked the tires on Shields this winter, and that obviously didn't go anywhere. But now there's talk of the Padres potentially sweetening the pot by swallowing some of his salary. He's owed north of $63 million between now and the end of 2018.
Whatever the exact financial terms, Shields' backloaded contract fits in well with the Blue Jays' financial picture. They've got Mark Buehrle's $20 million salary and R.A. Dickey's $12 million salary coming off the books after this season. In fact, their only major financial commitments after 2016 are to Jose Reyes ($22 million in '17, with a $4 million buyout for '18) and Russell Martin ($20 million apiece in '17, '18 and '19).
So the Jays can afford Shields. And considering they're probably going to have to go out and sign a veteran starter this offseason, anyway, here's an opportunity to jump the gun while addressing a clear in-season need. Shields has had an odd season, especially in the realm of home runs surrendered (and that's part of the reason why the Padres might have to eat some of his contract to move him). But he's pitched well in the AL East in the past, and he's durable.
Benoit is a free agent at year's end, and he would boost the Blue Jays' bullpen for the short-term. Again, if you want to dream big (and Anthopoulos has been known to do so), maybe you target Kimbrel (under wraps through at least 2017) over Benoit. Or maybe you focus on another starter (Andrew Cashner, if you want a little contractual control and some upside; Ian Kennedy, if you want a cheaper and more short-term selection).
Basically, there are a lot of ways the Blue Jays could go about this, if they're willing to get serious about 2015 and dangle a Daniel Norris or a Jeff Hoffman. The bottom line is these two teams match up well, and Anthopoulos and San Diego GM A.J. Preller are two dudes who love to deal.
Andre Ethier to the Angels, C.J. Wilson to the Dodgers
Big-leaguer-for-big-leaguer trades are all-too-infrequent, but occasionally the stars align just right. In this instance, they align pretty well in terms of need and even geography.
Ethier is owed the remainder of his $18 million salary this season, another $18 million in 2016 and $17.5 million in '17 (with a $2.5 million buyout if his $17.5 million option for '18 doesn't vest based on number of plate appearances).
Wilson is owed the remainder of his $18 million salary this season and $20 million in '16.
So if you did this trade straight up, the Angels are the ones taking on more salary. Depending on the perceived difference in value between starting arms and bats, the Dodgers might have to send along cash and/or a mid-level prospect piece to make it work.
But the gist of this deal makes sense. The Dodgers, who have a clear need for starting support, would be wise to capitalize on Ethier's bounce-back season, and moving him would address their outfield logjam with Carl Crawford back. The Angels, who have a clear need for a left-handed-hitting left fielder, would be wise to capitalize on Wilson's bounce-back season, and moving him would address their rotation logjam with Jered Weaver coming back.
Bonus: Neither guy has to move too far.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor and MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.