I’ve long said that I don’t do trade proposals as a general rule, but it’s really more of a guideline that I can choose to follow at my leisure. So between the lack of salient news and much bigger personal issues looming in the next few days, I figured I’d break containment for the Whit Merrifield trade proposal everyone’s been waiting for. Well, maybe just like two of you, but still.
Oh, I also cheated by using a trade template someone else established, so I guess I can still claim to be following my own rules.
The real flashpoint in any theoretical deal to this point as been using Nico Hoerner as a starting point for negotiations. That seems likely because he and Merrifield are more or less two different versions of the same player, with one being the prospect everyone hopes will develop into the other. While the would-be star has yet to fulfill his potential, the current star may be passing out of his prime.
Trading Hoerner for Merrifield would be a definite win-now move, though it could also be a lose-later proposition if things work out the right (or wrong) way. And since it’d take at least one other controllable MLB player — maybe Ian Happ — plus a prospect, you’re left with the distinct possibility that the Cubs would end up merely breaking even on a trade.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not as down on Merrifield as some seem to be and I believe he’s still got two really solid years of performance in him. Doing so on a contract that currently runs $4.06 million AAV and can only jump to a max of $5.06 million* means even significant erosion won’t turn him into an anchor. Pay no attention to the Daniel Descalso behind the curtain, he was never the player Merrifield has been over the last few seasons.
At the same time, it’s not entirely unreasonable to assume that Hoerner can put up similar production over the next three seasons. And if you figure that he will improve while Merrifield experiences a diminution in skill and value, it’s easy to see why people are opposed to it. So is there a way the Cubs could fulfill the Royals’ requirement of a big haul without including Hoerner?
I believe there is, and without stooping to the doofus fantasy baseball deal that includes five polished turd for a gem and a throw-in.
I think you could probably structure something with KC around Bote, Alzolay and 2 prospects of the Zack Short level to get Whit and I’m pulling the trigger on that if I’m running the Cubs
— Friend of the Pod Jeff Everson (@EVR551) November 26, 2019
The key to any trade is value, namely how to generate enough on both sides to make the deal worthwhile all the way around. Even the thrifty Royals aren’t burdened by Merrifield’s contract, but their competitive window isn’t such that he can really help them win again at whatever point they’ll again be ready. So they need to lengthen their span of control, ideally with versatile players who can pay dividends down the road.
As for the Cubs, they must find a delicate balance between not gutting either the 25-man roster or the farm, since they need to win over the next two years with the former group and in their subsequent window with the latter. The key is whether they can scrape together enough redundant talent to pull off a trade for Merrifield without disproportionately weakening one area of the organization or another.
As laid out in the tweet above, there could be a path that involves David Bote and Adbert Alzolay as the primary pieces, with Zack Short and others in the mix for the sweeteners. Trent Giambrone is another possibility, with more concrete options sorted out after the Rule 5 Draft. Maybe you look at lefty Jordan Minch or even righty Cory Abbott, as our Michael Canter suggested earlier, since the ancillary pieces have to be guys with legit upside.
Without heading down too much of a rabbit trail, you have to wonder whether the Cubs would have left catcher P.J. Higgins exposed if they were really after Merrifield. Many expected Higgins to be protected on the 40-man roster, but he’s now considered a lock to be drafted away and lost for good next month. With a developing hit tool and the ability to play both corner infield spots as well as catcher, not to mention Miguel Amaya sitting ahead of him in the prospect pipeline, Higgins would have had significant value in a trade. But I digress.
None of the players in question jump out as immediate replacements for Merrifield, though they could give the Royals more depth and versatility. Of course, Bote’s $3 million AAV contract means the Royals would actually be assuming more total salary obligation in such a deal. Maybe the Cubs throw in some money to make that work, no biggie.
The real key to this whole thing would be Alzolay, who electrified Cubs fans during a June 20 debut in which he struck out five Mets over four innings. Though he’s been groomed as a starter, many believe he’s destined for the bullpen due to his limited repertoire and questionable durability. Because of the Cubs’ more pressing need to compete, they can’t give him the leeway to develop as a starter the same way another team could.
I really think Adbert Alzolay might have more value to other teams than to Cubs. With just one option season left, and no relief experience, staying in this org puts him on shaky ground come 2021. With “bad” team, he could start in Majors, find his big league best fit on the fly.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) November 27, 2019
This is a case in which the player’s value to his current team might be significantly less than it is to another team that would be able to deploy him differently. But since the Cubs haven’t made any definitive moves with Alzolay yet, they haven’t lost leverage by making their long-term intentions known. Of course, even moving him to the bullpen doesn’t rule out a return to the rotation with another team.
That leads us to another aspect of a potential deal, one that is going to require you to put on your tin foil hat in order to hear me out. This is something I had discussed back in July as well, but what if the Cubs already sort of put a down payment on a Merrifield trade with the Mike Montgomery-Martín Maldonado swap? What already appeared lopsided on the surface became even more so when Monty blossomed and Maldonado, irritated by a lack of playing time, was flipped to Houston for the DFA’d Tony Kemp.
This isn’t to indicate that KC somehow feels bad about fleecing the Cubs or whatever, but it’s possible given the teams’ good working relationship that a little quid pro quo was involved. The two sides had reportedly discussed Merrifield prior to the deadline, so it’s not entirely unreasonable to think that the Cubs were given some manner of store credit. Think of it like a player to be named never.
Rather than the Cubs receiving some sort of sliding-scale player compensation, perhaps the Royals were amenable to adding Montgomery’s surplus value to the balance sheet of a future trade. That’s still not enough to make up for a low-ball offer from the Cubs, though perhaps it greases the wheels of a proposal that doesn’t include Hoerner.
And, wow, I just puked up over 1,100 words on a concept I have said in the past I’d try to avoid. The good news is you probably won’t get much more like this from me in the future, and you will definitely hear less from me in general over the next few days. I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving in whatever forms that takes for you — I’ll be in the hospital over the weekend, so hooray!
In the meantime, please feel free to tell me how dumb this idea is in the comments below.
*2021-23 salaries can escalate up to $1M based on Bonus Points
($200,000 for .5 points, $100,000 each for 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
.5 points (1,200 plate appearances)
1 point each for 1,400 plate appearances, Gold Glove
2 points each for All-Star, Silver Slugger, or 11-15 MVP vote
3 points each for 6-10 MVP vote
4 points for 2-5 MVP vote
5 points for MVP
Numbers per Spotrac