Sometimes watching the Dodgers fanbase freak out gives me an idea for an essay. Other times, it just makes me extremely tired. While writing about the financial implications of Trevor Bauer’s ongoing arbitration, I proposed a trade of Will Smith (and others) for Brandon Woodruff and Willy Adames. Almost as if on cue, as if the Brewers’ brass had heard me, the following bit of news dropped:
So much for my brilliant idea, I thought. And I continued work on The One-Win Team series and various Law Talk projects (which really should have been named Motion to Strike in retrospect).
Then Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote their own takes about the Bauer situation that covered largely the same ground that my piece covered with one exception: back pay.
If Bauer prevails in his appeal and his suspension is completely overturned, then the Dodgers would owe Bauer his full salary from 2022 of $32 million. Per Shaikin, when one factors in the luxury tax implications, the Dodgers could be on the hook for an additional $18 million, if the league and the union decide to assess the tax retroactively.
All of that uncertainty aside, there is one other factor I failed to fully consider: the market momentum has completely swung to free agency over trades as a method for acquiring players. For whatever reasons, owners are spending with almost libertine abandon. Five teams (Yankees, Mets, Padres, Phillies, and Rangers) as of December 10 have spent almost $1.75 billion on free-agent contracts combined.
The Dodgers have spent $21.5 million, of which twenty million belongs to Clayton Kershaw. Now, as the Bauer situation has yet to resolve and anyone who would like to make a trade has no reason to act right now because the free agent market is scorching hot, trade talk might be premature.
But considering the volume of activity and figurative gnashing of teeth on Dodgers Twitter and on the True Blue LA comments, I put the last One-Win Team essay on hold for a moment, so I could give us something positive to look forward to in the interim.
Who is Bryan Reynolds?
Per MLB Trade Rumors, Bryan Reynolds is a young star center fielder languishing in the baseball desert otherwise known as Pittsburgh. The following is an apt summary of the former Giants’ prospect:
Reynolds, 28 in January, has amassed 12.5 fWAR since bursting onto the scene in 2019. Acquired from the Giants in the Andrew McCutchen trade, Reynolds was called up a few weeks into the 2019 campaign and never looked back. That year, he hit .314/.377/.503 with 16 home runs in 134 games, good for fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Pete Alonso, Mike Soroka, and Fernando Tatis Jr.
He struggled mightily in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, posting a sub-.200 batting average and a wRC+ of just 71. That season proved to be an aberration, as Reynolds returned to his best in 2021, slashing .302/.390/.522 with 24 home runs in 159 games, earning his first trip to the All-Star game and finishing 11th in NL MVP voting. The key that season was a significant drop in strikeouts, as Reynolds easily posted a career-best mark of 18.4%, down nine percent from a year earlier.
It is worth noting that Reynolds’ strikeout rate ticked up last year to 23 percent. He wound up with a .262/.345/.461 line with 27 home runs and a 125 wRC+ at the expense of 40-point drop in batting average.
It is also worth noting that Reynolds is eventually expected to shift over to left field as his defensive metrics dipped last season. However, this slash line is leagues better than what current Cub Cody Bellinger did in 2022. It is also worth pointing out that the Cubs ludicrously paid $17.5 million for Bellinger’s services in 2023.
Reynolds is owed $6.5 million in the second year of a two-year deal signed last winter. He has two years of arbitration remaining, before reaching free agency at the conclusion of the 2025 season.
Interest in Reynolds perked up when on December 3, he did something you do not see that often in baseball: he demanded a trade. The Pirates responded accordingly:
“While it is disappointing, this will have zero impact on our decision-making this off-season or in the future. Our goal is to improve the Pirates for 2023 and beyond. With three years remaining until he hits free agency, Bryan remains a key member of our team. We look forward to him having a great season for the Pirates.”
As holdouts are not a thing in baseball, Reynolds has no leverage here. But his trade demand does not stop us from engaging in harmless speculation. So assuming, the Dodgers could get the Pirates to play ball what would it take to get Reynolds? I propose three different ideas.
The Obvious Trade
Okay, let us get the straight one-to-one deal out of the way first:
Obviously, the Dodgers cannot trade Will Smith to Milwaukee and Pittsburgh at the same time. But as previously said, the Brewers have stated they are holding onto Adames and Woodruff, so we will believe them.
But Michael, you say. Trading Smith opens up a hole at catcher to fill the hole in the outfield. Again, I would say not necessarily. Captain Barnes is still on the team, and while there would be a downgrade from Smith, all that would be required is a backup capable of emulating Barnes or better, to which I say, find a catcher on this list to help fill the gap until Diego Cartaya is ready in 2024.
But the straight-up, one-to-one trade is arguably the least interesting, because the Dodgers have more than one hole right now. What if there was a way to fill both the hole at shortstop AND the hole in the outfield at the same time?
Shoot the Moon
If we are engaging in harmless speculation, let’s really engage in harmless speculation. Unfortunately for our purposes, we cannot fill every hole on the Dodgers’ roster in one transaction as we could in the proposed Adames deal, but we can get pretty close.
Here’s the proposed trade, and it would be a blockbuster:
Again, I am trading Will Smith, but this time, and, again, I would be selling high on Alex Vesia and, this time, also including blocked minor leaguer Michael Busch to undo the now-infamous trade of 2017 and fill the gaps in center field and shortstop.
Is Oneil Cruz good? I do not think anyone knows the answer yet to the question as he has been in the Pittsburgh organization, so he is likely a raw talent currently, capable of the breathtaking play one minute and botching the obvious play the next.
Would the addition of Cruz and Reynolds make the 2023 Dodgers a better team than the 2022 version? Probably not. Would the addition of Cruz and Reynolds make the 2023 Dodgers more interesting to watch than the 2022 version? Probably — raw talent does that. The 2022 Dodgers probably could have used a bit more swagger in the dugout, Cruz and Reynolds would certainly help in that regard.
Again, there would be a gap in the catcher position, which was referenced above. There is always the possible that the Pirates would then flip Vesia or Busch or Smith for other prospects at the trade deadline, which could result in the Vesia/Busch/Smith in a Padres/Mets/Astros uniform trying to actively beat the Dodgers. Such an outcome is always a risk in trades, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
But Michael, you ask, do you have any ideas that do not involve creating a hole at catcher? Yes, but going this route means only one need gets addressed.
My Most “Realistic” Proposal or I stop trying to trade Will Smith
Here is the proposed trade:
In theory, the combination of Busch, Leonard, and outfielder Andy Pages would be enough to get Reynolds. Smith would remain as the starting catcher. Vesia would continue his violent pitching motion.
It would sting to lose to Busch and Pages, but considering the upside, the fanbase would likely get over it. Moreover, there is the added benefit of avoiding the awkward situation of seeing Smith/Vesia/Busch in another team’s uniform trying to beat the Dodgers.
So, all I have to do is hit publish, tag Andrew Friedman on Twitter, and call it a day right? Not exactly. It takes two to tango, and as we referenced earlier, the Pirates do not seem willing to play ball right now.
The Fly in the Ointment
Is it a certainty that the Dodgers would even offer any of these deals to Pittsburgh? No.
Is it a certainty that the Pirates would accept any of these deals? No.
In fact, I can say that they would outright refuse to see any of their young talents leave the Pirates at this point in time. Why am I skeptical? Two words: Bob Nutting. (And yes, you should be having a sense of deja vu right now.)
The failings of Bob Nutting as an owner are legion and far exceed the scope of this fun little exercise. In fact, I have told you all before during last year’s Lockout. I, and others, have laid forth the sins of Bob Nutting bare for the world to see. The Pirates will likely never be good under his watch, but if the team cannot draw the bare minimum of fans to keep the entire house of cards afloat, then the team would lose money.
And the most dangerous place to be in Pittsburgh is between Bob Nutting and his money.
As if to nail this point in even further, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported on December 11 (paywalled) that the Pirates were looking for a Juan “Soto-type” package for Reynolds. Considering that the Pirates refused to budge on trading now-convicted sex offender Felipe Vasquez for Gavin Lux and Keibert Ruiz in the summer of 2019, accurate reading of the trade market does not appear to be the specialty of the Pirates.
That said, I would not be surprised if various trade pieces from Pittsburgh get moved at the trade deadline, because your guess is as good as mine as to what Pittsburgh is actually doing these days, apart from being just bad. Arguably, the Pirates are worse than bad. They are boring and bad and if they have a strategy, they are doing a good job of keeping it secret.
Agree? Disagree? Have ideas of your own? Then share them in the comments! As I said last time, no one is technically wrong about a potential trade until proven otherwise...but this exercise was fun.
Depending on how the rest of the offseason goes, I may come up with another modest proposal, which may or may not involve trading Will Smith, to help pass the time and whet our appetite for spring training.