In practical terms, we are in the downtime of the offseason.
It’s not quite time for pitchers and catchers to report. Most of the hot stove action has been completed. Apart from taking far too long to do the right thing, the Dodgers have mostly nibbled at the bountiful harvest of the 2022 offseason.
I mean at this rate, Carlos Correa could end up as a Dod—oh, wait he re-signed with Minnesota. All that drama just to end up back where he started. Well, as the mantra for this coming year of travel goes...no matter where you go, #ThereYouAre.
So here I am planning out the year, when I notice chatter on the site.
Tanner Houck is allegedly, apparently available in trade and the Dodgers’ would be well served to go get him. I think that this player cannot be real because that name sounds like a default AI-generated player from MLB: The Show or is what happens when one randomly grabs a bunch of Scrabble tiles and expects the result to be a proper noun.
But the chatter did lead me to ask a single question.
Who is Tanner Houck?
Well, let’s check the tape from last year; Houck can’t be that impressive right?
Oh my — that slider.
Houck appeared in 32 games in 2022, going 5-4 with a 3.15 ERA. He had four starts and eight saves in 60 innings of work. He struck out 56 and walked 22. Those are not world-shattering statistics but they hardly read like a bust either.
And he’s under team control until 2025 and won’t enter free agency until 2028?!? And the Red Sox are open to trade him?!?
Normally, one would think that a team would build around an arm like Houck’s. But who can tell what is going on in Boston right now, considering that the Red Sox just designated Matt Barnes for assignment.
Even MLB Trade Rumors expressed skepticism that a Houck trade would be expected or even likely at this time.
Other options [for available controllable starting pitching] are few and far between, though Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com writes that the Red Sox have received “significant” trade interest in righty Tanner Houck as teams explore alternatives to Miami’s starting pitching glut.
That’s not to say that a deal of Houck is expected or likely. Houck doesn’t have a definite role on Boston’s starting staff thanks to the presence of Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, James Paxton, Garrett Whitlock, Nick Pivetta and Brayan Bello, but the injury risk among that group means that Houck can’t be expressly ruled out of the running, either. Sale has pitched just 48 1/3 innings over the past two seasons, and Paxton has just 21 2/3 frames across the past three MLB seasons combined. Kluber rebounded with 164 innings in 2022 but prior to that had thrown just 116 2/3 innings over a three-year period himself.
Moreover, the 26-year-old Houck could yet find himself with a pivotal role in Boston’s bullpen after impressing as a reliever in 2022.
Again, Houck seems like a proto-Julio Urías-before-2020-swingman type in that you can plug him in wherever as he has not stuck anywhere — yet — and seems to be effective whenever he comes in.
While the Dodgers rotation feels pretty set with Urías/Clayton Kershaw/Tony Gonsolin/Dustin May/Noah Syndergaard and Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove, Bobby Miller, and Gavin Stone waiting in the wings. But, it would likely behoove the Dodgers to get another one to two arms for depth purposes in the rotation.
So assuming the Dodgers could get the Red Sox to play ball, what would it take to get Houck? I propose some ideas with Baseball Trade Values (BVT).
The straight-up trade
Alright, you know the drill, so let’s get right to it. I propose trading Will Smith —
Wait, where are you going? I was kidding! I don’t actually want to trade Will Smith (period) and especially in this case. But if one were to engage in a hypothetical...
Like trying to pay for a candy bar with a $100 bill, trading Smith for Houck makes no sense in this scenario or just about any scenario going forward based on the current composition of the Dodgers’ roster. But short of selling high on Alex Vesia (19.2 per BVT) or Evan Phillips (21.6), there is a one-to-one trade that could feasibly work, although it would hurt.
Pages was added to the 40-man roster in November, and was rated the 90th-best prospect in the league by Baseball Prospectus, and ranked as a top-10 prospect in the Dodgers’ system by BP, Baseball America, and FanGraphs. Moving him would hurt as a fan. But this proposal feels fair in that both teams would be giving up a budding player who has plenty of team control. Again, it would seem unlikely that either side would agree, but in a vacuum, I can see the logic for the move.
But what about a move involving a rising prospect who is currently blocked on the roster?
The Busch scenario
Oh, Michael Busch, everyone apparently loves your bat and tries to talk up any weakness in your glove.
However, Busch’s skills are still good enough to be ranked as the second-best second base prospect in the majors per MLB Pipeline. In that same article, Busch was projected as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate amongst the top second baseman prospects but that “he would have to find at-bats on a crowded Dodgers roster that also includes talented rookies Miguel Vargas and James Outman.”
I have been down on Busch so far as a prospect, based on his lack of a natural position and being blocked at first base for the next few seasons by one Freddie Freeman. But seeing Busch mature with the bat is giving me pause at making the next proposal.
In some ways, if a trade were to happen, it would likely be something like this one. Per MLB Trade Rumors, “major league talent” would need to be heading back to Boston in any trade for Houck. This statement feels especially true given the fact that Trevor Story’s 2023 is now in jeopardy due to injury.
I adore Enrique Hernández as much as the person, but relying on him to be the everyday shortstop feels like a Plan B or Plan C scenario. However, Busch at second, and Hernández at SS feels a bit more solid in the short term. But if the Dodgers could potentially leverage Boston’s immediate need for middle infield help, maybe the Dodgers can get themselves a lottery ticket.
Who is Cutter Coffey, you ask? Well, he’s a farmhand out of Bakersfield that the Red Sox selected last year. A middle infielder in Rookie Ball, who fits the textbook definition of a “high-risk, high-reward” prospect. His hit tool so far is inconsistent but he has above-average power and average speed. Currently, he plays shortstop but will likely end up at third base in the long term.
As the Dodgers’ farm system is currently constituted, a trade for Houck might be a bit too creative with the current personnel without risking an overpay or giving up on players who might be able to help the Dodgers this year.
But buried in this analysis is a lede that we might be able to get behind; a way for the Dodgers to have some cake and eat it too.
Or how I learned to settle for Matt Barnes
Earlier this offseason, I proffered the idea of the Dodgers signing someone like Sean Manaea as a prime candidate for someone that Mark Prior can work his magic on. Needless to say, Manaea signed with the Giants for two seasons and there was much rejoicing around these parts as the homerun parade (against him) will probably continue.
But as alluded to earlier, the Red Sox cut bait on their then-longest-tenured player Matt Barnes, who was still owed $7.5 million in his final contract year of 2023, on Tuesday. The Red Sox have seven days to make a trade. Otherwise, Barnes will be a free agent who can be signed for the major league minimum with Boston making up the difference.
While no one can mistake Barnes for Houck, as Barnes had a fairly lousy 2022, the man was an All-Star in 2021. Seems to reason that if Mark Prior could somehow tap Syndergaard’s full potential, it would not be such a stretch to ponder if Prior could resurrect Barnes’ career given the opportunity.
And if Barnes is washed up, well, the Dodgers can say they tried and hold on to Michael Busch.
Agree? Disagree? Have ideas of your own? Then share them in the comments! As I usually say, no one is technically wrong about any potential trade until proven otherwise...but folks tend to enjoy this exercise.
Depending on how the rest of the offseason goes, I may come up with another modest proposal to help pass the time and whet our appetite for spring training.