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A hypothetical blockbuster with the Rays

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imagining a bold and enticing move by both teams.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Stuff is starting to happen. Teams are making trades and signing players. Okay, mostly just the Astros, but it’s just the beginning of things to come. Recently, we’ve discussed both trading Luke Weaver, and the benefits of holding on to him. Craig also went over the possibility of trading for Chris Sale, or another high-impact arm such as Chris Archer. Often, Kevin Kiermaier, a stupendous defensive outfielder who hits around average, has been a trade target.

The problem is, assuming the Rays plan to compete in 2017, they don’t really match up as trade partners. Both teams have an excess of pitching, and a hole in the outfield. But what if the Cardinals could convince the Rays to reload? They do play in the same division as the Red Sox, who just paced the American League in the 2016 regular season. They also have to deal with the Yankees, who in addition to some mighty financial resources, just made big additions to an already interesting group of young talent by trading Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman at the deadline. The Blue Jays are also making aggressive win-now moves, and the Orioles have no intentions of waving the white flag while they have one of the best young talents in the game in Manny Machado.

The Rays are way behind their fellow AL East teams in terms of payroll capacity. A bold move might be to sell their premium players now. To entice them to make such a decision, they’d almost have to receive Alex Reyes in return.

Reyes has the ceiling of an ace in a way that most other pitchers can only dream of. He’s certainly ready for the majors now, and has six years of team-friendly control left. As I’ve done often when looking at acquisitions this offseason, let’s estimate Reyes’ value, using his projection, an average aging curve, an $8M price per WAR, and 5% inflation.

The problem is, Reyes is projected as both a starter and a reliever. On Fangraphs, his projected FIP is the same as both a starter and a reliever. We know that in reality, that’s not true. Let’s assume the Rays are going to insert Reyes into the rotation right away. My analysis concluded that, on average, pitchers gain 0.65 points in FIP going from reliever to starter. Reyes’ projection is almost half relieving innings and half starting innings, so let’s say as a starter he’d gain 0.32 points on his projection.

Stretching that out over a full season, that gives us a projection of 3.3 WAR. As you might imagine, that in combination with his young age is going to lead to a pretty huge surplus value:

When we looked at Weaver’s value, we found that he was about a $87M asset. Reyes is almost twice as much. That graphic is an absolutely great reason to just keep Reyes, but for what I’m going to suggest, Reyes will be integral. Carlos Martinez’s projected first year of arbitration is $5.3M, I just adjusted Reyes up a bit from that. From there, I used the average raises calculated from ThePointofPittsburgh.com.

Also when we looked at Weaver’s value, we took the time to look at Kiermaier’s value. That came out to about $106M. Even though they have more than enough pitching, the projections think the Rays would be fools not to trade Kiermaier straight up for Reyes. The Cardinals would need something else to even things out.

The Rays are known to be shopping pitching. The most obvious candidates are Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb, who are relatively close to free agency. Another name they’re sure to be taking calls on is Chris Archer. Over the last three years, Archer has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, accruing 11.5 WAR, 15th best despite some troubles in the first half of 2016. All in all, the projections expect him to be worth 4 wins in 2017. Let’s look at Archer’s Surplus Value, using the same method we’ve been using:

Archer is quite the value. Those last two years are team options. Adding him turns things from a lopsided deal for the Rays to a lopsided deal for the Cardinals. It’s very doubtful Reyes could net Archer and Kiermaier, though he should be valued substantially more than either individually.

The Cardinals would need to add something else. They’d certainly have the depth to trade Weaver in this scenario. Adding on his $87M value we’ve calculated earlier would already qualify as a blockbuster. But hey, if the Rays are frisky enough to trade Kiermaier and Archer, let’s say they’d be interested in trading Longoria. He’s owed $100M over the next six years, and would get $2M extra if he’s traded, per Cot’s Contracts. Longoria is entering his age 31 season, but is still putting up great production. His good hitting combined with great defense at third makes him a strong value despite the cost:

So now we’re up to Reyes and Weaver for Kiermaier, Archer, and Longoria. Again, we’re at a point where the Cardinals are getting too good of a deal to be realistic. The Rays will have traded their starting center-fielder and starting third-baseman. So let’s say the Cardinals add in Jedd Gyorko and Harrison Bader. And to sweeten the pot, they’ll also throw in Jack Flaherty. Here’s an overview of the values involved here:

We calculated Gyorko’s value earlier in the offseason. For Bader and Flaherty, we’ll again cite the great research of TPOP, this time on the average Surpus Value of Top 100 prospects. If you notice, the Rays are getting about $17M extra. That’s to give this a bit of a margin for error to ensure that the Rays would be interested, and to price in the fact that Archer, Kiermaier, and Longoria all offer more immediate value than the players going to the Rays.Perhaps the Cardinals could get it done without one of Gyorko or Flaherty being involved.

To me at least, this is quite an interesting situation for both teams. The Rays are then set up to trade Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb, in a pitching-starved market, for more prospects. Between Bader, Weaver, and Reyes, the Rays get 18 to 19 years of cost-controlled MLB talent, plus a cromulent starter in Gyorko and a nice prospect in Flaherty. The Rays could legitimately think that this is the type of talent infusion they need to compete long-term with their limitations. And with so many of players going to the Rays being MLB-ready or close to it, they could bill it to their fanbase as only punting a single year.

As for the Cardinals, they get the high-end talent that this blog and its community have been searching for. They trade one potential high-end talent in Reyes, but get back three in return. The next logical step to me was to see just how much this would improve the 2017 Cardinals. For reference, the current Fangraphs depth charts consider the Cubs to be nearly 11 games better than the Cards, so they have quite the gap to close. Let’s look at how the new Cardinals’ roster would be improved by this move, first on the positional side.

There’s two separate moves the Cardinals could consider: trading Matt Adams or Jhonny Peralta. The Cards have too many infielders and someone has got to go. They’re projected pretty similarly, though Adams is much cheaper and has an extra year of control. Adams nets a better return, whereas moving Peralta lowers the 2017 payroll. Either way, the Cardinals look to gain a little more than 4 wins on the position player side. That’s a pretty big move. Now for the pitching side:

Here we’re using total WAR for Reyes, as he obviously now wouldn’t be able to pitch out of relief for the Cards. I made the assumption that the Cardinals would move Jaime Garcia as well after this trade. His 2.4 WAR and $13M salary assumes about a $7M surplus, or about the value of a second-round pick. Perhaps they get a team to trade a Competitive Balance pick for him, netting more value for the Cardinals.

Overall, this puts the Cardinals at a 4.5-5 win improvement with this move, plus eliminating Jaime’s salary, picking up some minor asset for Jaime, and either shedding Peralta’s salary or moving Adams for a minor asset. That sounds great, but it unfortunately doesn’t even cover half the current gap between the Cubs and the Cardinals.

As far as payroll, the Cardinals currently have $111.7M guaranteed to 14 players. MLBTradeRumors.com’s arbitration projection system sees $21.1M going to 6 players. Give them 5 more at the league minimum, and they’re looking at about $135M in payroll right now. This move, plus shedding Jaime and Peralta’s salary actually saves about $5M. If the team trades Adams instead, they’d be taking on a few million.

Perhaps the team could look at this as a step in right direction, and at least gets them close enough that the randomness of the regular season could lead to an upset in the NL Central. It’s completely impractical for a team to make an 11 game improvement on paper in one offseason, but getting four to five extra wins this year, and opening up DeWallet the next couple years in better free agent markets could make things more even. It would also solidify the Cards’ chances to make the Wild-Card game, as well as get them an ace for the Wild-Card game.

It sure is fun to think of those three great players donning the Birds on the Bat in 2017. After the Cardinals missed the postseason and the Cubs won the World Series, it would be exciting to see the team make some bold moves to put themselves in a position to get back on top in 2017. Still, this exercise echoes with what I said on Tuesday: Maybe this just isn’t the time for the Cardinals to go all-in. Reyes, Weaver, Bader, and Flaherty would represent possibly 25 seasons of team-friendly control. And that doesn’t even count Gyorko, who is still priced favorably.

However unrealistic this specific trade may be, it does give us a realistic idea of what it would take to make some major additions in the trade market, and how that would affect their place in the standings. This is an incredibly enticing scenario to me, but it seems like the more prudent course of action for the Cardinals is to wait for a more opportune time to make major win-now moves. Let’s see what they decide to do.