“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
― William G.T. Shedd
I have always enjoyed a good bad-contract swap. The most recent one involved the Padres trade of Matt Kemp and cash for Atlanta’s Hector Olivera and his off-field issues. Once San Diego received Olivera, they released him. Both teams benefited. The Braves got rid of a headache and added a player, Matt Kemp, with some value at a reduced salary. The Padres shed a huge salary commitment and opened up room for younger players. The move was a low risk endeavor for both clubs.
At the end of the 2011 season, I hoped for another bad-contract swap between the Giants and Angels. The Giants were paying Barry Zito a lot of money for, at best, mediocre results. Meanwhile, the Angels had just inexplicably traded Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells and his high salary before the season. Zito and Wells did not do well in 2011. The Giants had a nice pitching staff with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Jonathan Sanchez, which left Zito in the bullpen for much of the year. Their offense was solid, but had room for additional competition with an outfield comprised of Andres Torres, Nate Schierholtz, Cody Ross, Aaron Rowand, and Pat Burrell. Why not send Zito to Los Anaheim? The Angels had Torii Hunter and some guy named Mike Trout penciled into an outfield for 2012 that would also include Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo since they also had signed Albert Pujols. The Angels had no left-handed pitching until they signed C.J. Wilson and could have provided a nice change of scenery for Zito. While I don’t know if this trade scenario was ever discussed by these teams, you can clearly see that it worked well for the Giants that they did not make this deal. Zito enjoyed a solid season in 2012 and helped the Giants win their 2nd World Series Title in 3 years.
While it is easy to identify contracts that are unfavorable to teams, it’s not so simple to find a viable trade partner with an equally bad contract to deal and an opening for the opposing player. Here are some potential trade candidates for this off-season:
Shin-Soo Choo: With a disciplined approach at the plate, Choo cashed in with a 7-year $130 million contract to begin the 2014 season. While his on-base skills and left-handed bat may make sense for the Angels, there isn’t a logical bad contract to offer in return, unless you want to bring up a guy named Albert. A combo of Ricky Nolasco and Huston Street would match Choo’s salary, but only for 2017, so it would take some extra cash or a prospect from Texas for the Angels to make this deal. It might take a generous donation from Texas, much like the Angels’ offer to Texas to take Josh Hamilton, to get this deal done. However, a healthy Choo could still return to his glory days of moderate power and high walk totals. If he doesn’t, the Rangers are saddled with an expensive bench player through 2020.
Matt Garza: While he might do well to go to the Pirates since they have a strong track record of rehabbing starting pitching, they don’t match up in bad contracts. How about a deal of Garza for Miguel Montero of the Cubs? Willson Contreras is the catcher of the present and future for Chicago and Montero is owed roughly the same amount as Garza. The Brewers are in a time of transition, so Montero could serve as a bridge to a younger catcher and possibly become a trade chip at the deadline if he can rebuild his value. Garza previously had success in Chicago and may do well pitching at the end of a rotation rather than leading one. In his last 6 starts of 2016, Garza pitched to a 2.97 ERA and a 31:10 K:BB ratio, so there is some hope for him. Is this deal possible? Probably not. My guess is that the Cubs would prefer to spend the money on keeping Montero as a backup catcher rather than spend on a guy to round out their already strong rotation.
Pablo Sandoval: A change of scenery may be the key to resurrecting Sandoval’s career. Sending him back to San Francisco would be interesting, but there isn’t an obvious fit. The Dodgers could be possible if Justin Turner signs elsewhere, which would allow Sandoval to play against the Giants several times a year. The Dodgers don’t necessarily have an equitable contract to offer, so the chance of a trade with Los Angeles is low. So let’s return to Texas and the Shin-Soo Choo contract. The contracts are close with Choo’s deal lasting one year longer. The Rangers appear to have an opening at 1B and, possibly, DH. Choo’s value also appears to be higher than Sandoval’s at the moment and there could be a spot open if Boston doesn’t pursue Edwin Encarnacion. Is this deal likely? The Sox may want Sandoval to compete with Travis Shaw again, but they could also utilize Brock Holt in that role too. Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi are also going to be in the mix in the lineup, so Choo may not be the right fit unless Boston really wants to unload Sandoval at any cost.
Could any of these deals work? Possibly, but there would likely need to be modifications to any of these trades, including money and other players, to make them reality. Swapping one bad contract for another may prove risky for some teams, but the relief provided by such deals can also be great.