There are a lot of advantages to being a big market team — or just a team with a lot of payroll flexibility — but one of my favorites is one we’ve discussed a lot over the last six months: “buying” prospects. The concept is straightforward — Team A has a contract they’d like to move, and Team B is willing to take on all the remaining money on that contract *IF* Team A also throws in some prospects. And boom: you’ve got yourself a trade.
They’re rare and difficult to pull off, but they do happen. Milwaukee and Boston just did one of these deals earlier this month to unload Jackie Bradley Jr., and the Cubs discussed one with the Padres at the trade deadline involving Eric Hosmer.
More recently, Sahadev Sharma confirmed that the Cubs are still interested in this type of deal this offseason, and Brett discussed the concept with a few specifics a few days ago:
… the Cubs are in a pretty unique spot to land one of these deals. They not only have the requisite financial flexibility and the desire to accumulate prospects, but they have a LOT OF roster spots where a guy on a “bad” contract could still be an upgrade over what the Cubs currently have in place. Imagine a perfect deal that lands the Cubs a useful player to improve the team *AND* some quality prospects, all in exchange for the one thing they have plenty of and that doesn’t have to limit the future: short-term money.
So why do I bring that all up today? Because the latest from Buster Olney at ESPN could lead us right to an interesting candidate for such a trade. The Rays are considering trading gold glove center fielder Kevin Kiermaier to save some money:
Managing payroll is a constant challenge for the Rays, given the front office’s budget limitations, and before the trade deadline, Tampa Bay was engaged in talks with the Phillies (and perhaps other teams) about center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. The Gold Glover is the highest-paid player on the roster, set to make $12.16 million in 2022 (with a club option for 2023), and if the Rays are going to capitalize on his remaining trade value — while also trimming payroll — then the best time to move him will likely be in spring training.
Some additional specifics: Kiermaier, 31, is owed $12 million in 2022 with a $13M club option ($2.5M buyout) in 2023. So all told, acquiring him would be a $14.5M minimum expense.
Now, about the player himself … Kiermaier’s center field defense doesn’t rate out quite as highly as it did at his peak, but he’s still among the best defensive center fielders in baseball. The Cubs, meanwhile, don’t have an obvious starting center fielder and they DO have a very contact-oriented pitching staff. So improving the defense all over shouldn’t just be a priority, it might actually be disproportionately productive relative to a team with more bat-missing pitchers.
As Brett mentioned, the Cubs also have plenty of short-term payroll space and have been explicitly open to taking on useful bad contracts if they come with some additional prospect capital. In other words, this certainly fits the mold of the type of trade the Rays have always done and the Cubs are now open to doing.
But it’s not quite a no-brainer. There are cons.
For example, Kiermeier just had his first above-average offensive season (101 wRC+) since 2017, and he’s not a strong bet to do it again. The Cubs also have a cheap in-house option in Rafael Ortega, whose bat against righties might actually be quite a bit better (not that he’s anywhere close defensively), plus there is still the hope on Michael Hermosillo. Also, Nico Hoerner may get some chances out there if the Cubs acquire a shortstop and look to move Hoerner around.
On top of that, the Cubs’ top prospect, Brennen Davis, is also expected to arrive at Wrigley sometime this season, and he’s likely to call center field home. Furthermore, Wrigley Field has a relatively easy center field, so it’s fair to wonder if Kiermaier’s skills are really maxed out for a team that plays half of their games there. There’s also the problem that both Ortega and Kiemaier have the same, somewhat extreme, lefty/righty splits. So a platoon between those two is not a very viable option.
But we also don’t have to overthink it. The primary point of a trade like this would be about the prospects you get for taking on the money. If Kiermiaer is at all useful, even in a reserve role, that’s just gravy.
For a useful comparison, the Brewers saved about $10 million on their deal with the Red Sox, and they got Hunter Renfroe back, but they had to give up two prospects, one of whom now ranks 16th in the Red Sox system after the trade. If you value Kiermaier at something like $4.5 million, then it would also be a $10 million savings. Taking him on, then, should net a good prospect or two, depending on whether anything of value goes back to the Rays beyond the salary relief.
(Brett: Something something get Tyler Glasnow included, too, something something.)