Mets, Astros, Cubs, Rays and Twins could benefit from key moves to boost rebuilding efforts
By Dan O'Dowd
Rebuilding is both painful and long, and it can be agonizing for a general manager and fans alike. So when you get to that moment when you are ready to win, you can't take it lightly, because you never know when you will get to be in that position again.
Though it's still very early in the season, here are five rebuilding clubs that find themselves in the thick of the race, and one bold move they can each make to take advantage of their status.
New York Mets
They are loaded with power arms, and we'll get a glimpse of another one of them in Noah Syndergaard -- the club's top prospect who was scheduled to make his Major League debut Tuesday night. However, their lineup just doesn't quite stand up against the other top teams in the National League. This is most noticeable at shortstop, as Wilmer Flores would make a great bat-first utility infielder, but he is not an everyday shortstop.
Proposal: The one player who could take the Mets from contenders to favorites is Troy Tulowitzki. He would not only stabilize the middle infield, but he also has the ability to carry an offense for weeks at a time. Tulowitzki is owed $94 million from 2016-19, but that's actually a bargain relative to what he would get on the open market.
The Rockies need pitching, and the Mets have plenty of young pitchers whom Colorado would want as part of its rebuilding effort. New York could probably build a deal centered around its No. 3 prospect, left-hander Steven Matz, and keep Syndergaard if it wanted to.
A recent 10-game winning streak showed that this team is good, but a subsequent three-game slide demonstrated there is work to be done. The top of the Astros' rotation is in good shape, with Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh providing a legitimate one-two punch. After that, the starting pitching is shaky.
Proposal: The club's No. 10 prospect, Lance McCullers, is dominating at Double-A Corpus Christi, and No. 2 prospect Mark Appel is holding his own as well. Both could give a jolt to the rotation. But if the Astros want to go bold, they should go all in to trade for Cole Hamels. Houston had the second-lowest Opening Day payroll (roughly $70 million) and doesn't have any significant long-term commitments. The Astros could easily take on the $73.5 million Hamels is guaranteed from 2016-18, and they have enough prospects to get a deal done, even if they don't include top prospect Carlos Correa.
Chicago's front office has already made a few bold moves this year, as evidenced by the promotions of top prospect Kris Bryant and No. 2 prospect Addison Russell, and it clearly recognizes the opportunity that is presenting itself. That said, the starting pitching and bullpen depth on the North Side leaves a little to be desired.
Proposal:Kyle Hendricks is better than his ERA has shown, but Travis Wood would be better suited in a swing role. General manager Jed Hoyer should be on the line with Oakland's Billy Beane asking about Scott Kazmir (as we saw last summer with the Jeff Samardzija trade, the Cubs and A's will swing a deal). Next, Hoyer should be asking about Philadelphia's Jonathan Papelbon to give the Cubs an established closer, a move that would allow Hector Rondon to move into a more flexible relief role.
The Cubs have payroll flexibility, and Kazmir ($11 million this year, the final year of his deal) and Papelbon ($13 million this year; $13 million vesting option for 2016) both have contracts their team would like to shed, which means neither guy would cost that much in terms of talent as long as Chicago agrees to pay the money.
Tampa Bay Rays
It is already obvious that this franchise culture extends beyond both former general manager Andrew Friedman and former manager Joe Maddon, which is a tribute to both of those men and all the people in place who are now carrying on the philosophy they helped instill. Many assumed the Rays were the one non-contender in the American League East, but they are sitting in second place. Of course, that doesn't mean their roster is perfect, and the .624 OPS they are getting from the designated-hitter spot is a problem.
Proposal: While it's not typical for teams to trade within the division, a trade for Boston's Mike Napoli makes a lot of sense. He would give the Rays a right-handed bat to spell James Loney and David DeJesus at first base and designated hitter. And since Napoli is only signed through this season, Tampa Bay wouldn't have to take on a long-term commitment.
Such as deal would open up first base for Hanley Ramirez in Boston, which would open up left field for Rusney Castillo while allowing the Sox to shed the $16 million remaining on Napoli's contract. With the way Napoli is struggling (.594 OPS), the Sox would probably eat some of that salary in exchange for a low-level prospect, and the Rays love a good reclamation project.
With an 18-14 record, the Twins are probably baseball's most surprising success story thus far. It's certainly nice to see, but I fear they don't have enough depth to keep up with the Royals and Tigers over the course of a long season.
Proposal: I watched third baseman Miguel Sano, MLB Pipeline's No. 12 prospect, play twice over the weekend, and I still believe he needs a lot of work on both sides of the ball. He's still a great prospect, but if I was GM Terry Ryan, I would strongly consider dangling Sano in search of a young ace. Perhaps the Mets could be a match?
But that wouldn't be a trade for this season, as Minnesota should be thinking long term. If the Twins can stay in contention, maybe Sano or Byron Buxton (MLB Pipeline's No. 1 prospect) can join them down the stretch, which would really be cause for excitement in the Twin Cities.
Dan O'Dowd is an MLB Network analyst and MLB.com columnist who served as general manager of the Rockies for 15 years, building a National League pennant winner in 2007. Prior to his time with Colorado, he worked in the front offices of the Orioles and Indians. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.