Braves, Cubs line up well; Lucroy, Bruce could also be on move
By Jim Duquette
With Spring Training games now underway, roster battles across the league are gearing up in advance of Opening Day.
But without a doubt, clubs are still examining possible upgrades on the trade market. In fact, the following hypothetical scenarios could become reality before the end of March.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers
Prior to his challenging 2015 campaign -- which was negatively affected by a concussion and a toe injury -- Lucroy was one of baseball's best backstops, averaging an impressive .831 OPS from 2012-14.
But just one year removed from his All-Star season -- which he completed with an National League-best 53 doubles and a fourth-place finish in the NL MVP Award voting -- the 29-year-old is a strong bounce-back candidate heading into '16.
A Lucroy move may be tougher to complete given his injury woes, but several teams -- such as the D-backs, Angels and Rangers -- stand out as potential suitors for new Milwaukee general manager David Stearns. Among those clubs, Texas would appear to be the best fit -- even after enjoying good production from the catcher position in 2015.
What would it take: The Rangers -- fresh off the low-risk, high-upside signing of Ian Desmond -- possess plenty of organizational depth and could still use one more right-handed bat.
Lucroy, who turns 30 in June, comes with an extremely team-friendly contract, as he's owed $4 million this year with a $5.25 million team option for 2017, so he will cost some talent. A package including outfield prospect Lewis Brinson (No. 16 in all of baseball) or right-hander Luke Jackson, plus one other mid-level prospect, should be plenty to entice the Brewers.
Cubs trade Jorge Soler to the Braves for right-hander Julio Teheran
This would be a good old-fashion baseball trade. Two clubs dealing from areas of strength.
On one side of the prospective swap, the Cubs would get Teheran, a mid-rotation starter coming off a down year and on a team-friendly pact through the 2020 season. The 25-year-old has started on Opening Day and thrown 200-plus innings during each of the past two seasons, but he saw his ERA rise a full run from 2014 to '15 thanks to a rough first half in which he posted a 4.56 ERA and allowed opponents to slug .440 -- among the highest figures in the Senior Circuit.
Teheran ultimately settled down in the second half, recording a more-typical 3.42 ERA that factored in a pristine 1.62 ERA mark across his final 39 frames. Look for him to return to form in 2016, especially if he can improve against left-handed hitters -- who hit him for a .300 average in '15 but just .239 in '14.
On their end, the Braves would acquire the 24-year-old Soler, a talented outfielder who has yet to realize his lofty expectations at the big league level. Awarded a nine-year, $30 million deal when he signed with the Cubs in 2012, Soler struggled through a '15 campaign in which he struck out 30 percent of the time across 400 plate appearances and appeared hesitant defensively. And given Chicago's current roster construction following the signings of Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler, Soler doesn't have a regular path to playing time in Chicago this year.
The Braves, of course, are not in win-now mode like the Cubs, making them a better spot for the uncertain but high-upside Soler. If such a move were to pan out, Atlanta would have a core piece to take to its new ballpark in 2017. Meanwhile, the Cubs would be unloading Soler while he still holds trade value. Another woe-riddled year would make him nearly impossible to deal for an attractive return.
Outfielder Jay Bruce to the White Sox
A struggling Bruce has lost some value across the past few seasons, although he did manage to finish 2015 with the seventh-most homers (26) and RBIs (87) among right fielders despite a .226 average and a .294 on-base percentage. But given their full-on quest to rebuild, the Reds may be best-suited to deal Bruce -- who turns 29 in April -- sooner rather than later.
A change of scenery could brighten the future for the 2005 first-round Draft pick, now another year removed from 2014 knee surgery and coming off a campaign that saw his strikeout rate improve considerably.
Yes, the White Sox just signed Austin Jackson and would seemingly be set in the outfield, but teams are putting more of a premium on depth these days, and with Adam Eaton coming back slowly from offseason surgery on his left shoulder, Chicago should still be looking to updgrade, and a deal sending Bruce to the South Side is not hard to visualize.
Such a move would boost the White Sox in two ways, improving their right-field production and deepening their depth at the corner-outfield and designated-hitter spots. And with Bruce owed $12.5 million for 2016 with a $13 million club option for '17, he's very reasonably priced in the current market.
What would it take: Top prospects such as right-hander Carson Fulmer and shortstop Tim Anderson (Nos. 1 and 2 on Chicago's Pipeline rankings) would be off limits if the White Sox were to take on all of Bruce's contract, but a mid-level chip such as lefty Tyler Danish (No. 11) or righty Chris Beck (No. 14) could make sense.
Jim Duquette is an analyst for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.