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Toolshed: Possible trades and the new CBA

How labor agreement affects prospects as Winter Meetings approach
December 2, 2016

It's a good time for our national pastime, given what's now behind us and what's ahead next week. 

What's done is a fresh five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB owners and the Players Association, news of which broke Wednesday amid reports that a work stoppage (and potential cancellation of MLB participation in the Baseball Winter Meetings) was a possibility if no agreement had come before the Dec. 1 deadline. With the new deal set to go through the 2021 season, that'll make for 26 straight years of uninterrupted baseball. There will always be quibbles about individual parts of any deal (and we'll get into those below), but labor peace is worth celebrating.

Still to come, of course, are the aforementioned Winter Meetings, kicking off Sunday in National Harbor, Maryland, just south of DC. If you listened to this week's podcast or read Benjamin Hill's Thursday story on the Meetings, you know that, even if representatives from the Majors weren't participating, the whirlwind event would still go on. But with a new CBA, the Meetings will once again have their typical flavor of trade rumors, transactions and roster announcements. For instance, remember when 2015 No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson was dealt from the D-backs to the Braves in the Shelby Miller trade last year'?

Of course, with a new labor agreement in place, the landscape is different than it was when the week began. So let's walk through the effects of the new CBA and what next week's Winter Meetings may hold.

CBA changes

Hard cap on international spending: A common belief going into CBA negotiations was that owners were going to push for an international draft similar to the June Draft for amateur players from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. That never came to pass. Instead, Jayson Stark reported that organizations will have a hard cap of to spend on bonuses for foreign-born amateurs. Jon Heyman added that the pool will differ based on market size: "4.75M (big clubs) to 5.25M (medium) to 5.75M (small)." What's more, the age ceiling for players subject to this hard cap will increase from 23 to 25.

This means a couple things. First, it's going to significantly drive down bonuses for players who fit the bill. The Padres, for instance, inked Cuban left-hander Adrian Morejon to an $11 million bonus this summer. The Red Sox famously gave top overall prospect Yoan Moncada a $31.5 million bonus before the 2015 season. Both signings caused their respective organizations to pay a tax on their assigned bonus pools' overages, but under the new CBA, neither of those deals would be possible. Teams are allowed to trade all or part of their bonus pools and can trade for as much as 75 percent of theirs, but even then, the days of eight-figure bonuses are gone for the foreseeable future (meaning 23-year-old Lourdes Gurriel cashed in for $22 million from the Blue Jays at just the right time).

Draft pick changes: Under the old CBA, clubs that signed free agents who had received qualifying offers from their previous club lost their first-round pick (a heavy price). Now, organizations that pay the luxury tax will need to give up their second-highest pick, fifth-highest pick and $1,000,000 in their international pool, if they sign such a player. Organizations that receive revenue-sharing money will lose their third-highest pick. Organizations that don't fit either bill will lose their second-highest pick and $500,000 in international spending. This goes into effect for the 2017-18 offseason.

The rules for compensation have also changed slightly. Clubs will receive a compensatory pick after the first round if the player they lost signed for $50 million or more, or a pick after the second competitive balance round if the player signs for less than $50 million. The latter would move to the fourth round if the organization that lost the player pays luxury tax.

In short, no one can lose a first-round pick based on the qualifying-offer system. That means that every team should be able add one of the top Draft prospects each June.

Disabled list change: The 15-day DL is no more, replaced by a 10-day DL. This means you may see fewer rehab assignments in the Minors, since less time on the DL decreases the likelihood of needing to get back in the swing of things down on the farm.

MLB rosters stay the same: This is more about what didn't happen than what did. There were rumors that the new CBA would expand active Major League rosters from 25 players to 26. Instead, there will be no change, meaning we'll have to wait to debate exactly how teams should use a 26th man. Instead, prospects and "Quad-A" players are more likely to be on the outside looking in until September roster expansions, which also remain in place.

Winter Meetings preview

The Winter Meetings bring a lot of MLB executives to the same place all at once, making it much easier to make a blockbuster trade or two. (As was the case in last year's Winter Meetings preview, for purposes ot valuation for the trade targets below, the value of 1.0 in FanGraphs WAR will be considered $8 million in this column. Also, prospect values are from the research of's Kevin Creagh and DRaysBay's Michael Valancius.)

Chris Sale: Last year, Sale was the face of our Winter Meetings preview, but a deal never went down. He's back to being the hottest name on the market after another stellar season in which he posted a 3.34 ERA and was worth 5.2 WAR. The 27-year-old lefty is one year older and one year closer to the end of his contract, but with no one close to his caliber available as a free agent -- Rich Hill is perhaps the best pitcher available -- the White Sox, who sit on the line of going for it all and rebuilding, are still in the driver's seat toward obtaining a king's ransom for the five-time All-Star.

For starters, Sale has one year left on an extension he signed in 2013 and two club option years beyond that. He's due $12 million in 2017 and would be due $12.5 million in 2018 and $13.5 million in 2019 if both options are picked up. Normally we can't assume that a pitcher, even one with Sale's pedigree, will be healthy enough to guarantee an option is picked up one and two years out, but the White Sox will be seeking a return based on that assumption.

Steamer projections peg him to be worth 4.9 fWAR in 2017, but if we throw in some regression and lower that to a 4.5 WAR average over three seasons, that's 13.5 WAR and $70 million in surplus value. (Reminder: it's surplus value -- value added above and beyond his salary -- that teams are trading for.)

Of course, neither Creagh nor Valancius's analysis provides for $70 million in surplus value for one prospect, meaning it'll take several top-100 prospects or young stars to get the conversation started with Sale. The Dodgers would make sense, if they were willing to give up some group of Cody Bellinger, Alex Verdugo, Jose De Leon or Yadier Alvarez plus more. But Los Angeles looked smart when it refused to part with Corey Seager or Julio Urias a year ago, and the club might stick to its guns.

If a potential Andrew McCutchen deal falls through, the Nationals could add Sale to an impressive rotation headed by Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg, given they have impressive pitching prospects in Lucas Giolito, Victor Robles and Reynaldo Lopez (though it would take at least two of those plus other pieces to move the needle with Chicago). The Red Sox would be in a similar spot to build around David Price and Rick Porcello with five top-100 prospects, even as rumors swirl that Jackie Bradley Jr. would lead a Sale deal from the Major League side.

In all of the above cases, these systems would take a beating to acquire one player. But if an organization thinks an ace like Sale is all that's keeping them from joining the Cubs in the upper echelon, it might be worth it, especially with the lack of starting pitching available. 

There are also rumors that the Braves would be interested in bringing Sale closer to his Florida home, and they have the pieces with seven top-100 prospects, led by Swanson. It's not clear, however, that a rebuilding team like the Braves would clean out the cupboard for one player.

If it happens, a Sale trade would be the talk of the entire offseason.

Andrew McCutchen: The Nationals were rumored to be hot on the case to acquire the 2013 NL MVP, likely moving Trea Turner from center field back to shortstop. Danny Espinosa would be non-tendered as part of that scenario, but that deadline is 8 p.m. Friday. So if a deal does go down between those sides, it'd likely come before the Meetings.

That said, the Nationals match up well. The 30-year-old is owed $14 million for the 2017 season and has a $14.5 million club option for 2018 with a $1 million buyout. Similar to Sale, the Pirates are going to sell McCutchen as if he's under two years of control, not one. It should be noted, however, that McCutchen is coming off his worst season as a pro. Following five straight 5+ WAR seasons, he was worth just 0.7 in 2016 due to his .256/.336/.430 slash line and significantly decreased defensive value. Some of that is believed to have stemmed from injuries, and Steamer is a believer that he can return to a 3.8 WAR in 2017.

Even if McCutchen becomes just a 3.0 WAR player each of the next two seasons, that's still roughly $20 million in surplus value. That could bring back somebody in the lower end of the top-50 overall prospect list. That said, the name being bandied about in a McCutchen deal has been No. 10 overall prospect Robles, and Robles plus Lopez might be enough to push the Bucs over the edge.

If that doesn't work out, the Rangers and Mariners have also come up in McCutchen trade talks. The former doesn't have any prospects in the top 50 but has a pair of interesting blocked youngsters in Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar, each of whom would probably rank there if they still had prospect eligibility. The Mariners would have to focus a bit more on quantity, unless they were willing to deal 2016 Golden Spikes winner Kyle Lewis, who might have lost some value with the serious knee injury he suffered last summer.

Unlike Sale, the Pirates seem much more determined to trade McCutchen, and either the non-tender deadline or the Winter Meetings should be catalysts toward making that happen.

Mets outfielders: The Mets brought Yoenis Cespedes back to Flushing with a four-year deal earlier this week, and though everyone in blue and orange should be happy to see the slugger back, his return does leave a logjam in the New York outfield.

The most logical trade candidate is Jay Bruce, whom the Mets acquired from the Reds at this year's deadline. The Mets exercised his $13 million option a month ago, meaning after this season the left-handed slugger is due to become a free agent. However, with little defensive ability and a typically low OBP, Bruce might not be a valuable trade chip. Under our guidelines here, he'd have to be worth roughly a 1.6 WAR in 2017 to justify his salary, and Steamer believes he'll fall well short at a projected 0.6 (Bruce hasn't cracked 1.0 WAR since 2013). The Mets would have to find someone who truly believes in Bruce's power to get back a prospect of any real substance.

If it's the return New York is worried about, they might be better off shopping Curtis Granderson. Like Bruce, the veteran outfielder has one year remaining on his contract but will be a little more expensive at $15 million. The 35-year-old also has a better chance to live up to that money with a projected 1.5 WAR for 2017 coming off a 30-homer, 2.6 WAR campaign this summer.

This isn't necessarily an either/or situation for the Mets with young players Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares also potential movers, though it'd be early to give up on either while they remain affordable. Still, bet on the Mets being sellers of outfielders either next week or beyond.

J.D. Martinez: With a payroll creeping up on $200 million in 2016, the Tigers are among MLB's biggest spenders. They'll need to reduce payroll if they want to avoid luxury taxes next season. Though trading big-money stars Justin Verlander or Miguel Cabrera would be attractive from a Hot Stove point of view, Detroit would need to be pessimistic about their chances to contend before blowing things up by dealing either or both franchise cornerstones.

Instead, moving someone like Martinez makes more sense. The 29-year-old outfielder has one year and $11.75 million left on the extension he signed last offseason. After two big offensive seasons in Detroit, the slugger was strong again at the plate with a .307/.373/.535 line and 22 homers but was worth only 1.8 WAR because of rough defensive play in right. Steamer still believes he could provide $4.25 million in surplus value with a projected 2017 WAR of 2.0, and that might be enough to procure one prospect toward the back end of the top 100 or a couple on the cusp. It's not enough to turn around an unremarkable Detroit farm system, but losing Martinez wouldn't wreck the Major League squad either. Either way, it's a good chance to get something decent before Martinez potentially leaves for free agency.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.