Just when the stove starts to cool down, baseball shoves a three-way trade up your nose. The Cincinnati Reds traded one of the few remaining pieces of their foundation, which they absolutely had to do. The Chicago White Sox kept building a team around Chris Sale and their compelling pitching staff, which they absolutely had to do. The Los Angeles Dodgers shuffled young players around because they're up to something, unless they're just boring and practical.
Here's what all three teams did:
What the Reds were thinking
Joey Votto is 32 and still owed $200 million. Jay Bruce had his second straight poor season. Brandon Phillips's age and salary means he isn't going to bring back a lot of talent, especially considering that he can decide if/where he wants to go. Aroldis Chapman is apparently a disturbed person. Depending on how you value Zack Cozart, trading Todd Frazier was the last major move the Reds could make if they wanted to continue their descent into the rebuilding cellar.
It's the move they had to make. The Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals are at the top of the division, setting each other on fire. Even if the Reds were dripping with money, which they aren't, there still wasn't a way they could spend their way into contention. Even if the Reds were spawning prospects like tribbles, which they aren't, there still wasn't a way they could deal their way into contention. Too many holes, too many question marks on the 25- and 40-man rosters. No, the traditional rebuild was the only way.
So if there's no finding fault with the decision, all that's left to do is complain or praise the prospects they acquired with their last big trade chip. There are mixed reviews, with more than a couple people tweeting that the Dodgers' haul looks better, but I'm a bigger Jose Peraza fan than most. He can play second or the outfield, and his ability to play short might make it easy for the Reds to trade Cozart now. Scott Schebler had a disappointing introduction to Triple-A, but he could conceivably start the season in the majors. Brandon Dixon had way too much swing-and-miss in his bat for a 23-year-old in Double-A, but the Reds obviously saw something they liked.
Getting Peraza for two years of Frazier isn't exactly a coup, but it's a defensible gamble, at the least. The Houston Astros taught us that even the worst scorched-earth roster is only three years away with the right drafting and development. The Reds are hoping that one or two of these players are around to be a substantial part of that.
And I know people are side-eyeing the prospect return for an All-Star like Frazier, but I could dig Peraza and Billy Hamilton stealing 150 bases for the Reds team of the future. Not sure if it would work, but it would be fun to watch.
What the White Sox were thinking
Luckily I don't have to write this part because I already did last month. There was a report that the White Sox were rebuilding, and it made exactly zero sense. The Reds desperately needed to rebuild. The White Sox desperately needed to reload.
The bottom of the current White Sox lineup is a disaster, of course. If there's anything preventing a reload instead of a rebuild, it's the daunting task of finding a third baseman and a shortstop and a second baseman. And maybe a catcher. And probably another starting pitcher. All on a mid-level payroll. It would sure be easier to grab the basket of prospects, run to the cellar and hang out for a couple years.
Now they have Brett Lawrie to play second, Frazier at third and Alex Avila catching. They could use another starting pitcher, unless you're an Erik Johnson believer, and the lineup still isn't a threat to score 1,000 runs, but they're better. Much better, even. Where they had Conor Gillaspie and Carlos Sanchez last year, they'll have Frazier and Lawrie next year. If only we all had the ability to turn liabilities into strengths like that. That's like me trading my student loan debt and thinning hair in for abs of steel and sweet-smelling breath. Just give me that chance.
This is how you make sure you don't waste Sale. And there's still a lot of offseason left. Is that Yoenis Cespedes's music? Or is it just Scott Kazmir singing in the shower? Either way, the White Sox can get even better, and they'll have two years of Frazier to help them out.
The farm system is a mess, of course. But they got to keep their best prospect, who happens to play short, where they have a need. Maybe they can sign Alexei Ramirez to buy some time.
What the Dodgers were thinking
They liked the prospects they got from the White Sox better than the ones they gave to the Reds.
No, that's it. It doesn't have to be more complicated than that. Cut it out, Twitter.
There is no Jose Fernandez deal without Julio Urias. There probably isn't one without Corey Seager. So I'll tell you what wasn't holding a Marlins/Dodgers deal up: The difference in value between Peraza and Frankie Montas.
That doesn't mean the Dodgers didn't make a smart move, or that they shouldn't be lauded for acquiring Montas, Trayce Thompson and Micah Johnson. It doesn't mean that other teams might prefer Montas to Peraza, or Thompson to Schebler, which would make it easier for the Dodgers to make a substantial trade. Just take it easy with the Fernandez talk. If it's more likely than it was yesterday, it can't be by much.
So assuming this isn't technically a four-way deal with the Marlins, the Dodgers are still having an inscrutable offseason. They started getting weird in July, when they preferred to eat contracts to get Alex Wood and Mat Latos rather than give up prospects. Preferring to deal money instead of prospects is why they were messing around with Wood instead of David Price and Cole Hamels in the first place. They're Grade-A prospect-huggers, which is odd for a team that can buy the kinds of players that poor teams hope their prospects turn into.
There's a lot of offseason left, and the Dodgers are still one of just a few teams that could trade prospects for absolutely anyone on the trading block, so don't get too down on what they're doing. Just know that they're being mysterious. They're either in the middle of a 46-part plan to make an atom-splitting deal, or they're just sort of hanging back, shuffling minor leaguers around because they're being pragmatic. If it's the former, they'll get to say "I told you so." If it's the latter, Andrew Friedman will get to say, "Look at what I learned from my time with the Rays!"
Pragmatic is good. Seizing opportunities to improve, no matter how minor, is good. It just can't be the entire plan, especially for a team with the expectations and opportunities of the Dodgers.
It probably isn't the plan. They're not done, and they have some major moves left. Until then, we'll have to squint and watch the Dodgers be mysterious. It's an odd feeling, considering the lack of subtlety they're usually known for.
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