The Cincinnati Reds are considering trade offers for Billy Hamilton, Jr., which makes all kinds of sense. He’s two years away from free agency. He’s already in his arbitration years, so he’s going to stop being a relative bargain. He’s a notably flawed player, at least with the bat, so it’s impossible to argue that he’s the kind of cornerstone a bad team needs to lock up through his 30s. He’s the kind of player that a few teams would covet, though, so this would appear to be the perfect window for a trade.
The Reds also might be the only rebuilding team left with anything they want to sell, and Hamilton is the only thing displayed in the storefront. There will be no deals. The Reds will not honor the coupons of their competitors.
Contending teams usually spend their offseasons in a predictable fashion. Scour the free agent market. Pick over the carcasses of the bad teams. Use one method of acquisition as leverage against the other, and keep all of your options open. This offseason is different, though. There are too many teams that have already held their fire sale, and there are too many teams that are caught in limbo.
There aren’t enough rebuilding teams to allow for a flurry of traditional veteran-for-prospect trades, and it’s helped make the offseason dull.
Let’s look at all of the teams that finished under .500 last year and sort them into categories.
See, the thing about “contending teams” is that they’re all self-defined. They don’t have to apply for a permit to pretend that they’re going to be in a postseason race next year; they can just get after it. It doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea, but it doesn’t matter.
The Giants could trade Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey and speed up their rebuilding process. They’re declining, though, and they have reasons to do so. The Phillies have decided that this is the year to supplement their young players with expensive free agents. The Rangers and Mariners are assuming that last year was a hiccup, and they’re at least half in, if not three-quarters. The Angels are somehow the team of the offseason, so you know what they’re expecting to do next season.
You might disagree with their decisions, but it doesn’t matter. They’re in, which means scores of players who could be on the trade market will never get there.
The limbo teams
Are the Pirates rebuilding next year, or are they holding on to Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen? Don’t know!
Will the Royals give up and go for prospect gold after their three best hitters leave for more money? Don’t know!
Do the A’s think they can surprise people with an assortment of Matts and young pitching? Maybe!
Will the Blue Jays really stick it out for one more season and assume that everything lousy that happened to them next year was a fluke? They might be right!
Can the Mets ever find the talent and health that allowed them to win the pennant just a few hundred days ago? Can’t hurt to try!
Does the Evan Longoria trade mean the Rays are in full-rebuild mode now, or did they just pounce on a chance to relieve themselves of a big contract for a player entering his mid-30s? We’ll see!
Are the Padres really serious about signing Eric Hosmer? Sure seems like it!
Is this the year that the Braves graduate their best prospects and become a young force in the NL East? Dunno, but they might as well have some pitching around if they do!
Would the Orioles ... look, I haven’t understood the Orioles for several years now, and I’m not about to start trying now.
None of these teams have committed to a full rebuild for 2018. They’re either actively trying to improve or very, very quiet. There could be a four-team trade that ends with Josh Donaldson, Chris Archer, and Manny Machado on the Yankees. Or these teams could loaf into next season like the offseason never happened. I’ll bet most of them will do the latter, and at least a couple of them will start adding win-now players when the market heats up again.
The out-of-stock, will-email-you-when-there-is-inventory-available teams
These are rebuilding teams, clearly, but they’ve traded almost everyone they want to trade. The White Sox did their rebuild last year, and they’re left with just Jose Abreu and maybe Avisail Garcia to deal, although those players are hardly guarantees to be traded. The Tigers are mostly finished, give or take the stray Michael Fulmer rumor.
The Marlins should be right there with the Reds, except they’re reportedly keen on making J.T. Realmuto and Christian Yelich centerpieces of their steam train to hell. That could be a front, something to inflate their trade value, but as long as they’re posturing like this, they have to be included in the category of teams that aren’t really interested in a full capital-R Rebuild.
Don’t be mad at these three teams. They’ve given us almost all of the transaction pudding they had, and it was delicious. They’re just out of stock, at the moment.
After cycling through all three categories, we’re left with the Reds. Who would like to offer you one (1) Billy Hamilton, Jr. and nothing else. If you can’t use a speedy defense monster with a sub-.300 OBP, well, store’s closed. They apparently aren’t interested in trading Raisel Iglesias unless they get all of the prospects back, and it’s hard to blame them, considering the leverage they have. If you want a Hamilton, make a great offer. If you don’t, get out.
I would have guessed that a trade market like this, with so many teams half-heartedly sniffing trade offers but not acting on any of them, would have trickled up to the free-agent market and made it hotter. If a team is desperately in need of an outfielder, but they realize that they can’t have Yelich, Yoenis Cespedes, or Andrew McCutchen, maybe that would prompt them to be more aggressive on J.D. Martinez.
You would also think that with all of those in-limbo and quasi-contending teams, that the free agent market would be super robust, with 23 or 24 different teams all thinking they have some kind of shot.
Except it’s not happening. Teams are increasingly aware of the dangers of long-term megadeals, and it’s slowed down that half of the market, but they’re unable to make up the difference on the trade market. And that’s led to this offseason, which is a limitless transaction void, punctuated by trades that have almost everything to do with contracts or the luxury tax.
There’s still a chance, a strong one, that one of the teams up there decides to fill that void and take advantage of the low supply. Until then, though, we’ll have to long for the days of the White Sox selling Sale and the Tigers finally deciding it was time to give up their high-priced dreams. Those were fun days, no?
They’re gone for now, though. And there are no guarantees we’ll get them back, dang it. I miss my regularly scheduled chaos.