Ever since the Rockies signed Gerardo Parra, the Rockies trade of an outfielder has felt fait acompli, and given that they’re not really contenders this year, dealing Carlos Gonzalez has appeared to be the pretty obvious move. Given his strong second half and the fact that he’s only under team control for two more seasons — at a not-exactly-bargain-price of $38 million — while fellow outfielders Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson are under control for three and four more years respectively, it seems pretty logical for CarGo to be one on the move, though the Rockies have been entertaining offers on all three. Which is perfectly rational; you might as well weigh your options before deciding on a course of action.
But this morning, Ken Rosenthal reported that Corey Dickerson is the most likely outfielder to be on the move, and Rays beat writer Mark Topkin followed up with a somewhat confirming note of his own, including the player most likely to be leaving Tampa Bay if the two teams do strike a deal.
While acknowledging that this may just be the framework of a larger deal, or perhaps the first step of a series of moves, I’m hard pressed to think of a trade that makes less sense to me than Corey Dickerson for Jake McGee.
You know what the non-contending Rockies need more of? Good solid players they can build around for the future, like, say, Corey Dickerson. You know what the Rockies don’t really need at this point? A injury-prone closer with only two years of team control remaining, and one whose salary will skyrocket in arbitration if he stays healthy and racks up a bunch of saves. Yes, the Rockies bullpen stinks, but when you’re not really in contention, you can afford to give chances to young unproven guys; the ability to create assets by giving players opportunities is one of the huge advantages of not focusing on short-term results. And it’s not bringing McGee in to pitch at Coors Field is a great way to raise his trade value, so even if the team is looking to get him to flip him this summer, that seems like a dubious strategy.
From the Rays side, turning two years of McGee into four years of Dickerson would be a pretty smart move, except it’s not entirely clear what they’d do with Dickerson. They have Desmond Jennings and Steven Souza in their corner outfield spots, and it seems unlikely they’d want to displace either of those two at this point in their careers. They could move Dickerson to first base — something the Rockies could just do as well — except that they’ve got kind of a logjam there, between James Loney and Logan Morrison from the left side and Steve Pearce and Brandon Guyer from the right side.
Loney and Morrison are not any good, so swapping in Dickerson for either would be an upgrade, but that was kind of the point of signing Pearce last week; it doesn’t seem likely that they want to relegate him to the weak side of a platoon right after signing him. And they just traded for Morrison a few months ago, so presumably, they’re not quite ready to give up on him just yet.
From a pure asset standpoint, turning two years of an injury prone closer into four years of a solid average corner outfielder would be worth doing, but the Rays don’t really need an average corner outfielder, so as Topkin noted, it would be a move that forced some other pieces to fall into place. But even with that, it wouldn’t really explain why the Rockies would want to trade Dickerson for a reliever. After all, the combination of Parra and McGee will make $13 million next year and probably closer to $16-$17 million in 2017; if they really wanted to just upgrade their bullpen, they could have thrown that money at a reliever in the free agent class and just kept Dickerson, retaining the younger outfielder rather than signing an older hitter and trading for a pitcher.
I’m sure getting pitchers to actually agree to sign in Colorado is difficult — and no reliever on the market this winter is as dominant as a healthy Jake McGee — but I still find it hard to see how signing Parra to trade Dickerson for a short-term relief upgrade helps the Rockies do anything that they should want to be doing. If you’re optimistic about both Parra and McGee, maybe this pushes them from 74 to 76 wins or something, but it’s also quite possible that Parra is worse than Dickerson, offsetting most of the gain of adding McGee to the bullpen. And that’s without accounting for the fact that a Parra/McGee combination would be more expensive and have less long-term value than a Dickerson/FA reliever duo.
Most likely, if and when the deal is announced, there will be more pieces to the deal — or a follow-up trade — that will help explain the motivation that is driving these teams in this direction. The Rays side is at least fairly easy to imagine, especially if someone else is willing to overpay for Jennings or something. On the Rockies side, I would hope that there’s something else of note coming back besides McGee, or that they’re acquiring him with the intention of trading him elsewhere in the near future. If the Rockies really are trading a decent young hitter for a short-term bullpen upgrade in a year where they don’t really have much of a chance to contend, then it will be tough to see how the Rockies new front office is demonstrably different than the old one.