Bad Contract Swap Meet

Earlier this week, the Tigers and Rangers got together to help each other out by exchanging contracts that neither team wanted any more. The Tigers dumped $138 million of the $168 million remaining on Prince Fielder’s deal, and in exchange, they took back the $62 million guaranteed that Ian Kinsler has left on his contract. And perhaps this won’t be the last deal like this we see this winter.

With all the new television money flowing into the game, teams have financial resources to absorb large contracts, but the supply of free agents worthy of such deals isn’t getting any larger. As teams look to spend money but are either spurned by free agents or unimpressed with the available crop, they may very well look to other teams for chances to exchange overpriced contracts. So, let’s look at a few other big contract swaps that might actually benefit both teams.

Dodgers Trade OF Matt Kemp to Yankees for LHP CC Sabathia

Kemp’s Remaining Contract: 6 years, $128 million
Sabathia’s Remaining Contract: 4 years, $96 million

The Dodgers have a crowded outfield, and likely have to trade one of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, or Carl Crawford due to the emergence of Yasiel Puig (and top prospect Joc Pederson isn’t far behind). They reportedly are in the market for another starting pitcher, but don’t want to part with a draft pick to sign one of the better starters on the market. By swapping Kemp for Sabathia, they could kill two birds with one stone.

The annual salaries are almost identical, with Sabathia making just a few million dollars more per season each of the next four years, so this wouldn’t have a significant impact on either team’s budget, but would free up some longer term commitments for a Dodgers balance sheet that already has a lot of long term commitments on the books. And this deal could actually benefit both teams on the field as well.

The Yankees outfield is kind of a disaster. They tried to patch their holes with Vernon Wells and Alfonso Soriano last year, but neither one should be starting on a team trying to win in 2014. Same goes for Ichiro, actually. The Yankees need a legitimate every day corner outfielder, and at this point in his career, Kemp probably shouldn’t be asked to play center field anymore. In New York, playing next to Brett Gardner, he could simply focus on staying healthy and hitting the ball out of the ballpark, and the cozy dimensions and east coast humidity should help revitalize his offensive performances.

And the marginal cost of adding Kemp is only $32 million over and above Sabathia’s contract, which mitigates some of the risk that Kemp doesn’t bounce back to his previous levels. Even if he just becomes more of a solid regular than a superstar, he’d fill a gaping need for the Yankees outfield, and would inject some youth into a very old roster.

For the Dodgers, it would simply be a reallocation of assets, plus a small cost savings down the line. Much like Kinsler in Texas, the Dodgers aren’t likely going to get the full value due to overcrowding, so turning an above average outfielder into an above average pitcher makes the roster more efficient. And don’t let Sabathia’s ERA fool you; he’s still a good pitcher, with a strong track record that suggests a big rebound is possible in 2014. Adding Sabathia to Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu would give the Dodgers a ridiculous playoff rotation, and would allow them to use the rest of their 2014 payroll to pursue a starting third baseman and depth around the infield.

In both cases, the teams would be selling low on a star and hoping for a rebound from a change of scenery, but the Dodgers need a pitcher more than an outfielder while the opposite is true in New York. This is the kind of deal that could make both teams better.

Angels trade OF Josh Hamilton to White Sox for LHP John Danks

Hamilton’s Remaining Contract: 4 years, $98 million
Danks’ Remaining Contract: 3 years, $43 million

The Angels are looking to trade a bat for an arm, but are reportedly shopping young, low cost players like Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo, and Peter Bourjos in order to upgrade their pitching staff. Instead, maybe they should look at moving the older guy who caused the outfield logjam in the first place. Sure, dumping the $98 million left on Josh Hamilton’s contract isn’t going to be easy, but if they pick up some of the cost and take back another bad contract, they could potentially add a rotation piece and keep their good young players that are worth building around.

The White Sox present one such an opportunity, as they’d likely to be happy to be free of John Danks’ contract, and could certainly use another offensive upgrade, even after adding Cuban defector Jose Abreu to play first base. If the Angels were willing to even out the salaries for the next three years, thus neutralizing payroll for both sides for the duration of Danks’ contract, then the White Sox would only be picking up the $30 million that Hamilton is due in 2017. For that additional $30 million commitment, they could turn some of their rotation depth into a left-handed power bat with some legitimate upside. While Hamilton certainly had a miserable 2013 season, there are reasons to believe he could bounce back to something closer to what he was with Texas, in which case, the White Sox would get a significant upgrade from what Danks will likely provide over the next three years.

The Angels, meanwhile, would add a competent left-handed pitcher to the back of their rotation, while also shaving some of their future commitments off the books, but most importantly, they wouldn’t have to punt on guys like Bourjos, Trumbo, or Kendrick. These are the pieces the Angels should be looking to retain, not move, and dealing Hamilton and some cash for a bad contract pitcher would let them do just that.

Braves trade 2B Dan Uggla to Brewers for 2B Rickie Weeks

Uggla’s Remaining Contract: 2 years, $26 million
Weeks’ Remaining Contract: 2 years, $22 million

This is a straight up challenge trade, with two teams exchanging struggling second baseman who might just need a fresh start to get their careers going again. The Braves would likely have to cover the cost difference and perhaps throw in something else to convince the Brewers to take an older version of what they already have, but both teams should be interested in moving what they have for something new.

Overall, both are kind of similar players, as they are high-walk, high-strikeout, power hitting second baseman who don’t play the field particularly well. Both lost their jobs down the stretch, and neither have a clear future with their current organization. By swapping their problems, both players could get a chance to start over and see if a change of scenery could reinvigorate offensive abilities that were present in past years. Even if the Braves had to kick in one of the 10,000 good relief pitchers they seem to have lying around their organization, a 2B-for-2B swap could still help both teams.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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