MMO Fan Shot: How to Trade Frazier, Bruce and Vargas In One Fell Swoop

An MMO Fan Shot by Simon S.

As many of you know, the 2017-2018 Mets offseason was a disaster. The moves made not only ruined the teams chances right out of Spring Training, but also continues to handicap the current Mets roster and payroll structure.

In Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas, and Jay Bruce, the Mets have three unnecessary, expensive, and under-performing pieces under contract through at least 2019. If they have intentions of contending, the team cannot afford to enter the new season with any of these players on the roster.

The Mets starting pitching core is not getting any younger, and the team needs to put the best product on the field that it possibly can this year and every year from now on. That means that all mediocre players with little upside must be removed, or a the very least relegated to a bench role.

Despite his decent defensive skills and 1.9 bWAR, Todd Frazier was a black hole in the lineup. He is a prime suspect in the Mets offensive collapse during the months of May and June. Frazier had an OPS of .484 in May and .578 in June, though he started only 28 games during this period due to injury. However, his .213/.303/.390 overall slash line does him no favors, and shows the kind of AAAA hitter he has become.

The fact is that the free agent market for third basemen this year is quite deep. Even Asdrubal Cabrera, who is arguably the fourth or fifth best option at third base this year, would be a much needed upgrade over Frazier. The Mets desperately need to put the best product on the field, and there is no scenario in which Frazier is part of the solution.

Similarly, Jason Vargas is blocking an upgrade to the Mets fifth starter role. No matter what his second half numbers say, he is not an adequate number five starter. I believe he can probably post a better ERA than the ugly 5.77 mark he posted this year, but he will almost definitely be a parasite to the Mets bullpen.

Vargas has not been able to average more than six innings per start since 2014. There is no indication that he will reverse this trend next year. The fact is, Vargas has posted the same kind of mediocre run prevention numbers that R.A. Dickey recorded with the Blue Jays in the final years of his career, but Dickey consistently averaged over six innings per start. Dickey was a true fifth starter, and at this point Vargas is just a waste of resources.

Just like the third base market, the starting pitching market is quite deep this year, so the Mets have plenty of options to choose from for an upgrade.

Finally, there’s Jay Bruce. Thanks to Yoenis Cespedes’s injury, Bruce has a role on this team for next year. Although his numbers in 2018 were terrible, he probably has the best chance to rebound out of the three players mentioned here.

However, Bruce is still slow, an injury risk, and a bad defender both at first and in the outfield. Most importantly, he will block the team’s young prospects long-term.

Many fans are calling for the Mets to somehow trade off these players by eating salary. However, this is not entirely realistic. The free agent market is strong this year and most teams have more salary room than they have had in the past. No one wants to take on inflexible, low upside players because they will be blocking upgrades at key positions.

In my opinion, the only clear ways to get rid of these players is to… 1) swap bad contract for bad contract or… 2) a trade in which the Mets package prospects to incentive the other team to take on salary.

The latter option could be like the Diamondbacks did with Touki Toussaint in the Bronson Arroyo trade with the Braves. Though, I would rather the Mets not do the latter, especially seeing how poorly that deal worked out for Arizona.

As for the former option, there is one fundamental problem, duration mismatch. Most bad contracts have many years remaining, but Frazier and Vargas have just one. It will be hard to structure a fair deal (let alone three fair deals) in which the Mets can deal these players without taking on 2-3 bad players in return, which would defeat the purpose.

Here lies a trade proposal that I believe is fair and works for both teams. Since I care a ton about the Mets, I put in a lot of time to think about realistic ways for the team to dump these players, and I wanted to share the most realistic idea I had with you.

The Trade

  • Mets send OF Jay Bruce, LHP Jason Vargas, and 3B Todd Frazier to the Texas Rangers
  • Texas sends OF Shin-Shoo Choo to the Mets

Net Salary Changes for 2019

Mets Free Up $10 Million in 2019

  • -$8 million (Jason Vargas)
  • -$9 million (Todd Frazier)
  • -$14 million (Jay Bruce)
  • +$21 million (Shin-Soo Choo)

Rangers Take on $10 million in 2019

Net Salary Changes for 2020

Mets Take on $7 Million in 2020

  • Difference in Choo ($21 MIL) and Bruce ($14 MIL) contracts

Rangers Free Up $7 Million in 2020

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

First thing to address: this trade only works if Adrian Beltre retires this offseason. He has previously said that he is undecided about playing next year and wants to spend time with his family. The Texas Rangers have already given him an unofficial tribute in his last game in 2018. Beltre is a free agent, so if he decides to continue playing, the Rangers will surely be the team he chooses to sign with, especially since they have room for him at third base.

Now on to the actual trade. The Mets essentially replace Jay Bruce with Shin-Soo Choo and gain $10 million for this year’s payroll in exchange for jettisoning Vargas and Frazier, as well as increasing next year’s commitments by $7 million. Let’s see why this trade works for both sides, starting with the Rangers.

The Rangers have already formally announced that they are essentially retooling next year, but not explicitly “tanking.” Jon Daniels said that they will not go after the top free agents, and most reports confirm that the Rangers payroll will not be much higher than 2018’s Opening Day $133 million figure.

This makes sense, as the Rangers have no clear path to contention coming off 67 losses and the mighty Astros in their division, not to mention the A’s, Mariners, and Angels. The Rangers will have a new stadium for the 2020 season, so the logical option is to retool in 2019 while planning for a return to competitiveness in 2020.

Why does this deal make sense for the Rangers? Let’s start with Todd Frazier. Frazier will simply replace Adrian Beltre on their roster. He is only signed for one year, so the Rangers are free to upgrade in 2020 as they see fit. Furthermore, he is a candidate to be traded mid-season, unlikely Beltre, whose sentimental value to the organization makes him harder to trade.

Jason Vargas would also serve a role on their 2019 roster. Texas posted MLB’s third-worst ERA at 4.92. Their starting pitching staff contained names like Doug Fister, Bartolo Colon, and Matt Moore for a majority of the season.

Furthermore, there is little help coming from the minor leagues, so Vargas would not really be blocking anyone. Vargas will serve as a warm body and eat innings in their rotation, and of course, Texas can just discard him after this season.

Lastly and most importantly, the Shin-Soo Choo for Jay Bruce component. Texas has four left-handed outfielders: Choo, Nomar Mazara, Willie Calhoun, and Joey Gallo. Jon Daniels, the Rangers GM, has already mentioned that he will try to deal one of these four players. Mazara, Calhoun, and Gallo are all young and controllable for multiple seasons at a low cost, so trading Choo makes the most sense for them.

However, if the Rangers could have traded Choo before, they most likely would have already traded him. The problem is that the remaining two years and $42 million left on his contract is not something that most teams would be willing to take on. Of course, Bruce is also a left-handed batter, so he doesn’t solve this particular issue for the Rangers.

However, by reducing their commitment to that roster spot by $14 million over 2 years, the Rangers gain payroll flexibility. Furthermore, Choo cannot play first base, while Bruce is capable. The Rangers gave 387 AB at first base to Ronald Guzmán, who was MLB Pipeline’s eighth best first base prospect before this season. However, Guzmán batted just .235/.306/.416, so the Rangers could use some additional depth at that position.

One added bonus: Bruce is from Texas, so it is possible that he will be reinvigorated by his return to his home state.

Now the Mets side. I know many of you will be skeptical at the notion of watching Shin-Soo Choo for two years. Choo is a left-handed outfielder who will be turning 36 years old next season, and is a player Rangers fans have wanted to trade away for a long time.

However, looking at his numbers, it is clear that Choo is not a bad player, even at his advanced age. Choo’s slash line in 2018 was .264/.377/.434, which is very similar to Michael Conforto’s  .243/.350/.448 2018 line. This was good for a 112 OPS +, 118 wRC+, a 2.8 bWAR, and a 2.4 fWAR. In fact, throughout the entirety of his contract with the Rangers (2014-2018), Choo never posted a wRC+ lower than 100.

It can’t be denied that Choo is a consistent player, and the source of his consistency comes from his OBP. Choo’s lowest OBP since 2014 is .340, which he actually posted in 2014. He is also not injury prone, as 2016 was the only year during his Rangers tenure that he missed significant time (he played in just 48 games that year).

For those concerned about whether Choo benefits from the hitter-friendly stadium in Arlington, don’t be. As a Ranger, Choo has posted the same or significantly better numbers on the road every year except for 2015.

The main issue with Choo is his defense. UZR and DRS consistently rate Choo as a poor defender. In 2014 and 2015, Choo posted a UZR of -7.0 and -5.9 and a DRS of -12 and -11, respectively, which are objectively terrible. However, Choo has actually improved on those numbers every year since, and his 2018 UZR of -1.9 and DRS of -5 is actually almost identical to Jay Bruce’s numbers in the outfield this year.

It is possible that Choo has improved due to increased rest, as he has spent more time as a DH in recent years. In 2018, he started almost 60% of his games as a DH. Without a DH in the NL, the Mets will have to give Choo more off days. On these days, Choo would be a valuable weapon off the bench. This also leaves room for the Mets to create an equitable time share with Juan Lagares, whose right-handed bat will compliment Choo’s left-handed one. When (or shall I say if) Cespedes comes back, Choo and Cespedes can efficiently share time in the outfield, as both are unlikely to be capable of playing every day at this point.

Ultimately, the Mets will acquire a more consistent offensive weapon by replacing Bruce with Choo. The issues regarding defense and age are warranted, but are worth it considering the Mets will be freeing up $10 million in payroll space and getting rid of dead-weight in Frazier and Vargas.

Counting this money, insurance payouts on Wright and Cespedes, and a Travis D’Arnaud non-tender, the Mets “actual” projected payroll would be down to $100-$110 million. By “actual”, I simply mean subtracting out Wright’s and Cespedes’ insurance payouts, something the Wilpons have refused to do in recent times. Therefore, I estimate that the Mets will have about $50-$60 million to spend (if the Wilpons open their pockets and increase “actual” payroll to $150-160 million, which is unlikely but maybe Jeff will finally put his money where his mouth is).

If I were running the show, I would use these funds to bring in Josh Donaldson, a starting pitcher with upside like Nathan Eovaldi or Hyun-jin Riu, two high-profile bullpen arms (my picks would be Jeurys Familia and Zach Britton), and Wilson Ramos. I acknowledge that, depending on how the off-season goes, these players might get too expensive and that the Mets would have to go cheaper on catcher or starting pitching, since third base and bullpen are imperatives.

The other thing I love about this setup is that management would simply be unable to irrationally block their young prospects with old and useless veterans. Two outfield spots (Nimmo and Conforto), shortstop (Rosario), second base (McNeil), and first base (Smith and Alonso) would be reserved for our young players. I would give Dominic Smith first base for at least the month of April. If he underperforms, then I would replace him with Peter Alonso. If Smith is hitting well, then that’s a great problem to have.

In my opinion, this is the Mets’ best shot for constructing a legitimate, complete team – a team with little to no obvious dead-weight, defined starters with upside at every position, a formidable starting rotation, and a fortified bullpen.

Also, remember that if you think the Mets come out unfairly in this trade, you might be right. But in that case, the Rangers might think the same way, and would therefore be willing to send over extra cash in the deal to make it more palatable for the Mets.

Please let me know what you guys think in the comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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This Fan Shot was written and contributed by MMO community member and die-hard Mets fan Simon S. Have something you want to say about the Mets? Send your article to GetMetsmerized@aol.com or use this Contact Form. Or ask us about becoming a regular contributor.

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