The team that I chose to trade with was the Chicago Cubs, a team that Orioles fans should be familiar with after the Andy MacPhail regime. Some players in recent years that have worn uniforms for both clubs include Sammy Sosa, Jerry Hairston, Jr., and Felix Pie.
The Cubs are in a similar position to the one that the Orioles have been in the past few years, in that they've had a fairly high payroll (approx. $86 million for both teams last season) but still finished towards the bottom of their division last season. The Cubs are in a slightly better position than the Orioles, in my opinion, in that they have decent front of the rotation pitching in Dempster and Garza (as long as he isn't traded) and have a young star in the majors already in shortstop Starlin Castro.
Before we get to the actual trade, I must confess that I am in the camp of people that feels that the Orioles should blow up the entire team and start over from scratch. Anybody that isn't named Wieters, Britton, Machado, or Bundy (well just the one Bundy, the other I'd part with) should be put on the block and traded for prospects and/or to take on some bad contracts from other teams. Having said that, this is my proposed trade between Baltimore and Chicago:
Jeremy Guthrie, SP
Mark Reynolds, 3B
Brad Bergesen, SP/RP
* - Assumes that Soriano waives his full no-trade clause that the Cubs assume $42MM of the $57MM remaining on his contract
** - Assumes that Zambrano waives his full no-trade clause
Here is my logic behind the deal from both sides:
1. It rids the club of Soriano, whose contract has been an albatross to the team for the past few years. Even though the Cubs are assuming a majority of his remaining contract, they were viewing it as a sunk cost at this point anyways so any value they can get in return is a bonus.
2. It rids the team of a major headache in Zambrano, who is entering the last year of his contract.
3. It opens up a spot in the outfield for the team's top prospect, Brett Jackson.
4. Guthrie gives them a solid, and cheaper arm, to fill in Zambrano's rotation spot behind Dempster and Garza. Guthrie is arbitration eligible again this season, but even with a pay raise he will be earning much less than the $15MM that Zambrano is due.
5. Given their trade for Ian Stewart, the Cubs can play Reynolds at 1B where his defense is slightly less horrible than it was at 3B last season. He also gives the Cubs a power bat in the middle of their line-up to help make up for the losses of Soriano, Carlos Pena, and Aramis Ramirez from last season.
6. Bergesen provides some versatility to the bullpen as he can be a long reliever or fill in as a spot starter when necessary.
1. This approximates the beginning of the "blowing it all up" process that I was talking about earlier.
2. In this scenario, the Orioles will only be responsible for $15MM owed to Soriano, or $5MM/year over the next three years. Soriano's bat was still relatively productive last year, and he could open the season as the team's DH and fill in for Reimold in LF on occasion.
3. Zambrano would replace Guthrie's position at the front of the O's rotation. Assuming that Zambrano can get his head on straight, he can use this season as a showcase to audition for other teams in order to land one last big payday in 2013. Zambrano averaged a WAR of 2.9 from 2007 to 2010, so if he can get back near that production it would be beneficial to both him and the Orioles.
4. Vitters is a former first round pick that some people in the Cubs organization have begun to sour on. However, he still is fairly young (22) and in his age 21 season at Double-A he showed some improvement with slashes of .283/.322/.488 (AVG/OBP/SLG) and solid defense at 3B. Vitters main issue has been his patience at the plate, evidenced by his only taking 22 walks in 488 plate-appearances last year. If the Orioles can work with him on his patience, he projects as an everyday 3B at the major league level.
5. Mcnutt is a bit more of a wild card/project. He entered last season as the Cubs top pitching prospect, but struggled in Double-A ball, posting a 4.55 ERA and a K/9 of only 6.2. However, as with Vitters, he is still young (22) and has shown as recent as 2010 that he can touch 97-98 with his fastball and has a plus slider. He needs to work on developing a third pitch and fix the issues with his mechanics that reared their head last season, but McNutt still projects as a mid rotation guy at best, and could still serve as a power arm out of the bullpen if all else fails.
Originally I had contemplated sending back Nick Markakis to the Cubs instead of Reynolds and Bergesen, but I felt that if the Cubs were making this trade to rid themselves of Soriano’s contract then they probably would not want to take back Markakis and his overvalued contract. The Cubs are giving up two solid prospects in this deal (both rated as three star prospects by Baseball Prospectus), but sometimes you have to overpay a bit to help clean up your old mistakes. I like this trade for the Orioles because it brings back some young talent and sets up the potential of having a Vitters-Machado combo on left side of the infield for the next 4 to 5 years. Also, McNutt gives the Orioles another young, talented arm to hopefully not screw up (such optimism!).