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Five contracts the Orioles could acquire if they came with a prospect

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After the Angels parted with a nice prospect to rid themselves of Zack Cozart, there has been lots of chatter in Birdland about the Orioles doing the same thing. Here are five players who fit that mold.

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Angels traded Zack Cozart and prospect Will Wilson (15th overall selection in last year’s draft) to the Giants for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The Angels wanted to clear payroll for their pursuit of top free agents and essentially gave San Francisco a nice prospect if they would take on Cozart and his $12.67M in remaining salary.

I immediately wondered if this is something the Orioles would consider, as Mike Elias has consistently said that he will explore all avenues of adding talent to the club’s minor league pipeline. On the surface, this type of trade would make sense for the Orioles. They have slashed payroll to an estimated $60M, so taking on a contract wouldn’t break the bank. They could use veteran help in getting through the 2020 season. And they would have added a future asset.

The Athletic’s Dan Connolly suggests that there is a reason that Elias isn’t exploring this avenue for acquiring young talent. He writes, “The best guess here is that Orioles’ ownership has tied Elias’ hands on boosting payroll even if the move ultimately helps replenish a farm system that is desperately trying to improve.” The cheap ownership argument has reared its head again.

Our Andrea SK responded by laying out the ways in which the Angelos family has not been cheap over the years. It has been a popular topic in Birdland, as the amount of discussion on each of these posts was far higher than average.

We can debate whether the Orioles should explore such a trade. Judging by Elias’ comments, this type of move probably won’t be made in the near future. But I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look at each team’s contracts and find players that would make sense for Baltimore to acquire if they came with a solid prospect. Below are five players whose contracts expire after 2020 and whose teams have reason to want to trade them, making them a fit for this type of trade with the Orioles.

J.A. Happ, Yankees

2019: 161.1 IP, 4.91 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 1.2 WAR

Contract: One year, $17M remaining. 2021 option ($17M) vests if Happ pitches 165 innings or starts 27 games in 2020.

The southpaw has had a very solid career, bringing a career ERA of 3.99 into the 2020 season. His strong performance for the Yankees in 2018 earned him a two-year, $34M contract prior to last season. Happ put up a disappointing 2019 campaign and you may have heard that the Yankees acquired starting rotation help last week.

Happ is an obvious candidate for this list because it was reported last week that New York is “actively shopping” him. After acquiring Gerrit Cole, shedding Happ’s salary may allow the Yankees to move down a luxury tax penalty level.

The Orioles’ starting rotation is an area of need. Currently, only John Means, Alex Cobb, and Asher Wojciechowski are penciled in. If the O’s did take this contract on, it would be interesting to see how they manage his innings. They surely would not want Happ’s 2021 option to vest.

Mike Leake, Diamondbacks

2019: 197 IP, 4.29 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 1.3 WAR

Contract: One year, $15M remaining.

Leake is the stereotypical innings eater, having pitched at least 175 innings in every season since 2012. He has never struck out many batters and his career ERA is a tad over 4. He turned his consistency into a five-year, $80M contract with St. Louis prior to the 2016 season. After he was traded to Seattle, Arizona acquired him at July’s trading deadline.

Arizona’s rotation got a boost recently when they signed Madison Bumgarner. Zac Gallen, Robbie Ray, Merrill Kelly, and Luke Weaver could round out the rotation, with a few young players waiting in the wings. One of their starters is expendable and shedding Leake’s contract could help Arizona pay Bumgarner the $85M committed to him.

There is absolutely nothing flashy about Leake, and his inability to miss bats would be magnified in Camden Yards and the American League East. But his durability would be welcome on a staff with so many question marks.

Brett Cecil, Cardinals

2019: Did not pitch due to injury. Posted a 6.89 ERA in 32.2 innings in 2018

Contract: One year, $7.2M remaining

The left-handed reliever from the University of Maryland landed a four-year, $30.5M contract with St. Louis following the 2016 campaign. Add it to the list of bad free agent contracts for relief pitchers. Injuries and ineffectiveness have led to a 4.86 ERA in parts of two seasons with the Cards, plus a 2019 season when he didn’t pitch at all.

The Cardinals intend on competing for a division title in 2020 and Cecil can’t be counted on to contribute; John Mozeliak called him a “question mark” in a recent interview. They are rumored to be interested in resigning Marcell Ozuna and resources saved on Cecil’s contract could help them. Perhaps the Cardinals would be willing to include a better prospect if they received Mychal Givens in a hypothetical trade.

While Cecil’s injury history makes him a question mark, he’d feel right at home surrounded by several other question marks in Baltimore’s bullpen. The Orioles will likely have many non-competitive games where they simply need outs to end the game mercifully. If healthy, Cecil is a veteran arm who can help in that regard as well as mentor young pitchers in the bullpen.

Kelvin Herrera, White Sox

2019: 51.1 IP, 6.14 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, -0.4 WAR

Contract: One year, $8.5M remaining. $10M club option for 2021 with $1M buyout

After spending years as a huge part of Kansas City’s dominant bullpen, Herrera was traded to Washington before the 2018 deadline. He then signed a two-year, $18M contract with the Chicago White Sox prior to last season. As you can see above, it didn’t go so well.

The White Sox only won 72 games last year. But they have a solid core of young players and just gave Yasmani Grandal $73M. They could be looking to shed the salary of an under-performing reliever and direct those resources to a free agent that could better help them. They are also considered to have one of the game’s top farm systems.

Ian Kinsler, Padres

2019: 281 AB, .217/.278/.368, 9 HR, 22 RBI, -0.3 WAR

Contract: One year, $4M remaining

While approaching the end of his solid career, Kinsler signed a two-year, $8M contract with the Padres prior to last season. San Diego’s infield became crowded very quickly after Kinsler signed, with the acquisition of Manny Machado and the promotions of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias. As a result, he played in the fewest games of his career.

Urias was traded to the Brewers this winter, but Jurickson Profar was acquired from the Athletics and projects as the starting second baseman in San Diego. Their 2020 payroll is currently projected as $138M and they may still be looking to add to the roster. Shedding Kinsler’s modest salary may be of interest, considering likely won’t start and isn’t an ideal utility infielder.

If Opening Day were tomorrow, the Orioles would probably play Hanser Alberto at second base and Richie Martin at shortstop after trading Jonathan Villar. Kinsler, like the rest of the names on this list, would not be a flashy addition. But he could play second base while Martin further develops in the minors if Alberto, assuming the club is comfortable with Alberto at shortstop.