Swapping Dead Money, Astros Style

How the Astros can improve by trading dead money for dead money

On 2/19/19, I had the blessing of joining Eric Huysman and Brandon del Castillo for a segment on their Talking Stros show. Brandon asked me to get creative with how the Astros would address the potential outfield logjam that Eric wrote about. The specific scenario to address is this: If Kyle Tucker has a spring training like he had last year and the Astros want him on the opening day roster, what could the Astros do? My answer was that I believe they would want to trade Josh Reddick. Then the question from Brandon was how the Astros can get rid of Josh Reddick.

Here is the truth. As much as I love to “wooooo” when he comes to the plate, and as much as Josh Reddick has been an excellent teammate and premium defensive outfielder, he is the most overpaid Astros position player (along with Gurriel, whose salary drops to $8MM in 2020) in projected WAR. This table proves the point (Projected WAR from FanGraphs; salaries from RosterResource).

This is why Reddick would be considered to have “Dead Money.” The options here are:

  1. Jeff Luhnow finds a team that projects that, for them, Reddick would deliver a much higher WAR, and therefore they would value Reddick much more than the Astros do.
  2. Jeff Luhnow trades dead money for other dead money that would better fit the Astros’ needs.

We are going to explore option two. Not all dead money is created equal, and to find the best dead money possible, let me lay out the Larry the GM criteria.

Dead Money Target Criteria
  1. Target teams that are likely to be not very good.
  2. Target teams in “tanking” mode or most likely to go into “tanking” mode.
  3. Target teams with higher payrolls or with a few players taking a large part of the payroll.
  4. Target teams that have dead money payroll type players in positions of interest for your team. For the 2019 Astros, the positions of interest would be starting pitcher, catcher, and possibly first base.

Applying that criteria, one finds the Diamondbacks, Giants, Mariners, Orioles, Royals, and Tigers are the teams of interest.

To narrow the dead money players to the ones that might help the Astros in 2019, we apply these criteria:

  1. Salary >$10MM in 2019
  2. Projected WAR >= 1.5 in 2019
  3. Preference to players with shorter contracts
  4. Preference to players that are younger
  5. Preference to players who have had success in past few years (defined as WAR >2.5)
  6. Teams with the financial flexibility to retain some of the salary

Applying these filters results in a target list of these players:

In the columns to the right I made a guess at the willingness of the other team to retain part of the salary for each player. These are guesses. The key column in this table is the one in green. This column indicates the likely cost of the projected WAR of the players that met our Dead Money Target Criteria. As in the initial Astros list above, the smaller the number the decrease in the amount one is paying for the WAR a player is projected to produce.

Under these assumptions, what would a likely trade involving Reddick look like? Let’s take each team one by one. Some of these may not be realistic deals, but these scenarios attempt to give a general idea.

Trade with Diamondbacks

A trade with Arizona for Greinke is a challenge, because this trade will communicate to the Diamondbacks fans that the team does not intend to go for it in 2019. Arizona is predicted to win 79 games this year by Fangraphs; considering these factors, this deal would only come late in spring training when the front office realizes their sky really is falling. Reddick could slot into the D-backs as a platoon partner for Souza in RF. Arizona would likely want a pitcher that could immediately pitch in the rotation and a prospect. I suspect Arizona would be willing to retain 20-40% of Greinke’s incredibly high salary if the prospects were good enough. Arizona may also be willing to take a shot with Reed as a first baseman if he has a good spring.

How about:

Greinke for Reddick, Reed, Rodgers, and Bukauskas

Trade with Giants

San Francisco is reportedly still trying to pursue Bryce Harper. The Giants would drop out of this list if they signed Bryce Harper. Let’s assume they don’t, and the spring is very unkind to them again with their aging and frail team. This list hast some huge names from the Giants. The Giants would have the same dynamic as the D-backs with the trade of Posey and/or Bumgarner. The Giants project to be horrible in the outfield, so let’s consider Reddick and Fisher and/or Kemp (reminder: the premise is that Tucker is ready). The Giants would also favor some of the young arms the Astros have. Because of the value of the Giants players on this list and their relative high value, some of these deals might be less dead money deals than prospects for star deals.

Here are some options:

Posey plus $5MM/Year for 3 years for Reddick, Stassi, Kemp, Valdez, and Bukauskas

Belt plus $3MM/Year for 3 Years for Reddick, Reed, and Rodgers

Bumgarner for Reddick, Dawson, Rodgers, and Armenteros

Samardzija plus $6MM/Year for 3 years for Reddick and Rodgers

Trade with Mariners

Neither of the options that this process highlighted for the Mariners really interests me very much. I am not sure I would even offer Reddick straight up for either.

Leake plus $3MM/Year for 2 Years for Reddick

Encarnacion plus $7MM/Year for 1 Year for Reddick

Trade with Orioles

Alex Cobb is an interesting option to me. He has not had a really good year since 2014, although at 2.3 WAR, 2017 was not bad. The Orioles are going to struggle to win 60 games, so they clearly do not want his 3 years at $14MM/yr.

What if it was:

Cobb for Reddick and Rodgers

Trade with Royals

The Royals could use a Reddick in the field. I did not really expect more than one catcher to come out of this process. Here it is, however: Salvador Perez. Could Perez be the answer at catcher for the Astros for the next three years? This would not be a dead money deal. It would be a prospects plus Reddick deal. It would probably be similar to the Posey deal above.

Perez for Reddick, Stassi, Valdez, and Bukauskas

Danny Duffy would be a dead money deal, but like Cobb, he does spark some intrigue as to what the Astros could do to improve him and/or return him to 2016-2017 Duffy.

Duffy for Reddick and Rodgers

Trade with the Tigers

I did not even consider Cabrera as I set the framework of the potential dead money targets, but there he was. Given his huge contract with five years remaining, I just don’t see the Astros trading for the 36- year old Cabrera. It is fun to think about. Altuve might be willing to chip in his hefty millions to get his fellow Venezuelan onto the Astros, but if the Tigers would not pay half of the remaining contract, then I am not interested.

This is my answer to Brandon and the crew at Talking Stros. Here are ten ways the Astros could trade Reddick and get something in return. And I am sure that whatever Jeff Luhnow comes up with will be better than these.

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