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Trade Targets to Consider Before Spring Training

Happy New Year to everyone and as we begin our journey in 2024, the Texas Rangers are still World Series Champions! A couple of weeks ago, opening workout dates for Spring Training camp in Surprise, AZ were announced. Pitchers and catchers will report on February 14th, with the full squad reporting on February 19th. For the first time in franchise history, the Texas Rangers will start this season with a target on their backs as they look to defend their World Series title. In preparation, they’ve signed a handful of players to minor league deals, including Diego Castillo who had some solid seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners between 2020 and 2022. The Rangers remain linked to several remaining free agent candidates, though time will tell if they will spend the money needed to land any impactful top targets.

In all reality, the Rangers don’t have much to improve when it comes to their roster for the 2024 season. Eight of their key starters in the lineup return from last season, with the main departures being Mitch Garver (recently signed with Seattle), Travis Jankowski (still a free agent), and Robbie Grossman (still a free agent). Rangers’ fans everywhere would love to see a reunion take place with Jordan Montgomery who was phenomenal down the stretch in 2023. His price tag is understandably high and unfortunately that might be too rich for ownership as they look to avoid paying into the luxury tax for a second straight season.   

Even with all the talent returning this season, it still doesn’t mean this roster is perfect. The bullpen was a disaster following the all-star break, but thankfully pulled it together for the postseason run. The starting rotation suffered several injuries, some of which leave them short-handed until July or August. Losing Garver leaves a hole at the DH spot of the lineup which will likely be filled with the abundance of outfield depth, or a rising prospect like Justin Foscue or Dustin Harris. With the financial situation as is, it seems the best source for roster improvements will come from either the farm system or the trade market. While the Rangers have one of the best farm systems in the major leagues, the trade market provides a direct line to MLB proven talent that can make an instant impact this season. Names like Dylan Cease, Corbin Burnes and Shane Bieber have highlighted potential trade targets this offseason. The Rangers would certainly benefit from adding one of those names to their rotation, but the asking price is likely too rich for what the front office is willing to part with.

That said, I’ve put my “Couch GM” hat on to propose three potential trade targets that make sense financially and competitively:

Rangers receive RHP Edward Cabrera, C Christian Bethancourt; Marlins receive C Sam Huff, INF Josh Smith, RHP Brock Burke.

I’m all in on Edward Cabrera. His numbers don’t reflect his potential and I’d argue his ceiling is as high as any major league pitcher. His fastball and slider combo has the potential to be elite, with a changeup that provides depth given his long extension off the mound. Cabrera favors his changeup, throwing it 31% of the time over his fastball which he utilizes 27% of the time. His biggest issue currently is command and location, often leaving too many balls up in the zone. When he’s on, he’s on and can catch lightning in a bottle. In 20 starts last season, Cabrera recorded 8 or more strikeouts five times, with most of those strikeouts in the first few innings. Perhaps pairing him with the veteran leadership in the Rangers rotation and Mike Maddux as his coach, Cabrera can capitalize on his potential to be a frontline starter in this league. More importantly, he’s healthy and can contribute to the rotation immediately. Bonus, Cabrera is under arbitration until 2029.

The Marlins have a solid lineup, but lack in talent when it comes to the SS and C positions. Sam Huff provides both a defensive and offensive upgrade behind the plate, while Smith provides a direct upgrade over John Berti and the ability to be an OF addition as needed. Brock Burke has starter ability and could replace Cabrera in the back end of the rotation or be a nice long relief arm in the Marlin pen. If I’m the Rangers, I ask for Bethancourt to come back in the package to be a solid veteran backup to Jonah Heim.

Rangers receive RHP Justin Lawrence; Rockies receive INF Ezekial Duran, RHP Owen White.

This one might be too soon to call, but Justin Lawrence looks the part of the next big closer in the league. In his debut season last year, Lawrence tossed 75 innings and posted an impressive 3.72 ERA for the Rockies. His ¾ arm angle delivers a nasty, sweeping slider that’s nearly impossible for righties to resist. His fastball has a natural cut action on it, topping out at triple digits on the radar. It’s hard to not look at Lawrence and see similarities to Josh Hader with his delivery, speed, and movement. He slots in nicely to the back end of the bullpen, with the potential to be an affordable lock-down closer for the next several years. Like Cabrera above, Lawrence is arbitration eligible until 2029 when he becomes a free agent.

To pull one of the top young arms from the Rockies bullpen, it’s going to cost the Rangers some top-tier prospects. They’ll certainly want MLB ready talent, and I can’t imagine a scenario where Duran isn’t the first name they discuss. Duran showed he has power to all fields with the ability to play high-level defense at all positions. The Rockies need immediate offense, and Duran has plenty to offer in 2024. Duran alone won’t be enough to move the needle, so an MLB ready pitcher is likely to be in the mix. White has shown he’s able to handle the moment and will likely see a ton of improvement during the 2024 season. He compliments their trio of lefties in Kyle Freeland, Cal Quantrill, and Austin Gomber while arguably being an improvement over Ryan Feltner and German Marquez. It could take another prospect to land this deal, but as is both sides clearly improve their rosters.

Rangers receive RHP David Bednar, RHP Kyle Nicolas; Pirates receive OF Leody Taveras, RHP Owen White, INF Dustin Harris.

David Bednar seemed to be a real possibility for the Rangers during the 2023 trade deadline. The bullpen (as we learned) was shaky and in need of a solid option to lock down games late. Luckily for the Rangers, the bullpen pulled it together when it counted but I don’t know if we’ll see that happen again in 2024. Help is needed, and who better than David Bednar who has been the best affordable option. He’s 29 years old and under team control until 2027. Though a raise in arbitration is likely in the future, Bednar is an elite level closer who won’t cost you $15 Million a year or more to land. The Pirates could compete in 2024, so it won’t be a cheap ask for interested parties looking to sway them to part with their closer.

Insert the Rangers who have depth of MLB ready talent, and one of the top-five farm systems in all of baseball. Leody Taveras had another solid season for the Rangers, slashing .266/.312/.421 and collecting 67 RBI along the way. For the first half of the season, Taveras was one of the best hitters in baseball and arguably the best 9-hole hitter in all of baseball. He is an above-average defender and is versatile at the plate as a switch hitter. The Pirates have Bryan Reynolds in CF but would likely slide him over to make room for Taveras who makes their outfield significantly better. Not to mention the flexibility it provides for McCutchen who can comfortably spend more time as the DH this season.

I’ll save the repetition on Owen White being MLB ready, but the Pirates need pitching and White slots right in as a 3 or 4 in their rotation. If the Rangers haven’t already dealt White in another deal, he would be a good addition in hopes of swaying the Pirates front office. Dustin Harris fits a few potential needs for the Pirates, depending on how they want to approach the year with McCutchen. Harris has pop in his bat and could be a great middle-order DH option. He’s a great defensive first baseman and appears to be a defensive upgrade over Rowdy Tellez. Both have good pop from the left-hand side of the plate, with Harris getting the clear advantage with speed on the bases.

I added Kyle Nicolas in the return mostly as relief depth for the Rangers. Nicolas made his MLB debut in 2023 and is currently the #23 ranked prospect for the Pirates. His debut innings didn’t fare well, but he had solid numbers at AA and AAA. He can hit upper-90’s with his fastball and has good action on his curve. If it takes another prospect to claim both, I’ll pass on Nicolas for now as they already claim the Rangers #8 and #10 prospects along with a solid MLB talent CF. If the Pirates are willing to part with both for the package as is, the upside for both make the Rangers pen a dangerous unit as they seek to defend their title.

It remains to be seen what moves CY and staff have hidden up their sleeves, if any. The lineup will score runs as is, and the rotation will suffice until they hit full strength in August. However, if a deal is to be made, you won’t catch me saying no and loading up for a run at back-to-back titles. Join in on the discussion in the comments to let me know what players you’d target this off-season, or what players you’d offer up instead!

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