No, I’m serious. You probably thought I was joking in the article title, a cheap ploy to garner more clicks. And there are a few good reasons why this trade is unlikely to come to fruition:
1) There are practical baseball reasons why either side might say no. From the Yankees’ perspective, Miller is an incredibly valuable asset. As dominant as he’s been over the last two seasons, he’s somehow been even better this year, pitching to a 1.22 FIP and 40 cFIP on the heels of a Kershaw-ian 18.33 K/BB ratio. He’s also under control for two seasons after this; out of the Yankees’ dominant bullpen trio, Aroldis Chapman is the one whose value is in shortest supply. With plans to contend in 2017 as well, New York can elect to keep both Miller and Betances past this deadline and still be setting their sights on the future. In return, the Yankees would be receiving a 34-year old whose power and strikeout rate would both represent career-worsts over a full season. From the Dodgers’ perspective, they are trading away one of their middle-of-the-order bats who has put up consistent production in each of the five seasons he’s been with them. Even with his so-called “struggles” in 2016, Gonzalez is still boasting offensive production that is above league average, a fact that he’s been able to boast in every one of his full seasons in the majors. Additionally, the Dodgers’ biggest problem this year has been their offense, so they should probably be looking to add a bat rather than move one. On the other hand, their bullpen has actually been a strength, leading the NL in ERA by a wide margin.
2) Adrian Gonzalez is arguably the face of the Dodgers’ franchise. He grew up in southern California, is a Mexican-American fluent in both English and Spanish, and does ample charity work throughout the LA community. That threesome is basically the perfect combination to being a beloved figure among the local Dodger faithful, and that is exactly what he is. It’d be totally inconceivable to most Dodgers fans for Gonzalez to be dealt.
3) Trades of this nature rarely happen. In recent history, there are very few deadline deals swapping quality major leaguers for quality major leaguers, especially talents as good as Miller and Gonzalez. No trade of a similar nature happened at last year’s deadline. In fact, the only one that immediately comes to mind in recent memory is the Oakland-Boston swap of Yoenis Cespedes and Jon Lester in 2014. Because deadline deals are usually consummated between a buyer and a seller, trades like this one are simply too rare.
However, a Gonzalez-Miller swap makes more sense when you dig deeper. First of all, labeling Gonzalez as an offensive liability, as I implied in reason #1, is rather dishonest. There is a big difference between proclaiming Gonzalez as someone in offensive decline, and someone who’s an offensive liability. He still boasts a .350 OBP this season, which would rank second on the Yankees behind only Brett Gardner. Also, his power may not have disappeared; rather, the fly balls have just disappeared. His HR/FB% of 13.0 percent isn’t much different than what it’s been in any of the previous five seasons. Instead, he has simply hit fewer flyballs, doing so just 24.3 percent of the time, a mark much lower than his career flyball rate of 37.0 percent. This has been a conscious effort to avoid shifts, as he has been adept this season at shooting grounders down the third base line where no defenders lie. The numbers bear that out; as the league has become more shift-happy, especially against Gonzalez, his BABIP has actually spiked to .337 this season, a number that represents a five-year high in that category. His opposite-field percentage is also the highest it’s been since his Padres days. And his increase in strikeouts may be just as misleading as his power outage. He’s also walking more than he has in any season with the Dodgers, and so the jump in strikeouts may just be a sign of working deeper counts. Indeed, his swing percentage has dropped dramatically in 2016, while his overall contact percentage is right in line with his career averages. His total offensive package this season, despite the supposed red flags, is still above average, as his .286 TAv indicates. His defense, despite a dip in Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA metric, is still generally viewed as a plus. As an added bonus, his power plays perfectly to Yankee Stadium. Early in his career, Gonzalez would hit a lot of home runs out to left field. However, as he’s aged throughout the years, those homers have slowly disappeared and been replaced with home runs to the pull side, which fits Yankee Stadium quite well. As far as his contract is concerned, he’s under control for two seasons after this, just like Miller, so this would also be a piece for the immediate future. Next season, the Yankees would have two capable left-handed bats in Greg Bird and Adrian Gonzalez that could rotate between first base and DH, especially with Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran coming off of the books. Gonzalez makes $21.5 million per year, which is a significant amount, but is still lower than Teixeira, who will no longer be on the payroll anyways. In a sense, it can be seen as Teixeira and his contract being replaced on the payroll by a younger, more productive player at the same position. This is a type of rebuilding move that doesn’t mortgage the Yankees’ position to contend this season, either. Gonzalez could inject offensive life into a lineup that has been in dire need all season, and he projects as an immediate and immense upgrade over Ike Davis. The Yankees would still have Chapman and Betances to close out games as well.
Why would the Dodgers do it? First, despite their shiny bullpen ERA, Kenley Jansen is their only reliever that has both been effective this season and comes with a consistent track record. Adding a second elite arm in Miller creates a dynamic late-game duo for manager Dave Roberts, and if you believe in the rumor mill, the Dodgers have shown plenty of interest in Miller over the last few seasons. Reason #2 for the unlikeliness of this deal can be completely negated just because of who’s pressing the buttons now in Los Angeles — Andrew Friedman. Since Friedman has taken over, he’s had no issue dealing or neglecting to re-sign fan favorites like Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, and Zack Greinke. He also showed that same tendency in Tampa Bay in regards to players like Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, James Shields, David Price, and Wil Myers. Under Friedman, no player is safe from trades, and he has vocalized that it’s better to trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late, making the aging Adrian Gonzalez a perfect candidate. The Dodgers have the resources in prospect depth and money to go get a replacement first baseman; or, they could call up highly-regarded prospect Cody Bellinger to get a head-start on his title of “Dodgers’ first baseman of the future”. In either scenario, the issue is moving Adrian Gonzalez, and while he’s a quality player, there are few teams that would be willing and able to take on his contract while also needing a first baseman. Enter the Yankees, making this an unlikely but potentially ideal match between the two teams.
As we’ve reiterated in previous posts, the Yankees are in a weird position in the standings and with their current roster talent. They’re too close in the race to punt the season, especially with a roster that won 87 games last season and remains largely the same this year. However, they’re also too far out of the race for it to make sense to trade assets for a free agent at season’s end. Additionally, when looking at what the Yankees need to improve upon, there is an obvious fix. Remember that a one-win upgrade, whether it be at the plate or on the bases or on the mound, is all worth the same. However, it’s much easier to improve upon an area starting at a lower point. And the area is obvious — the Yankees are second-to-last in the AL in on-base percentage and slugging. More than anything, they need a bat, and quality bats are easiest to find at first base, where the acceptable offensive threshold is much higher. Conveniently, the Yanks’ biggest hole is at first base. Does it have to be Adrian Gonzalez in particular? Of course not. But how many other teams are out there that are both willing to deal their starting first baseman and willing to accept something other than quality young players in return? The odds of predicting any trade are astronomically low, and the odds of an Adrian Gonzalez-Andrew Miller swap, specifically, are even lower. But this deal is something that’s a win-win for both sides and something at which it might be worth taking a long look.
Photo: Brad Penner / USA Today Sports