You know the drill by now: The Rockies are not likely to contend in 2016 with their current roster, and their best option is to move major league assets with value right now in exchange for players who can help them down the road.
Unfortunately, one of the players the Rockies have to say goodbye to if they head down this path is Carlos Gonzalez. In fact, he has the most value of any Rockie on the roster who probably should be traded. Knowing this, let's see which teams need Cargo's services the most. We'll use process of elimination to get to the teams likely to give the Rockies the best offer.
First off, I think we can rule out Carlos Gonzalez getting traded to a division rival. It's not impossible, but that generally does not happen with a fan favorite like this (and these teams don't even match up that well anyway), so right off the bat we'll eliminate the Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and D-Backs from this discussion.
The next group of teams we can eliminate are the clubs clearly in rebuilding mode and like the Rockies too far away from contention in the immediate future to really cash in on Cargo's services. This group includes the Phillies, Braves, Reds, Brewers, and A's. That already brings us down to 20 potential trade targets.
Then there's another group of teams that just doesn't need much help in the outfield right now regardless of where they are in the success cycle. This means they're extremely unlikely to pony up a nice return because there's no burning desire on their end to fill a need. If one of these teams ends up landing Cargo this winter, there will likely be a third team involved in a very elaborate and complicated deal. Let's run through those here:
Red Sox: If anything they want to trade an outfielder. Jackie Bradley Jr. has come up in several trade rumors already.
Yankees: They already have Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. As long as that's the case, there's not enough room here for Cargo.
Astros: They probably didn't even need Cargo before Colby Rasmus accepted his Qualifying Offer last week. Now that he's back for $15.8 million, there's no way Cargo fits into this equation.
Twins: Despite Tori Hunter's retirement, this team appears pretty happy with its outfield situation. They have the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball (Byron Buxton) ready to contribute, another young gun in Miguel Sano working on a potential move the left field, and they've actually already traded away an outfielder in Aaron Hicks to the Yankees.
Rangers: They were getting thin in the here at the end of 2015, but they have two high end prospects in Triple-A in Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazera who can play the outfield and should contribute to the 2016 team.
Marlins: This team is a mess and probably can't contend anyway, but even if they could, an outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich is not the problem.
Pirates: Prospect hounds would love to get their hands on some of the talent in this system, but the Pirates currently have an outfield that includes Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco - And while Polanco didn't have a great year at the plate in 2015, he's 24, cheap, likely to improve, and already a positive impact in the field and on the base paths. It's not a terrible match, but I think the Pirates would need more of a push on their side.
That leaves us with 13 remaining clubs outside of the NL West who really crave Cargo's services this winter. They are the Angels, Mets, White Sox, Mariners, Rays, Cardinals, Tigers, Nationals, Royals, Orioles, Blue Jays, Cubs, and Indians. Not all of them are perfect fits for other which we're about to get into, but this is a good place to start in terms of possible destinations.
Before we go any further here however, I want to bring out a couple of tables I posted in the farm system piece from last week just to give everybody a better idea of where the juicy talent is across the league. The following table has been updated since the Angels / Braves and Padres / Red Sox trades last week, and reflects the rankings of MLB.com's top 100 prospect list which you can find here. (I've also taken out the Rockies here since they obviously won't be trading with themselves. They had eight top 100 prospects and made the list so wide that it was hard to read the names on the other teams.)
Right away you can see why a Cargo trade is going to be trickier than it should be coming off the season he had. Not only is the free agent market littered with outfielders, but most of the teams with the deepest pool of high end talent have already been identified here as teams not really desperate for Cargo's services. Since we may have to look deeper into some of these systems, I'm also including another table from the comments of the farm piece which identified the top 287 prospects (that's how many had an overall grade of 50 or higher on MLB.com's 20-80 scale). This time, just the number each team has, not the individuals (they wouldn't fit).
Knowing this information, let's take a closer look at our potential 13 dance partners.
Angels: You don't have to look at the prospect list for very long to understand why the Braves landing Sean Newcomb really hampers this combination. It's too bad too, because Cargo would have fit their needs perfectly.
Maybe the Angels wouldn't have given up Newcomb for an outfielder, maybe the Rockies don't covet Newcomb because of his high walk right, or maybe the front office just missed the boat here - we'll never know for sure - but if one thing is clear now, it's that the Angels no longer have the prospects to land Cargo despite a glaring corner outfield need. It looks like they're going to have to sign one of the big name free agents.
Mets: This is a match up that looks good at first, but ends up being more of square peg in a round hole the more you look at it. The Mets could certainly use Cargo's bat, but with the arrival of Michael Conforto, they don't NEED his bat. It's more of a luxury than a necessity at this point.
Then from the Rockies end of things, the only really great piece the Mets have left that hasn't accumulated a decent amount of MLB service time is Steven Matz. I know some fans will bring up other members of the Met rotation and say they should be Rockie targets, but if the Rockies are punting 2016 with a Cargo trade and these guys have already burned much of their cheap service time, why should the Rockies target them when they're going to get more expensive by they time the team is ready to compete?
To top it all off, rumor has it that the Met and Rockie front offices aren't exactly exchanging Christmas cards with each other.
White Sox: This is a tough team to read. They have outfielders, but they're not very good. I personally think they should be committing more to a rebuild (especially with where the Royals, Indians, and Twins appear to be headed in their success cycles), but if they really decide to go for broke in 2016, they also could be a perfect dark horse candidate to do something stupid and sell their soul for Cargo. While not extremely deep, their system does have some interesting names, including the high upside arm of Carson Fulmer.
Mariners: Remember the Angels? Same song second verse. They desperately need outfield help, but they don't have the farm pieces necessary to acquire what they want via trade. Not only is their system remarkably thin, but their top two prospects are both in Low-A and probably won't arrive in the majors until 2018 or 2019. If they think they're going to fill this hole and compete in 2016, they're probably going to have to open up their check book.
Rays: This is an interesting target I overlooked at first. Any Cargo trade involving Tampa would have to include the Rockies covering a large chunk of the salary, but if the Rays are interested in a big bat that can fill a big weakness, they have the farm pieces to make it happen.
It would be a very uncharacteristic move on their end to trade away multiple high end prospects for a "win now" player (so I wouldn't expect anything here), but the tools are in place if these teams want to Tango. In addition to this, I feel as though Tampa may have to pick a definitive direction this winter after back to back seasons of finishing a few games below .500. If that direction is "try to win now", we may see them do something most would consider surprising.
Cardinals: With Jason Heyward hitting free agency, St. Louis needs help at corner outfield. They have a young arm the Rockies would definitely love to have in Alex Reyes (No. 16 overall prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com),but I have a feeling that Cardinals don't want to give him up.
This is a club that just landed a massive new TV deal last summer, and therefore seems more likely to spend money on their outfield need than trade for it. It's not an impossible match up, but I feel as though this is going to be a situation where both sides have interest, but neither side is willing to compromise enough to make the other one happy. That's pure speculation on my part, but if I'm the Rockies, I'm not sending Cargo to St. Louis without getting Reyes back, and if I'm St. Louis, I'm not trading Reyes for Cargo with all the money I have available.
Tigers: Take the White Sox' situation and the Mariners' situation and combine them and you come pretty close to the Tigers. Unfortunately for the Rockies, there's a little bit too much Mariners in the equation when it comes to what's available on the farm. This is yet another team that's likely going to have to dip into the free agent market if it wants to improve its outfield situation. Boy that list is getting long.
Nationals: If Jayson Werth's contract didn't exist, this would be a very compelling trade partner. The Nationals have Mr. Everything in right field in Bryce Harper, but beyond that they've got issues. Michael Taylor was a top 50 prospect heading into 2015, but his first year in the majors was very disappointing. Combine this with Denard Span hitting free agency, and suddenly center field becomes a big question mark for Washington. Do that Nationals ride with Taylor and hope he makes the adjustment? Do they resign Span or another big name free agent? Or do they make a trade for another outfielder? This is not an easy call.
To make matters worse, they still owe Jayson Werth $42 million over the next two years. This is a contract they're pretty much stuck with and he clogs up a corner outfield spot where Cargo could land. If Werth's bad contract had just one year left, I wouldn't even mind taking it and trying to pry Lucas Giolito out by giving them both Cargo and Blackmon, but alas, I don't want to be paying Werth $21 million in 2017.
Royals: This target is completely dependent on Alex Gordon. If he resigns with Kansas City, and I tend to think he will, they have no pressing need for Cargo. However, if Gordon signs elsewhere, this is a destination that could work for both sides. The Royals' farm is not quite as deep as it once was, but it's also not nearly as thin as some of the other farms on this list.
Orioles: Not only is this farm weak (unless you want to take your chances with Hunter Harvey and Dylan Bundy), but I don't think the Orioles are in nearly as good of a position to compete as they were headed into 2015. Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O'Day, and Chris Davis are all hitting free agency and I'm not sure where they can make up for that lost talent. If the they see things the same way, their sights won't be on acquiring Cargo this winter.
Blue Jays: The Rockie fans that haven't already become Blue Jay fans after the Tulo trade might get sent over the edge if this is where Cargo lands. In one sense, he's perfect for the Blue Jays because he provides left handed power in a lineup full of righties. Add this threat from the opposite side of the plate and the best lineup in baseball just got that much more frightening.
However, from there the logistics break down. Toronto's top priority right now is finding another starting pitcher, and it sounds like they're going to have a hard time making that pitcher David Price with the amount of money they have left to spend. In addition to this, Alex Anthopoulos really put a dent in that farm when he made all those trades in July, so the cupboards, while not completely bear, are certainly under stocked at the moment. Not only that, but the Rockies already selected the prospects they liked the most from this system in the Tulo trade, so it's unlikely they're going to be in love with what's left.
If something happens here, it will be because the Blue Jays come calling with aggressive offers. Not likely, but it's happened before.
Cubs: Did you see Kyle Schwarber trying to play left field against the Mets in the NLCS? Talk about a fiasco! If that situation isn't fixable, the Cubs may need short term help, especially with Dexter Fowler leaving for free agency. However, it's not a given they come knocking on Colorado's door. They have money to add a free agent outfielder and they might also have the patience to wait for Albert Almora to emerge from the minors sometime next season. This is a club with options. If they decide that Cargo is their No. 1 target, things will get interesting, but if they prioritize their solutions differently, there's not much the Rockies can do to get active here.
Indians: And finally we have my favorite target. This seems to be the perfect combination of everything we need for a trade. The Indians are a team with a great foundation in place and not one, but two huge holes in the outfield, and possible three for the first month if Michael Brantley's shoulder surgery keeps him out through Opening Day.
Then on the prospect side of things, they have pieces worth looking into. They have not one, but two, top 50 outfielders in Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier -- both of whom are not expected to arrive at the big league level until 2017, which is a time frame better suited for the Rockies than the Indians. In addition to this, they have two interesting arms. One (Rob Kaminsky) has a high floor (well, as high as you can have for a guy who just finished High-A), and the other (Brady Aiken) has a high ceiling. To top it all off, Cleveland also has a pick in the second Competitive Balance round of next year's draft (usually ends up somewhere around No. 75 overall). That pick is tradable and could help strike a deal if Cleveland's willing to kick it in as sort of a cherry on top to balance out a return.
The only real bugaboo here is the money left on Cargo's contract. The Indians have a budget that's very similar to the Rockies. This likely takes them out of the massive sweepstakes that other teams on this list will be involved in for other outfielders, but it also means they probably won't be thrilled about paying Carlos Gonzalez $37 million over the next two years. For 2016, when Cargo is owed $17 million, I think the Rockies should be willing to kick in a significant portion of the money to sweeten the prospect return. For 2017 however, I wouldn't want to be paying much. This is where more discussions would have to be had between general managers. Is Cleveland willing to take on that $20 million for Cargo for just one year? If not, they could also flip him again next winter and get prospects back themselves after making a run for it all in 2016.
One other thing about why Cleveland is such a great destination for a Cargo trade: Not only do the Rockies have options to pick from on the Cleveland side of the prospects, but they could also package Cargo with Charlie Blackmon and/or Nick Hundley to really bulk up the Indians everyday roster.
There's lots to talk about here and I think I've talked enough, so let's see what you guys think in the comments.