The gap between the haves and the have-nots in Major League Baseball seems to grow wider by the year—and not just because New York Mets owner Steve Cohen is spending like there's no tomorrow and has a 2023 payroll more than 8.5 times that of the Oakland A's.
But it would only take a handful of trades to shift the balance of power and introduce a few new teams to the list of 2023 World Series contenders.
Unfortunately, there's nothing remotely realistic we can do to make Oakland a contender for this season. The Nationals, Reds and Royals are also looking like dead weight for at least another year.
There are a handful of teams who could take a big step forward—either into the playoff conversation or into the upper echelon of World Series candidates—with just one trade.
Michael A. Taylor to the Milwaukee Brewers
The Trade: Kansas City sends CF Michael A. Taylor to Milwaukee for OF Hedbert Perez
I've done a lot of "Might Milwaukee trade Corbin Burnes or Brandon Woodruff?" theorizing this offseason, but let's pivot to the Brewers as a buyer.
Because after Milwaukee traded Hunter Renfroe and let Andrew McCutchen return to the Pittsburgh Pirates, its outfield situation is looking a little bleak.
The Brewers do still have a very expensive Christian Yelich for another six years in left field, and their farm system is top-heavy with outfielders. But in 2023, is rookie Garrett Mitchell ready to be the everyday center fielder? Is Tyrone Taylor really the answer in right field? Is Jesse Winker even playable in the outfield with his glove/range?
They could use an inexpensive stopgap solution, which is why they signed third baseman/outfielder Brian Anderson to a one-year, $3.5 million deal this week. But they should still look into acquiring Michael A. Taylor from Kansas City.
Taylor has one $4.5 million season left on his contract before he'll hit free agency, and that's a small price to pay for an excellent glove in center, as well as some power at the dish and some speed on the basepaths.
He only hit .254 with nine home runs and four stolen bases last season, but he still ranked second on the Royals in Baseball Reference WAR because of his impact on defense.
If the Brew Crew is darn sure about Mitchell in center this season, great for them. But given the way Lorenzo Cain completely imploded and left them to scramble in center pretty much all season, having too many outfielders wouldn't be the worst thing.
On the Royals' side of the equation, shedding $4.5 million in salary and adding a decent outfield prospect seems like a no-brainer. And Milwaukee has so many outfield prospects that it wouldn't hurt to part with one to improve the defense.
Pablo López to the San Diego Padres
The Trade: Miami sends RHP Pablo López to San Diego for SS Jackson Merrill
The San Diego Padres signed former New York Mets reliever Seth Lugo to a two-year, $15 million deal this offseason.
But what if the guy who has made just 12 starts over the past half-decade is unable to make a seamless transition back to the starting rotation?
And what is San Diego's plan for 2024 after it loses Yu Darvish and Blake Snell to free agency?
Trading for two years' worth of Pablo López could be an answer to both problems.
If Lugo pans out as a starter and the Padres need to roll with a six-man rotation while healthy, so be it. The Padres were using a six-man rotation in 2022 before Snell even made his season debut in mid-May, and they probably wouldn't mind letting 36-year-old Darvish and stretching-his-arm-back-out Lugo get a little extra rest between starts here and there.
And though it's a small sample size that probably doesn't mean anything, López has fared well against both the Dodgers (3.00 ERA in 15.0 IP) and Giants (2.10 ERA in 30.0 IP) in his career.
Miami isn't just going to give López away, though.
Because of Miami's surplus of starting pitching, López has been one of the most talked-about trade targets of the past calendar year. But he hasn't gone anywhere yet, because the Marlins reportedly had been asking for players such as Gleyber Torres from the Yankees or Luis Arraez from the Twins.
But it's time for Miami to face facts: It's not competing in the 2023 NL East, and probably not in 2024, either. Trading López for a top-100 prospect who would be under team control through at least 2029 makes more sense than trying to get a position player who is hitting free agency either the same year as López or one year later.
And with Xander Bogaerts, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ha-Seong Kim all theoretically on the roster through at least the next four years (Bogaerts and Tatis for much longer than that), the Padres can certainly afford to part with shortstop prospect Jackson Merrill.