Jake’s Take: Finding “A Guy”

I was perusing content from The Ringer a few days ago, and I came across an article that caught my eye. In fact, the fictional narrative– written from both the positive and negative extremes of a hypothetical trade that would send DeMarcus Cousins to the Boston Celtics- is the inspiration around this latest installment of Jake’s Take.

What if one team in the other two major American leagues- NFL and MLB- made that kind of fate-changing blockbuster deal? What if this team wasn’t one that you’d expect? What if this team was already just about good enough to make the playoffs but was, as Bill Simmons says in this column’s inspiration, “A Guy” away from a championship?

These are the questions I’ve set out to tackle this week. The following teams are borderline contenders and have at least one clear hole in their framework, like most franchises do. What makes them special is that they have the resources to make a big trade or free agency signing that will both fill a hole and set them up for a deep run in the playoffs.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens

The Answer: Lesean McCoy

Why it makes sense

The Ravens are currently hovering just above .500. They are one game out of a playoff spot and the division lead with three games remaining, so a spot in the postseason isn’t out of the question. They still have hope.

The Ravens own the league’s eighth-best passing offense (262 yrd/g), the ninth-ranked passing defense (236 yrd/g) and the NFL’s best rushing defense (75.5 yrd/g). The problem is their relatively putrid rushing attack. They rank in the NFL’s bottom fifth in rushing yards per game (86.0, 28th) and in yards per attempt (3.7, 27th).

A lot of stock can be put into the claim that Baltimore doesn’t have a true No. 1 receiver or that their tight end depth and play has become a serious issue, but there is no hiding from the fact that a running back corps led by Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon is not going to be effective as a unit.

From the Buffalo Bills’ standpoint, the thought of trading away their only offensive threat may sound ridiculous, but if Rex Ryan loses his job, which sounds increasingly likely, the Bills could move on to full-on rebuilding mode rather than dance around the issue for another year of mediocrity. This means that McCoy could change teams regardless of the Ravens’ actual interest.

Why it doesn’t make sense

The Ravens entered this season with the second lowest amount of usable cap space in the league, according to OverTheCap. Going into next offseason, they will have just $14.2M in available cap space because of a few bad contracts, namely Eugene Monroe’s deal, which the Raven’s will finally put to rest with the final $3 million installment in dead money next season.

Baltimore also has Lardarius Webb’s $9.5 million cap hit to deal with in 2017, giving them little wiggle room for McCoy’s promised $8.9 million next season, rising to $9 million and $9.1 million the following two years (via Spotrac).

But they should do it anyway because

Joe Flacco isn’t getting any younger, and the pieces around him aren’t either. At 31 years old, Flacco may only have a few more seasons to win in the NFL. The Ravens’ quarterback has given his entire career to the franchise that drafted him, and they’ve built a consistently tough defense to back him up. They just can’t run the football, and a trade that would move Lardarius Webb’s unsustainable cap hit and bring in a top-10 running back would be the best that Ozzie Newsome could do by his franchise quarterback. Sure, they would have to throw in a draft pick or two to get McCoy, but consistent production at the running back position for a few years is exactly what the Ravens need to be legitimate contenders, especially as we’re continually nearing a wide-open, post-Tom-Brady-dominated AFC.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals

The Answer: Jose Bautista / Mark Trumbo / Edwin Encarnacion

Busch Stadium on April 19, 2014 (photo from shutterstock.com)

Why it makes sense

The Cardinals finished with MLB’s best record (100-62) two years ago. Last season, with the help of the newly-great Chicago Cubs and a fierce case of the injury bug, they relapsed to 86-76 and missed the playoffs by one game. They were one game away from making the postseason for the sixth consecutive season and… having to play baseball’s best, the Cubs, again in the Divisional Round. Even with this proposition, St. Louis needs winning baseball back,

The Cardinals also have quite a bit of fiscal flexibility. According to Spotrac, the Cardinals have just under $125 million in active payroll, and with the luxury tax threshold to jump to $195 million this season, St. Louis has a considerable amount of money to play with to fill out their roster. Granted, the team spent the comparatively small amount of $167 million with a threshold of $189 million last offseason, so we shouldn’t expect to see too much more than that being spent.

Why it doesn’t make sense

The Cardinals need to win, but they don’t need to mortgage their future to do so. They’ve already signed center field and presumed leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. They’ve already made their one big move for this season. There’s also one key drawback with each of the three players previously mentioned, listed below in descending order of signing likelihood:

  • In Bautista’s case, the Cardinals would have to forfeit a second-round draft pick to the Blue Jays. This isn’t necessarily a stumbling block in Bautista’s potential signing, though, as St. Louis has already given its first-round pick to the Cubs as compensation for Dexter Fowler.
  • Encarnacion is another free agent who was extended a qualifying offer, requiring the team to sign him to surrender a draft pick to the Blue Jays, but he also doesn’t fit with the Cardinals’ core as well as either of the other two. He has shown interest in a final long-term deal of his career, but this doesn’t make as much sense for St. Louis since they already have two capable (and possibly starting) third basemen on the roster in Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta.
  • Trumbo requires the same draft-pick compensation as Bautista and Encarnacion. The main problem here is that it appears the Trumbo could be looking for a longer contract, which comes at a higher price tag and could shed light on his well-below-average defensive abilities.

But they should do it anyway because

They need to win, and this core is getting older. Carpenter is 31, and Fowler is turning 31 in March. Yadier Molina is 34, on the cusp of 35. Adam Wainwright is 35 right now. These aren’t the spry stars they once were, and, while Bautista is 36 years old, he would fit the best with this group. The rare power hitter in this market who isn’t a liability defensively, Bautista would likely play first base for the Cardinals, giving them the perfect excuse to dump Matt Adams. Trumbo would be nice to have for his bat, but having him play any position other than designated hitter would scary for St. Louis defensively, and Encarnacion would simply require too much shuffling of the infield unless he is willing to play first base. This gives the Cardinals a clear target: the aging slugger who can still handle his bat and his glove.

All statistics obtained from espn.com unless otherwise noted


Writer. Announcer. Sports Guru.
These are just a few title’s for FHNgameday’s Jacob Lintner. A “Swiss Army” journalist for FHN Media, Jake from Jake’s Take serves as an editor for FHNgameday, a live streaming commentator for FHNtodayLive and as a member for FHNtodayTV. Visit jacoblintner.com for more of his work.

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