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Loan Sharks: Taking an idea from soccer could spice up baseball’s pennant race

Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline may have passed last Monday, but trade fever hasn’t yet abated at Daily Trib Sports headquarters.

There’s just something about baseball’s silly season that appeals to the fan in all of us.

Rumors are flying, GMs are wheelin’ and dealin’, and every baseball fan is dreaming about potential playoff rotations. Or, if you’re a Braves fan, potential playoff rotations in 2020.

Anyway, now that it’s August, the big deals are all but wrapped up. There are still trades to be made, but the players who clear waivers, as they must to be traded in August, typically won’t move the needle too much.

Luckily, just when I was about to give up and start thinking about football season, ESPN columnist Bill Barnwell came through with a tweet that that resurrected one of his old ideas and set the wheels of baseball speculation spinning wildly again.

Here’s the idea: What if baseball teams were allowed to loan players between themselves as soccer clubs do?

In soccer, teams will loan out young players to get them playing time, often on a lesser team. The original team retains the rights to the player and gets to see them develop, and doesn’t have to pay that player’s salary for the season. And the receiving team picks up a good player.

In baseball, obviously, it wouldn’t work like that, but there is one obvious scenario in which loaning players would make sense.

The Braves, for example, aren’t a threat for the playoffs this year, but they do have designs on contending in the near future, meaning long-term assets like Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte and even Tyler Flowers are off the table in trade discussions. But those players aren’t doing much good this year on a team that’s struggling to stay at .500.

On the other hand, a player like Freeman could do a lot of good on, say, the Red Sox, who are contending for a hard-fought AL East while running out Mitch Moreland at first base.

The Red Sox have no chance to acquire Freeman in a straight trade, but if loans were allowed, Atlanta could ship its first baseman up to Boston for the stretch run and get a decent prospect in return—and then get Freeman back next year when it’s more ready to contend.

As Barnwell said in his original column laying out the idea, “The team in last place would get a young player for the future and its veteran back for what one would hope to be a more promising season. The playoff team would be able to fill a short-term hole without having to give up the same sort of prospect haul it would normally consider in a traditional trade, and that impact would come at a particularly high-leverage moment in its season.”

So that’s what we’re doing here today. Paying homage to the original idea, I’ve come up with five hypothetical loan deals.

We’re looking for contending teams that have glaring weaknesses and bad teams that have stars at the right places to fill them. And, given that this is a completely hypothetical scenario, I’m also giving special preference to deals that have an added element of novelty.

Like, for instance, the first one on the list.

Giancarlo Stanton to the Rockies

Aaron Judge may have taken his spot in the nation’s heart as America’s large dinger-mashing son this year, but let’s not forget that it was Stanton that made us all fall in love with guys the size of Paul Bunyan mashing baseballs to the moon in the first place. And he did it while playing his home games at Marlins Park, one of the toughest home run parks in baseball, according to ESPN’s park factors.

So let’s set the monster free and have him battle it out with Judge on even terms. Yankee Stadium is the easiest park to hit a home run in according to those same park factors, so it’s only right that we send Stanton to the original launching pad.

Giancarlo gave us a glimpse of what he could do at Coors Field in 2016, when he slammed a 495-foot homer there that was the longest of the year.

I don’t even care how the Rockies and Yankees do the rest of the year, I just want Judge and Stanton going back and forth with 500-foot bombs.

And just in case I need an on-field justification for this hypothetical move that you’re now all begging to happen in real life, let me point out that Carlos Gonzalez is hitting .227 in right field for a Rockies team that’s currently occupying the last wild card spot in the NL. Have the Rockies send a top-20 prospect—maybe even Cartersville alum Sam Howard, ranked No. 12 in their system by MLB.com—back east to rent Stanton for three months, call this one in, and sit back and watch the destruction.

Roberto Osuna to the Nationals

You may assume that the Nationals fixed their bullpen problems when they shipped three players to Oakland for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, but the faint wailing about Drew Storen I can still hear from the direction of my beloved hometown says otherwise.

Since Bryce Harper arrived in 2012, the Nationals have been one of the most talented teams in the National League, never finishing below .500 and making the playoffs three times in five years. Unfortunately, they’ve lost in the Division Series each of those years, with the bullpen giving up the losing run in the deciding game every time.

Last year might have been the worst of the meltdowns, with Max Scherzer coming out of the game with a 3-0 lead after six innings in Game 5 against the Dodgers and the bullpen immediately giving up four runs in the seventh. Final score? 4-3, Dodgers.

Given that history, Nationals fans might not feel comfortable even if they had a duo of Mariano Rivera and Dennis Eckersley closing out games, but Osuna would definitely give the team a shutdown presence at the back of the pen.

The 22-year-old righthander has saved 27 games for Toronto this year, striking out 61 batters in just 45 innings with a fastball-slider-cutter combo. His WHIP of 0.80 would be the lowest among qualified pitchers on the Nationals.

The price to rent a back-of-the-bullpen arm shouldn’t be that much either, maybe a lottery ticket like Class-A outfielder Telmito Augustin.

Jacob deGrom to the Astros

As the only New York Mets pitcher to escape whatever sinister curse was apparently leveled on that team’s starting rotation this year, deGrom deserves better than wasting out the rest of the season on a below-.500 team that also doubles as a bottomless pit of despair.

Imagine his happiness when he gets sent to the Astros, who feature the best offense in baseball and are stomping through the American League like the Dodgers are through the NL.

The only problem is that that terrifying offense has papered over some very real concerns in the starting rotation, a state of affairs that even staff ace Dallas Keuchel has noticed.

“Disappointment is a little bit of an understatement,” Keuchel said the day after the trade deadline about the team not adding another arm.

It’s not that options like Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers and Brad Peacock are bad—all of them have ERAs under 4.00—it’s just that none of them are particularly who you want to run out in the second game of a playoff series.

Lance McCullers Jr., currently on the 10-day DL, should be 100 percent by the playoffs as well, but acquiring a pitcher like deGrom would give Houston a fearsome 1-2 punch with Keuchel at the top of the rotation.

With his 3.36 ERA (16th in the league) and 2.9 Fangraphs WAR (12th), deGrom even has a case to start Game 1 ahead of Keuchel—and would make Houston far and away the favorite in the American League.

Buster Posey to the Indians

There are several teams who would be clamoring for Posey’s services if the Giants made him available for loan for the rest of the year.

The Diamondbacks are running out the immortal trio of Jeff Mathis, Chris Iannetta and Chris Herrmann behind the plate, with Iannetta’s .225 average the best of the three.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are rolling with Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon, who, despite Vazquez’s .282 average, are still Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon.

But assuming that the Giants wouldn’t do loan business with division rivals Arizona, Cleveland would probably outbid Boston for the former MVP.

Yan Gomes had some great years for the Indians behind the plate but slumped hard last year, hitting .167 in 251 at-bats. He’s back above the Mendoza line this year, but with a .224 average and .680 OPS in 232 ABs, he’s been a hole in the Indians lineup.

Fill that hole with Posey, who’s been worth nearly a full win more than any other catcher in baseball this year according to Fangraphs, and the Indians would have a low-key Murderer’s Row with Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and their new catcher.

Mike Trout to the Dodgers

There’s no real baseball justification for this one, I just want to see a team win 120 games in a season.

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