MLB Trade Rumors: Updating the Top 10 Stars Potentially Available This Winter
Just because teams cannot trade players until the season comes to an end doesn't mean that the rumor mill has gone silent.
No, the mill is alive and well, though it's not spinning quite as quickly as it was two months ago, and the argument could be made that what's out there is more speculation based on months of reports, rumors, quotes and general innuendo surrounding players throughout baseball.
In other words: the rumor mill is currently preheating in preparation for the start of the Hot Stove League.
Let's take a look at what's slow roasting inside in advance of the heat that will be cranked up later this year.
Shin-Soo Choo, RF, Cleveland Indians
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CBS Sports' Jon Heyman says that the Indians will listen to offers for right fielder Shin-Soo Choo this winter as the team is resigned to the fact that they will not be able to re-sign the 30-year-old when his contract expires after the 2013 season.
Rumors of a possible Choo trade started rumbling earlier this season, with Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal chiming in on what it would take to pry the former All-Star from the Tribe's hands:
Hearing price for #Indians' Choo is a major leaguer - a good one - with less than three years service time. Choo free agent after 2013.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 30, 2012
The Phillies, Pirates, Rangers, Reds and Tigers were all said to have interest in Choo this summer, and there's no reason that all of those teams wouldn't check in with the Indians again this winter to try and put a deal together.
Even with his impending free agency, Choo will generate a ton of interest, especially from those teams who don't want to overpay Nick Swisher as a free agent and who fail to land Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks.
Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets
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While speaking with Bill Madden of the New York Daily News back in spring training, Mets' manager Terry Collins had this to say about his first baseman, Ike Davis:
I’ve only seen this guy for a little over a month and that was enough to convince me that, with 550 plate appearances, he can’t help but walk into 30-40 (home run) fastballs. Ike being back now is like getting an All-Star first baseman out of nowhere.
Collins was right about Davis' power—the 25-year-old has hit 27 home runs so far in 2012, and he's played solid defense at first base. But he's not hitting for a high average or getting on base with any regularity, and his struggles against left-handed pitchers has forced him into a platoon with Lucas Duda.
Those issues, coupled with concerns that the Mets have about his unwillingness to adjust based on suggestions from coaches and his penchant for staying out too late have led the Mets to consider dealing Davis this winter, according to ESPN New York's Adam Rubin.
Andy Martino of the New York Daily News adds that while he's available, Davis won't be shopped:
Talked to many Mets ppl recently re: Davis/Duda. As 1 put it "Won’t shop either aggressively...but will be open to right deal for either."
— Andy Martino (@SurfingTheMets) September 18, 2012
I have never missed games or not been ready to work because of anything to do with staying up too late. I show up every day. I play hard. It is unfair to me, and it doesn’t make sense.
Where there's smoke, there's usually some semblance of fire, so the truth as to how available the first baseman really is probably falls under the category of "for the right package."
A number of teams who have openings at first base could potentially be interested in trading for Davis, including the Indians, Marlins, Rays and Red Sox.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Boston Red Sox
Last month we looked at reasons why the Red Sox should trade Jacoby Ellsbury this winter. Reasons that included Scott Boras and whether or not Ellsbury actually liked playing in Boston at all.
Sean McAdam at Comcast Sports New England quotes an unnamed league executive who says that there is "zero" chance of the Red Sox working out a long-term extension with Ellsbury before his contract expires following the 2013 season.
To that end, ESPN's Buster Olney remarked on WEEI 850 AM in Boston that the price tag on such an extension would be "astronomical," something that Ellsbury's agent, Scott Boras, confirmed to the Boston Herald's Michael Silverman:
The only thing I can say about Jacoby is that there are few players like him. He is a proven successful player in Boston and in the American League East environment, and he plays a premium position at Gold Glove levels. He is a franchise player.
Before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, rumors persisted that the Red Sox and Rangers had discussed a blockbuster deal that included Ellsbury (h/t WEEI). While no deal was struck, Olney says that the Rangers are once again doing their homework on Ellsbury, among others, as possible replacements for Josh Hamilton should he depart as a free agent.
In the beginning of August, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe mentioned the Phillies as a potential suitor this coming winter, but it stands to reason that any team looking for an upgrade in center field is going to look into acquiring Ellsbury.
Yunel Escobar, SS, Toronto Blue Jays
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With the Blue Jays ready to move forward with prospect Adeiny Hechavarria as their everyday shortstop, CBS Sports' Danny Knobler reports that the team will look to move 29-year-old incumbent Yunel Escobar this winter.
Escobar was rumored to be heading to the A's at one point this season before talks broke down and the A's acquired Stephen Drew from the Diamondbacks, but with Drew struggling to hit in Oakland, the two teams could revisit talks this winter.
He's under team control through the 2015 season at a reasonable $5 million per year, with the 2014 and 2015 seasons being team options. For someone who has been a consistent contributor on offense and not a major liability on defense, there will be a market for Escobar this winter, in spite of his current three-game suspension by the Blue Jays for writing a gay slur on his eye black.
Matt Garza, RHP, Chicago Cubs
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Shortly after he was sidelined with a triceps injury, Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune that Matt Garza wasn't going anywhere: "He's likely to be a member of the Cubs in 2013," he said. "And we're excited to have him. (Trading him) is the last thing we're thinking of. We're just trying to get this guy healthy."
While the Cubs have no problems keeping Garza around, the fact of the matter is that they had multiple teams interested in him last season, and with the Cubs still in the beginning stages of a massive rebuilding process, adding additional pieces by moving the soon-to-be 29-year-old might be the best thing for the organization moving forward.
Being a free agent following the 2013 season and having not pitched for the final two months of the season will certainly hurt the kinds of offers that the Cubs receive this winter, but there's no reason to expect that Garza will draw any less interest than he did during the season.
Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres
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As the July 31 trade deadline drew closer, there wasn't a hotter name on the rumor mill than Padres third baseman Chase Headley, who had at least five teams pursuing him: the A's, Indians, Orioles, Pirates and Yankees.
Under team control through the 2014 season, Headley, 28, has emerged as a legitimate sleeper candidate in the National League MVP race—though the award is still expected to go to either the Giants' Buster Posey or the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal says that the Padres are giving serious thought to keeping Headley this winter and putting Jedd Gyorko, one of their top prospects and the expected successor to Headley at the hot corner, at second base next season.
Anyone who tries to acquire Headley will need to make the Padres an offer that they cannot refuse, and even then, there's no guarantee that it will be enough to get him out of southern California.
Chris Perez, RHP, Cleveland Indians
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If Chris Perez is traded by the Indians this winter, he'll have nobody to blame but himself. Then again, maybe getting out of Cleveland is exactly what he wants.
Back in May, Perez ripped Indians fans for a lack of support and managed to get in a shot at Indians' ownership in comments he made to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes.
As the trade deadline neared, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that the Giants were very interested in acquiring the 27-year-old closer to bolster their bullpen. While Perez wasn't traded,
Earlier this month, Perez was back on the warpath, this time taking shots at management and ownership in a conversation with Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi:
Different owners. It comes down to that. They [the Tigers] are spending money. He [owner Mike Ilitch] wants to win. Even when the economy was down, he spent money. He’s got a team to show for it. You get what you pay for in baseball. Sometimes you don’t. But most of the time you do.
The GMs can only spend the money the owners give them, but they pick who they spend it on or who they don’t. They pick. The owners don’t pick.
Josh Willingham would look great in this lineup. They didn’t want to [pony] up for that last year. … That’s the decision they make, and this is the bed we’re laying in.
That's a mouthful, and it comes as no surprise that rumors of his departure from Cleveland have started churning on the rumor mill once again:
The more Chris Perez talks, the closer I think he is to being dealt. Teams only put up with this for so long. Will be an interesting winter.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 5, 2012
Rosenthal, in his latest column, agrees with Bastian and doesn't expect Perez to be wearing an Indians' jersey when spring training starts.
ESPN's Buster Olney (insider subscription required) says that the Giants aren't expected to bring Brian Wilson back after his second Tommy John surgery, so it stands to reason that they could revisit talks with the Indians about Perez this winter.
James Shields, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
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After Zack Greinke was traded to the Angels and Cole Hamels worked out a contract extension with the Phillies, James Shields became the pitcher that every GM wanted to get their hands on.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported back in July that the Rays were seeking to receive a package of prospects better than what the Brewers received for Greinke, and such a high asking price likely prevented him from being moved.
Tampa holds a $9 million option on Shields for the 2013 season and they'll exercise it, but the $12 million option that the team holds for 2014 is undeniably going to be far too expensive for the frugal Rays, and because of that they'll look to move him.
While there hasn't been much recent chatter revolving around Shields, you can be sure that it's going to pick up significantly after the season ends.
Alfonso Soriano, LF, Chicago Cubs
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Nobody has been more available over the past 12 months than Cubs' left fielder Alfonso Soriano.
Back in May, the Cubs were ready to include nearly $40 million in a deal for the 36-year-old:
Not surprisingly, Cubs are telling teams they will eat almost all of Soriano $$ (maybe all but $3 mill) if they can dump him.
— DKnobler (@DKnobler) May 31, 2012
Soriano has a full no-trade clause in his deal and flexed his muscles (as is his right) prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline:
Alfonso Soriano has told Cubs he will not go to Giants in trade
— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) July 31, 2012
As Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal notes, the Cubs are certain to try and move Soriano again this winter as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer continue to rebuild the organization.
Soriano has put together a fantastic season with the Cubs this season and, for the first time ever, he's played Gold Glove-caliber defense in left field.
He should generate interest from a number of teams this winter, especially if the Cubs are still willing to pick up a large chunk of his contract, which has $36 million left on it through the 2014 season.
The Indians and Rays both come to mind as teams who could be good fits, with Cleveland desperately needing a powerful right-handed bat and Tampa Bay always in search of more offense.
Justin Upton, RF, Arizona Diamondbacks
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When last we checked in with Justin Upton, the Diamondbacks' right fielder had been claimed on waivers:
Justin Upton claimed by unidentified team. Can't see him being traded. #dbacks
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) August 24, 2012
Within an hour of that report, Heyman was back with the team's unofficial response:
Dbacks official: "no chance" Justin Upton is traded.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) August 24, 2012
So Upton remains a member of the Diamondbacks for the rest of the 2012 season. But that means nothing as far as the 2013 season goes, and one team to keep an eye on is the Texas Rangers.
ESPN's Buster Olney reports that the Rangers are leery of committing too many years or too much money to Josh Hamilton and that they are doing their homework* on two fallback options should they be unable to re-sign their star slugger.
One of those players is Upton, which makes sense considering that Upton was one of many players that the Rangers submitted claims for during the trade waivers period, according to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan.
Upton has been the subject of trade rumors and speculation for nearly two years now, and you'd think that sooner or later it would get to anyone. Not Upton, who explained to the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro that he is at peace with whatever the next step in his career may be:
I'm in a good place right now. I'm in a good place mentally about it. I understand that this is baseball and I'm going to approach my off-season the same way I would. I'm going to go home, play golf, enjoy my family, do whatever I've got to do. If they call me and tell me I got traded, then that's what happens. I'm not going to worry myself about it. Whatever happens, happens. That's the place I'm at.
Upton does have a limited no-trade clause in his contract, one that allows him to block trades to the Cubs, Indians, Red Sox and Yankees, though it's not uncommon for players to include big-market clubs on their no-trade lists to use as leverage for extra compensation if a trade is presented to them.
Prior to the July 31 trade deadline, Towers told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that the Yankees did "kick the tires" on Upton, but that no substantial talks had taken place and that the Diamondbacks would re-visit the possibility of moving Upton in the offseason.
At the very least, any GM who enjoys his job and would like to keep it is going to at least pick up the phone and call Towers to discuss Upton once the season comes to an end.
Whether he's eventually traded or not, Upton will be one of the most talked about players in the game between now and the start of spring training next season.