Justin Upton and 8 Other MLB Stars Who Could Be Traded This Winter

Harlan SpenceContributor IIISeptember 26, 2012

Justin Upton and 8 Other MLB Stars Who Could Be Traded This Winter

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    The 2012 MLB regular season isn’t quite over yet, and the playoffs are yet to begin. Still, it’s never too early to speculate on which notable players might be switching uniforms this winter. A light free agent market, which includes very little star power beyond Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher and Zack Greinke, could result in a flurry of trades, as teams scramble to fill holes through other means.

    Here are a few high-level performers who may find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings next spring.

    Note: All stats are through September 25th.

Justin Upton

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    Where there’s smoke there’s fire…or at least there will be eventually.

    One-time uber-prospect Justin Upton has been brought up in trade rumors for nearly two years now.

    Despite a somewhat pedestrian 2012 campaign (.278/.355/.425), Upton’s shown flashes of brilliance before, and he’s still just 25 years old. Signed to a team-friendly contract through 2015, B.J.’s younger brother could bring the Diamondbacks a huge haul from teams in need of corner outfield help this winter, like the Red Sox, Yankees, Giants and Phillies.

Billy Butler

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    Always a solid contributor, Royals DH Billy Butler has had a career-best season in 2012, posting a triple slash line of .315/.373/.508.

    Kansas City, looking to build around major league ready prospects like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez, as well as franchise player Alex Gordon, could flip Butler for desperately needed starting pitching help if they hope to contend sometime in the near future.

    Budget conscious, pitching-deep contenders such as the Rays and A’s may look to snag Butler, who is signed for a reasonable $17 million over the next two seasons, with a club option for 2015.

Ian Kinsler

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    With younger up-the-middle options Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar under team control for years to come, and with outfielder Josh Hamilton approaching a mega payday, the Rangers may look to dump the $75 million guaranteed to second baseman Ian Kinsler from 2013 through 2017.

    While enduring a mediocre season by his standards (.263/.330/.431), Kinsler is still one of the premier middle infielders in the game, and should draw major interest despite his hefty price tag.

    At age 30, Kinsler would be attractive to teams seeking a second baseman who is also an impact bat, such as the Orioles, Blue Jays and Tigers.

Matt Garza

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    Matt Garza’s two-year tenure with the Cubs has been plagued by injuries and poor run support.

    Still, the righty possesses significant value as he enters his final season before free agency, which the Cubs, still years from contention, can use to help rebuild their farm system.

    Garza’s quality numbers in Chicago (3.52 ERA, 1.23 WHIP over 49 starts), coupled with his history of success in the hitter-oriented AL East (3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 94 starts for the Tampa Bay Rays), will pique interest from the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays and Orioles.

    Just about every contending team in the sport, in fact, will be in the market for an affordable No. 2 or No. 3 starter like Garza.

Alfonso Soriano

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    The second Cub entry on this list, Soriano’s obscene contract once seemed all but untradeable.

    After putting up his first 30-plus home run season since 2007, though, the 40/40 club member now seems like a not-so-terrible option for a contender seeking some outfield pop.

    While the Cubs probably can’t unload all of the $36 million remaining on Soriano’s contract through 2014, they can likely get someone to pick up a significant chunk, and even bring back a decent prospect or two in the bargain.

    The Giants showed interest in Soriano this past trade deadline and may look to rekindle talks in the off-season.

Justin Morneau

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    Justin Morneau hasn’t quite regained his MVP form since returning from a long bout with concussions and other injury issues, but he’s managed to put up a solid bounce-back year (.273/.338/.449).

    He’s been slightly better away from the spacious Target Field (.281/.336/.489), and several teams may be willing to take a gamble on the 31-year-old’s $14 million 2013 salary in hopes of a strong contract year.

    The rebuilding Twins probably wouldn’t trade their mega-star in Joe Mauer, but they should be happy to take mid-level prospects in return for the other half of the “M&M” combo.

    Morneau, a British Columbia native, may draw interest from his compatriot Blue Jays, the offense-starved Mariners and the Cardinals, who need to move on from Lance Berkman.

    Peter Gammons has speculated that the Red Sox might get involved as well.

Jonathon Niese

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    The Mets are a mess. It remains to be seen whether they’ll cough up the $100 million or more necessary to re-sign David Wright. In the meantime, though, they have many holes, little money to chase free agents, and very few marketable commodities.

    The lefty Niese has had a breakout year (3.49 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in 183 innings), and his positive road splits suggest that his success isn’t induced by the pitcher-friendly Citi Field.

    On the one hand, the Mets could look to build around Niese and their other young pitchers, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. On the other, they could shop Niese and his affordable long-term contract (just $45 million through 2018 including team options) for a monster package similar to what the A’s received for comparable pitcher Trevor Cahill.

Josh Johnson

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    Finishing up a bitterly disappointing first season at the brand new Marlins Park, Miami is looking to trim some of their franchise record $95 million 2012 payroll.

    Unfortunately for them, they back-loaded the major free agent contracts they signed last winter, making players like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell virtually immobile.

    That leaves righty ace Josh Johnson, who is entering the final year of his current deal in 2013.

    While Johnson hasn’t been at his best, he’s had a solid year (3.84 ERA, 1.27 WHIP in 185 innings), and more importantly he’s managed to make 30 or more starts for just the second time in his career, answering some questions about his ability to remain healthy.

    A beast on the mound at 6’7'' and 250 pounds, Johnson, 28, has boundless potential, having led the NL in ERA just two seasons ago. He’ll draw interest from all over baseball, but his uncertain contractual status may limit the haul the Marlins can expect in return…unless he’s willing to sign a below-market extension with the team who acquires him, like Roy Halladay did upon being dealt to the Phillies.

Felix Hernandez

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    Okay, I’ll admit that calling King Felix “likely to be traded” is a bit of a reach, given the Mariners’ unwillingness to even speak his name in trade talks so far.

    But Seattle is an organization in desperate need of an overhaul. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2001, and they’ve been dead-last in the AL in offense in each of the past four seasons.

    Just two years from free agency, Hernandez has to be getting frustrated with the lack of winning in the Pacific Northwest. Trading a 26-year-old super-ace signed through 2014 for $39.5 million would bring the M’s a package that could include as many as five top tier prospects – the type of package with which they could right the ship.

    Big spenders like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Rangers would practically climb over one another to get in on this one.