As MLB teams prepare each offseason, they make assessments based on team needs both for the present and the future. At times, they may make a play for a free agent or consider a trade that some might consider to be a risky move.
Either because of injury history, performance issues or other factors, an element of risk requires the buying team to take pause and determine if the reward outweighs that risk.
With that in mind, we will present a risky move that each MLB team could take this offseason, either via the trade route or through free agency.
Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton has been the subject of numerous trade rumors for the past 18 months and has once again been a topic of discussion during the current MLB winter meetings.
Upton did see a drop in production last season after a career year in 2011, hitting .280 with 17 home runs and 67 RBI with a .785 OPS.
Upton is only 25 years old, yet there are concerns about his shoulder. Upton suffered a partial tear of the labrum in his left shoulder back in 2006. He missed substantial time at the end of the 2010 season with shoulder concerns as well.
In addition, Upton is due to make $28.75 million in the final two years of his contract, with an average annual value more than double what he made in 2012.
However, Upton is only 25 years old and likely hasn't even hit his peak. Could it be a mistake to deal him? Is it worth the risk to find out?
The infield market for this year's crop of free agents is decidedly weak. The second base and shortstop positions in particular didn't provide teams with a whole lot of optimism.
The Atlanta Braves have a second baseman in Dan Uggla who can generate tremendous power, but also comes with a hefty price tag—$39 million for the next three seasons.
The Braves could dangle Uggla out there for teams desperate to add some offense to their infield. The pool of teams would be limited considering the money owed to Uggla. However, if GM Frank Wren threw in a bit of cash to sweeten the pot and help generate a greater return, teams could bite.
It's a risk for the Braves in terms of losing precious offense, but a huge savings for a team that's become much more fiscally conscious in recent years.
Josh Hamilton is absolutely the kind of player that can have tremendous impact on any team he wishes to play for.
That impact also comes with great risk.
Hamilton's substance abuse issues and injury history are both certainly well-documented, but the reward is the abundance of offense that Hamilton provides.
The Baltimore Orioles have been one of the teams rumored to have interest.
While the chances of Hamilton signing with the O's might appear slim, it's a risk that Baltimore should certainly be willing to take on if they're indeed serious about contending year after year.
Keep in mind, we're talking about risky here.
The Boston Red Sox have already picked up Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, signing them both to matching three-year, $39 million contracts. They're likely on the hunt for starting pitching as well.
But what about signing Josh Hamilton and trading Jacoby Ellsbury?
The risk in signing Hamilton was described in the previous slide. The greater risk is the payroll limitations the Red Sox would encounter with what could be an additional $20 million-plus contract.
Trading away Ellsbury would certainly bring back a nice return, but if Ellsbury excels elsewhere, the Sox run the risk of trading away a star who could have continued shining brightly in Boston.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery three-plus years ago, starting pitcher Shaun Marcum missed two months of last season with elbow stiffness.
That certainly raises a red flag.
Marcum did return and finished the season with six quality starts. When healthy, Marcum is absolutely a solid option for the middle of any rotation.
The key phrase there is "when healthy."
What's one more?
The Chicago White Sox have depth in their starting rotation with Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, John Danks, Jose Quintana and Gavin Floyd.
Floyd has been the subject of several rumors during the MLB winter meetings.
It could make sense to keep Floyd at this point. The Sox have already said goodbye to Philip Humber, and while trading Floyd could help in terms of position players, it takes away from that depth.
Danks missed most of the season last year. Peavy showed durability last season, but past shoulder issues will always leave an air of wariness.
Keeping Floyd to keep that depth seems like a smarter move than depleting the rotation.
The Cincinnati Reds would love to add a quality leadoff hitter to their lineup. To that end, they're looking at several options.
Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com listed one of those options on Tuesday.
Fowler is also nearly three years younger than Ellsbury.
The risk is that Fowler doesn't hit nearly as well away from Coors Field, hitting .262 on the road as opposed to .332 in Denver.
However, the team control for three more years is definitely a draw, and Ellsbury could command a huge salary when he becomes a free agent at the end of next season.
The Cleveland Indians have been mentioned as trade partners for weeks now, and a recent proposal certainly raised some eyebrows.
According to Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com, the Indians were discussing a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks involving top prospect Trevor Bauer.
Bauer posted a 6.06 ERA in four starts for Arizona last season and has reportedly fallen out of favor with Diamondbacks' management.
Bauer certainly has his own way of doing things—a very innovative and unique warm-up routine for one. But the upside is a pitcher capable of dominating for years to come.
Considering the Indians' 5.25 ERA from its starting rotation last season, acquiring Bauer is certainly a risk worth taking.
The likelihood of the Colorado Rockies trading center fielder Dexter Fowler remains low, especially given the fact that they're asking for the world in return. However, another possible trade chip in order to acquire starting pitching could be fellow outfielder Michael Cuddyer.
According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, teams have contacted the Rockies about Cuddyer's availability.
Cuddyer has two years and $12 million remaining on his contract, certainly a reasonable price for any team needing a solid right-handed bat.
The risk is that losing Cuddyer's offense will be a blow, given the Rockies' penchant to give up runs. The Rockies would no doubt love to add quality pitching without having to sacrifice offense in return.
However, given the fact that they'll have a tough time convincing any free agent to pitch in Denver, it's a chance they're going to have to take.
The Detroit Tigers keep insisting that they have no interest in acquiring free-agent closer Rafael Soriano.
Is that accurate, or are the Tigers just posturing?
It's no secret that Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is desperate to bring a championship back to Detroit. He's built a team that's clearly ready to do just that, especially after acquiring free-agent right fielder Torii Hunter.
The risk in acquiring Soriano is two-fold. First, he's reportedly looking for a four-year, $60 million contract. Second, general managers are loathe to pay that kind of money for relievers, knowing how fragile they can be (see Madson, Ryan).
However, Ilitch is the last word here. He could very well be willing to take the risk if it gets him closer to his goal.
The Houston Astros are looking for a designated hitter as they prepare to make the move to the American League next season.
The team has had discussions with former Astro Lance Berkman, who missed all but 32 games last season with knee issues.
Berkman has hinted at retirement, but has also said he's intrigued with the thought of returning to Houston.
"It just depends on what kind of money they are talking about," Berkman said. "Am I going to come back for a couple of million bucks, no.
"If they want to pay me close to what I feel like my value is in terms of what I bring to the table, I mean if they're going to ask me to be there and hit third and play every day and DH every day, I want to be compensated like a guy who is a Major League three-hole hitter.
"Obviously, I would be willing to take a little bit less because it's my hometown and for the opportunity to get back to the Astros organization. I'm just waiting for them to make some sort of offer and go from there."
This is a risk worth taking for Houston. General manager and owner Jim Crane gain street cred for bringing back a hometown hero, and they add a potent bat to the middle of the lineup.
Working strictly as a DH, Berkman's knees won't take a huge pounding, either.
The Kansas City Royals have been discussing a variety of different ways in which they can improve their starting rotation. As it stands right now, their Opening Day rotation would consist of Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Luis Mendoza.
Not exactly a quintet that strikes fear in the hearts of opponents.
One way the Royals could vastly improve their rotation is by offering top prospect Wil Myers up for trade.
In fact, rumors have swirled about the Royals offering up one of their young position players, or even Myers himself.
Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star brought up the suggestion of trading Myers for the likes of Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox or James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The upside is obviously the allure of acquiring a front-line starter.
The risk is that Myers could become the next Mike Trout.
Unless Royals owner David Glass is willing to open up his wallet to acquire a Zack Greinke or any other top-flight pitcher, these are the scenarios that are more likely for the Royals.
With the acquisition of Joe Blanton, the Los Angeles Angels' Opening Day rotation would likely be Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson, Blanton and Garrett Richards/Jerome Williams.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said he accomplished what he set out to achieve.
“In the last 10 days, we’ve added four accomplished major league pitchers,” Dipoto said. “Some have upside, some have durability, some have general track records. I feel the moves have been practical. We’ve plugged holes in a quality way.
“Building one-through-12 depth on the pitching staff has been our goal throughout. We’ve accomplished what we wanted to do.”
If Dipoto really had accomplished what he set out to do, Greinke would be an Angel right now.
He traded three top-25 prospects to acquire Greinke last July. Dipoto then traded Ervin Santana and said goodbye to Dan Haren and Torii Hunter, creating payroll space to possibly acquire Greinke.
That was the goal.
Greinke is still out there, and can still be had. The obvious risk is the massive increase in payroll for the Angels. Signing Greinke would put the Angels in the range of $170 million-plus, a major jump over last year's $159 million figure.
Still a risk worth taking. Unless of course Dipoto is happy with Richards or Williams pitching every fifth day rather than Greinke.
When it comes to risk management, the new-look Los Angeles Dodgers have essentially bypassed reading the manual about the subject.
They acquired $251.5 million in payroll following their mega-trade with the Boston Red Sox last August. One of the players, left fielder Carl Crawford, had just undergone Tommy John surgery and was still owed approximately $108 million at the time of the deal.
Recently, Dodgers president Stan Kasten said that payroll wasn't an issue.
"I am focusing on building the best team we can be,'' Kasten said, "and where exactly the payroll will be, we'll worry about that later. This particular phase we're in is building and returning the Dodgers to greatness."
Risk 101 students likely aren't being taught that lesson by their professors.
Another step in returning the Dodgers to greatness could be the acquisition of two more pitchers, Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez. That would be another $250 million or so.
But hey, the Dodgers will worry about that later.
Two weeks ago, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports suggested that the Miami Marlins finish off their fire sale by also unloading power-hitting right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.
Passan likened a Stanton trade to that of the deal involving Herschel Walker back in 1989.
Simply referred to as "The Trade," 18 players were involved in all, and the net return for the Dallas Cowboys was three Super Bowl titles.
More from Passan:
The executives, granted anonymity because they did not want to speak publicly about another team's player, almost all agreed on the sort of package necessary to acquire Stanton: three top-of-the-line, major league or major league-ready players with next to no service time, plus another two or three prospects to fortify a Marlins farm system that would be the best in baseball.
The Marlins have gone on record in saying that Stanton isn't going anywhere.
But what if?
The Marlins would certainly run the risk of playing to an empty new stadium if they dealt Stanton. Even more so than now.
But the Marlins of the future just might be worth watching if the return for Stanton paid off.
Two-time All-Star right fielder/first baseman Corey Hart has been with the Milwaukee Brewers for his entire career.
According to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, the Brewers could be enticed to move him elsewhere.
Brewers have considered trading Corey Hart to free up money for pitching search. Without some type of move, can't play on bigger pitchers.— DKnobler (@DKnobler) December 5, 2012
Knobler's colleague at CBS Sports, Jon Heyman, pointed out that there are obstacles in dealing Hart.
#brewers will listen on corey hart, but one issue is limited no-trade that includes 15 of 29 teams. wants spring in AZ— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 6, 2012
However, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin isn't entirely sold on the idea of offering Hart a long-term extension, either.
Trading Hart now frees up considerable payroll for the Brewers, who don't have the financial flexibility to drastically improve their starting rotation, something they would love to achieve.
Brandon McCarthy's shoulder issues have certainly been a topic of discussion over the offseason. While he posted a solid 3.29 ERA over the past two seasons with the Oakland Athletics, he still made three trips to the disabled list during that time because of that balky shoulder.
However, McCarthy also has tremendous upside. It's that upside that has several teams interested, including the Minnesota Twins.
This would represent a clear risk for the Twins, who saw Scott Baker, Carl Pavano and others miss significant time last season in their starting rotation.
But the reward could be a top-shelf option for that rotation.
The MLB Winter Meetings came and went, and New York Mets starting pitcher R.A. Dickey is still left without a contract extension.
Dickey made two trips to the meetings to attempt to resolve his situation and still came away with no answers.
General manager Sandy Alderson doesn't seem to have an answer, either.
"We’re moving forward on two tracks,” said Alderson. “You shouldn’t assume that we’re waiting for a better trade offer. We’re also still exploring bringing R.A. back. It’s a combination of those things.”
On one hand, the Mets can get value for Dickey right now. If they wait for Dickey to play out his option, they would only receive a compensatory pick if he signs with another team next year.
On the other hand, if the Mets trade Dickey, they run the risk of alienating a fan base that's already staying away from Citi Field in droves. Attendance has dropped each year since the park opened in 2009.
Still, Dickey will likely never have more value than he has right now.
The New York Yankees made an offer to free-agent third baseman Kevin Youkilis for one year and $12 million.
The Yankees struck out in efforts to acquire Eric Chavez and Jeff Keppinger, and Youkilis is one of the very few options left.
Youkilis is no stranger to the disabled list himself in recent years, playing in no more than 122 games in any of the past three seasons.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post brought up this interesting tidbit:
If #Yankees win for Youk, they'd be spending $40M in 2013 on 3B: $28M on A-Rod, $12M on Youk. Their hot corner would be a small-market team— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 6, 2012
Ouch. That's just a bit of risk.
The Oakland Athletics have been searching for a shortstop ever since declining the 2013 option on Stephen Drew's contract for $10 million.
Their current search, however, does include Drew.
Signing Drew does have its risks. It's still unclear whether or not Drew can completely recover from the broken ankle he sustained in 2010. While he looked more comfortable in Oakland following his trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks, he still lacked the lateral movement seen before his injury.
It's still a risk worth taking, however, if Drew is agreeable to a two-year deal. The A's have top prospect Addison Russell, who could be ready for the majors full-time by the start of the 2015 season.
The Philadelphia Phillies, looking for a replacement for third baseman Placido Polanco, have set their sights on an unexpected source. According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Phillies are involved in negotiations with the Texas Rangers to acquire the services of 36-year-old infielder Michael Young.
The Rangers would agree to pay over half of Young's salary for next season and receive at least two players in return.
Young has logged 358 games at third base during his 13-year career with a .958 fielding percentage. The risk is that Young hasn't played third base on a regular basis for the past two years and could present as a defensive liability.
It also doesn't solve a long-term need for the Phillies—Young is a free agent at the end of next season.
On the plus side, Young's production is significantly better than Polanco, even with a sub-par 2012 season (.277 BA, eight HR, 67 RBI, .682 OPS).
If the price is for a major league reliever and a prospect, combined with the Rangers sending cash, this is a deal worth making for the Phillies.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have shown interest in bolstering their pitching staff with the addition of free-agent pitcher John Lannan.
According to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Pirates have liked Lannan for a while and see him filling the No. 4 spot in the Pirates rotation.
The risk would be in the money. Lannan made $5 million last season and it's unclear what he's currently seeking. However, considering the fact he spent much of last season in Triple-A ball, it's possible Lannan may have to accept a lower figure for one year in order to re-establish himself.
The San Diego Padres brought starting pitcher Jason Marquis back for one more season, but they're also looking to add one more pitcher before next season.
That pitcher should be Anibal Sanchez.
The Padres have a collection of starters, but none of them are worthy of ace status. Sanchez gives them a top-flight option who could easily thrive at spacious Petco Park.
The risk is obviously in Sanchez's expected market value. He was at one time reportedly seeking a six-year, $90 million contract. If he were to consider a four-year, $60 million deal, the Padres should pounce.
The San Francisco Giants completed a trifecta when they agreed to a deal with infielder Marco Scutaro.
By re-signing reliever Jeremy Affeldt, center fielder Pagan and Scutaro, the Giants have already achieved much of what they set out to do during the offseason.
They now return next season with their World Series-winning team largely intact and more than ready.
The Seattle Mariners walked away from the MLB Winter Meetings closing in on a contract with an impact outfielder.
The word "impact" is certainly a stretch when talking about Jason Bay.
Bay and the Mariners have agreed to a one-year deal, although it's yet to become official. Considering Bay's struggles over the past three seasons, he was not the impact bat the Mariners had in mind.
That bat could be Nick Swisher.
Swisher is being strongly considered by several teams including the Mariners. General manager Jack Zduriencik said that he will continue to be aggressive in their pursuit without specifically mentioning any player in particular.
"We said from the beginning if we could come up with a veteran player, preferably a corner outfielder or corner player, DH, a right-handed bat, that would be very helpful," Zduriencik said. "It's one of the things that has been on our agenda. It doesn't limit us, but it's certainly something we've kind of focused on."
Swisher certainly fits that criteria.
The risk is in the years and money Swisher may be seeking. Another risk is having Swisher in the lineup during the postseason, should the Mariners make it that far. Swisher's .169 lifetime postseason would certainly present a risk.
The St. Louis Cardinals went to the MLB Winter Meetings with a very short shopping list.
On top of that list was the need for a left-handed reliever. They got their man in Randy Choate.
There were other smaller, less pressing needs for the Cardinals, but none worth taking a major risk.
They return in 2013 with a roster largely intact. While they lost Kyle Lohse to free agency, the rotation is strong with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Jake Westbrook, Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller all returning.
Choate gives the bullpen a lift and the lineup is solid as well with everyone returning from last season.
No risk needs to be taken by general manager John Mozeliak, at least not for the short term.
The Tampa Bay Rays addressed a couple of needs at the MLB Winter Meetings. They signed first baseman James Loney and traded for shortstop Yunel Escobar.
However, they are still on the hunt for more offense, and they could use their abundance of pitching to find that offense.
No question that trading Shields can bring back an impact bat. However, the risk is that the Rays will be relying on unproven pitchers such as Chris Archer and others to help fill the void.
In earlier slides, we discussed the risk factor concerning the signing of free agent Josh Hamilton.
It's probably not necessary to re-hash those issues.
The risk for the Texas Rangers in bringing Hamilton is more about money than the issues. The Rangers already have the support system in place for Hamilton's substance abuse issues and are certainly well aware of the injury history.
Hamilton has said he will circle back to the Rangers and allow them to match any offer he receives from another club.
The risks are obvious. However, the Rangers have been winners with Hamilton leading them offensively.
The Toronto Blue Jays took care of most of their shopping well before the MLB Winter Meetings started.
While they walked away from the meetings without making any transactions, they were rumored to be interested in New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey.
There's risk for any knuckleball pitcher, even one who just won a Cy Young Award. Can Dickey replicate last season's success? Is he too much of a risk at the age of 38?
Even if it's just for one season, Dickey is worth the risk for the Blue Jays considering their apparent all-in mode for the 2013 season.
The Washington Nationals made two moves this past week that significantly helped their chances for success in 2013.
If the Nats re-sign Adam LaRoche, they appear primed and ready to defend their NL East Division title and move closer to their goal of a World Series championship.
Not a whole lot of risk there, I'd say.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.