Sometime prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the MLB teams will swap players for immediate gain or future benefits. We can already identify 30 individuals who are destined to move in the coming months.
The 25-man limit on active rosters will motivate many of these transactions. Underachievers who have run out of minor league options—David Huff of the Cleveland Indians and Julio Borbon of the Texas Rangers, for example—could be relocated at any moment.
Most other tough decisions won't be completed until midsummer when the real contenders distinguish themselves from weaker franchises.
Though their circumstances and spending limits vary, all general managers can agree that change is necessary over the course of the 162-game marathon.
It's going to be difficult for the Arizona Diamondbacks to keep pace with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in the NL West. Those rivals have deep and dominant pitching staffs.
Trading Jason Kubel to the American League would undoubtedly be the right move if Arizona falls out of contention. Those teams would overvalue his power-hitting ability and inexpensive contract without worrying about his defensive limitations.
So what if the D-Backs compete? They should stick to this plan, regardless.
Adam Eaton and Cody Ross will heal from their respective injuries by Memorial Day and combine with Gerardo Parra to form a solid overall outfield.
Jonny Venters is dealing with "a sprain of some sort" to his pitching elbow, according to general manager Frank Wren (via David O'Brien, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
His absence is keeping both Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro on the active roster.
However, assuming Venters can overcome his injury with a few weeks of rehab, one of the right-handers will be dealt to another team. Both have run out of minor league options and wouldn't likely pass through waivers considering their MLB contributions.
Barring early-season awfulness, Martinez is safe. He has proven his usefulness as a long man out of the Atlanta Braves bullpen by pitching with excellent control over multi-inning appearances.
Though Varvaro currently has a mop-up role, another team with less depth would trust him in dicier situations.
The Baltimore Orioles have tons of starting pitching.
Dan Duquette, the vice president of baseball operations, even admits to MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli that he'll "probably make a trade" to strengthen other areas.
The O's have veterans like Freddy Garcia and Jair Jurrjens inked to minor league deals as well as elite prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
Japanese import Tsuyoshi Wada and 25-year-old Zach Britton seem to be even further down the depth chart. Neither have much major league experience or potential to pitch atop the rotation.
Coming off Tommy John surgery and owed $4.2 million this season, Wada is practically immovable.
But Britton enjoyed an extended stretch of success during his rookie campaign in 2011. A respectable start from him at Triple-A should encourage a needy team to pursue him.
Regressing on the mound and making unpopular decisions off of it led to speculation that Alfredo Aceves would get dealt prior to Opening Day.
Truth be told, the Boston Red Sox will only hold onto him until their southpaws return to full strength. Craig Breslow and Franklin Morales are on the disabled list, mending from shoulder and back soreness, respectively.
Aceves won't last until May and certainly not past the All-Star break.
If the Los Angeles Angels can get $14 million in salary relief from trading Vernon Wells, the Chicago Cubs should be able to do the same with Alfonso Soriano as bait.
The vast majority of MLB teams have the potential to be competitive this summer. Inevitably, several will shop for offense as July 31 approaches.
Replicating his .262/.322/.499 batting line from last season while showing some competency in the field would make Soriano a desirable player. Chicago will be wooed by whichever trade proposal has the strongest prospects.
Third baseman Brent Morel has been replaced.
Jeff Keppinger is slated to start for the Chicago White Sox through 2015. Should he miss any period of time, the team could recall Josh Bell or pursue free agents like Chone Figgins and Bill Hall, both of whom should be in shape after participating in major league camps.
Morel hasn't yet turned 26 and enjoyed a strong offensive season as recently as 2010. There's still hope for him outside the Windy City.
Ryan Ludwick suffered a dislocated shoulder on Opening Day.
Even if he lands on the disabled list, Neftali Soto isn't really an option. The powerful prospect has just one game of outfield experience. His primary position, first base, is obviously occupied on the Cincinnati Reds.
This club has no glaring holes at the moment, so Soto looks to be safe for the next several months.
Of course, if the National League playoff race is as competitive as we anticipate, the Reds will need to make a splash at the non-waiver deadline.
Before the Cleveland Indians officially designated him for assignment, David Huff was told that the team would try to trade him (h/t Paul Hoynes, The Plain Dealer).
Left-handed pitchers always draw interest, and the 28-year-old was fairly effective for the Tribe in 2012 (3-1, 3.38 ERA in 26.2 IP).
The front office feels comfortable with its rotation depth. Beyond Cleveland's top five starters, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber await opportunities to break through. Also, Daisuke Matsuzaka is on the comeback trail.
Hernandez is entering his 15th MLB season.
Ramon Hernandez will be living at a lower altitude by week's end.
The Colorado Rockies designated him for assignment following a miserable spring (.148/.303/.148 in 13 games). They instead chose to carry catchers Wilin Rosario and Yorvit Torrealba on the active roster.
He was an above-average offensive player as recently as 2011, so a trade suitor will certainly emerge.
Expect Colorado to pay the bulk of his $3.2 million salary to ensure the acquisition of a decent prospect.
Drew Smyly was sharp in spring training, so the Detroit Tigers are in no hurry to relocate him. If a fellow starting pitcher suffered an injury, the homegrown southpaw could fill the void immediately.
But he has too much trade value to remain cooped up in the bullpen. Smyly was impressive for much of the 2012 season, and most other teams would love to slot him at the back end of their rotations.
Trading him will allow the Tigers to add several pitching prospects without hurting their current championship chances.
Norris picked up a win against the Texas Rangers in his 2013 debut.
No experienced major league player is safe as the Houston Astros continue their thorough rebuilding process.
Though less than the league minimum, Bud Norris' $3 million salary makes him the highest-paid player on the team.
Reasons to like Norris include his consistently high strikeout rate, excellence at home and remaining years under team control (through 2015). Not surprisingly, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported last month that a half-dozen teams had inquired about him.
The Astros aren't going to stay in first place much longer. Once their win-loss record begins to reflect their replacement-level talent, perhaps the front office will reconsider moving its rotation leader.
The Kansas City Royals asked for "quite a bit in return" in preseason trade talks concerning Luke Hochevar, tweets Danny Knobler of CBS Sports.
The former first-round draft pick has three seasons of 100-plus earned runs and none with a winning percentage over .500. He posted a 5.73 earned run average in 2012 and still got a significant pay raise.
K.C. has banished him to the bullpen, where he shares the long man role with Bruce Chen. Hochevar won't be needed for depth so long as Danny Duffy (Tommy John surgery) and prospect Yordano Ventura continue working toward their 2013 debuts.
The Los Angeles Angels can't afford to drain more youngsters from their already-barren farm system.
Rather, they should be more eager to move journeyman Jerome Williams to his next destination.
He and right-hander Garrett Richards both serve as long relievers. That will need to change, however, once Ryan Madson returns to the majors.
It's a no-brain decision for the Angels: Richards has the lower salary and higher ceiling.
Aaron Harang isn't comfortable relieving, but the Los Angeles Dodgers don't have room for him in the rotation.
Moving day might arrive on April 10, when manager Don Mattingly expects Chad Billingsley (finger contusion) to rejoin the pitching staff (via Eric Stephen, True Blue LA). The right-hander was expected to switch uniforms sometime during spring training.
Harang's contract is relatively team-friendly to begin with, and the Dodgers wouldn't mind eating a portion of it to tempt trade suitors.
Barring serious setbacks for Billingsley and fellow starter Ted Lilly, he'll be established elsewhere well before July 31.
Ricky Nolasco was asking out of South Beach following the infamous salary dump.
The Miami Marlins will at least need him through April, as young starters Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi rehab their ways back from shoulder soreness.
But Nolasco is an impending free agent who—barring a career year—wouldn't decline a qualifying offer. So if retaining him throughout the season doesn't earn the Fish an extra top draft pick, it makes sense to move him to a desperate contender in July.
Then again, since when have Miami's transactions made sense?
Chris Narveson can relate to Jerome Williams. They share near-identical ages and career walk rates, and both are experienced starters being used out of the bullpen.
The Milwaukee Brewers have a handful of capable prospects in the high minors. If a couple make strong cases for promotion by midseason, the team would be glad to make some phone calls on Narveson's behalf.
As mentioned earlier, there's always a market for left-handers, and this one isn't set to reach free agency until the 2015 World Series.
Morneau was healthy enough this spring to play in the WBC.
First baseman Justin Morneau is going to be expensive to re-sign if he gets through the summer without a DL stint. So few quality players will be available at his position.
By retaining him until free agency begins, the Minnesota Twins could extend a qualifying offer and come away with a high draft pick as compensation.
However, moving the slugger at midseason would guarantee them a greater return.
Until the Twins miraculously contend for a 2013 postseason berth, Morneau will be shopped aggressively.
The New York Mets will probably pursue a free-agent outfielder next winter.
In the meantime, they need to determine which of their homegrown guys are deserving of the other starting spots.
Marlon Byrd obviously isn't part of the long-term plan. Regardless of his productivity, the Mets should get the best prospect haul possible for him via trade, clearing room for Matt den Dekker, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin to compete for playing time.
Once Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson return from their injuries, the New York Yankees will need to trim their bench.
For the sake of balance, they will likely cut ties with a left-handed batter.
Brennan Boesch is going to be under-utilized with those sluggers present. Other clubs with fewer veteran outfielders, however, should consider him for an everyday role.
Jemile Weeks provided plenty of thrills during his rookie season, but the Oakland Athletics can't wait on him to "figure it out."
That's why they committed to Hiroyuki Nakajima over the winter. This franchise is ready to contend immediately.
Though the 26-year-old has greater upside than any of Oakland's other second-base candidates, his defense isn't yet at an acceptable level.
GM Billy Beane will pull the trigger as soon as Weeks heats up at Triple-A.
The Philadelphia Phillies still hold prospect Darin Ruf in high regard and may have found two long-term, starting outfielders in Domonic Brown and Ben Revere.
If Ruf continues to dominate minor league pitching and Delmon Young eventually returns from an ankle injury, there won't be any space for John Mayberry.
That's probably for the best. The second-generation MLB slugger is headed toward arbitration in 2014 and due for a significant raise after playing regularly last summer.
The Phillies might as well send Mayberry to someone who wouldn't mind paying him seven figures.
Garrett Jones and Jason Kubel actually have a lot in common, as do their teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Both acquired bona fide free agents prior to spring training but project to finish behind at least two other division rivals in 2013.
Like Kubel, Jones is only a threat against right-handed pitching. He's also a weak defensive player who shouldn't play regularly in the Senior Circuit.
Because Jones will remain under team control through 2015, the Pirates could probably flip him for a promising, developing position player or a veteran starting pitcher to ignite them down the stretch.
Nick Hundley has a couple months to prove his usefulness while Yasmani Grandal serves a 50-game suspension for steroid use.
The former is coming off an excellent spring training, though Grandal can certainly contribute more to the San Diego Padres with his powerful bat.
Injuries have overwhelmed the Padres for a second consecutive season. It's difficult to imagine them remaining relevant in an improved NL West division.
Trading Hundley could bring San Diego plenty in return if he reverts to 2011 form (.288/.347/.477 in 82 games).
Heath Hembree struggled with an elbow strain and general command issues at Triple-A last season but finished 2013 spring training on a high note. He shut out the opposition in his final six appearances, surrendering only two hits.
The San Francisco Giants have envious bullpen depth and several key contributors signed to multi-year contracts, so the right-hander would have greater value in other settings.
It's more of a priority for the organization to stock up on minor league starting pitching. Therefore, the Giants might move Hembree for a high-ceiling prospect who can give them innings by 2014.
Casper Wells went head to head with Jason Bay for a spot on the Seattle Mariners bench.
The veteran won out, leaving the M's no choice but to designate Wells for assignment. All his minor league options had been exhausted.
Some team will surely claim the 28-year-old as he goes through waivers. Rather than release him for nothing, Seattle will cooperate and complete a trade. They won't get much in return considering that Wells batted .228/.302/.396 last season.
Matt Adams, 24, seems ready for everyday duty after scolding Triple-A opponents in 2012 and being nearly as productive in spring training.
He just doesn't quite fit in with the St. Louis Cardinals. They recently extended Allen Craig's deal for another five years.
Meanwhile, shopping Adams would allow the Cards to address other areas, such as the middle infield or relief corps.
Price is the defending American League Cy Young Award winner.
The Tampa Bay Rays don't have the resources to complete a nine-figure extension with David Price. That's why ESPN's Buster Olney has insisted that he'll be dealt in the near future before the cost becomes too prohibitive.
Without a deep lineup, this club will fall out of the pennant race early and shop Price earlier than they originally planned.
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner could be exchanged for a boatload of advanced prospects. Potential trade partners include the New York Mets and Texas Rangers.
Julio Borbon has only a few days to impress the Texas Rangers coaching staff. They plan to promote fifth starter Nick Tepesch to the active roster on April 10, which means somebody will be removed.
The 27-year-old possesses great speed and contact ability, though not enough to supplant Leonys Martin as starting center fielder.
Texas can't store him at a lower level as an insurance policy. Borbon is out of minor league options.
The Toronto Blue Jays will sell low on Colby Rasmus to clear room for speed demon Anthony Gose.
The former first-round draft pick has not come close to replicating his breakout 2010 season. He continues to strikeout frequently and show signs of immaturity.
At least Toronto can expect to receive young talent to replenish the farm system. Acquisitions of Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and others left the Blue Jays thin at several positions.
Injuries—most notably, a torn hamstring—prevented Chris Marrero from showing his usual power in 2012. He finished with a career-worst .746 OPS across five minor league levels.
By rebounding with the production that everybody expects, the Miami native will make it back to the majors once rosters expand in September (if not sooner).
Whatever the case, it won't be with the Washington Nationals.
Their minor league affiliates are devoid of MLB-ready starting pitchers and middle infielders. Should the Nats lose a player from either of those groups to significant injury, the only option would be to trade for another team's reinforcements.
Because Marrero is blocked at first base, he'll be the expendable centerpiece of an emergency exchange.