One of the overlooked stories heading into the offseason is the relative strength of the trade market compared to free agency. Depending on bidding wars that could develop for free agents, the best value for upgrades might come through trades.
It will probably take some time for everything to play out as general managers around the league scour both avenues and look to bolster their rosters throughout the winter. But they are likely already aware of the lack of marquee free agents.
Knowing that, let's examine some of the early trade buzz making its way around Major League Baseball.
Price is a perfect example of the quality available via the trade market as opposed to free agency. The Tampa Bay Rays star is a proven ace who is capable of headlining a rotation, as illustrated by his 3.19 career ERA and 2012 Cy Young Award. No free-agent starter can match him.
The Rays know that too. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that Price is available with two years left of club control, but Tampa Bay is unsurprisingly expecting a large return. Yet he still lists eight different teams looking at the Tampa ace, including the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals:
The Rays’ biggest obstacle, as they entertain offers for Price, might be their own expectations—they surely will want to beat their return for Shields, and not by a little. In the end, they might need to accept less than what they envision, just as a suitor might need to give more.
If either of the World Series teams from 2013 end up landing Price, they will immediately become the clear favorite to win the title heading into next season. So that gives other front offices even more incentive to build the best package possible in order to add the dominant left-hander to their rotation.
Teams that miss out on Price could turn their attention to Samardzija—that is, if the Arizona Diamondbacks aren't able to deal for him first. Buster Olney of ESPN reports that the Chicago Cubs have to make a decision about the starter, and Arizona is one team that has already checked in on his status:
There is an expectation that the Jeff Samardzija/Arizona trade talks will continue. Cubs reaching point where they need a decision on him.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 4, 2013
Based on ability and likely asking price, which SP would provide better overall value?
Samardzija is an intriguing option because of his high strikeout rate. He's struck out more than a batter per inning since shifting to the rotation before the 2012 season, but slightly improved control and doing a better job of keeping the ball in the park would allow him to take his game to the next level.
Teams around the league understand his potential and probably see a pitcher who can greatly exceed his current trade value. As a result, it will be interesting to see what type of market develops for him, especially if talks between the Diamondbacks and Cubs don't reach a quick conclusion.
A potential deal for Tulowitzki has two distinct sides. The positive outlook is that he's an elite offensive shortstop who is capable of maintaining a high average and hitting 30 homers. The downside is a massive contract and injury issues in recent years.
Rick Hummel of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals will look outside of the organization to upgrade a major weakness at shortstop this offseason. Tulowitzki's name has come up in the past, and it will again, but it all comes down to that risk-and-reward scenario:
The Rockies would want a top-flight young pitcher, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman/outfielder and another prospect for him and the Cardinals probably could comply in each category, but does the reward outweigh the risk?
In the past, the Cardinals have inquired about the 29-year-old Tulowitzki and also Asdrubal Cabrera of Cleveland, Elvis Andrus of Texas and Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox.
It's unclear if the Colorado Rockies would consider making a blockbuster deal to move Tulowitzki, but he's a player that would bolster an already solid Cardinals roster. Still, St. Louis shouldn't go all in on him because of his inability to stay healthy over the past two seasons.