Even though the trade season got started in a big way on Wednesday, the meat of the offseason market won't develop until the winter meetings begin on December 9.
Teams have been actively monitoring the strengths and weaknesses of their 25-man rosters and minor league systems all year. It is time for that hard work to pay off by putting pieces together for a playoff push in 2014.
Of course, not all teams are looking to deal prospects because they are trying to rebuild their franchise for the future. It wouldn't make sense for the Houston Astros to start trading from the minor league system.
We want to look specifically at the teams that should theoretically be in "buy" mode this winter. These are teams that either just missed the postseason in 2013, or will have plenty of holes to fill after making a run in October.
The players listed aren't necessarily on the trade block, but they would make sense as key pieces in a trade for their current team.
Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.
2013 Minor League Stats: 126 G, .288/.340/.347, 149 H, 19 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 46 RBI, 36 BB, 75 K, 32 SB
The Texas Rangers already made headlines for a blockbuster trade that sent second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit in exchange for Prince Fielder.
A deal involving Luis Sardinas would not fall into the blockbuster category, though it would provide intrigue for a lot of reasons. He's a 20-year-old defensive wizard already playing in Double-A.
Sardinas has also evolved enough as a hitter to look like he can at least hold his own against quality big league pitching. He's not going to hit for power and may not hit better than .250-.260 at the highest level, but even an empty average with plus defense at shortstop and 20-25 stolen bases is an incredibly valuable asset.
It's no secret the Rangers have a plethora of middle infield options with Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar in the big leagues and Sardinas and Rougned Odor in the minors. Trading Kinsler did lower the likelihood of another middle infielder getting dealt, but there is still a lot more depth that most teams around the league envy.
They still have holes to fill (starting pitching, corner outfielder) and could use at least one of these middle-infield assets to bring in an MLB-ready piece.
Sardinas would be fourth on the list of players mentioned as far as future potential, therefore he won't bring back a star-level player. But his value on defense and ability to hit, while limited, gives him a lot of value in a potential deal.
2013 Minor League Stats: 25 GS, 3.60 ERA, 142.2 IP, 127 H, 15 HR, 33 BB, 151 K, .236 BAA
It's been an interesting two years for A.J. Cole. He was traded from Washington to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez trade before being sent back to the Nationals in a deal involving the Athletics and Mariners last January.
Cole struggled at the end of 2012 with a 7.82 ERA in 38 innings at High-A Stockton and got hit around early in 2013 with 96 hits and 12 homers allowed in 97.1 innings before getting promoted to Double-A.
After the Nationals moved him up, Cole started to flash more of the promise that made him a key part in that Gonzalez trade. The year ended with the 21-year-old posting a 2.18 ERA in 45.1 innings with a 49-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Harrisburg.
So why should the Nationals consider trading Cole?
His fastball has great life and sits in the low- to mid-90s, but the command is erratic and there are enough concerns about his changeup and breaking ball to suggest he ends up as a late-inning reliever.
Combine that with the fact Washington already has a deep trio of young starters (Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann) and a need for offense after finishing 15th in runs scored, it makes too much sense not to explore a market for Cole.
It also doesn't hurt that the Nationals have another potential ace in the making with Lucas Giolito looking fantastic in his brief return at the end of 2013 from Tommy John surgery.
2013 Minor League Stats: 129 G, .322/.443/.471, 146 H, 33 2B, 7 3B, 7 HR, 61 RBI, 94 BB, 86 K, 23 SB
This one would require some rule bending by Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. He has worked to restock Boston's farm system through trades and the draft while keeping the MLB team competitive. It worked out pretty well in 2013, what with that World Series title and everything.
Trading Cecchini, the No. 2 position player prospect in the system after Xander Bogaerts, wouldn't appear to fit Cherington's current business model.
However, if you look at what the Red Sox are working with on the left side of the infield, it becomes less of an imposition.
Bogaerts is going to be the team's shortstop in 2014 and figures to be there for at least the first few years of his career, but there is a strong chance he will eventually move to third base.
The Red Sox are also invested in seeing if Will Middlebrooks' turnaround after being recalled from Triple-A in the second half (eight homers, .805 OPS in 145 at-bats) is legit.
Cecchini's future in Boston could depend on how Middlebrooks performs in 2014. If Middlebrooks is successful, the Red Sox will have a decision to make about him or Cecchini.
The upside for Cecchini is a bit higher than it is for Middlebrooks, though neither player projects as a star. Cecchini handles the bat well and plays a good enough third base, but the power doesn't profile well for a corner infielder.
Middlebrooks has changed his swing a little bit, eliminating excess lower body movement, to get through the zone quicker and driving the ball more. His power is more acceptable for a third baseman.
This could give the Red Sox an opportunity to flip Cecchini and another lower-tier prospect for, say, a starting pitcher.
2013 Major League Stats: 20 G, .291/.361/.382, 16 H, 5 2B, 5 RBI, 6 BB, 10 K, 2 SB
After a successful stint in Triple-A that included some defensive wizardry at the Futures Game, Chris Owings got a 20-game tryout in the big leagues and played well in an incredibly small sample size.
The Diamondbacks are in a rare position where they have two MLB-ready shortstops on their roster, meaning they should trade one to upgrade an area of need.
Didi Gregorius appears to be a favorite of general manager Kevin Towers, even though there is little evidence to suggest he can hit in the big leagues.
Owings isn't a perfect prospect. He is a very good defensive shortstop, though not quite as good with the glove as Gregorius. He has a solid offensive profile, including bat speed, plus running speed and above-average raw power, but an inability to work counts and take walks limits his ceiling.
I prefer Owings to Gregorius, but that is just one man's opinion. The Diamondbacks have tried to change their philosophy in the last 12 months, which includes reducing strikeouts and getting more of the "gritty, gutty" guys.
They could stand to upgrade both corner outfield spots. Owings presents a very intriguing trade target for a team in need of a shortstop—St. Louis, anyone?—and could be available because of Gregorius' presence.
2013 Major League Stats: 4 GS, 24.0 IP, 1.50 ERA, 15 H, 2 HR, 7 BB, 21 K, .172 BAA
James Paxton is one of those prospects you want to believe is going to get better because the raw stuff is so good to look at. He's a left-hander who can throw a fastball in the mid-90s and good breaking ball.
Even without a strong third pitch, Paxton can get away with mistakes because a power fastball-curveball combination from the left side isn't easy to pick up. He also has a deceptive delivery that can throw off a hitter's timing.
Unfortunately, his four-game sample size excluded, Paxton has never been a consistent strike-thrower because his long arms and big windup create problems repeating mechanics.
Paxton has always been a strikeout pitcher in the minors, with 372 in 348 innings. Normally the 4.45 ERA in Triple-A this year would be a cause for concern, but the Pacific Coast League is murder for pitchers.
If you believe the command will come around, Paxton could be a No. 3 starter in a playoff rotation.
The Mariners have a deep rotation already. Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker are going to be around for a long time. Hisashi Iwakuma is coming off a third-place finish in AL Cy Young voting and is under contract through 2014 with an option for 2015.
Given the franchise's constant need to find offense, Paxton represents the most logical trade chip. His minor league track record and early success in the big leagues could be enough to convince a team to give up a quality hitter in return.
Unless Seattle's front office is prepared to go above and beyond to sign, say, Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury to hit leadoff, a trade will be required to get a bat the lineup so desperately needs.
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