This MLB offseason hasn't included as many big trades as offseasons past. Instead, the importance of free agency has come to the forefront.
With less than a month until pitchers and catchers report for most teams, MLB trade rumors are beginning to heat up. Teams that aren't in love with the remaining crop of free agents will be looking to make deals to improve without depleting their farm systems.
That being said, the players rumored to be available right now will cost a pretty penny. One is a star, one is a potential front-line starter, and the other is on the verge of stardom. Those are the types of players teams will need to pay the price for.
Their price tags may make them difficult to move, but all signs indicate that these players will be available for the foreseeable future. It might just be a matter of time before they're dealt.
Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton is possibly the most compelling case of "Will he or won't he?" in the history of the game. Fans have been asking themselves if Stanton will be traded ever since he broke out with 34 home runs in 2011. Given the Marlins' disinterest in locking up homegrown talent long term, Stanton has always been an ideal trade candidate.
Joe Frisaro of MLB.com also pegs Stanton as a potential trade candidate in the future: "Certainly, Miami has no urgency to trade its slugger. But the reality is, without a multi-year agreement, there is a strong possibility the longest he will be a Marlin is for two more seasons. Stanton becomes a free agent after 2016."
Stanton is the perfect piece to build around for Miami. He's a superb outfielder and has more power than arguably anybody else in baseball. Throw in the fact that he's just 24 years old, and you've got yourself a franchise centerpiece. Unfortunately, the Marlins are infamous for dealing young talent.
Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis are great examples of young guys who were dealt before expensive long-term commitments had to be given out. Stanton could follow that same path, but the return Miami could get for him might be even larger than the Cabrera-Willis return. (For those who don't remember, that return featured outfielder Cameron Maybin and pitcher Andrew Miller, among others).
It's hard to see a situation in which the Marlins let Stanton walk without getting anything in return. He'll be dealt; it's just a matter of when.
The Chicago Cubs are currently working hard to sign Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, and their pursuit of him will have a direct impact on starter Jeff Samardzija.
Samardzija had been one of the many topics of discussion during winter meetings, though nothing has piqued the interest of the team's front office. Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer appear content with waiting for the right deal to come about.
Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com cites sources who have told him that the Cubs might be preparing to get a little creative:
With all the Tanaka gridlock, top free-agent pitchers Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo still remain unsigned. At this point, a major-league source said the Cubs are planning to hold onto Jeff Samardzija until closer to the July 31 trade deadline, hoping to change the supply-and-demand dynamics.
By changing the supply-and-demand dynamics, the Cubs would inherently create a need for teams in search of starting pitching in July. By holding out on trading Samardzija until then, they would also maximize his value—assuming he doesn't tank in the first half of 2014.
This will, of course, be impacted by the Cubs' pursuit of Tanaka. Samardzija told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that he recognizes a correlation between himself and the team's pursuit. "There's a ripple effect," he said.
Samardzija will be highly coveted until the Cubs decide what exactly do to with him.
The Houston Astros don't have a ton going for them after their first season in the American League West, but catcher Jason Castro is one of the best things the organization can offer its fans—and other teams.
Houston would be wise to deal Castro and get younger talent in return, although it would be hard to fault the team for keeping its up-and-coming catcher and building around him.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com cites both possibilities: "Rival teams have inquired on Castro, according to major league sources. If the Astros cannot sign him to an extension, he could become the team's best trade chip. The 'Stros also could move him to first base."
The move to first base would be necessitated by the development of top catching prospect Max Stassi. If Stassi can come up and produce in the near future, the Astros would have significantly more options with their current backstop.
With catching so hard to come by, though, the best move would be to trade him. Playing at a premium position boosts Castro's value, and Houston would be foolish to deny teams the opportunity to part with quality pitching prospects and possibly even major league talent.
Castro, a .276/.350/.485 hitter last season, is just reaching his potential. There's still plenty of room for growth. Look for Houston to capitalize on that potential by flipping him for a nice return.