Major League Baseball's hot stove is cold, but will only need a few impact moves to heat up again over the next few weeks. Despite pitchers and catchers preparing to arrive for spring training in less than a month, there's still major business to tend to this offseason.
With arbitration numbers exchanged, settlements achieved and hearings set for February, the short-term payroll for each team is coming into focus for 2014.
The free-agent market is still ripe with options, but trades could be the most efficient team-building route for the following teams.
Here are four arbitration-eligible stars who should be moved between now and the start of spring training.
*Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
When the Rays and Price agreed to a one-year, $14 million deal, per ESPN, to avoid an arbitration hearing, Tampa Bay handed its star lefty the biggest single-season contract in franchise history.
Of course, that doesn't mean it has to be the team that pays Price his guaranteed money for 2014.
With the days ticking by to spring training, Tampa Bay still owns the rights to its homegrown ace. Yet, after trading away both Matt Garza and James Shields with two years remaining before their respective trips into free agency, the time is now to move on from Price.
Over the next two years, Price's value will diminish by the day. If he's injured, loses velocity or shows any signs of early decline, the Rays will lose some ability to procure valuable assets from the farm system of a needy team.
When Masahiro Tanaka makes a decision on his Major League Baseball destination, the Rays should act quickly. Recently, it has been reported, per the New York Daily News, that five teams—Yankees, Dodgers, White Sox, Cubs and Diamondbacks—are the finalists for Tanaka.
If the report is correct, four pitching-hungry teams will be left without a top-tier starter, forced to wade back into the the free-agent pool and desperate for rotation help. At that moment, the Rays can dangle a 28-year-old pitcher with a 122 career ERA+ and the eighth-best WHIP (1.13) of any starting pitcher since 2010.
Even if Price's 2015 arbitration figure lands around $21 million, a contending team can add one of the best pitchers in the sport on a two-year, $35 million deal. Considering the prices of free-agent arms, the Rays can find the next Wil Myers and Chris Archer in exchange for an ace on a team-friendly deal.
For the New York Yankees, there is no time like the present.
However, despite the annual win-now edict in the Bronx, Brian Cashman and New York's front office should look ahead to next winter when assessing trade options for outfielder Brett Gardner.
When 2014 concludes, Gardner will be a free agent, marketing himself as a corner outfielder and center fielder, featuring top-of-the-order skills, speed and base-stealing ability. Make no mistake: Gardner will have suitors.
Of course, the Yankees can afford him—or any player for that matter—if they choose. Yet, after handing Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million to play Gardner's primary position, it's hard to imagine the Yankees engaging in a bidding war for a corner outfielder without power.
In other words, Gardner's days in New York are likely numbered. If not for a very friendly arbitration number for 2014 ($5.6 million) and the potential for a dynamic, speedy outfield combination with Ellsbury, the Yankees would likely be more proactive in trade talks involving Gardner.
Yet, if the team doesn't land Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, a Gardner trade may have to commence to aid a fledgling rotation.
If Tanaka arrives, the Yankees will likely bite the bullet, bring back Gardner for 2014 and hope for a World Series appearance before their homegrown outfielder bolts next winter. If a need for pitching arrives before then, Gardner should be moved for an arm who can help now and in the future.
Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein is at a unique point of his baseball life. After winning a World Series with the Boston Red Sox, engaging in one of the fiercest rivalries in professional sports with the New York Yankees and accepting the Red Sox Nation win-now demands, there is freedom in Chicago.
Trading his best pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, and making the Cubs worse for 2014 is something he can sell to ownership. When speaking about the Ricketts family during the recent Cubs Convention, Epstein sounded like a man who believes his bosses see the big, rebuilding picture. Per Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago:
They know they’re going to own this club for generations and generations so they are willing to take the hit now and take some of the heat now...because they know they are doing the right things to lay the foundation to get this right, to turn this into a franchise that they can be proud of for generations and generations.
As with the reasoning for a David Price trade out of Tampa, the Cubs should capitalize on the Tanaka sweepstakes losers. However, in this instance, the franchise can kill two birds with one stone.
By signing Tanaka themselves, they can make Samardzija more attractive to pitching-needy teams like Arizona, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and a slew of contenders that would prefer the 28-year-old righty over free-agent starters like Bronson Arroyo, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez.
According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs and Samardzija are far apart on arbitration numbers for 2014. After submitting a request for $6.2 million, it's possible that Samardzija wins his case and sets up a path to a big arbitration number in 2015 before free agency in 2016. Yet, for the next two years, it's not hard to imagine Samardzija outperforming the non-Tanaka free agents still on the market.
If the Cubs can land the Japanese pitcher to build around, swapping Samardzija for prospects can be the missing piece in turning the franchise around for the long term.
The Washington Nationals are a legitimate World Series contender in 2014, have the ability to carry a significant payroll and should be loading up on talent, not subtracting.
However, no team, regardless of October dreams, should pay relief pitchers more than they are worth.
In Drew Storen, the Nationals have a pitcher, due to the arbitration system, slated to make $3.45 million in 2014 during his inaugural arbitration-eligible season. It doesn't take a mathematician to realize that his salary will skyrocket before free agency arrives in 2017.
Of course, if Storen was the same pitcher he profiled as from 2010-12 (2.96 ERA, 3.00 SO/BB, 133 ERA+), the Nationals would probably be comfortable with him, along with Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard, as dominant, late-game options.
In 2013, Storen wasn't that pitcher. After posting a 4.52 ERA in 61.2 IP, the 26-year-old enters 2014 with questions surrounding his ability to help Washington win a pennant. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the team is considering moving Storen in order to free up money for a run at free-agent reliever Grant Balfour.
If the Nationals can convince a team that Storen is poised for his past success, it could be a coup, allowing them to sign the superior Balfour, leave Clippard in a setup role and, as Rosenthal explains, relegate Rafael Soriano away from pitching in enough games to trigger a $14 million vesting option for 2015.
By trading Storen, the Nationals can save money now, potentially field a better bullpen for 2014 with Balfour and stay away from a messy divorce with Soriano in 2015.
Your turn to play GM: Which arbitration-eligible players should be traded?