While there are still several intriguing free agents on the market as spring training approaches, many teams are looking to make last-minute improvements prior to the 2014 MLB season via trades. Luckily, some talented players are potentially on the block.
For those teams that failed to hit it big in free agency, which is essentially everyone other than the New York Yankees, going the trade route may be the best option. There are no compensatory draft picks attached to trades, and contract negotiations oftentimes aren't necessary either.
With that in mind, here is the latest buzz surrounding some of the hottest names available in trade talks as the 2014 season draws closer.
There is no question that the Chicago Cubs are in a dire situation, but the one bright spot is starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. The former Notre Dame football star has made strides as a starter over the past couple years, and he has the potential to be an ace moving forward.
Samardzija is firmly in his prime at 29 years of age, and that makes him an attractive trade possibility. Losing Samardzija would send the Cubs even deeper into the abyss, but if they can score an impressive package of top-tier prospects, then perhaps it is worth looking toward the future.
Which player is most likely to get traded prior to the 2014 season?
One team potentially in play for Samardzija is the Toronto Blue Jays.
According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, in addition to monitoring free agents Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, the Jays are considering making an offer for Samardzija. There is a disconnect between the Cubs and Samardzija right now as Chicago is offering $4.4 million per season, while Samardzija has asked for $6.2 million, per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.
Trading Samardzija to Toronto would be one way to solve that dispute.
After acquiring top talent like R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes last offseason, the Blue Jays were expected to compete for a playoff spot. That didn't happen as they finished last in the AL East by a wide margin. Even so, Toronto has plenty of talent, and bringing in a guy like Samardzija could work wonders. The starting rotation was Toronto's biggest issue in 2013, and while Samardzija wouldn't cure all of the Jays' ills, he would be a huge help.
After a breakout 2012 season, big things were expected out of Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa. Rather than building upon a campaign that saw him hit 17 home runs and steal 20 bases, though, Espinosa regressed in a major way. He played in only 44 MLB games in 2013 because of a demotion to the minors, and his stock has dropped significantly. Despite that, at least 12 teams have reportedly expressed interest in trading for him, according to Bill Ladson of MLB.com.
Espinosa hit an embarrassing .158 with three homers and 12 RBI for the Nats in 2013, but he attributes his struggles to an injury suffered early in the season. Per Ladson, Espinosa played much of the year with a broken wrist:
I shouldn't have been playing. But at the same time, I'm not the doctor reading the film. So I shouldn't have been playing on a broken wrist the whole year. But you're told, 'You have a bruise,' you have to play through a bruise. Everyone plays through bumps and bruises. I'm not gonna play through a broken wrist. If I'd have known it was a broken wrist, I wouldn't have been playing.
While Espinosa deserves a great deal of credit for fighting through the pain, doing so put his future in jeopardy. He figures to be little more than a backup in Washington this year, so a trade may be best for him. The Nationals may not want to sell low, but perhaps some team will be willing to overpay a bit for the 26-year-old middle infielder's potential.
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jose Lobaton is far from a household name, but he is certainly a capable backstop. With good catchers at such a premium, there is a great deal of interest in Lobaton across the league. According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, there are six teams potentially in the running to acquire Lobaton through trade:
The Rays are notoriously penny wise, and with the 29-year-old Lobaton arbitration eligible from this season through 2017, they may decide that trading him away is the best course of action. With Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina also on the major league roster, Tampa does have some measure of depth.
From an offensive perspective, however, Lobaton may be the team's best option.
He hit .249 with seven home runs and 32 RBI last season in 277 at-bats, so he has the potential to be a solid contributor at the plate. Lobaton's defense is somewhat questionable, though, which makes him expendable. It's difficult to imagine the Rays getting any great prospects in return for Lobaton, but the organization has a great eye for young talent, so perhaps Tampa can pull off a trade that will eventually go down as a major steal.
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