MLB Trade Rumors: 10 Players Who Will Generate Buzz Before the Trading Deadline

Sean ZerilloCorrespondent IIMarch 2, 2011

MLB Trade Rumors: 10 Players Who Will Generate Buzz Before the Trading Deadline

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    Albert Pujols and Michael Young have been the main headlines heading into the 2011 Major League Baseball season.

    Pujols, one of the greatest players in the game's history, is seeking a record setting contract extension from the St. Louis Cardinals. 

    Young, one of the most loyal players in Texas Rangers history, doesn't want to be moved to designated hitter full-time and is seeking a trade. 

    Young has three years and $48 million remaining on his contract. At 34 years old with declining skills, the Rangers would likely have to pay a team most of his remaining money to trade him. 

    Last year, Pujols completed the final season of a seven year, $100 million dollar contract he signed in 2004. The Cardinals also owned a $16 million dollar team option on him for 2011, however. 

    Although he has cut off contract negotiations until after the season, it is highly improbable that the Cardinals would deal their star. 

    Pujols is one of the most consistent and dangerous hitters in baseball history. He brings an incredible intensity to the game of baseball, and it is unlikely that his performance could be further motivated by playing for a new contract. 

    But not every player is Albert Pujols. Many of Major League Baseball's stars become extra motivated when playing for future money. 

    What follows is a list of ten players, all in contract years, who will generate interest around the league prior to the July 31st trading deadline.

    Data Courtesy Of

    www.fangraphs.com

    www.baseball-reference.com

    mlbcontracts.blogspot.com (Cot's Baseball Contracts)

10. Derrek Lee, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

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    Derrek Lee signed a one year, $7.25 million deal with the Orioles this offseason. The contract includes plate appearance based incentives and could escalate to $10 million.

    Lee had a down year in 2010. Back problems hindered his performance and Lee managed just 19 home runs, his lowest full season total since his rookie season in 1998. 

    Derrek Lee is a hard working professional ball player, however. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him have a bounce back season, even at the age of 35.

    A batting average around .300 with 20 home runs is far from out of the question. Lee is only two years removed from a 35 homer campaign.

    With the Orioles due to struggle once again in the American League East, Lee will likely be moved to a contender. 

9. Kelly Johnson, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    In 2007 and 2008, Kelly Johnson appeared to be one of the best young second basemen in baseball. 

    In those two seasons, Johnson posted wins above replacement (WAR) marks of 3.4 and 2.6, equivalent to the worth of about a $12 million per year player. 

    A poor batting average on balls in play (BABIP) led to a dismal season for Johnson in 2009. His career average on balls in play is .318 but the baseball Gods decided that .247 was a suitable mark with which to head into his arbitration years. 

    Kelly Johnson was non-tendered by the Braves. Instead, the Arizona Diamondbacks took a chance on him with a one year, $2.35 million offer. 

    Johnson rewarded Arizona with a six WAR season in 2010. His triple slash line was .284/.370/.496 with 36 doubles, 26 homers and 13 steals.

    He received a three and a half million dollar raise for 2011. If Johnson is able to repeat his success, he will be a hot commodity come next offseason considering the position he plays.

    If Arizona falls out of the race in the National League West, it is likely Johnson gets dealt. Unless of course he's willing to give a hometown discount to the team that gave him a second lease on life. 

8. Michael Cuddyer, OF/1B/3B, Minnesota Twins

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    Cuddyer is working in 2011 under a $10.5 million team option that was part of the three year, $24 million deal he struck following the 2007 season. 

    He possesses value in his versatility to move around among the corners of the infield or outfield. Due to his slow speed and lack of range, however, Cuddyer is a liability at each of those positions. 

    His stats at the plate are also on the decline. 

    Cuddyer set a career high with 32 homers in 2009 but he has not hit more than 24 in any other season. In fact, those were the only two times he has broken the 20 homer threshold.

    Both totals were likely due to outlying home run to fly ball ratios. He hit just 14 homers in 2010. 

    But Cuddyer is seemingly a lock for 30 doubles per year, with around a .275 batting average. With a .793 career OPS, Cuddyer is not an impact hitter by any means. But he is a solid enough bat and a big time lefty killer.

    If the Twins struggle in the AL Central, Cuddyer could become this year's Cody Ross for a contender. 

7. Lance Berkman, 1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals

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    For a long time, Lance Berkman was one of the most underrated hitters in baseball. 

    A switch hitter, The Big Puma owns a career .954 OPS with 382 doubles and 327 homers. 

    Prior to last year's trading deadline, Berkman had played every home game since the the start of his collegiate career in Houston. The former Rice University star was taken by the Astros with the 16th pick of the 1997 amateur draft. 

    Last year, the Astros shipped Berkman to the Yankees where he proceeded to have one of the worst 37 game stretches of his career, hitting .255 with just one home run. 

    However, Lance Berkman still has a good eye and solid contact skills. His walk to strikeout ratio of .91 in 2010 was right in line with his career average (.93) and he put the ball in play 79 percent of the time (career average of 80 percent). 

    Berkman was a tremendous hitter in his prime and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him bounce back in 2011.

    Whether or not he re-adjusts to the outfield, where he hasn't played extensively since 2007, is a completely different story. 

6. Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Rafael Furcal is one of the most explosive players in baseball. 

    He is a good leadoff hitter with the ability to get on base, steal bases and play sound defense. Furcal also possesses one of the strongest arms of any everyday player.

    Following an injury ravaged year in 2008 in which he appeared in only 36 games, Furcal signed a three year, $30 million deal to stay with the Dodger Blue. 

    He has thus far rewarded the club with his worst full season in 2009 and an injury riddled campaign in 2010 that included two disabled list stints and just 97 total games played. 

    The Dodgers hold a $12 million club option on Furcal for 2012. The clause triggers automatically if he reaches 600 plate appearances. With the recent injury history, that is something that is unlikely to happen. 

    With the Dodgers in financial trouble and the NL West one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Furcal leave town after a six year tenure. 

5. Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod), RP, New York Mets

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    The Mets were largely criticized when they signed K-rod to what was then the richest contract ever given to a relief pitcher. 

    What many people may not have realized is that Rodriguez's three year, $37 million deal includes a $17.5 million option for 2012.

    This option triggers automatically if he finishes 55 total games in 2011 and doctors declare him healthy. 

    One would have to wonder if mental health is to be considered after Rodriguez was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend's father in the team clubhouse towards the end of last season. 

    Rodriguez tore a ligament in his thumb during the altercation and has yet to throw this spring.

    At his best, K-rod is one of the game's best closers. He set the single seasons saves record in 2008 (62) behind his dizzying slider. 

    As a relief pitcher, however, K-rod still isn't worth his contract.

    If he's able to get past his legal issues and return to success on the mound, teams will by vying for K-rod's services come deadline time. 

    He will be a hot commodity so long as the Mets are willing to pay part of his way.

4. Francisco Liriano, SP, Minnesota Twins

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    Francisco Liriano might be the only ace caliber pitcher who could be had during this season. But that's not to say that he doesn't come with some red flags. 

    Liriano burst onto the scene in 2006, embarrassing American League hitters everywhere with his fastball, changeup and lethal slider.

    Scouts recognized the fact that Liriano had more natural talent than his teammate and perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana. 

    Tommy John surgery abruptly ended Liriano's campaign and disrupted his next three seasons thereafter. 

    Liriano finally appeared back near full strength in 2010, striking out 201 batters and walking only 58 in 191.2 innings.

    His sudden recovery upon returning to the Dominican Republic last offseason, along with tightness he has experienced in his shoulder this spring training, has given the Twins a few reasons to trade their best pitcher.

    If Liriano repeats or improves upon his 2010 form, he is going to demand a large contract at the end of the year.

    The Twins aren't willing to commit a lot of money to a player whom they feel has a questionable work ethic. As a result, Liriano is apparently being shopped, and could end up on the Yankees. 

3. Carlos Beltran, OF, New York Mets

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    It feels like yesterday that Carlos Beltran put together one of the best performances in postseason history, slugging eight homers and stealing six bases for the Astros in a 12 game period. 

    The New York Mets rewarded Beltran's heroics with a seven year, $119 million deal which will expire after this season.

    Over the course of the contract, Beltran's performance has gone up and down.

    In the second and third years of the contract (2006-2007), Beltran hit 74 homers with 41 steals. Unfortunately for him, he will be most remembered for freezing on Adam Wainwright's curveball to end the Mets 2006 season in game seven of the National League championship Series.

    His last two seasons have been marred by injuries. Beltran played just 84 games in 2009 and 64 games in 2010.

    In an effort to preserve his knees, the three time Gold Glover in center field will move to right field. Angel Pagan will assume the duties in center. 

    At 33 years old and going on 34, Beltran is unlikely to be re-signed by the Mets unless it comes at a huge discount.

    Look for Beltran to rebound heavily in 2011 and repeat the process that made him a rich man after being traded from the Royals to the Astros just seven years ago. 

    If he has a big year, gets traded to a contender and has success in the playoffs, Carlos Beltran might get himself one more big payday. 

2. Heath Bell, RP, San Diego Padres

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    Heath Bell hasn't been in the spotlight long, but he is already 33 years old.

    In four years in San Diego, the hard throwing right hander has done about as good of a job as you could ask in replacing Padres legend Trevor Hoffman.

    All Bell has done the past two years is rack up 89 saves over 139.2 innings, registering 165 strikeouts to only 52 walks.

    Bell has been the subject of trade speculation during most of the that time.

    It is difficult enough to pitch under normal pressure when you're constantly taking the ball for your team in the ninth inning protecting a small lead. 

    It's even more difficult when you're constantly unsure whether you'll be wearing the same uniform tomorrow. 

    Bell and the Padres avoided arbitration and agreed to a one year, $7.5 million deal in the offseason.

    San Diego already possesses one of the best bullpens in baseball and Bell would be an extremely hot commodity if the Padres look to trade him. 

    He is the best relief pitcher on the market, without question. 

1. Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets

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    If Rafael Furcal is explosive, Mets shortstop Jose Reyes is electrifying. 

    Reyes is a dynamic talent but he has been plagued by leg injuries throughout his career. Fans have even begun to question his toughness. 

    Perhaps its just the way that Reyes plays. He does everything at 100 miles per hour. There is no other gear besides GO. 

    Reyes is also extremely well rounded. He is a true five tool player who can consistently hit around .285 with 50+ extra base hits and 60+ steals. From 2005-2008, Reyes's stolen base totals were 65, 64, 78 and 56. 

    Reyes has a very strong arm, but he has a propensity to make gaffes on routine plays. 

    Healthy and in his prime, Reyes is worth around six wins above replacement. He posted totals of 5.5, 5.7, and 6.0 from 2006-2008. 

    The Mets exercised a $11 million club option on Reyes for 2011. If he can stay healthy and post good numbers, Reyes is due for a big payday.

    Mets fans have become frustrated with Reyes's inability to stay on the field. Jose was supposed to be the cornerstone of the franchise since he arrived as a 19 year old in 2003. 

    If the Mets trade him, it would be a momentous occasion in the franchise's recent history. Surely there will be a lot of interest around the league for his services.

    If new general manager Sandy Alderson feels he can get good value, trading Jose Reyes might be exactly what this troubled organization needs. 

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