When the Florida Marlins sent young outfielder Logan Morrison to Triple-A New Orleans Saturday, Marlins fans everywhere might have been forgiven for feeling a sinking note of familiarity to it all. Far and away baseball's worst-run organization, Florida consistently chooses the wrong enemies even within its own ranks and makes big decisions based on small incidents. In this case, Morrison earned his demotion by refusing participation in a voluntary meet-and-greet with season ticket holders.
The uneven relationship between Morrison and the Marlins now looks all but irreparable, and the team may have little choice (or may give itself little choice) but to trade him this winter. Morrison could be a huge help to a number of teams, especially if someone can find room for him at first base rather than in left field.
Morrison's situation is unique in specifics but redundant in general substance. Around the league, nearly a dozen very talented young players have tenuous positions in their team's futures, for reasons positional, personal, financial and physical. This winter could be one of the most fascinating in recent memory, as teams gear up for 2012 by wheeling and dealing to avoid over-spending in a weak free-agent marketplace. These five players could be in new uniforms by April, and don't be surprised if some are even dealt for one another.
Morrison's bat has elite upside. Though he tumbled from a thunderous .299/.391/.530 on June 12 to .249/.325/.464 at the time of his demotion, he remains a solidly above-average hitter even now. His peripheral numbers during the prolonged slump (nine homers in 51 games, .224 batting average on balls in play) suggest he has been unlucky more than ineffective.
The Blue Jays have made such a habit of looting opponents in this sort of predicament (see Rasmus, Colby and Escobar, Yunel) that some think Morrison could be next in line. But he hardly fits there, considering the Jays already have Adam Lind at first base and Travis Snider in left field.
The White Sox could be interested in Morrison to fill the left-field void left by Juan Pierre, and he would have much less room to cover there than in Florida. Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has been linked to Morrison in past trade rumors, but a gimmick like that would likely never work out.
Morrison has a world of talent but really can be a distraction via twitter and his general disproportionate popularity. For teams looking for a quieter version of Morrison, then, there is Yonder Alonso.
No one thought Alonso could actually play an acceptable left field when he reached Cincinnati, but he still managed to shock and awe folks with his miserable glove out there. He can play first base, and only first base. That inflexibility poses a problem for the Reds and for Alonso, because as well as he has hit to this point (and he has been remarkable, with an 1.152 OPS, three walks and just one strikeout in 26 plate appearances), he is not going to unseat Joey Votto anytime soon.
The Reds are wary of Votto's intentions when his contract expires after 2013, so they may elect to keep this painful arrangement up and make Alonso the best pinch-hitter in baseball for two years before awarding him a starting role.
But that's an inefficient solution to the problem, and it's much more likely the team will find a very motivated buyer on Alonso this December. The Cubs, Brewers, Dodgers, Angels, Cardinals and Orioles all could be legitimate suitors under the right circumstances.
The Angels likely prefer to hang onto Bourjos, the best defensive center fielder since at least Andruw Jones' prime and a surprisingly acceptable hitter. He is a great young piece around whom the team could build in tandem with Mike Trout.
Ay, but therein lies the rub. Trout is all but big-league ready, and his best position is center field. Meanwhile, the Angels have a yawning hole at first base. A deal sending Bourjos to Florida for Morrison this winter might make too much sense to ignore, especially if owner Arte Moreno remains unwilling to eat money in order to deal Bobby Abreu or Torii Hunter.
GM Frank Wren has a pretty fair track record of getting players he wants without giving up those he covets, as illustrated most recently in the Michael Bourn trade. Still, I can't imagine a team taking Derek Lowe off the Braves' hands this winter just to make Wren's life easier. Lowe will make $15 million in 2012, and ranks perhaps seventh or eighth among Atlanta's starting options when all are healthy.
The Braves do need to shed salary this winter, though, so one of their pricier pitchers will have to go. Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado (he of the six no-hit innings Tuesday night against the Giants) all will be rookies with no contractual burdens. Tim Hudson's club option for 2013 could make him attractive, but no other team in baseball values him as highly as Atlanta. Tommy Hanson's salary will remain relatively under control.
The odd man out, then, is Jurrjens. Further refinement of command that was already solid has turned Jurrjens into a star this season, but he makes $3.25 million this year in his first trip through arbitration. In 2012, his number could be pushing $6 million, and Atlanta might be able to get such a return for him as to make keeping him foolish anyway. Any team in need of pitching help could be a fit, but some of the would-be upstarts who floundered into the summer (Pittsburgh and Kansas City especially) make the best candidates.
The loud and emphatic arrival of Desmond Jennings has made Upton totally expendable in Tampa, and given the team's constant budget woes, expendable assets do not stick around for long.
Upton's offense has been in dizzying decline for a while now, but his defense (and his remaining upside at the plate) still might convince a team to part with some good prospects in return for him. If someone can acquire Upton and get to him where he lives, waking him from the daze in which he has spent the last few years, he could be a huge addition.