We're still a few weeks away from any big-time trade rumors hitting the internet and perhaps even actually being consummated by willing teams. That certainly doesn't mean it is too early to start taking a look at some potential big-name targets that could be shopped by their teams this winter though.
I'm not insinuating that each of these players will be starting the 2012 season in a different uniform than the one they currently own, but there are various reasons that they will likely hear their names pop up in trade speculation as we progress through the winter meetings and deeper into winter.
Perhaps, they are entering the final year of their contract. Maybe they are eligible for arbitration and will be cost-prohibitive to their current team to retain. Maybe neither apply but they are big enough trade chip to command top talent in a big prospect package in return.
Whatever the reason, these players have either already been the subject of some speculation or they most certainly will at some point following the conclusion of the World Series.
This one is a perfect "gimme" pick to be shopped sooner rather than later.
Carlos Zambrano's decision to walk away from the Cubs sealed his fate late this season.
His full no-trade clause may stand in the way of the Cubs getting the best return for Big-Z, but their willingness to eat a huge portion of his contract to facilitate a trade makes it unlikely that they will bring him back next season.
As soon as the Cubs secure their new GM, shopping Zambrano will be on top of his to-do list.
Trading Alfonso Soriano is definitely a lesser priority than finding a taker for Zambrano, but it is certainly on the offseason list for the new Cubs GM as well.
Prior to the end of the season, rumors circulated that the Cubs were willing to eat a "major chunk" of the salary remaining on Soriano's deal to find a taker. (Via Jon Heyman, Twitter link).
Despite having just a .244 batting average, Soriano did slug 26 homers and 88 RBI in 2011 for the Cubs. He would make an attractive DH candidate for an American League team.
Depending on the amount of salary the Cubs are willing to eat, you could see an AL West competition for his services between the A's (who are likely more inclined to resign Hideki Matsui) and Mariners, although Baltimore could also jump into the mix to replace Vladimir Guerrero if they don't choose to bring him back.
Despite having a 5.09 ERA and a losing record (9-10) in 2011, Francisco Liriano would still attract suitors if the Twins decide to make him available rather than risk paying him a raise through his final season of arbitration before reaching free agency.
When he's on his game, Liriano has electric, sometimes no-hit type of "stuff."
If the Twins decide to listen to offers for him, the Yankees would likely be the top suitor, as they reportedly had interest in him at the trade deadline (once again we go to Jon Heyman's Twitter account).
Okay, so this rumor (courtesy of ESPN's Buster Olney) actually states that the Reds won't shop Joey Votto this winter, but they will listen to offers for him.
I'm still including him since it still means we'll hear his name pop up in trade rumors throughout the winter.
Votto, the 2010 NL MVP, had a very respectable encore season, batting .309 with 29 homers, 103 RBI and a league-high 40 doubles.
Teams looking to make a run at Albert Pujols and/or Prince Fielder and losing their bids could turn their attention to the Reds and try to pry Votto loose this offseason.
The Marlins are one team that may "kick the tires." I wouldn't rule out the Cubs, Dodgers or Giants either.
Troy Renck of The Denver Post expects the Rockies to shop Huston Street this offseason, and frankly, so do I.
Despite saving 29 games for Colorado in 2011, Street is likely on his way out as they would prefer to give the closer's job to Rafael Betancourt instead.
Street's $7 million salary in 2012 and $9 million mutual option for 2013 should make him an affordable option for teams in need of someone to pitch the ninth inning.
There seems to be a mixed feeling for whether Jonathan Sanchez will be tendered a contract and given the opportunity to compete for the fifth-starter spot next spring or non-tendered and granted his free agency a year early.
My sense is that the Giants will offer him a contract and then proceed to shop him in exchange for a hitter they can plug into their lineup.
He's been the subject of trade speculation for the last several years, so why should this offseason be any different?
A lot was made of Joe Blanton's availability last offseason and nothing at all during the season thanks in large part to a nerve damage injury to his elbow.
That elbow could make it virtually impossible to deal Blanton and the $8.5 million remaining on his contract.
When healthy, though, Blanton has been a solid major league starter throughout his career, posting a career record of 73-62 with a 4.32 ERA.
The Phillies wouldn't get a huge return and would likely have to take on some of his salary, but they could find a taker willing to gamble on his health for 2012.
All recent speculation points to the Dodgers not shopping Andre Ethier this offseason, but there is enough of a reason for them to shop him that I felt he should still be included.
Ethier is entering his final arbitration-eligible season before reaching free agency following the completion of the 2012 season.
He made $9.25 million this year and despite a down season in which he suffered injuries that cost him some time and productivity, he is still likely due a raise.
He would bring a solid return back to the Dodgers in a trade.
They may be insisting now that they don't intend to trade him, but their tune could change as they work on extensions for Matt Kemp and Hiroki Kuroda as well this offseason and see their payroll drastically increase.
If they don't feel Ethier wants to be there long term, they may cut ties a year early and maximize their return on him.
B.J. Upton was shopped at the trade deadline, leading many people (myself included) to believe it was just a way of gauging interest in him early to reopen the market on him this winter.
Upton would be targeted by several teams if he is made available again, even though he will be arbitration-eligible for the final time before becoming a free agent after the 2012 season.
Despite a bit of a reputation as a lazy player, Upton is a true five-tool talent that could help a team both offensively and defensively.
The Nationals, Indians, Pirates and Giants could all be players for his services in a trade with the Rays.
If the Mets re-sign Jose Reyes, will they be able to afford to keep David Wright as well?
I can't see the Mets willingly losing both players this offseason, so the only way Wright gets dealt is in the event that Reyes comes back.
That said, he was a hot name on the trade market before his spinal injury forced him to the DL earlier this season.
The Rockies are expected to be competitive for his services if he is made available. Oakland is also another team that could use an upgrade at third, and the Cubs may need a third baseman as well if they part ways with Aramis Ramirez this winter.
Stephen Drew's season-ending ankle injury will make it hard for the Diamondbacks to effectively shop him this winter, meaning that a deal is very unlikely.
Drew is set to become a free agent following the 2012 season though, so I'd still expect them to at least attempt shopping him primarily to gauge interest from teams that may match up with them closer to the trade deadline after Drew has hopefully proven his health and rebuilt his trade value.
The Oakland A's are basing their offseason plans on whether or not they get approval to build their new stadium in San Jose rather than staying in Oakland.
According to Susan Slusser of The San Francisco Chronicle, the A's will likely cut payroll and look to rebuild if they are given the green light on a new stadium in San Jose.
While Slusser doesn't mention any specific names the A's may part with in a rebuild, the logical choices begin with Gio Gonzalez who would bring a hefty return after back-to-back seasons with at least 15 wins (15 in 2010 and 16 this season). He has also pitched over 200 innings in each of the past two seasons and seen his ERA dip from 3.23 in 2010 to 3.12 in 2011.
Billy Beane would likely seek a package comparable to what he received when the A's traded Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks (Brett Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Carter, Greg Smith and Dana Eveland were all dealt to the A's in that swap). Gio would command slightly less, but Beane has not been known to give up pitching for slim returns.
Trevor Cahill falls in the same boat as Gio Gonzalez.
He is the other big-name pitching candidate the A's could trade away to secure several pieces that would be valuable in a rebuild geared towards putting a contender on the field when they open their new stadium a few years down the road.
Cahill's inconsistency could make him the more likely of the two pitchers for the A's to deal even if there is not a potential move to San Jose on the horizon and a necessary rebuild as a result.
The A's need hitting and Cahill could be the centerpiece of a package to secure a top bat for the middle of the A's lineup.
Not coincidentally at all, Jesus Montero comes right after the top pair of Oakland pitchers.
John Harper of The New York Daily News is to thank for that progression of players. Harper speculates that Brian Cashman and the Yankees may shop Montero this winter in exchange for top-level pitching.
Harper lists both Cahill and Gonzalez, among others, as potential targets the Yankees would consider shipping Montero in exchange for.
The presence of Gary Sanchez in their farm system also makes him a little more expendable than you'd typically consider a prospect rated No. 3 overall by Baseball America entering the 2011 season.
The first order of business if the Rays intend to shop James Shields this offseason will be to exercise his $7 million team option in his contract, something that should be considered a given at this point in time.
Shields was shopped at the trade deadline this year, and given his effectiveness and overall durability, he should be one of the top pitchers on the market this winter if Tampa Bay does in fact decide to part ways with him for a big return of talent in exchange.
Shields pitched 249.1 innings in 2011 for a record of 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and a league-best 11 complete games. He also struck out 225 batters, good for an 8.1 K/9 ratio.
There is no shortage of teams that would be interested in Shields.
The Reds and Tigers were both actively pursuing him prior to the trade deadline. The Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rockies and Marlins would all potentially be interested in him this winter. The Rangers could also jump into the mix if C.J. Wilson departs via free agency.