With the offseason now officially in full swing, general managers of every MLB team will be actively looking to upgrade their rosters in the best way possible, either by trade or free agency. Some teams will be left out in the cold as far as the elite free agents are concerned due to financial restraints.
However, these teams do have trade chips within their system that they can dangle out there as bait to snag the players they're looking for to make the necessary upgrades.
In some cases, the trade chips could be established players, in other cases they will be coveted prospects. Whatever the case, the offseason will be filled with much speculation, as experts and pundits ponder the various options for each MLB team.
We will take a look at the biggest trade chip that each MLB team currently has to offer.
As the Arizona Diamondbacks look at their options for the starting rotation for the 2012 season, it’s looking like GM Kevin Towers may be considering Josh Collmenter as the team's third starter, with Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson at the top, and Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin and Trevor Bauer dueling for the fourth and fifth spots.
That would leave current starter Joe Saunders out of the loop.
Saunders, who posted a 12-13 record and 3.69 ERA in 2011, is an innings eater and could have interest for several teams. Towers will only have until Dec. 12 to trade Saunders though, as after that he would have to non-tender him.
The Atlanta Braves seem willing to move all-around utility man Martin Prado in the right deal. It’s no secret that the Braves are looking for a power-hitting outfielder and a shortstop, so moving Prado, who has great value in his versatility, makes sense.
Prado has spent his entire career with Atlanta, hitting .260 with 13 HR and 57 RBI last season. He is also arbitration-eligible, so the Braves would get a bit of salary relief by dealing him.
With new vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette now in charge, the Baltimore Orioles will most likely be looking to rebuild the farm system, so they won't be spending lavishly on free agency.
However, Duquette may throw some feelers out there regarding starter Jeremy Guthrie.
Guthrie will be entering his final year of arbitration, and despite a 9-17 record and 4.33 ERA, will likely get a raise over his $5.75 million 2011 contract. Guthrie will eat innings and could very well benefit from a change of scenery, so Duquette may dangle Guthrie to start the rebuilding process within the Orioles farm system.
New Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has no doubt explored options regarding how to fix his broken ballclub.
One of the chips that Cherington may dangle out there is shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias. While Iglesias is outstanding defensively, his offense has not progressed as quickly as the Red Sox would have hoped. Iglesias could certainly be of great value to teams who are willing to be patient.
It is probably no secret that the Chicago Cubs and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein would love to rid themselves of outfielder Alfonso Soriano and his bloated contract.
The Cubs are still on the hook for $54 million for the remaining three years of Soriano’s contract.
Soriano could have value to American League teams looking for a designated hitter/extra outfielder, and if Epstein and owner Tom Ricketts are willing to eat a considerable amount of Soriano’s salary, they just could get a decent return.
The 2011 season was very disappointing for the Chicago White Sox, who spent an additional $20 million beyond their 2010 payroll to make upgrades to the lineup. Those supposed upgrades led to a distant third place finish in the American League Central division.
GM Kenny Williams has pledged to do what he can to fix his team, but has also said that he will only listen to offers that would bring necessary help now rather than later.
"Because if we're going to move our valuable pieces, it's going to be for major league-ready talent as they can grow with this nice nucleus in place," Williams told the Chicago Tribune.
Williams stopped short of naming names, but he seemed to indicate that Carlos Quentin was one of the players that he would be willing to part with for the right help.
Quentin has spent four seasons in Chicago, hitting .254 with 24 HR and 77 RBI in 2011. Quentin is arbitration-eligible and would likely received a sizable bump over his 2011 salary of $5.05 million.
Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty will be strongly considering going after a front-line starter—to back up Johnny Cueto—and a shortstop this offseason. The Reds have candidates for the back of the rotation, but no one to step up and be a solid No. 2 behind Cueto.
Jocketty has trade chips, but those chips also represent the future of the Reds.
Catcher Devin Mesoraco and left fielder/first baseman Yonder Alonso will be the first two players that other teams will inquire about and cherish if Jocketty wants to deal for an established front-line starter. Alonso will likely be competing for the left field with Chris Heisey in spring training, and Mesoraco could be ready to take on the catching duties full-time.
Jocketty does have catcher Ryan Hanigan locked up until 2013, and Ramon Hernandez is a free agent, so catching is clearly a position of strength for the Reds. However, Jocketty is certainly in a Catch-22 situation if he wants to bolster his pitching staff and/or find a quality shortstop.
With the Cleveland Indians pulling off the trade to add Derek Lowe to their pitching staff, GM Chris Antonetti crossed off one major need: Rotation depth. Now, he can address his other major concern: Outfield depth.
While it appears that Michael Brantley will be given an opportunity to win the center field job now that Grady Sizemore’s 2012 option has been declined, Antonetti will be looking to bolster the corner outfield positions. First baseman Matt LaPorta could be part of a package offered in order to achieve that goal.
LaPorta struggled with his offense in 2011, hitting .247 with 11 HR and 53 RBI, almost the same amount of production provided by Shelly Duncan in far fewer at-bats. Duncan was given a few starts at first base late in the 2011 season, and will likely be working on his defensive skills at first during the offseason.
The Colorado Rockies were a major disappointment in 2011, and general manager Dan O’Dowd will clearly be looking to make upgrades in several areas, including second base, third base and the starting rotation.
Outfielder Seth Smith clearly has value for many clubs looking for a solid corner outfielder. The Rockies have young outfielders (Charlie Blackmon, Cole Garner, Eric Young) to fill the void if O’Dowd pulls the trigger on any trade involving Smith.
The Detroit Tigers will be looking to ramp up their offense in 2012, especially with veterans Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez likely on their way out. Holes at second and third base will need to be addressed, as well as additional outfield help.
Starter Rick Porcello will be an attractive trade chip for several teams looking for pitching depth. With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Jacob Turner seemingly set as the top four in the Tigers’ starting rotation, GM Dave Dombrowski can use Porcello to beef up the infield.
The Florida Marlins, who will become the Miami Marlins on Friday, seem intent on increasing their payroll and becoming relevant for the 2012 season. The Fish have already hosted free agents Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, and are one of the teams who have expressed interest in signing Cuban free agent Yoennis Cespedes.
However, the Marlins could also be looking to bolster the team via trade. In a recent bit of news, one unnamed executive told Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman that outfielder Logan Morrison was supposedly considered untouchable, but if James Shields were made available by the Tampa Bay Rays, Morrison suddenly would not be untouchable.
When MLB ever gets around to finally approving Jim Crane as the new owner of the Houston Astros, they will get back to the business of once again rebuilding their franchise. Their one solid trade chip at the major league level is starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who is owed $25.5 million by the Astros for at least the next two seasons, once again put up very respectable numbers for a team that lost 106 games: An 11-11 record, 3.49 ERA and 166 strikeouts in 30 starts.
Rodriguez would absolutely fit the bill for many teams looking for rotation help, and the Astros would receive a nice package of prospects in return. Maybe by the year 2020 they can return to a level of respectability.
Left fielder Alex Gordon put up career numbers in his fifth season with the Kansas City Royals, posting a .303 average, 23 HR, 87 RBI, a career-high 17 stolen bases and his first Gold Glove Award. Gordon is also arbitration-eligible and should receive a hefty raise over his 2011 salary of $1.4 million.
That fact alone just could be the reason that Gordon could be made available by the Royals. With the cost-conscious (yes, I’m being very kind here) owner David Glass in charge, the possible triple or quadruple salary numbers that Gordon will likely receive could be just enough to make him trade bait.
The Los Angeles Angels may have seen enough of young prospect Mike Trout during the 2011 season that they deem him ready for full-time major league play. Trout is clearly best suited to play center field, so current center fielder Peter Bourjos could be made available in order to beef up other areas of the Angels’ sagging offense.
Bourjos hit .271 with 12 HR, 43 RBI and an American League-leading 11 triples. Bourjos is easily one of the fastest players in the majors, so he will be a huge attraction for several teams looking for a speedy leadoff presence in their lineup.
While some will say that Bourjos and Trout can live in the same outfield, with Vernon Wells in left and Torii Hunter in right, and both of them almost untradeable, something’s gotta give.
That something just could be Bourjos.
Now that Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has finally decided to release one of the most storied franchises in professional sports from the bonds of mismanagement, they can start to look at a future.
The problem is, the Dodgers aren’t quite dealing from a position of strength.
Considering that someone with real money will be coming in to run the Dodgers, it stands to reason that they will do all they can to sign their two franchise players, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. That would leave right fielder Andre Ethier as the most valuable trade chip on the roster.
Approaching 30 years of age, Ethier is coming off a year in which most of his offensive numbers were down. However, his knee issues were probably a major factor toward that decline, and with his recent surgery, Ethier should be back to 100 percent when spring training arrives.
That said, there are quite a few teams looking for corner outfield help, and the Dodgers need a boatload of their own help as well.
The Milwaukee Brewers are definitely going to be suffering through some unwelcome changes this offseason, most notably at first base, with Prince Fielder unlikely to be resigned by the Brewers. The Brewers would also like to upgrade some other key areas, and third baseman Casey McGehee could be a useful chip in achieving that goal.
McGehee by all accounts went through a horrible season in 2011, hitting just .223 with 13 HR and 67 RBI, a far cry from his outstanding 2010 numbers. The Brewers also have young prospect Taylor Green waiting in the wings, and moving McGehee would give Green his shot.
Minnesota Twins GM Terry Ryan has a major mess on his hands. Back on the job he held for 13 years before Bill Smith, Ryan needs to find a way to straighten out a team that lost 99 games and saw several key players miss significant time due to injury. He must strengthen the starting rotation and decide the fate of several players who are no longer under contract.
One of the pieces that Ryan may be forced to use in order to bolster a sagging pitching staff is Francisco Liriano. Liriano, 9-10 with a 5.09 ERA in 2011, is quickly falling out of favor in Minnesota, where they have waited patiently for him to mature into the type of pitcher they envisioned.
A change of scenery and possibly a new pitching coach might be able to help Liriano, so Ryan could very well dangle him out there in order to start rebuilding his Twins’ ballclub.
The New York Mets are also a team that is trying to figure out their way as they push forward in the wake of ownership’s involvement in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and ongoing lawsuits. Until that is all resolved, no one really knows how much the Mets actually have to spend this offseason on free agency.
Third baseman David Wright continues to be the biggest trade chip the Mets have, especially if they are indeed hamstrung by their financial issues.
Wright, the face of the Mets franchise, will absolutely fetch a prized catch of players and prospects, and GM Sandy Alderson will no doubt be hearing from teams about his availability.
It’s no secret that the New York Yankees covet starting pitching, and with free agents Mark Buehrle and Roy Oswalt lurking, GM Brian Cashman will definitely be looking.
However, if for some reason Buehrle and Oswalt end up signing elsewhere, Cashman could decide to make a play for the likes of James Shields, Wandy Rodriguez, or even Gio Gonzalez. If that’s the case, Jesus Montero represents his biggest trade chip.
Montero was impressive in the month of September and in the postseason for the Yankees, and catching is clearly a position of strength right now, with Russell Martin, Francisco Cervelli, Andrew Romine and Gary Sanchez in the system.
Montero would absolutely be the player that other teams will covet should the Yankees come calling.
Over the past 12 years, the Oakland Athletics have developed some of the finest pitching in the major leagues. Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Huston Street, Rich Harden all came out of Oakland, only to move on to other teams when the A’s were unable to pony up the money required to keep them.
Starter Gio Gonzalez may be the next great pitcher that will be moving on. Rumors have already circulated about Gonzalez, and with the uncertain future of the A’s in Oakland and ongoing financial burdens, GM Billy Beane will no doubt listen to offers.
However, whoever covets Gonzalez will be paying a hefty price.
After the Philadelphia Phillies were eliminated from the playoffs by the St. Louis Cardinals, manager Charlie Manuel was asked about what his team needs for the 2012 season. Manuel said in a press conference that an upgrade at third base should be looked into.
“If we need to upgrade and we can, we should do it,” Manuel said. “If we can stay healthy, it gets back to that being a key. Being healthy and being on the field is going to take care of a lot of things.”
Manuel’s pointed comments were clearly directed at incumbent third baseman Placido Polanco, who missed 40 games in 2011 due to back and hip concerns and has only hit 11 home runs since rejoining Philadelphia at the beginning of the 2010 season.
Aside from Aramis Ramirez, the free agent market for third basemen is fairly weak, so GM Ruben Amaro Jr. may be looking at trade options, and David Wright will certainly be one particular player the Phillies would covet.
Outfielder Domonic Brown would likely represent Amaro’s biggest trade chip. While the Phillies are likely to not resign Raul Ibanez, John Mayberry Jr. filled in capably at times during the 2011 season, and Brown is still developing at the major league level.
Brown will be coveted by several teams looking for corner outfield help.
With the Pittsburgh Pirates showing some life and winning their most games since 2004, GM Neal Huntington will be looking to build on their success and to plug up some holes. The Pirates need upgrades at catcher, third base and starting pitching, and while Huntington may spend on the free agent market, the Pirates won’t be spending huge dollars on the open market.
Right fielder Garrett Jones could possibly be made available in order to find some upgrades. With Alex Presley seemingly ready for prime-time, Jones could be a nice catch for teams looking to upgrade in right field. Jones ended the 2011 season with a .243 average, 16 HR and 58 RBI.
With new GM Josh Byrnes in place in San Diego, the Padres will be looking to make some upgrades in several areas, including at catcher, starting pitching and the outfield. Byrnes won’t have a tremendous amount of money to work with, especially if they re-sign closer Heath Bell to a two- or three-year deal.
Third baseman Chase Headley just may be a chip that Byrnes could use on the trade market. With 23-year-old Jedd Gyorko seemingly on the fast track to the majors, Headley could target teams looking for help at third to help the Padres bring in some additional offensive weapons.
With the trade that brought Melky Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants from the Kansas City Royals for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, GM Brian Sabean took care of one of his team’s needs.
However, Cabrera is just one fix; the Giants have several other needs as well.
With Cabrera likely to start in center, Andres Torres would figure to be out of a job, and Sabean will likely dangle Torres out there for teams needing outfield depth. Sabean would have to act fast, though, as Torres is a non-tender candidate.
The Seattle Mariners need some serious help offensively, and with trades of Doug Fister and Erik Bedard, rotation depth is a concern as well. The Mariners have some young players in Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Michael Pineda who need to continue their development in order to help the M’s, but GM Jack Zduriencik will be looking for additional help.
First baseman Mike Carp could be an attractive option for teams looking for help at first base. The Mariners seem committed to Smoak at first, so Carp could be used to bring in additional weapons for the sagging M’s offense.
Fresh off their 2011 World Series championship, the St. Louis Cardinals have two big items to address immediately—finding a new manager and attempting to re-sign franchise player Albert Pujols.
Beyond that, the biggest need for the Cardinals is in the middle infield.
While the Cards are talking about bringing back Rafael Furcal, that is certainly not set in stone at this point. It would appear that Ryan Theriot may be the odd man out. Theriot is a non-tender candidate, so GM John Mozeliak would have to act fast in using Theriot as a trade chip, however there will be teams looking for additional infield depth, and with Theriot’s versatility, he would be a viable option.
As much as Tampa Bay Rays GM Andrew Friedman might say that starting pitcher James Shields is not available, there is no question that Friedman would listen to offers if they make sense for the Rays in the long-term.
Shields is under contract for $7 million in 2012, with escalating team options for the following two years, and considering the Rays’ inability to generate huge revenue, Shields represents a major chunk of the Rays’ payroll for the next three seasons.
With the incredible season posted by Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli in 2011, Yorvit Torrealba would appear to be destined for backup duty in Texas.
Several teams are in the market for catching, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Angels. Torrealba represents an inexpensive option with his $3.25 million salary in 2012, and the Rangers can seek pitching depth in exchange for Torrealba.
The Toronto Blue Jays will be very active this offseason, as GM Alex Anthopoulos looks to upgrade in several key areas, including the bullpen, starting rotation and second base.
One unnamed GM said that Anthopoulos has already reached out: "You can’t pin him down. He has interest in every one of your players,” the GM told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
Left fielder Travis Snider could very well be made available by Anthopoulos. Snider was a huge disappointment in 2011, however at just 23 years of age, Snider would be attractive for teams looking for corner outfield depth.
The Washington Nationals appear to be in business this offseason, coming off a strong showing in 2011 during which they posted an 80-81 record. The Nats have great depth in several areas, and can use that depth to attract other needs.
Shortstop Stephen Lombardozzi could be the guy that GM Mike Rizzo dangles out there to bring in the necessary help. With Ian Desmond seemingly firmly implanted at short, Lombardozzi could be very attractive.
He could return a nice package for Rizzo to continue upgrading, most likely in center field and rotation depth.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.