Major League Baseball is very much unlike the NFL, which features a salary cap that gives each team an equal chance with regard to payroll. As such, if they manage their payroll properly, just about any NFL team can make offers to the top free agents on the open market and pull off trades for desired players as well.
Baseball doesn’t quite have that luxury. For the top-tier agents on the market this offseason (Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle) there are in reality only about seven or eight teams that have the financial wherewithal to make an attractive offer that will land their intended target.
The same premise works for trades as well. While teams in MLB can in fact be creative in order to acquire a player from another team, they still have financial constraints that prohibit going after pricier targets that can help their franchise.
However, what if fans ran each MLB team? Who would their top trade choices be? Considering they’re using monopoly money, they would obviously want the top players who could possibly be had in a trade. But in reality, that won’t happen.
We will try to keep it real here; obviously not every team can land the best of the best, so with each team’s financial situation in mind, we will list the top trade target for each MLB franchise if fans were running the team.
It doesn’t appear to be a secret that Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers is looking for a No. 3 starter. Several rumors have Towers dangling Joe Saunders as trade bait, and he could very well non-tender Saunders before Dec. 12.
Josh Collmenter is developing for sure, but Towers wants a solid, steady guy behind Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. Fans could very well go after a guy like Chicago White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd.
Floyd has torn it up in interleague play during his career, with a 5-4 record and 2.43 ERA in 14 starts. His stuff would play very well in the NL West with the cavernous parks in Los Angeles and San Diego as well.
The Atlanta Braves are in the market for a shortstop, and while they could certainly make a play for free agent Jose Reyes, it makes more sense to use available players to shore up other needs.
With Alex Gonzalez likely gone, Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond would be quite a catch in Atlanta. The Braves could use their wealth of pitching in their farm system to dangle in order to acquire Desmond, who would provide great speed at the top of the lineup combined with steady defense.
The Baltimore Orioles are clearly in the market for starting pitching, and while fans would no doubt would like to see the likes of C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, there is little to no chance of that happening.
However, several pitchers are available, and Houston Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez could be a nice pickup to help bolster the starting rotation.
Rodriguez was the subject of trade talks throughout the past season, and the Astros are clearly looking to rebuild after a disastrous 106-loss season and a pending move to the AL West.
It’s pretty simple: the Boston Red Sox need pitching, and the Seattle Mariners are desperate for offense.
By acquiring Felix Hernandez, the Red Sox take care of replacing John Lackey in the starting rotation with a major upgrade, and the Sox can let go of a couple of young hitting prospects (Ryan Lavarnway, Josh Reddick, Will Middlebrooks) that will satisfy the Mariners’ need for bats.
In addition, the Red Sox are one of the few teams that can safely carry a hefty future salary for Hernandez well into the future.
It appears to be a foregone conclusion that the Chicago Cubs will not attempt to re-sign incumbent third baseman Aramis Ramirez, so why not go after one of the best offensive options at the hot corner who would be available.
New York Mets third baseman David Wright would absolutely fit the bill for the Cubs. While they are no doubt looking to sign either Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, the Cubs can really make a splash by adding Wright and fortifying the corner infield positions with plenty of power.
One thing that the Chicago White Sox would really covet is a top-shelf starting pitcher. While they have some very capable complementary pitchers in their rotation, they don’t have a true ace.
Tampa Bay Rays starter James Shields would be a man that could satisfy that need. With a $7 million contract for the upcoming season and two team options for 2013 and 2014, Shields’ contract is doable for the White Sox, and he would easily fill the void created by the departing Mark Buehrle.
The Cincinnati Reds have some developing youngsters in their starting rotation (Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Travis Wood), but they lack that one man who can lead the rotation at the top.
Oakland Athletics pitcher Gio Gonzalez could be that man. Over the past two seasons, Gonzalez has become one of the elite left-handed pitchers in the American League, and he has handled interleague pitching very well during his career, with a 2.54 ERA against NL teams.
Gonzalez would fit perfectly atop the Reds’ rotation.
The Cleveland Indians are looking for a power-hitting first baseman that can complement the emerging Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana in the lineup. Matt LaPorta and Shelley Duncan do not appear to be long-term solutions at this point.
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto would be a perfect fit for the Tribe. Votto’s contract through the 2013 season would be affordable, and his bat in the middle of the lineup would be a huge addition to the likes of Cabrera, Santana and a developing Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis.
The Colorado Rockies are coming off a very disappointing 2011 season, and are looking to rebuild in several areas, including starting pitching. With the trade of Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians, the Rockies are looking to replace his production in the rotation.
At 23 years of age, Oakland Athletics pitcher Trevor Cahill would be a nice fit in Colorado. Signed through the 2015 season with additional team options for the following two seasons, Cahill’s salary won’t be a hindrance, and his production in interleague games (7-3, 2.85 ERA in 12 starts) shows that Cahill’s stuff matches up well in the National League.
The Detroit Tigers are looking to fill gaps in their infield, specifically at second and third base. Internal options at this point just don’t fit the bill, so acquiring Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips would certainly be a great solution.
Phillips would be a great addition to the top of the Tigers’ lineup, presumably in the No. 2 hole, and still has plenty of power and speed as well. The Tigers can also afford to negotiate a nice long-term extension for Phillips as well.
With the recent approval of new owner Jim Crane by MLB, the Houston Astros can finally take one big worry off their hands.
Now, with a pending move to the AL West, the Astros will be looking to build offense and are in need of an extra bat with the addition of a designated hitter to their lineup.
New York Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero could be the man—and the bat—that could provide a great amount of production for the Astros going forward. Montero’s defensive inefficiencies at the catching position, combined with Jason Castro’s return from injury in 2012, will no doubt mean a position change for Montero, but he could also serve as the team’s DH headed forward.
The Chicago Cubs are looking to unload unwanted players and salaries, and the Kansas City Royals are looking for pitching. Carlos Zambrano could be the answer.
With a move to the Kansas City Royals, the Cubs would need to include a sizable chunk of money in the deal, but Zambrano could certainly help the Royals’ rotation, at least for the next season.
If Zambrano can return to form, he can also be used as trade bait in the future, as it’s doubtful that owner David Glass would be willing to pony up for Zambrano’s services in the future.
The Los Angeles Angels are clearly looking to upgrade offensively, as their run production has slipped precipitously over the past two seasons.
New York Mets third baseman David Wright would clearly help to turn around their offensive slide. The Angels have been looking for better production at the hot corner ever since Troy Glaus left town, and Wright would fulfill that need.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers and Matt Kemp agreeing to an eight-year, $160 million contract, they now need to add support to Kemp in the lineup.
Current third baseman Juan Uribe is certainly not the long-term answer at third base at this point, so acquiring New York Mets third baseman David Wright makes a lot of sense.
With Andre Ethier returning fully healthy from the knee issue that plagued the second half of his 2011 season, Ethier, Wright and Kemp in the middle of the Dodgers’ lineup would be a formidable combination for years to come.
The new Miami Marlins are clearly going to be one of the most active teams this offseason, as they look to make a huge splash in April with the opening of their new stadium. While they appear to be going after top free agents (Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle), they will no doubt be looking at trade opportunities as well.
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields would make an excellent addition to the Marlins’ rotation alongside Josh Johnson at the top. With Johnson and Shields, adding a Buerhle or another quality arm in free agency would give the Marlins added viability for the 2012 season and beyond.
Yes, I know, David Wright is being mentioned for several teams here, however he is without a doubt a player that several teams—and fans—would covet.
With a disappointing year turned in by Casey McGehee, the Brewers would love to upgrade at the hot corner, in addition to replacing the offensive production of the possibly departing Prince Fielder. Adding Wright would certainly be a step in the right direction.
The Minnesota Twins normally aren’t huge on making trades or signing top free agents, preferring instead to develop homegrown talent. However, after a 99-loss season, they will be looking to rebound.
It could very well start with starting pitching, and Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Trevor Cahill could be a nice place to start. In just three seasons, Cahill has proven to be durable and has a sub-4 ERA. He could be a nice addition at Target Field.
The New York Mets are looking to add a lot more production in the outfield, especially with the departure of Carlos Beltran and the back-to-back disappointing and injury-filled seasons of Jason Bay.
Carlos Quentin would be an excellent addition to a Mets lineup that could see additional subtractions with Jose Reyes and possibly David Wright. Quentin is still arbitration-eligible, so his salary won’t break the Mets' bank, who are still dealing with financial issues amid the Bernie Madoff scandal and pending lawsuit.
The New York Yankees are clearly looking to bolster a starting rotation that currently has stability with just two starters, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova.
Adding Gio Gonzalez to the mix, along with the possibility of signing other free agent pitchers (Roy Oswalt, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle) would certainly prove to be a formidable rotation in the AL East.
The Oakland Athletics would dearly love a first baseman that can produce, and in 2011, the combination of Daric Barton, Brandon Allen and others just didn’t cut it.
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto would certainly gave the A’s exactly what they crave—a power hitting first baseman who can hit to all fields and possesses great plate discipline.
The Philadelphia Philles are definitely in the market for a left fielder, especially if John Mayberry Jr. is covering first base while Ryan Howard continues to heal from his Achilles tendon surgery.
The Cincinnati Reds have a decision to face regarding who will start in left field in 2011—Chris Heisey or Yonder Alonso. Alonso’s bat may give him the edge, so trading Heisey would clear the way for Alonso with the Reds and give the Phillies a young left fielder who will develop into a productive hitter.
With the Boston Red Sox suffering from what appears to be a fractured clubhouse, moves are definitely going to be made in Beantown. The Pittsburgh Pirates are in need of a quality hitter in their lineup who mans the hot corner, so Kevin Youkilis would fit the bill.
Youkilis has suffered through a spate of injuries over the past two seasons, however he should be completely healthy by spring training. His offensive prowess and will to win would play well in a lineup looking for clutch hitting.
If there is one thing the San Diego Padres are loaded with, it’s pitching.
Their offense? Well, not so much.
New York Yankees catcher Jesus Montero could be a star in the making, as he clearly showed he can handle major league pitching this past September. Montero can grow into the catcher’s position in San Diego a lot easier than he could in the big pressure-cooker of New York, and his bat would be a great addition as well.
For those who don’t think that Montero can be a serviceable catcher, experts said the same exact thing about Jorge Posada 17 years ago, and that worked out pretty well.
The San Francisco Giants are desperate to add run support a terrific pitching staff. While Aubrey Huff and Cody Ross helped supply just enough offense in 2010 enable the Giants to win the World Series for the first time in 56 years, they failed miserably in 2011.
Adding Carlos Quentin to the Giants’ lineup would go a long way towards a remedy for that sagging offense. Quentin’s right-handed power would be much more favorable at AT&T Park, which is deadly for left-handed hitters.
The Seattle Mariners are another team that struggles to score runs, and they would dearly love to find players that can produce consistently to support a very good pitching staff.
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto would go a long way toward strengthening that offense. With a solid core of youngsters in Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp and Kyle Seager, Votto would certainly be a huge addition to the middle of the Mariners’ lineup.
The St. Louis Cardinals would love to upgrade their middle infield, and current pieces such as Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto are nice complementary pieces, but aren’t what the Cardinals are looking for in terms of everyday production.
Colorado Rockies second baseman Chris Nelson could be a long-term answer. Nelson has hit .284 in limited action with the Rockies over the past two seasons and could develop into an excellent top-of-the-lineup guy.
Nelson would also be under team control for the next five seasons, making him a very attractive option in terms of payroll.
The combination of Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac at shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays is probably not the combination that the team envisions going forward, and an upgrade offensively would definitely be welcomed.
Boston Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie could fit that need. Lowrie will likely be stuck behind Marco Scutaro and Jose Iglesias in Boston, so the Rays could make the trade work for the right package of prospects, with which Tampa Bay has plenty to work.
Lowrie would finally get the chance to play every day, and the Rays would benefit from his offense at short.
If the Texas Rangers lose free agent pitcher C.J. Wilson, they will need someone to replace him in the rotation, and they should be looking hard at acquiring Oakland Athletics southpaw Gio Gonzalez.
The Rangers know Gonzalez very well, seeing him multiple times each year in the AL West, and his addition to the Rangers’ rotation will ensure that Texas stays in contention for the playoffs.
For the Toronto Blue Jays, it’s all about trying to keep up with Boston, New York and Tampa Bay in the AL East, and in order to do that, they need to add another quality pitcher to their starting rotation.
The Houston Astros are looking to cut payroll, so Brett Myers could be a very attractive option for the Blue Jays. In a rotation that features Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and a developing Henderson Alvarez, adding Myers to the rotation would be a step in the right direction to keep up with the Joneses in the AL East.
There was much talk over the summer about the possibility of a trade between the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays concerning center fielder B.J. Upton, and this winter, the Nats should make it happen.
Upton is still only 27 years old, and a change of scenery could be just the cure for both the Nats and for Upton. Getting out of the spotlight of the AL East could very well be of great benefit to Upton, who the Nats literally salivated over at the trade deadline last year.
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.