Trades, trades, glorious trades: all of the excitement of free agency with none of the inevitability.
As trade rumors swirl this MLB offseason, expect these 10 teams to feature heavily in the covert conversations.
Some are motivated to deal, lacking the one piece that could vault them into contention. Others control the coveted pieces, shopping for the package that meets their fancy.
Some have both. Call them the lucky ones.
As this cocktail of commodities and needs collides over the next few months, baseball's high stakes poker game swings into motion. It's a beautiful and treacherous game, and it will surely render some surprises.
But what new faces will wear what new uniforms come April, 2012?
Read on for my best guesses.
If they decide to trade former MVP Joey Votto, the Reds could be the single biggest player in this year’s offseason trade market.
The small-market Reds have Votto under their control through 2013, but after next season his salary spikes to $17 million. Once he does become a free agent, assuming the Reds can’t commit him to an extension, Cincinnati would have to front something in excess of five seasons and $100 million to retain Votto’s services.
The last time they locked into a contract that big was with Ken Griffey Jr., and the result wasn’t pretty. In order to avoid that sort of money-sucking calamity, the Reds could swap Votto while he’s still under team control for two more seasons.
If they do, the Reds would use the return to beef-up their rotation. They’ve supposedly already inquired about the Braves’ Jair Jurrjens, and with some MLB-ready help could easily get back to the top of the NL Central.
As of now, Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty says he won’t trade Votto.
But with Votto resisting further negotiations on a contract extension with the Reds, one has to wonder how long he’ll hold that line. His value can’t get much higher.
From their talks with Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes, it’s clear the Miami Marlins want to win now. Depending on how they act on free agency, that imperative could open a few trade scenarios.
If the Marlins land Pujols, that makes All-Star first baseman Gaby Sanchez expendable. If they land Reyes and current shortstop Hanley Ramirez moves to third, top prospect Matt Dominguez might move. If Ramirez re-locates to center field, former Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan would appear on the outs.
And then there’s Logan Morrison, the twittering dervish who’s angered Marlins brass with his cunning online avatar. Considering the organization demoted the talented left fielder for no discernible reason in 2011, they’re likely open to moving him in 2012.
Any of those moves could benefit the short-term interests of a pitching rotation that lacks depth. Josh Johnson is an ace’s ace, but can’t stay healthy. Behind him, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco run a few steps behind the twos and threes of Miami’s NL East rivals.
San Francisco doesn’t have a ton of movable parts, but they have supreme motivation to deal this offseason. Needing to boost an anemic offense in support of a peaking rotation, the Giants will explore all of their options.
If they can’t fill the gaps through free agency, with Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins among their top targets, the Giants could dip further into a depleted farm system for help.
GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy never trusted top prospect Brandon Belt last year, and could move him for a veteran hitter. The same could be said for Brett Pill or breakout Single-A leadoff man Gary Brown.
There isn’t a ton there, but the Giants need bats. That they already moved Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera tells me they're itching to act.
Matt Kemp’s eight-year, $160 million contract signaled the fast-approaching end of fellow Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier’s time in L.A. With newly crowned Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw in line for a big pay day some time in the next few years, the Dodgers have made their superstar commitments.
That leaves Ethier, somewhere on the next level between superstar and above-average, dangling.
At 29, it’s clear that Ethier won’t develop the 35-plus home run power some projected for the sweet-swinging lefty. He’s a good for-average hitter with a decent eye and decent pop, the kind of corner outfielder that could plug-in well for a contending team.
In return the Dodgers will likely seek a young pitcher capable of invigorating a staff that featured two hurlers north of 35 last season. If L.A. could land a Robin to Kershaw's Batman, the Dodgers could contend long term in the NL West.
The Braves have the classic trade-ready roster—way too much of one thing (pitching), not enough of another thing (hitting) and the desire to strike a balance sooner rather than later (if you’ll recall 2011’s collapse).
Atlanta has enough pitching to make their mid-1990s counterparts jealous. The farm system features stud prospects Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado while the big club leads with Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy.
That’s two rotations worth of elite talent in one organization, and it’ll be interesting to see if Atlanta moves the young guys or the old guys in their quest for more pop. However they play it, expect the Braves to target help on the left side of the infield and the corner outfield positions.
Atlanta finished 22nd in runs scored a year ago, and with their money-saving trade of Derek Lowe already out of the way, it’s time for Atlanta to start making tough decisions.
Flush with young talent and, as usual, up against the prospect of losing top veterans to free agency, Tampa Bay stands at the eye of the offseason storm.
Mercurial center fielder B.J. Upton and workhorse starter James Shields are this year’s most likely trade candidates in the Rays’ revolving door of talent.
Upton, still just 27, holds all sorts of promise and, even at his worst, still ranks well above-average. Shields meanwhile just finished his fifth consecutive season with over 200 innings pitched and could attract suitors from Miami to Boston.
Even if the Rays lost both, speedster Desmond Jennings and the left-handed tandem of Matt Moore and Alexander Torres suggest Tampa Bay won’t suffer much for it. Without the payroll to keep Upton or Shields long term, Tampa should look to let the youngsters play and reload behind them.
From pitcher to hitter, from prospect to superstar, Toronto has every imaginable type of trade chip at their disposal this offseason.
The prospect list include names like right-hander Kyle Drabek, infielder Brett Lawrie and outfielder Eric Thames, all attractive options for any club looking to get younger.
But the big fish is Jose Bautista, baseball’s best hitter last year. As if his 97 home runs over the past two season’s weren’t enough to drive demand, Bautista is under team control at a bargain price through 2015.
Should the Jays choose to move any of those parts, the return could land them help alongside Ricky Romero at the top of the rotation. With Colby Rasmus in center and Yunel Escobar at short, GM Alex Anthopoulos has the makings of a dynamite offense in place. One more move could bring the pitching staff up to speed, and launch Toronto into AL East contention.
This was supposed to be a debate for another day, but the rapid progress of minor league wizard Jurrickson Profar begs the question: What do the defending AL champs do at shortstop?
At 18, Profar is already one of the five best prospects in baseball, and the Rangers now face the very real possibility that he’s big league ready in two years time or less. That would be all well and good if Texas didn’t already have 22-year-old Elvis Andrus penciled-in at shortstop.
Scout projections suggest Profar will be the better player, with more power than Andrus and a better batting eye. But would the Rangers consider moving him this offseason for rotation help in the here and now?
The possibility of losing ace C.J. Wilson only magnifies that question, as Texas attempts to beat back the ghosts of 2011’s World Series meltdown.
My intuition says Profar’s untouchable, but the Rangers have the luxury of sacrificing future for present. Will they?
The Oakland Athletics suffer from a condensed version of Atlanta’s imbalance—too much pitch and not enough stick.
Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson are all under 29 and have top-of-the-rotation moments in their past. Combine that surplus with an offense that ranked 20th in runs scored last year, and Oakland has clear incentive to deal.
The Marlins recently expressed interest in the Miami-born Gonzalez, and maligned left fielder Logan Morrison makes sense as the centerpiece of a return package. With two-thirds of last year’s outfield (Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp) hitting the free-agent market, Morrison certainly fits a need.
Odd as it is to imagine the resource-poor A’s dealing young, affordable players under any circumstance, the need for good wood in Oakland changes that equation.
Positioned like the Cincinnati Reds, with one headline player in their deck, the Seattle Mariners could become hot stove kingmakers if they make Felix Hernandez available.
We know they’ve flirted with the notion in the past, nearly sending King Felix to the Red Sox in 2009, and another uninspired regular season in Seattle calls for some kind of major shakeup.
Not only would the Cy Young award winner fetch a high price and help Seattle reload offensively, they could use the opportunity to pawn one of their many bad contracts (Chone Figgins, Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez) off on a potential trade partner.
Right now Seattle seems content to stand pat, but if they flinch the entire complexion of this offseason changes. In a flaccid free-agent pitching market, a potential Hernandez trade could spur a titanic bidding war between superpowers like the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs.
Such is the latent power of a 25-year-old with a three consecutive 200-strikeout seasons on his resume. There aren’t many of those lying around.