Since surprise has been in ample supply this MLB offseason, it’s time we let our imaginations run wild.
The following moves aren’t conventional, prudent or likely. But they are, for the most part, exciting. And what’s baseball without excitement? (Don’t answer that.)
From legends leaving, to Marlins marauding to MVPs (allegedly) doping, baseball has been pushing the needle ever since an unforgettable World Series reminded America of the sport’s awesomeness.
Any of the following moves figure to re-invoke said awesomeness. In the name of scorching Hot Stoves and all things hardball, may it come to pass.
Once upon a time, the Yankees pawned up-and-comers with such regularity that their inveterate prospect-dumping became an organizational trademark.
The window was always now and the future could always wait.
As recently as 2009, the Bombers traded Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves for Javier Vazquez and dealt Ian Kennedy in a three-way swap for Curtis Granderson.
That was the old Yankees. Since then the Bombers have doubled down on their player development and shown an uncharacteristic reluctance to part with young talent.
As a result they control a front line of talented youngsters—led by Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos—capable of big-league greatness. Some combination of the three might convince the Mariners to part with ace Felix Hernandez. Same goes for the Phillies and Cole Hamels, or the Giants and Tim Lincecum.
The Yankees of recent vintage haven’t pursued those types of deals, but they do have the prospects to make things mighty interesting.
Trade the reigning AL Rookie of the Year?
Most organizations wouldn’t dare, but a stockpile of young arms gives Tampa means to consider just such a deal.
The Rays have Matt Moore, David Price and Wade Davis locked into their long-term plans, with James Shields under team control through 2014 and youngster Alexander Torres coming along quickly.
With that kind of depth Tampa could sell high on Hellickson—beneficiary of an absurd .224 BABIP—and use the return to fatten its lineup.
In the wake of their late-season collapse—tired of hearing that yet, Sox fans?—Boston management looks eager to break with the past.
Longtime manager? Gone. Longtime GM? Traded.
So what about long-time fan favorite Kevin Youkilis? Could he go, too?
He could, especially when considering the Red Sox's needs. They have offense to spare and glaring needs in the pitching rotation.
Problem is, many of the Sox's top offensive performers have long-term deals that make them either too valuable or too difficult to move. Not so for Youkilis, whose contract expires at the end of 2012.
There hasn’t been much buzz about extending Youkilis’ contract, and the third baseman has publicly discussed life after Boston. Crazy as it sounds to the Hub faithful, trading Youkilis is a distinct possibility.
Not a likelihood, but a possibility—and one that would deal another staggering blow to a fanbase rocked by unthinkable changes over the last few months.
After a series of shrewd moves, the Blue Jays are positioned to a make big-money signing for the first time in a long time.
They have Yunel Escobar and Brett Lawrie on the infield, Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista in the outfield, and Travis d’Arnaud poised to usurp J.P. Arencibia as the everyday catcher.
The only thing missing is a true rotation ace to dominate alongside Ricky Romero. Japanese sensation Yu Darvish fits the bill, and Toronto has the cash to make a push for him.
Of course it’s been so long since Toronto’s landed a front-line free agent, fans would have to see a Darvish deal to believe it.
New Orioles GM Dan Duquette must decide: Do the Orioles have enough core talent to compete in the next five years, or do they need to rebuild yet again?
Two years ago that wasn’t a question worth asking. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters looked like future All-Stars, and the rotation looked secure in the hands of Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman.
But two years is a long time in the development of a baseball player, and all five of those prospects have fallen short of expectations during their short big league careers. As a result, the Orioles’ future prospects look much dimmer than those of the rising Blue Jays or loaded Rays.
That doesn’t mean the Orioles don’t have prospects, Adam Jones chief among them.
The 26-year-old still projects as a productive center fielder, and the combination of his youth and relative affordability should draw ample interest.
Just down I-95, for instance, Nats GM Mike Rizzo has been jonesing for a centerfielder (pun absolutely intended) each of the last two winters. Reports say the Nationals showed interest in Jones last week and they have the kind of top prospects the Orioles should covet.
It’s rare a franchise has two superstars of the caliber of Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera at the same time, much less two superstars in their baseball prime. An urgent need to capitalize on that good fortune drives the Tigers' search for rotation depth.
Detroit only has one asset capable of returning a big-time rotation piece: 20-year-old stud Jacob Turner.
But would they float a pitcher so young with so much promise?
So far they haven’t, demurring when the Oakland A’s asked for him in a proposed Gio Gonzalez trade.
Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro broke with precedent last year when they traded top prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White for Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez.
Prior to that deal, Cleveland counted on patience and internal promotion. Now they have the look of star-hungry franchise desperately devoted to the present.
Adding Carlos Lee and his mammoth contract would fit the new Indians m.o.
A year after he was arguably the worst regular player in baseball, Lee enjoyed a mild resurgence in 2011. Should he carry that over, El Caballo would give the Indians a moderate lineup boost.
Houston wouldn’t ask for much in return either, just the simple pleasure of dodging the $18.5 million they owe Lee for next season.
Will the Chicago White Sox shift into rebuilding mode this offseason?
That’s the question floating around the South Side as GM Kenny Williams entertains offers for Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Gordon Beckham, Brent Lillibridge and Carlos Quentin.
Trading any of the above mentioned players would deliver a mild surprise, but a package or series of trades that included two or more would floor White Sox fans. That scenario would net Chicago a slew of prospects and announce that Williams intends a full-scale change in philosophy.
The White Sox have been caught between contention and mediocrity ever since their 2005 world championship, and it appears a disappointing 2011 could convince management to start from scratch.
Brace for the fall, Chicago.
Joakim Soria has been the best Royals player over a sordid five-year stretch. Emphasis on the latter part gives Kansas City reason to trade Soria for the right price.
Jayson Stark reports that the Royals would want a “controllable, front-line starter” in exchange for Soria, who is under team control through 2014. That unnamed starter would fit well alongside Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, John Lamb and Danny Duffy in the Royals rotation of the future.
The trade makes baseball sense. Still, it would be tough for KC fans to see a rare bright spot shipped out just as the organization turns the corner.
After an abysmal 2011, the Twins aren’t in a position to make any flashy moves. Minnesota needs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau healthy before deciding whether this roster can compete in the AL Central.
I’d be surprised if they signed any top free agents, including former Cardinal/White Sock/Diamondback/Tiger/Ray/Dodger Edwin Jackson. The well-traveled 28-year-old has a surprising number of suitors, and the Twins are reportedly among that group.
Agent Scott Boras will demand big bucks, and I’d be surprised to see a caught-in-between Twins team follow through on Jackson. If they do, fans will know the front office still thinks this core can overcome injuries and win. If they don’t, then they’ll know the brain trust remains in a wait-and-see mindset.
With all the Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder-related rumors swirling around Arlington, there isn’t much left to surprise Rangers fans. A trade, though, might do the trick.
ESPNChicago’s Bruce Levine reported conversations between the Rangers and Cubs about Chicago ace Matt Garza. In return Texas would have to yield a top prospect like Martin Perez or Leonys Martin.
Dealing for Garza could steal some offseason thunder back from the mad scientists in Orange County, but the price would run high.
At this point one has to believe the Angels maxed out on big free-agent deals.
But what about trades? Could rookie GM Jerry Dipoto have a super swap up his seemingly endless sleeve?
Enter ESPN analyst Jim Bowden and his ticklish notion that the Angels could add Mets third baseman David Wright.
The way Bowden sees it, the Mets might opt for total surrender in the wake of Jose Reyes’ departure and look to deal their All-Star third baseman. The Angels, who need help at the hot corner, could give the Mets Hank Conger and speedster Peter Bourjos in return.
The Angels would then move uber-prospect Mike Trout into center, slot Wright into the hear of the lineup, win the next 20 world championship and discover the scientific process by which to re-animate Walt Disney’s frozen corpse.
In Anaheim right now, anything is possible.
Forget the player personnel drama, including questions over where Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey might play next year—the biggest question mark for the Oakland A’s is their very existence.
Commissioner Bud Selig should announce whether or not Lew Wolff can move the franchise to San Jose some time in the next month. With the commissioner’s blessing, the A’s could set into a motion a plan to leave their home of 43 years.
The A’s won four world championships, took six AL pennants and produced one movie-worthy division champion during their time in Oakland. A fantastic run by any account, and one baseball fans ought to appreciate before it settles into posterity.
Mariners brass maintains it won’t trade Felix Hernandez, but how long can that line hold?
In the aftermath of Pujolpocalypse, the Angels and Rangers appear positioned to jostle for the division crown through at least 2014. That’s when King Felix’s contract expires, and the Mariners won’t catch Texas or LA before Hernandez walks away.
Why hold onto a top player when the rest of the roster doesn’t measure up?
And while trading Hernandez amounts to a three-year surrender, the right return would have Seattle poised to strike right as their tormentors begin to age.
Once the Phillies showed interest in Gio Gonzalez, murmurs surfaced—faint murmurs I might add—that Philadelphia might trade former World Series MVP Cole Hamels in a corresponding move.
Follow the logic.
Trading Hamels, who enters the last year of his contract this year, single-handedly replenishes a depleted Phillies farm system. Gonzalez take Hamels' place as the Phillies' No. 3 pitcher, and Phillies fans tar and feather GM Ruben Amaro Jr. in a fit of mob fury.
Yes, trading Cole Hamels would be as unlikely as it would be unpopular.
He’s the only core Phillies player in need of a contract in part because he’s the only one young enough to still qualify for salary arbitration. Translation: he’s young and good.
Resource-rich teams don’t usually trade valuable players heading into their prime. And among valuable players, few are more valuable than a left-handed pitcher coming off his best professional season.
The cons seem to outweigh the pros in a potential Hamels trade. Then again, Amaro has a history of wanton ace-disposal.
Most of the trade talk in Atlanta this winter centers on current big leaguers Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens. Jurrjens is a particularly attractive target since the Braves have more pitching then they can cram onto a major league roster.
But that isn’t the Braves' only option. They also have a deep corps of minor league pitching talent that includes Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino and Mike Minor.
At last summer’s trade deadline, the Braves refused to part with any of those talented youngsters, but the bad taste of a historic collapse could prompt Atlanta to loosen its grip. If a top hitter like Andre Ethier hit the block, the spoils might prove too tempting to pass up.
The suddenly sexy Washington Nationals find themselves at the center of rumors galore, with names like Yoennis Cespedes, Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish, B.J. Upton, Adam Jones and Peter Bourjos all linked to GM Mike Rizzo’s master plan.
But I’m most intrigued by the Nationals reported interest in Roy Oswalt, a player connected to Washington almost as soon as the regular season ended.
Signing the 34-year-old would signal a wholesale shift in organizational philosophy, intoning that Rizzo thinks the Nationals can contend in the next few years.
There is a feeling around D.C. that the Nationals are close. But what does management think?
However they act on Oswalt will help gauge the franchise’s sense of itself.
Mets fans probably can’t bear the thought of another affront to their flailing franchise.
Alas, they may have to.
Since Jose Reyes walked, there isn’t much left around All-Star third baseman David Wright in New York. That eroding talent base decreases the likelihood Wright will sign an extension or re-up with the Mets when his contract expires after 2012.
New York can’t afford to let another star walk away without compensation. Rebuilding requires sacrifice, and Wright should be the next wayward Met laid across GM Sandy Alderson’s altar.
The moment Miami acquired Jose Reyes, the rumor mill began to churn with reports of incumbent shortstop Hanley Ramirez’s dissatisfaction. That of course led to Ramirez trade rumors, which in turn fed the first assumption and so on and so forth.
All that speculation considered, the prospect of the Marlin trading Ramirez brings a series of juicy possibilities into focus.
First there’s the possibility that Miami would cede some of its considerable offseason momentum to jettison an unhappy player. Anything less than optimal return on Ramirez could easily torpedo a promising season in their new ballpark.
Then there’s the teams jockeying for Ramirez’s services, a list that includes titans like Philadelphia and Boston. ESPN’s Jim Bowden even gauged the viability a Ramirez-for-Ryan Zimmerman swap, one riddled with franchise-changing implications.
The talk about Ramirez’s availability is enough to keep the hot stove burning bright. But actually dealing him? Now that would trigger a whole other level of fiery feedback.
Sometimes the most surprising change is no change at all.
Milwaukee’s been declared dead in the Prince Fielder sweepstakes more than once this offseason, only to resurface and die again in short succession. As recently as yesterday, GM Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his team won’t bid for the All-Star first baseman.
And though it sounds definitive, I never discount the home team.
With Ryan Braun likely to serve a 50-game suspension, Milwaukee could hit the panic button on a Fielder deal as a way to save their 2012 and distract fans from the reigning MVP’s troubles.
It’s all incredibly unlikely, which is what qualifies the re-signing of a franchise stalwart as a surprise.
Whatever transactions may come, nothing can top the shock of losing Albert Pujols. That much we know.
Among an array of potential aftershocks, a play for former All-Star Carlos Beltran makes for the boldest headlines. With Lance Berkman presumably moving to first base, Beltran would keep the offense afloat while the pitching staff welcomes Adam Wainwright's return.
That scenario lends legs to the Cardinals' title defense and explains their interest in Beltran as a stopgap response to Pujols’ departure.
Before the 2011 season, Cincinnati bought out the rest of Joey Votto’s arbitration years with a three-year contract extension. Since then, insiders have wondered aloud whether Cincinnati has enough pull with the former MVP to lock him up long term.
If not, Cincy could trade one of baseball’s best bats for a front-line starting pitcher and hope prospect Yonder Alonso replaces some of Votto’s production.
There’s already been a few hints that the Reds will entertain offers for Votto, but nothing approaching real talks. Should that change, a healthy percentage of the league’s teams will come knocking down GM Walt Jocketty’s door in pursuit of Votto’s bat.
Trading him would signal big changes in Cincinnati and potentially alter the landscape of the league.
In lower-stakes news, I must also mention that Cincinnati recently expressed interest in former Red and presumed retiree Dmitri Young. It wouldn’t alter landscapes, but it would shock everyone who follows baseball or has ever seen Dmitri Young attempt to run the bases.
The very plausibility of this move should anger Pittsburgh Pirates fans.
Over two decades of misery, the Steel City faithful have waited patiently on the coming of a player like Andrew McCutchen. Toolsy, exciting, committed, McCutchen has all the catchings of a franchise-changing talent.
Yet the Pirates are reportedly listening on offers for McCutchen because his trade value is so high. It’s a move riddled with risk, chief among them the likelihood that it would shred whatever sliver of good will Pirates fans still hold toward their team.
There’s been so much talk about Theo Epstein might do in his first winter as Cubs GM, it’s hard to dream up a move that isn't already well vetted.
Signing Prince Fielder would feel more status quo than shocker. Same goes for a Matt Garza trade.
Oh but Yoennis Cespedes...
Mere mention of the powerhouse Cuban defector’s name gets fans’ imaginations cooking. Swiping the MLB-ready outfielder fits the “big splash” mindset folks expect from Epstein and constitutes a significantly smaller financial commitment than a Fielder deal.
Cespedes and starlet Starlin Castro would give the Cubs an enviable young lineup and help clear the fog that hung over Wrigley in 2011.
I promise, I didn’t intend this as a cop out.
The Astros simply don’t have enough valuable assets to make a shocking move. After years of bad decision making, any well-received move counts as progress.
Unloading Carlos Lee would be a start, but it’d hardly surprise the Houston faithful. Wandy Rodriguez could also move, though he’s been in the rumor mill so long his name doesn’t carry much surprise with it.
Outside of those nibbles, the Astros must sit tight with what they have and hope the rebuilding mantra keeps fans appeased.
Ultimately the Diamondbacks didn’t need top draft pick Trevor Bauer to land A’s hurler Trevor Cahill, but apparently his name arose in talks.
Given Bauer’s pedigree and prodigious strikeout totals in limited minor league service, his inclusion in those negotiations surprises me. Should Bauer depart some time soon, mild surprise would shift to shock.
Nothing appears imminent in that vein, but it’s a situation worth monitoring. The Cahill trade announces the Diamondbacks' win-now intentions. If they see a way to improve with Bauer as a trade chip, his name might surface once again.
As it stands now, Matt Cain will enter free agency after the 2012 season and Tim Lincecum will follow suit after 2013.
Hard to believe, but neither of the best pitchers on a pitching-reliant team have long-term contracts. In Lincecum’s case, the two-time Cy Young winner seems to prefer a year-to-year arrangement instead of a more substantial deal.
If the Giants can’t change his mind before free agency, they could lose one of the best pitchers in franchise history without collateral. That possibility spurred speculation that San Francisco might deal Lincecum this winter for offensive help.
It’s all speculation right now, with GM Brian Sabean assiduously denying any trade talk, but the mere mention of either ace leaving town puts the Bay Area on high alert.
Though the writing is already on the wall for this deal, any time a marquee franchise (yes, the Dodgers still count) trades a marquee player (yes, Andre Ethier still counts) the fanbase goes gaga.
Matt Kemp’s contract and Clayton Kershaw’s inevitable extension leave little room on a shrinking Dodger payroll for Ethier. Trading him for pitching prospects serves the Dodgers’ best interests. It makes them younger and better positions them for future free-agent acquisitions.
The Colorado Rockies spent the last month de-cluttering Nolan Arenado's path to the major leagues.
They sent incumbent third baseman Ty Wigginton to the Phillies and then shipped his understudy, Ian Stewart, to the Cubs for good measure.
It makes sense when you consider that Arenado hit .298 with 20 HR in High-A last year and pummeled the Arizona Fall League to the tune of a .388 batting average. Now the question remains whether the Rockies feel comfortable handing the keys to a kid born in 1991.
The answer figures to linger until spring training, but the tantalizing prospect of seeing Arenado alongside Troy Tulowitzki next April should keep Rockies fans warm this winter.
Despite claims by San Diego management to the contrary, organizations around baseball seem to think budding Padres ace Mat Latos can be had for the right price. Insidethepadres.com speculates that the arrival of new GM Josh Byrnes destablizies whatever plans the prior regime had for Latos.
If the Padres ever decide Latos isn’t their man, a trade could net them a slew of big-time prospects. At 24 and coming off two promising seasons to start his MLB career, there are few assets in the game more valuable.
Also worth watching, the Padres talked with the Detroit Tigers about a Chase Headley trade. Fans could see the switch-hitting third baseman on the move before Opening Day.