The Chicago Cubs' future was on display late last summer with franchise cornerstones Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro playing on the same field as highly regarded prospects such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara.

Suffice it to say, the future is bright on the North Side of Chicago.

After stocking the Cubs farm system with top-flight hitters for almost three years, club president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer seem poised to make a splash this season on the open market with possible pursuits of free-agent pitchers such as Jon Lester and Max Scherzer to headline the starting rotation for years to come.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lack of available impact starters in this year's free-agent class means other teams will also be targeting the aforementioned aces. If that's the case, then we might finally see the Cubs tap into their wealth of talent on the farm and trade for a comparable pitcher.

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Cole Hamels is the definition of an ace, having made at least 30 starts in seven consecutive seasons while eclipsing 200 innings all but once during that time frame. During his nine-year career with the Phillies, the left-hander has pitched to a 3.27 ERA (3.48 FIP), 8.53 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.26 walks per nine innings in 1,801.1 innings, good for a 34.4 fWAR.

Hamels, who turns 31 in December, will make $96 million over the final four years of his contract (not including a $20 million vesting option for 2019). He also has a 20-team no-trade clause and nine-team block list in his contract, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. However, as of now, the only team known not to be included on either list is the Chicago Cubs, according to a tweet from ESPN’s Buster Olney.

In the past, the Phillies have dangled Hamels to both gauge interest and make their asking price known. Most recently, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. placed Hamels on revocable waivers last August only to have him claimed by the Cubs. However, the Phillies ultimately pulled him back off waivers after but the two teams failed to work out a deal.

Don’t get me wrong, the rebuilding process in Philadelphia should have begun years ago; however, Amaro did make the right decision by holding off on trading Hamels until the offseason. Now, he is prepared to wait and see how the market for free agents Max Scherzer and Jon Lester unfolds before deciding whether to deal his ace left-hander, per Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com.

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If you looked at some general managers’ calendars for November, there’s a good chance you’d find Wednesday the 12th circled.

That was the day Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda two-hit a loaded Major League Baseball All-Stars lineup over five innings in Game 1 of the Japan All-Star Series, offering a preview of what should be expected in 2015 should he be posted this offseason.

Whether the 26-year-old right-hander pursues a career in MLB is beyond his control, though, as only his Nippon Professional Baseball team, the Hiroshima Carp, can authorize his posting. As of now, the team hasn’t made any decisions pertaining to Maeda’s future.

Regardless, Maeda’s strong showing against big league hitters last week reinforced his reputation as a pitcher ready to make the jump to the major leagues, and it almost goes without saying he improved his potential free-agent stock.

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It’s not a coincidence that many of the biggest trades in recent years have involved blue-chip prospects. With the market rate for impact players on the rise and teams trying to manage their payrolls more economically, prospects, though unproven in nature, have come to represent a form of currency.

Prior to the 2013 season, the Kansas City Royals dealt Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and two additional prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis. That was the same offseason the Toronto Blue Jays sent a prospect package containing Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud to the Mets for R.A Dickey, and the Braves acquired Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Brandon Drury, Nick Ahmed and two young pitchers.

This offseason already feels like it’s going to feature blockbuster trades involving prospects, as several big-name free agents have already come off the board in an overall thin class. And with the annual winter meetings on the horizon, it shouldn’t be long until we get a better idea of which top prospects might be traded.

Here’s an in-depth look at two blue-chip prospects who, if made available, could be linchpins in an offseason blockbuster trade.

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It’s long been known that Russell Martin, the top free-agent catcher on the market, would command a large contract this offseason.

After rejecting the Pittsburgh Pirates' $15.3 million qualifying offer for the 2015 season, it became clear that Martin was interested in a multiyear deal, with an annual average salary that reflected both his past two years with the Pirates as well as his highly coveted status on the open market.

Well, Martin got just that Monday, agreeing to a five-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. The Blue Jays are yet to confirm the deal.

The news comes just one day after Rosenthal reported that the Chicago Cubs appeared to be the front-runners to land Martin, with an offer said to be in the ballpark of four years and $64 million.

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This year’s free-agent class has its share of star players, with Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Pablo Sandoval and Yasmany Tomas expected to receive contracts of at least $100 million.

However, the class also stands out for its collection of former stars, or guys that were (or absolutely should have been) All-Stars at one point in their careers but have seen their stocks decline in recent years due to aging, injuries and/or subpar performances.

The same can be said for some of the top offseason trade candidates, though the market for those players won’t develop until the top free agents sign.

Here's a look at some of the big-name offseason targets who should no longer be considered stars.

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The free-agent market is yet to develop, but it’s only a matter of time until the dominoes will start to fall. When they do, expect the trade market to take shape as well.

Front-of-the-rotation pitchers Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields headline this year’s crop of free-agent starters, while Pablo Sandoval and Cuban prospect Yasmany Tomas stand out among hitters in a class that’s thin on impact players.

With just a few franchise-caliber players on the market—players that a team would plan to build around—it wouldn’t be surprising if there were a flurry of trades made this offseason. After all, most teams can’t afford or will miss out on one of the few elite free agents in this year’s class.

With that said, here are three potential trade targets who could be game-changers for any franchise.

No photos of Yoan Moncada are available yet.
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The sweepstakes for outfielder Yasmany Tomas appears to be winding down.

The 24-year-old outfielder could sign with a team as soon as this weekend, according to Jorge Arangure of Vice Sports, and when he does, he’s expected to become the highest-paid Cuban player in baseball history. Yet, amazingly, Tomas isn’t the Cuban prospect everyone is talking about.

That honor belongs to Yoan Moncada, whose open workout in Guatemala on Wednesday was seen by an "estimated 60-70 scouts," per Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. The 19-year-old infielder has quickly emerged as one of the more hyped prospects in recent memory and is expected to destroy the record for spending on an amateur player.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Moncada is expected to receive $30 to $40 million, putting him in the same range as fellow Cubans Yoenis Cespedes ($36 million) and Yasiel Puig ($42 million).


There’s only one game remaining on this year’s Arizona Fall League schedule, but it’s a big one.

The Salt River Rafters (17-11-4) and Peoria Javelinas (15-4-3) will play in the AFL Championship Game on Saturday, beginning at 3:08 p.m. ET and airing on MLB Network/MLB.com.

Meanwhile, the other notable offseason leagues, such as the Dominican, Puerto Rican and Venezuelan Winter Leagues, are in the middle of their respective regular seasons, with the postseason still roughly a few months away. And as it’s the case every year, some of this year’s AFL participants will head out to extend their seasons in one of the winter leagues.

Unfortunately, the overlap across the four aforementioned offseason leagues will soon end. But before it does, we’ve got you covered with an up-to-date look—based on our year-end top 100 rankings, but adjusted to reflect changes since the article was published—at the top 25 prospects playing winter ball this year.

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The New York Yankees made Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka the highest-paid international free agent in baseball history last offseason, signing him to an unprecedented seven-year, $155 million contract (not including the Yankees’ winning bid of $20 million to secure negotiating rights).

This year, Yasmany Tomas is expected to sign the largest contract in baseball history for a Cuban player, with recent reports suggesting the 24-year-old outfielder could receive a deal worth at least $100 million.

The willingness to shell out more money each year to relatively unknown players is a growing trend within Major League Baseball, with teams attempting to capitalize on undeveloped international markets and land impact talents at a bargain price.

At the same time, the increasingly large contracts given to international free agents in recent years, as well as the subsequent validations of those contracts, have ostensibly inspired more players to make the jump to the major leagues, many of them doing so with the free-agent market in mind.