At this point of the MLB season, it's all about spring training as players get tuned up for 2014 in Arizona and Florida.
While trades during spring training are pretty rare, the MLB trade rumor mill is still alive with a few rumblings that involve a couple of starters and other players that could have big impacts this season.
Here's a look at the latest buzz from around the league on the trade front.
RHP Jeff Samardzija
The Chicago Cubs don't have many bright spots on their roster to start the 2014 season.
After going 66-96 last year in the competitive National League Central, the Cubs essentially stood pat during this past offseason and didn't make many major moves.
That leaves right-hander Jeff Samardzija as arguably the top player on the team, for a franchise that is trying to develop its minor league system under general manager Theo Epstein. While it's a smart way to build an organization, Samardzija might not have enough time to wait around to see top prospects like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez make major impacts with the Cubs.
He has two years of club control left on his contract, which makes him an attractive trade candidate, and the Cubs might be spurred to move him now while the rebuilding phase continues under first-year manager Rick Renteria. Reports surfaced earlier in the offseason about stalled extension talks between Samardzija and the Cubs, but nothing much has come up recently.
While Samardzija is expected to start the season in the Windy City, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times cited MLB sources who said the righty could be shipped out before he makes his Opening Day start for the Cubs.
But teams including Texas and Toronto still have starting pitching needs. And two more industry sources said they believe Samardzija could be traded before the season starts.
'I would be surprised,' said Samardzija, who started Opening Day for the Cubs last year. 'From what it sounds like, we’re going head over heels for this season with this team. Rick’s made it very clear that we’re here to win, which I love.
'I love to hear him talk about his excitement for winning. Not development. Obviously, development’s part of it, but Rick’s No. 1 goal is winning, and me and him are 100 percent on the same page when it comes to that. We want to win. We want to win here. And we want to win now.'
Samardzija's spring outings have reportedly been heavily attended by scouts, adding more fuel to the trade rumors that have surrounded him all offseason. While he sounds like he's keeping a level head about the situation, this seems like a matter of when and not if.
In 2013, his second full season as a starter, Samardzija topped the 200-innings-pitched mark (213.2) and 200-strikeout mark (214) while going 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA, 91 ERA+ and 1.35 WHIP. According to Wittenmyer, an MLB team executive labeled Samardzija a "monster in the making,” and he'll surely have suitors lined up for his services whenever the Cubs make him available.
LHP Cliff Lee
There aren't many players that Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro can trade away from this high-priced, underperforming roster, but southpaw Cliff Lee is one of them.
Even though he is owed $50 million combined the next two years and potentially $77.5 million over the next three, Lee's consistent production over the course of his career might make him worth the investment to a contending big-market team.
Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com gave his take on Lee's situation heading into 2014.
Lee has been the subject of trade rumors each of the last two seasons, but Phillies management, hoping for one more run at a championship, has hung on to him.
If the 2014 Phillies aren’t positioned to make that run in July, this might end up being the season that management pulls the trigger on Lee.
That’s the conventional wisdom around baseball. Lee’s salary, though still huge, will be more manageable in July and his value, provided he’s healthy and effective, will be strong because a contending team can have him for two Octobers -– and maybe three if option for 2016 kicks in.
Could a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees add Lee by the trading deadline? It certainly seems conceivable.
Lee didn't show any signs of slowing down in 2013 when he turned 35, going 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA, 133 ERA+, 1.01 WHIP and 222 strikeouts in 222.2 innings of work.
While his age might scare some teams off right now, he can convince them otherwise with a strong start to the season. The Phillies figure to have a tough shot to contend against the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals in the National League East, so they might as well get some salary relief while they can, even it means trading away a front-line starter like Lee.
General manager Kevin Towers has been busy for the D-backs this offseason, as he traded away three prospects to get two players who figure to play key roles on the 2014 squad while also signing veteran right-hander Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $23.5 million deal.
But Towers might not be done wheelin' and dealin' just yet.
Towers' decision to deal young right-hander Tyler Skaggs and outfielder Adam Eaton away in order to acquire one-dimensional slugger Mark Trumbo was met with some criticism, but Trumbo should provide some nice power along with MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup. In the other major trade of the offseason, the Diamondbacks acquired closer candidate Addison Reed for third base prospect Matt Davidson.
According to Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic, Towers is at least entertaining the thought of trading away one of his club's shortstops.
'It’s been pretty quiet of late,' General Manager Kevin Towers said of the trade market. 'With Stephen Drew still out there right now, I haven’t had much trade discussions.'
But Towers didn’t shoot down the idea of a trade. In fact, he spelled out what the Diamondbacks probably would be looking for in return if they were going to trade one of their shortstops.
'For us, it would have to be the right deal,' Towers said. 'Our biggest needs in our system are catching. If it’s the right, top-notch catching prospect. Someone we could have right behind (Miguel Montero). More of an upper-level guy. Maybe a top, upper-end starter. We have a lot of bullpen depth, infielders. Maybe an outfielder, but probably more catching and Double-A, Triple-A type starter.'
Towers spelled out a possible trade scenario, as his club currently has two MLB-caliber shortstops in Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius battling it out for the starting job, along with MLB veteran backup Cliff Pennington.
Piecoro labeled the New York Mets, Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox as teams that could be potential trade partners, so we'll keep an eye on this situation as spring training unfolds.