The Major League Baseball hot stove is percolating, as general managers from all 30 teams have been in Florida this week for their annual meetings before the winter meetings take place in December.
Free agency will draw the most interest from fans, which is easy to understand with names like David Price, Zack Greinke, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon seeking new contracts.
However, with a lot of teams unable to dip their toe into the vast financial waters of free agency, trades are an alternative to improving their roster. It does require giving up talent, but there are risks worth taking if a GM believes one or two right moves can lead to a World Series title in 2016.
In anticipation of what is to come this winter, here are the early trade rumblings floating around.
Mariners Explore Brett Gardner
In their ongoing quest to field a competent trio of outfielders, as well as improve their dreadful defense, the Seattle Mariners are looking to the New York Yankees for a possible upgrade in the form of Brett Gardner.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Mariners have contacted the Yankees to inquire about Gardner's availability in a deal:
No trade discussions were characterized as far along or specifically targeted to just one team. Nevertheless, Gardner has long been a player whom new Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto has liked going back to his time as an executive with the Diamondbacks and Angels.
Gardner would be a perfect fit for what the Mariners need, as he's a good defensive left fielder who can hit at the top of the order with a strong on-base percentage, solid power and the speed to steal 20-25 bases.
Defensive metrics show that Gardner's performance in left field has declined the last three years, as he went from one of the best in MLB with 58 defensive runs saved from 2010-11 to an average glove with 13 defensive runs saved since 2013, per FanGraphs.
Even with that decline, Gardner would still be a huge upgrade with his glove for the Mariners, who were really undone by abysmal overall defense.
|2015 MLB Defensive Stats|
|Player||DRS||Balls In Zone (BIZ)||Out of Zone Plays (OOZ)||Revised Zone Rating (RZR)||UZR|
Dipoto has a lot of work to do repairing the roster to make his team a contender in a strong American League West led by the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Yankees would have to be willing to part with Gardner, who is under contract through 2018 at a reasonable salary of $36 million total. The team isn't flush with outfield talent in the minors, but Aaron Judge is not far away and one day Mason Williams will get an extended big-league look.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has an old roster, as eight of the nine regulars from last season listed on Baseball-Reference.com were between the ages of 31 and 39. Dealing one of his best assets while still close to the prime of his career would not sit well with fans or media, but could bring back a strong return and create some financial flexibility that might not otherwise be there.
Aroldis Chapman Still Available
Speaking of ongoing sagas, Aroldis Chapman's days with the Cincinnati Reds have felt numbered dating back to last winter. He seemed like a strong trade candidate before the July 31 deadline, yet nothing happened.
Now, heading into his final season of arbitration, Chapman has to be considered the relief pitcher who is guaranteed to be dealt. The Reds, who are still rebuilding even with an MVP finalist in Joey Votto on the roster, have no reason to keep their hard-throwing closer in the midst of what is sure to be another losing season.
According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Chapman is one of many late-inning relievers who could be on the market:
Not only is Reds star closer Aroldis Chapman still eminently available and Padres star closer Craig Kimbrel out there as well, there are a few more star relief entries on the block. The Yankees are willing to entertain trade ideas regarding their excellent reliever Andrew Miller, as was reported Monday on CBSSports.com, and it doesn't end there. Not even close.
Heyman also listed Pittsburgh's Mark Melancon, Texas' Shawn Tolleson and Washington's duo of Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen as relievers that teams will at least listen to offers for.
That creates a big problem for Reds general manager Walt Jocketty, who in theory should be able to ask for a sizable return for Chapman. The 27-year-old Cuban has had at least 106 strikeouts and 33 saves each of the last four seasons, so he's dominant and consistent in a job that's always under the microscope.
However, given that Chapman made over $8 million last year and is in his final season of arbitration, his salary is going to be a problem. Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com estimates the southpaw could earn $12.9 million in 2016.
For perspective, per Spotrac.com, San Diego's Craig Kimbrel is currently the highest-paid closer in 2016 with a salary of $11.25 million.
Combine that massive salary for Chapman with a relief market that includes free agents Darren O'Day, Joakim Soria, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Madson and all those potential trade candidates, and Jocketty has no leverage in discussions involving Chapman.
Eventually, something has to get done because the Reds can't afford to wait any longer on Chapman. Their window to maximize his trade value was last year when his salary was still affordable and he was under control for two seasons, but now it's just a matter of getting something while they can.
The Jurickson Profar Question
There may not be a more intriguing player entering 2016 than Texas Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar. The former top prospect has not played in the big leagues since 2013 due to injuries, but he will only be 23 when next season starts.
For perspective, Chicago Cubs rookie sensation Kris Bryant will turn 24 in January. Profar has been playing in the Arizona Fall League, hitting a strong .260/.344/.500 in a small sample size of 13 games.
Given the potential upside for Profar, it should come as no surprise that teams have tried kicking the tires on his availability in a trade, according to Sherman.
"Teams have inquired with Texas about Jurickson Profar—the Yankees included—but the Rangers likely will try to get baseball’s one-time top prospect back to full value by deploying him in the field before trying to trade him," Sherman reported.
“We are not looking to trade him,” Daniels said. “We held onto him this long. We are pretty optimistic his shoulder is fit. The mindset is to wait and see where he is. We believe he will get back to his value, which was one of the best young players out there.”
It's certainly a worthwhile gamble, as Profar was the No. 1 prospect in baseball as recently as 2013. He's still very young and has been impressive in Arizona this fall.
ESPN.com's Keith Law wrote on Oct. 23 that Profar's bat speed "is totally intact" and he hit four balls in play very hard, getting a double and home run for his efforts.
Given that Profar has been limited to DH duty while working his way back, he will need to prove that his surgically repaired right shoulder can handle playing shortstop to maximize his value.
The Rangers have depth in the middle of the infield with Elvis Andrus at shortstop and Rougned Odor at second base. Their presence makes it understandable why teams would inquire about Profar, but his upside is greater than both and Texas has no reason to move him yet.