MLB Trade Rumors: 10 Arbitration-Eligible Players Who Could Be On the Move
With the World Series in the rear-view mirror, the hot stove season is well underway and we now have the time to ponder interesting things like: possible free-agent acquisitions, trades that may-or-may not happen this winter, boneheaded contracts that are sure to be handed out because general managers panic after a down year, and what it would be like to be inside the mind of Brian Wilson for a day.
Today, we are looking at some arbitration-eligible players that may turn up on the trade market.
If a player stands to see a significant raise in his salary via arbitration, his club may end up deciding that the best option is to trade him instead of paying an annual salary that it may find a bit, well, exorbitant.
There’s a lot of value in these types of players for smaller-market clubs because they usually aren’t making any big free-agent splashes or posting eight-figure bids just for the rights to negotiate with a player.
(Wait. Didn’t the Oakland A’s just do that? Crap.)
The club can then get a player with a few years of control left without being burdened by a long-term contract.
We are tossing around a few different names for fun. But remember, this list is subjective and is not a prediction of the market. These players may be traded, or they may not be traded. It’s all for discussion.
If you would like to add a name that wasn’t mentioned, or discuss any that were, feel free to post your thoughts in the comment section.
Now to the list...
Jonathan Papelbon, Closer, Boston Red Sox
It makes all the sense in the world for the Red Sox to trade Papelbon this winter. Papelbon has avoided arbitration each of the last two years by signing a one-year contract, and the closer agreed to a deal with Boston worth $9.35 million last January.
Since guys don’t typically go into arbitration expecting to make less, it’s safe to assume Papelbon would earn more than $10 million if he came back on another one-year deal with the Red Sox in 2011.
For a guy that has quickly fallen off the mountaintop of elite closers, that seems like a steep price to pay.
Papelbon had a 3.90 ERA this year, but he isn’t the lockdown closer that he was only a couple of years ago for Boston. Papelbon’s struggles are almost exclusively due to his one-pitch repertoire.
Papelbon will occasionally flash something other than a fastball, but there’s no point in swinging at it since he won’t throw anything off-speed for strikes.
So Papelbon fires fastball after fastball over the heart of the plate and takes his chances.
GM Theo Epstein doesn’t do arbitration. He’s never gone that route in his time with the Red Sox.
He also doesn’t do mindless contracts.
With Daniel Bard waiting to become the next closer in Boston—a guy with a two-pitch mix that is far better than Papelbon’s—Epstein has leverage here.
The only thing Bard lacks is experience, but he has to get the opportunity at some point.
You would think there would be some team out there interested in having a Jonathan Papelbon for a couple of years. The Angels? The Cubs? The Braves?
If Papelbon goes on the market, there will be interest.
Bobby Jenks, Closer, Chicago White Sox
Speaking of closers, Jenks was paid $7.5 million for a mediocre year on a contending club.
It wasn't a total heist, but Jenks is an expendable piece and GM Kenny Williams may want to shop Jenks around and see what he can bring back for the big guy.
The White Sox have 2010 first-round pick Chris Sale—who pitched out of the bullpen this summer—waiting to take over with a mid-90s fastball and slider.
It’s likely that Sale isn’t ready for the closing job after having spent only half a season in the big leagues. And it’s very likely that Ozzie Guillen isn’t the type of manager to put up with a young kid blowing ninth-inning leads.
However, if Chicago wanted to make a move, Sale is a cheap option with the stuff to handle the role.
Williams can move Jenks now or later, but this won’t end well if he brings him back to Chicago on any type of long-term deal. Jenks had his few years of dominance, closed out a World Series, and he has now been forgotten about by many.
Dan Uggla, 2B, Florida Marlins
Uggla is arbitration-eligible, but this situation is all about a long-term contract.
The Marlins would like to sign Uggla to an extension—and I think Uggla really does want to stay in Florida. But they will trade him if they can’t close the gap on dollars and years.
Uggla has every right to ask for the five-year deal that he wants. He’s a second baseman that hits for power. Lots of power.
Last time I looked, there are not many of those.
But the Marlins also have the right to continue to lie and say they have no money—hey, Jeff Passan pulled that trigger, not me—and move in a different direction.
Mike Napoli, C, Los Angeles Angels
Napoli has done well for himself over the last couple of years.
In each of the last three seasons, the catcher has hit at least 20 home runs and he has been a solid defensive option for manager Mike Scioscia behind the plate.
Napoli may have done so well for himself that he could have a new home soon.
The reason isn’t that the Angels wouldn’t want to have Napoli. They would.
But they don’t need him.
Napoli made $3.6 million last year, he stands to make more this year in arbitration, and the Angels have other options.
Jeff Mathis has been very good in spurts, and he made a third of what Napoli made last year.
The Angels also have switch-hitting Hank Conger—a 2006 first-round pick—waiting to come up.
A Napoli trade isn’t imminent, it’s just something to think about. He wouldn’t be the centerpiece of any major deal. But he could certainly be a nice supporting piece in a larger package or the main piece of a smaller deal.
Chad Billingsley, P, Los Angeles Dodgers
You don’t usually trade young arms with power stuff, and the Dodgers probably will not trade Billingsley.
But Billingsley has shown enough inconsistency in the past couple years that it would make sense for the Dodgers to at least listen to offers on him.
No, they aren’t in any hurry to get rid of him.
In a “down” year last year, Billingsley had a 3.57 ERA in 192.2 innings. He’s been brilliant at times and an enigma at others.
The best case scenario is that Billingsley takes the final step in becoming a front-line starter for the Dodgers for the next five-to-eight years.
But what if Billingsley could bring back a young bat that Los Angeles so desperately needs?
What if Billingsley is the type of guy that would make the San Diego Padres trade Adrian Gonzalez within the division?
It’s something to think about.
Heath Bell, Closer, San Diego Padres
Speaking of the Padres, what about listening to offers on Heath Bell?
He’s quietly become one of the game’s better closers, but he made $4 million last year and should see a significant increase if he goes to arbitration this year.
For a team like San Diego, does it really make sense to spend $7 million or so of the budget on a guy that will pitch maybe 75 innings?
Doesn’t seem like it, especially not in a park as cavernous as Petco, with a manager that made his name as a pitching coach.
San Diego always seems to develop arms—or at least optimize their value, a la Jon Garland. So there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t find somebody to take over for Bell and do an adequate job.
B.J. Upton, CF, Tampa Bay Rays
Upton went to arbitration with the Rays last year, asked for $3.3 million, and lost. The Rays paid him $3 million to man centerfield and they received a typical season from him: plenty of awe-inspiring moments and plenty of just awful moments.
As talented as Upton is, it doesn’t appear that he’s all that hurried about maximizing his potential. The Rays always seem to run into character issues with him, to the point that you wonder if those questions will ever escape them.
Of course, you say that and then realize he won’t turn 27 until next August.
Trading Upton now would be a complete sell-low strategy, so it’s probably not going to happen.
But if Upton gets off to a fast start in 2011 and says all the right things, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if GM Andrew Friedman started quietly peeking around to see what he could get for the outfielder.
Lots of teams would like a talent like Upton.
The problem is that not many teams want to deal with a guy who is perceived as lazy and disinterested, even if that’s not necessarily the truth.
Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers
Sell now or forever hold your regrets, Milwaukee.
You aren’t signing Fielder long-term, nor would you want to.
He’s a Boras guy. He’s going to be looking for many years and many dollars.
And you can laugh at the team that has a 34-year-old Fielder on its hands.
Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Yep, you read it right.
Trade the dude who just hit 54 home runs for $2.4 million in 2010.
Because Jose Bautista has never hit more than 16 home runs in any season prior to this one, and those 54 bombs probably won’t happen again.
I don’t care about any change of approach or Toronto’s new swing-from-the-heels mentality.
Fifty-four bombs is a mirage when you aren’t continually pumping 40-plus. Then, it would simply be a “spike.”
Toronto should see what it could get today for Bautista.
If it could get young pitching, run to that deal.
Carlos Marmol, P, Chicago Cubs
Marmol and the Cubs avoided arbitration last year by settling on a one-year, $2.125 million deal.
Marmol will want more than that this year, and the Cubs would likely give it to him.
But Marmol strikes me as a guy who isn’t going to achieve what the Cubs thought he could while in Chicago.
He’s got some nasty, nasty stuff, and Chicago envisioned him being its elite closer of the future.
But, so far, it just hasn’t happened that way. Marmol is wild, he loses focus, and there always seems to be something wacky going on when he takes the mound at Wrigley (I guess that could apply to many Cubs pitchers last year).
I’m not saying the Cubs should go out and deal Marmol for a deep-dish pizza. But there would be lots of small-market clubs–with prospects to spare—that would like the high upside of Marmol for a relatively low cost.
Why not at least listen?
Follow Teddy Mitrosilis on Twitter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.