MLB Trade Rumors: Francisco Liriano and 10 Staff Aces Most Likely to Be Traded

Michael CahillCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2011

MLB Trade Rumors: Francisco Liriano and 10 Staff Aces Most Likely to Be Traded

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 28: Francisco Liriano #47 of the Minnesota Twins pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers during their game on June 28, 2010 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tigers won 7-5. (Photo by Hannah Foslien /Getty Im
    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    With spring training in full bloom, it’s never too early to start thinking ahead. For all the promise teams show at this stage of the game, there is always the possibility of finishing below expectations. When that happens, there will be plenty of teams trying to make the best of a bad situation.

    Whether that’s taking care of their economic safety or trying to put the pieces in place to build for the future, changes will be made.

    The biggest chip most teams have is their staff ace. There is no bigger commodity in baseball than a pitcher with experience, promise or a balanced combination of both. So when things go south for a team, or a glaring need arises elsewhere, a team might be forced to part with their most proven arm.

    The good news is that wherever an ace is available, interested parties aren’t far away. So here’s a look at the 10 staff aces most likely to be traded this season. 

10. Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore Orioles

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    BALTIMORE - AUGUST 03:  Jeremy Guthrie #46 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Camden Yards on August 3, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    The Orioles aren’t married to Guthrie, and considering his value to a playoff team, they shouldn’t be.

    Guthrie is in the last year of his contract, and at 31, there is no reason why he couldn’t find himself elsewhere come the trading deadline. In a potent American League East last season, he managed a 3.83 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. He was able to be effective.

    The Orioles might consider keeping him for the rest of the year because he’s only costing them $5.75 million, but if he’s pitching well before July, the Orioles know they’ll have to ship him or run the risk that he wants more than they are willing to pay in the offseason and they lose him for nothing.

    The Orioles have made no bones about the fact that they are a small market team on the rebuild. They have a crop of young players that are making good strides for them, but they are a few years away. They also have a minor league system that lacks depth or high talent guys.

    Guthrie won’t get the Orioles a king’s ransom, but he could get them a couple of prospects to help upgrade their farm system and aid in their rebuilding process.

9. Roy Oswalt, Philadelphia Phillies

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    CLEARWATER, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  Roy Oswalt #44 of the Philadelphia Phillies poses for a photo during Spring Training Media Photo Day at Bright House Networks Field on February 22, 2011 in Clearwater, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    There is no doubt the Phillies have the best rotation on paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to get them to a World Series. In order to do that, they may have to break up that rotation, and that could mean dealing Roy Oswalt.

    Everyone in baseball scoffed at the $100 million contract Jayson Werth got from the Washington Nationals. The thing everyone keeps forgetting is it actually hurt the Phillies because it took a proven hitter away from a lineup that struggled in spots last year.

    Ryan Howard is a feast or famine type hitter, and the rest of that lineup has trouble producing pop consistently and has had injuries the last couple of years. Werth was the perfect complement to that lineup. But now with him elsewhere, how much will the Phillies offense struggle?

    In a National League East that has a good Atlanta Braves team and a solid Florida Marlins team, the road to the playoffs won’t be easy. If they get desperate for offense, will they have to part with Oswalt?

    He’s the only pitcher who’s a free agent at the end of the year. He’s six years older than Cole Hamels, and he’s going to cost more than Joe Blanton. So, if they need one bat, what’s the potential they trade him to a team that can either sign him long term or who is looking to rent him with an extra bat to spare and they just hope he doesn’t come back to haunt him?

    It sounds silly to break up a great starting rotation, but it seems silly to keep it together at the risk of not being able to score runs. 

8. Johan Santana, New York Mets

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 28:  Johan Santana #57 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros on August 28, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    If Johan Santana had suffered a common injury that required the routine Tommy John surgery, he wouldn’t be thought of in the same sentence as the word “trade.”

    But a torn labrum has changed everything.

    While there was some wear and tear that contributed to the labrum surgery, the nature of the injury was related to a freak accident that occurred on Sept. 2. That means there isn’t much worry that Santana won’t be able to come back since it’s not directly related to the way that he pitched.

    However, his injury and his contract ($75 million over the next three years) make him seem untradeable but his statistics don’t. Last season, prior to his injury, he had a 2.98 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP as the ace of the Mets.

    If he comes back sooner than expected (which could happen) and looks solid through his first couple of starts, there could be a team or two knocking on the door for his services. The Mets are in need of an overhaul and shedding his contract and getting a couple of players and/or a couple of prospects for their minors, which has no real good players to speak of, could be of real value to them.

    It comes down to deciding if Santana’s contract is worth keeping, and if it’s not, eating a little of that money could make him a very valuable trading piece. 

7. Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins

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    JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Josh Johnson #55 of the Florida Marlins during Photo Day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The Marlins seem to have the same story every season—this is the year they spend. However, the Marlins must face their own economic realities. They are a small market team with a very disinterested fan base.

    Perhaps it’s their lack of history (despite winning two World Series titles) or it’s the transient nature of many Florida residents, but regardless, the Marlins can’t afford to keep everyone.

    The Marlins know their ticket to being relevant year after year is through their minor league organization. However, their system was rated 29th in Major League Baseball by ESPN’s Keith Law. They don’t have much, so getting personnel could be a big deal.

    Enter Josh Johnson.

    He’s earning $10 million a year, and he’s only 27 and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2014. This makes him the best bargain of any staff ace in baseball. If the Marlins wanted to trade this pitcher, who had a 2.30 ERA last year, then they could get a king’s ransom.

    Especially when you consider his contract would be attractive to almost every major league team that’s in a playoff hunt or just a couple of pieces away. 

6. Dallas Braden, Oakland Athletics

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    OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Dallas Braden #51 of the Oakland Athletics poses with a Captain Morgan hat before their game against the Seattle Mariners during a Major League Baseball game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 8, 2010 in Oakla
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Is Braden worth more to the Athletics as a part of their staff or a trading chip? The Athletics have to wonder how Braden plays out for them.

    If he blossoms and gets even better he’ll simply become too expensive to keep. If he regresses and begins a downward slide then his trade value is worth nothing to the A’s. He has to be good enough to keep but not good enough for them to have to break the bank.

    The A’s, who always have an abundance of pitching depth in their minor leagues, have fallen short of that in the last couple of years. They could use an overhaul in their minors that begins with adding some arms. Braden is their best chance to get a couple of good young arms that could be ready in the next season or two.

    The A’s have made a living off of finding guys who are good enough for a few years and then shipping them out. They need to get back to that and keeping Dallas Braden would not be conducive to that style.

    A contender could use him, and if that team has arms in the minors, they’ll be worth dealing Braden. 

5. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 15:  Pitcher Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners throws during a MLB spring training practice at Peoria Stadium on February 15, 2011 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The 2010 CY Young winner has been used to doing it all by himself, but if things don’t take a turn for the better in Seattle, Hernandez could finally get help.

    Of course it will be on another team.

    On the surface the idea of trading Hernandez is laughable. After all, he’s only 24, and he’s signed through 2014. However, the market for his services has never been higher.

    Teams like the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, as well as National League teams like the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets, could be interested in his services.

    Seattle could likely get a major league ready player or two as well as two or three top prospects. The Mariners have to face their own financial limitations. They are better off building from the bottom up, and Hernandez could give them a head start. 

4. Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins

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    FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Pitcher Francisco Liriano #47 of the Minnesota Twins throws during a spring training workout session at Hammond Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Francisco Liriano was an absolute phenom in 2006, but it’s taken him almost four years to seem to recover from career threatening surgery. However, in 2010, he seemed to regain some of the magic that made him so dangerous back then.

    In 2010 alone, he kept his ERA in the mid 3’s and pitched nearly 200 innings with a WHIP of 1.23. His consistency and success last year is a big reason why the Twins will look to deal him if either he gets off to a great start or if the Twins struggle.

    The latter is entirely possible considering how good the Chicago White Sox appear on paper and the emergence of the Detroit Tigers as big spenders in the offseason. The Twins know they must constantly be creative to keep up their dominance at the top of the division because they don’t have the money to do it.

    With their payroll constantly factoring into the equation coupled by Liriano being arbitration eligible this offseason, the Twins might get value for him by trading him to a contender who isn’t hung up on their farm system being key to their future.

    The Twins also have a sneaky good farm system which boasts arms that could fill in for Liriano. It’s not a given they trade him, but if there’s trouble, they are likely to listen to offers. 

3. Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs

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    MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  (EDITORS NOTE : THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN DIGITALLY DESATURATED.)  Carlos Zambrano #38 of the Chicago Cubs poses for a portrait during media photo day at Finch Park on February 22, 2011 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Image
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    If Zambrano would have handled his business better the last couple of years he’d either be out of Chicago or wouldn’t have the Cubs looking in the first place.

    Either way, the Cubs know they have to figure out what Zambrano can give them and what they can get from him.

    From temper tantrums to weight problems, Zambrano has vowed to be a new man. The Cubs are hoping he’s not bluffing. They could use him as a reliable starter, but if he gets off to a good start, look for them to dump him.

    The Cubs know Zambrano, who is signed through next season, has great trade value for short windows of time. If he pitches well, they could deal him early to a pitching starved team like the Yankees.

    Here is something else to consider. Tom Ricketts doesn’t appear to a man that wants to see the Cubs spend big money. There are a lot of things he’s looking to do that extend beyond the player personnel.

    He’s trying to overhaul the stadium through a loan from the city, and he’s trying to get the area around Wrigley to bring in more money for the organization. It appears Ricketts is about maximizing the team's value, and in the short term, that could mean lowering payroll by shedding bad contracts and not taking on new ones.

    It’s not to say the Cubs aren’t going to spend, but it makes sense that the Cubs would be motivated to unload Big Z’s heavy contract. 

2. Zach Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers

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    PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Pitcher Zack Greinke #13 of the Milwaukee Brewers participates in fielding drills during a MLB spring training practice at Maryvale Baseball Park on February 18, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Ima
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Zach Greineke could be the most interesting trade of the season if the Brewers look to shop him, and there is reason to believe they will.

    The Brewers know they can’t keep front line pitchers because they can’t afford to pay them what the market says they can earn. Greinke is signed through next season, but the Brewers know they can get top value for Greinke by trading him this season instead.

    He’s coming off a sub-par year in 2010 where he finished with a 4.17 ERA, but being in a pitcher friendly NL and in the sub-par NL Central could give him a boost in his numbers. This could drive the price up for Greinke, and the Brewers could be looking, especially if he struggles.

    However, there is one issue—Greinke has anxiety issues. That makes the suitors like Chicago, Boston, New York and LA, where there are big media markets, a risk for those teams.

    However, look for teams like Atlanta, San Diego and Texas to be suitors if Greinke is on the market.

1. Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox

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    CHICAGO - AUGUST 25: Mark Buehrle #56 of the Chicago White Sox smiles as he leaves the field during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at U.S. Cellular Field on August 25, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Orioles defeated the White Sox 4-2. (Photo by Jona
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Beyond being one of the most beloved White Sox players, Buehrle is also one of their most accomplished. He’s had a no-hitter, perfect game, World Series win, save and a ring to show for it all but the White Sox never concern themselves with the past. Their loyalty lies as far as their checkbook.

    Buehrle could be a hot commodity come the trade deadline. He’s in the last year of his contract, but if he’s traded then he’s automatically signed through next year at $15 million. This is attractive not just for the Sox but for possible suitors.

    Buehrle gives teams a lot of value. He’s a reliable starter, great innings eater, never at a risk for injury and has postseason experience. The White Sox know the vesting option gives him a little more value so they could get a promising, but not quite elite, prospect in return.

    The Sox won’t want to resign Buehrle at his current salary so they might be best off getting value for him now.