Shopping season far from over for GMs
The end of Christmas doesn't necessarily mean the end of shopping. Actually, with shorter lines, bigger sales and more clarity now that presents have been unwrapped, it's probably smarter to do most of your personal spending shortly after the 25th of December.
Amazing how life and baseball can mirror one another at times, isn't it?
Many executives make it a point to exercise patience during the offseason, choosing to let the smoke clear and the pieces fall into place before really getting aggressive. It's usually around this time, when the market starts drying up and teams start finalizing their rosters, that the best deals are crafted.
And as frustrated Braves, Red Sox and Yankees fans should note, plenty of time and talent remains on the board.
In fact, frontline starting pitchers and power-hitting first basemen -- usually the two most expensive of needs -- seem to be pretty well stocked if you couple the free-agent pool with the reported trade market. Not named below, in my list of the 10 best players still (seemingly) available, are starters like Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson and Jake Westbrook, and first basemen like Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee and Anthony Rizzo.
Now, here are those that did crack the Top 10 of available talent ...
1. Prince Fielder, 1B, free agent: The market for the biggest bat available is still the biggest mystery. To varying degrees, Fielder has been linked to the Orioles, Mariners, Nationals, Blue Jays, Cubs and Rangers. But everyone seems to be balking at Scott Boras' asking price, which you have to figure is somewhere along the lines of that 10-year, $254 million contract Albert Pujols nabbed from the Angels. Boras is the best at making something out of nothing (two words: "mystery team"), but it's hard to see anyone meeting his initial demands for his power-hitting client. Fielder's best fit? The Cubs. His most likely fit? At this point -- given the Rangers' Yu Darvish negotiations, the Blue Jays' prudence, the Cubs' public statements, the Nationals' first-base situation and the Orioles' situation overall -- my guess is the Mariners.
2. James Shields, SP, Rays: The sentiment around baseball is that Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann are the most likely to be traded from the deep and young Rays rotation. For Tampa Bay, though, this is the perfect time to deal Shields. His stock is at its highest after a huge bounce-back season, his price is quickly growing and teams are scrambling for starting-pitching help (just look at what the Padres hauled in from the Reds for Mat Latos). The Rays have a surplus of starters and need to vastly improve the offense with a very limited payroll. Trading the 30-year-old Shields may be the answer.
3. Jair Jurrjens, SP, Braves: Like the Rays, the Braves have considerable depth in their rotation thanks to several promising young arms, like Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado. That makes a guy like Jurrjens expendable. The 25-year-old right-hander has pitched well when healthy and looked like one of baseball's best leading up to the All-Star break this past season. But few strikeouts and lots of injuries are two red flags here. Jurrjens has made just 43 starts over the last two seasons and didn't pitch down the stretch for the sinking Braves because of a knee injury. Meanwhile, his strikeout-to-walk ratio since his first full season in 2008 (2.02) ranks 83rd in baseball. But the Yankees, Marlins and Blue Jays, among others, are still hungry for a top-of-the-rotation starter, and it's tough not to give Jurrjens a hard look.
4. Matt Garza, SP, Cubs: New president of baseball operations Theo Epstein called Garza "exactly the type of pitcher that you want to build around," but was realistic about where the Cubs are right now. "We're in a mode where we have to listen on everybody," Epstein said. "If there's a way to improve the long-term outlook for this club in a significant manner, then we can't look past opportunities like that." The Cubs want to improve their pitching depth, both in the Majors and Minors, and dealing the 28-year-old Garza -- who has put up a 3.72 ERA while averaging 198 innings per season over the last four years -- would be the quickest way to attain that.
5. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, free agent: Cespedes won't officially be a free agent until he's granted residency in the Dominican Republic. That is expected to happen soon enough to make him available by January, and at that point, a number of teams will be after the five-tool center fielder. A little over a week ago, his representative, Edgar Mercedes, told ESPN.com the Red Sox, Tigers, Orioles, Phillies, Rangers, Cubs and Yankees have shown the most interest in Cespedes, but you can probably throw the Marlins, Nationals and White Sox, among others, in the mix. Cespedes -- who batted at least .323 his last three seasons and hit a record 33 home runs during the 2010-11 Cuban National Series -- should top Aroldis Chapman's record-setting $30.25 million contract. Too much for a relatively unknown commodity?
6. Ryan Madson, CL, free agent: Like Fielder, Boras' other big-name free agent, the market for Madson is rather mysterious at this point. Several clubs could still use help in the back end of their bullpens -- with the Red Sox, Angels, Reds and Rays among them -- but with many closer jobs already filled, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the 31-year-old Madson will have to settle for less money. It took nine years in the Majors for Madson to become a full-time closer, but he did a nice job for the first-place Phillies in 2011, posting a 2.37 ERA, 1.154 WHIP and 32 saves. This was a tough year to be a high-priced closer, though. Way too many options.
7. Andrew Bailey, CL, Athletics: Like this one. A's general manager Billy Beane has made no secret about his willingness to move important pieces, a strategy he's put into action by dealing Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow. Next up for the A's seems to be Bailey, the 27-year-old right-hander who posted great numbers his first two seasons -- a 1.70 ERA, .907 WHIP and 51 saves in 58 chances -- before a down year in 2011. Bailey's ERA rose to 3.24 last season, and he's averaged just 44 appearances while missing time with back, elbow and forearm injuries the last two years. But he still has upside, can still be one of baseball's best closers -- and would be a perfect fit for the Red Sox, who have young outfielders like Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish they can deal to Oakland in return.
8. B.J. Upton, OF, Rays: Upton has posted a very mediocre .240 batting average and .322 on-base percentage over the last three seasons, but he's still a valuable commodity as a solid defensive center fielder who can steal bases and hit for power. In that same span, the 27-year-old Upton has also averaged 17 homers, 66 RBIs and 40 stolen bases per season. The Rays have listened to offers for Upton, who's coming up on his final year before free agency and may eventually price himself out of St. Petersburg, Fla., anyway. But the Rays can't subtract from an offense that finished 15th in the Majors in runs scored last season and hope to return to the playoffs.
9. Hiroki Kuroda, SP, free agent: One of the understated pieces of the free-agent market is Kuroda. Yeah, he'll be 37 in February. But he won't require a long-term contract and has been awfully reliable in his four-year Major League career, posting a 3.45 ERA and averaging 175 innings per season. Kuroda can be a solid innings eater for a contending club, though it appears teams are waiting to see if he'll come down from his initial asking price -- reportedly $12-13 million a year. The Yankees, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Tigers can all make sense.
10. Mark Trumbo, 1B, Angels: For what it's worth, the club has already told Trumbo they'd like to try him out at third base in Spring Training. If he can play it adequately, an Angels team that's still unsure how to protect Pujols would have a cheap, young power hitter at a position of need. But the Halos can also use the Pujols signing to sell high on Trumbo -- coming off a surprising 2011 season that saw him finish second in Rookie of the Year voting -- and yield a nice return. The Indians, Rays, Brewers and A's would surely be interested. But if the Angels truly are exploring trade options for the 25-year-old slugger, it'd make most sense to wait for teams to get more desperate once Fielder signs.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.