12/9/2013 2:00 P.M. ET
Trade market may take center stage at Meetings
Valuable free agents available, but blockbuster deals could steal spotlight
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
The scripted moment came when Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre stepped onto the dais and donned their special-order Hall of Fame jerseys, an Expansion Era Committee conclusion that was long expected.
But once that official and ceremonial order of business was out of the way Monday morning, the platform of the 2013 Winter Meetings was available for the unexpected, an element this annual event happens to specialize in.
The transaction wire has been lit with bold signings and significant swaps all winter. Robinson Cano is a Mariner, Jacoby Ellsbury is a Yankee, Prince Fielder is a Ranger, Ian Kinsler a Tiger. Whether it's the Twins overhauling their rotation or the Cardinals shipping a former World Series hero to the West Coast or the Red Sox making a change behind the plate, teams have invested either a gargantuan amount of money or expended a sincere amount of creativity into improving their position.
And while so much is already done, we're far from done. Already, on the Meetings' first day, the lobby at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Report was buzzing about the possibility of the White Sox shopping Chris Sale in a trade market formerly dominated by the David Price possibility.
It's been a wild winter, and it should be a wild week.
Here are several situations worth monitoring the next few days:
The Price proposals.
Let's be clear that, because they are very much in win-now mode and possess Price for another two years, the Rays are not in a situation in which they absolutely, positively have to deal their ace in the here and now.
But given the dearth of talent in the free-agent starting market, it is entirely possible that an offer for Price will come along that is simply too good to turn down, and executives are expecting those conversations to heat up this week. The Rangers, Dodgers, D-backs and Mariners are among those who might have the most motivation and the proper packages to land Price.
As I wrote here, Jeff Samardzija might actually be a better trade target. But the Sale possibility is also inviting, because Sale is under reasonable contractual control through 2017, with options for '18 and '19. And the biggest bargain of all might turn out to be Brett Anderson, whom the A's are dangling, with several teams -- the Rockies, Yankees and Indians, to name a few -- showing interest. Anderson has averaged just 54 innings the last three seasons but is considered a potential buy-low bounce-back candidate.
What? You think just because they've already committed nearly $300 million to Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Hiroki Kuroda, they're going to lock up the checkbook?
The Yanks, after all, still need a starting pitcher, a second baseman and possibly a late-innings lockdown arm. It is well documented that they are trying to keep their payroll obligations under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. It's equally obvious that they are going to have a pretty darned difficult time doing so, even if Alex Rodriguez's full-season suspension is upheld.
If, a year ago, you felt lost in a world in which the New York Yankees were pinching pennies, this winter has had the effect of bringing balance back to your being. Whether their name is attached to Omar Infante, Joaquin Benoit, Masahiro Tanaka or Anderson, you'll be hearing plenty more about the Yanks this week.
The enormous contractual commitment made to Cano might alter the industry perception of the Mariners, but it's hard to view that move alone as enough to lead the M's up the American League West ladder.
That's why all of us are expecting more activity from Seattle, be it a deal for Price or a bid for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp or another splurge on a free-agent starter.
Suffice it to say that Cano's best of 10 years in the Emerald City won't come at the back end of that colossal contract, so the Mariners need to surround him with a winning team as soon as possible.
He's the undisputed best player remaining from a free-agent menu that has been profoundly picked over. A year older than Ellsbury, with more power but less speed, Choo probably won't match the seven-year, $153 million deal Ellsbury received from the Yankees, but his agent, Scott Boras, has been searching for something north of the seven-year, $126 million deal Jayson Werth got from the Nats three years ago.
Several teams actually valued Choo over Ellsbury in this market because of his vastly superior durability, not to mention his career .389 on-base percentage. The Rangers and Mariners are the most distinct possibilities, and the Giants, Cubs and Astros have all been rumored to have interest at one time or another. The Red Sox can likely be ruled out due to their outfield options and unwillingness to dole out contracts of that length, and the Tigers, even with Fielder off the books, seem doubtful given that Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera are inching toward free agency.
Choo, of course, is attached to Draft pick compensation, which affects his value. Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales are all dealing with the same issue, as are the market's top two free-agent pitchers …
Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.
Teams are always desperate to add starting upside this time of year, but not desperate enough to rush in on Santana and Jimenez, both of whom are attached to a compensation pick and are not terribly far removed from routinely substandard outings. Their lack of consistency makes it hard to know how much ought to be committed to them.
Matt Garza, by virtue of being dealt midseason, would not cost his next team a compensatory pick, but he is subject to scrutiny given the injury issues that impacted him prior to 2013. Price's potential availability and Tanaka's potential posting -- the new posting system is expected to be announced this week, though Tanaka's team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, might opt out of posting Tanaka -- further complicate the top end of the starting market.
Bronson Arroyo and Bartolo Colon are the market's best remaining options available on short-term commitments.
By the standards of a club that acquired a quarter of a billion dollars' worth of salaries in a midseason swap in 2012 and Zack Greinke last winter, the Dodgers have been fairly quiet this winter. They've re-signed Brian Wilson and taken a one-year flyer on Dan Haren and that's about it.
But the Dodgers might be due to make noise this week, because general manager Ned Colletti has acknowledged he is open to moving one of his four outfielders.
Kemp is the name most routinely tossed around in the rumor mill, and his agent, Dave Stewart, told the Los Angeles Times he'd "be surprised" if Kemp isn't traded this winter. But it's hard to argue that the Dodgers wouldn't be selling low, given that Kemp is coming off left ankle and left shoulder surgery and will make $128 million over the next six years. The only way the Dodgers would get something substantial back for him would be to eat a decent percentage of that salary, but, given the way the money has been flying around Dodgertown lately, maybe that's not much of an impedance to a deal.
Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford are the others who might be moved. Yasiel Puig isn't going anywhere.
The always active trade market.
Price, Sale, Samardzija, Anderson and those Dodgers outfielders are but the beginning. Jonathan Papelbon, Brett Gardner, Mark Trumbo, Billy Butler, Howie Kendrick, Mitch Moreland, Logan Morrison and Ike Davis are a few of the many names that have been bandied about in trade talks this winter, and the Winter Meetings are a conducive and competitive environment in which talks often progress rapidly.
Keep an eye on Brandon Phillips, because the Reds still have motivation to move him to free up payroll for other improvements and the second-base market currently offers Infante and little else. Homer Bailey is also drawing a lot of interest from other clubs.
The possibilities are endless, because the Winter Meetings are a competitive environment conducive to getting deals done. We're just getting started.