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December 2, 2010

Prospectus Perspective

A Dirty Half-Dozen

by Christina Kahrl

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As I gear up for my latest dose of fun with the TSA and fly to Orlando for next week's Winter Meetings, it's easy to anticipate all sorts of stuff that might happen. However, unlike last year's get together in Indianapolis, this time around there aren't a big backlog of unsecret, telegraphed moves we know won't go down until everyone checks in—like last year's non-shocking Chone Figgins signing, for example. Instead, this year we've had a ton of early winter activity, as teams have moved quickly before picking their 40-mans, and before non-tendering potential arbitration cases. We've had some early re-signings, with Brian Sabean the most noticeable recidivist in securing Aubrey Huff's services already, while Ruben Amaro Jr. managed to avoid the temptation this time around.

However, there's a big difference between the deals you think might happen, the deals you wish would happen, and just plain-old deals that are at least worth funning around with. With that said, here's a list of six possibilities that I'd like to see or feel there's some underlying logic to support them.

1. The Red Sox trade Marco Scutaro to the Reds for Matt Maloney.

We talked about the field of shortstop options a bit Wednesday, so here's my more aggressive suggestion that the Red Sox get serious about making a move and just go ahead and put Scooter in the Queen City. For the Reds, this just makes too much sense to overlook. Even if Scooter's walk rates stay south of 10 percent, between moving to the weaker league, a weak division, and getting a shot at spending half of his season in the best right-handed power park in the major leagues, he could put up a season that might make people remember that all sorts of unlikelies get to be seen as star shortstops, like Rich Aurilia in the '90s, or Scutaro after the 2009 season.

That said, the Red Sox need things, so it isn't like this is just a giveaway. The Reds' second-rank pitching talent could contribute to all sorts of ballclubs, so here's a thought: Walt Jocketty deals from depth, and sends Maloney, a left-hander, to Boston to get his team its shortstop and leadoff hitter. Boston needs upper-level lefty pitching talent, no matter how far along Felix Doubront has come, and if they non-tender Hideki Okajima today, they'll have a slot in the bullpen for the a nice Irish boy to step in right away. If Maloney's blend of well-located lefty-standard heat plus solid command of his breaking stuff makes for a quality Okajima replacement right away, that's great, but he's enough of a prospect to be a viable choice for the fifth slot if (or when) rotation injuries mound up. And there's nothing that says Theo Epstein couldn't just repurpose Maloney in a later deal when his club needs something more specific than roster spots and offloading last year's good ideas.

2. A Red Sox Outfielder Has Gotta Go Somewhere to Somebody for Something.

You might expect that Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury both should be on the move, especially as the Sox try to come to terms with either Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford. In the veteran center fielder Cameron's case, he's under contract for just 2011 for $7.75 million, while Ellsbury is already halfway to free agency, and is thus only under club control for three more years.

Complicating the picture is the near-readiness of a pair of top-shelf outfield prospects, Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish. Since J.D. Drew, like Cameron, is under contract for just one more season, at least one eventual slot is going to open up for Reddick and/or Kalish in 2012, even after Epstein brings in a big-ticket free agent. The question is whether the Sox might not prefer to cut to the chase. Kalish and Reddick both might be better prospects than Ellsbury, after all.

But complicating matters in each instance is the fact that you're talking about players who lost most of 2010 to injury. Cameron is presumably healed up from his surgery, but Ellsbury should have only just resumed activities with the team with the beginning of Wednesday's winter workouts. Moving either, now, will involve an extensive exchange of medical information, physicals, and, in the absence of complete confidence, steep discounting.

So who needs an outfielder? Lots of people, of course, and plenty of teams have some salary space to wiggle with. If the Sox end up settling for sending Cameron to the Cardinals for a prospect not on the 40-man, ideally it'd be a pitcher, perhaps left-handed. While Cameron's stated preference to not play right field is something to work around, he's been willing to provide his employer lip service in the past, giving John Mozeliak and Tony La Russa plenty of time to see whether they're talking Matt Holliday into moving to right or encouraging Colby Rasmus to scoot over for a season.

3. The Rays trade James Shields to the Brewers for Mat Gamel and Manny Parra.

I know, I've been trying to trade Big Game James for a while now, but the Brewers need pitching, and the Rays, however much they're talking about moving quietly, would be much better off opening up a rotation slot for Jeremy Hellickson. They could also use a quality bat in the DH slot, one they'll be able to control, possibly move out to left or even first base if they have to, but basically, just somebody who's more valuable than Willy Aybar and has some measure of upside. So why not call Doug Melvin and ask after his positionless live bat, and deal from rotation depth to get Gamel, a prospect better suited for the DH league? That said, Gamel's ceiling looks a lot lower than it was a couple of years ago, especially as he heads into a year in which he'll turn 26 without actually achieving all that much. Parra is a live-armed lefty the Brewers haven't been able to sort out, but perhaps the Rays can do better.

4. The A's trade Kevin Kouzmanoff to the Orioles for Nolan Reimold.

Nobody said every trade would be a blockbuster, but the Orioles have already noisily announced their distrust of Josh Bell as their immediate hot-corner solution, and have little reason to be very fond of Reimold, an oldish organizational player who made a splash in 2009, came back hurt, and never got on track in his sophomore season. Considering that he's already 27, he's not the sort of farmhand with an elaborate future ahead of him, and between a platoon-worthy split, an arm strong enough to go to waste as long as Nick Markakis is the everyday right fielder, and some pop, he could be used to acquire a temporary third-base solution. Enter Kouzmanoff, a disappointment in his own way in Oakland, still not much of a defender at the hot corner per multiple metrics, but a known quantity. If the A's haven't already non-tendered the ex-Padre, they could always turn around and flip him for the platoon partner in right field Ryan Sweeney is begging for.

5. The Cubs trade Kosuke Fukudome and Stacks O'Cash to the Royals for Chris Getz and a PTBNL.

After trading away David DeJesus, the Royals really ought to give some thought to adding outfield help, at least for the time being, and besides, who but the damned and desperate would sign with them of their own free will? So why not take on Fukudome's last season before free agency, to get themselves a leadoff hitter and a starter in one corner, and repurpose one of those roster spots wasted on Kenny Williams' excess filler infielders? Heck, it even gives Billy Butler, Kila Ka'aihue, and Alex Gordon the opportunity to bat with somebody on base.

The problem with Fukudome's deal—beyond the no-trade clause that no amount of charm will wish away—is the stack of perks that he's due. Eight first-class round-trip plane tickets to Japan? A personal trainer, masseuse, interpreter, and $25,000 for moving expenses? Those are the main items, but rather than dicker with the Royals on how to make those things happen out on the prairie, just add another brick of Benjamins or two and make the whole headache go away already. If Stacks has to be as big as $7 million-8 million of his $13.5 million pay package for 2011, that's an understandable price tag to pay off the perks and buy back the roster spot and the playing time you're going to want to split between Tyler Colvin and perhaps Brandon Guyer later on in-season, for around the minimum. Try to reassure Fukudome that he's going to a team that also trains in Arizona, and that Kansas City is slightly closer to the land of the rising sun.

6. The Rockies trade Jason Hammel to the Nationals for Ian Desmond.

The logic here is that the Rockies could use an infielder who might just become their starting second baseman, and after re-signing Jorge De La Rosa they're in a position to deal from depth in the rotation. Hammel is the lowest man on their totem pole, plus he's out of options yet three years removed from free agency, so he's going to become only more and more expensive for a guy who may not even be guaranteed a rotation slot. As for Desmond, if he's a bit stretched at shortstop, a move across the bag shouldn't hurt, and putting him in Coors would help a little with his strikeout rate, and his power stroke might blossom at altitude. The Nats are looking for a young veteran who can chomp innings while remaining under club control for the near future, and Hammel is good enough to fill that bill and perhaps become a solid mid-rotation asset.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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