With hours to go in deadline season, we've already seen our share of upsets and surprises as far as trades made, many for less than expected. In many of these scenarios, money is playing one part, and absolute need another.
Expense and necessity, though—what fun is that?
How about we dial back and think in terms of what it would take to swing swaps involving the best ballplayers in the game? Making one concession to reality by exempting those top stars with full no-trade protection on their current contracts, let's imagine what it would take to trade for the like of Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Tim Lincecum, Evan Longoria, and Miguel Cabrera. Consider this a thought exercise. With all of these trades, think about this: If Team A called up Team B with this offer, who hangs up first? And feel free to pick your favorites in the comments.
No, the Cardinals aren't looking to peddle Pujols, but if they did, they'd want star-level talent in return, and remember, they only hold the rights to the widely acknowledged best player in baseball through 2011. So why not convert that into Youkilis, an almost-as-good first baseman already signed through 2013 for $37 million—which is less than Pujols would cost them to re-sign. They'd also get a possible eventual replacement in the 22-year-old Anderson if his bat comes around—he's already at Triple-A—and Youkilis' ability to move to the outfield or perhaps back to third base would make space for whatever opportunity Anderson earns.
Iglesias isn't a '90s-style shortstop; he'll hit for a decent average and little else, but the Cuban defector's defensive chops are unquestioned, and he might provide the answer to the Cards' need there. Kelly is a 20-year-old former two-way prospect providing heat that touches the mid-90s and a true 12-to-6 curve, and he's already at Double-A. All three of the prospects are already at the upper levels, so while Kelly and Anderson haven't fully delivered on their potential, they're young enough to get there, and close enough to make a difference fast.
The Red Sox would be giving up a lot of potential to achieve the upgrade of Pujols from Youkilis, but not so much that they'd be crippling their bid at contending during the life of Albert's contract. Plus, the Sox have the cash to re-sign him.
Nobody can offer as much good stuff in a single package as the Rays can, so why not go after the best rising talent in the game? He's already inked for 2011-14 for $57.5 million, so he'd be the foundation of their lineup for years to come, producing True Averages around .320 through the last year, when he'll only be 30.
But it'll cost, and only the Rays might be able to afford the exchange, giving up a pair of five-star prospects, and four of their top 10 kids. Hellickson is dominating at Triple-A and is certain to star in a big-league rotation as soon as he's called up, where Moore is a power lefty at Class A armed with consistent low-90s heat, supplemented with a change and curve that can be plus pitches. Brignac would be a fine replacement for HanRam— and he's a couple of years removed from arbitration, let alone free agency. Barnese is a teammate of Moore's who adds an element of fun as far as being one of the most aggressive strike-throwers you'll find at any level— with 16 hit batsmen against just 22 walks in 111 2/3 IP, he makes a point of owning the inside corner, but he has the stuff to have things his way.
I know we just moved Ramirez across the state of Florida; let's just treat these in isolation. If for some reason the Rays endure calamitous payroll failure, Longoria's contract runs through 2014 on the low end for $20 million—and through 2016 for $41.5 million. Acquiring that kind of bargain would be tough to trade, but let's say the Angels throw absolutely everything save their one untouchable, Mike Trout, to get it done. Conger is a potential All-Star catcher, Bourjos a leadoff center field type worth employing, and perhaps Wood can recapture his flagging blue-chip status with a change of scenery. Martinez and Richards are the best two arms the Angels' organization have, but both are very young and all the way down in Low-A.
The Rangers are in the running, but even with Cliff Lee, do they have the front-end starting pitching to make their bid one that potentially involves dominating their post-season series? So why not go all in and make a bid on Tiny Tim by offering the Giants an under-control rotation plug-in Feldman and a trio of top prospects? Feliz might be closing now, but he could be an overpowering starter at some point down the line, while Scheppers is very close to ready now. Those are good things, but to make this really work, the Rangers would have to add Beltre, already in Double-A at 20 years old, and an excellent defensive center fielder with potential value as a leadoff man.
The Bombers do nothing halfway, and Cabrera is only just now in his age-27 season. Guys who slug .650 or better don't grow on trees, so why not get a guy who really puts 'hitter' in designated hitter? It wouldn't come cheaply, however, but in Montero, rated as the fourth-best prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein before the season, they have a similar talent a few years away from fruition. Offer Montero to the Tigers plus offer Joba a chance to escape the Big Apple's drama, and finish the package up with a speedy center fielder and a decent catching prospect to mix in some up-the-middle upside, and you've got an offer that might be fairly tempting in real life if the Tigers fall out of contention.
6. Stephen Strasburg for—?
Before Strasburg's shoulder achieved headlines as hyped as the man who uses it, you might wonder what the market would offer the best prospect in baseball. The Rays might be the only organization that could make an offer, but would it take Desmond Jennings and Hellickson and Moore or Barnese besides? That might be hard to turn down for an organization as talent-hungry as the Nationals, because let's be clear, it isn't like they'd be dealing the flamethrower for a late run at third place in the NL East.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .