The Winter Meetings start next week, and should once again prove a springboard for a few major trades. Beyond the obvious point that all 30 general managers and their assistants will be converging in Indianapolis, there is also a weak free-agent market that has many clubs looking to upgrade their rosters through trades. Throw in the fact that the meetings are being held in Indianapolis rather than Las Vegas (the site of last year’s confab), and there will fewer distractions and more time for baseball talk. Not that there is anything wrong with Indianapolis; it is the home of BP’s injury expert and bon vivant, Will Carroll, who enjoyed such unseasonably warm weather on the first day of December that he rode around town with the top down on his convertible.
But back to the potential of many deals being struck in Indianapolis, there are a number of names that have been floating in rumors since the last out of the World Series was made nearly a month ago. Some of the reports might actually be realized, but many won’t because of a cornucopia of reasons.
However, let’s take a look at five players who could be traded in Indy, some of who aren’t surprises and others who are, starting with Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays. (What, you were expecting Garrett Mock to top the list?) New Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has let it be known that everyone but Aaron Hill and Adam Lind are available as a rebuilding phase will start in 2010. Halladay is Anthopoulos’ top trading chip after former GM J.P. Ricciardi failed to deal the right-hander at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, despite much-publicized talks with various contenders. The general feeling is the Halladay situation is ready to come to a head, as it has hung over the franchise for more than five months; one of his agents told ESPN’s Buster Olney earlier this week that his client wants the matter resolved before spring training begins.
Only clubs willing to spend big money need to get in on these talks, as Halladay almost certainly will want a contract extension in the range of five years and $100 million to avoid becoming a free agent after next season. Speculation has been rampant that the Red Sox and Yankees will get into a bidding war, as they have the young major-league talent and upper-level prospects to entice Anthopoulos with. The Phillies and Angels also figure to get into the picture, as do the Rangers, after making a run at Halladay in July. A surprise team in the process just might be the Brewers; owner Mark Attanasio loves to dream big, and the Brewers have a two-year window to try to make a run at their first World Series appearance since 1982 before Scott Boras takes Prince Fielder into free agency after the 2011 season.
Next up might be Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox. Yes, he is one of the most successful closers in the game. And no, trading him would not be a knee-jerk reaction to his blowing Game Three of the American League Division Series to the Angels, which ended the Red Sox’s season. The Red Sox have had concerns about the long-term stability of Papelbon’s shoulder ever since he came to the major leagues in 2005. Remember, too, that they attempted to move him to the starting rotation in 2007 during spring training to better monitor his workload, before deciding they needed him back in the closer’s role because Joel Pineiro had a miserable spring. The Red Sox would most likely plug Daniel Bard into the closer’s role if a deal could be made.
Theo Epstein would want either a frontline starting pitcher or middle-of-the-order bat for Papelbon, who cannot become a free agent until after the 2011 season. The Braves might have interest, even after agreeing to terms with free-agent Billy Wagner on Tuesday night, and the Phillies could use Papelbon too, regardless of how they publicly profess their faith in Brad Lidge. However, neither team seems to have what the Red Sox want, not unless they would take back Derek Lowe from the Braves, which gets complicated by the last three years and $45 million left on his contract.
Some other team might come out of the blue, though, and make a big offer for Papelbon. It could be the White Sox and always-creative Kenny Williams, who has spent the offseason blasting closer Bobby Jenks about not staying in shape. The White Sox could offer right-hander Gavin Floyd, who is under contract for the next three seasons for $14.5 million with a $9.5 million club option for 2013, or left-hander John Danks, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter and under club control for three more seasons.
Arbitration-related pay boosts put Dan Uggla of the Marlins on the market. He beat the Fish in an arbitration hearing last winter, and his salary figures to go up from $5.35 million to at least $7.5 million through the process this offseason. That’s too rich for the Marlins, but he is an attractive trade chip as a power power-hitting second baseman under club control for two more seasons. There aren’t a whole lot teams in need of a second baseman this winter besides the Nationals, but the Marlins could expand the market for Uggla by shopping him around as a third baseman. He would certainly fit into the Orioles‘ lineup at the hot corner, and they could put together a package of prospects from their deep farm system. The Mariners would be another possibility, though they value defense and that is not Uggla’s strong suit. He might also be a good fit for the Cardinals if they don’t re-sign Mark DeRosa.
Hunter Pence‘s name hasn’t popped up in many, if any, trade rumors this offseason, but he might be the most attractive bargaining chip that GM Ed Wade has in trying to infuse the Astros‘ roster with some desperately needed young talent. Wade isn’t actively shopping Pence, but a lot of teams reportedly ask about him. While it might seem counterproductive to trade a 25-year-old outfielder with power who is not even eligible for arbitration until next winter and is under club control through 2013, consider that he would be a great fit for at least 10 teams: the Braves, Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Mets, Athletics, Cardinals, Mariners, Giants, and Rangers. Wade could entertain offers from so many different clubs because of Pence’s affordability that he would certainly get a bundle in return if he astutely played the offers off each other. After firing manager Cecil Cooper late last season, Astros owner Drayton McLane made it clear that the heat is now on Wade, and making a big splash couldn’t hurt the GM’s job security.
Kenshin Kawakami of the Braves appears to be the odd man out in the rotation following the re-signing of Tim Hudson to a three-year contract. While Kawakami certainly isn’t Halladay, the veteran from Japan held his own in his rookie major-league season last year and would be an affordable option for many teams at $6,666,667 for each of the next two seasons. He would be a solid fall-back option for the teams that lose out in the Halladay sweepstakes. Furthermore, a number of other teams who can’t afford Halladay might be willing to trade for Kawakami, including the Diamondbacks, Tigers, Astros, Twins, and Nationals.
A.J. Burnett had Halladay as both a friend and mentor while pitching for the Blue Jays from 2006-08 before signing his five-year, $82 million contract with the Yankees last winter as a free agent. Now Burnett wants some of his Yankees’ teammates to also experience being around one of the top pitchers in the game, as he is stumping for GM Brian Cashman to trade for Halladay.
“You’re going to get a guy you can learn from,” Burnett told the New York Daily News‘ Mark Feinsand. “When you’re around him, he encourages you to get better. You watch him make himself better, and it inspires you.”
Of course, the Yankees would want Halladay to do more than just be an assistant to pitching coach Dave Eiland. The pressure would be on Halladay to succeed in a big way, just like every player who comes to the Yankees. However, Burnett believes Halladay would handle the pressure despite playing his entire career with the low-profile Blue Jays. “I don’t think he would let anything distract him,” Burnett said. “He’s not really the type of person that gets intimidated easily. It doesn’t matter where he pitches, he’s going to be the same. None of the stuff that goes on here would faze him at all.”
Burnett also believes Halladay needs a change of scenery, as he has yet to play in a postseason game during his 12-year career. “I think it’s time for him to get a fresh start,” Burnett said. “He’s paid his dues there, been the face of the organization, did everything they’ve asked him to do and more. At this point in his career, I think he just wants to win.”
Even after re-signing right fielder Bobby Abreu before he could declare for free agency, the Angels appear to have more money to spend than most clubs this winter. A total of $45.59 million came off their payroll when right-handers Kelvin Escobar and John Lackey filed for free agency, along with left-handed reliever Darren Oliver, third baseman Chone Figgins, designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, and utilityman Robb Quinlan.
“We do have money available to be active in free agency, and there are some areas we can work with that will give us more flexibility,” GM Tony Reagins told the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike DiGiovanna. “We feel we can take on some payroll, but we’re going to have to be creative.”
Why be so creative after having so much money freed up? Because the Angels have eight players eligible for arbitration in left-hander Joe Saunders, right-hander Jered Weaver, catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli, second baseman Howie Kendrick, shortstop Erick Aybar, infielder Maicer Izturis, and outfielder Reggie Willits. There is a chance Mathis and Willits might be non-tendered, which would help save some money.
“There was a nice chunk that came off the 2009 payroll, but when you have young players who perform well, you’re going to have increases to your payroll,” said Reagins, who has 10 players under contract for next season at $72.7 million. “We have a few different scenarios we’re working with. There are ways to get to where we want to be and we’re going to go through all of them. It’s a challenge, but this is a fun time of year. It’s exciting.”
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: If Bud Selig retires as Commissioner after the 2012 season-and many who know him will only believe it when they see it-Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball’s chief operating officer, would be a top candidate to replacement him, along with Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president for labor relations. A dark horse might be Pirates president Frank Coonelly, who was MLB’s lead negotiator when it reached a peaceful accord with the Major League Baseball Players Association on the most recent collective bargaining agreement in 2006. … The Red Sox remain the most logical destination for free-agent infielder Marco Scutaro, but the Dodgers, Mariners, and Rangers have also shown some level of interest. … The Rays are considering converting left-handed pitching prospect Jake McGee, who had Tommy John surgery in 2008, into a reliever. … DeRosa continues to be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market, as the Cardinals want to re-sign him, while the Mets, Phillies, and Giants have all shown significant interest. … The Cardinals are likely to sign free agent Xavier Nady to play left field if they are unable to re-sign Matt Holliday. … The Pirates have interest in free-agent right-handed starter Justin Duchscherer, as do the Rockies and Red Sox. The Pirates also are eyeing two veteran relievers on the open market, Ron Villone and Jamey Wright; the Royals want to re-sign the latter. The Rockies are also showing interest in right-hander Miguel Batista and infielder Bobby Crosby.