A lot of big names have come off the free-agent board, and many players have been traded, but the hot stove can also affect prospects. A big signing or trade can create or take away opportunities from prospects, and while there will still be plenty of transactions between now and spring training, here are some early winners and losers.
Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals
When the Royals sent Melky Cabrera to the Giants to improve their rotation, it not only handed Cain the center-field job, but also left Kansas City with no real backup plan. Coming off a season in which he hit .312/.380/.497 for Triple-A Omaha, Cain looks ready in the eyes of scouts, and represents a significant upgrade defensively. He needs to improve his plate discipline to fit better at the top of a big-league lineup, but Cain has a potential to be the long-term answer here.
Colin Cowgill, OF, Athletics
With the Trevor Cahill deal, Cowgill went from a team with a young and talented outfield to one with… well, no outfield at all. The only proven big-leaguer—and even that is an arguable point—is Ryan Sweeney, so Cowgill, who should be able to hit for average and run a bit, has every opportunity to earn an everyday job with Oakland. He has left the defending National League West champs for a team in limbo, but $480,000 in Oakland beats another year in Triple-A.
Jesus Montero, C, Yankees
The Yankees are always a threat to swoop in and make a big move based on their riches alone, but in this case, Montero is the beneficiary of their relative silence so far. He's still penciled in as the primary designated hitter in 2012, and with Joe Girardi indicating that Francisco Cervelli will be on the roster, the team has done everything but come out to say that Montero's catching days are over. No worries; he's really going to hit.
Tyler Pastornicky, SS, Braves
Pastornicky is yet another winner based on inactivity. The Braves feel like he is close to ready, but there is still some interest in finding a cheap insurance policy. With inexpensive options—including incumbent Alex Gonzalez—disappearing, chances are looking better than ever that Pastornicky, who was acquired from the Blue Jays in the Yunel Escobar deal, will enter spring as the everyday big-league shortstop. He's cheap, should be able to match—if not exceed—Gonzalez's production immediately, and also provides a speed dimension to one of baseball's slowest teams.
Justin Turner, RHP, Tigers
While the Tigers have overhauled their bullpen, they've yet to touch the rotation, which could lead to a quick easing-in for Turner, who has also been connected to some trade rumors for a more experienced arm. A fifth-starter job would be ideal for Turner as far as managing his workload over a full big-league season, and he doesn’t have much competition right now. He has the ability to be the team's second-best starter within three years.
Matt Dominguez, 3B, Marlins
The Marlins hoped that Dominguez, the 12th overall pick in the 2007 draft, would earn the third-base job in last year's spring training, but questions about his bat remain, and a .258/.312/.431 line at Triple-A New Orleans did not do much for his cause. The Jose Reyes signing slides Hanley Ramirez to third, and unless Hanley turns the request into an untenable soap opera, Dominguez's Gold Glove defense could be headed elsewhere.
Nate Eovaldi, RHP, Dodgers
After a strong showing at Double-A, Eovaldi more than held his own in six starts for the Dodgers, but the team's strange obsession with mediocre veterans suddenly has him as the odd man out in the rotation, bumped out by Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. While the pair will only cost $6 million in 2012 due to back-loaded deals, Eovaldi is an equal talent who will be plying his trade at Triple-A Albuquerque.
Tyler Greene, SS, Cardinals
Greene, a first-round pick in 2005, has gotten a decent-sized look of more than 100 at-bats in each of the last two years, and the only positives have been good defense and a perfect 16-for-16 in the stolen-base department. More important is his .218/.307/.313 line. Since he was the only shortstop on the roster, the Cardinals appropriated a small portion of their Albert Pujols budget to bring Rafael Furcal back. This was probably Greene’s last chance at a real job; he's now firmly in the utility category.
Mike Montgomery, LHP, Royals
The Royals made no secret that starting pitching was their top priority this winter, and they've done what they could by bringing back Bruce Chen and trading for former Giants southpaw Jonathan Sanchez. This is a quick lesson in the volatility of pitching prospects: At this time one year ago, Montgomery and fellow southpaw John Lamb looked to be on the verge of the big leagues. However, Lamb succumbed to Tommy John surgery, while Montgomery's command fell apart as he stumbled to a 5.32 ERA at Triple-A. The Royals have sent a message to their prospects that jobs have to be earned, and that task is suddenly much more difficult for all of their young arms.
Mike Trout, OF, Angels
Can the biggest signing of the free-agent season affect the guy some scouts see as the top prospect in baseball, even if the former is a first baseman and the latter a center fielder? As my mother would say, “You bet your bippy.” While Mark Trumbo hit 29 home runs and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting last year, Pujols is Pujols, and the dominoes falling from his addition are numerous. Does Trumbo become the designated hitter? What about Bobby Abreu, who has little room in an outfield that will likely feature Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos, and Torii Hunter? No matter how the Angels decide to hash this out, nearly every scenario ends with Trout spending some quality time at Triple-A Salt Lake.