Despite the ongoing World Series, the most wonderful time of the year is upon us. It's a season filled with excitement, anticipation, tradition, and endless chatter; no it's not Christmas, Hanukkah, or Thanksgiving -- it's Hot Stove League season, the time of year when 1,000 trades are talked about and not one percent of them are executed. For all the hot air expended, it's still the best soap opera in baseball, and in its own way just as compelling as the regular season.
If my friends were being brutally honest, they'd say that I'm even poorer company than usual from November until March. I turn from Friendly Cee, who is both bubbly and loquacious, into Vacant Cee, a shell who is present in body, but whose mind doesn't register anything beyond the purview of a glowing iPhone screen that is constantly refreshing Twitter and MLB Trade Rumors. As an enthusiast for gossip and also as a writer, some days during Hot Stove season I'm tempted to stick my iPhone in a Ziploc bag so I can follow along in real-time while I shower.
It's an illness, an affliction so many suffer for four months a year, but one that is happily endured. But while many people like to focus on the potential landing spots of free agents, I'll admit that I tend to take things a step further by wading with the rest of the conspiracy theorists in the deep waters of trade possibilities. As such, it only seems appropriate that I take a preemptive look at some of the players that could potentially, just maaaaybe be available for trade this offseason.
David Price (Pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays)
We've seen this movie before with the Rays. They groom a top-notch pitcher as they are wont to do, extract as much value as can in the first few years, then trade them prior to the big payday of their arbitration years. They did it with Matt Garza and again with James Shields, and now it's likely that they do it this year with left-handed pitcher David Price.
Price won't be a free agent until after the 2015 season, but he's in line for big raises via arbitration in the next two seasons over the $10 million he earned this year. In his six seasons with the Rays, Price has a career 3.19 ERA and a career strikeout rate of 22.1 percent. He's also getting better, dropping his walk rate from 7.1 percent (in his Cy year) to a mind-blowing 3.7 percent this season (league average was an even 8 percent). Price also comes with the most adorable French Bulldog I've ever seen, named Astro, which is not relevant to baseball in the slightest, but worth a mention just so we can include a photo of him.
Astro says good morning!!!! pic.twitter.com/1Ph4jXHEQO— David Price (@DAVIDprice14) September 19, 2013
Any team would be better with Price in their rotation, but he's not going to come cheap. The Rays will be looking for a package like they got back for Shields last offseason, which included top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi, or the reward they got for dealing Matt Garza, which included Chris Archer. There aren't many teams that will be able to afford Price given the cost, but someone will be willing to trade the farm for this ace.
Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford (Outfielders, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Get ready to have your mind blown: The Dodgers have committed $317 million in the coming seasons to four outfielders, and they are signed through 2017 (Carl Crawford), 2018 (Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig), and 2019 (Matt Kemp). Though the Dodgers could employ the Little League Girls' Softball approach of using four outfielders, that's not really a viable long-term solution. Puig is safe unless you believe the asinine narrative about his enthusiasm being a huge problem. That leaves Crawford, Ethier, and Kemp, but these aren't easy players to trade. There are injury concerns with all three of them, and all are expensive: Kemp is owed $128 million, Crawford is owed $82 million, and Ethier is guaranteed $69 million with a $2.5 million option in 2018. Of the three, Ethier is the least expensive (as well as the second-oldest), so some teams that miss out on free agents Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo might be interested. On the other hand, he and Crawford are two of just three left-handed starters on the club (first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is the other), so the departure of either would leave the Dodgers a heavily right-handed team.
Still, even the Dodgers have to have an upper payroll limit, and if they really are going to pay Clayton Kershaw over $300 million they might have to clear some space in a hurry.
Giancarlo Stanton (Outfielder, Miami Marlins)
If I were the type of person that wrote open letters to baseball executives, the first one I would write would be addressed to Jeffrey Loria. It would be entitled, "Free Giancarlo Stanton Right Now, Seriously." I wrote about Stanton back in July, hoping that some team would offer their entire farm system to the Marlins to get Stanton on their roster prior to the trade deadline, but sadly it didn't happen. Instead, teams have just been biding their time, knowing that there would come a time when he would get too expensive for Marlins ownership. It's not clear whether or not that moment has come yet, but it has to be getting close.
It's going to be awhile before the Marlins are contenders again, and Stanton is going to jump from making $500,000 this year to earning a constantly-escalating series of millions until he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season. The Marlins certainly could pay him considering that at the moment they have all of $7.2 million in salary obligations for 2014 ($4 million of which is for Heath Bell, who isn't even on the roster). Of course that doesn't include their other arbitration-eligible players (some of whom will likely be traded or non-tendered) and contract options, such as that for Jacob Turner, but the Marlins could realistically start the season with a payroll of roughly $25 million. That could be even less if they got rid of Stanton.
In four seasons in the majors, Stanton has already been worth 14.8 WAR, and even though he's going to gradually get more expensive, he'll be a much cheaper option, and potentially a more potent one, than some of the free agent outfielders or the Dodgers trio mentioned above. But if there's one thing we know about Miami, it's that they are stubborn and will probably be asking for the moon in return for their prized slugger. Still, it's fun to dream about him playing for a more competitive team.
Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello (Starting Pitchers, Detroit Tigers)
You can never have too much pitching, but the Tigers' overflowing rotation of talent is pushing the limits. Having essentially three aces and two other pitchers that could be top or mid-rotation arms on another roster is a ridiculous advantage, but it's also a great trade chip.
The big question for the Tigers is whether or not they think they need to make any moves, considering that the bulk of their roster is already set. Sure, they could potentially use an upgrade at second base or better baserunning and defense, but they are at the peak of their payroll with $107 million already obligated for the Opening Day roster and there's a lot of depth here. While that means the Tigers likely won't be players on the free agent market, there may be an opportunity via trade to strengthen their defensive and running deficiencies (or their bullpen).
Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez are locked up for seasons to come, but Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello are still in their arbitration years and could be of interest to other teams. Scherzer's Cy Young candidacy would help his trade value -- and it's a story that Danny Knobler of CBS Sports is pushing -- but it would seem to make more sense for them to consider moving Fister or Porcello, both of whom would be welcome additions to rotations that need middle of the rotation depth.
Matt Wieters (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Matt Wieters (Catcher, Baltimore Orioles)
The Orioles and Wieters had discussed a possible contract extension this season, but they never came to terms. Wieters is under team control for two more seasons, and like so many on this list, due for a pay increase through arbitration for the next two seasons before hitting unrestricted free agency. The organization hasn't even hinted at trading him, but it's become a topic of conversation in the past couple of weeks, largely prompted by an article from Bill Madden of the New York Daily News.
The Orioles could be in a position to trade some hitting for pitching, but Wieters had a downturn in production for the third year in a row and isn't at the height of his value. This season was one of his lightest offensively, with an OPS+ drop from 107 to 88. He did still manage to hit 22 home runs. The problem with trading Wieters is that the Orioles don't have a clear successor behind the plate. Steve Clevenger might prove to be a good backup, but doesn't have everyday skills, and their minor leaguers, Caleb Joseph, Michael Ohlman, and Chance Sisco haven't even made it to Triple-A yet. In addition, despite his offensive shortfall, Wieters' fielding and leadership still has value to the team. This one seems like a long shot, but since people are talking about it, seemed worth mentioning.
Brandon Phillips (Second Base, Cincinnati Reds)
The Reds signed Brandon Phillips to a six-year, $72.5 million contract extension in April of 2012, just five days after the Reds gave Joey Votto a ten-year, $225 million contract. Both deals were the team's attempt of showing that they were committed to winning via spending even though they are a small-market team. But, a lot has changed with Phillips, who had one of his worst years offensively and has, if you believe the rumors, "ticked off a lot of people in the organization with his behavior this year." A lot of that animosity stems from an interview that Phillips did for Cincinnati Magazine earlier this year, in which he called owner Bob Castellini a liar, something with obviously didn't go over well considering that Castellini is the reason he got the big contract in the first place.
This season, Phillips had a hard time getting on base, and he only stole safely five times, ten less than last season. Though he hit the same number of home runs as he has for the past four seasons (18), his slugging percentage dropped because of fewer extra-base hits overall. The Reds may be regretting the extension now, but in order to get out of it they'd have to find a team willing to take on over $50 million salary and Phillips' attitude, which not only extended to ownership but the occasional beat writer.
Chase Headley (Doug Pensinger)
Chase Headley (Third Base, San Diego Padres)
The Padres missed their chance to trade Chase Headley at the peak of his value when they couldn't find the right trade partner following the 2012 season. Headley hit .286/.376/.498 with 31 home runs and a league-best 115 RBI; he also won a Gold Glove. Headley didn't play as well in 2013, hitting just .250/.347/.400 with 13 home runs, but some of that might have been due to the knee injury for which he underwent surgery after the season ended.
Headley should be fully recovered in four to six weeks, so barring any setbacks he will be ready to play come spring, and there are plenty of teams including the Yankees, White Sox, and Cubs who could be looking for a third baseman this offseason. Headley is in his last season of arbitration this year and will get a bit of a bump over his $8.5 million salary despite a dip in production. The Padres may choose to keep him for one more season until he's an unrestricted free agent, but considering the average age of free-agent third baseman this season is 35, they may be able to find a team willing to give a big enough return to put Headley in a new uniform before March.
Asdrubal Cabrera (Shortstop, Cleveland Indians)
Cabrera has spent seven seasons with the Cleveland Indians, and though he has a deal in place for $10 million next season, his presence on the roster blocks them from bringing top prospect Francisco Lindor to the majors. Cabrera didn't have a great season this year, hitting just .242/.299/.402. He's shown a decline in power and over the past two seasons, and defensively he's dropped off to the point where he might be a better fit at second base than shortstop going forward.
There's risk, however, in trading Cabrera before they have a chance to know definitively that Lindor, who hasn't even played at Triple-A, is ready for the majors. (He reached Double-A late this season after hitting .306/.373/410 with 20 stolen bases in 83 games with High-A Carolina.) Trading Cabrera may make better sense as a mid-season trade option, but it's at least something that the Indians will be considering during the offseason, along with what they should do with pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Perez -- the former is under an $8 million club option and the latter is in his last year of arbitration.