The trade market looks to be particulary active this offseason. So let's take a look at some of the players most often mentioned in trade talk. I'd also like to mention the relative wisdom of trading away, or trading for, these players, based on what they're expected to bring in return.
Key Suitors: Braves, Cubs, Dodgers
"Word" is that the Braves are the leading candidates in the Peavy trade talks. Atlanta GM Frank Wren had gone on record as saying that the Braves didn't have the prospects to give up in such a deal, but he has apparently changed his mind. The trade talks are deeply involved, according to Padres GM Kevin Towers, although he hasn't gone on record as naming a front-runner.
The Braves do have a number of high-level prospects that could figure in a Peavy trade. Major league talent could include middle infield stars Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar, or back-of-the-rotation starter Charlie Morton. That's not mentioning minor league studs like Jason Heyward .
It's hard to see who the Cubs could come up with to rival the Braves' offer. The Cubs have Josh Vitters as a minor league stud and . . . who else? They don't have any key young players on the field, except maybe for Felix Pie and Carlos Marmol. The Cubs aren't likely to trade Marmol. and while Pie has potential, his trade value has taken a big hit due to his handling in recent years.
The Dodgers have the prospects, but would have to give up big major talent to get Peavy back, and to a certain point, it's not worth it. Why trade Chad Billingsley for Jake Peavy when the difference between the two on the mound isn't significant, and Peavy is both older and far more expensive? The same goes for Matt Kemp or Clayton Kershaw.
In fact, trading for Peavy at all may not be the ideal move for a lot of team, especially the Braves. Peavy's on-field value has been greatly overrated due to his pitching in an extreme NL pitcher's park. Peavy away from Petco Park is just one of the five or ten best starters in the NL, not among the top three. And that's a big difference when you're considering trading away one or two A-level prospects to get him.
It's especially worth considering where the Braves would be even if they get Peavy. Would they be contenders with Peavy? Possibly, but I doubt it. I think they'd be right where they were a couple years ago when John Smoltz was healthy: notching 80-some wins, but just missing the Wild Card. Adding Peavy won't work wonders, and it's questionable if he can even replace the work done by Smoltz, who was excellent as a starter after he returned from the 'pen. My philosophy is that you don't give up your A-level guys unless it's going to put you in the postseason now or soon. If the Braves deal for Peavy, they might get into the postseason now. But if they don't make the deal and keep their good prospects, they have a much better shot at making the postseason down the road. That's why I don't think the Braves should be a part of the discussion.
Speaking of guys being overrated by their home park, we have Matt Holliday. Holliday has been maybe one of the ten best hitters in the NL these past couple years while playing at Coors. Away from Coors, he would lose a chunk of offense, and the only question is how much. Would be fall to just among the 20 or 25 best NL hitters? Would he even be the best-hitting right fielder in the league? Things are made worse by the fact that Holliday is under control for just one more year, and he's represented by Scott Boras. Anyone who therefore decides to trade away top-level prospects to get one year of a good-but-not-great right fielder should have his head examined. But I think some GM will bite the bullet and make the deal, because: a) fans reward GMs who act and hate those who don't, b) Holliday has a great reputation, which overshadows questions about Coors Field and c) the GM who trades for him will convince himself that he can sign Holliday to a contract extension. There are 30 teams in baseball, and at least one of them has a GM that fits the above criteria.
Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto, among others, has stated that the Dodgers are willing to make Russell Martin available. Then, ESPN.com's Keith Law got that story denied flatly by GM Ned Colletti. Which is the truth? My guess is that Martin is available, but they're not actively shopping him.
You may ask yourself; why is one of the game's premiere catchers available at all? He plays for a contending team that badly needs him and has no obvious replacement. I don't have the answer, except that the present Dodger administration doesn't have a track record of making smart decisions. They're down about Martin for a number of reasons, many known only to themselves. One of which, I understand, is that he always slumps in the second half. This is true, he has slumped in the second half, but he hasn't really been around long enough to call it a character trait. And, speaking for myself, I'd keep the second-best catcher in the National League, slump or no slump.
I think the only catcher in the NL better than Martin is Brian McCann of Atlanta. Geovany Soto could change my mind in a year or two. And in the AL, the only guy better than Martin right now is Joe Mauer. You could quibble with this, but I'd say that Martin is the third-best catcher in baseball. Why on earth do you trade away the third-best catcher in baseball when he's a) young, b) cheap, c) very good, and d) there's no one to replace him? The Dodgers' problem isn't pitching; they have great pitching. Their problem is offense, and Martin is one of the few reliable contributors they have.
If the Dodgers value Martin this lowly, than any team who is able to trade for him would be getting one hell of a steal. It would also be another nail in the coffin for Ned Colletti.
The Sox apparently didn't read my column on Vazquez, as it appears that theyare shopping him around. Word was that the Mets were interested, but that may have been a rumor planted by the Chicago office. He would be a great fit for New York; a flyball pitcher with Carlos Beltran behind him playing in the easy league. He's also a reliable innings-eater who would fit comfortable into the middle of the rotation. And if he isn't as good as Derek Lowe, he's younger and would come cheaper.
But if Vazquez really is available, there will be several teams in on him. It's not clear why the Sox are trading him, unless Ozzie Guillen just thinks he isn't man enough to play baseball. The Sox need all the pitching depth they can get, and they can still contend if they just keep the right people. It's hard to see how a Vazquez trade would help them in the short run. The same could be said of several other White Sox players who are rumored to be on the trading block.
Fielder is what he is, and what he is is pretty good. But the Brewers are going to be looking at a big arbitration pay-day for the slugger, which unfortunately coincides with several other Brewers getting raises in arbitration. So they've decided to shop around the big slugger. It's not a bad move; the Brewers' biggest need is pitching, especially with the loss of Sabathia and Sheets, and Fielder's one of the few players who could bring back a high-end starter in return. It would mean that the Brewer offense takes a hit, but apparently Doug Melvin has decided that he needs pitching more than he needs Fielder.
A team that's got some prospects to spare and needs a 1B or DH would do well to call the Brewers' GM. Fielder's career path may not look good in his mid-30's, but he's still in his mid-20's and mashing. Now is the time to get him.
The Cardinals are apparently making several players available in an effort to shore up their middle infield. Ludwick is a great choice to deal away, since he's coming off a really big year and yet has almost no track record to make it likely that he'll repeat it. Most GMs would probably pass on a potential one-year wonder, but all you need is one guy to say yes.
The 4 Rangers Catchers
The Rangers are sitting pretty this offseason: they've managed to stockpile four useful major league catchers in the upper levels of their system. In descending order of perceived importance, they are: Taylor Teagarden, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Max Ramirez, and Gerald Laird. Teagarden is probably the best of the bunch, with a combination of offense and defense, and so the Rangers may keep him. On the other hand, he's the one likely to bring back the most in a deal, so they could pull the trigger on that one and go with Plan B. Saltalamacchia may be tougher to trade, since it's not clear whether or not he'll be able to stay at the position. But there are several teams that REALLY need a closer ASAP (Boston, both New York teams, etc.), and so would be willing to settle for Salty in the short term.
Some Giant Pitching?
I talked about this before, in my NL West review. In short, I don't think the Giants will trade Tim Lincecum, so if they deal anybody, it will be Matt Cain or Jonathan Sanchez. Cain would bring back more, but he's also so darn good that the Giants will be (or at least should be) pretty demanding in their negotiations.
Tampa Bay Starters?
Even though the Rays see themselves as contenders in 2009, they have an embarassment of riches in the pitching department. David Price should take a spot in the rotation (with Wade Davis right behind him), leaving one or two guys as nothing but trade bait. The most likely baitees are Andy Sonnanstine and Edwin Jackson. My guess is that Sonnanstine would bring the bigger return, since he has a better major league track record and good postseason experience. But he doesn't have nearly the raw stuff that Jackson has, so some team might go crazy and offer more for him. It's hard to lose on this if you're Tampa Bay. Having too many good starting pitchers is one of those problems that's good to have.
Atkins is a tougher sell on the trade market; he's a good hitter at Coors, not up to Holliday's level. And while he does play a more valuable position, third base, he plays it very poorly. So a team trading for Atkins may end up with a poor-fielding third baseman who hits just barely above average and fields poorly. In other words, Edwin Encarnacion with less offense. And if people aren't willing to trade for Encarnacion, you shouldn't trade for Atkins.
This is among the more speculative rumors. There are a lot of Yankee fans out there, and they're using Cano in wishful-thinking trade talks concerning players they like. It doesn't sound like the Yankees are willing to trade Cano (they want to move him to first base, which is an even worse idea). If they do, though, now is the time to get him, with his stock at its lowest.