While my colleague Aaron Gleeman takes a look at all the free agents available this offseason, I thought I’d look at the players who could switch teams via the other method — trades. Players get traded every offseason, and sometimes the players traded are just as significant as the players moving via free agency. Last year, Curt Schilling, Javier Vazquez, Richie Sexson, Billy Wagner, Derrek Lee, Joe Nathan, J.D. Drew, Kevin Brown, Carlos Guillen and many, many other players were traded during the winter to change the landscape quite severely.
I don’t know if there will be as many important trades this offseason, but I do know there will be some trades that have a profound effect on who wins and who doesn’t win. So, who’s likely to be involved in some of those trades? I don’t have any inside information, but based on common sense and what I’ve heard on the rumor mills, I can help give some ideas.
The first name to mention appears in that list above of the players who were traded last year. The Yankees are clearly unhappy with Brown after he broke his left hand in a fit of rage and then completely tanked against the Red Sox in the playoffs. It seems that they do not want him back next season under any circumstances. The problem is that he’ll be 40 years old when next season starts and he’ll make $15 million. If the Yankees are intent on getting rid of him, they may need to pick up a significant portion of his paycheck.
Who could be interested in trading for Brown? One rumor that’s been floating around is Brown and Kenny Lofton going to Atlanta for Andruw Jones and maybe a prospect. That would make sense for the reason that the Yankees could certainly use a good centerfielder, which is why they’re expected to heavily pursue Carlos Beltran in the free agent market. Also, the Yankees might not have to kick in as much money to pay for Brown’s contract in this scenario since Jones has three years and $39 million left on his contract. In this case, Lofton would presumably take over center field in Atlanta and the Braves, while giving up the most talented player in the deal, would get money off their books in one year instead of three.
If that doesn’t end up happening, another potential destination that I haven’t seen rumored but makes sense to me is Texas. The Rangers made a huge improvement in their pitching to fifth in the AL in ERA, but most of that was the bullpen as the Texas starters ranked 11th in the AL in ERA. He’s a big question mark because of his health issues in recent years, but there’s no doubt that Brown has the ability to help improve that Texas rotation. What could the Yankees get from Texas in return from Brown and a pile of cash? How about the player they sent to Texas for Alex Rodriguez last year?
Alfonso Soriano is eligible for arbitration again this year and, considering he made about $5.5 million in 2004, will likely command more money through that process this year (about $8 million) than the Rangers want to pay him. There have been many rumors that they’ll try to shop him this winter, some of those rumors saying the Yankees are a likely destination. So, the Rangers would fill a hole in their rotation and the Yankees would plug up their hole at second base (Miguel Cairo was surprisingly good, but he’s not the All-Star caliber player George Steinbrenner likes to have) as long as they can figure out a way to make the money work.
Another potential trading partner that might make sense for the Yankees is Baltimore, even though it’s a division rival. The Orioles finished just one spot ahead of the Rangers in the starters ERA ranking, and could also clearly benefit from a pitcher who has the potential to be as good as Brown does. And like Texas, the Orioles could fill New York’s hole at second base with either Jerry Hairston Jr. or Brian Roberts. Neither Hairston nor Roberts will make nearly as much money in 2005 as Soriano, so the money might be trickier and the fact that the Orioles are a division team might make things trickier, but it seems like another possibility.
Another pitcher who everybody is talking about as a potential trade subject is Randy Johnson. Considering how many rumors there were surrounding Johnson before the trade deadline this past season, that’s not really surprising. However, I’m not really sure how much has changed. He still has a no-trade clause and can stay in Arizona if he wants to. He’s also 41 years old and makes $16 million in 2005, so he’s not really a viable option for many teams.
One team that he is affordable for and attractive to is the Yankees, but they don’t have any more prospects to part with now than they did in July. In order to get Johnson from the Diamondbacks, they’d probably need to give up Javier Vazquez, which would seem to me to not be a good idea. Vazquez obviously had a very bad second half this year, but he had a pretty good first half and he was a nice pitcher the three previous years. He’s also about 13 years younger than Johnson and under contract for three more years — at a fairly reasonable $11.5 million per year — while Johnson might only be in pinstripes one season if he’s traded to New York.
High-priced pitchers aren’t the only players teams might be trying to move this offseason. There’s no doubt that a rift has opened up between Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs, and it seems like it might be in both parties’ interests for there to be a trade. The problem is that Sosa will turn 36 very soon, and if he’s traded, his contract apparently becomes locked in at $39.5 million over the next two seasons. Quite simply, the only way the Cubs can trade Sosa is if they take a bad contract back in return.
The Mets have expressed some interest in Sosa, and they have some bad contracts. Cliff Floyd, who will be paid $13 million the next two years to play probably 65 to 75 percent of the games, is one name that has surfaced as a potential to be exchanged for Sosa. The Yankees have plenty of bad contracts, but they wouldn’t have any place to play Sosa, so that’s not an option. The Rangers have Chan Ho Park, who will make $29 million the next two years. Shawn Green will make $16 million in the final year of his contract with the Dodgers, but Paul DePodesta doesn’t seem likely to be interested in trading an underachieving slugger with one expensive year left for an aging slugger with two expensive years left.
Will Sosa be traded this winter? I’d say it’s more likely than not. Where will he be traded? It depends less on the actual talent involved than it does on the Cubs and another team agreeing to take each other’s bad contracts and hoping to come out with the less burdensome commitment. Figuring out where that meeting of the minds might occur is pretty difficult right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised by the Mets or Rangers. In fact, if the Rangers can turn Soriano and Park into Brown and Sosa, they might not do too badly depending on who kicks in money where. Of course, Brown and Sosa certainly don’t seem like the kinds of players Buck Showalter likes to manage.
It’s also possible that Green could get moved apart from a Sosa deal, maybe to the Mets if they don’t go after Sosa. I would assume that potential deal might include Floyd as well, but maybe it could involve Mike Piazza returning to Los Angeles since the Dodgers don’t have a catcher and the Mets don’t seem to want Piazza to be their catcher.
So, are there any players likely to be traded who aren’t older than 35? Well, I’ve already mentioned Soriano (28) and Jones (27) as possibilities to be swapped for Brown. Even if they’re not a part of that trade, it’s not unlikely that they’d be traded somewhere else. The Rangers aren’t going to want to pay Soriano $8 million and, even though he didn’t have a great season, he’s still an attractive player to a lot of teams. The Braves may decide that they don’t want to pay Jones all the money he’s owed over the next three years and, even though he hasn’t turned into the player many people expected him to, he might be an interesting consolation prize for one of the teams that misses out on Beltran.
Aside from those two, there are three under-30 pitchers on one team who could be traded. All three members of Oakland’s Big Three will probably be the subject of trade rumors this winter, and it wouldn’t surprise me if at least one of them does get dealt. The A’s obviously have Rich Harden entrenched in the rotation now, they have Joe Blanton on the way and they could still move Justin Duchscherer into the rotation. All three are under contract for $5.5-6 million for 2005, and Barry Zito and Mark Mulder both have options for 2006.
Tim Hudson is probably the most attractive of the three pitchers, considering how Zito struggled in 2004 and how Mulder struggled in the second half of 2004. I’d suspect that Billy Beane would like to sign Hudson to an extension and see if he can trade Zito or Mulder for something of value, maybe offensive help in the outfield. If Beane doesn’t feel like he can sign Hudson, maybe he keeps Zito and Mulder and trades Hudson for someone who can help the A’s offensively.
Another younger player who could be on the move is Jose Guillen. Things obviously didn’t go well between him and the Angels at the end of this past season, and they need to figure out whether or not they can move forward together. Since there are indications that Anaheim is interested in pursuing Beltran, maybe they’ve already decided to unload Guillen and his questionable attitude. If they do decide to trade him, there will be plenty of teams interested in obtaining him.
He’s only 28 years old, he will only make $3.5 million in 2005 and he’s had two successful years at the plate in a row. And if he makes it through the season without blowing up and without regressing to his pre-2003 offensive levels, the team that trades for him can exercise a very reasonable $4-million option for 2006. So, there will be teams willing to take a gamble on a trade for Guillen based on his age, talent and salary.
Another player who’s been rumored to be on the trading block several times and likely will be again this offseason is Jason Kendall. He’s only 30 years old and he’s had two solid seasons in a row. He’s probably not really worth the three years and $24 million he has left on his contract, but since Jason Varitek is really the only good catcher available on the free agent market, there may be a team (possibly the Dodgers, possibly the Mets if they do trade Piazza) that’s willing to trade for and pay Kendall to catch for them.
The Padres have two players probably making more money than they’re worth the next two years in Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko, both of whom are owed $16.5-17 million, and they may try to move one or both of them in a trade. They’re both 33 years old and both have something of an injury history and they put up similar offensive numbers when they were able to play in 2004 (Klesko got on base more while Nevin hit for more power). I’m not sure who might be interested in trading for them, but it may be another case where teams try to shift contracts they’re not crazy about.
The Twins don’t want to pay Jacque Jones what he’s likely going to make in arbitration this year when they already have Torii Hunter, Shannon Stewart and Lew Ford. However, I have no idea who might be interested in trading for Jones. Certainly not a sabermetrically-inclined organization, since he doesn’t get on base much, but there might be a team out there that likes what Jones brings to the table and doesn’t mind paying for him.
I’m sure there are likely trade candidates that I’m missing, but those are the ones that jump out to me. Obviously, not all of those players will end up getting traded. But all of them will likely have rumors swirling around them at some point during the winter and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if any of them do get traded. Who knows? Maybe one of them will end up leading his new team to a World Series or collapsing in a game or series of games to prevent his team from moving on.