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Trade Market Rumors
Last week, the Rockies traded catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Dodgers for starting pitcher Aaron Harang. It was a minor deal involving two aging players, and it essentially amounted to an exchange of contracts — the Rockies designated Harang for assignment right after they received him. But it was still an unusual deal, in that it was an April trade involving two Major Leaguers.
Let's look at the biggest April trades in Major League Baseball since 2008.
- 2013: Rockies trade Ramon Hernandez to Dodgers for Aaron Harang. Rockies trade Harang to the Mariners for minor-leaguer Steven Hensley.
- 2012: Cubs trade Marlon Byrd to Red Sox for Michael Bowden. Yankees trade George Kontos to Giants for Chris Stewart. Reds trade Juan Francisco to Braves for J.J. Hoover.
- 2010: Cardinals trade Julio Lugo to Orioles for a PTBNL or cash.
- 2008: Royals trade Jorge De La Rosa to Rockies to complete an earlier deal for Ramon Ramirez.
That's not much. Even the De La Rosa deal, which appears to be the most significant one, occurred after a season in which De La Rosa posted a 5.82 ERA.
The list of recent May trades isn't much more titillating. Last May, the Padres shipped Ernesto Frieri to the Angels for Alexi Amarista and Donn Roach. In 2009, the Padres sent Jody Gerut to the Brewers for Tony Gwynn Jr. In 2008, the Padres — the kings of May trades, clearly — sent Jared Wells to the Mariners for pitcher Cha-Seung Baek.
There have, historically, been some big early-season trades, like the then-controversial May 2003 deal in which the Diamondbacks sent Byung-Hyun Kim to the Red Sox for Shea Hillenbrand. But recently, such trades have been rare.
The reasons why are worth exploring, because some circumstances might suggest early-season trades would be somewhat more likely. It isn't as if GMs are inactive in April — waiver claims abound, for example. And the longer into a season a team waits to make a big trade, the less impact, in an absolute sense, that trade will have.
In general, trade-deadline deals just don't have the impact we imagine they do, at least not in a straightforward, arithmetical sense. There are exceptions, like the Dodgers' trade for Manny Ramirez in 2008, which produced 2.9 wins above replacement. And as long as teams make their big trades before the end of August, they're able to use their new acquisitions in the playoffs. But think about the July 31 trading deadline, and how important it seems when it's happening. Now let's review some of the major trades last July.
- The Dodgers acquired Shane Victorino from the Phillies; Victorino produced one win above replacement for Los Angeles, then left via free agency.
- The Giants acquired Hunter Pence from the Phillies; Pence had a big hit in the NLCS but otherwise did not hit particularly well in the postseason, and he produced 0.5 WAR for the Giants in the regular season.
- The Rangers acquired Ryan Dempster from the Cubs; he produced 1.2 WAR in Texas before leaving via free agency.
- After arriving from the Brewers, Zack Greinke produced 1.2 WAR for the Angels before leaving via free agency.
- Wandy Rodriguez had 0.6 WAR down the stretch after going from the Astros to the Pirates.
These are not huge numbers. It is, of course, possible to find examples of deadline acquisitions who made an impact in the postseason, since stars are disproportionately traded to what become playoff teams. But their absolute impact, particularly in the regular season, is smaller than the average fan probably imagines, mostly because there simply isn't much time for them to produce. The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is only two months before the end of the regular season. And yet contending teams routinely wait until late in the summer to make splashy moves for stars.
There are several reasons why this happens. First, GMs attempt to build their teams in the offseason, and unless there's an injury, it takes awhile for teams to diagnose their problems. Teams that appear well-positioned to contend usually have some degree of confidence in themselves, and it's rarely wise to radically change one's viewpoint in April or May, when there are, at most, only a couple months' worth of new data. For example, the Pirates, though they certainly couldn't have been described as "well-positioned to contend," began the 2012 season with several weeks of strong pitching performances, but had the worst offense in baseball in April and May. The Pittsburgh media blasted the Bucs for not making an immediate move for a hitter, sparking debate among Pirates fans about the rarity of early-season deals. But, despite not making a major move, the Pirates' offense was the best in baseball in June, and fifth-best in July.
Also, it can be difficult to make big trades in April and May because non-contending teams usually aren't yet ready to completely cut bait on their seasons. In fact, it's too early to say for sure who the contenders even are. For example, the Rockies were 11-16 and in last place on May 1, 2007, but they ended up going to the World Series. The Padres were 10-15 at the same date the previous year, and they won the NL West.
There clearly are some teams who know with near-certainty, before the season even starts, that they won't be contending — the 2013 Astros and Marlins fall into this category (and both have shown so little interest in hiding their rebuilding plans that it's possible to imagine them bucking the trend and making significant trades this month or next). But such teams rarely have much to offer contenders. And even for bad teams, there's value in waiting until summer before making trades. An in-season veteran-for-prospects trade can deflate a fanbase, and most teams probably don't want to raise a white flag just before they sail into what are generally the best-attended games of the year in early summer.
It's unclear when — or whether — the trend of waiting until midsummer to make big trades will change. By making big deals earlier in the season, contending teams could get more absolute value out of their acquisitions, and gain a bigger edge on other contenders. And non-contending teams should, at least theoretically, be able to extract more value in prospects, since, if the player they're trading is a rental, they're trading four or five months of that player rather than two.
It's doubtful many teams will avail themselves of those advantages, however, mainly because, later in the season, it's clearer what trades actually mean. I use the word "absolute" above to mean value that can be assessed using a statistic like WAR, where a September solo homer for a contending team has essentially the same value as a September solo homer for a non-contending team. Obviously, if a team's primary goal is to make the playoffs, the relative values of the two home runs could be dramatically different.
Imagine your team has a one-run lead in the second inning, and now imagine it has a one-run lead in the eighth. The former situation is far less urgent, because most aspects of the outcome of the game remain undecided. Your opponent could easily score five runs in the third, or the fourth, or any other inning, and make that one-run lead irrelevant. Or, your own team could score five, and suddenly be in the midst of a blowout. But if your team has a one-run lead in the eighth, you're close to securing a victory, and the likelihood of one team or the other posting a big inning and dramatically changing the outcome of the game is greatly reduced, and any run either team does score has a big impact on its chances of winning.
The standings work the same way. A two-game lead or deficit in a division race means little in mid-April, and substantially more in late July. (On Saturday, the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay sarcastically responded via Twitter to a fan who asked if that evening's game was a must-win for the Reds: "Absolutely. Could be 2 out with 151 to play. Tough to come back from that.") That's one reason teams continue to wait until then to deal for stars — they may get less value from them in an absolute sense, but they help make up for that by getting more value in relation to their situations. They get fewer WAR, but they increase the chances that the WAR they do get will be meaningful.
Someday, a couple of creative organizations at opposite ends of the talent spectrum will make a big trade in the early part of the season — this year's Blue Jays and Marlins would have been perfect, if that Josh Johnson / Jose Reyes / Mark Buehrle blockbuster hadn't already happened. It's still possible the Marlins could trade Giancarlo Stanton in the next month or so. The Astros could also make a deal early on. If not, though, it's unlikely there will be many big trades until the summer. Early-season trades simply don't happen very often.
The free agent market is packed with useful relievers, especially from the right side. Today let's survey relievers who may be available in trade this offseason.
Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, David Aardsma, and Leo Nunez could be made available if their teams seek cheaper replacements. All four could earn $4MM+ as arbitration eligible players; Papelbon will jump past $10MM.
Joakim Soria can be retained affordably by the Royals through 2014, and he's only earning $4MM in 2011. In the unlikely event the Royals trade him, it'll be because they were bowled over by an offer of multiple young players. He can block trades to the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies, Cardinals, or Cubs.
Brandon League and Joba Chamberlain are a couple of arbitration eligible late-inning guys who could be available. League seems less likely to be dealt than Aardsma, and the Mariners probably wouldn't move both. Chamberlain could be acquired by a team looking to use him as a starter.
Plenty of relievers are non-tender candidates, meaning they could be trade bait prior to the December 2nd deadline. Gustavo Chacin, Tim Byrdak, Brian Tallet, Jeremy Accardo, Todd Coffey, D.J. Carrasco, Blaine Boyer, George Sherrill, Chris Ray, Joe Smith, Sean White, Jim Johnson, Matt Albers, Dustin Nippert, Lance Cormier, Hideki Okajima, Jared Burton, Manny Delcarmen, Zach Miner, Pat Neshek, Tony Pena, Bobby Jenks, Dustin Moseley, and Sergio Mitre comprise this huge group.
The list of relief trade candidates is lengthy, but closer types such as Aardsma and Nunez are the most likely to go. A few more trade candidates could surface if certain free agent relievers accept arbitration offers. Teams are unlikely to overpay in trade with so many interesting free agents out there.
For most of the last two seasons Cliff Lee has been on the trade block. Now that he's safely on the free agent market, teams can only hope to trade for less accomplished southpaws. More options will likely surface this winter, but here are some names to consider for now:
Barry Zito has three years and $64.5MM remaining on his contract, but Giants GM Brian Sabean says he doesn't intend to trade him. Something tells me that Zito could be acquired if someone chipped in enough money, but a deal seems unlikely. Randy Wolf ($20.5MM remaining), Scott Kazmir ($14MM remaining) and Paul Maholm ($6MM remaining) could potentially be moved for the right offer.
Probably Not Available
Wandy Rodriguez and John Danks could sign extensions with their respective clubs this winter. They are not likely to become serious trade candidates, but it wouldn't be shocking to see them on the block. The same goes for Joe Saunders, who earned $3.7MM last year and is becoming expensive through arbitration. Jerry Dipoto, who traded for Saunders as interim GM this summer, is still in the D'Backs front office, so it would be surprising to see Saunders hit the trade market this winter.
A Prince's Ransom
These pitchers wouldn't normally be trade candidates, but their clubs could dangle them in talks for Prince Fielder: Jonathan Sanchez, Derek Holland, Brett Cecil and Felix Doubront. That's a speculative list, of course, but the Brewers are presumably going to ask for arms if and when the Fielder trade talks begin.
Some pitchers under bad contracts are presumably available, but the trade market for left-handed starters doesn't offer up much beyond that. There's the usual assortment of non-tender candidates and players who won't get traded. The free agent market, which features Lee and Jorge de la Rosa, may be more appealing, especially for clubs willing to spend.
It's a murky trade market for right-handed starters. We can assume certain pitchers with burdensome contracts can be had, but the availability of the more interesting names is unknown.
Derek Lowe ($30MM through '12), A.J. Burnett ($49.5MM through '13), Daisuke Matsuzaka ($20MM through '12), Aaron Cook ($9.75MM through '11), Carlos Zambrano ($35.875MM through '12), Kenshin Kawakami ($6.667MM through '11), and Gil Meche ($12MM through '11) fill out this group. Some contracts are worse than others, and names like Lowe and Zambrano are not necessarily on the market.
Are They Available?
We've got six interesting righties who could hit the market: Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Garza, James Shields, and Jeff Niemann. Greinke would really shake up the pitching market, though the price would be huge and he has a partial no-trade clause. The Rays are at least six-deep in their rotation, causing many to wonder if Garza, Shields, Niemann, or at least Andy Sonnanstine could be available. The Orioles might prefer the stability Guthrie adds, though this could be a sell-high opportunity. Marcum is under team control for two more years; is there any good reason to flip him?
We mentioned Kyle Davies, Brian Bannister, Jeff Karstens, Dustin Moseley, John Maine, Sergio Mitre, and Brandon McCarthy as non-tender candidates earlier. If a team is willing to tender a contract, we could see trades in advance of the December 2nd non-tender deadline.
The free agent market for right-handed starters is uninspiring, but names like Greinke, Garza, and Shields would spice up the landscape considerably.
The free agent market for right fielders offers a few solid options, such as Jayson Werth and Magglio Ordonez. With the Tigers, Angels, Phillies, Nationals, Pirates, Cardinals, and Giants potentially looking for help at the position, let's survey the trade landscape.
Are They Available?
Jose Bautista, David DeJesus, and Carlos Quentin are three names to watch this winter. Though there were a few rumors in the summer, it's difficult to picture the Blue Jays trading Bautista coming off a 54 home run campaign. With DeJesus, we mentioned earlier that it may be wise to let him establish good health after his season ended in July with a torn thumb ligament. Though it's pure speculation, Quentin seems the most likely of the three to be dealt this winter. The Daily Herald's Scot Gregor examined his stock four days ago. At one point, the Nationals showed interest.
Three Under Contract
Bobby Abreu, Kosuke Fukudome, and Milton Bradley are three well-paid right fielders who could be on the move if their teams assume salary. Abreu is owed $9MM next year and another $9MM in 2012 if he reaches 433 plate appearances in '11. Abreu or Juan Rivera could be dealt if the Angels add a free agent outfielder. Fukudome was useful given his .263/.371/.439 line, but at $13.5MM next year the Cubs might prefer to trade their first-ever Japanese player and recoup some payroll space. Bradley at $12MM is nearly immovable, but I like listing him anyway.
The Giants' Nate Schierholtz, 27 in February, could be sent packing after failing to produce in the bigs the last few years. The non-tender candidates, discussed here, are so heavily favored to be cut loose that it doesn't make sense to trade for any of them.
There are several useful bats potentially joining the right field trade market. Players like DeJesus and Quentin require injury risk tolerance, while most of the others require a willingness to assume part of an oversized contract. Also consider that some clubs may be open to tolerating a left field type in right field for a year, adding names like Josh Willingham, Raul Ibanez, and Luke Scott to the mix.
After Coco Crisp and Jayson Werth, the free agent market for center fielders is barren. The Royals, Braves, Marlins, Nationals, and Padres may be looking for help at the position; let's see what the trade market offers.
Rasmus is seemingly untouchable after a .276/.361/.498 performance at age 23. Though Rasmus requested a trade earlier this year, GM John Mozeliak said on September 26th, "I can assure you, Colby's not going to be traded." It was reported on October 6th that multiple teams are preparing a push for Rasmus anyway, but I expect Mozeliak to keep his word.
Kemp, signed through '11 and under team control through '12, slumped to .249/.310/.450 with apparently poor defense this year. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti wasn't as firm as Mozeliak was about Rasmus, but Colletti's October 2nd comments to ESPN's Buster Olney indicate Kemp's also staying put. Colletti said he'll listen on any player, "But there's not going to be any shopping on our part. I view all of our core younger guys as people who are going to be here for a while." It appears the Nationals will kick the tires.
Upton has not been able to match his offensive production of 2007-08, but he still adds value defensively. He'll earn more than $3MM as a second-time arbitration eligible player, but even the cost-conscious Rays might prefer to keep him given Carl Crawford's expected departure. Highly-regarded prospect Desmond Jennings has mostly played center in his career, so he could replace Upton if necessary.
Should the Yankees or Red Sox win the bidding for Crawford, a center fielder could become available. The Sox have Mike Cameron ($7.25MM for '11) and Jacoby Ellsbury (team control through '13), while the Yankees have Curtis Granderson ($20.25MM through '12) and Brett Gardner (team control through '14). Darnell McDonald, who logged 450.6 center field innings for the Sox this year, could also be trade bait if a logjam develops.
Veterans Under Contract
Carlos Beltran ($18.5MM), Grady Sizemore ($8MM), Kosuke Fukudome ($13.5MM), Nate McLouth ($7.75MM), and Skip Schumaker ($2.7MM) are all signed through next season, with Schumaker arbitration eligible after that and the rest heading toward free agency. Aaron Rowand is owed $24MM through '12. Beltran and Sizemore must prove their health, though the former played a half-season and came alive in the final month. Fukudome and Schumaker were not primarily center fielders this year. McLouth and Rowand were major negatives offensively.
Nyjer Morgan, Rajai Davis, and Jordan Schafer could be viewed as expendable by the Nationals, Athletics, and Braves. Morgan's future may depend on whether the Nationals add an outfielder, while Davis' could rest on Coco Crisp's option and the team's corner outfield alternatives. Schafer, the Braves' 2009 Opening Day center fielder, had a lost year partially due to wrist problems.
Tony Gwynn, Scott Hairston, Reggie Willits, and Dewayne Wise could be on the non-tender bubble come December 2nd, and therefore might be trade candidates. You wouldn't consider any of these players a starting center fielder, though.
Rasmus and Kemp may be nearly impossible to pry loose, but the trade market for center fielders still offers more promise than the available free agents. Clubs willing to gamble on well-paid health risks will have more options.
A week ago, we established that the free agent market for left fielders is weak for clubs that can't join the Carl Crawford bidding. The Rays, Tigers, Angels, Braves, Reds, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Padres, and Giants may be looking for help at the position; let's see what the trade market adds to the picture.
If the Nationals re-sign Adam Dunn or add another slugger and feel they can spare Josh Willingham, this offseason would be the time to make a deal. Willingham, 32 in February, posted a solid .268/.389/.459 line in 450 plate appearances this year. He's open to playing first base or the outfield corners and could make around $7MM in 2011 before reaching free agency. He has faced injuries recently, however.
The Royals' David DeJesus played little left field this year, but has extensive experience at the position. The team already picked up his $6MM option for '11. His career-best season ended in July with a torn thumb ligament, just before the trade deadline. If the Royals intend to move him, it may make sense to let him demonstrate good health first.
Baltimore's Luke Scott is another name to consider, though he hasn't played 200 innings in left field since '08. Scott had a strong offensive year and is due a raise on a $4.05MM salary, but there's been no indication the Orioles are looking to move him.
If you're willing to pick up a bad contract, the trade market for left fielders presents several options: Carlos Lee, Raul Ibanez, Juan Rivera, and Milton Bradley. Lee's deal would be the toughest to stomach, at $37MM over the next two seasons. His normally respectable numbers fell off a cliff this year at age 34. Ibanez, with $11.5MM remaining, is still a useful hitter. The Phillies might need him if Jayson Werth departs, though. Rivera, owed $5.25MM for '11, may be shopped as the Angels look for more athleticism in left field. He hit just .252/.312/.409 on the season. Bradley says he can coexist with new Mariners manager Eric Wedge, but if not it'll be nearly impossible to find a taker even if the Ms assume most of his $12MM salary.
Out Of Favor?
Scott Hairston, Matt Diaz, Conor Jackson, Ryan Langerhans, Fred Lewis, Laynce Nix, Reggie Willits, Travis Buck, and Lastings Milledge are non-tender candidates. Melky Cabrera has already joined the free agent ranks. The non-tender candidates figure to be trade bait prior to the December 2nd deadline, especially borderline cases like Lewis, Diaz, Milledge, Nix, and Willits.
Willingham, DeJesus, and Scott would greatly improve the market for left fielders if made available. Otherwise you're looking at bad contracts and players hoping to bounce back or establish themselves.
On Wednesday we looked at the free agent market for third basemen, noting that it's Adrian Beltre and not much else. The Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Indians, Tigers, Angels, Athletics, Mariners, Marlins, Cardinals, and Giants can't all sign him, so let's analyze the trade market at the hot corner.
Best Available Regular
There is sentiment that new Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers could shop Mark Reynolds in hopes of changing the team's offensive approach. Reynolds led MLB in strikeouts in each of the past three seasons, and those totals hold the top three spots as single-season records. He hit 44 home runs and slugged .543 in '09, but slipped to 32 and .433 this year. Former GM Josh Byrnes locked Reynolds up in March; he's owed $5MM in 2011, $7.5MM in '12, and has an $11MM club option for '13. Reynolds being under contract doesn't help his market value, but at half the price of Beltre he will draw suitors despite his difficulty making contact.
Sell High Opportunity
Wilson Betemit isn't known to be available, but Royals GM Dayton Moore would do well to field offers. The soon-to-be 29-year-old has hit a little in the past, but nothing like this year's .297/.378/.511 line in 315 plate appearances. The Royals are his fifth organization; he'll be arbitration eligible for 2011 before hitting free agency after the season. Betemit is expendable and coming off the best year of his career at a time when decent-hitting third basemen are hard to come by.
Three Under Contract
Chone Figgins didn't play third base for the Mariners this year, but he's played it well in the past. He slipped to .259/.340/.306 this year and has $26MM left on his contract for 2011-13. A $9MM salary for 2014 could vest with 600 plate appearances in '13. A fresh start makes sense for Figgins, who still qualifies as a useful leadoff man. Another burdensome contract will have to be involved.
Mark Teahen, inexplicably locked up through 2012, hit .258/.327/.382 in 262 plate appearances in his White Sox debut. He fractured a finger on May 30th and returned to the team on August 13th. The Sox could change course and try Brent Morel or Dayan Viciedo as their third baseman next year, perhaps swapping Teahen for another bad contract.
The Twins' Brendan Harris is under contract at $1.75MM for 2011. He was outrighted in June, so he's presumably available.
Former Top Prospects
Brandon Wood's stock is low – he hit .146/.174/.208 in 243 big league plate appearances for the Angels this year and turns 26 in March. He's shown big power at Triple A and is capable of playing shortstop, so a few clubs would be interested in seeing if a change of scenery helps.
Mat Gamel, 25, had a solid year in the minors but saw little big league time with the Brewers. He dealt with a slight tear in his right lat muscle in the beginning of the season but eventually hit well enough to earn a September call-up. He had toe surgery at the end of the month, however. Casey McGehee is locked in at third base for the Brewers. They could use Gamel elsewhere or shop him for starting pitching this offseason.
As we mentioned before, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Lopez, Andy Marte, Andy LaRoche, and Kevin Frandsen could be trade bait as non-tender candidates. There may be a few clubs willing to tender Kouzmanoff a contract if the Athletics aren't, so a trade is possible for him if the A's find a third base alternative. Regarding the others, teams might wait until the December 2nd non-tender deadline passes.
The trade market for third basemen offers worthwhile gambles. Will Reynolds and Figgins bounce back and will Betemit regress? Can Wood and Gamel hold down everyday jobs? Can Kouzmanoff and Teahen hit enough to justify salaries north of $4MM?
As we mentioned earlier, Jason Bartlett, J.J. Hardy, and Ryan Theriot are getting expensive through arbitration and could be shopped around. Theriot will probably be non-tendered and Hardy may get another shot with the Twins because their alternatives aren't much better. The Rays, though, could trim several million dollars by trading Bartlett. Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez could be in-house alternatives.
We've heard the odd Stephen Drew rumor here and there over the years, but new Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers probably won't trade him this winter. Drew had a strong year, and the D'Backs need him at short.
A few teams might feel they've captured a rare surplus of shortstops. The Rays are one, with Bartlett, Brignac, and Rodriguez. The Red Sox could be another, given the strong play of Jed Lowrie this year. Generally we'd expect the older, more expensive player to be shopped. In this case that's Marco Scutaro, who's set to earn $5MM next season.
Chris Nelson will never supplant Troy Tulowitzki as the Rockies' shortstop, but they'll probably prefer to keep Nelson around in the second base mix. The Cubs have strong organizational shortstop depth with Starlin Castro and Hak-Ju Lee, perhaps making Darwin Barney expendable.
The Padres' Everth Cabrera, Dodgers' Chin-lung Hu, and the Angels' Brandon Wood may have fallen out of favor. Cabrera's offense took a dive this year, though the Padres don't have better options. Hu has spent time at Triple A in each of the last four seasons and is behind Dee Gordon and Ivan DeJesus Jr. on the team's depth chart. Wood had his longest big league trial this year, but he still hasn't figured it out.
Veterans Under Contract
Jack Wilson ($5MM) and Jamey Carroll ($1.8MM) are a couple of veterans who may be available. Wilson is a much pricier Adam Everett, so he'd be tough to move. Carroll logged a surprising 573 innings at shortstop this year with a career-best .379 OBP.
On Tuesday we analyzed the free agent market for first basemen, noting plenty of openings and a large group of players who will be fighting for regular playing time. Let's see what the trade market adds to the equation.
The Big Names
The Winter Meetings are coming up in a couple of months, and trade talk could be dominated by Prince Fielder rumors. 77.8% of MLBTR readers expect the big man to be traded this offseason, according to a recent site poll. Fielder, 27 in May, had an off-year in terms of his 32 home runs and .471 SLG yet led MLB with 114 walks and posted a stellar .401 OBP. Fielder, a Scott Boras client, reportedly rejected an extension offer from the Brewers in the five-year, $100MM range. He's arbitration eligible this winter and could earn around $15MM in 2011 before hitting free agency. The White Sox and Rangers were reported July suitors for Fielder; the Brewers figure to seek pitching.
A year ago Adrian Gonzalez was considered a strong trade candidate. I think the Padres' surprising run this year takes him off the market this winter, but it'd be silly not to listen. At $6.2MM for 2011, Gonzalez would be a superior trade target to Fielder.
Carlos Lee is more of a big contract than a big name – he's owed $37MM over the next two seasons. Lee spent most of his time in left field but picked up 20 games at first base toward the end of the season. He slumped to .246/.291/.417 this year and could only be dealt for a similarly bad contract.
James Loney, Casey Kotchman, and Dan Johnson are our speculative first base non-tender candidates. Loney has enough promise that a trade is much more likely than a non-tender. Kotchman, on the other hand, is certain to be cut loose. As for the Rays' Johnson? He would not be expensive to retain through arbitration, having picked up only 140 big league plate appearances this year. He is 31 years old, though, and the Rays could non-tender him in December for the flexibility. Johnson's appeal lies in his destruction of Triple-A pitching this year, though there's no particular reason for the Rays to move him.
Four other first basemen who could draw trade interest: Travis Ishikawa, Chris Davis, Garrett Jones, and Jeff Clement. Ishikawa's future with the Giants may depend on whether they re-sign Aubrey Huff or another free agent. The 27-year-old Ishikawa has a career line of .265/.327/.400 in 665 plate appearances, with problems against southpaws in a scant 67 PAs. Davis had a shot to take over as the Rangers' regular first baseman this year, but his minor league success has not carried over. He too has struggled against lefties and must await his team's offseason decisions. Clouding the picture for Davis is Mitch Moreland's success this year.
The Pirates may have given up on regular playing time for Jones and Clement. Jones had a full 654 plate appearances to prove himself, and he did hit 21 home runs, but his .247/.306/.414 line was subpar. Like Ishikawa and Davis, lefties give him trouble.
Reds prospect Yonder Alonso would not be labeled a project at this point, but we'll put him in this group. 24 in April, Alonso was drafted 7th overall in 2008. He hit .296/.355/.470 in 445 Triple-A plate appearances this year, and is blocked by Joey Votto. Alonso has increased his versatility by playing 30 minor league games in left field, but he still may be dealt to fill a need.
We mentioned in the free agent post that the Orioles, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, White Sox, Rangers, Braves, Nationals, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Dodgers, and Giants could be seeking first base help this winter. The trade market adds two serious names in Fielder and perhaps Loney, plus a host of players who would be cheap to acquire and will have to earn their playing time.