As promised, a peak at the most mouthwatering Hot Stove trade targets...
1. Justin Upton - OF - Arizona D-Backs
Potential Suitors: Everybody & Nobody
Perhaps the greatest indication yet of Upton's superlative talent is the extent to which all other Hot Stove storylines - Cliff Lee's free agency, Derek Jeter's squabble with the Yankees, the Dan Uggla trade, etc. - have been put on the backburner since Kevin Towers announced his willingness to listen to offers for the D-Backs 23-year-old outfielder. Towers, in his first year as Arizona's GM, is probably just trying to raise awareness for his organization and facilitate conversations with his fellow execs.
It's true that he may also see a very real opportunity for the D-Backs in the immediate future, even though they share a division with the reigning World Champs. There's certainly good cause to believe the Giants were a bit fortunate this year and they've got a lot of rebuilding to do on offense this winter. I would go so far as to say the Padres weren't only fortunate, but fluky, and are likely to get worse before they get better. The Dodgers have quite a bit of stockpiled talent, but the McCourt divorce has been keeping them hamstrung. The Rockies are the only franchise in the NL West that is truly primed to contend in 2011 and beyond, regardless of what happens this offseason.
With that picture in mind, I can understand how Towers might believe that with a few cagey maneuvers he could get the D-Backs in the postseason as soon as next year. However, I don't see why that plan wouldn't include one of the game's most promising young players. If, in 2011, Upton develops into the superstar we all assume he will eventually become, he's almost certain to be worth more than anything he could yield in a trade right now, following a disappointing season in which he was slowed by injuries. The D-Backs have Upton wrapped up for five more seasons, the next three of which come at an extremely reasonable price. They also have already made a significant time investment. They promoted him quickly and allowed him to mature at the major-league level under the assumption it would expedite his development as both a player and a leader. Even though Towers wasn't in charge when those decisions were made, I think he'd be remiss to squander that time and energy for anything short of an absolute fleecing (we're talking a Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, & Matt Joyce type of fleecing). None of the organizations who have the depth of talent Towers would be interested are going to fall for his ruse, not for a guy who hasn't been able to stay healthy for a full season since he reached the majors.
Hippeaux's Prediction: Stays put.
2. Adrian Gonzalez - 1B - San Diego Padres
Potential Suitors: Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers
A year ago this time pretty much everybody was convinced Gonzo would be in Boston in time for the 2010 pennant race. However, the Padres surprised everybody (including themselves?) by staying the hunt for the NL West title all the way to the season's final day. It may have been a curse disguised as a blessing. In the end, San Diego didn't get to play in October, and now Gonzalez is less than a year from free agency and his trade value is diminishing with each passing day. If they Padres deal him, they'll still probably get at least two solid prospects in return, but they'll be essentially throwing in the towel for 2011. It's a hard admission to make to their fan base.
Gonzo is likely destined for a Mark Teixeira-sized contract, which is why San Diego can't hope to retain him. It could also limit his trade market. Many teams will be interested, but few will be willing to offer top prospects merely for a one-year rental. Typical free-spenders like the Yankees and Phillies will sit this one out because they've already got long-term commitments at first base.
If and when Gonzo is made available, I expect Boston will make every effort to acquire him, but their farm system will have a hard time competing with those of Texas, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, or Baltimore, if those teams do get involved. San Diego's GM, Jed Hoyer, no doubt knows this, so he'll wait until later in the offseason to make a deal, hoping to identify more desperate franchises, and fueling a few more ticket sales as an added bonus.
Hippeaux's Prediction: Traded to Boston Red Sox for Casey Kelly, Lars Anderson, & Josh Reddick
3. Zack Greinke - SP - Kansas City Royals
Potential Suitors: Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona D-Backs, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds
I think there's real fuel for this Hot Stove fire. While I don't agree with their diagnosis, Kansas City's front office clearly believes the Royals are just a few years away from contention. Unfortunately for them, their Cy Young-winning Ace is just two years from free agency. Frankly, for everybody involved, a trade makes sense. Greinke gets to spend his prime years pitching for a team that has a chance and in return the Royals save some money and get a couple of players whose ETA is in line with their 2013 target.
Obviously, there's no shortage of teams in the market for a young, dominant starter. And, because he's got two full years remaining under contract, his suitors won't necessarily be limited to teams with a chance of signing him to an extension. I do think, however, Greinke's history of anxiety and depression will play a role, perhaps limiting the interest from franchises in large and/or unfriendly media markets.
Hippeaux's Prediction: Traded to Milwaukee Brewers for Brett Lawrie, Carlos Gomez, & D'Vontrey Richardson
4. Prince Fielder - 1B - Milwaukee Brewers
Potential Suitors: San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers
I think we can say with relative certainty that Fielder is going to test the market next offseason. For starters, his agent is Scott Boras. We all know how much Boras likes to set precedents and Fielder is a potential precedent-setting player. There's a strong chance Fielder will hit his 200th homer before his 27th birthday. In five full seasons in the majors he's averaged 38 homers and 105 RBI. He's dramatically improved his plate discipline (led the NL in walks in 2010) and his defense (it's still not great, but its better). He's kept his weight in check. He's shown great leadership. And, perhaps most importantly, he's missed a grand total of 13 games...in five seasons!
He's got a long and impressive track record, especially for a player his age, and you can be certain Boras will make somebody pay for it. He will surely get a contract larger than any in the history of his position...so far (there's a good chance Pujols is going to set a new record before Fielder hits the market). So, while Fielder is a middle-of-the-order presence rivaled by only a handful of players in the entire game, few GMs will be willing to mortgage the farm knowing that either a.) they'll lose him in 2012 or b.) they'll have to pay him something near $200 Million.
Milwaukee will certainly shop him all winter long, but if they can solve their pitching woes some other way (enter Greinke), I expect they'll stick with Prince until the end and settle for a couple of compensation picks a year from now.
Hippeaux's Prediction: Stays put.
5. Mark Reynolds - 3B - Arizona D-Backs
Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants,
Imagine this: You're a major-league GM (pretty good start, right?). For the last week, you've been contemplating whether you're ready to commit a couple of your hard-won prospects to a trade for Justin Upton. At last, you're ready to pull the trigger. You're still anxious, but you figure, risks like this are a necessary part of doing business. So you punch up Arizona's GM, Kevin Towers, and you lay out your offer in no uncertain terms...
...and then he tries the ole bait-and-switch! "I don't know if I ready to part with Justin," he says, "but have you considered Mark Reynolds?"
Pros: Nobody can deny Mark Reynolds has legitimate 40 HR power. When healthy, he's also got surprising speed and he's made dramatic progress on defense, posting his first positive UZR (2.2) in 2010. He's got four years of major-league experience, but he just turned 27, so there's a high likelihood his best years are still in front of him. He's under contract for three more seasons at a fairly reasonable price (roughly $8 Mil./yr.).
Cons: He's led the National Leage in strikeouts for three years running. In 2010, he became the first National League player in three decades get enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, but finish below the Mendoza line (.198). (By the way, trivia answer is Ivan de Jesus, Cubs, 1981.) He's spent his entire career so far playing in a launching pad (his career SLG% is 46 points higher at home). He missed some games last season with hamstring problems and his stolen base totals suffered dramatically. And, last but not least, he's not Justin Upton.
Towers "shopping" of Upton may actually diminish the market for Reynolds. But the main thing diminishing the market for Reynolds is that he's coming off the worst year of his young career. Perhaps this is an ideal opportunity to "buy low"?
Hippeaux's Prediction: Traded to Los Angeles Angels for Trevor Bell & Brandon Wood
Here's some quick hits to round out the Top Ten...
6. Carlos Beltran - CF/RF - New York Mets
Beltran and Mets both looking for a fresh start. It's a contract year for the 34-year-old outfielder, so he's motivated. Is he healthy?
Hippeaux's Prediction: Traded to Kansas City Royals for Chris Getz, Juan Cruz, & cash
7. Heath Bell - CL - San Diego Padres
Padres have a boatload of relievers ready to move into the 9th. Bell's market will never be better than it is right now. Sell! Sell! Sell!
Hippeaux's Prediction: Traded to Atlanta Braves for Kyle Rose & Zeke Spruill
8. Josh Willingham - OF - Washington Nationals
Wills quietly had a couple of very strong seasons with the Nats and has been much better than you realize over the course of his career. He's got one more year before free agency. This could be a low-risk, high-reward rental. Hey, Brian Sabean, THIS ONE'S FOR YOU!!!
Hippeaux's Prediction: Traded to Detroit Tigers for Wilkin Ramirez & Scott Sizemore
9. Mike Napoli - C - Los Angeles Angels
He's never gotten on well with Scioscia, because of his defensive limitations, but there's no denying the kid can hit, and he's still young. Could make a great C/DH combo for teams looking to add power.
Hippeaux's Prediction: Traded to Toronto Blue Jays for Fred Lewis & Casey Janssen
10. Jason Bartlett - SS - Tampa Bay Rays
Reid Brignac & Tim Beckham are demanding playing time and Bartlett is coming off the worst year of his career. He can be had for a song. The question is, even then, is he worth it?
Hippeaux's Prediction: Traded to San Francisco Giants for Dan Runzler