— It’s no secret this free-agent market is unspectacular, overcrowded and slow-moving. And when the deadline for tendering contracts hits Dec. 12, the pool of available talent will get even more saturated.
All of which at least sets up the possibility that the winter meetings — which start Monday in Indianapolis — could turn into a trade-fest.
Specifically, a financially motivated trade-fest, as teams continue to deal with the ramifications — read: less revenue — of a game-wide 6.6 million drop in attendance.
So, contrary to what you can’t help but see and read, Roy Halladay isn’t the only high-priced available talent. He might be the best, but he’s far from alone.
Here’s a look some of the other leading possibilities to be switching uniforms soon through a trade, and the teams who may have to move them:
Detroit Tigers: Nobody likes to use the term “fire sale” because it’s bad for season-ticket sales. But combine a handful of long-term deals that have blown up in the organization’s face (Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Carlos Guillen) with the bleak Michigan economy, and somebody has to go from The D.
Curtis Granderson is the most-marketable commodity — who wouldn’t want him, come to think of it? But the Cubs need him most after the mess they made of the 2009 regular season. Cubs GM Jim Hendry’s future could depend on what he does this winter, so he needs to come up with something major.
Talks with the Mariners reportedly involving Edwin Jackson and Brandon Morrow didn’t produce a deal, but there is little doubt Jackson also can be moved. And because the Tigers only gave up Matt Joyce to get one very good season from Jackson, they should come out ahead here.
Atlanta Braves: Pitching-rich teams are few and far between, so the Braves are in the best position to land the big bat their lineup needs.
The rotation has six quality options, and while shedding Derek Lowe’s contract (three years, $45 million) is preferable, Javier Vazquez is the better pitcher with far less financial obligation (one year, $11.5 million), so he’s far more likely to go.
Florida Marlins: Their severe payroll limitations make them averse to arbitration-eligible players, so don’t discount any of these possibilities: Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, Cody Ross, Matt Lindstrom.
Uggla or Cantu almost certainly will go, and — hint — Uggla’s salary is much higher. The Giants are a good fit for Uggla, whose move to third base would anchor Pablo Sandoval at first, where he belongs long-term.
San Diego Padres: A new GM (Jed Hoyer) and a payroll stuck in the $40 million range equal a recipe for some change.
But because Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell, their only two stars, have surprisingly modest contracts, there’s no real financial necessity to deal either one.
But especially in Gonzalez’s case, that point in nearing — maybe a year away at most, as he could command $20 million in free agency.
But Kevin Kouzmanoff has reached arbitration eligibility, and Chase Headley is available to replace him at third base. That could make Kouzmanoff part of a deal to land either a corner outfielder with power, or more pitching.
From the, “can we rethink this?” dept.: The Rays realize the folly of giving Pat Burrell $16 million last winter. And the Cubs finally admit that signing Milton Bradley for three years and $30 million was the biggest mistake of last offseason.
But with Alfonso Soriano anchored in left (Burrell’s only position), the idea of a swap makes little sense unless the Cubs can flip Burrell. Still, both are headed elsewhere.
More from the burdensome contract division, with remaining financial obligations in parentheses — and we won’t even include Vernon Wells (seven years, $105 million) and Barry Zito (five years $83 million), who are very definition of untradable:
Aaron Rowand, Giants (three years, $36 million); Francisco Cordero, Reds (two years, $25 million); Juan Pierre (two years, $18.5 million); Gary Mathews Jr., Angels (two years, $23 million); Jose Guillen, Royals (one year, $12 million); Kerry Wood, Indians (one year, $10.5 million plus 2011 vesting option);
Brad Hawpe, Colorado: The Rockies outfield is crowded enough (Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, Ryan Spilborghs, Matt Murton) that Hawpe’s diminishing range and rising salary are expendable.
Bobby Jenks, Chicago: One never really knows what GM Kenny Williams has up his sleeve, but a speculated non-tender seems the unlikeliest of possible scenarios. So it’s trade or keep, and if Williams gets what he wants in return, he never is afraid to pull the trigger.
Ryan Doumit, Pittsburgh: He’s a versatile bench player capable of catching, playing first base and right field, and has some pop. That makes him a wanted commodity, and he’s beginning to get a bit pricey for the Pirates.
And finally, the maybe later, but-just not now: The Mariners have been linked to several trade and free-agent possibilities already this off-season — everybody from British Columbia natives Jason Bay and Rich Harden, to Edwin Jackson.
But the most-important piece of business for GM Jack Zduriencik is the Felix Hernandez contract negotiations. No contract extension, and the Hernandez speculation machine would crank up as it did around the last July 31 deadline. Only this time, a trade would be far more likely.
Others who could go around the July 31 trade deadline if their teams’ seasons go south: Carl Crawford, Rays; Joe Nathan, Twins; Huston Street, Colorado.
A: A flurry this week has revealed most of the Phils’ winter plans.
They signed catcher Brian Schneider to a two-year deal. That represents an upgrade behind Carlos Ruiz, as Schneider, 33, was a solid regular catcher for a handful of years with the Expos/Nationals, and at this point profiles as a better-than-average backup.
Another nice move expected to happen shortly is signing utility infield Juan Castro to a one-year deal. He should be an upgrade as well over Eric Bruntlett, who won’t be back.
The obvious need was at third base, and Placido Polanco has filled it, getting a three-year, $18 million deal. This is a move that can be questioned at least in terms of the contract length, as there are better options (Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre), Polanco’s offense is in decline and he will have to switch positions at age 34.
Another area to be addressed is the bullpen. They need a quality option in case closer Brad Lidge continues to struggle, so look for them to add an experienced closer who also would fit as a setup man. A few leading possibilities include J.J. Putz, Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano and Fernando Rodney.
There also is a slight chance the Phils could emerge in the Roy Halladay trade sweepstakes, but the Angels and Red Sox seem to be more likely destinations for the Blue Jays ace, with the Yankees getting involved, especially if Andy Pettitte retires. But early indications are that Pettitte will pitch at least one more season.
Far more likely is the Phils taking a shot at bringing back Randy Wolf, or a cheaper/injury risk-type such as John Smoltz or perhaps Rich Harden.
A: We’re going to find out Halladay’s true value very soon, as he essentially is forcing the Jays to deal him before the start of spring training by saying he will veto any proposed deal after that point.
The likeliest landing spots for the ace right-hander are the Red Sox and Angels, with the Yankees and perhaps the Phillies as fallback possibilities.
Halladay’s value obviously is higher than Johnson’s, but it might not be as high as the Blue Jays are expecting. That could prompt the Jays to hang onto Halladay through next season, then take compensatory draft picks when he leaves through free agency.
But Halladay wants out, so look for a deal to be struck this winter. At minimum, it’s going to take a young big-league pitcher such as Clay Bucholz or Joe Saunders, another quality young big leaguer, and a prospect to get a deal done.
Johnson, who emerged from under the radar as one of the game’s top young arms last season, is two years away from free agency.
So even though recent talks about a long-term contract broke off, there is no urgency on the Marlins’ part to deal him — especially when his salary will be relatively reasonable.
In fact, the Marlins have said they won’t deal Johnson this winter — but could entertain that possibility before the July 31, 2010, trade deadline if they aren’t in the playoff chase at that point.
What Johnson’s value will be at that point will depend in large part upon how his 2010 season unfolds.
A: The signing of Andruw Jones as a backup outfielder/DH probably signals the Sox’s lack of interest in bringing back Thome. But it’s not etched in stone, either.
Jones no longer is a consistent threat, although he did hit 17 homers and drive in 43 runs in 82 games while hitting just .214. Thome (.249-23-74) was far more productive in 2009, even though he played very sparingly after going to the Dodgers on Aug. 31.
But the Sox have placed a high value on versatility as they rebuild their bench, and we all know Thome is nothing more than a DH at this point, so that will work against him.
Other left-handed-hitting DH options on the free-agent market include Hideki Matsui and Hank Blalock. But at this point, Thome would be the cheaper alternative, as his six-year, $85-million deal has expired.