Commentary

Expect teams to be 'aggressive' in trade market

Originally Published: November 6, 2007
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball's general managers arrived at their annual meetings eagerly awaiting the signature event of the winter: The distribution of Scott Boras' 100-page tribute to star free agent Alex Rodriguez.

Until the brochures are back from Kinko's and the A-Rod employment watch begins in earnest -- obliterating everything in its path -- the game's executives will focus on more pedestrian concerns. That means lots of trade discussions and some tire kicking on free agents who aren't necessarily icons, but fill a place in the budget and a hole on the roster.

Baseball people love to complain about the high cost of mediocre talent. But even by the usual standards, this year's free-agent market is one of the lamest in memory.

Just from talking to general managers in the last 24 hours, I think we'll be spending more time talking to each other than to agents. I look at some deals to come out of these meetings.

--Padres GM Kevin Towers

Beyond A-Rod, you'll find some difference-making outfielders (Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones and Aaron Rowand), a prime-of-his-career closer (Francisco Cordero) and some lifelong Yankees (Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera) dabbling with the thought of leaving the Bronx. But the starting pitching market is thin enough that Carlos Silva, who has allowed 1,122 hits in 945 career innings, might be looking at a four-year deal worth more than $40 million. And Tom Glavine, 41, is an attractive commodity because he's reliable and won't require a long-term commitment.

As a result, most of the 30 big league clubs are trying to show some old-fashioned ingenuity. They'll spend the next three days at the Hyatt Grand Cypress scoping out potential trade partners and doing the dance to see how they match up.

"Just from talking to general managers in the last 24 hours, I think we'll be spending more time talking to each other than to agents," said San Diego's Kevin Towers. "I look at some deals to come out of these meetings. Clubs are probably going to be a little more aggressive in the trade market, because it's tough to fill holes through the free agent market."

The thin free-agent field this winter is a reflection of some pre-emptive spending throughout the game. Houston's Roy Oswalt, Toronto's Vernon Wells, Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano, the White Sox's Mark Buehrle and Arizona's Eric Byrnes have stayed put by signing long-term deals worth a total of almost $470 million since August 2006.

And Boston's Josh Beckett, possibly the best pitcher on the planet, would have been a free agent this winter if he hadn't signed a contract extension 16 months ago. The Red Sox have Beckett locked up for an affordable $20 million over the next two seasons, with a $12 million club option for 2010.

Meanwhile, trade rumors abound. The Marlins are inclined to listen on Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis because they're becoming increasingly more expensive in salary arbitration. And the direction the Orioles take with Miguel Tejada will say a lot about where the organization is headed under new president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail.

Other names making the rounds in trade speculation include the recently injured (Rocco Baldelli and Joe Crede), the disappointing (Jason Bay and Cliff Lee), the positionally displaced (Coco Crisp, Josh Barfield, Jacque Jones and Arizona prospect Carlos Gonzalez) and the terminally overpriced (Richie Sexson).

Baltimore's Erik Bedard, Oakland's Dan Haren and Joe Blanton and Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir are among the young pitchers whose names are being tossed around, although the price is likely to be high across the board. Haren started for the American League in the All-Star Game and is under contract for a total of $9.5 million over the next two seasons, so Oakland GM Billy Beane has no compelling reason to move him.

Johan Santana

Santana

Garrett Atkins

Atkins

The Giants will discuss just about everyone, including Ray Durham and Randy Winn, Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts. The Rockies might listen on third baseman Garrett Atkins, but only if they can't move Brian Fuentes' salary. And everyone will be keeping a close watch just in case the Twins start soliciting offers for Johan Santana. That time has not yet arrived.

Teams with limited trade options and a distaste for the major league free agent crop might cast an eye toward Japan. Hiroshima starter Hiroki Kuroda, Chiba Lotte closer Masahide Kobayashi and Chunichi outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, a multitalented player who missed much of last season with elbow trouble, will all have suitors if they're inclined to take the plunge to the U.S.

And clubs with limited budgets have the option of pushing prospects through the system. Colorado and Arizona thrived this season with rosters long on homegrown talent, so others might be more inclined to try that approach in 2008.

"Teams have been moving in that direction for a while," said David Forst, Oakland's assistant GM. "It's not a new phenomenon. But when Cleveland and Boston have success in the playoffs with young players in pivotal roles, it certainly brings a lot of attention to the fact you can succeed that way."

Said Towers: "Maybe we give a shot to a kid in Triple-A who we think might be a half-year away from being ready. Rather than going out and spending a ton of money when you have no history with a player, you can take a kid you've signed and developed and give him an opportunity."

As the events of last winter showed -- with Barry Zito, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee et al -- teams with money at their disposal will ultimately find a way to spend it. But enough clubs have been burned by free-agent busts to give serious consideration to the alternatives. Of course, when the A-Rod sweepstakes commences, that'll be the focus of Major League Baseball's Hot Stove.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer