Let’s not mince any words: The free-agent market stinks, especially the market for hitters. As a result, trade discussions started early this offseason, and they only will intensify when the general managers’ meetings begin Monday in Phoenix. The supply of available pitchers, even on the trade market, is greater than the supply of hitters. But the sheer number of names in play — like (L-R) Johnny Cueto, Troy Tulowitzki and Cole Hamels — could spark a frenzy. And, as we saw at the last non-waiver deadline, teams are more willing to trade major leaguers than in the past. Do I expect all of my top 10 trade candidates to get moved? Not necessarily. But all of them will be discussed at some level, and — as is the case every winter — we should expect a number of deals that will make our heads spin. Let the fun begin. -- Ken Rosenthal
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Cole Hamels, SP, Phillies
It’s no secret that the Phillies’ entire roster is available. Outfielder Marlon Byrd is the most popular target in early discussions. First baseman Ryan Howard is the player the Phils most want to move. Hamels, by far, is the most attractive piece. A trade could take a while, if it happens at all. Teams in need of a marquee starter likely will begin with the top three free agents: Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields. Hamels will cost players as well as dollars, though his remaining four-year, $90 million obligation figures to be more reasonable than the free-agent prices. Remember: Hamels also can block trades to 20 teams, and might agree to a deal to a team on his no-trade list only if that club exercises his $20 million vesting option for 2019.
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Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
The obstacles to moving him are considerable. Tulowitzki is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. Injuries have limited him to an average of 88 games the past three seasons. And he is still owed — ahem — $114 million over the next six years. OK, but this is a premier shortstop, a player so good that he offers immense value even when playing half a season. Three big-market teams – the Yankees, Mets and Dodgers – need a shortstop. Even some clubs that appear set could alter their plans to get Tulo. Meeting the Rockies’ price will not be easy, but if the team is motivated — and Tulowitzki signals a willingness to be moved — a deal could come together, some way, somehow.
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Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers
You know the deal with the Dodgers. Too many outfielders, including one of the game’s top prospects in Joc Pederson. Ethier would appear the most obvious man out, but he also might be the most difficult to trade — he is coming off his worst season, and owed $56 million over the next three years, including a buyout. On the other hand, Carl Crawford (three years, $62.25 million) revived last season and could bring a substantial return. Yasiel Puig? He occasionally drives teammates and coaches nuts, but is the most productive and affordable of the group. It’s difficult to imagine Andrew Friedman trading him in one of his first moves as the team’s new president of baseball operations.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY SportRobert Hanashiro
Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
The Rangers would be selling low; Andrus, 26, is coming off his worst season. Waiting to trade him could be more sensible, considering also that he seems likely to revive. After reporting out of shape last spring, Andrus already has lost about 10 pounds, according to one source, hellbent on becoming athletic and rangy again. Another problem with moving Andrus: His eight-year, $120 million extension begins next season. Seriously, would any team want to pay $15 million a year to a player who had a combined .653 OPS in 2013-14? Probably not, but the Rangers need to address their starting pitching and catching, and Luis Sardinas and Jurickson Profar are potential replacements at shortstop. The timing might not be ideal for a trade. But the Rangers could include cash in any deal to make Andrus more appealing.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
Johnny Cueto, SP, Reds
For months, many in the industry assumed that the Reds would have no choice but to trade at least one starter; Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon all are under club control only through next season. The team still could take that approach, dangling Cueto for the greatest return. One rival executive, however, believes that the Reds are more apt to keep all of their pitchers and go for it in 2015. Owner Bob Castellini wants to win. General manager Walt Jocketty signed only a two-year extension. And the Reds can reasonably expect that, with better health, they will be more formidable next season. Another thing: The Reds' window in the NL Central is only getting smaller. The Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates boast three of the best farm systems in the game.
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Ian Kennedy, SP, Padres
The Padres, according to major-league sources, are talking with clubs about all three of their top three starters. Kennedy, however, would seem more likely to be moved than Andrew Cashner or Tyson Ross. The Padres control Kennedy for only one more season and his agent is Scott Boras, making it unlikely he will sign an extension. Cashner, on the other hand, is under control for two more seasons, Ross for three. The question is how boldly new GM A.J. Preller wants to act in his quest to improve the worst offense in the majors. Kennedy projects to earn $10.3 million in arbitration, according to Matt Swartz of MLBTradeRumors.com. Teams reluctant to spend big on a starter will find that number attractive, and could make Kennedy a qualifying offer to ensure draft-pick compensation at the end of the season.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY SportsJake Roth
Tyler Clippard, RP, Nationals
While the Nationals probably do not want to break up one of the most talented teams in the majors, a number of their most prominent players are entering free-agent years. Clippard, a setup reliever, is one; right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, shortstop Ian Desmond and center fielder Denard Span are among the others. GM Mike Rizzo could entertain discussions on Zimmermann and even Desmond, given the Nats’ frustrations in signing them long term. Clippard, though, would be more easily replaced. The Nats are deep in young relievers, though they would need to find a closer if they did not trust Drew Storen in that role. Clippard’s projected arbitration number of $9.3 million is high for a setup man. He would be a perfect for a team in need of late-inning help — a team such as the Tigers.
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Justin Upton, OF, Braves
UPDATE - Dec. 19, 2014: Traded to Padres. KEN ROSENTHAL'S POST ON NOV. 6: Yes, it would appear counterintuitive for a team with MLB's second-worst offense to trade its top RBI man. But new president of baseball operations John Hart isn’t the type to maintain the status quo. Both Upton and Jason Heyward (traded to St. Louis on Nov. 17) are eligible for free agency at the end of the season. Heyward is a top-of-the-order hitter who will want to be paid like a middle-of-the-order hitter, particularly since he was just named the game’s best defensive player. Upton was second on the club and 13th in the NL in OPS, but his streakiness was evident by a September collapse. Do the Braves dare take advantage of a market starved for offense to improve their position in the future? If so, Upton likely would bring a greater return.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY SportsBrett Davis
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Red Sox
UPDATE - Dec. 11, 2014: Traded to Tigers on Day 3 of Winter Meetings. KEN ROSENTHAL'S POST ON NOV. 6: The Red Sox have six outfielders. And, as they look to remake their rotation, Cespedes would appear the most likely to go. The Sox are not trading Rusney Castillo or Mookie Betts. Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Allen Craig offer only limited value. Cespedes is one year away from free agency, and his contract exempts him from a qualifying offer. So, if the Sox do not trade Cespedes and then lose him on the open market, they will receive nothing in return. Cespedes’ on-base percentage is a turnoff, but his right-handed power holds appeal in a sport starved for offense. The Sox are deep enough in prospects and flexible enough with their payroll to replace him with another talented hitter — and still address other needs.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY SportsBob DeChiara
Jeff Samardzija, SP, A's
UPDATE - DEC. 9, 2014: Traded to White Sox on Day 2 of Winter Meetings. KEN ROSENTHAL'S POST ON NOV. 6: Would anyone be surprised if GM Billy Beane made a proactive move with Samardzija, who along with teammate Scott Kazmir is under the Athletics’ control only through next season? Virtually every team with a need for a starter would want Samardzija. The White Sox are among the clubs that already have expressed interest, according to major-league sources. Samardzija would be an ideal fit between Sox left-handers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, but it might be difficult for the teams to match up on a deal, sources said.