MLB

Should O's trade catcher, closer?

Matt Wieters and Jim Johnson could be saying goodbye to Baltimore.
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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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ORLANDO, Fl.

It’s really not a surprise that, according to major-league sources, the Orioles are willing to trade catcher Matt Wieters. The bigger question is how the team would reshape its roster if it made such a dramatic — and necessary — move.

The Orioles’ Opening Day payroll last season was $92.3 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Their commitments for 2014, if they retained all nine arbitration-eligible players, would amount to about $88 million.

In other words, the team will be under financial pressure unless owner Peter Angelos significantly increases the payroll. What’s more, the clock is ticking on Wieters and first baseman Chris Davis, both of whom are represented by Scott Boras and under club control for two more years.

Few Boras clients sign extensions before reaching free agency — Boras prefers his players to determine their values on the open market. Wieters already has rejected long-term offers from the club, and a person in contact with the Orioles said Wednesday, “They’re not going to wait (on him) forever.”

Davis, who led the majors with 53 homers last season, is too valuable to trade. Wieters is an elite defender, but his OPS declined from .778 to .764 to .704 over the past three seasons. The Orioles would not be trading him at his peak value. Then again, Wieters loses value every day he gets closer to free agency.

His salary in arbitration next season projects to $7.9 million, according to Matt Swartz of MLBTradeRumors.com. The Orioles could gain flexibility by trading Wieters and also closer Jim Johnson, who projects to earn $10.8 million. The team then could find cheaper alternatives at both positions, and turn aggressive in free agency.

It’s doubtful that the Orioles could properly address their biggest flaw, their lack of a top-of-the-rotation starter, in the open market; the choices are too risky. So why not seek a modestly priced starter and make a run at an elite offensive player such as Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo or even Robinson Cano?

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Robinson Cano is the biggest star on the market. Who are the best players for sale this offseason?

OK, OK — Angelos is unlikely to pay Cano what he wants, and Cano is unlikely to leave New York for Baltimore. But if the Orioles bid, say, $150 million, they at least would drive up the price for Yankees — and they also could employ the same strategy with Beltran, another Yankees target and obvious fit in Baltimore.

Landing either player would energize the Orioles’ Yankee-hating fan base, and more importantly improve the club. Ask the Rays, whose payrolls are far lower than the Orioles’: Creativity is required when trying to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.

The chances of the Orioles keeping Wieters are slim. The same (gulp) ultimately goes for Davis. And paying nearly $11 million to Johnson, who had 50 saves and a 2.94 ERA but endured some rough stretches last season, is simply not advisable for a team on a budget.

Time to get busy, Baltimore.

ELLSBURY: ENOUGH POWER?

Even elite free agents elicit varying opinions from baseball people, so the disagreement among some over center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is typical.

One rival executive said that his team’s statistical analysis rated Ellsbury as the top Red Sox player last season, ahead of even second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Others in the industry, however, are wary of Ellsbury’s diminished power — he has hit only 13 home runs in 880 at-bats over the past two seasons.

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Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, dismissed such talk, pointing — as the rival executive did — to the outfielder’s dazzling all-around game.

Ellsbury ranked first in the majors in runs above average for baserunning last season, according to Fangraphs.com. He was third among center fielders defensively in John Dewan’s plus-minus ratings on Bill James Online. And his .781 OPS ranked eighth at the position overall.

All this, even though Ellsbury played with an injured left hand after the All-Star Game and a compression fracture in his right foot that limited him to three games in September.

I wrote about Ellsbury’s left hand after the World Series, describing it as discolored and severely swollen, up to the forearm. Boras said that Ellsbury’s teammates called him “Sherman Klump,” after the fictional 400-pound character portrayed by Eddie Murphy in “The Nutty Professor.”

But the injury, which forced Ellsbury to dramatically reduce the amount of batting practice he took after the ASG, turned out to be only a bone bruise.

Boras said that Ellsbury underwent an MRI that revealed no break, and two different specialists determined that he is fine.

THE ROYALS’ HALL OF FAME TEMPTATION

The Royals are intrigued by the idea of reuniting with Beltran, their second-round pick in the 1995 draft. It’s doubtful they would outbid a high-revenue club such as the Yankees, but is it possible that Beltran’s Hall of Fame candidacy could motivate a stronger push by Kansas City?

PRIDE OF THE YANKEES

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Beltran, if he finished his career in KC and wound up in Cooperstown, likely would enter the Hall as a Royal.

Players generally represent the franchise for which they made their most distinctive mark. Beltran played seven seasons for both the Royals and Mets, producing slightly better offensive statistics in New York. A successful two- or three-year homecoming in Kansas City not only could cement him as a Hall of Famer, but also re-establish him as a Royal.

The financial impact of such a victory lap would be difficult to measure, and probably would not enter into the Royals’ decision on how much to offer Beltran. Besides, Beltran might view the Yankees as more favorable for his Hall of Fame candidacy, considering the additional exposure that he would receive in New York.

In any case, the idea of Beltran bringing his career full circle is fun to think about — and remember, his tenure with the Mets had its share of turbulence. If Beltran entered the Hall as a Met, it likely would elicit mixed emotions from the team’s own fans.

AND WHAT ABOUT BUTLER?

What the heck, let’s take this Beltran-to-KC thing a step further. The addition of a right-handed slugger — be it Beltran, a switch-hitter, or someone else — would enable the Royals to trade designated hitter Billy Butler, who is signed for $8 million in 2014 with a $12.5 million club option for ’15.

The Royals are reluctant to move Butler, their biggest right-handed threat in a lineup that leans left with Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. But the addition of a right-handed replacement likely would alter the club’s thinking, and the Mariners are among the teams that covet Butler, according to a major-league source.

The Mariners actually tried to acquire outfielder Wil Myers from the Royals last off-season, and a second source said they proposed a 1-for-1 deal involving one of their big three pitching prospects — Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen or James Paxton. The Royals, however, wanted a veteran ace for Myers, and ended up with the Rays’ James Shields.

If it seems like the Mariners are pursuing virtually every available hitter, well, it’s because they are. Hultzen and Felix Hernandez are their only players signed beyond next season, and combined they will receive $27.6 million in 2015 – all but $1.7 million of it going to King Felix.

PUNTO-PERFECT PLATOON

The Athletics were looking for a platoon partner for second baseman Eric Sogard, and free-agent infielder Nick Punto turned out to be an ideal choice for $3 million.

Punto batted .309 with a .723 OPS against left-handers last season, and he possesses the versatility that the Athletics desire in their position players.

The A’s can’t afford superstars, so they try to build the best possible composites at every position.

Punto played second base, third and shortstop last season. Alberto Callaspo plays second and third, and it would not be surprising to see the A’s try him at first, a position that he never has played professionally.

AROUND THE HORN

* The Reds haven’t given up on re-signing outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, but probably would need to trade second baseman Brandon Phillips and possibly right-hander Homer Bailey to create the necessary payroll room, sources said.

Phillips is a goner, Bailey a more difficult call. Lefty Tony Cingrani figures to replace free-agent right-hander Bronson Arroyo. A trade of Bailey, who is a year away from free agency, would require the Reds to move Aroldis Chapman to the rotation unless they acquired another starter.

All that might be too much to ask to accommodate the signing of a $100 million-plus free agent, but the Reds envision Choo playing center field for one more season before yielding to Billy Hamilton and moving to left. If they lose Choo, they likely would go with Hamilton and acquire a veteran complement in center.

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* The Mets appear increasingly likely to move first baseman Ike Davis, who is drawing interest from about a half-dozen clubs, according to major-league sources.

Davis, for all his faults, hits for power, an increasingly scarce commodity in the industry. The White Sox just signed Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract because of his power potential. Davis already has had a 30-homer season, in 2012, and might benefit from a change after a trying ’13.

Don’t be surprised if the Mets also trade second baseman Daniel Murphy, one of their best hitters. Murphy is drawing interest from clubs that envision him at second, third or as a super-utility type, and while his departure would hurt the Mets short-term, he is unlikely to still be with the club by the time it contends again.

* The Rangers continue to struggle with which of their middle infielders to trade, knowing that second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus are cornerstones and that Jurickson Profar could develop into one, too.

That said, one rival executive describes the Rangers’ logjam — which also includes two top infield prospects who reached Double A last season — as an “untenable situation.” Meaning, of course, that one of the infielders must go.

The biggest question is Profar’s potential. The rival exec says that Profar has better skills than tools, describing him as a high-floor, low-ceiling player. Profar is 6-feet, 165 pounds, but still only 20. He could add strength as he gets older, and become an impact performer.

Tagged: Orioles, Red Sox, Royals, Yankees, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers, Reds, Dodgers, Mets, Cardinals, Rays, Carlos Beltran, Nick Punto, Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, Billy Butler, James Shields, Jacoby Ellsbury, Homer Bailey, Chris Davis, Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, Ike Davis

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