As free-agent prices soar, some within the industry are speculating that controllable aces such as the White Sox’s Chris Sale and Athletics’ Sonny Gray could bring huge returns in trades.
Perhaps, but many teams remain fiercely protective of their prospects. What’s more, the demand for Sale and Gray might be just as high or even higher next offseason, when the free-agent market will be much thinner.
The current class remains deep even with David Price and Jordan Zimmermann off the board and Zack Greinke about to join them. Those are three of the most accomplished free agents, but the market still includes Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and John Lackey; Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen and Yovani Gallardo; Hisashi Iwakuma and Scott Kazmir – among others.
The expectation within the industry is that a number of those pitchers will sign quickly once Greinke makes his decision – and at that point, the trade market for starting pitchers could accelerate, too. Indeed, GMs with available starting pitching say they receive a fresh round of inquiries every time a free-agent starter signs an expensive deal.
The Indians have been fielding calls on Carlos Carrasco and fellow right-hander Danny Salazar since the non-waiver deadline. The White Sox routinely draw inquiries on Sale and fellow left-hander Jose Quintana. The Rays, Braves and Padres are among the other teams that could trade starters.
Still, don’t count on Sale or Gray getting moved just yet.
The White Sox are trying to rebound from a disappointing season. Sale is still cheap. He will always be cheap. He is owed $47.15 million over the next four seasons, including two club options.
Athletics executive VP Billy Beane, meanwhile, told MLB Network’s Peter Gammons that he “just cannot see” trading Gray; the A’s, too, are trying to compete, and Gray is not even eligible for salary arbitration until next offseason.
The circumstances for both clubs could change by the non-waiver deadline, but even then the White Sox and Athletics would need to weigh any offers against what they might receive next winter, when Stephen Strasburg and Andrew Cashner will be the top starters on the free-agent market.
By then, the demand for Sale and Gray might be overwhelming.
Brewers first baseman Adam Lind is one of the better offensive players available in trade, a left-handed hitter with a career .863 OPS against right-handed pitching.
So, why is Lind still with Milwaukee?
It’s the usual story — the team has yet to receive an offer that it deems suitable. Lind, 32, is not only productive, but he also represents something of a bargain — he is under contract for $8 million next season.
If you’re wondering about Lind’s potential trade value, consider that the Indians last July sent Brandon Moss to the Cardinals for left-hander Rob Kaminsky, a first-round pick in 2013. Kaminsky immediately became the Indians’ No. 3 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
Moss at the time was under control for the rest of 2015 and all of ’16, while Lind has only one season remaining before becoming a free agent. Lind, though, is the better hitter — his OPS the past three seasons is .842.
If the Brewers do not get what they want for Lind, they could always move him at the deadline, when his left-handed power likely would be in demand. The same goes for catcher Jonathan Lucroy, a player who continues to draw significant interest, according to sources. Lucroy is owed $4 million in ’16 with a $5.25 million club option for ’17.
Right-hander Kenta Maeda could be the next Japanese player to benefit from a rule modification to the posting arrangement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Pro Baseball.
While posted Korean players still can negotiate only with the high bidder, baseball’s agreement with NPB allows for Japanese players to speak with every team that reaches the $20 million cap. Masahiro Tanaka used the system to land a $155 million contract with the Yankees in Jan. 2014.
So, as a refresher, let’s say the Diamondbacks, Yankees and Cubs all are willing to pay the $20 million fee for Maeda. The three clubs then would engage in competitive bidding over a 30-day period, increasing Maeda’s leverage.
Maeda, who will pitch next season at 28, has told his Japanese club, the Hiroshima Carp, that he wants to be posted. His anticipated entry into the marketplace would give major-league clubs one more talented arm to consider.
Free-agent outfielder Shane Victorino is informing teams that he plans to return to switch-hitting for the first time since August 2013.
Victorino, 35, has appeared in only 101 games the past two seasons — he underwent back surgery in August 2014 and suffered calf and hamstring injuries last season.
“I am finding out that not switch-hitting and not doing things from both sides of the plate had lots to do with the way my body has felt,” Victorino said. “Going back and doing things from both sides is such a good thing for my body now that I can physically do it again.”
Victorino batted just .230 with a .601 OPS while batting exclusively right-handed for the Red Sox and Angels last season. But he says he is motivated to prove that he can still play.
The Cubs are “busy” looking for a center fielder, according to a rival executive, and surely they will find one. But at the moment, their options are limited.
Free agent Dexter Fowler remains a possibility after declining the team’s qualifying offer, but he currently is exploring the open market.
The Cubs could sign free agent Jason Heyward to play center or right, but only if they traded Jorge Soler and addressed their rotation in a cost-efficient manner.
The trade market offers additional options, and the Cubs’ offense is good enough for the team to acquire a defense-first type who would bat at the bottom of the order — someone, perhaps, like the Astros’ Jake Marisnick.
Heyward, though, remains a tantalizing target — rival execs say that Cubs president Theo Epstein has long admired the outfielder, who at 26 is that rare free agent entering his prime.
As I’ve written previously, the Cubs could trade a young player such as Soler or infielder Javier Baez for a controllable starter, particularly if they balk at the free-agent prices for Samardzija, Lackey, et al.