These teams are talking trades later than usual this offseason

The Reds' Jay Bruce could be a target for the Orioles depending on how their free-agent moves pan out.

Early February usually is a quiet time in baseball, reserved for non-roster invitations to spring training, maybe a stray free-agent signing or two.

Not this year.

Spring training camps open next week, and nearly 60 players remain free agents. Numerous teams also are engaged in trade talks, which one GM described as “pretty active still.”

Here is a glimpse at the trade market, according to major-league sources. As always, I’m reporting only what I know; most trade conversations remain confidential.

ORIOLES

The team’s first choice is to follow the expected signing of free-agent right-hander Yovani Gallardo with the signing of free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler. But if Fowler joins, say, the White Sox, the Orioles’ backup plan appears to be a trade for Reds right fielder Jay Bruce.

I raised doubts on Twitter about the Orioles’ ability to mount a strong enough offer for Bruce, considering the weakness of their farm system and the fact that the Reds seemingly balked at a Bruce-for-Zack Wheeler trade at the non-waiver deadline in July.

Both teams, however, believe that a match is possible; MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported Thursday that the Reds see a possible fit, and the Orioles also are confident that a deal could be put together. The Reds apparently are not seeking top prospects for Bruce, who will earn $12.5 million while playing next season at 29, with a $13 million club option for ’17.

Fowler, however, remains the Orioles’ preference and – because of his leadoff skills – is a better fit.

WHITE SOX

Their priority remains an outfielder, whether it’s Fowler or someone else. Free-agent shortstop Ian Desmond appears less of a target; club officials like Tyler Saladino at short, believing that he will produce good at-bats and make the plays defensively. They also believe top shortstop prospect Tim Anderson might be ready before the end of the season.

Reports of the White Sox’s interest in Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier were overstated. The team, however, is active on multiple fronts; the addition of Fowler or another outfielder would make right fielder Avisail Garcia expendable, and other scenarios surely are in play.

DODGERS

Alex Guerrero, not Ethier, is the player the Dodgers are most likely to move before spring training. As I reported Thursday, the Dodgers are talking about Guerrero with numerous clubs. They probably would not get much in return; Guerrero’s best position is DH, and if traded he can become a free agent at the end of the season.

As for Ethier, the Dodgers have talked about trading him at various points, even indicating a willingness to pay down the $38 million remaining on the final two years of his contract.

Ethier, who will play this season at 34, also gains full no-trade rights on April 21, seemingly adding to the team’s urgency. Problem is, Ethier was one of the Dodgers’ best hitters in the second half of last season. And, at a time when the club isn’t sure what it will get out of Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson, he might be too valuable to move.

Some potential suitors also are concerned about Ethier’s $17.5 million vesting option for 2018. The option will vest if Ethier reaches 550 plate appearances in 2017 or 1,100 plate appearances combined in ’16-17. Ethier, though, has averaged just 413 plate appearances in the Dodgers’ crowded outfield the past two seasons and might remain more of a platoon player going forward.

PADRES

GM A.J. Preller remains busy, inquiring about trades for prospects, talking about his own veterans. Right fielder Matt Kemp and catcher Derek Norris are the subjects of continued chatter, though neither is likely to be moved before the start of spring training.

Most teams view Kemp as a DH waiting to happen – the metrics last season portrayed him as one of the worst defensive right fielders in the game. Kemp, 31, rallied for an .868 OPS following the All-Star break after producing a .674 OPS before it but still is owed $72 million over four years.

Norris, who will turn 27 on Sunday, is due to earn $2.925 million this season, with two years of arbitration remaining. The Padres seemingly would prefer to go with their younger catchers, Austin Hedges and the recently acquired Christian Bethancourt.

While on the subject of catchers, let’s not forget the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy, who has drawn interest from the Rangers, Nationals and Athletics, among others.

Potential suitors figure to scout Lucroy in spring training to make sure he is fully recovered from the concussion he suffered near the end of last season. The Brewers, though, could hold him until the deadline or even next offseason.

ATHLETICS

They are willing to move designated hitter Billy Butler and discussed him as part of a trade that did not happen.

Whatever the deal was, it might have been their best shot.

Butler is owed $10 million in each of the next two seasons and was below-average offensively in each of the past two when adjusting his OPS to his league and ballpark. Not below-average for a DH. Below-average, period.

DIAMONDBACKS

Their recent trade for Jean Segura has prompted a flurry of inquiries about their infielders, but at least for the moment the D-backs do not plan to move any of them. They will look at Segura at shortstop first, then figure out what to do with shortstop Nick Ahmed and second baseman Chris Owings.

TWINS

GM Terry Ryan said on MLB Network Radio that he continues to look for pitching. Specifically, the Twins need a left-handed reliever; closer Glen Perkins currently is the only lefty in their ’pen.

 

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