With season approaching, MLB clubs have bodies to spare for trades
One scout predicts a deluge of trades before Opening Day.
"There are lots of names out there, lots of teams with an over-abundance of players at the same positions with guaranteed deals," the scout said. "In my opinion, there will be a historical number of trades coming in the last week of spring training."
An executive predicted less trade activity, but said, "I bet there will be a handful of small and medium ones."
That level of activity figures to be the bare minimum. Consider the outfield market, for example: The Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres and Diamondbacks all are carrying surpluses, while the Giants, Phillies, Orioles and Rangers all could stand to upgrade in that area.
Then again, three factors suggest that clubs might engage in more talk than action, as they often do at this time of year.
● Teams often find ways of squeezing players onto their rosters at this time of year, demoting others who still have minor-league options and can be sent down with no risk of losing them on waivers.
● Most clubs are at or near their payroll limit, or do not want to sacrifice financial flexibility in late March when they might need it in late July.
● Teams looking for pitching — the Dodgers, Rangers, Rays and others — lack attractive options. As one exec said, "Quality is hard to find. Lots of fringy pitchers. Lots of buyers."
Still, some teams, players and situations bear watching as Opening Day nears. The information below, except when noted, is gathered from major-league sources:
Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu and right-handed relievers Brandon League and Kenley Jansen will open the season on the disabled list, so no one should be surprised if the Dodgers at least add depth in the next week. They already were thin in their rotation, and their two free-agent additions, righty Brandon McCarthy and lefty Brett Anderson, frequently have been injured in the past.
The rest of the roster, meanwhile, remains overcrowded.
If the Dodgers do not trade outfielder Andre Ethier, then they likely will demote Chris Heisey, who is earning $2.16 million this season. Infielder Alex Guerrero also is clogging things — he cannot be sent to the minors without his permission, and told MLB.com earlier this spring, "I’m not going down."
The Dodgers could option both Darwin Barney and Enrique Hernandez, but they are not comfortable with Guerrero or Justin Turner as a backup shortstop (Barney also is earning $2.525 million; not that money matters).
Trading Ethier and/or Guerrero would ease the logjam.
Tampa Bay Rays
They’re looking for pitching, but right-hander Alex Cobb (shoulder) and lefty Drew Smyly (forearm) are expected back by the end of April, lefty Matt Moore (Tommy John surgery) by late May or early June.
It’s not the way the Rays wanted to open — starting pitching is their strength — but they are not pursuing major upgrades. Instead, they are working the margins, looking for depth, figuring that they cover for Cobb and Smyly short term.
Besides, how good a starter could they even land? Injuries and poor spring performances often make teams reluctant to trade pitching in late March.
The Mets have talked about righty Dillon Gee, but he became their likely fifth starter with righty Zack Wheeler undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Indians are getting calls on out-of-options righty Zach McAllister, but plan to keep him in their rotation or bullpen, particularly after demoting righty Danny Salazar.
For all the talk about their respective excesses in the outfield, it’s quite possible that neither team will make a trade.
Daniel Nava is out of options and the Red Sox outfielder most in jeopardy, but the team could buy time by optioning Rusney Castillo, who missed time with an oblique strain. Castillo would need to stay in the minors at least 10 days, but by then the Sox might have more of a read on Shane Victorino, who is coming off back surgery and missed time with general soreness.
The Padres, unsuccessful in their efforts to trade Carlos Quentin, can option infielder Yangervis Solarte, enabling them to fit Quentin as an outfielder and first baseman off the bench.
Quentin, Will Venable and Cameron Maybin — the three projected backup outfielders — will earn a combined $19.35 million, making for quite a lavish bench.
The Orioles are talking with the Mets and other clubs about left-handed reliever Brian Matusz, who is guaranteed $3.2 million this season and then has one more year of arbitration.
However, a deal is not certain, and Matusz’s salary is just one of the obstacles.
Some with the Orioles are worried about the team’s bullpen, particularly the setup relief, and view Matusz as the best left-handed option after closer Zach Britton, ahead of Wesley Wright and T.J. McFarland.
The Rangers also were discussing Matusz before acquiring Sam Freeman from the Cardinals on Saturday for a player to be named or cash. The Nationals also have a surplus of left-handed relievers, and might be more motivated than the Orioles to trade.
For now, all seems quiet on the Phillies’ prime trade candidates: left-hander Cole Hamels, first baseman Ryan Howard and closer Jonathan Papelbon. But another of the team’s stars, second baseman Chase Utley, could become a topic of discussion in the likely event that the team stumbles.
Teams continue to call the Phillies on Utley, whose West Coast ties are well-established — he grew up in Long Beach, Calif., attended UCLA and now lives in Sausalito, Calif. He would fit with both the Padres and Angels and possibly even the Giants if Joe Panik regresses.
Two stumbling blocks: Utley has given no indication that he would waive his no-trade clause, and his contract includes $15 million vesting options for 2016, ’17 and ’18 that become guaranteed if he reaches 500 plate appearances in the previous season.
"I never envision myself wearing a different uniform," Utley told FOX Sports on Friday. "If something comes up, I’ve told (general manager) Ruben (Amaro Jr.), I’m here. I’m not shutting the door on anything. But I don’t want to go anywhere, no."
The Diamondbacks continue to rebuff inquires for Mark Trumbo, but stay tuned.
If Yasmany Tomas cannot handle third base, the D-backs could end up with two below-average defenders in the outfield corners — Trumbo and Tomas.
Frankly, the team will have a surplus of outfielders even if Tomas remains at third. The problem is, most clubs would prefer to stay with younger, internal options than acquire Cody Ross, who is still owed $9.5 million, including a $1 million buyout next season.
Teams also are calling the D-backs about their young pitching, but the team views prospects such as Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair as critical to its future.