Spring training ends offseason but not necessarily the trading season
This is the offseason that refuses to end, but the calendar says it must. The Diamondbacks and Dodgers have opened their camps. The other 28 teams are about to do the same. The time has arrived for reunions and backslaps and how-were-your-winters pleasantries in clubhouses across Arizona and Florida. If Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz don’t sign contracts quickly enough to participate in these rites of spring, well, that will be their loss.
The 2013-2014 winter will be remembered for the acrimony of Alex Rodriguez, the arrival of Masahiro Tanaka, and the scourge of draft pick compensation on free-agent values. It will not go down as one of the most eventful offseasons for trades. Matt Kemp? David Price? Jeff Samardzija? They’re in the same places you saw them last September and October.
Certainly, the wait for Tanaka to sign held back some of the trade activity. The continued availability of notable free agents has had the same effect. Whatever the causes, it is undeniable that the trade market has frozen.
Perhaps we should anticipate a springtime thaw.
Trade rumors in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues nearly always underwhelm, but the theorizing of springtime trade scenarios remains a favorite pastime of baseball writers and baseball scouts. The phenomenon becomes amplified because those groups of people (a) love to talk and (b) find themselves at the same picnic tables eating pasta salad before spring training games. When it is observed that Player X "is 20 pounds overweight and looks done," a writer across the table volunteers that another team (but not one he or she has personally seen) has a surplus of talent at Player X’s position. Without an official of either club present, the scouts and writers will determine an equitable exchange — excluding Prospect Y, because he’s "untouchable." Then someone ruins the fun by tweeting about it.
Anyway, spring trades are rare because payroll numbers are typically set by this time of year. So, the acquiring general manager must have an owner willing to shell out several million dollars more than he had expected or convince his counterpart to eat the equivalent amount of money. And cash is not as tasty as that pasta salad.
But just in case there’s a backlog of trade conversation ready to burst once the last player signs — or even a little before then — here are a few teams and players to watch.
Last spring, the Dodgers had too much starting pitching. (Then, very quickly, they did not have enough.) Now they have the same math problem that has vexed them — at least in theory — since Yasiel Puig’s thunderous arrival last season: four outfielders, three spots.
The Dodgers can’t trade Puig. He’s too electrifying and essential to the Dodgers’ marketing efforts, especially if he’s truly finished driving at speeds exceeding Kenley Jansen’s fastball. Matt Kemp was mentioned prominently as a trade candidate early in the offseason, but he might not be ready for Opening Day after undergoing shoulder and ankle surgeries.
Kemp probably needs at least two weeks playing at full strength for another team to be comfortable acquiring him — thanks to the six years and $128 million left on his contract. He might not have enough time to demonstrate his health before the regular season begins. At that point, teams tend to stand pat until closer to the July non-waiver trade deadline.
If Kemp suddenly speeds up his rehabilitation, a trade would become conceivable. Then again, if Kemp is healthy, the Dodgers will probably want him for themselves. The other trade scenarios involve the Dodgers moving Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier once Kemp is healthy.
The Dodgers also could trade a starting pitcher, Chad Billingsley or Josh Beckett. But that sort of move is more likely to occur during the season, since both pitchers are coming off injuries and might not be ready for Opening Day.
Red Sox starting pitchers
The Red Sox are in a similar position to where the Dodgers were last year: possessing more than five starters but not necessarily in a hurry to trade one of them.
Boston’s World Series rotation featured Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz. All are back in 2014, along with Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, Allen Webster, and Brandon Workman.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington likely will hold that pitching depth until late in camp, at which point he’ll have a better gauge as to whether center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and infielder Xander Bogaerts are ready for everyday roles.
This is the definition of a logjam: returnees Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano, and Ichiro Suzuki, along with the newly signed Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi could take advantage of the designated hitter to distribute at-bats among the group, but the reality is that Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira might require regular DH days, too. The Yankees would like to keep Gardner — and probably will — because of his speed and defensive ability. Ichiro may be a legend, but his market is limited at age 40.
The Nationals don’t need to trade Drew Storen. But if they sustain an injury in spring training and start checking around, his name is likely to come up. While Storen has closing experience and finished the 2013 season strong, the Nationals have Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard ahead of him, with Craig Stammen and potentially Erik Davis ready to assume roles later in the game.
Storen is set to earn $3.45 million this year — big money for a non-closer outside of free agency — and might price himself out of the Nationalsâ bullpen by this time next year.
Remember how Phillips was on his way out of Cincinnati as far back as October? Well, he wasn’t. At this point, he’s still penciled in as the Reds’ Opening Day second baseman.
A trade remains possible, but it’s difficult to envision the Reds dealing an All-Star second baseman during spring training when Skip Schumaker, a valuable utility man, is the only experienced internal option. Phillips’ contract — four years and $50 million remaining — won’t make a trade any easier.
The Reds probably would need to get an everyday second baseman back in any Phillips trade. And if that type of deal were available, GM Walt Jocketty would have made it long before the start of camp.
Expendable first basemen
Ike Davis is still a Met. Mitch Moreland is still a Ranger. Justin Smoak is still a Mariner.
Their respective teams would be selling low, which works against the probability of a deal, and Kendrys Morales remains on the market as a free-agent option. The Pirates could add a first baseman and the Orioles a DH, but both seem focused on pitching right now. That might change when the spring trade activity — real or imagined — picks up about one month from now.