Thursday, May 31, 2012

Who To Trade For...That's The Question

OK, there's been a clamor to bring a bat to Pittsburgh. So we thought we'd take a spin through the web and blogosphere rumor pages...geez, that took awhile! - and see who is speculatively available. Right now, there's not exactly a bumper crop being offered, even in rumor.

First base does have a some possibilities, mostly old and well paid. There are a couple of big names, with Justin Morneau of the Twins and Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox leading the list. Morneau, 31, has a couple of negatives, like a concussion history, a $14M salary this year and next, and more time at DH than the bag, all which combine to make him a more likely AL trade candidate, where he can hang out at the bat rack.

Youk, 33, may be on the downside of his career, and he's working on a $13M deal with an option. The Sox aren't sure yet if they want to move him, though they do have a logjam with Adrian Gonzalez, Big Papi, Will Middlebrooks and Youkilis being one too many corner/DH types, and they need pitching, so....

The 'Stros will listen for offers on Carlos Lee, 35, who is making $18.5M and has a 14-team no-trade list.  Ditto with the Dodgers and their 28 year old first sacker James Loney, who is making $6.375M with an arb year to go and not playing much better than what the Bucs already have.

The Cubs have Bryan LaHair, 29, who has been tearing it up but has uberprospect Anthony Rizzo lurking in AAA. The Cubbies could move him to the OF when Rizzo is ready, but at his age, he may be shopped to rebuild a weak farm system, and that makes for a possible match. He won't be moved until at least late June, the earliest that Chicago would call up Rizzo. And LaHair won't even be arb-eligible until 2015. He could be a late bloomer, or become a Windy City version of Garrett Jones.

There's a batch of outfielders on the market, but many are of the fourth man type - Jeff Francoeur of KC, Seth Smith of Oakland, Reed Johnson and David DeJesus of the Cubs, Mark Kotsay of San Diego...hey, this one looks familiar - Nyjer Morgan, et al. They're more role players than the everyday guy the Pirates need.

Also, the Red Sox have a flock of outfielders that could come available closer to the deadline, suggests Nick Cafrado of the Boston Globe, if a couple of their injured guys return on schedule. The list includes Cody Ross, Daniel Nava, Ryan Sweeney, Scott Podsednik, and Marlon Byrd.

Ross, 31, is a nine year vet who's been a pretty steady hitter and has a one year, $3M deal.  Nava, 29, is a journeyman who only has 82 MLB games under his belt. Sweeney, 27, has seven years in the show mostly as a fourth OF'er and is a good on-base guy (.286 BA, .346 OBP career). He makes $1.75M and will enter his second arb year. Posdednik, 36, looks to be on the down slope, as does Byrd, 34. 

You can add Oakland's 32 year-old Coco Crisp to the list after Yoenis Cespedes inked a deal with the A's. He's working on a $7M deal with a $7.5M option/$1M buy-out, though he's not a big bopper, but a good OBP/speed player.
Carlos Quentin  of the Padres is interesting. He's 29, put together four 20+ HR years in a row, and is making $7M and some change with a year of arbitration left. San Diego got him for a couple of minor league pitchers, both fringe top ten in their system, so the price might not be too terribly brutal. He's not much of an average guy (.254 lifetime) but does draw his share of walks (.347 OBP) with a nearly .500 slugging %. His major drawback is that he doesn't have much of an arm and would have to play RF for Pittsburgh.

Josh Willingham of the Twins is a popular rumor target, but so far Minny has shown no signs of moving him.

If the Bucs are looking, big, it's thought that Alex Gordon, 28, of KC could be had for a prospect package. He just signed for $6M/2012, $9M/2013, $10M/2014, and $12.5M/2015 with an option year.

The Cubs Alfonso Soriano is also on the block, but age (36) and contract issues $18M through 2014) will keep him off the Pirate radar. 

And one other thought: what if the Twins' Ryan Doumit, 31, could be had, although he's avoided the gossip columns so far. Yah, yah, we know it sounds way too Freudian, but he can hit a ball, and would provide steadier offense than Garrett Jones in right field, where Dewey really belongs. And hey, he's only making $3M this year. Of course, Nate McLouth may have proved that you can never go home again.

Shortstop? Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports wrote that Yunel Escobar, 29, could be available. He said "Once prospect Adeiny Hechavarria arrives in the majors — which could happen any day now — the Blue Jays will have the flexibility to move Escobar for pitching. The A’s, Mariners and Pirates are possible trade partners." He makes $5M this year and next with two team options for the same in 2014-15.

Josh Bartlett, 32, is also on the market, and the Pad is likely to stay there with a $5.5M contract and $1.5M buyout in 2013.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale stoked a little firestorm by suggesting that Chicago's Starlin Castro might be available in exchange for your firstborn and the family Maserati, but we figure Theo Epstein will build around him. And even if he were on the block, the Pirate system has just a handful of elite prospects; it's not really deep enough to pay for Castro without putting a big hurt on the MLB club's future. The Cubs are rebuilding and will want a boatload of Top 100 youngsters to move Castro.

They do have a AA shortstop named Junior Lake, 22, who is effectively blocked by Castro, so the Cubs are working him at third. But he may be on the radar, too, with the potential to be an OK field, good stick shortstop. He should hit AAA when Rizzo gets the call to Wrigley, so he could be in play as early as mid-summer 2013.

Kurt Suzuki, 28 year old catcher of the A's, isn't being actively shopped, but Oakland does have a couple of guys in the system and the thought is that he could be had. He has a fair stick, and is signed through 2014 - $5M now, $6.45M in 2013, and a $8.5M option in 2014, with a $650K buyout.

Another catcher available is Kelly Shoppach, 32, of the Red Sox, and that would be in a back-up role. The eight year backstopper hasn't had much success at the plate since his Indian days, though he's had a revival of sorts (.270) as a reserve this year. The price is right at $1.135M, and he's about due to be replaced by Ryan Lavarnway.

One problem the Pirates face is that their key chips are some young Turks who may or may not all be on the table, plus Hanny, Erik Bedard and a bullpen arm or two. The market is saturated with pitchers, both starters and closers, so the Bucs will be working in a very competitive environment trying to make a deal.

And just to keep it all in perspective: these are the names going through the rumor mill now, but by no means is it exhaustive. Who knows - the FO may have an eye on a AAA guy, or may be trying to cobble together a traditional baseball trade where both sides fill a need with players currently flying under the wheelin' and dealin' radar.

They've hinted that they've been kicking tires in the league parking lot; and while the sooner they fill a hole the better, we'd guess the first real trade action will come in late June when the call-ups of the minor league mighty make a couple of veterans expendable. Unfortunately, their need is now, but the later the game goes on, the more leverage they'll have and the more options will open for them.

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