Jayson Stark: Jeff Niemann
February, 9, 2012
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
We think of spring training as a time when the palm trees sway in the breeze, when sunshine brings the boys of summer out of hibernation, when every team has hope -- or at least a convenient case of amnesia.
But this spring training, you won't just find those customary springtime dreams hanging in the tropical air. You can also expect to find some real, live, juicy trade rumors.
"I really think," said one NL executive this week, "there will be a little more [trade] activity in spring training than normal. You've got some interesting names out there -- and a lot of guys who are out of options who are decent players."
So who are those guys? Here's a list of five players whose names are already being floated -- and could legitimately get traded between now and Opening Day:
• Joe Blanton
If there's one thing the Philadelphia Phillies desperately want to avoid this year -- besides running into Chris Carpenter again in October -- it's writing a luxury-tax check. And more and more, it appears their only hope of escaping that fate is to trade Blanton, who will make $8.5 million this season.
So it was no shock to hear this week that they'd already begun calling around, letting other clubs know he was available. If they can move him before spring training and not have to eat a significant chunk of his salary, it might enable them to bring back Roy Oswalt -- although Oswalt's continuing quest for a contract that pays him in the neighborhood of $10 million could make that a moot point.
But teams that have spoken with the Phillies say they're looking to trade Blanton whether they pursue Oswalt or not, because moving him this spring would give them the financial flexibility to address other needs during the season and, with any luck, dodge the luxury-tax man.
There are rumblings that they have at least mild interest from teams, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. Nevertheless, there's next to no chance they can deal Blanton before clubs get a chance to see him pitch this spring. After all, would you deal for a guy who just spent 127 days on the disabled list because of elbow trouble (and never did have surgery) without seeing him throw first?
Exactly. So we can almost guarantee this man will be a Rumor Central attraction all spring.
• John Lannan
Thanks to the miracle of arbitration, Lannan will make $5 million this season. And with the Washington Nationals' signing of Edwin Jackson, their trade for Gio Gonzalez and the return of Stephen Strasburg, they don't especially need the guy.
So the Nationals are already dangling Lannan to every team they think has even a remote need for a 27-year-old left-handed innings-eater. Among the clubs who appear to fit that mold: The aforementioned Pirates and Orioles, plus the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets.
It doesn't figure to be easy to build a market for a guy with a 1.42 career WHIP, a $5 million salary and zero winning seasons on the back of his baseball card. But when we asked an exec of one team that had spoken with the Nationals if they appeared committed to dealing Lannan this spring, his answer was: "100 percent."
• A.J. Burnett
All of a sudden, the New York Yankees have too many starting pitchers. What a concept. So if there's any prayer of moving Burnett, who has $33 million coming over the next two years, this team will jump at it.
The good news is that Burnett still has a live enough arm -- and four consecutive seasons of 32-plus starts -- to be intriguing. The bad news is that he'll make $16.5 million in each of the next two seasons. And he's the only qualifying starter in baseball who has racked up ERAs over 5.00 in each of the past two seasons.
But where is he going? The Yankees would never do business with the Red Sox or Mets. And while Burnett would seem like a fit in Baltimore (where he has family ties), the Orioles and Yankees have hooked up for precisely one trade of major league players in the past two decades.
So that appears to leave the Pirates, a team that seems to have legitimate interest in him. And the Yankees are said, according to sources, to have targeted Garrett Jones as an answer to their quest for a left-handed-hitting outfielder/DH type.
However, the Pirates have told several teams that inquired about Jones that they're not inclined to move him. And the Yankees have been telling other clubs they won't chew on a huge percentage of Burnett's salary if they don't get a useful player back. So this could easily drag on into spring training -- and beyond.
• Bobby Abreu
An executive of one NL team predicted recently: "There's no team in baseball more likely to make a deal this spring than the Angels."
It's not all Albert Pujols' fault, but Pujols' arrival did set off a ripple effect that leaves this team with too many first-base/outfield/DH guys to fit on one roster, let alone one baseball field. So somebody has to go, and Abreu sure seems like the most logical player to move -- if the Los Angeles Angels can find a team to take him.
That's especially the case if Kendrys Morales is healthy enough to DH, because that would wipe out Abreu's only real hope for playing time. The Angels don't have any need or any reason to play him in the outfield.
Ideally, they would love to trade him for more bullpen inventory. But an official of one club that spoke with them reports "they'd do it for a middling prospect, just to move the money" -- which happens to be $9 million, if you're ringing your personal cash register at home.
Abreu, who turns 38 next month, can still draw a walk, steal a base (going 21-for-26 last year) and slap a ball up the gap. But he slugged a career-low .364 last season. And one scout who has seen a lot of him said this week: "He doesn't drive the ball much anymore. He's not very good in the outfield. And he makes a ton of money. So I really don't think he'll have much of a market."
• Jeff Niemann
The Tampa Bay Rays have been listening to trade proposals for both Niemann and Wade Davis for months now. But they actually appear less likely to move either of them than they were three months ago. When the offseason began, they thought they might have no choice but to trade a pitcher to fill their offensive holes, because the prices on the free-agent market seemed likely to soar beyond the means of a team whose entire roster made less than half as much money last season ($39.1 million) as the Yankees' starting infield ($78.5 million).
But that's not how it worked out. The Rays were able to scrape up enough loose change in the piggy bank to sign Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and Jeff Keppinger. And now, teams that have spoken with them report they're back to telling other clubs they'll still listen -- but they're not actively looking to move any of their starting-pitching depth.
If they do trade any of their starters, though, Niemann figures to be the guy. He's about to turn 29 this month. He just took his team to arbitration. And he's become only a back-of-the-rotation or long-relief option for a club that can roll out David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and everybody's favorite phenom, Matt Moore.
At $2.75 million, he's only getting pricey by the Rays' standards, not by the standards of clubs looking for pitching. So he's a guy well worth keeping an eye on this spring. And that shouldn't be too hard, considering he'll be the only 6-foot-9, 260-pound behemoth on the field.
Other names who could get traded: Gavin Floyd (White Sox), Koji Uehara (Rangers), Jake Westbrook or Kyle McClellan (Cardinals), Mark Trumbo (Angels), Brandon Inge (Tigers).