The playoffs are just a couple weeks from wrapping up, which means the hot stove gets turned up to 11. Or something. I might be mixing up my metaphors. There's nothing quite like the flurry of trade rumors and whispers of potential landing spots for big-name free agents. This offseason will be no different as there are plenty of big names who could have new mailing addresses by the time the 2014 begins. Let's run through a handful of them.
Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
Stanton isn't even 24 years old yet but he's been mentioned in trade rumors seemingly every week for the past two years. Given the Marlins' historical penchant for dealing away every useful player they've ever had, it makes sense. The Marlins signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in their first big foray into the free-agent market upon the birth of a new stadium, but traded them away less than a year later. They traded away Hanley Ramirez, the face of their franchise. What's so special about Stanton that they wouldn't ship him off, too?
The outfielder is eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career, creating expectations for a significant jump in salary as he earned less than $550,000 in 2013. He becomes a free agent after the 2016 season. The Marlins, who had one of baseball's lowest Opening Day payrolls at $50.5 million, might value a haul of prospects more than Stanton's continued presence in their lineup. Even with Stanton, the Marlins saw a catastrophic decline in attendance in the second year in their new ballpark, so what's to stop them from running the franchise as cheaply as possible on a never-ending stream of pre-arbitration prospects, only to repeat the process ad nauseam?
There has already been a ton of interest in Stanton. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has inquired on Stanton's availability at least 10 times, only to be rebuffed each and every time. Imagine if the Marlins do make him publicly available. Cafardo suggests the Tigers, Mets, Mariners, Yankees, Orioles, Angels and Red Sox could all join the bidding if Stanton becomes available.
Max Scherzer, P, Detroit Tigers
After years of inconsistency, Scherzer put it all together for a fantastic 2013 season, one which will likely earn him the AL Cy Young Award. There's a ton to like about the right-hander. Among starters, only Yu Darvish missed bats at a higher rate than Scherzer. He cut his walk rate below 7 percent and he wasn't as homer-prone as in the past.
Scherzer, 29, enters his final year of arbitration having taken home a $6.725 million salary in 2013. MLB Trade Rumors estimates he'll earn $13.6 million. The Tigers already have $108 committed to just six players in 2014. If they have a comparable Opening Day payroll as they did in 2013, which was $149 million, they will need to round out the final 19 roster spots rather cheaply, which may make Scherzer expendable. Otherwise, they will need to significantly expand their payroll, perhaps to $175 million.
The only destination for Scherzer would be on a contending team looking for a one-year solution. The Dodgers and Rangers would certainly be among the first two teams to jump into the fray to acquire Scherzer's services, but don't count out teams like the Orioles and Nationals.
Matt Kemp, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a surfeit of outfielders and the oft-injured Kemp could be the odd man out. With Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig breaking out, and Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier under costly long-term deals, trading Kemp and getting out from under his heavy contract might just be the best route to go for the Dodgers.
Kemp spent more than half of the 2013 season on the disabled list due to a plethora of injuries including a strained right hamstring, inflammation of the AC joint in his left shoulder, a sprained left ankle, and recurring ankle and shoulder pain. He had shoulder surgery on Oct. 8 but is expected to be at 100 percent by the start of next season.
The Dodgers would be expected to eat a significant amount of Kemp's remaining $128 million over six years in any deal. Otherwise, they wouldn't get much of a return in terms of high-ceiling prospects and MLB-ready players.
Philadelphia would be an interesting destination for Kemp. Citizens Bank Park has seen fewer fans the past two seasons, as the team has gotten worse and worse. With a new local TV deal on the horizon, dealing for a superstar like Kemp would be a typical Amaro move and it would bring attention back to the team as they attempt to strike it rich, whether with Comcast or elsewhere. Right now, their center fielder is Ben Revere. While he is perfectly serviceable on his own, he doesn't have anywhere near the upside of a healthy Kemp. The Phillies could also play Kemp in right field. The problem is that the Phillies' minor league system is rather weak, especially at the upper levels, so there may not be a match.
Cliff Lee, P, Philadelphia Phillies
Has there ever been a Cy Young Award winner traded more often than Lee? Lee, who played for four teams within a span of one calendar year -- the Indians, Phillies, Mariners, and Rangers -- could be on the block again as the Phillies attempt to create a more competitive roster going into 2014. The Phillies owe $109.5 million to seven players already without factoring in arbitration-eligible players, free agents and pre-arbs. They need at least one outfielder, at least one middle-of-the-rotation starter, a set-up man, and an entire bench. They opened 2013 with a payroll below $160 million, so filling all of those holes with $50 million or less would be quite a challenge.
Trading Lee while he's still at the apex of his value -- he's coming off of a season in which he posted a 2.87 ERA in 222.2 innings while leading the league with a 6.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- would give the Phillies their best shot to find a suitor willing to eat the $62.5 million remaining on his contract. In return, the Phillies could further bolster their minor league system and perhaps even add a major league-caliber player to fill one of those holes.
The same teams that would be interested in Scherzer would also have interest in acquiring Lee. Due to the lefty's age and remaining salary, he would require less in terms of impact prospects, which might be more attractive to a team with a less-bountiful system like the Rangers.
Yovani Gallardo, P, Milwaukee Brewers
2013 was the worst season of Gallardo's career. The right-hander put up a 4.18 ERA in 180.2 innings, showing a markedly reduced strikeout rate and diminished fastball velocity. The Brewers owe him $11.25 million in 2014 and have a $13 million option for 2015, but they could choose to move him while he still has value.
Gallardo is clearly a tier or two below Scherzer and Lee, but the fact that he would be under team control for potentially a second year (by the team's discretion only, as opposed to a player or vesting option) is attractive to some teams -- perhaps the Indians, Orioles or Nationals.
Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres
The Padres could have traded Headley after the 2012 season, when he finished fifth in MVP voting thanks to a 31-homer, 115-RBI, .875-OPS output. Instead, the Padres hung on to him, hoping he could repeat his performance and help them compete in what appeared to be a wide-open NL West. Perhaps, even, they could sign him to an extension.
Headley fractured the tip of his thumb in spring training, keeping him out for the first 14 games. The injury clearly affected his power as he was able to muscle out just six home runs in 68 games through the end of June. He wasn't exactly dead weight, but he wasn't anywhere near the MVP-caliber player he was a season prior, either.
Headley took home an $8.575 million salary and now enters his final year of arbitration eligibility. He'll likely earn a salary in the double-digit millions in 2014. The Padres, who opened 2013 with a $68 million payroll, could attempt to trade the 29-year-old before his value declines any more. The Dodgers, Angels, Yankees, Giants, Red Sox and Cardinals would all likely show interest -- particularly the Yankees since the future of Alex Rodriguez hinges on his ongoing legal battles, which could result in a suspension through all of 2014.
Jon Lester/Jake Peavy/John Lackey/Ryan Dempster, Ps, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox could trade one of their veteran starters in an effort to create space for some of their younger arms. Any of Lester, Peavy, Lackey or Dempster could go.
Lester would be the most interesting as he's the youngest of the group. The Red Sox will assuredly pick up his $13 million club option for 2014, but they could still ship him somewhere for the right price. The lefty turns 30 in January and is coming off a rebound season. He posted a 4.82 ERA in 2012, showing a diminished ability to generate swings and misses. While he didn't fully recapture that ability in 2013, it was an improvement at least.
Peavy is under contract for one more year at $14.5 million. His bounce-back 2012 output (3.37 ERA) is sandwiched by two mediocre campaigns in 2011 (4.92) and 2013 (4.17). He'll turn 33 in May. As such, he might make a more attractive midseason acquisition rather than taking on the brunt of his salary with the chance he could be injured and/or ineffective for an entire season.
Lackey put himself back on the map in a big way in 2013, returning from Tommy John surgery. He posted a 3.52 ERA along with the best strikeout and walk rates of his 12-year career. Lackey will earn $15.25 million in 2014. His injury triggered a club option for 2015 in which he earns just the major league minimum salary ($500,000), which effectively means a team that acquires him prior to the upcoming season would be paying him $8 million per season for two years of control.
Dempster was a complete bust for the Red Sox, having his worst season by defense-independent measures since an injury-plagued 2007. The 36-year-old finished with a 4.57 ERA, forcing the Sox to move him to the bullpen for the postseason. They owe him $13.25 million for the 2014 season. Compared to a year and a half ago, when the Rangers acquired him in a trade with the Cubs, Dempster doesn't have much value, but he is easily the most expendable.
Dexter Fowler, CF, Colorado Rockies
Despite a breakout 2012 season in which he posted a .300/.389/.474 line, Fowler has consistently been a 2-3 WAR player over the last three years. His defense has ranged from slightly below average to well below average, and he is a deceptively mediocre baserunner, successfully swiping bags at a meager 68 percent success rate in 2013. He strikes out a ton and, aside from a BABIP-fueled 2012, doesn't hit for average.
Furthermore, over the span of his career (2,635 plate appearances0, Fowler has been almost entirely been a product of Coors Field. At home, he has hit .298/.395/.485, a line comparable to that of Matt Holliday, as an example. On the road, he has hit .241/.333/.361, a line comparable to Yunel Escobar.
The Rockies will pay Fowler $7.85 million in 2014, and he is eligible for arbitration for his final year after the season. While the two years of control and the potential to lock him up with an extension are both attractive features, teams (except for the Phillies, perhaps) are smart enough to check home and road splits, evaluate defense, and notice his inefficiency on the bases. When the Rockies made Fowler available last offseason, they didn't get any bites for this exact reason. The Rockies will make him available again. It will be interesting to see if Dan O'Dowd adapts by significantly reducing his center fielder's price.
Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.