LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Even as we await the first major deal of the off-season, the push and pull of the MLB trade market has already begun.
Because no players have signed or been traded, GMs are limited only by their imaginations. Their plans are presumably ambitious, and yet most GMs are open-minded enough to listen on top players of their own.
Take the Toronto Blue Jays, for example. Their needs are clear: a versatile infielder capable of filling in up the middle, an outfielder and some impact pitching. Already, they’ve had talks about acquiring position players and starting pitchers, according to GM Ross Atkins.
But based on what Atkins’ counterparts said Monday as the GM Meetings opened outside of Orlando, Fla., obtaining an established big leaguer in trade will require a substantial return and perhaps some finesse. Complicating those talks, the Blue Jays will also hear from teams interested in trading for their established talent.
As for potential additions, Jed Lowrie looks like a potential fit for the Blue Jays. He’s an affordable switch-hitter who generated 4.0 wins above replacement last year and can play multiple positions. So would the Oakland front office part with Lowrie?
“He was our best player,” said Athletics GM David Forst. “Our most consistent, best player.”
In case any doubt remained, Forst added: “I expect Jed to be with us in April.”
There could be some gamesmanship involved in Forst’s comments—he gains nothing by announcing that he’ll move Lowrie, after all—but taken at face value, they suggest a trade looks unlikely.
What about the Padres, then? San Diego has two controllable, versatile players in Jose Pirela and Yangervis Solarte. The Padres, winners of just 71 games in a tough NL West, won’t be projected as contenders in 2018. Perhaps those players would be easier to obtain in trades.
“You sit there and listen to anything,” said GM A.J. Preller. “But in Solarte’s case and Pirela’s case, they’re both guys that we feel are legit pieces of our lineup. It’s going to have to be something meaningful for us to talk about either of those guys.”
Reds GM Dick Williams echoed Preller’s words when asked about Billy Hamilton, the speedy centre fielder who’s now just two seasons away from free agency.
“You just have to be open and opportunistic for anything,” Williams said. “But I would say that we have a lot of young pitching talent that we’re trying to develop at the major-league level and I do see an added benefit to our young pitchers to having (Hamilton’s) plus-defence behind them.”
A common theme here: teams are willing to listen on just about every player this time of year. That may well create some tough decisions for the Blue Jays as rival executives inquire about their most talented players.
Given the Blue Jays’ stated intention of competing in 2018, Josh Donaldon’s expected to remain in Toronto. That said, it’d be a surprise if the Cardinals don’t at least touch base regarding the Blue Jays’ third baseman. Speaking in general terms, Cardinals GM Michael Girsch said he hopes to turn multiple good players into one great one this winter.
“We feel like we have a roster full of average to slightly above-average big-leaguers,” Girsch said. “We have a lot of depth: depth in our outfield, depth in young starting pitching. But what we’re missing is elite level talent.”
The Cardinals are reportedly among the more serious bidders for Giancarlo Stanton, an elite talent if there ever was one. Still, St. Louis wouldn’t rule out using its depth to add an ace starting pitcher or an elite defender.
“We just want to consolidate depth into elite level talent—if we can,” Girsch said. “Now, there aren’t a lot of teams wandering around saying ‘here, take our elite level player,’ but there are some who have possibilities.”
One way or another, the Cardinals are trading an outfielder or two this winter, and even assuming the Blue Jays keep Donaldson, they’re match up neatly with St. Louis. The Blue Jays have depth in the bullpen and with Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, Jose Martinez, Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Oscar Mercado all in the organization, the Cardinals have more outfielders than they can handle.
“We have depth in the outfield to the point where it’s not even fair to our players to bring all of them back,” Girsch said. “There are guys who deserve to be in the big-leagues who’d be pushed to triple-A. There are guys who deserve to be in triple-A who’d be pushed to double-A. We almost have to move some outfielders.
“So yeah, we’re listening, we’re talking, we’re exploring.”
For now, the same applies to all 30 teams. Within days, those discussions will turn to action and the off-season will finally start taking shape.