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Trade bait

Four stars most likely to move; Piazza looks for work

Posted: Monday November 26, 2007 11:37AM; Updated: Monday November 26, 2007 2:05PM
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Miguel Cabrera
With Alex Rodriguez and Mike Lowell off the market, the Hot Corner focus shifts to Florida's Miguel Cabrera.
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Alex Rodriguez, who is apparently a much better businessman than I would have guessed, is closing on his deal for $275 million guaranteed plus $30 million in just-about-guaranteed marketing monies to return to his first and only choice, the New York Yankees. But even with the Great A-Rod off the board, there's still going to be plenty of interest and intrigue at the winter meetings, which begin a week from today and could see multiple superstars change teams via trade.

At least four impact players might switch ballclubs by sometime next week. Here's a rundown of that (mostly) fabulous four ...

Miguel Cabrera

At least the Angels, Dodgers, Giants, White Sox, Rangers and Indians are making pitches for the 24-year-old batting prodigy, who's as "good a hitter in the National League as anyone after Albert Pujols,'' in the words of one American League executive, and is just about sure to go somewhere. The signings of Mike Lowell by Boston and A-Rod limit the Cabrera derby to about a half dozen teams, with the Angels and Dodgers the favorites from the start and the White Sox looking like a viable dark horse.

The newly-aggressive Angels, who shocked the White Sox by nabbing defensive whiz Torii Hunter for $90 million over five years, appear to have set themselves up nicely for a Cabrera trade by acquiring solid starting pitcher Jon Garland, also from the White Sox. Hunter is great, but even he admits that he isn't the hitter the Angels need to protect Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup.

While it's believed that the Angels want to keep intact their six viable major-league starting pitchers, the acquisition of Garland may make them feel more comfortable about dealing top pitching prospect Nick Adenhart. The Marlins reportedly also covet second baseman Howie Kendrick, infield prospect Brandon Wood and catcher Jeff Mathis for Cabrera, who hit .320 with 34 homers and 119 RBIs last season. The Angels also have an excess of outfielders -- Reggie Willits is another trade possibility since Florida wouldn't take Gary Matthews Jr. back.

The Dodgers also have what it would take to land Cabrera, and like their neighbors 45 minutes down I-5, also have money left over from their truncated run at A-Rod. But the Dodgers have been reluctant to surrender their better prospects: outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, first baseman James Loney, third baseman Andy LaRoche and pitchers Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw.

Meanwhile, 70-year-old White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf has sent word that he wants to win after sitting out the winter market last season, and his GM, Ken Williams, has no qualms about going for the gusto. The White Sox couldn't match either L.A. team prospect for prospect, yet they may still have enough to entice Florida into a deal, with third base prospect Josh Fields as the centerpiece and outfield prospect Ryan Sweeney and pitching prospects Gio Gonzalez, Lance Broadway and Heath Phillips as additional bait in what promises to be a spirited competition.

Johan Santana

Twins people have been telling folks that they absolutely want to retain Johan Santana. Yet the likelihood of baseball's cheapest owner signing baseball's best pitcher seems more remote by the day. One baseball executive said that Santana is already "out there'' in trade talks, and the Twins surely would be wise to pursue something now as opposed to waiting until the trade deadline, since as many as 20 teams may make a bona fide run at the 28-year-old left-hander.

Minnesota's offer of $20 million a year for four years is a step up from the $18 million over two years they proposed in the spring but still likely leaves the sides as much as $50 million apart -- or even more -- in terms of total package. Twins people love the idea of opening their new stadium -- $375 million of which was paid for in large part by the taxpayers of Hennepin County, incidentally -- with Santana. But they are pragmatists at heart, and they understand the chance of a hometown discount went out the door with Hunter, Luis Castillo and all hope for 2008.

But what complicates the situation for the Twins is the no-trade powers that Santana won with his second Cy Young award in 2006, virtually allowing him to pick his new team. That could considerably limit the field of realistic suitors to the major-market teams that could pay Santana, who went 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA in 2007. The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers and Angels -- all pretty well-stocked with prospects -- are seen as the early favorites.

Minnesota would surely like to see any package begin with a young stud to replace Santana and another to replace Hunter. The Dodgers could blow away the field if they were willing to offer a combination of Billingsley and Kemp (who has the speed to play center).. Boston could try to entice Minnesota with either Clay Buchholz or Jon Lester plus Coco Crisp (Minnesota would surely prefer Jacoby Ellsbury, but the Red Sox would want to keep him out of the deal), while the Yankees would have to part with Phil Hughes or at least Ian Kennedy plus Melky Cabrera (the Yankees say Joba Chamberlain and Robinson Cano are off-limits, even for Santana) and the Mets could package Mike Pelfrey with one of three outfielders -- Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez or Fernando Martinez.

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