The free-agent market won't exactly be packed with marquee players this winter. Outfielder Matt Holliday is the biggest prize, but the Cardinals, who gave up a package of prospects to acquire him on July 24, are expected to make a strong bid to keep him. If Holliday isn't available, Angels righthander John Lackey and Red Sox leftfielder Jason Bay could be the next best targets. But the real action this off-season figures to be in the trade market. That could be the hottest it's been in years.
Blue Jays righthander Roy Halladay and Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez have already been shopped this summer and will be big chips in their G.M.'s off-season poker games. But there are other surprising names that could be involved as well. The Rays got a head start on the activity last Friday by sending 25-year-old lefthander Scott Kazmir (box) to the Angels, one of the teams Tampa Bay is chasing in the AL playoff derby. The Mariners might follow suit this winter by dealing righthander Felix Hernandez, who's only 23.
Here's a look at some of the more interesting trade possibilities:
The Jays made a mess of their summer Halladay shopping. When the Phillies dropped out of the bidding and wisely snapped up Cliff Lee for a less costly package of prospects, that left the Red Sox and the cash-strapped Rangers as the most serious pennant-race bidders for Halladay. Some executives believe the Jays should have accepted Boston's offer, which was believed to have been pitchers Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden and Nick Hagadone, plus a nonpitching prospect. Since then Halladay, 32, has appeared to be emotionally spent. (He had a 2.68 ERA in 20 starts before the July 31 deadline and a 4.71 mark in six starts after it.) His contract runs out after the 2010 season, and he apparently isn't interested in an extension, so a trade still makes sense.
The Padres entertained offers for baseball's most cost-efficient slugger at the deadline, and executives around the league see them trying again. "They seem open to anything," one exec says. While Gonzalez, 27, is the popular face of the organization and is owed just $4.75 million on a deal that runs through 2010 and includes a reasonable club option ($5.5 million) for the following year, he could bring back a hefty return, and as another executive points out, "the franchise isn't going to win anything for the remainder of his contract." The Red Sox tried hard at the deadline and could be in the mix again, and the Mets could be a player with 37-year-old first baseman Carlos Delgado's contract expiring at the end of this season. Another Padre who will probably be on the move: star closer Heath Bell.
Boston's offer for King Felix was said to be even stronger than the one for Halladay. But Hernandez has two more seasons to go before free agency, so the Mariners will be asking for a lot in return. Says one executive, "They're going to try like the dickens for 14 months to sign him [to an extension], but the question is: If they fail, is now the time to trade him?"
4. Carl Crawford
The trade of Kazmir (and the at least $22.5 million remaining on his contract) could mean that the All-Star leftfielder stays put. But the Rays are a creative team that will consider anything, and Crawford, whose 2010 club option is a pricey (for Tampa Bay) $10 million, did appear to be available earlier this summer. One thing to remember: Projected replacement Desmond Jennings may be close. Through Sunday he had hit a combined .311 with 49 stolen bases at Double A Montgomery and Triple A Durham in '09.
5. Dan Uggla
The Marlins second baseman won a $5.35 million arbitration award this season, and executives around the league don't see penny-pinching Florida taking a chance that it'll have to pay him $7 million if he goes before an arbitrator again for 2010.
6. Milton Bradley
Sure, no one's going to be knocking down the Cubs' door after his disastrous season—he was hitting .269 with 11 homers and 36 RBIs through Sunday—but the franchise's new ownership may want a fresh start without the perpetually unhappy outfielder, even if it has to pay a significant chunk of the $21 million remaining on his deal. Texas was the one place Bradley seemed close to being content (hitting .321 a year ago), and Toronto is mentioned as another possibility.
7. Billy Wagner/Jonathan Papelbon
The Red Sox agreed not to pick up Wagner's option when they traded for him on Aug. 25, but they retained the right to offer him arbitration so they can get draft-pick compensation if he leaves. While it seems like a long shot that they'll trade a star closer who's only 28, some think the Sox, who have 24-year-old flamethrower Daniel Bard working in a setup role, would consider dealing Papelbon.