For Cardinals fans, it's time to stock up on commemorative gear and pray for the return of Prince Albert. For fans of the other 29 teams, it's time to pressure G.M.'s to lay the groundwork for a championship celebration next year. The free-agent market is top-heavy and—after Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes—light on impact position players, so it will take more than a checkbook to fix a roster this winter. Here are four trades that would benefit all the teams involved—modest proposals to reshape the 2012 pennant races.
Braves trade P's Julio Teheran and Mike Minor to the Dodgers for OF Andre Ethier
Much like the Rays, Atlanta's pitching-heavy approach has failed the team late in the last two seasons. The Braves have an abundance of young starting pitching, more than they can fit on the roster, and can afford to use some of that depth to get a player who can switch corners from rightfield and upgrade them in left. After a long hitting streak to start the year, Ethier cooled off, putting up the lowest slugging percentage (.421) of his six-year career. The Braves can take advantage of the Dodgers' money problems to add a number 3 hitter (Ethier will be a free agent after next season) and the best leftfielder they've had since Chipper Jones.
Rays trade P James Shields to Reds for 1B Yonder Alonso and P Edinson Volquez
A deal that made sense during the summer still does, as Tampa Bay has too many starting pitchers for one rotation, and the Reds have too many first basemen for one lineup. Trying to play Alonso, a middle-of-the-order hitter, in leftfield is bad for the team's defense and the player's development. The Rays, for all their comebacky goodness, were exposed in the playoffs—again—as a team that can't score enough to get over the hump. Volquez needs a change of scenery and could be part of a once-again-rebuilt Rays pen in 2012. Shields is coming off his best season and would slot well as the Reds' No. 1 starter as Cincinnati tries to bounce back from a disappointing season.
Marlins trade LF Logan Morrison to Rockies for CF Dexter Fowler
Colorado has never fully committed to Fowler, whose high strikeout rate and problems staying healthy have hindered his development. The Marlins, who have a sneaky-good core that will be better if Josh Johnson can pitch a full season, a new ballpark and a new manager in Ozzie Guillen, can afford to take on some risk to upgrade their biggest hole, centerfield. Fowler is an excellent athlete who lacks power but has speed and on-base skills. Morrison's gap power is a great fit in Denver, where he could spend a year playing left and serving as an understudy to Todd Helton before taking over at first base, a better fit for his skills, in the near future. It's a challenge trade with upside for both teams.
Cubs trade P Carlos Marmol to Mets for OF Fernando Martinez
New president of baseball operations Theo Epstein won't be able to clean house in Chicago, not with so much dead money still on the payroll, but he should be able to get out from under Marmol's three-year contract. The erratic closer still misses enough bats, and the industry overvalues closers enough, for him to have trade value. The Mets, despite their nonbaseball financial issues, have a lot of money coming off the payroll this winter, and their bullpen is a particular weak spot. Martinez is a former top prospect who has never been able to stay healthy but, at 23, retains some upside as a doubles-hitting corner outfielder and is a good change-of-scenery play for Epstein. These are the kinds of moves—rather than big splashy free-agent signings—on which he built his reputation in Boston.