Coming off one of the most-discussed postseasons in recent memory, Major League Baseball is not resting on its laurels. The offseason is in full swing, which means teams are preparing offers to free agents and lining up their trade chips. 

While the signings aren’t likely to come until the winter meetings, trades are a different animal. Thanks to the arbitration process and payroll projections for next season, teams have to be active for financial reasons. It’s an unfortunate reality of the sports worldricher teams have flexibility that others don’t. 

Trade rumors are starting to heat up, which makes this the perfect time to analyze what they mean for the players and teams being talked about. 


Royals Undergoing Changes?

Lost in the shuffle of Kansas City’s run to the World Series is the fact that this team is going to look much different in 2015. James Shields is likely gone unless the Royals want to get in a bidding war that could result in a $100 million contract. 

Billy Butler’s team option was declined, though that wasn’t a surprise because his performance in 2014 didn’t warrant $12.5 million next season. There are also six players in their second or third year of arbitration eligibility (Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Justin Maxwell, Brett Hayes). 

There’s also the escalating salary of Alex Gordon in the final guaranteed year of his contract, which will pay him $12.5 million with a team option for 2016.

All of these numbers add up to a lot of money the Royals may not have, which is why it isn’t a surprise that Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reported three key players from the World Series run could be on the block:

Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have become identified with a magical year, but the team faces looming decisions and/or escalating salary on each player. The expectation within the industry is that they will at least listen to trade offers.

To be clear, we are not saying that any of those guys are goners — merely that life with a payroll near $100 million involves hard choices, and a need to consider all options.

Gordon is the big name in that group because of his high salary and age. (He turns 31 in February.) Hosmer made $3.6 million last year, his first year of arbitration, and is still young enough at 25 to have high upside. Mike Moustakas was a hero in the playoffs but still hit .212/.271/.361 and was demoted to Triple-A in May. 

Moustakas is also in his first year of arbitration eligibility, so he will go from making $549,000 in 2014 to substantially more in 2015. He seems to be the most likely candidate to move given his erratic performance and impending raise. 

Gordon, despite the high salary, is still a bargain at $12.5 million. He was worth 6.6 wins above replacement, which translates to $36.3 million of total value added, per FanGraphs. The Royals are still good enough to compete for a playoff spot in 2015, so trading their best all-around player doesn’t make sense. 

The best thing for the Royals to do is what Martino reports they plan to do: Listen to offers on all three, likely plan to keep Gordon and Hosmer, but if the right deal comes along for either one, then take it. Moustakas is expendable regardless of whether the Royals are contenders or not because he’s never lived up to his prospect hype. 

Sorry, it was a nice run in October for Moustakas, but a power surge in the postseason doesn’t change three years of bad performance. 


David Freese on the Move Again?

One year after the Los Angeles Angels acquired him from the St. Louis Cardinals, David Freese could find himself in another uniform by the time next season starts. He’s not the only Angel on the trade block, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports:

The team is likely to trade either second baseman Howie Kendrick or third baseman David Freese to address other needs, according to major-league sources.

The Angels would like to add another starting pitcher for depth and protection as right-hander Garrett Richards works his way back from major knee surgery. They also could seek another left-hander for their bullpen.

In addition to Garrett Richards’ injury, Tyler Skaggs will also miss next year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. That leaves the Angels with at least one question mark in the rotation (not counting what Richards will be like when he returns). 

With their payroll at $154 million in 2014, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, an increased salary for Mike Trout and the albatross contracts for Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson still on the books for at least two more seasons, the Angels don’t seem to have a lot of flexibility. 

Freese is entering his third and final year of arbitration after making $5 million last year. He has been in decline for the last two years, seeing his OPS go from a career high .839 in 2012 to .704 last year, and he rates as one of the worst defensive third baseman in baseball over the last three years. 

Kendrick has little power to speak of but is an excellent contact hitter who regularly posts averages in the .280-.290 range with above-average defense, per FanGraphs, which makes his $9.5 million salary a bargain (especially compared to what Freese will make relative to his production). 

Dealing Freese doesn’t figure to net any kind of impactful starting pitcher. He could be good enough to get some team in need of help at third base to pull the trigger on a deal for a reliever whose salary is about to increase. Rosenthal highlighted the Angels’ need for a lefty in the ‘pen, so that makes the most sense in a deal for Freese. 


J.A. Happ Deal Another Piece of Toronto’s Offseason Puzzle

Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos has already been busy this offseason. He picked up Justin Smoak off waivers from the Seattle and then traded Adam Lind to Milwaukee for Marco Estrada. 

The question is this: What does Anthopoulos do for an encore? According to Shi Davidi of, left-hander J.A. Happ is getting a lot of interest on the trade market:

But the (Lind) swap is also about addressing a flawed roster that too often tied manager John Gibbons’ hands, changing the mix in the clubhouse, building up the pitching depth to protect against injury, and make trading someone like J.A. Happ, who’s been generating lots of interest, possible.

Davidi highlights a lot of moving parts for any potential deal. He mentions how the Blue Jays wanted to use Lind’s $7.5 million salary in different ways, which led to his trade. Estrada can essentially serve the role Happ currently has of a fifth starter/long reliever and make less money. 

In other words, as Davidi wrote, these moves are “about creating opportunities during the off-season rather than putting together the lineup for 2015.” 

Happ is a difficult trade candidate to assess. He’s nothing special on the mound, posting a 4.22 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 158 innings, but his ability to serve multiple roles on a pitching staff does add value. He looks even better carrying a $6.7 million salary to teams in need of pitching depth without great payroll flexibility. 

The Blue Jays clearly need to make some changes and have already started to do so. They want to open a window of contending while players like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are still playing at a high level.

It also helps Anthopoulos’ offseason strategy that young pitchers like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez gained experience in 2014, giving the Blue Jays flexibility with the pitching staff because those two players will make roughly the league minimum next season. 

Someone will take Happ off Toronto’s hands, and it is exactly what the Blue Jays need to happen if they want to build a playoff roster next season. 


Contract information via Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. 

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