The only downside of having so many things happen at the Winter Meetings last week is Major League Baseball didn’t spread the wealth. Instead of free agents or teams waiting for a day or two in between all of their action, movement has been fairly quiet since everyone left San Diego. 

However, just because the actual moves have slowed doesn’t mean the chatter is dying down. Teams are still aggressively working the phones in pursuit of a prize that will hopefully result in a championship sooner than later. 

Now is the time for teams to make their best pitch to acquire a premium talent via trade because the top-tier free agents, with the exception of Max Scherzer, are off the table. Scherzer‘s market hasn’t taken off yet, nor is it likely to until agent Scott Boras decides he wants it to, so searching for answers now requires some maneuvering. 

Here are the teams looking to make deals for some of the biggest stars in the sport.


Do the Red Sox Have an in on Cole Hamels?

While there is still work to be done, it appears Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro is poised to start rebuilding his roster around younger talent. That will require shedding a lot of salary and upsetting Phillies fans, but it’s in the best long-term interest of this declining franchise. 

The biggest chip Amaro has to play with is Cole Hamels, who is signed to a reasonable contract by the standards of top-tier starting pitchers and can net a strong return for the Phillies’ system. Finding a trade partner could be problematic because the left-hander has a no-trade list that includes 20 teams. 

However, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, there may be at least one team that could make Hamels waive the no-trade provision if they chose to do so:

The Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, and Rangers are interested in Hamels. The sleeper team is the aggressive Astros. The Giants may be in if they can’t get James Shields. The feeling has been that if the Red Sox would pick up Hamels’s 2019 option at $20 million, he would waive his no-trade. The five years remaining on Hamels’s deal would be worth $110 million.

The Red Sox already missed out on their big free agent when Jon Lester opted to sign with the Chicago Cubs. General manager Ben Cherington has done a solid job of rebuilding the middle and back of Boston’s rotation with Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson

However, the Red Sox still lack an arm for the top of their rotation in 2015. Hamels will be a steep price, both in terms of what they would have to give up and price, but it’s clear based on Cherington‘s moves that another lost season isn’t in the cards. 

After playing things conservatively in free agency the past two years, the Red Sox spent a combined $183 million on Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. 

Guaranteeing Hamels $110 million over five years would also be an out-of-the-box move for Boston, which hasn’t given a pitcher a contract that long since John Lackey in the winter of 2009. 

There aren’t many other options for the Red Sox to choose from, especially with the credentials Hamels possesses. He’s only 11 days older than Lester, had a 2.46 ERA with 198 strikeouts and 176 hits allowed in 204.2 innings last year and has finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting three of the last four years. 

The Red Sox also possess one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, so they can afford to gamble on a trade like the one it would take to land Hamels without depleting their future talent. Winning now is a priority for this franchise, so finding a way to make this deal happen seems essential to success in 2015. 


Pitching Depth Makes Padres Favorites for Justin Upton?

Unlike the Red Sox, where competing every year is essential to maintaining harmony, the San Diego Padres are still trying to figure out their recipe for success. They seem to believe that winning now is a possibility, as evidenced by the reported acquisition of Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers, via Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

However, the Padres may not be done there. According to Dennis Lin of U-T San Diego, San Diego is viewed as the favorites to land Justin Upton from Atlanta:

More than a few in the industry believe Upton will wind up with the Padres, who may be able to offer more controllable pitching than any other suitor. While Upton, 27, is a year away from free agency, he is owed a reasonable $14.5 million, making him the top option among potential short-term fits.

Adding Upton to play alongside Kemp would certainly improve a Padres offense that scored the fewest runs in baseball last year (535) and got dreadful production from the outfield (.234/.307/.347, per 

It just becomes a matter of whether the Padres want to pay what the Braves are asking, which Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported in November as being “a higher return” than what St. Louis paid for Jason Heyward

Upton, like Heyward, is in the final year of his contract, but is also making nearly twice as much money ($14.5 million to $7.8 million). Upton does offer something Heyward hasn’t shown in two years: Power, as the former All-Star has hit 56 homers in his two years with the Braves. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports also wondered if the financial investment, as well as the pieces that would need to be dealt, are enough to make the Padres relevant in the National League West:

The Padres’ second baseman, Jedd Gyorko, is coming off a .612 OPS in an injury-marred season. Their shortstops, Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes, are perhaps best suited to be utility players. Club officials would like to upgrade over Yonder Alonso at first, and third base currently looms as a competition between and Cory Spangenberg and Yangervis Solarte.

With all the problems in that San Diego lineup, not just the outfield, Kemp and Upton at their best may not be good enough to get the Padres over the hump in 2015. That is key because Upton can be a free agent, so who knows if he would even entertain re-signing in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park. 

If you want to take a glass-half-full approach, the Padres still won 77 games despite having the worst offense and allowed the second-fewest runs in the National League. Still, there’s a lineup-wide problem that even a Kemp-Upton duo doesn’t fix. 


Phillies Trying to Parlay Ryan Howard Into Trades

When you have a 35-year-old first baseman who hit .223/.310/.380 with a league-leading 190 strikeouts and is owed $50 million over the next two years with a $10 million buyout for 2017, per, you have to get creative trying to move the player. 

Ryan Howard is the albatross in the middle of a Philadelphia franchise that has been riding a wave of bad contracts for the last three years. Being able to move him, even if it means chipping in a lot of money, would be good to move beyond the past glory and current malaise. 

Amaro deserves credit for reportedly trying to get creative with a trade package involving Howard, even if it was futile. 

According to Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports, the Baltimore Orioles had discussions with the Phillies about acquiring Marlon Byrd with a caveat:

The Orioles talked to the Phillies about outfielder Marlon Byrd, and he was offered in a package that included first baseman Ryan Howard, according to multiple industry sources. Don’t hold your breath on that one, either.

The bad news for Amaro and the Phillies is they don’t have a player good enough to sell teams that would cause them to absorb Howard in return. Hamels is the closest thing, but even he’s not that good. It would also significantly lower the return in prospects, unless the Phillies paid off all of Howard’s salary. 

However, if buying Howard was an option then the Phillies should just do that and release him now to avoid having him continue to get paid like a superstar and perform like a below-replacement level player. 

It’s not a good situation for either side to be in. Howard has to endure the scrutiny that comes with being a $25 million per year player, while the Phillies are handcuffed by the bad contract they gave him two years before he hit free agency. 


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