The hot-stove season has already provided plenty of heat. Some high-profile free agents have already agreed to deals, while other big names have been moved in trades. It’s already shaping up to be one of the most interesting offseasons in recent memory, and we haven’t even hit the winter meetings.

Right now, most of what is going to come out will be talk. It’s when general managers and agents are able to sit down face to face that the action will intensify. Despite the likely wait for outsiders to see where their favorite team is heading, there’s a lot to digest. 

Some teams will put feelers out, not really wanting to move a player, hoping to get blown away by an offer that they would be insane not to take. Others will reach a stage of desperation, either because they see an opening to pounce on in the division or someone is fighting for his job. 

Whatever the rationale behind starting rumors, it provides plenty of fodder for discussion. Here’s a look at the hottest trade buzz floating around the web. 


Justin Upton Worth A King’s Ransom?

The Atlanta Braves appear to be focusing on their long-term future after trading Jason Heyward, who will be a free agent after 2015, to the St. Louis Cardinals. As a result, it would make sense for Justin Upton to be the next player the team moves. 

Like Heyward, Upton is under contract for only one more year. Upton is more expensive, carrying a price tag of $14.25 million compared to a $7.8 million salary for Heyward, per Baseball-Reference. It would be reasonable to expect a similar, perhaps slightly smaller, return for Upton in that case. 

However, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Postthat isn’t what Atlanta is thinking. He’s reporting that the Braves are expecting to net a bigger return for the 27-year-old Upton than they got for Heyward:

The Braves are very much shopping Justin Upton and are requesting a higher return than they received earlier this week when they dealt their other corner outfielder, Jason Heyward.

Nevertheless, the Braves think Upton has greater value in the trade market because his overall offense — particularly his power — is superior. Upton hit 29 homers and Heyward 11. And Upton brings righty power, which is in particularly short demand.

There’s the dilemma teams looking to acquire Upton have to wrestle with. It’s no secret offensive numbers have been in decline, so a player who hit .270/.342/.491 with 29 homers in 2014 would have great value on the open market. 

That’s not how the trade market works, especially since teams continue to put a greater value on cost controlling young talent instead of overpaying for a player on the verge of free agency. 

It also doesn’t help that, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, the Braves may not be as inclined to deal Upton as they were Heyward:

Clubs that have spoken with the Braves say that while Atlanta dangled both Heyward and Upton at the GM meetings earlier this month, it appeared more motivated to deal Heyward.

One strong possibility is that, internally, the Braves ranked their three most marketable position players — Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis — in order of easiness to move (and replace) and eventually elevated Heyward to the top of that list.

Stark also notes that the Braves seem to be stuck in a spot where they still want to compete now and build the future. Upton certainly fits into the immediate need for help, especially with an offense that finished 29th in runs and slugging percentage last season.

In other words, this whole scenario sounds like the Braves are dangling Upton as a carrot, and anyone who presents a huge offer they would be insane to turn down will get him. It’s just going to be hard to find someone willing to make that offer. 


Jay Bruce Could Be Victim of Reds’ Payroll

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Cincinnati Reds’ 2014 payroll was the highest in franchise history at $114.1 million. That’s a lot of money to spend on a team that went 76-86 and finished 12 games out of a playoff spot in the National League. 

Expenses aren’t going to come down much with the current roster, especially with Joey Votto entering the second year of his 10-year, $225 million contract, Brandon Phillips getting paid big money through 2017, Homer Bailey in the second year of his contract and Mat Latos entering his final year of arbitration. 

With Votto and Phillips having limited trade value as a result of injuries and declining performance last year, and Bailey not getting traded after signing his big extension last year, one viable option for the Reds to cut costs is trading Jay Bruce. 

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, while it’s possible the Reds could consider trading one of their soon-to-be free-agent starters, the team has had talks about moving Bruce:

The Reds also have engaged in preliminary discussions on deals involving two-time All-Star right fielder Jay Bruce, according to major-league sources. Though club officials say the team is merely listening on players rather than shopping them, a trade of Bruce for more cost-effective talent would be a major step toward retooling with a lower payroll in 2015.

Rosenthal‘s report also says that the Reds aren’t “committed” to decreasing their payroll next season but could upgrade a few positions with the hopes of contending in 2015. He lists San Diego as a team the Reds have spoken with about Bruce. 

Bruce is another player the Reds have under control beyond next season, guaranteed through 2016 with a team option for 2017. The money is reasonable at $24.5 million total through 2016 and the option year at $13 million, per Baseball-Reference

Now would be the perfect time for a team in search of offense to inquire about Bruce, who is just 27 years old and coming off a disappointing .217/.281/.373 with 18 home runs. He hit at least 30 homers every year from 2011-13 and had never hit under 21 prior to 2014. 

There is a tangible reason attributed to Bruce’s struggles last year. Rosenthal noted that general manager Walt Jocketty and manager Bryan Price have said the outfielder’s problems “resulted partly from his hurried return from knee surgery.”

With a full offseason to get back in top shape, Bruce is an ideal bounce-back candidate who can upgrade any offense. The Reds are in a good spot where they don’t have to decide right now. They can start the year hoping to contend. If it doesn’t happen, they can deal Bruce at the trade deadline or next offseason to get a strong return. 


Miguel Montero Not Generating Buzz

The big catching domino fell when Russell Martin pulled off a surprise by signing with the Toronto Blue Jays, so teams looking for an upgrade at the position will be forced to turn to lesser free-agent alternatives or the trade market. 

One of those trade alternatives could be Arizona’s Miguel Montero, though Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic is reporting there hasn’t been an extensive volume of calls from teams looking to acquire the 31-year-old since Martin signed:

The Diamondbacks continue to have dialogue with other clubs on a variety of players, including catcher Miguel Montero. However, according to a source, talks regarding Montero have not picked up significantly in the days following the Toronto Blue Jays’ signing of catcher Russell Martin. Among the teams the Diamondbacks have spoken to about Montero are the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox.

It’s not a surprise that Montero‘s stock would be down to the point that teams are reluctant to part with prospects to acquire him. He’s reached an age where his skills are likely to be in decline, particularly on offense.

The veteran has hit just .237/.324/.358 over the last two years with the lowest wins above replacement total during that span among catchers with at least 1,000 plate appearances, via FanGraphs.

Montero‘s defense has also been dropping the last two years, as his caught-stealing percentage has gone from 42 percent in 2012 to 29 percent last year, per Baseball-Reference. Considering he’s got a $40 million price tag over the next three years, you can understand why Arizona’s options appear limited. 


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