Trade targets where cost is king

NASHVILLE -- Knowing that the surge of television money has reached the major leagues, executives aren't surprised that a lot of big contracts are being doled out this winter. But for baseball officials, hearing the specifics of each of the signings must be like walking into a Lamborghini showroom: They know it's going to pricey, and yet the numbers, in black and white, still take their breath away.

B.J. Upton, considered to be an above-average player, but nothing close to an elite player ... $75 million. Angel Pagan, who is 31 years old and has about 1.5 good years in his career, gets $40 million.

No wonder baseball executives say that there is a high volume of trade talks, much of it centered around players who have become more attractive because of their modest contracts. Some names to watch:

R.A. Dickey: The Mets have been taking offers from teams all over the place and asking for high return. He's the reigning Cy Young Award winner, he led his league in innings last year, and he'll make less than Scott Baker in 2013, given his $5 million salary. Dickey wants a two-year extension for 2014 and 2015, at big money, and he deserves an extension -- but that doesn't necessarily mean the team that acquires him has to give it to him.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson seems to be taking the same approach that he did in the Carlos Beltran talks 17 months ago. He's making the rounds, setting the asking price -- and as time goes on, he'll be in position to gradually go down the ladder in his demands with a series of teams (the Royals, Blue Jays and Rangers among them) until somebody says yes.

Alderson acknowledged the trade talks. The Mets are listening to offers.

Jason Kubel and Justin Upton: Kubel hit 30 homers with 90 RBIs last season, and he's owed $7.5 million for next year; Upton is owed $38 million over the next three years. Arizona GM Kevin Towers is said to be among the most aggressive here in his trade talks. "You've got Kevin Towers with [trade] assets to deal, a lot of other teams under the same roof, and the chance for late-night trade talks -- that's a good combination for a deal," said a rival GM.

The Diamondbacks have their eyes on pitching, including Brandon McCarthy, writes Nick Piecoro. From his story:

    A few minutes before beginning a session with reporters, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers got a phone call, causing a ringtone from the theme of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" to sound through a hallway at the Gaylord Opryland Resort.

    But Towers, who always has embraced his nickname of "The Gunslinger," didn't fire any bullets on Monday, the first day of baseball's annual winter meetings.

    Instead, things felt eerily quiet for the Diamondbacks. They've made no secret about their wish list, but they've also made clear that they're comfortable with their club as currently constructed.

    Towers said he met with four or five teams on Sunday night and another eight or nine on Monday. He's searching for the right match. He just hasn't found it yet.

Yunel Escobar: Yes, he has a reputation for being a real pain, and yes, he had that ugly incident with the eye-black patches at the end of the season. But he also has what might be the worst contract from a player's perspective in the entire sport, and the best from a team perspective. Think about this deal:

• He will make $5 million in 2013.

• The team holds a $5 million option for 2014.

• The team holds a $5 million option for 2015.

Escobar has shown he can be a pretty productive shortstop, which means that if he plays well in this current deal, he will be underpaid. And here's the beauty of this contract, from a team perspective: If Escobar plays poorly, or he doesn't mix well with other players, then they just get rid of him. At little cost. In fact, the greatest risk to a team acquiring Escobar is that he decides he'd be better off forcing his way out of this contract with his play or behavior.

Escobar is one option for the Athletics, writes Susan Slusser.

Josh Willingham and Ben Revere: Minnesota is desperately trying to make over its organizational pitching, and both Willingham and Revere would seemingly have a lot of value. Willingham is set to make $7 million for each of the next two seasons, coming off a season in which he hit 35 homers and drove in 110 runs, with a .366 on-base percentage. Revere, 24, is a cheap, young outfielder coming off a season in which he hit .294 and ranked among the major league leaders in some defensive metrics.


Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke have created logjams in some parts of the Winter Meetings market; the agents for a lot of pitchers are waiting to see what happens with Greinke, and the agents for some outfielders and corner infielders are hoping Hamilton makes his decision soon.

The Dodgers don't have an offer out to Greinke ... yet.

Hamilton is here to drum up business.

From Gil LeBreton's piece:

    On the eve of these baseball Winter Meetings, as chance would have it, Hamilton and his wife Katie boarded the same flight to Nashville as Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels.


    Business is business, though, and Daniels downplayed what he called a "coincidence."

    He didn't ask, but Daniels said he assumed that Hamilton was headed to the winter meetings "probably to meet with some other teams."

    Ballplayers, it should be noted, do not routinely attend the meetings. General managers and managers do. Wide-eyed recent college grads, seeking an entry level job in the minor leagues, do.

    But an unsigned free agent? Not very often.

Daniels believes that Hamilton was affected by the booing he heard.

• There will be a time soon for the Yankees when the best possible outcome to Alex Rodriguez's physical issues is that he's forced into retirement by his hip problems. They would get a measure of insurance relief -- if their policy on him is similar to that of some other teams, they would recoup about two-thirds of his salary if he were inactive -- that they could apply to their payroll.

But that's not the case now, and the Yankees' budget won't change in the aftermath of the Rodriguez injury, GM Brian Cashman says, which leaves him little financial room to now fill a third gaping hole, along with those at catcher and right field.

The Yankees have been clear about a willingness to talk about possible Curtis Granderson deals, and perhaps that focus could be ramped forward. If they can move Granderson's $15 million salary before the last year of his current deal, it would provide them flexibility to do other things.

The Yankees aren't in a position to do big moves now, but if they had a little more room to breath under their payroll restrictions, they could do a series of smaller deals, such as signing Ichiro or Nate Schierholtz or Scott Hairston.

Joel Sherman, who broke the story about A-Rod needing surgery Monday morning, runs through some of the Yankees' options.

The Yankees have no choice but to believe that he is going to recover, because of the amount of money involved.

Cashman said he has no idea if Rodriguez's hip problems are related to steroid use.

Derek Jeter says the Yankees can still be great.

• The Indians are looking for high return on Asdrubal Cabrera, writes Paul Hoynes. From his story:

    The Indians need a lot after losing 94 games last season. It's the main reason they're listening to offers on four of their best players: Cabrera, closer Chris Perez, right-hander Justin Masterson and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo.

    "We'd consider anything if it's the right deal," said GM Chris Antonetti. "It all depends on what we get back."

    Cabrera, 27, is signed through 2014 for a combined $16.5 million. He has a limited no-trade clause which prevents him from being dealt to the Yankees, Boston, Detroit, San Francisco, Washington and the Mets. No-trade clauses can be negotiated away, but it does make things a little more difficult.

    One has to wonder if the Yankees, who will open next season without third baseman Alex Rodriguez because of impending hip surgery, came calling for Cabrera if he waived the clause? Cabrera could play third or Derek Jeter, coming off a broken ankle, could move to third and Cabrera could take over at shortstop.

Yep, he'd be a great fit for the Yankees. But the Indians and Yankees haven't had a lot of luck making trades in recent years, and in the eyes of some rival evaluators, the Yankees don't have a lot of attractive prospects at the top of their farm system.

Jason Bay may pick his next employer sooner rather than later, among the series of overtures that he has heard. A reunion with Terry Francona in Cleveland makes sense, but we'll see.

• Even before the offseason, the Indians were looking at Shane Victorino as a possibility, and they are one of the teams being aggressive in talks with him.

• The Red Sox finished their signing of Mike Napoli. They now have four catchers in the mix, writes Scott Lauber.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Mariners lost out on Mike Napoli, as Geoff Baker writes, and they're discussing Billy Butler.

2. The Dodgers are unsure if they can sign a couple of players from the Far East.

3. The Padres re-signed Jason Marquis.

4. Dexter Fowler has become a coveted chip here, writes Troy Renck.

5. The Tigers are thinking about young outfielders, writes Lynn Henning.

6. Ned Yost believes Luke Hochevar can turn the corner for the Royals.

7. Joakim Soria signed with the Rangers.

8. The Indians aren't closing the door on Grady Sizemore, yet.

9. Within this John Fay piece, there is word that the Reds are optimistic they can re-sign Ryan Ludwick.

10. Free agents like the Cubs, says Theo Epstein. They certainly like their money.

11. A.J. Pierzynski and Kevin Youkilis appear likely to move, writes Mark Gonzales.

12. The Brewers aren't going to start offering three-year deals to pitchers.

13. The agent for Ricky Nolasco says his client wants out.

14. The Braves are willing to trade some of their young pitching, writes David O'Brien.

15. The Astros are laying the groundwork on a to-do list. There is a lot of interest in Jed Lowrie, but Houston is intent on keeping him ... partly because the Astros really need to keep somebody, for fan identification.

16. Jerry Dipoto is targeting pitching here.

17. The Nationals are looking for a fifth starter, writes Adam Kilgore.

18. There was a certain amount of frustration in the Phillies' camp Monday. They didn't want to overpay on B.J. Upton, and they lost out. They wanted Angel Pagan, but didn't separate themselves in the bidding for him. And they need outfield help, desperately.

19. The Phillies could pursue Josh Hamilton, writes Matt Gelb.

20. Sean Burnett is not a fit financially for the Nationals, says Mike Rizzo.

21. There are lots of Orioles rumors.

Other stuff

• A Blue Jays prospect is set for surgery after being hit in the eye.

Adam Greenberg, who got to chance to have an at-bat in the big leagues with the Marlins in September, is at the winter meetings, looking for a chance to play.

• As Jayson Stark writes, baseball's replay system may not be in place for the start of the 2013 season.

• John Gibbons went to a Rush concert.

• Jim Deshaies got the coveted Cubs broadcasting job, as Gordon Wittenmyer writes.

• As the value of TV deals soar, the Cardinals are banking on their minor league system and attendance.

• It's great to see the legendary Hank O'Day made the Hall of Fame.

And today will be better than yesterday.