Baseball is currently undergoing an era in which offensive production is hard to come by and games are dominated by pitchers. Teams in search of a power bat don’t have the amount of options they did in the past. Offensive players have come to be hot commodities on the trade block, sparking a multitude of midseason trades for specifically, power hitters. And with a limited free agent market for power hitters, the trade market is now arising as the best option to land a big bat.
Due to the fact that many of baseballs best hitters have been signed to long-term extensions prior to free agency starting, the players available offensively in this winter’s free agent market is small and for the most part, unappealing. Victor Martinez, the best hitter that was available for a short window in free agency, re-signed with the Detroit Tigers and the other big name options who are still without a team (Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Nelson Cruz), are limited in some facet of their game or are close to landing a big contract, already showing the evaporating market.
Teams unsatisfied with the options presented should be looking to address the trade market rather than settle for mediocrity. For the clubs with ability to take on large salary or teams that have the prospects to trade for a cheaper top-tier bat, there are enticing names to be had, particularly in the outfield.
Kemp is the biggest name being discussed as of right now with Don Mattingly and co. Looking to enforce top prospect Joc Pederson as their new everyday outfielder. The Los Angeles Dodgers have been quite vocal in stating that they would be willing to trade Kemp or other players of their outfield such as Andre Either if in fact the package was right. While the team would not mind getting rid of the lagging contracts of Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford, Kemp is clearly the prized possession of the group and potentially the offensive gem of the entire trade market, with not many facets of his game lacking when he is healthy
Kemp is only 30 years old and seemed to be healthy in the second half of last season, where he showed flashes of brilliance much like he did in 2011 as he hit for a .314/.367/.623 slash line with 17 home runs and 52 RBI over the course of the last 60 games of the season. Kemp is currently owed around $107 million over the next five season, and if he can stay healthy, he comes as a bargain, well worth the money and the package it would require to acquire him. Kemp could very well be in the MVP conversation if in fact he can stay healthy – an unknown since 2012.
While the Dodgers would likely have to pick up a chunk of the money owed to Ethier and/or Crawford, a huge return would not be likely making Los Angeles more likely to pursue a deal for Kemp. The Dodgers would likely be happy to keep him, with the intention that he can be an MVP-caliber hitter he once was. This would mean that they would not be likely to pick up much of his remaining salary and would still want a decent return in prospects or already established MLB players.
When hitting his stride, the same said about Kemp can also be said about Justin Upton. The Atlanta Braves have already traded one-third of their starting outfield from 2014, and they would not be opposed to shopping Upton, who will not turn 28 until August 25 of 2015 and has 104 home runs and a .355 OBP over his last four seasons.
Upton and Heyward shared the same contract situation with both playing the 2015 season as contract years. Upton has one year remaining but at the considerably higher salary of $14.5 million. If Upton can duplicate his 2014 season, he will be a hot commodity in the free agency market.
The obvious drawback on trading for Upton, aside from the package required to land him, is the aforementioned impending free agency, Once in a position of freedom in free agency, Upton will command a nine-figure contract, making it possible he is a one-year rental for a strong, competing team such as the Seattle Mariners, who Upton recently dropped from his no-trade list.
Boston’s Yoenis Cespedes is also headed into a contract year. The Oakland Athletics traded him to the Boston Red Sox for Jon Lester in July because they knew they would not be able to re-sign him after next season, when he can become a free agent at the prime age of 30 years old.
Cespedes is nowhere near the hitter Kemp or Upton is, but he provides raw power, which many teams will find attractive. He won’t have a high batting average or on-base percentage, but Cespedes is undoubtedly one of the most potent power hitters in baseball, indicated by his 71 home runs over the course of the last three seasons, as well as his two home run derby crowns.
While it is possible the Red Sox could hold onto Cespedes as they move into a season where they are looking to contend again, if the right package comes along, Ben Cherington’s hand might be forced into moving the Cuban slugger.
If teams choose to keep shopping past Kemp, Upton and Cespedes, they will find themselves eyeing Colorado Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, by far the best hitter, but also the most costly. Gonzalez, 29, is a former All-Star and MVP candidate with a long injury history, and $53 million owed to him over the course of the next three seasons.
When he is on the field, Gonzalez is one of the most elite hitters in baseball. That is not in question even with him calling Coors Field home; one of the more hitter friendly parks in baseball. It is whether he can stay on the field that raises concern.
Additionally, landing Gonzalez will be a feat of its own. The indication out of the Rockies front office is sounding as if a team is going to have to completely break the bank in order to steal Gonzalez away from the Rockies. Colorado will likely be wanting some top level prospects or established young guns, giving indication publicly that Gonzalez will not be cheap by any means.
Obviously, none of these options will be cheap, and it is entirely possible that teams might be renting names like Upton or Cespedes, but the offensive potential of this years market as well as the state of teams heading into the 2015 season might make teams inclined to blow up farms in order to land names such as Kemp or Gonzalez.
While the free agency market for power hitters is going cold, the trade block will soon be heating up with many big names on the brink of being moved.