by Joe Giglio
As the Major League Baseball Hot Stove season prepares to take center stage at the Winter Meetings, take a few minutes to remember that the stars of 2013 and 2014 won’t necessarily score the biggest deals or make headlines if they are dealt next week.
It’s no secret that players like Angel Pagan and Nick Swisher helped their teams reach great heights in 2012. How and why they were acquired is less publicized. Buying low through trades in the off-season can change the face, culture, and most importantly, trajectory of a franchise.
In November 2008, just weeks after watching the first October-less month of Yankees baseball in fourteen years, Brian Cashman shipped infielder Wilson Betemit and minor league pitchers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez to Chicago in exchange for the switch-hitting Swisher. Coming off of a MLB low .219 average and run-in’s with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, the Yankees stole a player that would hit 105 HR, post a .367 OBP, and 124 OPS+ over his four years in New York, all of which ended in a trip to October.
Last off-season, Pagan was moved from the intense media market of the East Coast to the Bay Area. During the Winter Meetings, Sandy Alderson traded him to San Francisco for outfielder Andres Torres and pitcher Ramon Ramirez. Pagan was coming off a dismal season for the Mets in which he saw his OPS+ dip below league average, defense decline, and heart questioned in New York. He responded by posting career highs in walks, triples, and doubles while becoming an important cog in the Giants run to another World Championship.
Taking a cue from recent shrewd moves by the great Brian Cashman and Brian Sabean, the following is a list of ten players that could be available through trade next week and beyond. All performed below expectations in 2012, but have the ability and/or track record to rebound in a big way in 2013.
|Upton is only 25 years old and signed thru 2015|
Picture courtesy of US Presswire
Yunel Escobar, SS, Marlins: On first glance, this seems to be redundant because you can make the case that Miami just acquired Escobar under these circumstances last month. On the other hand, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported that Miami is shopping him already. Despite being wholly unlikable to many fans and underachieving throughout his career, his future could be a steal. In 2011, Escobar posted a wRC+ of 117. In 2012, only three shortstops in the sport matched that: Ben Zobrist, Ian Desmond, and Derek Jeter.
Logan Morrison, 1B/OF, Marlins: Clearly out of favor with Miami, Morrison -- at the age of 24 -- already has logged MLB campaigns of 23 HR, 54 BB, .837 OPS, and .390 OBP. Although they all weren’t in the same season, the ability is there. Throw in the career .845 OPS in the minors, and we could have Nick Swisher-lite on our hands.
Brennan Boesch, OF, Tigers: The signing of Torii Hunter in Detroit was a referendum on what the Tigers think of Boesch’s trajectory. A disastrous 2012 -- .240/.286/.372 -- led to an immense hole in the Detroit outfield. A change of scenery could benefit the left-handed slugger who had an OPS of nearly .800 in 2011.
Justin Masterson, SP, Indians: The easy answer to why Masterson’s ERA jumped from 3.21 to 4.93: The sinker didn’t sink. Dig deeper and you find that the Indians staff ace actually generated more ground balls in 2012 than in 2011. The big difference in his campaign revolved around a rising walk rate and uptick in HR’s allowed. While he probably can’t be expected for yearly ERA’s in the low 3’s, he’s better than he looked last season. With a rising K rate and still dominant ground ball ratio, Masterson could rebound quickly.
Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox: How did Lester go from one of the most consistent and dominating left-handers in baseball to part of the 2012 Red Sox disaster? A declining strike out rate for the third straight year -- 9.96 to 9.74 to 8.55 to 7.28 since ‘09 -- raises red flags. Still, a lefty can survive without striking out 200+ every season. His xFIP sat at 3.82. If Boston cuts bait, an NL team could revive him to almost Ace status in no time.
Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants: There’s zero indication that San Fran is interested in moving one of their three co-aces off of a career worst year in 2012. Furthermore, what team would pay $22 million for a pitcher coming off a 5.18 ERA? Not many, but if there is a suitor, Lincecum could intrigue. His command -- 4.35 BB/9 -- was a mess, but he still misses bats at better than a K per inning rate. Even if he isn’t what he used to be, his 14.6 HR/FB% will come down as regression to the mean. Basically, he’s too good to be this bad.
Jeff Niemann, SP, Rays: Tampa is looking for offense and has a surplus of pitching. Naturally, names like James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson will be talked about at the Winter Meetings. Keep an eye on the big sinkerballer coming off of an injury, though. Much like when Jason Hammel’s career led him out of Tampa because of a crowded rotation, Niemann has ability to succeed elsewhere. To further the comparison of sinkerballing righties from the Rays system: In 2012, Hammel struck out 8.62 per 9 IP and generated a 53.2 GB% rate. Niemann struck out 8.03 per 9 IP and generated a 51.4 GB% rate.
Jordan Walden, RP, Angels: With Ryan Madson on board to close games in Los Angeles, Walden could be shopped to a team in need of a reliever. Don’t let his drop from 32 saves to a whopping 1 in 2012 fool you. Walden can still help at the end of games. While his ERA has risen each year in the bigs -- 2.35, 2.98, 3.46 -- his K/9 and SO/BB are improving. UPDATE: Walden was traded to the Braves for Tommy Hanson.
Antonio Bastardo, RP, Phillies: There’s little reason to believe that Philadelphia would subtract one of the few good pieces from a bad bullpen, but teams should ask about Bastardo in any potential deal with Ruben Amaro. Here’s the full list of relievers that struck out more than 14 batters per 9 innings last season: Craig Kimbrel, Ardolis Chapman, Antonio Bastardo. You’ve surely heard of those first two. Despite a 4.33 ERA in 2012, Bastardo has the repertoire to join them as dominant closers down the line.
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WFAN in New York, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.