This winter's free-agent market is thin: It features two stars seen as risky long-term investments (Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton and Angels pitcher Zack Greinke), followed by a large pool of players, many nearing the end of their primes, who are decent but not difference-makers. That means the most efficient way for general managers to improve their rosters is through trades. Here are five mutually beneficial deals that make sense.
Tampa Bay must convert its surplus of controllable starting pitching into offense, or risk missing the postseason again. Price is the best of their starters—and thus can bring back the greatest return. Gordon, who just won his second Gold Glove since moving to leftfield, fits the Rays for his defensive skill and willingness to work the count. Giavotella would allow the Rays to keep Ben Zobrist at shortstop, and Montgomery is a former first-round pick who needs a change of scenery. Kansas City would get the No. 1 starter it sorely needs and also generate buzz in a city looking for a reason to believe.
Texas has an excellent middle infield in Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus. It also has a middle-infield prospect, Jurickson Profar, who simply has to play next year. The Rangers can make room for him by dealing Kinsler. It would be a long-term play for Baltimore—Kinsler has a five-year, $75 million extension that kicks in next season. But he would be a big upgrade in the O's infield and at the top of their lineup. Schoop, 21 and already showing good power, is a lot to give up, but he's blocked by O's shortstop Manny Machado. He could replace Andrus when the Texas shortstop becomes a free agent in two years.
Cleveland needs to rebuild its system with pitchers who miss bats. Betances, one of the Yankees' top prospects, had a terrible year and was shelved by shoulder soreness in August, but he throws very hard and projects as a high-leverage reliever if starting doesn't work out. Montgomery struck out 99 in 64 1/3 innings at two levels; Warren, who doesn't have the upside of those two, slots as a No. 4 starter. It's a good return for one year of Choo, who can be a free agent after next season and is unlikely to stay with the Indians. He'd be a nice short-term solution if the Yankees lose Nick Swisher in free agency.
The Mets are trying to extend Wright, whose contract ends after next season, but they might be better off trading him and trying to get him back as a free agent. Since he's signed for only one year, the return for Wright would be limited, but a team that acquires him would be eligible for draft-pick compensation should he walk as a free agent. Davidson, who hit .261/.367/.469 at Double A, could be in the majors by midseason next year; Anderson is a polished righty who could also arrive quickly. Wright (.883 OPS) would bring much-needed pop to Arizona, which ranked 14th in the NL in OPS by third basemen (.675).
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (PRICE)
KEN LEVINE/ICON SMI (GORDON)
BILL MITCHELL/FOUR SEAM IMAGES (GIAVOTELLA)
MIKE JANES/FOUR SEAM IMAGES (MIKE MONTGOMERY)
DARREN CARROLL (KINSLER)
ERIC HARTLINE/US PRESSWIRE (SCHOOP)
MIKE JANES/FOUR SEAM IMAGES (HOES)
ROBERT GURGANUS/FOUR SEAM IMAGES (MIKE WRIGHT)
WILLIAM PURNELL/ICON SMI (CHOO)
KEN INNESS/ZUMAPRESS.COM (BETANCES)
ROBERT GURGANUS/FOUR SEAM IMAGES (MARK MONTGOMERY)
MIKE JANES/FOUR SEAM IMAGES (WARREN)
CARLOS M. SAAVEDRA (DAVID WRIGHT)
TONY FARLOW/FOUR SEAM IMAGES (DAVIDSON)
BILL MITCHELL/FOUR SEAM IMAGES (ANDERSON)