Trade market could heat up with weather
GMs likely to get feel for clubs before trying to swing deals
So the free-agent market has dried up and your favorite team still has holes. If that's keeping you up at night, there are solutions.
First, a word of warning. There may not be dramatic solutions. Almost every season we talk about the big names that COULD be traded, and they never actually get traded.
That's true this summer, as well. One possibility is Hanley Ramirez. Let's just say there's plenty of skepticism around the game that he'll accept a shift from short to third base.
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen acknowledged this week that Ramirez isn't quite on board with the move, and that could create an untimely distraction for a franchise hoping for a rebirth.
Miami may let the thing play out awhile and see if Ramirez gets excited about the possibility of playing on a really good team, but there are plenty of executives who believe he'll eventually be traded.
If that happens, Ramirez is the kind of impact offensive player who could dramatically upgrade a team.
B.J. Upton is like that, too. He's also a free agent after the season, and it's unlikely the Rays can afford to keep him.
Tampa Bay executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has listened to offers for Upton, but found nothing that tempted him to make a deal. Seeing how Friedman doesn't have a pressing need to fill, Upton's enormous defensive presence in center could be more important than anything available in a trade.
Now to the big names. Josh Hamilton, Brandon Phillips, Yadier Molina, Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino are all free agents after the season.
If their teams fall out of the race, their general managers would be obligated to listen to trade offers. Unfortunately, they play for teams expected to contend.
On that note, is any team ever really out of contention anymore? The Cardinals and Rays wrecked the traditional way of thinking with their remarkable comebacks last September.
Around this time last year, we had World Series tickets punched for the Phillies and Red Sox. Now, owners and general managers will look at their teams in July and no matter how far out they are, think, "We might have a run in us like the Rays and Cardinals had last year."
It was already almost impossible to differentiate between buyers and sellers. Now it's even tougher. The reality is the buildup to the Trade Deadline is better than the actual Trade Deadline itself.
General managers work like crazy to make a big trade and then end up being forced to work around the fringes, adding a setup man here (Brad Lidge) or a bat off the bench (Jeff Keppinger) there.
As for sure things, there aren't many. The Cubs have invited offers for Alfonso Soriano, but so far heard nothing that prompted them to make a trade.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein could be gambling Soriano's value will increase this summer as teams sort through their options and find nothing better available.
Would Soriano excite you? He has batted .248 the past three seasons and still has three seasons and $54 million remaining on his contract.
James Loney and Casey Kotchman and others could be moved, too. They may all be good enough to fill a need, but they're probably not the kind of players that can change an entire race the way, say, Carlos Beltran did when the Astros acquired him in 2004.
Let's say your team needs a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. Elementary, my friend. Again, there are some bombshell names -- Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke -- headed for free agency.
Greinke is the most likely to be traded because the Brewers could end up behind the Cardinals and Reds in the National League Central.
Still, it's unlikely Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin will blow up his roster before giving his team every chance to go back to the playoffs. But with both Greinke and Shaun Marcum closing in on free agency, he could be forced to make a choice.
Matt Garza, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers are far more realistic possibilities, and all could be had for the right price.
Depending on how the pennant race plays out, Edwin Jackson and Jonathan Sanchez could also be available, since both will be free agents after the season.
To sum up: there appears to be a slim chance of making a move that would significantly impact a division race.
When cautious confidence turns to screaming panic in the next few weeks, what does your friendly local general manager do?
A. He pretends nothing is wrong.
"Come on, fellas, give it some time," he tells the media. "Nothing that happens in Surprise, Ariz., in March has any impact on what happens in August at Fenway Park."
B. He walks over to his Minor League complex and asks the farm director if there have been any surprises. He reminds himself that Willie Mays had just turned 20 when he made his Major League debut.
"Could a couple of these kids hold their own in the big leagues?" he'll ask.
He will get the kind of cold stare he probably won't ever forget and will slink back to his office and catch a "Seinfeld" rerun.
C. He panics. Openly. Loudly.
He begins working the telephones, searching for pitching depth or a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Unless he's willing to take on a real bad contract, he's probably going to find no one willing to do business.
True story: Twenty years or more ago, the Orioles made a panicked spring trade for some long-forgotten guy. As the trade was being finalized, I watched Frank Robinson, then an executive with the team, read the player's biography.
When he finished, he calmly put the book down and twisted his face into the frown of all frowns.
"You're kidding, right?" he whispered to a reporter.
Anyway, when our friendly local general manager starts looking to make a trade in Spring Training, his peers will tell him to relax and let things play out. They'll urge him to stick to his plan at least until May or June or maybe even longer. They'll remind him there probably isn't going to be a trading market before then anyway.
If there's an interesting player available in the first couple of months of a season, there's a real good chance he's toxic, either in the clubhouse or on the field.
Few general managers are in a dealing mood. They all feel some degree of confidence about their team and would like some time to evaluate it before making changes.
Teams will have chances to improve themselves, most likely when the weather warms up and the pennant races are defined more clearly.
Until that happens, enjoy the ride. There's probably not a trade out there that will dramatically alter the course of a season anyway.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.