The silver lining to the weak free-agent market, at least from a fan’s perspective, is the likelihood that teams will respond by making a large number of trades.
What other alternative is there, really?
The free-agent market is deep in relievers and right-handed hitters, but that’s about it. If teams cannot improve in one way, they will try to improve in others. The only certainly is that they will not sit still.
My top 10 trade candidates:
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports David Banks
Chris Sale, White Sox
The market conditions for a trade of Sale could not be much better.
Sale is under control for three more seasons and $38 million — not terribly beyond what Zack Greinke makes in a single year.
The free-agent starters, meanwhile, are mostly pitchers that teams do not want, certainly not at market-driven prices.
Will the White Sox want a ton for Sale? Of course. And they could get it, too.
Ryan Braun, Brewers
The Dodgers tried to acquire Braun in July and then again in August. No one should be surprised if the third time is a charm.
Braun, who turns 33 on Nov. 17, can block deals to all but six clubs, five of which — the Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Diamondbacks and Padres — are relatively close to his home in Malibu, Ca. The other is the Marlins, and Braun attended the University of Miami.
He is owed $76 million over the next four seasons.
Chris Archer, Rays
Same theory applies with Archer as with Sale: As teams scramble to find starting pitching, the values of affordable starters under long-term control might never be higher.
Archer, 28, is more than affordable — his deal includes salaries at far below market rates through 2021. The Rays, coming off a 68-win season, claim to be open to everything. Teams will test them on Archer.
Also worth noting: While the Rays do not seem inclined to move third baseman Evan Longoria, he gains no-trade protection as a player with 10 years of service, five consecutive with the same club, in April 2018.
Might be wise to start listening.
Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press Ann Heisenfelt
Joey Votto, Reds
The Reds could view Votto as their long-term centerpiece, the one player they will build around. But trading him could create needed financial flexibility, and if the Reds can include enough cash to secure a quality prospect or two, all the better.
Votto tied Daniel Murphy for the National League lead in OPS last season, but he turned 33 on Sept. 10 and his contract is only growing more expensive — $22 million in 2017, $25 million per season from 2018 to ’23.
The Blue Jays, under previous GM Alex Anthopoulos, reportedly tried to land Votto before acquiring Troy Tulowitzki in the summer of ’15. Anthopoulos’ successor, Mark Shapiro, is almost certainly less inclined to take on such a commitment. But the Jays likely are one of the few teams for which Votto would waive his no-trade clause. And the potential losses of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista create a definite need.
Getty Images Andy Lyons
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
This one is rather thorny.
McCutchen, 30, is coming off his worst season -– his .766 OPS was more than 100 points below his career average. The Pirates, who usually take a deliberate approach with prospects, probably do not view Austin Meadows as quite ready to replace him.
McCutchen’s contract is appealing — $14 million next season, with a $14.5 million option for ’18. The Pirates could gamble on him regaining his trade value with a big first half, then try to get a better return at the non-waiver deadline.
The risk in such a strategy is that McCutchen won’t recover.
Getty Images Justin K. Aller
J.D. Martinez, Tigers
The open-to-anything Tigers will entertain offers for everyone, and perhaps they will figure out a way to move Justin Verlander or Miguel Cabrera.
Martinez, though, remains the most likely to be traded — his .908 OPS last season ranked seventh in the American League, and he will be a bargain at $11.75 million in his free-agent year.
Rick Osentoski Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Dozier, Twins
The best way for the new management team of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to make an impact is by trading Dozier, preferably for young pitching.
Dozier hit 28 of his 42 homers after the All-Star break last season, finishing with an .886 OPS. His contract — $6 million in 2017, $9 million in ’18 — is highly appealing. And he doesn’t turn 30 until next May 15.
Chris Humphreys Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
The Rockies might prefer to keep their outfield intact and give Bud Black the best possible chance of winning in his first year as manager.
The team, though, has three other left-handed hitting outfielders –- Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl and Gerardo Parra –- and Gonzalez is under contract for only one more year at $20 million.
Makes little sense to wait any longer, especially if a trade of Gonzalez and cash can bring back a young pitcher or two.
AP Matt York
Mike Moustakas, Royals
Oh, Moustakas will not necessarily be the player the Royals trade; he appeared in only 26 games before undergoing season-ending knee surgery in 2016, and is under contract for $8.7 million in ‘17.
Still, the Royals figure to move at least one of their other players who is eligible for free agency one year from now; the group also includes center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, shortstop Alcides Escobar, closer Wade Davis and left-hander Danny Duffy.
Moustakas and Hosmer both are clients of agent Scott Boras, decreasing the chances that the Royals will sign them before they hit the open market. But the Royals will not give up on Hosmer easily.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports Denny Medley
Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
As with Moustakas, this is strictly a guess. But the Cardinals want to upgrade their defense, and they’ve got a surplus of infielders.
Peralta, under contract for one more season at $10 million, would appear the most likely to go, even though his three straight years of offensive decline and defensive shortcomings would limit the return.
AP Scott Kane