Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani. They are the straws that stir the drink in this Hot Stove season, and right now the drink might as well be a big ol' cup of Quikrete, because the straws aren't moving at the moment.
There is optimism that a new posting system will be ratified by the 30 Major League owners on Friday, allowing Ohtani to be posted by his Japanese Pacific League team as soon as Friday or Saturday and setting off what will be a fascinating process of the dual-threat international sensation deciding where to begin his big league career (his agents have already distributed a questionnaire to all clubs to help Ohtani get a feel for the lay of the land).
As for Stanton, well, there are still 295 million reasons why the Marlins' bid to move the reigning National League MVP hasn't resulted in a deal yet. The value placed upon present-day prospects will continue to complicate those conversations until or unless the Marlins make Stanton a straight salary dump or agree to take on more of the slugger's remaining contract than they've shown a willingness to so far.
My personal Hot Stove fever dream is a deal sending Ohtani to the Marlins and Stanton to the Nippon-Ham Fighters, thereby taking care of the offseason's two principal figures in one fell swap. But because that obviously isn't happening, I'm left to dream up other trade transactions that would seem to make sense for both sides, independent of Stanton and Ohtani's whereabouts.
Here are five non-Stanton-related swap suggestions that would help get this Hot Stove season headed in the right direction. My goal here is to keep this relatively realistic, which is why names like Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Chris Archer and Andrew McCutchen aren't involved (not yet, anyway). I'll even stay away from Marlins outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, because it's pretty clear the Fish are intent on moving Stanton first.
Bring on the fake trades!
Orioles trade Zach Britton to the Astros for Joe Musgrove
As you probably know, these two teams nearly worked out a Britton deal at the July Trade Deadline. At the time, Astros third baseman Colin Moran was the key piece in Baltimore's potential return. But while the Astros maintain their need for reliability in the back end of the bullpen, what the O's need most in the present tense is payroll flexibility and pitching, not necessarily in that order. The O's are trying to contend in 2018, their final year of control of Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Britton. Dealing Britton hurts the competitive effort, but then again so does keeping him. He stands to see an increase on the $11.4 million he made in arbitration in 2017. If the O's can move the money attached to Britton and get a flexible pitching piece back (Musgrove made an excellent transition to the bullpen this year but still wants the opportunity to start), that would be a great deal, which is why I would rate a Britton deal as reasonably realistic (though of course subject to ownership approval).
More realistic from the Astros' perspective, perhaps, is either signing Wade Davis or making a swap for a bullpen piece with longer contractual control, such as the Padres' Brad Hand. Having won the World Series, the Astros don't necessarily have to go hard after a rental piece like Britton. But we saw the Cubs, in the exact same situation a year ago, do just that with their acquisition of Davis for Jorge Soler, so don't rule it out.
Indians trade RHP Danny Salazar to the Cubs for OF/2B Ian Happ
I suggested this in a Hot Stove predictions piece for MLB.com a couple weeks back because I do think these two 2016 World Series participants match up reasonably well in their bid to overcome their frustrating October exits in '17. The Indians have the rare luxury of starting pitching depth, while the Cubs have the luxury of a position-player surplus. Neither club is looking to totally break the bank in free agency this winter to meet its needs. Because of the difference in years of control (Salazar has three arbitration years before he hits free agency, while Happ is under team control for six years) and the elbow and shoulder issues that have thus far limited Salazar to only one full, 30-start season, the Indians might need to sweeten this deal with a mid-grade Minor League prospect.
But with the price of pitching so high, Salazar's tantalizing stuff does have tangible trade value, and a team like the Cubs can convince itself his command can be straightened out enough to make him a top-end type starter (he has an adjusted ERA 17 percent better than league average over the last three years) or perhaps a multi-inning relief weapon. For the Indians, Happ would bring added positional flexibility and balance to a lineup that is likely losing another switch-hitter in Carlos Santana and could have Michael Brantley and/or Jason Kipnis shifting between the infield and outfield.
Rays trade Alex Colome to the Cardinals for OF Randal Grichuk and RHP Dakota Hudson
Though the Rays have not yet demonstrated a willingness to totally blow things up (read: trade Archer), it wouldn't be a surprise to see them take advantage of the rising prices of bullpen help and find a trade fit for their closer Colome, who has saved 84 games over the past two seasons and is under control for another three years.
Here's a proposal that would net the Rays the right-handed hitting outfielder they need (Stephen Piscotty is another option, though he's signed through 2022) and also a high-quality pitching prospect (Hudson was taken late in the first round in 2016 and made a strong transition to Double-A this year). Be it to Tampa Bay or elsewhere, the industry expectation is that the Cards, one way or another, will move Grichuk, whose upside and downside (strike-zone discipline) are both apparent by this point, this winter. They've got outfield depth to part with … all the more if they make their trade for Stanton or sign J.D. Martinez, right?!
Yankees trade Dellin Betances to the Twins for LHP Adalberto Mejia and RHP Felix Jorge
If the Yanks move Betances this winter, there's little question they'd be selling at a low point, given the big right-hander's control issues that plagued him much of '17. The Yankees are trying to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold, and moving Betances, who will see a slight raise from the $3 million he made in his first round of arbitration, won't do a great deal to impact that. But the strained relations that accompanied the arbitration battle last spring and the very real possibility that all those innings at an early stage have caught up to Betances do offer the possibility that we've already seen his best years.
Because of the risk-reward attached to Betances right now, his trade value is especially difficult to ascertain. But the Yankees have a deep enough bullpen to absorb the loss, and Betances, even with compromised trade value, can at the very least bring them some Major League-ready starting help. That's where Mejia, who projects as a solid No. 4 or No. 5 starter, comes into play, and the addition of a second controllable starting arm in Jorge sweetens the deal. From the Twins' perspective, taking a chance on Betances in a depleted bullpen and making a splurge on a free-agent starter (Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn are among the top options, and the Twins have made it no secret they're going to make an effort in this area this winter) would make them a fundamentally more interesting contender in the American League Central after the surprise run to a Wild Card spot in '17.
Tigers trade Ian Kinsler to the Angels for OF Michael Hermosillo
The Angels would be a good fit for free-agent second baseman Neil Walker, but they also have a need to improve at first base and third. It's going to be hard to effectively fill all of those spots via free agency, so how about going to a familiar trading partner in Detroit?
Angels GM Billy Eppler and Tigers GM Al Avila worked out the Justin Upton trade over the summer. With Kinsler just a rental, the quality of the prospect return would be relative to the percentage of the $11 million owed Kinsler that the Tigers are willing to eat. If the Angels are taking on the bulk of what's owed to Kinsler, Hermosillo (No. 12 on MLBPipeline.com's list of Angels prospects) would be an interesting, near-Major League-ready addition for a Tigers team with a need in that area. Kinsler's coming off a down offensive year, but he would still bring good defense, power and leadoff capabilities to the Halos.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.