With the beginning of the regular season only three weeks away, it's no longer the traditional time for trades to be made across Major League Baseball -- but when has that ever really stopped anyone? As injuries in camp continue to mount and younger players prove themselves fit for positions already occupied by well-paid regulars, there will be more than ample opportunity for teams to make moves before they have to get their final 25-man rosters in order for the regular season. Here are five guys who could be on the trading block.
David Price, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
The subject of trade talk early in the offseason, Price cooled off the hot stove temporarily by signing a one-year, $14 million deal to avoid arbitration. But that's hardly a sign the 28 year-old ace is staying put. During the whole Taijuan-Walker-for-Price mini saga, there were reports that Price wouldn't agree to an extension with Seattle - or, really, any team. If he still feels that way, it would substantially dampen any expected return he might have. The Mariners, with a front office in disarray, new ownership looming over the organization, and Taijuan Walker likely to begin the season behind schedule thanks to coming to camp with a shoulder injury, might be wishing right about now that they'd pushed harder to make that trade -- Price is still under team control through the end of the 2015 season, Price/Hernandez/Iwakuma could be among the best top three in baseball, and flags fly forever.
If the Mariners trade talks have been shut down for good, where else could Price land? The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves probably could not offer a competitive package of young, cost-controlled talent to make the Rays think twice. Many teams with the talent to deal -- the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Minnesota Twins, and the New York Mets -- value their own prospects far too highly to give up the sort of talent -- Jameson Taillon/Gregory Polanco, Byron Buxton, or Noah Syndergaard/Rafael Montero -- that it would take. It makes more sense for Tampa to simply hold onto Price, try to win a World Series in the next two years and take a supplemental round draft pick once the pitcher inevitably declines their qualifying offer and tests the free agent market after the 2015 season. With Price and the Rays both as good as they are, there's little chance he goes anywhere unless someone decides to get silly.
Of course, front offices get silly all the time, especially when desperate - so you never know what could happen.
Michael Saunders, OF, Seattle Mariners
Just about everyone else currently on the market is quite the step down from Price in terms of immediate impact. But among the the next-best players might be Saunders, 27, who has spent the past two seasons being one of the most steady, consistent players on a Seattle team in crisis. Now, for reasons known only to the Mariners and new manager Lloyd McClendon, he's not only unlikely to make the team as the starting centerfielder, but there's a chance he may not even make the team at all (the team envisions Dustin Ackley, Abe Almonte, and Corey Hart as their regular starting outfield in 2014). Saunders has been most recently linked to the Chicago White Sox, who inquired about him when the Mariners came calling about Dayan Viciedo -- yet another outfielder by trade who would push Saunders off the 25-man roster. It's unclear whether the Mariners want Viciedo to take over fourth outfield duties or if they want to try him in the infield, but if the White Sox can complete the swap straight up, I'd consider that a win for them. Either way, Saunders is likely on the move -- something that's probably for the best, because you hate to see a solid player put in his situation.
Nick Franklin, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Given how the Mariners' second base situation changed over the offseason, it's understandable why 23-year-old Franklin would be expendable. With Robinson Cano firmly installed at the position for the foreseeable future, all Franklin can really hope for is a shot at the utility position -- not a good idea for a guy who needs to be getting comfortable in a major league routine at this stage in his development. He's performed well enough to earn that shot -- or an extended stay in AAA Tacoma. Or a trade.
The Mariners want pitching back for Franklin; there was talk of them trying to pry Rafael Montero free from the Mets, who have a surplus of young pitching. While that probably isn't going to happen, something centered around Jacob deGrom seems within the realm of possibility. There were also rumors that a David Phelps for Franklin swap with the Yankees could be In the works, but the Mariners could also target Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances. Banuelos still has a decent chance of turning into a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and Betances could be a very good, cheap late inning reliever, which are not as easy to acquire as one might expect. (See the Mariners' current bullpen situation for more details.)
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds
Phillips has been involved in a pro-wrestling-heel-quality feud with the Cincinnati media for a while now, but that aside, his tenuous situation with the team could boil down to finances. Phillips is 32 and signed through 2017 with $50 million owed, while Skip Schumaker just signed a two-year contract in the offseason (with an option for a third) worth a tenth of that. Schumaker may only be a mild downgrade at the position, so the Reds would probably be more than happy to move Phillips to a team that could eat the money. The most likely landing spot for him in that scenario is probably the Yankees -- as mentioned, they have a hole at second, they love veteran players and they're no strangers to eating money on a multi-year deal.
Unlike Dan Uggla in Atlanta -- a similar contract situation -- Phillips has at least some value left in him. There is legitimate reason to play him, at least for the next couple years, if you're only paying $5-7 million for the privilege instead of $11-14 million. Meanwhile, the Reds have no heir apparent in the system at the moment; if Phillips were traded, the job would fall to Schumaker immediately. So unless that changes and the Reds are willing to eat a significant amount of Phillips' contract, it's unlikely he's moving anytime soon. All that could change, of course, if his media war with the Reds reporters escalates even further this season.
Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets
It's no secret that the Mets have been looking to move Davis, with the Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers and occasionally the Baltimore Orioles being linked to him over the course of the offseason. Davis, 26, is essentially in a fight with 28-year-old Lucas Duda right now for a platoon job against right-handed pitchers -- a fight that may become completely irrelevant if Josh Satin wins the job outright. Satin has already been more or less guaranteed the lion's share of plate appearances against left-handed pitching at the first base spot this year, and while the team has been actively shopping Davis, he's now wearing a walking boot on his right foot after experiencing calf soreness, while Duda has been limited with a hamstring issue. Every day they're not able to participate in games, drills, or team activities is more time that Satin has to establish himself in the everyday role by default, at least until someone is healthy -- and if the team is comfortable with Satin, that just makes Davis more expendable. That said, the return for Davis is likely to be small; the Mets would be making the deal because they can't afford to carry Duda and Davis on the roster at the same time, not because he's in particularly high demand.