Is MLB's Trade Market or Free-Agent Market Stronger This Winter?

Jason Martinez@@mlbdepthchartsContributor INovember 7, 2013

Is MLB's Trade Market or Free-Agent Market Stronger This Winter?

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    David Price's potential availability could give the trade market an edge over the starting pitchers on the free agent market.
    David Price's potential availability could give the trade market an edge over the starting pitchers on the free agent market.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    I recently ranked the 2014 free-agent class as the best of the past decade, making the upcoming offseason one of the most interesting in recent years before even considering the potential trade possibilities. There are also some impact names being floated around in trade rumors.

    But how does the trade market stack up against a strong free-agent class? 

    It's a tough comparison to make because not all players mentioned in trade rumors, nor the ones who are actually being shopped by their team, will be traded. But if we take the top seven free agents, according to my rankings at MLBDepthCharts, and match them up against the top seven players who are reported to be on the trade block, it's a competition worth debating. 

    I'm siding with the trade market. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments section below.

7. Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Jake Peavy

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    One of Boston's six starters will very likely be traded this offseason. It's just hard to say which one it will be.

    Ryan Dempster, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy each have one year left on their current contracts. John Lackey, whose value skyrocketed after his solid 2013 season, is a bargain with two years and just under $16 million left on his current deal. (He has a 2015 club option at the league's minimum salary.)

    Felix Doubront is a solid back-of-the-rotation starter with four years left of club control. And then there's Clay Buchholz, who is signed at team-friendly rates for the next two seasons. He also has club options for 2016 and 2017. 

    In all likelihood, the Red Sox could get the best value for Peavy, who Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe suggests could be available, and their ties to the 32-year-old aren't as strong as Buchholz, Doubront or Lester, who are all homegrown players, or Lackey, who they invested a lot of money in and would love to take advantage of his minimum salary in 2015.

    So teams looking to land a front-line starter could have their choice between signing Ubaldo Jimenez at a likely rate of five years and $75 million while giving up a top draft pick (first-round pick for teams not picking in the first 11 spots; second-round pick for those who are) and giving up one of their top prospects for one year of Peavy at $14.5 million. 

    Which acquisition would be the better value? It really depends on the team, but I'd go with Peavy. Despite his past success and his return to dominance in 2013, Jimenez's struggles in 2011 and 2012 make him a risk over a five-year span. 

6. Matt Garza vs. Max Scherzer

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    Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    Danny Knobler of CBS Sports reported last month that All-Star Max Scherzer could be moved this offseason because he and his agent, Scott Boras, are unlikely to negotiate a long-term deal with just one year remaining before he becomes a free agent. 

    That would also be the case for any team that acquires him, however, making the 29-year-old a likely one-year rental at the cost of around $12-14 million in arbitration and a package of solid prospects. 

    While he'd be sitting atop the free-agent market if this was his walk year, interest could be limited if the Tigers' price tag is high. Considering that the Tigers will likely head into the 2014 season as one of the World Series favorites, they'll be happy to hold on to their 21-game winner unless a team meets their asking price. 

    If teams had their choice between free agent Matt Garza at a cost of around five years and $80 million with no other compensation—the Rangers weren't eligible to extend a qualifying offer—and one year of Scherzer at $13 million and two of their better (probably not the best) prospects, which would they choose? 

    Garza's price will be high thanks in part to Anibal Sanchez's five-year, $80 million deal with the Tigers last offseason, although he's been consistent enough throughout his career to where that length of a deal isn't a big risk. It's just a bit of an overpay for a solid No. 3 or maybe No. 2 starter. 

    I'd go with the Scherzer trade, though, especially if my team is just a front-line starter away from being a World Series contender. And if it doesn't work out, there's always the possibility of shopping him at the trade deadline and trying to recoup the loss of the prospects it took to acquire him. 

5. Carlos Beltran vs. Andre Ethier

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Dodgers have four starting outfielders and are expected to trade one, with Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp expected to be made available, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.

    Ethier is the most likely candidate to switch teams after he rebounded from a slow start, although teams will shy away from taking on the entire amount of his remaining contract ($71.5 million through 2017). 

    If the Dodgers will eat $23.5 million of the deal (pocket change for them), the 31-year-old Ethier isn't a bad value at four years and $48 million. That's around what he'd get on the open market. Acquiring him also isn't likely to deplete a team's farm system.

    In a scenario where a team could either acquire Ethier at the aforementioned cost, while giving up one pretty good prospect and a few other minor leaguers, or sign Carlos Beltran to a deal likely around three years, $57 million for his ages 37-39 seasons while giving up a top draft pick (first-round pick for teams not picking in the first 11 spots; second-round pick for those who are), what would be the better value? 

    Considering that Ethier's value had dipped to almost nothing early in the season, $48 million still seems a bit steep as he approaches his mid-30s. Beltran, on the other hand, has stayed relatively healthy over the past three seasons while remaining one of the best hitters in the game.

    I'd take the Beltran deal, especially if I'm an American League team that can utilize the designated hitter spot to help keep him healthy throughout the course of the deal.

4. Shin-Soo Choo vs. Mark Trumbo

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Angels are in hot pursuit of young, controllable starting pitching and are willing to trade away slugger Mark Trumbo to get it, according to ESPN's Buster Olney. With three years left of club control, all years where he's eligible for arbitration, and an average of 32 homers over his first three big league seasons, several teams looking to add power to their lineup will be interested. 

    While the 27-year-old isn't close to being the all-around player that free agent Shin-Soo Choo is, players capable of hitting 30 homers per season—maybe even 40 on a team that plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark—are few and far between. The fact that his combined salary for the next three seasons will barely exceed what Choo will make in one year of his next contract also helps.

    With an asking price that is likely to exceed $100 million over five or six years, Choo will have a tough time living up to expectations. Sure, he's the much better player, but he's a non-superstar making superstar money. 

    We've seen too many big contracts go bad throughout the years. I'm taking Trumbo and his home-run power for the price of a young starting pitcher and another prospect, both of whom may or may not turn out to be any good, over a mega-deal for Choo and a top draft pick (first-round pick for teams not picking in the first 11 spots; second-round pick for those who are). 

3. Ervin Santana vs. David Price

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    Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

    It's rare that one of the top starting pitchers in the game is traded with two years left of club control. But David Price (pictured) is reportedly on the market, and teams will be lining up for the chance to acquire him, although the Rays' exceedingly high asking price could get in their way, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports

    The Rays got the Royals' top prospect, Wil Myers, and another very good pitching prospect, Jake Odorizzi, in the deal for James Shields last offseason. It's understandable that they'd want much more for Price. 

    For two years of the 28-year-old lefty and the likely $38-40 million he'd make in arbitration, teams will have to be willing to pay the price of two of their top three prospects just to get the conversation started. 

    Or they could pay Ervin Santana, who is, arguably, the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market but not on Price's level, around five years and $90 million while surrendering a top draft pick. 

    Santana is deserving of a big payday after his impressive season with Kansas City, but it's the lack of a true "ace" on the free-agent market that will make his contract an overpay.

    Acquiring Price, on the other hand, gives a team a clear No. 1 starter without the long-term commitment. He can push it to be better while giving it a potential top trade chip next offseason or the next two deadlines if that team isn't in a position to contend. Prospects can be overvalued, and it's unlikely that two or three young players from any organization turn out to be stars.

    I'll take Price.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury vs. Brandon Phillips

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    A pair of former All-Stars who bring an array of talent to the table, including Gold Glove defense, speed and hitting ability, could find themselves with new teams in 2014.

    Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is one of the top free agents available, while second baseman Brandon Phillips (pictured) is on the trade block and is likely on his way out in Cincinnati, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

    While the 30-year-old Ellsbury had the superior season in 2013 and offers more speed and on-base ability than Phillips, he's also going to command a contract in excess of $100 million. 

    The asking price on Phillips is very high, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, but the 32-year-old is still a highly productive player (average of 20 HR, 83 RBI, 19 SB per season since 2006) at a reasonable cost. He's due four years and $50 million, which would be considered a bargain on the open market for a player of Phillips' ability.

    Phillips is also durable, averaging 150 games over his last eight seasons, while Ellsbury missed most of the 2010 and 2012 seasons with injuries.

    I'd rather give up a top prospect for Phillips than a top draft pick and close to $20 million per season for Ellsbury.

1. Robinson Cano vs. Matt Kemp

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    If there's a trade market equivalent to Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, it could be Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp. The 29-year-old could be shopped this winter, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, as the Dodgers look to clear up their crowded outfield picture. 

    With a majority of their amazing run this past season done with Kemp on the disabled list, the Dodgers will at least be willing to shop him and find out how much a team is willing to give up for him and the six years and $128 million remaining on his current contract. As they found out, they are a great team without him, and they could use this opportunity to try and strengthen their farm system and fill another hole or two on their big league roster. 

    While Kemp's deal runs through his age-34 season, Cano is expected to command a deal for that will take him through at least his age-38 season. His salary could also be up to $10 million more per season than Kemp's. 

    It's hard to argue against Cano's durability and consistency. But I'm taking Kemp, who was one of the best players in baseball before injuries derailed his career beginning in mid-2012.

    Sure, it would cost my two best prospects and more. But for a five-tool, MVP-caliber player in the prime of his career on a contract that might not be much more than what Shin-Soo Choo gets this offseason, it's really not a bad idea.