Just one short year ago, the Tigers traded Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler in the offseason's first blockbuster. At the time, Fielder was still owed $168 million on his nine-year, $214 million contract, and the deal represented the rare instance of two teams agreeing to a trade in which a player with such a massive contract and most of the money still to come was moved. So far this offseason, the rumor mill has featured a handful of such players -- Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels and Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki have been the most prominent -- but none have yet been dealt. Will any of them be traded?
Via Cot's Contracts, 55 contracts in baseball history have weighed in at $100 million or more, given to 51 players; of the four players who've signed more than one such deal, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia both opted out in midstream and received even larger pacts, while Miguel Cabrera received an extension and Albert Pujols got his second via free agency. Thirteen of those 51 players were traded while those contracts were still in effect, including the twice-dealt Vernon Wells. Seven of those swaps (those of Carlos Beltran, Kevin Brown, Ken Griffey Jr., Carlos Lee, Manny Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and the second Wells trade) came with two seasons or fewer left on the deals, when the remaining money had been reduced to a more easily digestible amount. The other seven — Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (included together in that 2012 blockbuster), Fielder, Mike Hampton, Jose Reyes, Rodriguez and the first Wells trade — testify to some combination of buyer's remorse or dramatically changed circumstances for the team that issued the contract.
Those seven trades span a total of 12 years, dating back to the Rockies’ sending Hampton to the Braves in November 2002, which is to say that we haven't see them very often. But with roughly two-thirds of those nine-figure contracts still in effect (including extensions for Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Mike Trout that haven't even kicked in), it's something we’ll likely see with increasing frequency. What follows here is a quick look at six players under $100 million-plus deals whose names have circulated as possible trade candidates.
Elvis Andrus, Rangers SS
Contract: 8 yrs, $120 million (2015-2022)
Remaining: $135 million*
In Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas, the Rangers' system has churned out several well-regarded middle infield prospects in recent years, producing the glut that led to the trade of Kinsler and has forced the reconsideration of Andrus' place in the organization after six seasons as the team's regular shortstop. In that span, he’s earned All-Star honors twice while averaging 152 games and a healthy 2.9 Wins Above Replacement per year.
With the Yankees, Mets and Dodgers among teams in search of shortstops, Andrus' name has circulated as a possibility, particularly given a bleak free agent market featuring the defensively shaky Hanley Ramirez and Jed Lowrie as well as 2014 flop Stephen Drew as the headline options. Alas, the extension that the now-26-year-old Andrus signed in April 2013 is kicking in as he's coming off his worst season due to a combination of subpar defense (-13 Defensive Runs Saved, −4 Ultimate Zone Rating) and typically light hitting (.263/.314/.333 for an 84 OPS+). Texas would surely love to move him and go with Odor (who turns 21 in February) and Profar (22 that same month) at second base and shortstop, with Sardinas (22 in May) as a fallback if Profar continues to be slowed by the torn shoulder muscle that cost him the entire 2014 season.
To do that, however, the Rangers will either have to eat considerable money or take on a sizable contract in return, which points to a potential matchup with the Dodgers (more on whom below) moreso than the other teams. Complicating matters further is the fine print in Andrus' deal, which turns his 2023 club/vesting option into a player option if he's dealt and additionally grants him full no-trade protection going forward. That said, Andrus can opt out after 2018 and is due "only" $15 million per year over the next four years, a much more manageable commitment. Still, it's a lot of risk for any team to take on.
Carl Crawford, Dodgers LF
Contract: 7 years, $142 million (2011-2017)
Remaining: $62.25 million
Matt Kemp, Dodgers RF
Contract: 8 years, $160 million (2012-2019)
Remaining: $107 million
This pair you know about; along with Andre Ethier (due $56 million through 2017b plus a 2018 buyout) and Yasiel Puig (due $24 million through 2018) they're part of a four-man outfield logjam that has persisted since Puig hit the majors with a bang in June 2013 and has only been alleviated by Crawford and Kemp making frequent trips to the disabled list. Something has to give, because new president of baseball operations Andrew Freidman has enough budgetary pressure and financial smarts not to pay a fourth outfielder $18 million.
The 33-year-old Crawford missed six weeks this past season due to a left ankle sprain, but he was red-hot down the stretch and wound up hitting .300/.339/.429 with eight homers and 23 steals en route to 2.4 WAR. The last two figures were his highest totals since 2010, his final year in Tampa Bay, which makes him a whole lot easier to trade than Ethier, who hit .249/.322/.370 while becoming the odd man out and finishing right at replacement level, 0.0 WAR.
At 30, Kemp is three years younger than Crawford and played in 150 games in 2014 after playing just 179 games over the two previous seasons. While he was slow to recover due to offseason surgery on his right ankle, Kemp returned to being the mid-lineup force he was during his near-MVP season of 2011, batting .287/.346/.506 with 25 homers and a 140 OPS+. He was wretched defensively, however; his −23 DRS limited him to just 1.1 WAR. He was unplayable in centerfield (where his DRS has been terrible for years), unhappy in left and an uneasy fit in right, having forced Puig to centerfield.
Particularly with highly-touted centerfielder Joc Pederson waiting in the wings, one or two outfielders will be dealt. The assumptions are that the Dodgers will eat considerable cash in order to maximize their return, and that they won't trade Puig unless it's to fetch Giancarlo Stanton from Miami. The Rangers, suddenly desperate for offense, might be a match for Kemp, and the Mariners, who mulled him in July, could revisit that idea. The Blue Jays could check in on any of the outfielders if they don't sign Melky Cabrera. The Orioles could make sense if Nelson Cruz departs, particularly if the Dodgers would consider taking Ubaldo Jimenez (due $37.75 million over three years) in return, and likewise for the White Sox if they can unload John Danks (due $28.5 million over two years).
Cole Hamels, Phillies SP
Contract: 6 years, $144 million (2013-2018)
Remaining: $96 million
Ryan Howard, Phillies 1B
Contract: 5 yrs, $125 million (2012-2016)
Remaining: $60 million
Coming off their first last-place finish since 2000, their second losing season in a row and their third straight outside the playoff picture, the Phillies are reportedly ready to "blow the whole thing up.” Alas, they've reached that realization later than the rest of the world, having spent more on payroll in 2014 ($177.7 million) than all but the Dodgers and Yankees. They have $132.2 million committed to just 11 players for 2015; suddenly, paring that down is a priority
With Cliff Lee coming off injury, Jonathan Papelbon set up for a $13 million option to vest, and both Jimmy Rollin and Chase Utley heading into their age-36 seasons, Philadelphia's most tradable asset is Hamels. The soon-to-be 31-year-old lefty remains one of the game's top starting pitchers, and he's still in his prime; his 2.46 ERA this past season was a career best, his 6.6 WAR matched his previous high and his 8.7 strikeouts per nine was just ahead of his career mark. The only real concern was a spring bout of shoulder tendinitis that delayed his debut until April 23, but even with that, he topped the 200-inning mark for the fifth season in a row and sixth time in the last seven years.
At $24 million per year through 2018, Hamels represents a smaller financial commitment than free agents Jon Lester or Max Scherzer will require, but the question is what it will take for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to say yes to a trade, particularly given his previous inability to swing big deals. The good news for the Phillies is that they shouldn't have to eat any of Hamels' contract; the bad news is that teams are clutching their prospects more tightly than ever, and that Hamels can block deals to 20 teams. His latest no-trade list is said to include the Red Sox and Blue Jays, both of whom have expressed interest, but not the Cubs, who have also checked in, and who claimed him on revocable waivers last August. The cost of getting him to waive that clause could be picking up his $20 million club option for 2019, though the marginal cost of that is just $14 million given a $6 million buyout. Other suitors of interest could include the Angels and Rangers, neither of whom was on his 2014 no-trade list.
At the other end of the value spectrum is Howard, who turns 35 on Nov. 19. While his 23 homers, 95 RBIs and 153 games played all represented his highest totals since 2011, his final season before his Achilles injury, he hit just .223/.310/.380 for a 93 OPS+. Throw in dreadful defense (-10 DRS) and he was 1.1 wins below replacement level; he's been 1.5 below in three years since the injury, and worth an average of 0.2 WAR over the last five years — all of which have come since he signed that extension.
At best, Howard is an overpriced platoon DH, but even so, it made little sense that the Royals were connected to him as a potential replacement for Billy Butler given their lefty-heavy lineup. To deal him anywhere, Philadelphia will have to eat the bulk of his remaining money, and it will probably need to wait until the free agent game of musical chairs dies down.
Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies SS
Contract: 10 yrs, $157.75 million (2011-2020)
Remaining: $118 million
When he's healthy, Tulowitzki is among the game's elite players; in 2014, he hit a sizzling .340/.432/.603 with 21 homers, a 171 OPS+ and 5.5 WAR. Unfortunately, the 30-year-old shortstop is rarely healthy for long. He hasn't played in 150 games in a season since 2009, and he hasn't reached 140 since 2011; over the last three years, he's played in just 264 games, including 47 in 2012 due to a left groin injury that required surgery and 91 in 2014 before going under the knife again to fix a torn left hip labrum.
While owner Dick Monfort has previously resisted the idea of trading the face of the franchise, Colorado's 96-loss season – its fourth straight with at least 89 losses — has caused him to rethink that stance, particularly with longtime GM Dan O'Dowd having given way to newcomer Jeff Bridich, who may offer a different mindset. Another oft-injured star player under consideration to be dealt is Carlos Gonzalez, who's coming off a 70-game season and due $53 million over the next three years.
Regarding Tulo, the Yankees and Mets offer potential destinations, but it remains to be seen whether either team has the willingness to take on that level of risk and money —which includes a bump in salary from $16 million to $20 million starting in 2015 — or the ability to assemble the package of prospects and youngsters that would be needed to pry him loose. One team that could probably do so without breaking a sweat would be the Cardinals, who were said to be interested in Tulowitzki last winter but signed Jhonny Peralta instead. St. Louis' current level of interest is unknown. If it did acquire Tulo, the team could move him to third base while using either 24-year-old Kolten Wong or cost-controlled Matt Carpenter as part of the package.