The bidding for big-ticket free agents such as first baseman Mark Teixeira and the trade market for righthander Jake Peavy will dominate the early hot stove headlines, but teams willing to explore radical moves -- such as the Rays' swap of Delmon Young to the Twins for Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza a year ago -- could earn a big payoff in 2009. What kind of creative deals might we see this off-season? Baseball Prospectus offers these five proposals:
The Twins weathered the loss of Johan Santana by replenishing the rotation from their deep farm system, and more live arms (Anthony Swarzak, Tyler Robertson, Jose Mijares, Yohan Pino) are on the way. Now, they can deal the lefthanded Liriano, 25, while his value is high to improve their anemic offense, especially on the left side of the infield. Andrus, 20, is a long-term solution at shortstop; Saltalamacchia, 23, a catcher who can DH; and Blalock, 27, an inexpensive short-term play at third. The Rangers, in turn, add the young ace (under team control through '11) that they've lacked since, well, forever, as they wait for Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz to develop.
2. Cincinnati signs Derek Lowe.
The Reds aren't often thought of as players in free agency, but they could be an NL Central sleeper in '09; Lowe, 35, would make them a bona fide contender. He's a durable righthander who may be the safest bet in a deep free-agent pitching pool. His ability to induce ground balls is a huge asset in tiny Great American Ballpark, and his signing would allow Cincinnati to keep Homer Bailey, 22, in long relief as he adjusts to the majors, or to deal Bronson Arroyo for a quality infield glove.
Both Southern California clubs need to come to their senses. Two winters ago they each entered into an outlandish five-year deal with a free agent who is now an extra outfielder at best. Rather than waste a roster spot -- or, heaven forbid, a lineup spot -- on a player who isn't worth one and who won't be happy if he's not starting, the teams need to cut their mistakes and move on. Don't let the first bad decision lead to more bad decisions.
Roberts, playing his walk year in 2009, was Baseball America's National Defensive Player of the Year at shortstop in college. The O's didn't have a reliable shortstop in 2008, and given their farm system and the players on the market, they aren't likely to have one in '09. Roberts would be better than the available options and allow Baltimore -- which is closing in on respectability -- to sign one of many stopgap second basemen (such as Ray Durham and Mark Grudzielanek). If successful, the move would give Roberts even more trade value, something the team needs to maximize.
5. The Mets follow the Rays' lead in building a bullpen.
Fans and insiders alike expect New York to go hard after Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes in free agency. As Tampa Bay has shown, though, putting together a good bullpen doesn't require making expensive long-term commitments. You have to trust your scouts and stat guys to identify the players to acquire -- before they become worth $12 million a year. Among the candidates to step forward in 2009 are righthanders Chris Britton (Yankees), Jason Bulger (Angels), Francisco Cruceta (Tigers) and Fernando Cabrera (free agent). You've never heard of them -- which is exactly the point. They can pitch, and they can fix the Mets' pen if the team looks past experience to skills and track record.