The 2016-17 free-agent class is of course a historically weak one. Yes, you’ve got three elite closers on the market and some right-handed power, but there’s neither a true ace nor depth of any kind to be found. As such, the free-agent market probably won’t meet the demand for talent this offseason, and that’s going to provide strong incentives for teams to fill this gap via trade.

That brings us to the interesting cases of the
Detroit Tigers
,
Chicago White Sox
, and
Tampa Bay Rays
. You can squint and find a way to regard each of these teams as a 2017 contender (especially Detroit, which almost snared a wild-card berth this past season). However, indications from each club are that they’ll be trading near-term assets in exchange for young, controllable talent. Some might dare call that a rebuild, but whatever you term it these three clubs could flood the trade market with a number of top-tier talents this winter.

Consider the kind of needle-movers these teams could dangle in front of contenders left unsatisfied by the current crop of free agents …

Detroit Tigers

After years of running some of the highest payrolls in baseball, the Tigers are looking to pare back. That’s why you’re likely to see them make some significant moves this winter. While teams merely looking to get younger and focused more on the long-term might prefer to trade in-season leading up to the non-waiver deadline (so as to take advantage of different market conditions and give their current roster a shot at contending), the Tigers motivation is different. They’re looking for financial relief, probably as soon as they can get it.

To that end, GM Al Avila is reportedly looking to shed long-term salary commitments on the level of
Miguel Cabrera
and
Justin Verlander
. Combined those two are owed more than $300 million, with the vast majority going to Cabrera. Already, though, we’ve learned that the
Houston Astros
may be in on Cabrera, and Verlander, after re-establishing his value with an excellent 2016, is sure to command interest. As well, the
San Francisco Giants
are reportedly angling for
J.D. Martinez
, who’s established himself as one of the best right-handed power bats in the AL.

Combined, Cabrera and Verlander are owed more than $300 million moving forward.
USATSI

Other contracts the Tigers might look to move include
Victor Martinez
,
Justin Upton
,
Jordan Zimmermann
, and
Ian Kinsler
. As for what Detroit can expect back, they won’t get much if the aim is simply shedding payroll — the other team’s taking on salary is in essence their return. If, however, they’re willing to kick in cash, then they can expect better young talent coming back their way. With a contract the size of Cabrera’s, though, they’ll likely have to defray it to some extent no matter what.

Chicago White Sox

GM Rick Hahn has indicated the White Sox will be changing tacks this winter, and after a few years of trying to contend despite a thin roster, that likely means a reboot. That, in turn, likely means that
Chris Sale
,
Jose Quintana
, and others will be on the trade market. Given the weak state of free agent starting pitching, that could mean a big return for Chicago. Sale and Quintana are among the best in the game, and each is under control for some time to come at below-market rates. Sale is owed $12 million for 2017, and he has club options for 2018 and 2019 at $12.5 million and $13.5 million, respectively. As for the chronically underrated Quintana, he’s owed just $6 million for 2017, and his contract includes club options for 2018 ($8.35 million), 2019 ($10.5 million), and 2020 ($10.5 million with chance to increase to $13 million or $14 million based on incentives). Suffice it to say, either would fetch the Sox a big return in trade.

Is this the offseason we see Sale traded?
USATSI

On the position player end of things, the Sox may consider offers for veteran talents such as
Adam Eaton
,
Todd Frazier
(coming off a 40-homer season and going into his walk year),
Jose Abreu
, and
Melky Cabrera
. Those names won’t move the needle as much as Sale and Quintana, but trading any of them would certainly advance the rebuilding cause on the South Side.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays this winter will almost certainly deal from their notional rotation depth. The most conspicuous trade target is of course ace
Chris Archer
, who after some adjustments got back to pitching like an ace in the second half of 2016. His contract will also make him highly appealing to contenders in need of starting pitching: assuming Archer’s two option years are picked up, he’s locked up through 2021 at a total cost of $38.5 million. That, obviously, is a deep, deep discount on market rates for starting pitching. That’s why it’ll cost a lot in terms of young talent to fetch Archer and his wipeout slider.

Archer is locked up until 2021 at a total cost of $38.5 million.
USATSI

Also possibly on the trade market are fellow Rays starting pitchers
Drew Smyly
(not eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season) and
Jake Odorizzi
(not eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season).
Alex Cobb
seems less likely to be moved, but he’s another potential target.

There’s also
Evan Longoria
. Longoria in 2016 enjoyed a strong rebound season at the plate, and the Rays will reportedly consider moving him this winter. Longoria still has $100 million left on his contract, so the Rays would need to kick in some cash or take much less in terms of prospects coming back. That said, Longoria’s ability to man third in tandem with his right-handed power and star status will generate interest.


That’s not an exhaustive list, of course. Other potential big-name trade candidates include
Joey Votto
of the
Cincinnati Reds
,
Andrew McCutchen
of the
Pittsburgh Pirates
,
Brian Dozier
of the
Minnesota Twins
,
Carlos Gonzalez
of the
Colorado Rockies
, and
Ryan Braun
of the
Milwaukee Brewers
. Some of most enticing trade targets, though, are concentrated on the three teams explored above. Again, given the dubious class of free agents presently available, this could be the Winter of Trades in MLB, and the White Sox, Tigers, and Rays could drive the seller side of the market.

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