There’s a decided trend thus far in the early offseason. The Rays have traded Akinori Iwamura to the Pirates for a cost-controlled young reliever, despite a big talent gap between the two players. The Brewers traded their best trade chip, J.J. Hardy, to Minnesota for Carlos Gomez, a young player who’s cost-controlled for one more year before hitting arbitration, rather than addressing their much more desperate need on the pitcher’s mound. The Reds are now making rumblings about cutting back payroll in a dramatic enough manner that it might mean trading off Brandon Phillips.
If teams are cutting back on payroll now, it’s probably a sign to come for the free agent market. That means that some top-tier free agents may not be offered arbitration and some prices may fall to the point that free agents will have to start considering destinations that they might not normally be interested in. That means that if you’re a small market club with a decent amount of money to spend, you might be able to find some talent that wouldn’t normally be available.
It’s already pretty clear that the Pirates are willing to take on some payroll this winter. They’ve added Iwamura and made an offer for Hardy (I would’ve liked to see the Pirates snag him, but it probably would’ve taken Duke or Maholm and I’m not sure I would’ve made that offer without a seriously fool-proof plan to add more pitching) and are adamant about being involved in free agency (though we’ll have to wait and see if that bears any fruit). The team obviously doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room in the trade market — other small market clubs want prospects or young, cost-controlled players and the Pirates don’t have many I’d be willing to give up — but it’s possible that the Pirates picked the best year to have slashed payroll and we could be in for a much busier winter than any of us expected.