Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: The offseason hadn't even started and there were already rumors swirling about the three-time American League MVP Award winner and 14-time All-Star being dealt by New York. Rodriguez's no-trade clause and enormous contract are major obstacles, but it's become increasingly clear that his ability to contribute to the Yankees may be waning.
Pros: The list of positives on A-Rod's résumé is long. He's a power-hitting third baseman who understands the game, has great instincts in the field and on the bases and brings with him an MVP Award and World Series pedigree. Any team that has him on its roster the next few years will have plenty of opportunities to celebrate the milestones he'll continue to reach, possibly all the way up to Barry Bonds' career home run mark.
Cons: Rodriguez's production has declined steadily over the past three seasons (average, RBIs and home run numbers have all slid) and he seems to be banged up more often than not. His ability (or lack thereof) to hit right-handed pitching became such an issue for the Yankees during the playoffs that he often sat on the bench during New York's postseason run.
Though Rodriguez's annual contract is set to decline through 2017 (he made $29 million this past season, will make $28 million in '13, $25 million in '14 and so on), it is still a huge chunk of change owed to a player who is quickly becoming an average third baseman.
Ricky Nolasco, Marlins: With the Marlins having already dealt most of their highest-paid players, pending final approval of this week's blockbuster deal with the Blue Jays, Nolasco may be next. He's in the last year of his contract and is set to make $11.5 million in 2013. Nolasco could remain in Miami and become the de facto ace of the depleted Marlins rotation, or he could become a nice No. 2 or No. 3 starter elsewhere.
Pros: Nolasco is a veteran arm with Opening Day starter potential, depending where he opens the 2013 campaign. Nolasco also has a history of being able to go late into games. He threw three complete games this year despite a 12-13 record and a 4.48 ERA.
Nolasco has also proven to be durable, starting at least 31 games in four of the past five seasons (and 26 in the other) and remains entirely capable of logging 200-plus innings.
Cons: Nolasco's strikeouts per nine innings have decreased considerably over the past three seasons (8.4 in 2010, 6.5 in '11 and 5.9 in '12) while his walks per nine escalated over the past year (1.9 in both '10 and '11 and 2.2 in '12). Nolasco hasn't had a season ERA below 4.48 since 2008, when he won 15 games and posted an ERA of 3.52.
Justin Upton, D-backs: Trade rumors involving Upton really began to heat up again in the past week, with talks that Detroit had serious interest in the 25-year-old outfielder. But since the Tigers found their man in Torii Hunter, the D-backs may have to find another suitor if they want to move Upton.
Pros: Upton, 25, is a five-tool player with youth on his side. He wasn't outstanding in any particular category this past season, but he was steady across the board in everything from stolen bases (18) to home runs (17) and a .984 fielding percentage in the outfield. Upton has the potential to be an MVP Award candidate through the remainder of his contract, which runs through 2015, and beyond.
Cons: Upton is a fantastic talent, but his inconsistency is puzzling. For a player who's set to make $14.25 million in 2014 and $14.5 million in '15, the chance of another 17-homer, 67-RBI season (like the one he had this past season in 150 games, and in 2010 in 133 games) is a concern.
If Upton can regularly turn in seasons like his 2011 breakthrough (.289 average, 31 homers, 88 RBIs), he'll be a valuable commodity. But he's yet to do it two years in a row.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Ryan Lavarnway, Red Sox:
Since Boston signed free agent David Ross, it now has the rights to three quality catchers. It figures that either Saltalamacchia or Lavarnway will be elsewhere once the season begins.
Pros: Saltalamacchia has much more experience at the big league level, and he broke out with 25 homers this past season, driving in 59 runs in 121 games. Salty can also keep runners at bay, playing 104 games behind the plate and catching 18 runners attempting to steal.
Lavarnway is on the upswing as well. He spent the majority of his 2012 season with Triple-A Pawtucket, shoring up his defense.
Cons: Saltalamacchia has only played two full seasons behind the dish, and he averaged .208 across them (the past two years). His OPS of .742 in 2012 placed him in the bottom tier of everyday catchers around baseball.
There are still lingering questions about Lavarnway's defense, and with just 63 Major League games (.172 career batting average, 20 RBIs, four homers), it remains to be seen if he's ready to be an everyday big league catcher.
James Shields/Jeremy Hellickson, Rays: Shields was projected to be the most likely name on the trading block this offseason if the Tampa Bay was, indeed, going to trade a starter. But early into the winter, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman reported that more teams have had an interest in Hellickson. It seems entirely unlikely that the Rays would deal both and still hope to contend in the new-look AL East next season, but one hurler hitting the road remains a possibility.
Pros: If these two hurlers can compete year-in, year-out against the Yankees and Red Sox (and this year, the surprising Orioles), it seems plausible that they'd be front-end starters anywhere. Shields didn't develop the nickname "Big Game James" for no good reason. He led the Majors with 11 complete games in 2011, and has posted six combined shutouts the past two seasons.
Hellickson, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner, won 10 games with a 3.10 ERA this past season, and he is just 25 years old. He's not arbitration-eligible yet, so he'll be making significantly less than Shields and would be a bargain for any team.
Cons: Part of the reason the Rays' staff has had such success over the years has to be at least partially attributed to the home-field advantage that Tropicana Field gives them (23rd-toughest ballpark for hitters last season, according to ESPN's MLB Park Factors).
The $10.25 million that Shields is owed for 2013 is relatively high for a Tampa Bay pitcher, and his market value probably declined as his performance waned just a bit from '11 to '12.
Aaron Harang/Chris Capuano, Dodgers: As the new-look Dodgers continue to add pieces, there will have to be subtractions, as well. Since Los Angeles won the bid for Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin and has about a month to negotiate to sign him, it will likely mean that one of the two aforementioned starters would be on his way out.
Pros: Harang has been resurgent over the past two seasons -- 2011 with the Padres and '12 with the Dodgers -- combining for 24 wins and maintaining a steady ERA around 3.60 each season while logging more than 170 innings per year.
Capuano, too, has regained form after he was out of the big leagues between the 2007-10 seasons. He's back to starting 30 games a year, and he nearly reached 200 innings pitched in each of the past two years -- one with the Mets and one with the Dodgers.
Cons: The same knock could go against both these pitchers, who have made their comebacks while playing home games in pitcher-friendly ballparks. If either of these pitchers were to play elsewhere, their numbers could change dramatically.
Shin-Soo Choo, Indians: The outfielder has one year remaining on his contract before becoming eligible for free agency and is one of a host of players who could be dangled this offseason. He will be arbitration-eligible in 2013.
Pros: Choo is a five-tool player with All-Star potential. He's recorded double-digit steals in each of his past four seasons, and he hit double-digit homers in four of the past five. Choo is more than capable of hitting .300, belting 20 homers, stealing 20 bases and driving in 90 runs per season -- all while playing an above-average outfield.
Cons: Choo strikes out quite a bit for a guy who has proven to otherwise be effective at or near the top of a batting order. He struck out 150 times (12th among Major League outfielders) this past season -- the second time in the past four years he'd whiffed at least 150 times.