Current market could spark flurry of trades

The free-agent spending spree is roughly only a week old, and already, the deals are staggering. Alfonso Soriano got $136 million. Aramis Ramirez got $75 million. J.D. Drew is looking for $56 million. Frank Thomas got $18 million.

The money is enough for some clubs to rethink their offseason strategy.

"The market is forcing some teams into trade talks," said Boston general manager Theo Epstein. "The most aggressive teams in this market are the teams that can take a broader view because so many teams are trying to fill holes, the free agent market is so expensive and the teams that can lose something off their big league team and can fill the hole for somebody else can get back a lot of value."

"I don't think there's enough in the free-agent market to fulfill those needs, so the only option is for trades. And I think there's going to be a lot of activity there."
-- Mets GM Omar Minaya

In other words, it's a seller's market. Agents looking to peddle free agents are finding bidding wars. In turn, teams that might have been fearful that tradable players wouldn't bring enough are now being besieged by offers.

As soon as Carlos Lee signs -- with Baltimore, Houston or San Francisco, most likely -- the impact bats will be gone. That could pry some top offensive players loose, including Boston's Manny Ramirez, Toronto's Vernon Wells, Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford, Texas' Mark Teixeira, Atlanta's Andruw Jones, Philadelphia's Pat Burrell, Florida's Miguel Cabrera, Milwaukee's Geoff Jenkins and Colorado's Todd Helton.

There's more than sock available, too. As teams find out the asking prices for pitchers such as Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt, Danys Baez, Vicente Padilla and reel from the sticker shock on already-signed free agents such as Mike Stanton (two years, with a third-year option for a 39-year-old journeyman), Justin Speier ($18 million over four years), Jamie Walker ($12 million over three years), dealing for pitching suddenly seems sensible.

Thus, make your best offers for Freddy Garcia, Javier Vazquez, Jason Jennings, Aaron Heilman, Brad Lidge and perhaps Dontrelle Willis.

"I don't think there's enough in the free-agent market to fulfill those needs," said Mets GM Omar Minaya last week, "so the only option is for trades. And I think there's going to be a lot of activity there."

Those deals might not be made for another two weeks, when the general managers reconvene at the winter meetings in Orlando. But executives throughout the game predict a return to honest-to-goodness baseball trades, when two teams get together and swap excess for need.

Crawford could fetch the Devil Rays another front-line starter to anchor the the Tampa Bay rotation with Scott Kazmir. Burrell, who could use a change of scenery, might land the Phils another bat. Cabrera could bring the Marlins catching and a center fielder.

Vernon Wells Wells

Andruw Jones Jones

Jones and Wells are different from the rest. Each is entering the final year of a long-term deal and is considered unlikely to re-sign with his present team. It might be wise for Atlanta's John Schuerholz and Toronto's J.P. Ricciardi to take advantage of the market now and deal their respective outfielders when their value is highest.

It's likely, however, that no single player's value benefits more from current market demands than Manny Ramirez, whom Boston has dangled in trade discussions each offseason since 2003.

Matched against the money being spent for Soriano -- and sure to be soon lavished on Lee -- Ramirez's contract appears downright affordable: two years remaining at approximately $37 million total.

For a competitive team intent on landing the final piece of the offensive puzzle (Angels, Rangers, Astros, Dodgers), Ramirez would seem the perfect fit.

On the pitching front, hard-throwers such as Heilman and Lidge are far more inexpensive and much less of a risk than, say, Eric Gagne, said to be seeking a one-year, $10 million commitment.

"I think, as an industry, we've gotten into this habit of spending [to fill need]," said one executive. "Maybe some old-fashioned trades wouldn't be such a bad thing. It sure makes more sense than some of the [free agent] deals I'm seeing."

Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.