Talks of MLB roster reconstruction every November typically center, understandably so, around free agents. With this year’s assortment being especially talent-rich, it makes sense that eager fans whose teams teeter on the fringe of contention are so tuned in to the free agent market.

But an often overlooked (and harder to pull off) element of team improvement can bring stars to a new city just as quickly, though the cost is actual baseball players with varying future forecasts rather than just money. Trades at this point of the offseason usually follow a basic formula: a sad sack team on the freeway toward another losing season chooses to divorce from their best players rather than pay them a boatload of money over a long-term deal. This cheapskate mechanism is what led to Giancarlo Stanton and Nolan Arenado getting traded to their current teams, as both the Marlins and Rockies decided that financial flexibility is a better asset than a multiple time All-Star.

Using that idea as a framework, there are some players the Yankees could target this winter in potential trades, given that they are willing to part with some of their own noteworthy players on the major or minor league circuit.

THE BIG SWINGS

Since signing a four-year, $27 million contract extension with Cleveland prior to the 2017 season, Jose Ramirez has been the biggest bargain in the entire game. Only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts — who each joined the $365 million club since Ramirez inked his extension — have accumulated more Wins Above Replacement than Ramirez since he agreed to that modest deal.

Of course, this also means that Ramirez is disgustingly underpaid, something he’ll surely hope to rectify as quickly as possible. The elephant in the Guardians’ front office is whether or not the franchise will want to pay Ramirez the enormous contract he deserves, or if they should get moving on trade talks to ensure he doesn’t walk without fetching anything in return. The 29-year-old third baseman is scheduled to make $12 million next year, and the club has a $14 million option on him for 2023. If he keeps up his rate of production, that would be a steal for Cleveland, but it’s certainly not unprecedented for them to pull the trigger on a trade to avoid making any big financial decisions, as they did with Francisco Lindor. With Cleveland lacking a cornerstone first baseman, that could be a logical landing spot for Luke Voit, as well as whatever high-level prospects the Guardians want for their three-time Silver Slugger.

As with Ramirez, landing pitcher Luis Castillo or outfielder Jesse Winker before they come off the Reds’ books would require some hefty prospects on the Yankees’ end. With Winker’s offensive breakout over the last two seasons, Cincinnati could be looking to sell high on him if presented with the right package. Winker’s left-handed power stroke has surely drawn some attention from the Yankees, who could also wait until next year to pounce on him if they let Joey Gallo leave in unrestricted free agency.

The Reds already ditched starting pitcher Wade Miley earlier this offseason in a move that can only be described as bare-naked cost cutting. They could certainly do the same with Castillo, who they’ve only given a series of one-year deals during his Reds’ tenure. The righty has long held the National League’s most elusive changeup, as well as some of the league’s most maddening inconsistency. A ground ball and strikeout pitcher like Castillo always has a home in Yankee Stadium, though, and the Reds are in a position to shake things up after moving on from Miley, potentially doing the same with current free agent Nick Castellanos, and knowing that Joey Votto won’t be around forever.

Ketel Marte and Willson Contreras could be the answer to the Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez dilemmas that sprung up last season. Once considered foundational pieces of the Yankees’ future, both Torres and Sanchez have played their way into the doghouse. Marte only has one more year of guaranteed employment before the Diamondbacks’ club option rolls around. If Arizona anticipates another non-competitive season from hell in 2022, they’d be wise to get something back for Marte before it’s too late.

The natural shortstop hasn’t played the position regularly since 2017, though, so the Yankees would still need to shore up that position if they brought Marte in at second base, either externally or trusting Gio Urshela to hold it down. Contreras’ eight defensive runs saved in 2021 far outpaced Sanchez’s negative-10, and if the Cubs decide to start selling off their parts, they could look to swoop up Yankee prospects for the catcher before he hits free agency in 2023.

OTHER OPTIONS

While lacking the glitz and glamour of a player like Ramirez, Marte or Contreras, there are a few other players stuck in purgatory. Oakland is famously averse to paying out big contracts, so pitchers Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt (both free agents after the 2022 campaign) are sure to heed some contemplation from trade-hungry general managers.

Rays’ outfielder Manuel Margot is headed for arbitration, and with Aaron Hicks’ health making his 2022 effectiveness a huge unknown, Margot could be a solid bit of insurance depth that wouldn’t demand a headlining prospect in return. The same is true of Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield, who will make a mere $2.75 million base salary in 2022 before the Royals’ club option kicks in for 2023. Depending on how the Royals feel about the status of their team moving forward, trading Merrifield might be an avenue for them to get younger as he nears his mid-30s.

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