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Despite available players, days of spring trading may be history

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Alfredo Aceves is among those looking to break into the rotation as Boston heads into spring. (Getty Images)  
Alfredo Aceves is among those looking to break into the rotation as Boston heads into spring. (Getty Images)  

As a player, Ken Williams was once traded during spring training.

As the general manager of the Chicago White Sox, he's gone five years since making a spring training trade.

So if you're guessing whether the White Sox will deal Gavin Floyd or anyone else this spring, you're probably better off guessing no.

For that matter, it's probably best to predict no team will make a huge deal this spring, because in modern baseball, teams almost never do.

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At first glance, this spring seems set up to be different. Plenty of players who seemed likely to be dealt this winter still haven't been traded, and a few teams are going to camp with either too many players at one spot or not enough.

One sticking point could get solved even before camps open, as the Yankees and Pirates work to complete a deal over A.J. Burnett. But it stands to reason there could be others.

The Nationals have extra starters after signing Edwin Jackson, so John Lannan could be available. The Rays want Matt Moore in their rotation, so Jeff Niemann could be available. The rebuilding Cubs considered deals for Matt Garza earlier in the winter, so maybe they get more serious about moving him in the spring.

The Angels created a logjam in their lineup when they signed Albert Pujols, so it would figure they wouldn't mind making a deal. (Bobby Abreu, anyone?) The Cardinals (Jake Westbrook or Kyle McClellan) or the Phillies (Joe Blanton) could trade a starting pitcher. The Astros never did move Carlos Lee or Wandy Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox go to camp with rotation questions. Other teams have questions too.

The Sox seem content to begin spring looking at Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves and a host of others to fill the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. One person familiar with their plans suggested that they may not look to make a deal unless none of those options work out.

Would they consider a trade?

It's not impossible, but at this point it's not likely.

Recent history, remember, suggests that significant spring trades aren't likely for anyone.

The biggest deal last spring was the one that sent Nyjer Morgan from the Nationals to the Brewers -- and that wasn't considered very big at the time. The year before that, the biggest names dealt in spring training were Nate Robertson and Matt Treanor.

The year before that, it was Jeff Keppinger and Luke Gregerson. Gregerson ended up helping the Padres, but he wasn't exactly a big name in the spring.

It's a trend, and it's a change. Back in the 1990s, teams traded significant players in the spring (Sammy Sosa, Jermaine Dye, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, David Justice, Cliff Floyd).

In the 1980s, the Tigers won a World Series thanks to a spring trade for Willie Hernandez, who went on to become the American League's Most Valuable Player. The Mets got David Cone. The Twins got Dan Gladden, and that same year he scored the winning run in the World Series.

"I think things have changed," Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said. "First off, clubs try to fill all their holes in the winter now, so that philosophy has changed. Second, by the time you get to spring training, most people have spent their money already."

The other change, Dombrowski suggested, is that in today's world of non-stop news and rumors, most teams don't want to risk disrupting their spring camp with trade talk.

"A lot of people don't want distractions in spring training," he said.

And teams that are rebuilding may want to move their bigger players in the winter, rather than during spring training when it would more likely have an adverse effect on ticket sales or hopes for the coming season.

Would Williams, for example, want to move Floyd this spring, in a trade that would likely bring mostly young prospects in return? The White Sox aren't favorites in the American League Central, but as of now they're going to camp with hopes of contending.

The point is that deals are less likely in spring training now than they were even 15 years ago.

There was a time, not that long ago, that spring training trades were the expectation. And there were some notable ones.

The Yankees and Red Sox made their last big trade in spring training 1986, with the Yankees sending Don Baylor to Boston and getting Mike Easler in return.

Williams was traded from the White Sox to the Tigers (for Eric King) in spring training 1989. A's general manager Billy Beane was traded in the spring when he played, too (to the Tigers for Balvino Galvez in 1988). So were current managers Dusty Baker (from the Giants to the A's in 1985) and Ron Washington (from the Dodgers to the Twins in 1980).

Dombrowski got Floyd for the Marlins in spring training 1997, and went on to win the World Series.

Eight years later, Williams' White Sox won the World Series. Their one spring training trade that year? Jerry Owens for Alex Escobar.

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