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We all love to talk trade scenarios, free agent signings, and minor league prospects on this site. I must admit, I have come up with some pretty crazy scenarios. Many on here might remember my suggestions to trade Soriano for Beltran, Lee for top prospects, etc...Which begs the question: What is realistic, and what is not?

To start with realistic, allow me to examine a few recent trades of big stars, and the players that were traded for them (this will give you a good gauge of what's possible):

Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin: trade from A's to Cubs
-Josh Donaldson (top catching prospect and high draft pick), Eric Patterson (top infield prospect), Sean Gallagher (top pitching prospect), Matt Murton (former top prospect)
*comments: we had to give up our top catching, pitching, and infield prospects for an oft-injured "could be ace" pitcher, and swing guy. I'm not saying it's a bad trade, but merely stating what it is we actually had to give up for him, which brings me to the next trade...

Johan Santana: trade from Twins to Mets
-Carlos Gomez-OF, Phil Humber-p, Kevin Mulvey-p, and Deolis Guera-p
*comments: Gomez is a right-handed version of Felix Pie--almost no plate discipline, limited power, huge speed, and supposedly came up as a 5-tool talent. Humber is garbage, and always has been. The only thing he had going was being a highly-touted draft choice. Mulvey might be the only good talent the Twins got, and even he is about like a right-handed Marshall, but not even with the same track record in the minors.

CC Sabathia: trade from Indians to Brewers
-Matt LaPorta-1B, Rob Bryson-p, Zach Jackson-p, and Michael Brantley-OF
*comments: we all know LaPorta was the key to this trade, and his stats are huge. Bryson's stats remind me of Jose Ceda. Jackson is almost exactly like John Koronka or Ryan O'Malley (remember them?). Brantley is a lot like Eric Patterson was for us---high average and OBP in minors, with speed, however, Patterson had more power, and Brantley's average and OBP were a bit higher too---needless to say, they're pretty similar players.

Matt Holliday: trade from Rockies to A's
-Carlos Gonzalez-OF, Huston Street-p, and Greg Smith-p
*comment: Gonzalez is a lot like Carlos Gomez in the Mets trade. Smith is essentially Sean Marshall, but with less MLB experience and less K's, and Street is the key piece of this trade, and perhaps the best talent they got out of this.

Adam Dunn: trade from Reds to D'Backs
-Micah Owings-p, Dallas Buck-p, Wilkin Castillo-c
*comment: Owings is a great hitter, but a marginal pitcher at best, Buck is a decent pitching prospect, while Castillo is more like Tony Ritchie (a marginal catcher in our system)

Dan Haren and Conor Robertson: trade from A's to D'Backs
-Dana Eveland-p, Chris Carter-1B, Brett Anderson-p, Aaron Cunningham-IF, Carlos Gonzalez-OF
*comment: Eveland is Marshall, I've already touched on Gonzalez, Anderson is a plus lefty that could develop (think Rhee or Acosta), Cunningham is like a right-handed version of Fontenot, but with no MLB track record, and Carter has HUGE power, but could end up being like Ryan Harvey in all reality given Harvey's stats in Low-A initially at the same age,but Carter had a better OBP.

Crisp: trade from BoSox to Royals
-Ramon Ramirez
*comment: Crisp had a decent prior history before he came to the BoSox. Ramirez is a decent reliever in the mold of a Kevin Hart

Mike Jacobs: trade from Marlins to Royals
-Leo Nunez
*comment: in similar fashion, the Royals trade a decent, young reliever just like the Crisp trade, except Nunez does not appear to have the same upside as Ramirez

Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira: trade from White Sux to Yankees
-Jeff Marquez-p, Wilson Betemit-IF, and Jhonny Nunez-p
*comment: Swisher was coming off a down year, but is still a switch-hitter with a lot of power and good track record. Marquez is a good pitcher (think Guzman) with a lot of upside and good track record in the minors. Betemit has been a major disappointment, nd Nunez is a lot like Marquez, but younger. The fact that the Yanks got a talent like Swisher, PLUS a guy like Texeira, who posted ridiculous #'s in the minors last year for a young reliever, is HUGE steal for them

Mike MacDougal: trade from Royals to White Sux
-Tyler Lumsden and Daniel Cortes
*comment: Lumsden was a marginal LHP talent while Cortes was 19 at the time of the trade, and hadn't shown much at all with a 5+ERA. It should come as no surprise that both were ranked very high among Royals prospects (they don't have many).MacDougal, on the other hand, compares favorably to Kevin Gregg. Other comparisons to Gregg include Cliff Politte, who was traded at his peak value for Dan Plesac that says it all right there)

So, given all of this information, I conclude with the following:
-acquiring a big bat should cost no more than 3 players
-acquiring an ace-like starter should cost no more than 4 players. It seems that at least 2 of those should be top pitching prospects
-a marginal talent like Crisp, Jacobs, Hermida, or Teahen, should only cost one player, and certainly not a top prospect
-a marginal relief pitcher should cost no more than 2 low end prospects, and certainly not a top prospect (ahem, Jim Hendry?)

Guys that we have heard the Cubs have trade interest for:
-Peavy: Marshall, Hart, Cedeno, Pie
-Khalil Greene: Tony Thomas
-Teahen: Nate Spears
-Hermida: Tyler Colvin or Jake Fox
******Kevin Gregg: Donald Veal********(that's what should've been traded, especially since Hendry did not protect him on the 40-man, so clearly has no apparent future with us. I mean, is this guy the most idiotic GM sometimes or what? Trading away your top pitching prospect that K's about 11 per 9 innings and throws 100 mph!?!?!? There's just no precedence for a move like he made grossly overpaying for a marginal relief talent in Gregg)

See, using the formula above, we can realistically obtain guys like Santana, Holliday, Sabathia, Swisher, Dunn, etc. Hendry made a wise move for Harden....for LAST YEAR ONLY. He mortgaged the future (Gallagher) for a "coulda, shoulda, woulda"-type player in Harden. I did research on him, and apparently I'd been looking at bad stats before, because baseball reference was going off a 162 game season average. Harden comes out to approximately 7 wins 3 losses, 101 IP, 101 K's, 41 walks, and like a 3.23 ERA or something. Those are great numbers....if you are a reliever, that is. Gaudin doesn't appear to be a good fit with us, and he projects to about a 4-something ERA as a reliever, which does not bode well for us. At 22 years old, Gallagher has a very bright future, while at 27, and already plagued by injuries, Harden appears to have plateaued.

The type of players we dealt to the A's for Harden should be good enough to net a guy like Santana, Haren, or Sabathia. The fact that all were ranked very high in our prospect rankings also says a lot----that we might not give our system enough credit.

Here's the fact though that we cannot seem to escape: The Cubs are placed by these idiotic rankings near the bottom of the barrel. But is that really true? Factor in guys like Guzman, Fontenot, Pie, Hoffpauir, Marshall, Hart, and others that were at the MLB-level, and you have quite a bit of young talent that gets overlooked. Guys like that should be able to net us major talent, it just requires a smart-thinking GM to get it done.

I've posted conversations like this before, so I'm sorry if it's redundant, but...a conversation might go something like this:

Towers: "I hear you're interested in Peavy"
Hendry: "Yeah...I also hear he only wants to go to the Cubs"
T: "well...that's not a given"
H: "really? Well, with no-trade rights, he gets to dictate where he wants to go, right?"
T: "yeah, I guess."
H: "okay, we'll give you Marshall, Hart, Cedeno, and Pie. This gives you a bona-fide lefty SP talent, a hard-throwing swing-man for rotation or pen, a decent upside shortstop, and a young, speedy OF prospect. This fits all of your needs, doesn't cost much in salary, and better yet, they all have MLB experience with good success, so you won't have to wonder what they might produce"
T: "gimme more"
H: "What? Are you kidding me???!? I just offered 4 MLB ready players with excellent upside AND gave you salary relief by taking Peavy, and you want more?"
T: "YES!!!"
H: "(in a dopey way)ohhhhkay...Ummm, how about Marshall, Hill, Veal, Pie, Colvin, Cedeno, and Hart"
T: "now you're talking"
H: "so we have a deal then?"
T: "well...not really. I think I need more. You gave your top pitching prospect---the one you fleeced from us, for a chump like Gregg...and in the past, you gave your top 3 pitching prospects for a one year rental in Pierre. For crying out loud, the Rockies only got 3 players for Holliday---a one year rental----and only one of them---Street----could be considered plus-talent. So, given that...I think we're going to have to involve a third or fourth team, buddy, because after getting your top 7 prospects, I just don't think there's enough left for us"
H: "ummm, well, let me see what happens with the new ownership. Perhaps they will fire me before I make any more retarded decisions. Maybe they can give me wisdom to make good trades, because I think you're taking me...I know you're a friend of mine, so you have my best interests in mind,but I need to think it over."
T: "really? you don't trust me? But Jim, you owe me for the Walker trade. Your scouts found a diamond in the rough, and I wanted him back, and you traded him. You're going to have to get him back from the Marlins."
H: "I do trust you Kevin, and I agree, my scouts somehow found Ceda, but it didn't come from me, so I wanted to put my stamp on something...I guess I screwed up...I mean, you seem to understand talent, so I guess I'll trust you. Ummm....let's see....Oh, I know, I'll tell them I have buyer's remorse, and that when I made the trade I was out getting high AND drunk with my scouts. Come to think of it, when we were discussing how good Ceda was, they mentioned Kevin Gregg in the same conversation., I remember. They actually said, 'any idiot that trades a top prospect for that chump deserves to be axed' I guess I thought they said, 'any idiot that doesn't trade a top prospect for that champ, deserves to be axed'....I didn't want to be axed, so that's why I did it. Do you think the league will buy it---my buyer's remorse?"
T: "probably not, I tried claiming that with the Barrett trade, but they weren't buying it."

I mean, I seriously wonder if Hendry gets taken like this in meetings with other GM's.