Thursday, December 11, 2008
Rundown of winter meetings happenings
By Jerry Crasnick
LAS VEGAS -- After four days of $15 Bellagio hamburgers mixed in with blue-haired grannies pumping the slot handles, it's time to pause and take stock of Major League Baseball's 2008 winter meetings. Here's a team-by-team rundown of what the 30 clubs just accomplished, and where they stand moving forward.
American League East
True, Edwin Jackson's star dimmed in conjunction with that 7.90 ERA in September. But was outfielder Matt Joyce a sufficient trade return for a 14-game winner with an upper-90s fastball? GM Andrew Friedman told reporters that he thinks the Rays can be "competitive" in the bidding for a veteran bat. Milton Bradley, Jason Giambi and Pat Burrell are among the names on the radar screen. The Rays would also like to add some Troy Percival insurance to the bullpen.
They're in the mix for Mark Teixeira. They're looking for a fourth outfielder, and they have to resolve their catching situation -- either by re-signing Jason Varitek or trading for Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Miguel Montero. While Boston general manager Theo Epstein kept tabs on A.J. Burnett, you got the feeling the Red Sox were only involved as a way to tweak the Yankees and help jack up the price. That Eric Byrnes-for-Julio Lugo trade looks dead now that the D-backs have signed Felipe Lopez.
When you've just spent $161 million on CC Sabathia and are poised to add $85 million more on A.J. Burnett, it's fair to say you've had an eventful week. General manager Brian Cashman isn't finished in his relentless quest to add starting pitching. The big question is, do the Yankees sign Ben Sheets to a short-term deal or sign old friend Andy Pettitte to fill the remaining hole in the rotation? Pettitte better not dawdle if he plans to return.
The Jays made a sincere effort to bring back A.J. Burnett only to fall by the wayside behind the Yankees and Braves, and they've kicked the tires on Rafael Furcal. But in light of the belt-tightening in Toronto, general manager J.P. Ricciardi is more inclined to work the periphery and shop for bargains. The Jays reportedly signed Matt Clement, and they have an interest in free-agent catcher Michael Barrett.
Assuming that Rule 5 draft pick Lou Palmisano isn't the answer, the Orioles still need to find a cheap veteran to babysit the catching position until megaprospect Matt Wieters is ready in June or July. Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz provide hope in the minors, but the O's need some immediate help for Jeremy Guthrie in the rotation. With Ryan Freel new to the roster, manager Dave Trembley has his resident Energizer Bunny.
American League Central
General manager Kenny Williams made his big moves before the meetings, trading Nick Swisher and Javier Vazquez for some young arms. Those Jermaine Dye rumors refuse to go away, but it's tough to envision another club giving up young talent for a soon-to-be 35-year-old outfielder with an $11.5 million contract when there are so many affordable free-agent options.
The Twins' pursuit of Casey Blake fell short when he returned to the Dodgers, but Minnesota did re-sign little piranha and clubhouse favorite Nick Punto to play short. Next on the agenda: finding a third baseman and fortifying the bullpen. And sometime between now and spring training, Delmon Young either will or will not be traded.
Mark Shapiro's big mission entering the meetings was upgrading the bullpen, and he succeeded with the addition of Kerry Wood and Joe Smith. The Indians loved Franklin Gutierrez's makeup and defense, but with Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Ben Francisco on the big league roster and Matt LaPorta on the way, they could afford to deal Gutierrez to Seattle.
They added a power-hitting first baseman in Mike Jacobs and a center fielder in Coco Crisp before the meetings, and picked up some arms in Vegas in Kyle Farnsworth, Horacio Ramirez and Doug Waechter. General manager Dayton Moore is a known fan of Rafael Furcal. But with the payroll hovering around $75 million, can the Royals find enough money to sign Furcal?
With the auto industry in crisis mode and the payroll over $130 million, the Tigers don't have much wiggle room. They were in no mood to add Jack Wilson's $7.5 million salary, so they took a flier on defensive wiz Adam Everett. They filled the catching void with a trade for Gerald Laird, and picked up a nice arm in Edwin Jackson, who finished horribly but still won 14 games. Not a bad week for David Dombrowski and the boys -- although they're still desperate for a closer.
American League West
CC Sabathia is now a Yankee, and the Angels are receiving some stiff competition from Washington and Boston in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes. If the Angels fail on that front, they could spend their money on a reliever (Brian Fuentes?), a hitter (Raul Ibanez, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu or Pat Burrell), and maybe even call the Padres on Jake Peavy. The Angels keep saying Manny Ramirez isn't an option, but if the price and the years drop enough, who knows?
Even after trading Gerald Laird to Detroit, the Rangers have enough catching depth to entertain offers for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But the price is going to be high. Pitching is always a priority for Texas, and Randy Johnson and Ben Sheets both make sense as short-term additions. Both pitchers have enough stuff to handle the rigors of life in Arlington.
There were reports that the A's and Rafael Furcal were through as an item, but Oakland remains one of four teams in the running for the free-agent shortstop. Stick Furcal in the leadoff hole with Jack Cust, Matt Holliday and a healthy Eric Chavez in the 3-4-5 spots, and Oakland's offense would be much improved over the pallid 2008 version.
General manager Jack Zduriencik swung his first trade at the meetings, adding pitcher Aaron Heilman and outfielders Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez in Wednesday's three-way trade with Cleveland and the Mets. Gutierrez is a terrific kid and a plus defender in center, but he has a .308 on-base percentage and a .409 slugging percentage in 807 big league at-bats. Heilman, who wants to start, can only benefit from the change of scenery. The Mariners would love to trade Jarrod Washburn or Miguel Batista, and word is the front office is split on Ken Griffey Jr.
National League East
They gave manager Charlie Manuel a contract extension, added Ronny Paulino to spell Carlos Ruiz at catcher, moved closer to a deal for Chan Ho Park and jumped into the fray on Raul Ibanez. And in the most interesting development of the week, Cole Hamels called the Mets "choke artists" in an interview with WFAN. On a positive note, this should take a lot of pressure off Jimmy Rollins on the Phillies' first trip to Citi Field.
Omar Minaya was the big winner of the meetings, overhauling the New York bullpen in a stunning 24-hour frenzy. The Mets' $37 million outlay for Francisco Rodriguez was quite reasonable, and J.J. Putz gives the Mets a lockdown eighth-inning guy. Chances are his agents aren't too thrilled with the deal given the financial hit he'll be taking. The Mets still need to add a starter, and Oliver Perez, Derek Lowe, Randy Wolf and Jon Garland are on the radar.
After trading Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham and Kevin Gregg in November, the Marlins don't have to dump any more salaries. So Dan Uggla, Jeremy Hermida and Jorge Cantu might all stay put. They're still in the market for a right-handed-hitting, affordable catcher to share time with John Baker. Can you say Michael Barrett?
The Braves took their best shot at A.J. Burnett, but it appears they're going to be outgunned by the Yankees. A team source said the Braves have "zero" interest in Derek Lowe, but they still need a starter to slot in behind Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens in the rotation. As long as Tom Glavine and John Smoltz want to return, they can never be counted out of the conversation.
The Nats envision Mark Teixeira as a milk-drinking, run-producing franchise cornerstone for years to come, and they've expressed their interest with a reported $160 million offer. The flurry of Manny Ramirez speculation in Las Vegas was fun. But with Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, Josh Willingham and Austin Kearns in the fold, do the Nationals really need another right-handed-hitting outfielder?
National League Central
While a Carlos Zambrano-Ryan Dempster-Ted Lilly-Rich Harden-Jake Peavy starting rotation would have been amazing, the chances of that Peavy deal getting done in Las Vegas weren't nearly as good as some media reports suggested. True, GM Jim Hendry had a stressful week trying to keep the breathless speculation in check. But he didn't have it as rough as noted Cubs fan (and Illinois governor) Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested Tuesday on corruption charges.
In the aftermath of the Brewers' failed CC Sabathia pursuit, general manager Doug Melvin needs to add a starter and strengthen the back end of the bullpen. The Brewers are dabbling in the Randy Johnson-Randy Wolf market and taking the economical approach in their closer search. They might just opt to let Seth McClung, Carlos Villanueva and another internal option or two duke it out for the job in spring training in Arizona. A Mike Cameron trade is also a possibility.
Roy Oswalt, inveterate team guy, told the Houston Chronicle that he's willing to restructure his contract to help the team acquire another starter. Meanwhile, the Astros have told teams that Miguel Tejada and Ty Wigginton are available. Is it possible that those Mike Hampton and Doug Brocail acquisitions were the offseason highlight in Houston?
The Cardinals hope that Khalil Greene is closer to the 27-homer model from 2007 than the guy who posted a .339 slugging percentage this season. And they're now making a run at lefty reliever Brian Fuentes. If the Cards can seal the deal, let's hope that Fuentes' physical exam goes more smoothly than Trever Miller's did.
Trust us: That Homer Bailey-for-Jermaine Dye trade is really, truly dead. The Reds are still on the prowl for an outfield bat, and they've been linked to everyone from Jeremy Hermida to Juan Rivera to Rocco Baldelli. GM Walt Jocketty acquired catcher Ramon Hernandez for outfielder Ryan Freel at the meetings, and the Reds are getting close with reliever Arthur Rhodes.
The Pirates traded Ronny Paulino for Jason Jaramillo in a swap of catchers whose names end in "o.'' They're close to signing infielder Ramon Vazquez to a two-year deal, and they should find out soon where they stand on Doug Mientkiewicz and Jason Michaels. In other words, nothing real earth-shattering in Bucco-land.
National League West
Casey Blake and Mark Loretta are in the fold, but it remains to be seen what will happen with Manny Ramirez, Rafael Furcal and the Dodgers' search for rotation and bullpen help. It never gets old watching Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti and super-agent Scott Boras do their annual mating dance.
What does it tell you when the Diamondbacks need a lefty reliever, but Will Ohman and Joe Beimel are out of their price range? Felipe Lopez has makeup and maturity issues, but he's very athletic and did bat .385 in 43 late-season games with St. Louis. For a mere $3.5 million, Arizona GM Josh Byrnes was wise to take a shot.
Since the Matt Holliday trade came down, it's been all about pitching upgrades in Denver. The Rockies made runs at Tim Redding and Aaron Heilman for the rotation. They're about to add Alan Embree to the bullpen. And they're still looking for a Josh Fogg type to provide insurance at the back end of the rotation. Just wondering, but why not sign Josh Fogg? We heard he's still out there.
General manager Brian Sabean had a meltdown over the CC Sabathia media coverage in one of his daily press briefings at the Bellagio hotel. Other than that, things were quiet for the Giants. They've already added Edgar Renteria at shortstop and Jeremy Affeldt and Bobby Howry to the bullpen. Now they'd like to add Randy Johnson to the rotation and acquire a third baseman in a trade.
A lot of scouts at the Rule 5 draft were excited about the Padres' acquisition of Everth Cabrera, a speedy little shortstop who stole 73 bases for Colorado's Class A farm club in Asheville last season. One baseball man referred to Cabrera, 5-8, 160 pounds, as a "Nicaraguan Dustin Pedroia.''
Oh yeah, the Padres have also expressed interest in moving this Jake Peavy guy. If it doesn't happen by Christmas, it probably isn't happening.
Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.