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Fact or Fiction? Moves,
non-moves and issues
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
In the last week, there were more players selected in the Rule 5 draft of unprotected players on Triple-A rosters than ever before. Twenty-seven of 30 teams non-tendered major league players. Jeff Kent signed a two-year deal with the Astros, in which $10 million of the $17 million is deferred at less than three percent. Atlanta traded Kevin Millwood for Johnny Estrada after Boston turned down a trade to get Millwood in exchange for Casey Fossum.
Bartolo Colon is still standing in Montreal after the Red Sox turned down a deal to get him in exchange for Shea Hillenbrand and Fossum. And last but not least, the Red Sox and Yankees are in Nicaragua offering Cuban free agent Jose Contreras anything and everything including his choice of John F. Kerry or Hillary Clinton as his chauffeur.
Crazy? Agents Sam and Seth Levinson left their Brooklyn offices at 3:30 a.m. Friday, and realizing they had forgotten to eat lunch and dinner, ate at a White Castle on the way home. Then when Seth got home at 2:20 a.m. Saturday, he decided to leave a message on the office voicemail of Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. "Theo answered," says Levinson. "That's how insane this business is right now."
So insane that you should download Pearl Jam's "Bushleaguer" and American Hi-Fi's "The Art of Losing" and play along with this home version of "Fact or Fiction."
Fact or Fiction? The Braves made a mistake trading Millwood to Philadelphia for Estrada.
Fact. At least in the minds of several other general managers, all of whom appreciate that Braves GM John Schuerholz seldom errs. They appreciate that as a fifth-year arbitration case Millwood is comparable to Chan Ho Park and that agent Scott Boras might have earned him $10 million, and that he does have a history of shoulder problems, which is why some other teams like Boston backed off, hoping to allocate dollars elsewhere.
Still ... Millwood can be a very, very good pitcher. The Braves could have found a young catcher cheaply, like Michael Barrett, and not traded Millwood within the division. Why not non-tender Millwood and hope he goes to an American League team, not hand him to their primary competitor? Now Tom Glavine (Mets) and Millwood (Phillies) are in the same division as the Braves. And don't forget, the Mets have been trying to get someone -- anyone -- to take Pedro Astacio off their hands.
Fact or Fiction? The Expos may have overplayed their hand and the market for Colon is drying up.
Fact. This may be a little unfair, because this was thrown in Expos GM Omar Minaya's lap, and he was hoping to get something comparable to what he gave for Colon. But asking teams to take Fernando Tatis with Colon wasn't going to work, and the Yankees refused to pay all Orlando Hernandez's 2003 contract. The best deal Minaya might have received was Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera (without El Duque), and when he offered the Red Sox Colon for Fossum and Hillenbrand on Friday, he was rejected. What's happening is that the Yankees right now are focusing on Roger Clemens and Contreras, Boston on Contreras.
"Look at the other contenders -- none of them can afford him with the possible exception of Florida, and they would have to dump payroll," says one GM. "It could be that if the Red Sox lose out on Contreras, they can get Colon for one year for either Fossum or Hillenbrand."
Fact or Fiction: Lou Piniella is going to be miserable in Tampa Bay.
Fiction. Look, would Lou like to win? Sure. But he's home with four generations of family, he's a huge figure in the community, he's going to have the power to force moves and he's got young players like Rocco Baldelli -- whom he plans to start the season with as his center fielder -- to teach.
"Anyone who knows me knows I love to teach kids," says Piniella. "This is a challenge, but so was Seattle when I went there. We're going to make it work. We will be better." This is one manager who will definitely impact his team in 2003.
Fact or Fiction: The Red Sox tried to trade Nomar Garciaparra.
Fiction. Never discussed, except on non-fiction radio. In the first place, when they estimated markets for all their players, the only fit that would have been considered was the Mets for Roberto Alomar, shortstop propect Jose Reyes and pitching prospect Aaron Heilman, which the Mets wouldn't do.
But of all their potential 2004 free agents, Garciaparra may be the first Boston tries to get signed, because now that he has altered his workout style to less bulk and more Mia Hamm-conditioning, the chances of his remaining an impact player through his mid-30s is very good. Replacing the energy Garciaparra brings to the position is virtually impossible to replace.
Fact or Fiction: Hideki Matsui has all the makings of becoming the next Hideki on the George Steinbrenner toad list.
Fiction. That is, if he stays back, goes the other way and doesn't try to be Roger Maris. Sure, all the players on the Japanese trip believe that shortstop Kaz Matsui, who will be coming next winter, is the best player in Japan, period, but if the pressure isn't too great, Hideki II should be fine. And he's got a fine $14 million backup in Raul Mondesi.
Fact of Fiction: One AL GM, citing the way The Boss is overriding Yankees GM Brian Cashman, senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman and his sage organization, likens the Yankees to the last decade of the Soviet Union, old and with millions upon millions of dollars unusable.
Fact, or could be. The farm system is thinner than in years past, and every time Steinbrenner complains about the luxury tax and the Players Association offers its sympathetic antiphonal response, one can only think about the unmoveable $25 million of Mondesi, Rondell White and Sterling Hitchcock, the $10 million he's already paid Clemens before signing him, the mania to pay another $17 million to Matsui and Contreras and the fact that Drew Henson, playing in the minor leagues, is making as much as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Fact of Fiction: Insurance is suddenly significant in contracts.
Fact. At the GM meetings, representatives from the insurance industry informed the front offices that there would now be a three-year limit on insurance and that it will be impossible to collect on previous injuries like Jim Thome's back or Pedro Martinez's shoulder. For instance, when the Mets went to insure Al Leiter -- who's been healthy for a long time now -- they were told it would cost them $2 million with a 364-day deductable. Many teams, like the Giants, now aren't even bothering to try to get it, but it changes the way many teams pursue players.
"The insurance industry has analyzed every actuary table, every statistic, every player history and concluded that anything more than a three-year contract is a bad idea," says Oakland assistant GM Paul DePodesta. "Maybe we should listen."
Fact or Fiction: Pudge Rodriguez is going to play Japan for $10 million.
Fiction, probably. The problem is that after being on the disabled list four times in three seasons, Pudge's market value is not as high as one might expect.
The Cubs will take him at a discount. The best fit is Baltimore, where he can catch 100 games a year, DH 60 games and re-establish his Hall of Fame credentials. But the Orioles aren't going to go much beyond $6 million a year with a lot of incentive bonuses, and agent Jeff Moorad is looking in the neighborhood of $10-$15 million a year. But to go to Japan might seriously depreciate his Cooperstown status, and Pudge wants to be a Hall of Famer, and has never been a top-dollar person.
Fact or Fiction: "The worst thing to be right now," suggests an agent, "is a pretty decent first baseman."
Fact, although right-handed relievers would argue. Brad Fullmer can hit, he helped the Angels win the World Series, he is one of those rare players who brings energy to the DH spot and he's very smart. And out of a job.
Fred McGriff wisely grabbed whatever the Dodgers had for him, because Fullmer, Robert Fick, David Ortiz, Travis Lee, Lee Stevens and Olmedo Saenz will have to get Wal-Mart markdown prices. Kevin Millar avoided a non-tender, although he's expected to be moved quickly, perhaps to Boston. But those right-handed relievers have flooded the market as well. And Antonio Alfonseca was smart to take what he could from the Cubs with the likes of Ugueth Urbina on the market at a discount.
Fact or Fiction: The Giants are better than they were.
Fact. There are some defensive questions, especially wherever Ray Durham plays. They will miss Russ Ortiz, who allowed only four homers in two years at Pac Bell. They are trying to move Felix Rodriguez, which could be a huge hole. But they have more speed than in the past. Durham is not only one of the best leadoff hitters in the business, but the first legitimate leadoff man they've had, Edgardo Alfonzo is a wonderful player and GM Brian Sabean and assistant GM Ned Colletti will plug what they have to plug. The key is whether or not young pitchers Kurt Ainsworth, Jesse Foppert and/or Jerome Williams are able to comes through and be productive.
Fact or Fiction: The Blue Jays cheated their fans by releasing Jose Cruz Jr.
Fiction. They aren't going to win this year, and GM J.P. Ricciardi called Cruz's agents Thursday, a day in advance, to let them know what he was doing so Cruz could get a headstart. The fact remains that Ricciardi tried for a year to move Cruz, and got turned down on everyone from Jerome Williams to B.J. Ryan. Anyway, Toronto was last in the AL in on-base percentage and slugging percentage out of the right-field spot, with Cruz and Mondesi last season. Now they will patch until Jayson Werth is ready, and in time they will be able to see if prospects John-Ford Griffin and Gabe Gross are able to move in.
Fact or Fiction: Washington D.C. is baseball's ideal 2004 solution for the Expos.
Fiction. Baseball agrees to a large degree with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who thinks that moving the Expos to Northern Virginia would rob him of a big chunk of his revenue and create two mediocre franchises. One MLB official says, however, that since the union would never sign off on having a team in Mexico City, the only alternative might be San Antonio, if they could play a quarter of their games in Mexico. That would be great: in two seasons, the Expos could have played home games in Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Texas.
Fact or Fiction: Contreras is the best of the free-agent pitchers.
Fiction. Why? Because we don't really know. He's very good, and if he were to sign with the Red Sox and had the support staff of bullpen coach Euclides Rojas (Contreras' former pitching coach in Cuba), international scouting director Louie Eljaua and club assistant Luis Tiant, all Cuban, his support system might be fine. But the cultural conversion from the Cuban to American cultures has been difficult for many players.
I asked one club analyst whom I deeply respect to rank the top-of-the-rotation pitchers who have been available at one point or another this offseason. Here's the list he gave me:
1. Kevin Millwood (what a steal for the Phils!)
Fact or Fiction: Denny Neagle will be traded.
Fiction. It's too bad Oliver North isn't still doing international brokering, because it might be that the only way Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd could rid himself of Neagle is in some four-way deal involving arms, cash, Iran and the Contras.
"Neagle is baseball's white elephant," says one GM, as O'Dowd has tried three-, four- and five-way trades, but in the end, the Mets didn't want to get stuck with his money two years from now.
Fact or Fiction: The Kansas City Royals have seceded.
Fiction. Sure, it seems that way as the Royals are trying to give away third baseman Joe Randa, knowing first baseman Mike Sweeney will have to be traded at midseason and now asserting that if center fielder Carlos Beltran doesn't take a three-year offer (with Scott Boras being his agent?) he could be traded.
But GM Allard Baird is trying to build around pitching, and Mike MacDougal and Jeremy Hill lead the Puerto Rican and Dominican Leagues, respectively, in saves. Manager Tony Pena thinks pitcher Jeremy Affeldt's blister problems aren't serious and that fellow pitcher Kyle Snyder will make an impact. For their sake, we all hope so.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories