The Rumor Mill–November 7, 2005

The Blue Jays have emerged as the odds-on favorites to sign A.J. Burnett, the most talented starter among this year’s skeletally-thin free agent market. In need of two quality starters (especially if they give up on Ted Lilly), the Jays are willing to overlook Burnett’s brutal finish to the regular season—a winless skid of seven starts that was pockmarked by an ERA of near 6.00—and his insolent attitude, which had him pointing fingers at everyone from Jack McKeon to the team secretaries. (Actually, I’m kidding about the latter, but Burnett’s all-encompassing blame game was borderline disgraceful.)… Signing with the Blue Jays would allow Burnett to rejoin Brad Arnsberg, his former pitching coach with the Marlins and a man with whom the right-hander has enjoyed a healthy relationship. Burnett also wouldn’t have to deal with the pressure of being a No. 1 starter, assuming that Roy “Doc” Halladay is able to return to good health… At one point, the Orioles seemed like the favorites to sign Burnett, but Baltimore executive Mike Flanagan has told some writers that Burnett’s late-season blowup, which forced the Marlins to send him home early, has soured him on the onetime Oriole trade target. With the Orioles out of the picture, the Red Sox and Tigers figure to provide the Blue Jays with the stiffest competition for Burnett. The Red Sox feel that their highly regarded pitching coach, Dave Wallace, coupled with the calming presence of Terry Francona, can help Burnett thrive in Beantown. As for the Tigers, they figure to spend boatloads of money this winter as part of an effort to move up in the improving American League Central…

The Orioles not only won’t sign Burnett, but they also figure to lose closer B.J. Ryan—and quite possibly to one of their American League East rivals. The Yankees are currently the favorites to land the 29-year-old Ryan, who is much younger than the two other elite closers on the market (34-year-old Billy Wagner and 38-year-old Trevor Hoffman). It appears the Yankees are willing to offer end-of-the-game money to Ryan to fill the duel roles of set-up man and late-inning, left-handed hammer. Given his relative youth, proven ability in the American League, and experience in a variety of bullpen roles, the Yankees view Ryan as a perfect fit for their razor-thin relief corps. A four-year contract in the neighborhood of $30 million could get the deal done, with Ryan becoming the bridge to Mariano Rivera before eventually taking over the closer’s role—whenever Rivera starts to show the decline that he amazingly continues to avoid… Some conspiracy theorists might be tempted to suggest that the Yankees’ hiring of four ex-managers for their coaching staff gives George Steinbrenner plenty of in-house candidates to replace Joe Torre in the case of an early-season collapse. In Oliver Stone’s world, that theory might fly, but not in reality, given the fact that Torre wanted Larry Bowa, Joe Kerrigan, Lee Mazzilli, and Tony Pena all to be added to his revamped staff. Besides, all four have had failed managerial stints, which makes them less desirable in The Boss’s eyes. Steinbrenner also prefers big names and New York connections in his future managers, and of the four listed above, only Maz has ties to New York (both as a coach and as an extremely popular player with the crosstown Mets). Even then, Mazzilli would rank no better than the third choice to replace Torre—well behind Steinbrenner’s top two candidates, Lou Piniella (1) and Don Mattingly (1-A). Mazzilli might even be the fourth choice, behind former Mets skipper Davey Johnson, who continues to be ignored by most major league franchises…

In the National League, the Cubs may have become the favorites to sign Rafael Furcal, the best all-around player in this year’s free agent class (sorry, Johnny Damon, Brian Giles, and Paul Konerko). Furcal would be a perfect fit for the Cubs, who need a shortstop and a leadoff man in the worst way and could solve both problems with one fell swoop of a signing. After the Cubs, the Mets and the Braves also figure to be strong contenders for the 27-year-old services of the switch-hitting Furcal. The Braves want to keep him, primarily because they doubt whether Wilson Betemit can play shortstop every day. The Mets would love to add him, even though they would have to convince Furcal to move to the right and play second base. That might be a tough selling job, but Mets GM Omar Minaya has already proved his prowess in luring Latino players to Queens. And with Mike Piazza’s contract coming off the books, the Mets can offer Furcal a deal that falls into the “money-is-no-object” category… Along with Furcal, the Mets have also made Billy Wagner a high priority among free agent recruits. There are some concerns about the 34-year-old Wagner; he’s a self-proclaimed “country boy” who might not like the Big City and has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth with reporters, of whom there are many covering the Mets. Still, he survived Philadelphia’s mass media in recent years and has such a power arm that he could lose three to four miles off his fastball and still throw in the mid-nineties. With Wagner and Aaron Heilman covering the last three innings of games, the Mets would have one of the best lefty-righty relief tandems in the National League.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s