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In all my years following baseball closely–a state of mind
that dates back to the mid-1970s–I can’t ever recall a spring training so
devoid of trade rumors as this one. There seems to be so few actual trade
discussion going on between general managers that even the rumors have dried
up, even the ones that are made up by those of us with usually creative minds.
In reality, this year’s quiet spring is simply a continuation of what we’ve
seen in recent years. There have been very few spring trades of substance over
the last decade. The last major spring deal I can remember involved the Reds
and Red Sox, who swapped Wily Mo Pena for Bronson Arroyo back in 2006. And even
that, while a significant trade, was hardly a blockbuster.
So why has the spring become such a dead time for dealing? I think a few
causes, each interrelated to the other, are at the root of this trend.
*Major league teams, more so than ever, have become conscious of dealing with
budgets. Budgets are set during the winter, allowing for the signing of free
agents and a significant trade or two for each team. By the time spring
training starts, teams simply do not want to increase the levels of their
budgets. Even if a talented veteran player becomes available, it becomes
problematic because of the expense of bringing in an expensive contract past
*The numbers game has become a bigger factor. By the middle of spring training, teams
are looking to cut down their rosters, as part of the master objective to pare
down to the 25-man limit by Opening Day. With most teams looking to reduce
rather than increase their roster numbers, it becomes more difficult to make
trades, especially involving players who are out of minor league options. If
you are going to trade for a veteran player, you have to be sure that he
represents an upgrade over the existing player at that position–and you have
to be certain you will have room for him on your 25-man roster.
*Teams, more than ever before, believe that they can find cheaper solutions to
their talent problems by relying on their minor league prospects. I’ve heard at
least three general managers or managers make the following statement this
spring: “We believe the answer to Problem X is right here in camp.”
This refrain has become so common that it’s almost become cliche. Sometimes, I
think the general managers are deluding themselves when they make this kind of
remark. A minor league player currently in camp might provide a cheaper answer
to a problem, but he might not necessarily provide a good answer…
One of the few players who has been mentioned in various rumor mills is Melky Cabrera. The Yankees’ onetime center fielder of the future has
drawn interest from the White Sox, a scenario that speaks volumes about Chicago’s center field
quagmire. Brian Anderson, Jerry Owens, and Dewayne Wise all have questionable
resumes and have failed to advance their causes through slapdash spring
performances. The White Sox like Cabrera’s defense and throwing skills, but I
have to wonder how much they would offer for a player who was an offensive nonentity
for most of 2008. If the ChiSox were willing to fork over a young catcher or a
third baseman, the Yankees might have to
take the bait. The power and bat speed displayed by Austin Jackson this spring,
along with Brett Gardner’s rejuvenated swing, have the Yankees thinking better about
their center field depth, thereby making Cabrera more expendable. By trading
Cabrera, who is out of options, the Yankees could also open up a roster spot
for another infielder or a third catcher…
The Washington Nationals, amidst an already turbulent spring, are facing another quandary created by departed GM Jim Bowden. It seems that Bowden made a handshake deal with first baseman Dmitri Young over the winter, guaranteeing the veteran a spot on the Opening Day roster. But Young is overweight and generally out of shape, and happens to play a position where the Nats are already heavily stocked with Nick Johnson and Adam Dunn. Simply put, the Nationals don’t need Young, whose presence would create flexibility problems on a roster that is already lacking in talent. So what should the Nationals do? Given that Bowden departed because of his alleged involvement in skimming bonuses from Dominican players, I think the Nats are well within their rights to tell Young that his handshake deal departed when Bowden departed.
With the Winter Meetings now behind us, the shaking and moving of baseball’s off season has just begun. The Yankees’ signing of CC Sabathia and the Mets’ acquisition of Francisco Rodriguez have now cleared the way for a flurry of other trades and signings to take place in the next two weeks before the Christmas holiday. One of those moves was finalized Friday morning, when the Phillies signed free agent left fielder Raul Ibanez to replace Pat “The Bat” Burrell. The Phillies’ decision is questionable on a couple of fronts. In signing Ibanez, the world champs have added yet another left-handed bat to a lineup that already tilts heavily from the southpaw side. They’ve also committed three years to a 36-year-old player, and with Ryan Howard already occupying first base, the Phils have nowhere else to put Ibanez if his already horrid defensive play in the outfield becomes any worse. All in all, it’s a high risk move for the Phillies, who might have been better off trying to construct an inexpensive platoon of Greg Dobbs and free agent bargain Juan Rivera…
The Yankees and Brewers remain close to a swap of Melky Cabrera for Mike Cameron, but the two sides are continuing to haggle over the minor league pitcher that New York will throw into the pot. From the Brewers’ perspective, they need that pitcher to be a prospect of some value (and no, not someone like Kei Igawa) because right now Cabrera is a pale imitation of Cameron, who brings an intriguing package of power (25 homers), speed (17 stolen bases), and skilled defense to the table. There are some scouts who believe that Cabrera will never become more than a No. 4 outfielder, which isn’t enough of a return for a quality player and high character guy like Cameron. There’s also been talk that the Yankees might be able to squeeze Bill Hall out of the Brew Crew; he’d be a valuable backup infielder/outfielder and possible platoon partner for Robinson Cano at second base, if Cano continues to disappoint the NY brass…
I have to confess that I can’t fathom why the Yankees and Braves have engaged in a bidding war for free agent A.J. Burnett. They’ve both offered him five-year deals, which is shocking given his frequent injuries and his age (32). And now comes word that Burnett may not want to sign the Braves because he doesn’t want the “burden” of being considered the staff ace. Great, a team is going to pay a guy upward of $80 million, but he doesn’t have the guts to want to take on the role of being the No. 1 guy and leader of the staff. It’s just another reason why I’d stay far, far away from a longterm commitment to Burnett…
Finally, some Hall of Fame officials are privately embarrassed by the Hall of Famers’ fourth consecutive “shutout” on the Veterans Committee ballot. The Hall of Fame thought they had fixed the process by narrowing the number of names on the final ballot to ten, but they didn’t anticipate that some Hall of Famers would become so stingy with their votes, some to the point of submitting blank ballots. (Others have been deceptive in who they’re voting for, claiming that they’ll vote for candidate X, but then failing to check his name on their official ballot.) Now the Hall of Fame is left in a quandary: how to change the process again without resorting to the public embarrassment of actually taking the vote away from the Hall of Famers. One way or another, something will have to change, because continued shutouts by the Hall of Famers are making a mockery of the Veterans Committee’s original intent and purpose.
Hey, who invited Whitey Herzog to the party?
After a slow start, activity has picked up considerably at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. First, there was the news that the Yankees had reached agreement with CC Sabathia on a $160 million contract (an agreement that actually took place in San Francisco) and now we have a three-team, nine-player blockbuster involving the Mariners, Indians, and the Mets. The headliner in the deal, J.J. Putz, will be heading to New York to serve as Francisco’s Rodriguez setup man, completing a whirlwind 48-hour remake of the Mets’ beleaguered bullpen. Here are the final destinations of all the players involved:
*Mets: receive Putz, outfielder Jeremy Reed and reliever Sean Green
*Mariners: receive minor league first baseman Mike Carp, outfielders Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez, and right-hander Aaron Heilman
*Indians: receive right-hander Joe Smith and minor league second baseman Luis Valbuena
My thoughts on the deal? The Mets gave up a large quantity of players to acquire essentially Putz (since Reed and Green don’t have much value), but didn’t have to part with any of their top-tier prospects, so it’s a good gamble for Omar Minaya. Given Putz’ relative youth and live arm, he is a needed addition for a Mets’ bullpen that struggled as much in the seventh and eighth innings as it did in the ninth. Heilman was never going to succeed in the bullpen because of his desire to start, while Chavez was always going to be relegated to a fourth outfield spot. The hard part for the Mets was giving up Smith, a competent reliever, and Carp, who might have been the heir apparent to Carlos Delgado.
The Mariners, who have holes throughout their roster, may be plugging all of their newcomers into prominent roles immediately. Heilman will move into the rotation, Chavez and Gutierrez could become starting outfielders (or at least platoon partners), and Carp could be the Opening Day first baseman or DH. If Heilman can develop as a starter and Carp becomes a productive platoon player, then this deal could work for Seattle…
Sabathia’s deal with the Yankees is interesting on several fronts. From a monetary standpoint, it’s the richest deal ever given a pitcher. It’s also a classic case of the Yankees bidding against themselves, which is not exactly the textbook way to conduct business. From a baseball standpoint, it gives the Yankees their first legitimate No. 1 starter since Roger Clemens’ peak days in pinstripes. Sabathia also becomes the best left-hander the Yankees have had since the prime of Ron Guidry, which happened only about 25 years ago…
The Yankees have also made offers to both A.J. Burnett (five years) and Derek Lowe (four years and $66 million). If Brian Cashman is lucky, the injury-prone Burnett will turn down the deal and Lowe will accept, giving the Yankees an excellent No. 2 starter for their revamped rotation. If both Burnett and Lowe accept Yankee offers, then Andy Pettitte’s career in pinstripes will likely have come to an end…
One other Yankee rumor. They continue to talk to the Cardinals about Rick Ankiel, who would fill a major hole in center field. St. Louis is said to like Ian Kennedy as part of a package, which could also include Melky Cabrera and perhaps one other player (Chris Britton?)…
Finally, one other minor trade did get done on Wednesday. The Phillies acquired backup catcher Ronny Paulino from the Pirates in exchange for a minor leaguer, fueling speculation that the world champions will send Chris Coste to the Cubs as part of a deal for Mark DeRosa. The Phillies like DeRosa as a temporary fill-in for the injured Chase Utley and a possible fulltime candidate to replace Pat “The Bat” Burrell in left field.
Following and studying the Winter Meetings for the last 20-plus years has taught me a couple of lessons: always be skeptical of rumors involving four-team trades and forget about rumors of big-name free agents signing with bad teams just because they happen to play near their “hometowns.” With those principles in mind, let’s look at Day Two of the meetings:
*The Cubs say that the much-rumored four-way trade involving San Diego’s Jake Peavy is “not close” to being completed. Given today’s complicated contracts, it’s tough enough for teams to make conventional two-way deals. Three and especially four-way trades have become a near impossibility. So don’t hold your breath on the Peavy four-team deal allegedly involving the Phillies and Orioles…
*Reports continue to circulate that the Nationals will make a huge offer to free agent Mark Teixeira in hopes of capitalizing on his hailing from the Beltway region. Why in the world would Tex sign with a lowly team like the Nats, who are still two or three years away from contention, when he can expect similar big money offers from the Angels, Red Sox, and possibly the Yankees? It’s nice for Washington to dream, but this sounds about as realistic as talk of Maury Wills making the Hall of Fame…
*It appears that money does talk after all. Hours after it appeared that CC Sabathia would spurn the Yankees to talk turkey with the San Francisco Giants, the Yankees have reportedly signed the massive left-hander to a seven-year deal worth $160 million. If so, the Yankees actually bid against themselves. Although no other team came close to matching the Yankees’ initial offer of six years and $140 million, the Yankees decided to throw in another season and another $20 million to sweeten the deal. Amazing…
*The Mets aren’t done with the free agent market, even after signing Francisco Rodriguez to a relative bargain contract of three years and $37 million. The Mets are very much interested in Raul Ibanez, so much so that they are prepared to make him a lucrative two-year offer. Ibanez would play left field, with Fernando Tatis and Daniel Murphy assuming utility roles at the new Citi Field. One note of caution with Ibanez: he is a brutal left fielder, perhaps the worst I’ve seen since the days of Greg “The Bull” Luzinski. At some point, the Mets would be well advised to think about moving Ibanez to first base and trading Carlos Delgado, whose questionable presence in the Mets’ clubhouse has become a cause for concern…
*One trade did take place on Tuesday, with the Orioles sending Ramon Hernandez to the Reds for Ryan Freel and a couple of low-level minor leaguers. Given the state of catching in the major leagues, I like this deal for the Reds. Hernandez, despite some decline in his game, is still a legitimate No. 1 receiver and will benefit from a change of scenery, leaving the sad sack O’s for a Reds team that may be able to contend in the NL Central in 2009…
*Finally, here’s a smattering of rumors from the second day in Las Vegas. The Indians are close to signing Kerry Wood to a two-year deal to be their closer… The A’s appear to be close to signing Jason Giambi to a contract, probably a one-year deal with an option for a second… The Cubs are making a serious run at free agent Milton Bradley, who would become their right fielder and help balance the righty-heavy lineup that Lou Piniella puts out in Chicago… The Astros continue to dangle expensive shortstop Miguel Tejada, with his original team, the A’s, among the other interested parties… And the Cardinals have let it be known that they will consider offers for center fielder Rick Ankiel, who hit 25 home runs last season, but happens to be a Scott Boras client who is only one year removed from free agency.
In recent years, the Winter Meetings have produced little–except for disappointment. After the first day of this year’s winter conclave, I can’t say that I’m particularly optimistic that this year will be significantly different. I hope I’m wrong in that assessment, but Day One produced exactly one trade and one rumored free agent signing, which is not exactly a harbinger of good things to come. Still, there are plenty of rumors, along with some analysis of what did transpire:
*The Tigers and Rangers pulled off the first deal of the meetings, with Texas alleviating its glut of catching by sending Gerald Laird to Detroit for two pitching prospects, Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo. Let’s give the Rangers the edge here, as they translated an average major league catcher who’s already 29 into two good pitching prospects. The 25-year-old Moscoso has never pitched above Double-A ball, but does have a live arm, will probably start the season at Triple-A, and, if all goes well, could move into Texas’ rotation by mid-season. Melo is an interesting project. He’s only 17 and has electric stuff, but is obviously light years away from the majors. Still, he represents a good gamble.
As for Laird, he will fill an immediate need for the Tigers, who badly required a catcher for 2009. Laird is a good defensive receiver who throws well, but struggles to reach base and has only negligible power. In an ideal world, he’d be a good backup catcher, but given the Tigers’ vacancy at the position, he must seem like the next Bill Freehan or Lance Parrish. He’ll help, but only a little and only in the short term…
*The Tigers have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Adam Everett, which means that their interest in trading for Pittsburgh’s overrated Jack Wilson has ended. Everett is a throwback shortstop, a weak hitter but a supreme defender who brings back memories of Mark Belanger and Eddie Brinkman. He’ll provide the Tigers with a huge upgrade defensively over Edgar Renteria while giving Placido Polanco an excellent double-play partner, but the bottom of the Tiger lineup now looks barren. With Laird and Everett batting eighth and ninth, Jim Leyland will have to hope that his top seven can carry the load offensively…
*Rumors heavily outweighed actual transactions on Day One. The hottest trade rumor had the Orioles sending Ramon Hernandez to the Reds for infielder-outfielder Ryan Freel. This deal actually makes a lot of sense. The Orioles want to move Hernandez and his lackluster playing style (not to mention his $9 million salary, while the Reds have grown tired of Freel’s frequent injuries. This is the kind of deal that could benefit both players and teams, especially the Reds, who desperately need a frontline catcher. Freel could back up all three starting outfielders in Baltimore, while also giving the O’s a hedge against trading Brian Roberts in 2009…
*One of the most interesting rumors from earlier in the day had the Yankees sending Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp and a pitcher, but LA general manager Ned Colletti denied even talking to the Yankees. I find Colletti’s denial hard to believe; that proposed trade makes so much sense for both sides that conversations should continue to take place between Colletti and Yankee GM Brian Cashman…
*On the free agent front, the Mets have offered closer Francisco Rodriguez a two-year deal worth $24 million. K-Rod is almost certain to turn down that offer, but will probably have to settle for a three-year deal in the vicinity of $36 million. Right now, there is not much of a market for closers; that reality, plus the state of the economy, will result in K-Rod going to the Mets at a bargain rate. If the Mets somehow fail to sign Rodriguez, they’ll turn to Brian Fuentes as choice No. 2. They apparently have lost all interest in Kerry Wood, who wants at least a two-year deal despite his double-digit history on the disabled list…
*The Red Sox have approached the Mets about catcher Brian Schneider, as a contingency against losing free agent catcher Jason Varitek. One good prospect coming from Boston could be enough to get such a deal done. The Mets might then look at signing Varitek, whose leadership skills would come in handy for a team that has been sorely lacking in the area of intestinal strength…
*The Jermaine Dye-for-Homer Bailey deal appears dead in the water, if it even had any life to begin with. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dye ends up being traded elsewhere, perhaps to the Mets at some point. GM Kenny Williams has been looking to re-tool his squad all winter and knows that Dye’s value will only go down as he inches closer to free agency at the end of 2009.
With Day One in the books, let’s hope that the second day brings us closer to some much-needed activity–and an end to what has been a cold winter stove surrounded by barren, frozen tundra.
On a day that saw Manny Ramirez relocate to the National League and Ken Griffey, Jr. move out of Cincinnati, we received some good news on a completely different front: “Cooperstown Confidential” ranked 10th in popularity among MLB fan blogs over the past week. It’s good to hear that some additional readers tuned in just in time to learn more about last week’s activities during Hall of Fame Weekend. This has been a busy month from another perspective. We’ve now posted 31 times in 31 days, by far the most frequent posting schedule since launching this blog three years ago…
A few thoughts on today’s trades. I thought the Red Sox should have held their breath and stuck with Ramirez through the end of the season, simply because he gave them the best chance of returning to and winning another World Series. For all of his many faults, he remains one of the game’s great clutch hitters, absolutely torments the Yankees in head-to-head play, and handles October at-bats with a calmness that most players display only in spring training…
With the acquisition of third baseman Andy LaRoche, the Pirates have now reunited him with brother Adam LaRoche, who happens to play the other infield corner for Pittsburgh. What’s next? Will the Pirates bring in the boys’ father, Dave LaRoche,into the fold to serve as pitching coach? Dave is best remembered for throwing the blooper pitch during his Yankee days, but he was actually a hard-throwing southpaw who was one of the more dominant relievers in the game during his mid-1970s stints with the Indians and Angels…
Like the rest of the free world, I’m unclear on what role the ChiSox have in store for Griffey. They already have three good outfielders in Carlos Quentin, Nick Swisher, and Jermaine Dye, and two vested veterans at DH and first base in Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. I do know the Sox wanted to balance their lineup with additional left-handed hitting, so at the very least we can expect Griffey to play either center or right anytime a right-hander is on the mound for the other team. Or perhaps Griffey will just DH. After all, he’s now a below-average center fielder and doesn’t have the throwing arm or tracking ability that Dye has in right…
Finally, I’m a bit surprised that Adam Dunn didn’t get traded. There’s no way the “Big Donkey” is going to re-sign with the Reds, who apparently were so underwhelmed by trade offers that they’d prefer the two draft picks they might receive as free agent compensation. Blue Jays GM JP Ricciardi took some major heat for issuing publicly critical comments about Dunn, but it seems that many of the other game’s general managers share his opinion about The Donkey. I guess that 40-plus home runs and 100-plus walks don’t mean as much as they used to–even in a Sabermetric world.
With nary a significant trade throughout the first half of the season, the Brewers and Cubs proved that Santa Claus does exist by pulling off near blockbusters on back-to-back days. Reacting quickly to Milwaukee’s acquisition of CC Sabathia, Chicago netted Rich Harden as part of a six-player swap with the A’s. Most of the Internet reaction I’ve read has expressed surprise that Billy Beane didn’t acquire more for his talented right-hander. I disagree. Given Harden’s horrible history with injuries, I think Beane brought back decent value. Matt Murton gives the A’s a legitimate corner outfielder with power, Sean Gallagher has the potential to be a good No. 3 starter, and Eric Patterson has enough talent to fill a role as a part-time or platoon player.
I love Harden’s talent, but the condition of his arm makes it difficult to build a stable front end to the rotation. He’s already visited the disabled list six times in his career; I’d be shocked if he makes it through the second half without being DLed at least once. Realistically, the Cubs are gambling that he’ll be healthy for the postseason. They can win the NL Central without him, but they’d like their postseason hopes a lot better if they know then can use Harden in Game Two, right after ace Carlos Zambrano. It’s probably a reasonable gamble for the Cubs, who were smart to acquire a buffer like Chad Gaudin as a hedge against the fragile Harden hitting the DL again…
The Dodgers are running through hitting instructors the way that George Steinbrenner used to plow through pitching coaches. The announcement of Don Mattingly’s imminent return will give the Dodgers their fourth batting coach in the last season and a half. LA started 2007 with Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who was fired in mid-season and gave way to Bill Mueller. When Joe Torre was named manager, he announced that Mattingly would join him as hitting coach, but personal problems derailed “The Hit Man’s” plans. The Dodger then hired Mike Easler (also nicknamed The Hit Man), who is now being reassigned to make room for Mattingly. Perhaps Mattingly can fix what ails the Dodgers most–a subpar offense that doesn’t walk enough or hit with sufficient power…
After coming within a game of the World Series, the Indians have become baseball’s biggest underachievers in 2008. They just lost their 10th consecutive game, which puts them perilously close to rock bottom. So what exactly has happened to the Indians, my preseaon pick to win the AL Central? Well, just about everything. They have endured a massive and continuing wave of injuries, which currently has Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, Josh Barfield, Fausto Carmona, and Jake Westbrook on the disabled list. There has also been plenty of underperformance, with Hafner, Ryan Garko, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Marte, and Joe Borowski among the many culprits. With the team hopelessly out of contention, GM Mark Shapiro has already begun the purge, waiving Jason Michaels, trading Sabathia, and designating Borowski for assignment. The exodus only figures to grow, with third baseman Casey Blake, veteran outfielder David Dellucci, and soft-tossing righty Paul Byrd expected to hit the trade market before the end of the month.
And who says that baseball isn’t the most unpredictable of the four major sports?