The New York Yankees came to the shores of free-agency, but had yet to make a splash. Yesterday, was D-Day in the Bronx and they jumped into the water full-force! In a New York minute, the splash caused a ripple that will affect not only the American League (AL) East, but the entire junior circuit. Johnny Damon is one of the top three leadoff men in the AL (along with Ichiro Suzuki and Grady Sizemore). By adding him to an already potent line-up, the Bronx Bombers are as dangerous as ever. Bombers’ general manager (GM) Brian Cashman was banking that Damon and his agent, Scott Boras would come down in their demands from seven to four-guaranteed years. At 32 years of age, four years is about what Damon has left as a dominant player. Once the Los Angeles Dodgers dropped out, there was no team willing to go past four years (The Baltimore Orioles discussed offering Damon five or six years, but never got into serious discussions with Boras). It came down to the Boys in Beantown versus the Bronx Bombers. After the Yankees $52 million offer was tendered, the Red Sox had a chance to match. But, the new young guns in Boston’s front office (Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer) blinked in the end and decided to pass, making Johnny Damon the new center fielder for the New York Yankees.
The Yankees were busy on another front while they were winding up the Damon negotiations. Early yesterday, they signed former Met and injured closer, Octavio Dotel to reinforce their bullpen. Dotel is the latest former fire-baller coming off of Tommy John surgery. The Yankees guaranteed Dotel $2 million for the season and gave him the chance to earn another $3 million to $4 million in incentives. Like Damon, Dotel is 32 years old. He has been a closer or dominant set-up man for most of his seven-year career. The progress of his rehabilitation has the Yankees targeting June or July for his return, just in time for the second half of the season. Last year, Dotel had 7 saves and a 3.52 earned run average in 15 games before opting for surgery. Before getting hurt, Dotel was one of the premier strike-out relievers in the game. In 2001 he struck-out 145 men in only 105 innings and has never had fewer strikeouts than innings pitched in any of his seven seasons in the bigs.
Damon will be joining his fourth team in his 11-year career. Not only has Johnny been one of the most effective lead-off men in the game for the past eight years, but he has also been incredibly durable- not counting his rookie year, Damon has avoided major injuries and has never played in fewer than 145 games in a season. With Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi hitting behind him, Damon should have no problem extending his streak (8 consecutive years) of scoring at least 100 runs in a season. Heck, with Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Robinson Cano hitting at the bottom of the order Damon could drive in 100 runs for the first time in his career. The Yankees hitters’ resumes are so impressive that Damon will sport the second lowest career average in the starting line-up, even though he is a lifetime .290 hitter and has hit over .300 in four different seasons.
While the Yankees starting nine is top-shelf, their bench is mostly driftwood. The present group should see very little playing time. The sprited and hustling Bubba Crosby is presently their fourth outfielder. He is 29, and a lifetime .221 hitter in 163 career at bats (ABs). Long-time minor leaguer Felix Escalona, 26, is their utility infielder. He is a career .209 hitter in 206 ABs. Andy Phillips is another guy who has seemingly laid down roots in Columbus over the last couple of years. Phillips, 29, is the backup first baseman and has a .167 average in 48 major league ABs. Kelly Stinnett is Randy Johnson’s new personal catcher and has the most experience of all the spare parts. Stinnett is 35 years old and a .239 career hitter in 1860 ABs. With the Yanks having cut ties with Ruben Sierra, expect the Bombers to add an experienced and versatile veteran who can play some first-base and outfield. Eduardo Perez and Daryl Ward are two options that Cashman might explore. Another player Cashman has been interested in before, former Oakland A’s outfielder, Eric Byrnes is also available now that the Orioles have non-tendered him.
Scratch Carl Everett off the free-agent list. Everett agreed this week to a one-year deal to become the Seattle Mariners new designated hitter. While the free-agent market is thin, there are still some freebirds out there who can make an indent on their future team’s destiny… but, BEWARE— after the next storm of signings which is about to occur, the pickings will become even slimmer! This is a good time to forecast the impending storm and take a closer look at the top remaining free-agents.
The Yankees and Red Sox continue to be the lead dogs in the Johnny Damon sweepstakes, waiting patiently for agent Scott Boras to nod his implacable head and say yes to a four-year deal. Well, the Yanks and Sox are about to get some more competition. Dodgers’ general manager (GM) Ned Colletti has pushed the envelope- first by hiring Grady Little (Damon’s old manager), then by signing former Damon teammate, Bill Mueller, and now by reportedly offering five guaranteed years and about $50 Million more reasons for Johnny to choose La La Land. However, if Los Angeles signs Nomar Garciaparra their interest in Damon could vanish. The key to the Damon negotiations seems to be the length of the contract. Damon is 32 years old and this is most likely his final big money contract, so Boras in his attempt to increase Damon’s negotiating leverage to its highest potential started the bidding at an unreachable seven-year minimum length contract. The Yankees and Red Sox have both been willing to guarantee up to four years, but the Dodgers might be willing to offer five years. The Orioles also might become players in the Damon derby. After a quiet offseason and a Miguel Tejada tirade, GM Mike Flanagan might feel pressure to sign a big fish in Baltimore. The wheel continues to spin and where Damon ends up is anybody’s guess.
The Blue Jays, Cubs, Twins, Orioles, Pirates and Dodgers have shown the most interest in Reggie Sanders. Since spending the first eight years of his career in Cincinnati, Sanders has become the poster boy for veteran nomads. Keeping with his pattern of a team a year- whoever Reggie signs with will be his seventh team in the last seven seasons. Sanders has never been a durable player, playing at least 140 games only once in his career, but he has always been a consistent run-producer and a good defensive outfielder when he is in the line up. Keep in mind that Reggie has always played in the National League (NL), so the Cubs, Dodgers and Pirates might have the edge in signing him.
The biggest wild-card of the bunch is Juan Encarnacion, as he is likely to sign with one of the teams that misses out on Johnny Damon and Reggie Sanders. Encarnacion is a small notch below Sanders as a hitter, but he is 8 years younger and more durable. One of the advantages of signing Juan is his versatility- Encarnacion has seen extensive playing time at all three outfield positions. He’s cheaper than Damon, more useful than Sanders and would be a nice bargain buy for the Yankees or Cubs, who are both in desperate need of outfield depth. On the heels of trading two outfielders in the Alfonso Soriano deal, GM Jim Bowden and the Nationals have interest and could become a strong contender for Encarnacion’s services.
Jacque Jones, Jeremy Burnitz, Preston Wilson and Rondell White represent the final solutions for teams seeking a starting outfielder through free-agency. All have big swings; all have big holes in their swings; and all are over thirty.
Jacque has the biggest upside because he’s the youngest, and has a smaller hole in his bat than Burnitz or Wilson. Jacque is also the fastest and best baserunner of the three (39 stolen bases over the past 3 years). The Cubs and Royals have been zeroing in on Jones while the Pirates and Cardinals have been monitoring the bidding. The Orioles have also expressed interest recently.
Jeremy Burnitz is only a year removed from his best season ever, unfortunately that was during his one season in Colorado. Teams are wary of signing the 36 year old lefty slugger as a full-timer. Burnitz is a .242 lifetime hitter against lefthanders and is usually good for 120-130 strikeouts a year. Allard Baird the GM for the Royals has had the most contact with the Burnitz camp, while the Pirates have also been mentioned in rumors.
Preston Wilson’s knees are failing him and he is beginning to enter into Rondell White country in terms of reliability. Both are free and both wield strong righthanded sticks when they’re healthy. The Cubs like the fact that Wilson will sign a one-year deal with them while their other favorite, Jacque Jones, will require two to three years. Wilson has also let it be known that the Cubbies are his first choice. Rondell is being looked at by the Astros as a backup if they can’t convince Nomar Garciaparra to come play left-field for them. The Twins and Orioles are also in play as possible destinations for White.
Garciaparra is on just about every teams radar to play just about every position. As for the outfield- the Indians, Astros and Dodgers are all pursuing him for a corner outfield spot. The Astros have moved leftfielder Lance Berkman to first creating an opening in their outfield. The Indians would put Garcy into right if they sign him and platoon Ben Broussard and Casey Blake at first next season. Should the Dodgers sign him, they would use Nomar in left and occasionally at first-base.
Stay tuned! Next blog we’ll look at
the free-agent infielders on the Market.
by John Overmyer
As Bob Sheppard’s voice rings out on opening day at Yankee Stadium, "Now playing first-base for the New York Yankees, Nomar Garciaparra", the Bleacher Creatures’ echoes erupt, "No-Mar Garci-a-Parra…", Nomar tips his cap and Yankee fans cheer deliriously and delightfully. Welcome to the future. Yesterday Joe Torre made his Bronx Bomber pitch to Nomar Garciaparra from his red phone, a rare call that usually signals the gift wrapping is under way. It looks like the Yankees might have three potential hall-of-fame shortstops starting in their infield next year.
Garciaparra’s agent Arn Tellem is one of Steinbrenner’s favorites. He is also Jason Giambi’s agent, which means that if Nomar does sign to play first-base, the Giambino’s move to designated hitter will be assuaged. Now that Blue Jays’ general manager J.P. Ricciardi has said ‘No More’ to Nomar, it appears that the four finalists for Garcy’s services are the Yankees, the Astros, the Dodgers and the Indians. Along with the Tellem angle, the Yankees are the only team of the four willing to keep Garciaparra in the infield. The media attention in New York also creates the perfect market for a great hitter trying to re-establish his value. If Nomar signs a one-year deal for about $4 or $5 million and has a successful season, he will command double that on next year’s free-agent market. The Astros are moving Lance Berkman to first-base and are looking at Garciaparra as a left-fielder, while the Indians and Dodgers are trying to upgrade in right-field. Since all four teams are looking at one-year deals, the Yankees should be able to outbid the others.
Because of two serious injuries (achilles and groin) over the last couple of seasons, many baseball observers perceive Garciaparra as an older ballplayer in decline. But take heart Yankee fans, Nomar is still only 32 years old and would be moving to first base at about the same age as another great former shortstop, Ernie Banks. Banks played another solid eight years and hit 214 of his 512 career home-runs after his positional switch in 1962 at age 31.
If the Yankees do come to terms with the former Bostonian, it would add the latest fire cracker to the fabled Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. Garciaparra would probably hit second in the lineup behind Derek Jeter. He could also slide into the seventh or eighth slot if the Yankees keep second baseman, Robinson Cano in the two-hole. Garciaparra is a lifetime .320 hitter and has the 48th all-time highest career batting average in major league history. He led the American League in hitting in 1999 (.357) and 2000 (.372) and has hit over .300 in eight different seasons.
The Winter Meetings have officially ended, but the lava continues to flow from Wednesday’s and Thursday’s eruption (see yesterday’s blog entry for all the transactions). Earlier today, The Mets completed the Paul Lo Duca deal by sending A-Ball outfielder Dante Brinkley to the Florida Marlins. Brinkley, 24 years old, batted .364 in 214 at bats (ABs) for the Mets’ A-Ball Hagerstown affiliate last season. he doesn’t project as more than a fourth outfielder. Mets’ general manager (GM) Omar Minaya made two other moves— Last night he drafted righthanded pitcher Mitch Wylie (Giants organization) in the Rule 5 draft and today he agreed to a two-year deal with old-timer and pinch-hitter extraordinaire Julio Franco. Wylie is 28 years old and a nine-year vet of the minor leagues. The Mets will have to keep him on the roster all season, otherwise they will have to offer him back to the Giants for $25,000. Because of Wylie’s age and mediocre repetoire the Giants probably wouldn’t want him back, allowing the Mets’ to send him to AAA at some point. Franco is the oldest player in the league (47 years old) and is the only player that has been in the majors longer than Roger Clemens (He broke into the Bigs in 1982 as a member of the Phillies). Even at his advanced age, Franco continues to be a solid hitter. In 2005 for the Atlanta Braves, he hit .275 with 9 home runs (HRs) and 42 runs batted in (RBIs) in 233 ABs. He is a lifetime .299 hitter and should be one of the Mets’ top pinch-hitters this coming season. He will also get an occasional start at first-base and possibly be used as a designated-hitter during interleague games. After signing Jose Valentin yesterday, the Mets’ now have two new utility infielders that are a combined 83 years old.
More Moves Around The League
The Baltimore Orioles are not only having a hard time attracting
free-agents, their lone star player has now asked for a ticket out of
town. Miguel Tejada is tired of losing and has demanded a trade. Tejada is owed quite a bit of money on his current contract and there are only a
few teams that would be able to afford him. The Red Sox could inquire about a possible
Tejada/Manny deal. Stay tuned! The O’s did complete one signing when
they signed yet another past-their-prime player by inking 1B/OF Jeff Conine to a 1-Year/$1.5 Million contract. Conine was previously an Oriole between 1999-2003.
Former Mets’ set-up man, 41 year old Roberto Hernandez has
agreed to a one year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who might give
him a shot at their closer’s role. The Indians signed utility man and
former Red Sox’ player, Lou Merloni to a minor league deal.
Anaheim Angels great bullpen just got greater! Early Friday, they
completed the one trade of the day thus far when they acquired premier
lefty set-up man J.C. Romero from the Minnesota Twins for infield prospect Alexi Casilla.
The Halos are loaded with young infield talent and Casilla was only
their 4th or 5th best infield prospect. With the price for good
lefthanded relievers always high, it seems like Twins GM Terry Ryan got
very little in return here while saving only a little more than $2
million dollars. Romero is 29 years old and was 4-3 with a 3.47 earned
run average (ERA) last year. Romero’s best season was in 2002 when he went 9-2 with a 1.89 ERA in 81 innings pitched. To make room for J.C. on the 40-man roster the Angels designated catcher Josh Paul for assignment.
The volcanic rumblings from Tuesday’s rumor mill erupted and blew the top off of the "Hot Stove" yesterday. Like lava streaming down Mount Saint Helens, transactions flowed continuously into today, the final day of the Winter Meetings. Early Wednesday, during the afternoon sessions, winter madness began its descent upon baseball with a furious flurry of free-agent activity. As evening set in, a gust of trades and arbitration decisions added to the chaos. By early morning Thursday, general managers (GMs) were all over the radar in the midst of a full-out frenzy. The dizzying player movement has left fans reeling. The words "Hot Stove" have filled computer caches all over baseball cyberspace. Judge Mountain Landis can be heard from his bench in the sky yelling, "Order, Order in the MEETINGS pleeeeeease!". After a storm like this I think we should all take a deep collective breath………….. AAaaaahhhh! That feels better. Now let’s get to work before the next storm surge. Here’s the quick and dirty breakdown of yesterday’s and today’s manic maneuvering.
26 Free-Agent Signings
13 Free-Agents Re-Signed *
? Arbitration Offers
42 Players Traded
55 Players With New Address
6 Catchers Changed Teams
26 Pitchers Changed Teams
Free Agent Signings
RP Trevor Hoffman (Padres)*
RP Bob Wickman (Indians)*
RP Todd Jones (Tigers)
RP Jose Mesa (Rockies)
SP Kenny Rogers (Tigers)
SP Elmer Dessens (Royals)
RP Mike Myers (Yankees)
SP Tony Armas Jr. (Nationals)*
RP Joey Eischen (Nationals)*
SP Jamie Moyer (Mariners)*
SP Brian Moehler (Marlins)*
RP John Wasdin (Rangers)*
SS Rafael Furcal (Dodgers)
C Ramon Hernandez (Orioles)
3B Bill Mueller (Dodgers)
OF John Mabry (Cubs)
3B Olmedo Saenz (Dodgers)*
OF Mark Sweeney (Giants)
Util Lenny Harris (Marlins)*
Util Joe McEwing (Royals)*
Util Jose Valentin (Mets)
OF Jacob Cruz (Reds)*
OF Reed Johnson (Blue Jays)*
OF Orlando Palmeiro (Astros)*
C Todd Pratt (Braves)
C Paul Bako (Royals)
2B Alfonso Soriano OF Brad Wilkerson
OF Terrmel Sledge
P Armando Galarraga
Pirates Get Reds Get
1B Sean Casey P Dave Williams
– $1 Million Cash
OF Juan Pierre P Sergio Mitre
P Ricky Nolasco
P Renyel Pinto
Blue Jays Get Brewers Get
1B Lyle Overbay P David Bush
P Ty Taubenheim P Zach Jackson
OF Gabe Gross
Red Sox Get Padres Get
2B Mark Loretta C Doug Mirabelli
SS Edgar Renteria 3B Andy Marte
– $11 Million Cash
C Johnny Estrada P Lance Cormier
P Oscar Villareal
P Damaso Marte Util Rob Mackowiak
Reds Get Yankees Get
2B Tony Womack 2B Kevin Howard
OF Ben Himes
P Ray King OF Larry Bigbie
2B Aaron Miles
C Yorvit Torrealba P Marcos Carvajal
Brewers Get Braves Get
P Dan Kolb P Wes Obermueller
3B Sean Burroughs P Dewon Brazelton
P Steve Andrade (# 3 pick Rule V)
P Mark Redman P Jonah Bayliss
P Chad Blackwell
2B Esteban German P Fabio Castro (# 1 pick Rule V)
Click On Photos To Enlarge
Carl the Cabbie
Now that Omar Minaya has filled the Mets three biggest needs: a power lefty bat to protect David Wright and Carlos Beltran; a starting catcher; and a big time closer, there are three smaller parts he will focus on.
The Mets could use a new second baseman and Mark Grudzelanek might still be targeted, but they could just as well stand pat and play a mixture of Kaz Matsui and the two kids, Jeff Keppinger and Anderson Hernandez. More pressing are the Mets needs for a good lefty bat off the bench and a solid southpaw in the bullpen. Minaya might want to hit his redial button again and get Marlins’ general manager (GM) Larry Beinfest on the other end and start talking about what it would take to get lefty reliever, Ron Villone. Otherwise, I think Minaya should go head to head with the Yankees and Red Sox and try to sway free agent southpaw Mike Myers or snag Joey Eischen. I think I can speak for most Mets’ fans when I say we would rather not go into the season with Royce Ring as our only option.
Moving more to the left, let’s discuss for a moment the Mets’ need for a lefthanded pinch-hitter. Now that Marlon Anderson has left for Washington, the Mets have a hole in their bench. Veteran Mark Sweeney is free as a Bird or a Blue Jay or a Padre or any of the other clubs that are interested in him. I would like to see Sweeney be free as a Met. He might be the best lefty pinch-hitter on the market and his agent has already been negotiating with Minaya. All-Time great pinch-hitter and twice former Met, Lenny Harris is also free. He may be 41 years of age but he is still one of the best at what he does. Last season for the Marlins he hit .314 with 22 hits in 70 at bats exclusively as a pinch-hitter.
Cabbie’s X-Mas Wish
A dash of Villone and Sweeney
A dab of Harris and Myers.
There is Big News developing in Flushing. The New York Post is reporting that the Mets’ are closing in on another deal with the Florida Marlins. According to the Post, the Mets’ could wrap up one more deal before the start of the Winter Meetings. The deal reportedly would involve a minor leaguer or two for catcher, Paul LoDuca. The Marlins want youth eveywhere and are probably interested in second basemen Jeff Keppinger and Anderson Hernandez to replace the recently traded Luis Castillo. I’m sure Aaron Heilman and Jae Seo have been brought up in discussion, but I doubt Omar Minaya would include either in this deal. Floyd Bannister’s kid, Brian Bannister could also be a part of this deal—but I hope not! Last thing we need to do is part with another good young pitcher. There’s always the possibility that Minaya is pushing this deal as a ploy to force Benji Molina or Ramon Hernanadez into signing quickly.
LoDuca will cost a bit less than Molina or Hernandez, but is the oldest of the three. He will be 34 years old this spring. He is owed $12.5 millions over the next two years. Benji or Ramon would cost about $7 or $8 million and would require a three year committment.
Hernandez and Molina have much more pop in their bats than LoDuca. Both are also younger and better at gunning down runners. LoDuca threw out only 25% of the runners trying to steal on him last year. If they sign Molina, he could struggle early with his stick while learning the new pitchers in a new league. Hernandez, if healthy would be the best option for the Mets. He is the youngest, is the better hitter, is familiar with the league and has worked intimately with pitching coach Rick Peterson in Oakland where he helped develop the Bayside Big Three (Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito). I rather see the Mets’ go get readily available Toby Hall (41% throwing out basestealers) than LoDuca. If Minaya goes through with this deal expect Ramon Castro to get more playing time than he would have with Hernandez or Molina around.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are doing their best to acquiesce with Javier Vazquez’s trade demand. The Washington Nationals, the Texas Rangers and the Mets have shown the most interest so far. One rumor I heard through the CabbieVine was that the Mets would give the ‘Backs Kris Benson and Brian Bannister. Now that is a deal I could endorse!
Well, Ned Colletti has made his first big move as the new Dodgers’ general manager (GM).
Shortstop Rafael Furcal has agreed to a three year/$39 million contract
with Los Angeles. With top third base prospect Joel Guzman almost ready
for the big time and Jeff Kent over at second base, this is shaping up
into a pretty nice looking infield. It will be interesting to see how
the Cubs upgrade their middle infield now that Furcal is off the board.
In The Cards
GM Walt Jocketty and the St. Louis Cardinals are about to get busy. They are closing in on A.J. Burnett (offering a 5th year would clinch it). They are also in close negotaitions with closer Todd Jones. And just today, they were mentioned to be having discussions with the Cincinnati Reds about outfielders Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns. The Cards could be willing to part with young pitchers Adam Wainwright or Brad Thompson in any deal. In another move, the Indians signed pitcher Paul Byrd.
Mets complete LoDuca deal…
Minaya trades Gaby Hernandez…
Mets lose another Pitching Gem…Ugh!!!
Carl the Cabbie
Firemen Falling Fast
Land lines are ringing, cell phones are singing, e-mail boxes are full! Can you smell it? The delectable aroma of the Winter Meetings is wafting towards us. Monday, is the first official day of the grand pow-wow in Dallas and with another bottle of beer falling off the wall seemingly every other day, one of the main questions for general managers (GMs) is, will there be any closers left on the market by then? While front offices all around the league continue to engage in chess matches, poker faces are starting to crack and the game of the week is Dominoes. Over the past seven days we have seen four firemen vanish from the "available" list. The Mets’ signing of Billy Wagner and the Jays’ signing of B.J. Ryan has established the top end of the closer market. On the heels of those two mega-deals, the Yankees pounced on Kyle Farnsworth after the Phillies pursuaded Tom Gordon to leave the Big Apple for Cheesesteak Land. That leaves four teams in dire need of an end-game solution and only three established firemen to choose from.
The Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians, the Baltimore Orioles and the San Diego Padres are playing the part of the Missing Closers Bureau. Trevor Hoffman, Todd Jones and Bob Wickman are the last three solid closer options available and all of them are now overvalued. The options after those three are not particularly appetizing—Jose Mesa’s days as a closer are near the end and he seems to have crossed into Uggie Urbina territory, a set-up man who is still considered a closer only because of past deeds. Speaking of Ugueth Urbina, he is available again but there is a reason for that. His perennial free-agent status speaks volumes about his reliability. Being charged with attempted murder doesn’t help his marketability. Braden Looper can be had, but as any Mets’ fan can tell you, he’s only a closer because of attrition. No, the closer market is rail thin and extremely expensive. Small market teams like the Pirates, Reds and Royals will most likely fill their closer role from within because of the sky rocketing prices. Making matters more dire is the great lack of set-up men on the market. The Yankees have already given Farnsworth almost $18 million to set-up for Mariano. A lot of teams who missed out on him might fill their set-up roles with the remaining closers. The Rangers, Tigers, Mariners, Cardinals, Rockies, Red Sox and Giants are all looking for substantial set-up options and will compete with the Missing Closers Bureau for their services. Let’s take a look now at the possible destinations of the remaining firemen and where some teams might place down the stretch in the 2006 Closer Derby.
Hoffman is by far the best of the remaining fireman. Tough he is 38 years old, Trevor has shown no signs of diminishing skills (thanks to the best changeup in baseball). He actually tied his career high for saves (43) last year and has saved over 40 games in five of his last six full seasons. San Diego has been virtually the only home Hoffman has known in his illustrious career, but it will be difficult for the Pads to hold onto him unless they add a third year to their latest offer. The Indians have been San Diego’s main competitor so far and GM Mark Shapiro has shown he wants to add veteran leadership to his young Tribes’ roster. The Atlanta Braves have also kept an eye on Hoffman and would probably intensify their interest if they fail to re-sign Rafael Furcal.
I think Shapiro knows how close his Indians are to winning the American League (AL) Central. He also knows that Trevor is not a power pitcher, so age shouldn’t be a deterrent. Then there is the extra allure of Hoffman’s pursuit to pass Lee Smith as the all-time saves leader (only 42 saves behind). Cleveland’s attendance figures would spike as Hoffman approaches the record. So, I predict Shapiro outbids San Diego in a move that could make the Cleveland Indians the favorites in their division.
Last season Jones revisited his Detroit days and was one of the top closers in baseball. Though he saved 40 games, many teams are looking at him for a set-up role. The Tigers, Rangers and Cardinals have shown the most interest and all have established closers. The Orioles, Reds, Braves, Yankees and Indians have also inquired about his services. So, the chances of Jones closing next year are about 60/40. The problem with Jones is he doesn’t have a dominating pitch, he will be 38 years old when the season begins and until last season he hadn’t had an earned run average (ERA) under four since 2000. He is probably going to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the exploding closer market.
Tough call! He probably won’t sign until after Hoffman and he should have the spotlight on him at the Winter Meetings. I’m going to make the Braves the frontrunners here. Since I think they’ll miss out on Trevor, I’m guessing that GM John Schuerholz gets aggressive and makes sure the Atlanta Braves cover one of their biggest needs. The Cardinals are committed to upgrading their bullpen and have been in close contact with Jones’ agent, so don’t be surprised if they snag him to set-up for Jason Isringhausen. The Reds, Tigers and Orioles are also very much in play as destinations for Mr. Jones.
Just when you think the flame is going out on Wick, he reemerges. Wickman had his best season ever and led the AL with 45 saves in 2005 (tied with Francico Rodriquez). He is two years younger than Hoffman and Jones and has been one of the best ground ball specialists in the game for the past 13 seasons. Some teams are skeptical of Wickman’s health, but he is now over two years removed from Tommy John surgery and his elbow certainly held up well last season. There has been very little Wickman banter through the grapevine, but that should change in Dallas this week. The Indians are still interested in bringing him back, but their interest seems to wane with every new Hoffman rumor.
Other than some talks with the Indians, there is really very little insight into where Wickman could go. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yankees turn nostalgic and make a go at him—they have shown a penchant for bringing relievers back before (Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson…). The Cardinals should enter the fray, and Texas is seemingly interested in every reliever out there. But, my pick is that he signs with the Baltimore Orioles. This seems like a perfect fit. Wickman’s sinking fastball would help temper the threat of late-inning homeruns in the Baltimore bandbox, Camden Yards.
Jose Mesa, Ugueth Urbina, Braden Looper
Personally, I don’t think any of them will end up as a closer this season. Urbina has the most talent of the three and is still only 31 years old, but I doubt a team is willing to hand over the closer job to him until his legal problems are straightened out and by that time it might be too late. Mesa and Looper are two names that continually show up on the Rangers’ radar. Both will probably be signed as middle relievers and should be the last two of the potential closers to sign.
Someone will sign Urbina in the Spring if he is not convicted, but as of now it’s impossible to say who. I say the Rangers sign Mesa if they don’t get Jones. As for Looper, I’m just hoping Omar Minaya doesn’t bring him back to Flushing.
Top Free Agent Closers
W L SV ERA SO BB H IP
1. Trevor Hoffman (Padres 2005) 1 6 43 2.97 54 12 52 57.2
2. Todd Jones (Marlins 2005) 1 5 40 2.10 62 14 61 73.0
3. Bob Wickman (Indians 2005) 0 4 45 2.47 41 21 57 62.0
Carl the Cabbie
In my last entry I talked a bit about the Mets’ bullpen and how it might look on opening day. Today, I want to review where they are in the building process, what holes are left to fill, and who might best fill those holes.
Up to date, the Mets have covered their deficiency at first base with gravy by trading for Carlos Delgado. They have met the gold standard with there signing of Billy Wagner to upgrade the closer role. Mike Cameron was dealt to make room for Victor Diaz (or Manny Ramirez?). The deal also provided them with one of the better utility players in the game, Xavier Nady. Tike Redman’s contract was purchased from Pittsburgh to fill the role of backing up Carlos Beltran in centerfield and veteran lefthanded reliever, Matt Perisho was signed to a minor league contract. The Mets have decided to part company with lefthander Felix Heredia, utility player Marlon Anderson and closer Braden Looper, with only Looper a possibility to return. The Mets have traded three prospects thus far— first baseman Mike Jacobs, righthanded pitcher Yusmeiro Petit and third baseman Grant Psomas, all part of the Delgado deal.
So, now what? Well, the Mets’ still have three important needs to fill:
The Mets must sign a catcher. Ramon Castro will make a solid backup, but signing a starting catcher is their most pressing need. Rumor has it that the Mets might now be more interested in Ramon Hernandez than Benji Molina. They have also had discussions with Tampa Bay about Toby Hall.
He was Mets’ pitching coach Rick Peterson’s catcher in Oakland. He is younger than Molina and has more pop in his bat.
As of right now the Mets’ starting second baseman would be Kaz Matsui. The Mets don’t seem likely to pawn Matsui’s contract off on anyone, but Minaya would certainly like to upgrade here. If the Mets get Manny Ramirez, it’s likely that they will bring in a cheap alternate to Matsui or give Norfolk Tide’s second baseman, Jeff Keppinger a shot this spring. Rafael Furcal doesn’t seem to be in the plans, so there’s a high possibility we will see Miguel Cairo (Randolph loves him) brought back. Another second baseman’s name that has been popping up a lot is Mark Grudzelanek. It would take about $7 or $8 million over a couple of years to reel him in.
The guy has hit consistently at Triple-A over the past couple of seasons (.337 in 2005) and is a hard nosed, hustle type player. He also costs nothing and would allow Minaya to spend more on his other needs. Keppinger was originally a fourth round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates and was the other player the Mets received in the Kris Benson/Ty Wigginton deal in 2004.
Dae-Sung Koo and Felix Heredia were atrocious and injury prone last year, leaving the Mets without a reliable lefthanded specialist in their bullpen. Former #1 draft pick Royce Ring is very well thought of in the organization and last season looked rather funky for lefthanders to face at times but, his control is an issue and he probably needs another year at Triple-A. Signing Matt Perisho is Minayas way of playing Lotto. So, look for the Mets to sign one of the free agent lefty specialists on the market. As I mentioned last entry— Mike Myers, Chris Hammond and Joey Eischen are still out there. Ricardo Rincon is another option. Minaya might be able to pry Joe Kennedy from Oakland, but his price is probably too high.
This guy is a lefthanded Kent Tekulve, a real nightmare for lefthanded hitters.
More Mets’ Notes
Bob Klapisch of the Bergan Record has reported that the Mets would be willing to give the BoSox Cliff Floyd, Aaron Heilman and Lastings Millidge for Manny Ramirez and some cash. I can’t imagine the Mets parting with all three! If they do, then they better win the World Series in 2006— anything less would be a miserable failure.
Whether the Mets win it all this year or not, fans will have a couple of achievements to celebrate nonetheless. Pedro Martinez will almost definitely reach two major milestones this season. With 3 more victories Pedro will snag his 200th career win. And with another 139 strikeouts Pedro will become the 14th pitcher ever to punch-out at least 3000 batters.
The Cavalry Is Coming!!!
He costs too much, $57 million for the next three years! For that price the Mets could buy the latest F/A 18 Naval Bomber and bomb the National League (NL) East into submission. Even if the Red Sox were willing to toss in some money, it would probably only be a token amount. A couple of other things the Mets could do with that money if they pass on Manny— they could buy 57 beach front houses in Santa Barbara, California for their most loyal employees and their families to live in; or they could show their fans some appreciation and buy 114,000 new Honda Hybrids and give them out randomly through the season.
Manny will be 34 years old in May and even with him I’m not sure the Mets have the pitching to win it all. The only way this deal comes out a winner is If the Mets win the World Series in the next three years. Anything less than that would have to be considered a failure, because I doubt Manny will have much value at the end of his current contract.
Manny is a travesty in the outfield. Don’t let his good arm and high assist total fool you. This man is one of the worst defensive outfielders in the game.
Manny can be a head case! Mix him with the New York media and you might make a combination more combustible than a Molotov Cocktail.
The Mets need to hang onto as many of their top prospects as possible, especially pitchers. Any deal with the BoSox would require the Mets to part with the cream of their farm system. Minaya cannot afford to part with Aaron Heilman, Brian Bannister, Jae Seo or Phillip Humber. The starting rotation is old and only getting older. We’ve already let Scott Kazmir and Yusmeiro Petit (our top two pitching prospects) slip through our hands, and any more losses could hinder putting together a solid rotation once Pedro’s shoulder falls off.
Mets’ top prospect, outfielder Lastings Milledge would almost certainly be included in a deal for Manny. Milledge is one of Baseball America’s top-rated prospects and could end up being as good as Manny sans the power. Even if he turns out to be half the hitter Manny is, his speed, defensive tools and youth make him too valuable to trade for an expensive, no-defense, aging slugger with extreme emotional sensitivities.
Mets Nab "WANTED" Closer
Not since Robert F. Wagner was mayor of New York has the big apple heard the name Wagner bandied about as much as it has been recently. According to FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal the Mets have come to terms with big-time closer, Billy Wagner on a four year, $43 million contract. Wagner will be 38 years old by the end of the deal. When it comes to lefthanded closers, the Mets got the best. Billy the Kid has saved 284 games during his career. In the history of baseball, only John Franco and Randy Myers have saved more games as a lefthanded reliever. By the end of this latest contract, avoiding any injuries, Wags should pass Franco to become the all-time saves leader among lefthanders.
Wagner is an old fashioned gun-slinger, one of the hardest throwers in the league. He once had a pitch clocked at 101 mph at Yankee Stadium. He averages more strikouts per inning than any other pitcher in baseball history (minimum 500 innings pitched). The vast improvement from Braden Looper to Billy Wagner in the closer role is the most substantial upgrade the Mets will make all winter. As long as they don’t trade Aaron Heilman, he will set-up for Wagner and help lead a Mets’ bullpen that should be the best in the NL East. Juan Padilla and Heath Bell both showed promise and should fill middle relief roles in the renovated pen. Victor Zambrano will take over as the long man, but could change into a set-up role with any success. The last piece of the pen puzzle could be adding a good lefthanded middle reliever.The Mets were very unsuccessful last season with their lefthanded specialists. Now that they have declined Felix Heredia’s option, Royce Ring might be given first shot at filling that spot. Three lefty specialists who could also fill that spot nicely are Joey Eischen of the Washington Nationals, the Padres’ Chris Hammond, and every lefthanded hitter’s nightmare, Boston’s sidearming drop-down specialist Mike Myers. All are free agents and because of the Scott Eyre signing (Cubs $11 million/3 Years), all will likely command multi-year contracts valued at about $3 million per season.
Bye Bye Redman! Hello Redman!
Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Redman here he is again, except now he is two years older and has three major league seasons under his belt. Mets’ minor league veteran Prentice Redman recently left the organization that drafted him in order to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, and today the Mets’ signed his older brother. Tike Redman is 28 years old, a good contact-hitter and has some speed. Two years ago he stole 18 bases and hit .280 as a full-timer; in 2003 he hit .330 in 230 at bats. With Victor Diaz and Xavier Nady both expected to be on the opening day roster, Redman’s opportunities could be limited to pinch-hitting and pinch-running, but his most important role will be as Carlos Beltran’s backup.
Top Free Agent Lefty Specialists
W L ERA SO BB H IP
1. Chris Hammond (Padres 2005) 5 1 3.84 34 14 51 58.2
2. Joey Eischen (Nationals 2005) 2 1 3.22 30 19 34 36.1
3. Mike Myers (Red Sox 2005) 3 1 3.13 21 13 30 37.1
Carl the Cabbie