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
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
Beckett In Beantown
The official salary dump in Miami has begun. Earlier today, the Red Sox acquired Marlins’ pitcher, Josh Beckett and third baseman, Mike Lowell. As far as getting the most they could get in return, the Marlins didn’t do too bad— Hanley Ramirez is the top shortstop prospect in all of baseball and should step in immediately as a starter on the left side of the Marlins’ infield. He is basically coming straight from Double-A, so it will probably be a couple of years before he is ready to make a real impact, but when he does expect Edgar Renteria-like production. Anibal Sanchez, was Ramirez’s teammate last year at Portland and was the Red Sox number two pitching prospect. He is a righthanded power-arm who will be given a shot at breaking into the Marlins’ starting rotation this spring. The third player the Marlins will reportedly receive is righthander, Jesus Delgado who pitched for Boston’s A-Ball team in Greenville last season. He projects as a middle reliever. His best pitch is a mid-90 mph sinking fastball. In addition, Florida saved themselves about $23 million if you consider that the Red Sox will pick up most of the $18 million left on Lowell’s contract and have to pay Beckett about another $5 million after arbitration. The Red Sox did pretty good for themselves also considering they are without an official general manager. Beckett will be a solid if not spectacular number two pitcher behind ace, Curt Schilling and they were able to hang onto their number one pitching prospect, lefthander Jon Lester. Lowell won his first Gold Glove last season and will hope to rebound from his worst offensive season. The trade officially ends any chance that Bill Mueller will return to the Bosox.
With shortstop Alex Gonzalez, outfielder Juan Encarnacion and pitchers A.J. Burnett and Todd Jones already gone via free agency, here is a list of other players the Marlins plan to purge themselves of this offseason:
Catcher– Paul Lo Duca
First Baseman– Carlos Delgado
Second Baseman– Luis Castillo
Centerfielder– Juan Pierre
Reliever– Guillermo Mota
I guess you can say the Marlins have given up on their chances of ever getting a new stadium.
Shiawase in Seattle
Kenji Johjima will be the Mariners’ starting catcher come springtime after the Mariners officially inked him to a three-year deal worth approximately $17 million. With top catching prospect Jeff Clement in their system the Mariners were reluctant to guarantee a third year, but in the end that’s exactly what they did. Kenji will be the first Japanese catcher in Major League history.
Ever since pitcher, Hideo Nomo signed with the Dodgers in 1995 there has been an influx of Japanese ballplayers into the Major Leagues. At first, they came in drips and drabs, almost all of them pitchers. Then, outfielder, Ichiro Suzuki hit the scene in 2001 and the perception of scouts changed. What other Japanese League position players were out there? All the big clubs increased their interest in the Japanese hitters’ market, looking for the next Suzuki. But, the pickings were slim, most of the hitters that tried their hand at the Majors were older, guys past their primes. The talented hitters that Major League teams were interested in were locked up in a very inflexible Japanese League market. It would take at least three or four years before they would become free agents. The plus sideabout the Japanese League’s system of locking up young players for so
long is that by the time the players hit the open market they are
seasoned veterans who are very strong in their fundamental skills. When
a good Japanese ballplayer does finally become a free agent, he is on
average about 29 years old.
Now that major league scouts are on the ball the
influx of impactful Japanese position players has quickened. St. Louis Cardinals’ fourth outfielder, So Taguchi came in 2002. The Yankees hit paydirt, signing outfielder, Hideki Matsui in 2003. The Mets missed the boat with shortstop, Kaz Matsui in 2004 and it looks like the Dodgers did too last year with third baseman, Norihiro Nakamura. But, the White Sox have to be very happy with the early returns on their 2005 import, second baseman, Tadahito Iguchi.
Well, the next hot position player from the Far East is about to hit the scene. His name is Kenji Johjima, but his teammates like to just call him Jo. He is considered the best catcher in Japan defensively as well as offensively. If he signs with a Major League club he would be the first Japanese catcher in the big leagues. For the past seven years he has been the starting catcher for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (formerly, the Dalei Hawks) and one of the most dangerous hitters in the Pacific League. He is 29 years old, righthanded, 6 feet tall, 198 pounds and was part of what the Japanese media coined the Fearsome Fukuoka Foursome along with former teammate, White Sox second baseman, Tadahito Iguchi. He was originally signed by and has been tutored and managed by Sadaharu Oh (the all-time home run hitter in baseball history). Last season Kenji hit .309 with 24 home runs and 57 runs batted in while playing 116 games. Over the past seven seasons, he has averaged 30 home runs, 100 runs batted in with a .299 batting average. Although he broke his shinbone late last season, Kenji is considered to be incredibly durable. He caught all 140 games for the Hawks in 2001 and was the first Japanese ballplayer since 1963 to play in every inning in 2003. He is a five-time Gold Glove winner and threw out 42% of the runners trying to steal against him in 2005 (38% for his career). He’s also well respected for calling games. Last year his pitching staff had the lowest Earned Run Average in the league. And though some Major League scouts worry that he could have problems communicating with the pitchers because of the language barrier, Hawks pitcher, Brandon Knight (former Yankee prospect) had no problem with Kenji calling games even though his English is limited. In fact, Kenji has worked with many non-Japanese pitchers during his career with the Hawks. The Hawks are still trying to re-sign him (they recently offered him over 10 million dollars a year) but the fact that he has hired Alan Nero, whose clients include So Taguchi and Randy Johnson, as his agent almost assures that Kenji will take a shot at becoming the first Japanese catcher to grace the Major Leagues. The Seattle Mariners seem to have the inside track at signing him because of their Japanese-headed ownership group and have reportedly already offered him a contract. But, the Mariners have top catching prospect, Jeff Clement (Matt Clement’s brother) in their farm system and would probably only offer Johjima a short-term contract. Omar Minaya and the Mets are supposed to meet with him next week and could offer him more years if they decide to pass on Benji Molina. The Padres and Dodgers are also in need of a starting catcher and have shown a keen interest in him.
My Cabbie radar says Johjima will sign with the Mariners,
but my Cabbie heart hopes it’s the Mets.
Carl the Cabbie
*Sadaharu Oh hit 868 home runs in
21 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants.
Best Walkoff Home Run
1. NLCS Game 5 Houston – Albert Pujols (9th Inning against Brad Lidge)
2. NLDS Game 4 Houston- Chris Burke (18th Inning against Joey Devine)
1. ALCS Game 2 Chicago- A.J. Pierzynski’s Safe Strikout (9th inning against Kelvim
Best Bullpen Cameo
1. NLDS Game 4 Houston- Roger Clemens (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 K’s, WIN)
2. ALDS Game 3 Boston- Orlando Hernandez (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 K’s, HOLD)
1. Roy Oswalt
2. Jose Contreras
3. Mark Buherle
1. ALDS Game 2 Anaheim- Alex Rodriguez’s Error (7th Inning)
2. ALDS Game 5 Anaheim- Bubba Crosby/Gary Sheffield Collision (2nd Inning)
1. Paul Konerko
2. Lance Berkman
3. Albert Pujols
4. Joe Crede
Mitch Williams/ Byung Hyun Kim Award
1. Brad Lidge
Best Play At The Plate
1. NLCS Game 5 Houston- Yadier Molina’s swipe tag of Jason Lane (2nd Inning)
2. ALDS Game 4 New York- Jorge Posada beating Benji Molina’s tag (7th Inning)
1. White Sox bullpen
You can shower the White Sox pitching staff with accolades for
pitching four Complete
Games in a row or you can seriously raise
an eyebrow at Ozzie Guillen. By the time the
World Series begins, the ChiSox bullpen will have not thrown a game pitch in 11 days
have thrown only 2/3 of an inning in tha past half month. Hey Ozzie, there is such a
thing as underuse!
Cabbie’s World Series Prediction
Astros in Six