Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Balance of Power has Shifted...

Day two of the 2007 Winter Meetings were, for the most part, pretty quiet…

Well-traveled outfielder Jose Guillen is a Royal for 3 years at $36 million. The Braves and Cubs swapped spare parts. The Yankees decreed they were pulling out of the Santana sweepstakes, only to find that the Twins called their bluff. The Angels were reportedly in the mix for Santana but Halos-GM Tony Reagins is currently denying any link to the southpaw.

See, nice and quiet...

…then, like the drunk guys who took your seat while you were getting a hot dog, the Marlins and Tigers decide to shake things up in a real big way.

The second-biggest name on the trade market—Miguel Cabrera—and teammate Dontrelle Willis were shipped to the Tigers in exchange for elite prospects outfielder Cameron Maybin, lefty starter Andrew Miller. Also heading to Florida will be catcher Mike Rabello, and pitchers Dallas Trahern, Eulogio De La Cruz and Burke Badenhop.

This trade is huge for both sides and immediately sends shockwaves through the rest of the American League.

THE TIGERS

The Tigers have to be considered neck-and-neck with the Red Sox in terms of who will be the favorite heading into the 2008 season. That could all change if the Sox wrangle Santana away from the Twins—a move that seems increasingly more necessary for anyone looking to tangle with the new-look Tigers.

On paper the Tigers have one of the most explosive lineups in all of baseball. Let’s go ahead and take a look at what the Opening Day lineup could look like:

Curtis Granderson, CF
Placido Polanco, 2B
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Gary Sheffield, DH
Magglio Ordonez, RF
Carlos Guillen, 1B
Edgar Renteria, SS
Ivan Rodriguez, C
Jacque Jones/Marcus Thames, LF

Call me crazy, but that’s a pretty potent lineup; perhaps even more so than that of the Yankees and Red Sox; and definitely more potent than that of the Indians or the Miguel Cabrera-less Angels.

This move also opens the Tigers up to the option of trading incumbent third-baseman, Brandon Inge. With many teams in the hunt for third-basemen and the top dog now off the market, perhaps the Angels, Dodgers or even the division rival Twins would be willing to talk. Perhaps a trade of Inge and Chad Durbin to the Twins for Joe Nathan, if the Twins do—in fact—intend to trade him as well.

Moving on from the All-Star Game lineup the Tigers will be putting on the field everyday, let’s turn to their rotation. At the helm are the three faces of the future Willis, Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander all of whom are 25 or younger heading into this season. Also in the mix are veteran southpaws Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson.

Assuming Willis is able to turn-around his recent regression—something many believe to be the result of large workloads in recent years—he could return to form as the pitcher who won 22 games as recently as 2005.

The only real weakness the Tigers currently possess is the mystery surrounding the back end of the bullpen. Joel Zumaya is out until mid-season and closer-by-default Todd Jones is, well, Todd Jones. How much magic can that dude really have left? Despite that lone weakness the 2008 Tigers look to be a very talented team which means trouble for the rest of the American League.

THE MARLINS

As much as I don’t want to mention that this move was a salary dump for the Marlins, it was—by all means—a salary dump for the Marlins. With arbitration not treating the Marlins kindly the salaries for Willis and Cabrera were quickly escalating and only figured to continue the trend, as such the move makes a lot of sense.

In adding Maybin the team adds a very young, very athletic five-tool player who can finally take a firm hold on the centerfield job and help cover the ground that fellow outfielders Jeremy Hermidia and Josh Willingham can’t. Maybin has been compared to Ken Griffey Jr on numerous occasions because of his blazing speed, incredible defense and his ability to hammer the ball. His presence alongside Hanley Ramirez at the top of the Marlins lineup will give opposing teams fits on the base-paths all season long.

Miller was taken 6th overall in the 2006 draft by the Tigers and he is widely regarded as the best pitcher from that draft which was laden with quality pitchers. The 6-foot-6 southpaw has only pitched 16 games in the Minors, and it's doubtful he'll spend any more time there now. His pitches include a mid to upper 90s fastball, a late-breaking slider and a change-up. Pitching coach Mark Wiley was recently rehired by the Marlins, due to his reputation for handling young pitchers well; a move that could be a very beneficial for Miller and the Marlins.

The addition of Mike Rabello gives the Marlins a second option at catcher and the addition of three minor league arms only adds to the Marlins seemingly limitless supply of solid, young pitching.

Although the Marlins don’t look to contend any time in the near future, this trade sets the groundwork for the next five plus years. With young pitching and a very dynamic offense, this is a team that may only be a few quality parts away from contention. However, as if seemingly the way in South Florida, that isn’t likely to happen without new ownership, a new stadium or perhaps a move to a new locale. Fiscal elements notwithstanding, the talent factor is there, now it’s all about putting it together.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Winter Meetings--The Santana-less Edition

The 2007 Winter Meetings are here and believe it or not—and based on all my ranting, it may be hard to believe—there are people other than Johan Santana on the trade market. So I’m going to use this bloggity-blog to focus on some teams that are expected to be—or at least should be—very active at the Winter Meetings.

—The Los Angeles Dodgers—

The Dodgers have been sitting on their hands most of this off-season since signing Joe Torre to man the helm. They have numerous weaknesses to address, but as has become status quo, they simply aren’t addressing any of them. They are in talks with the Marlins for third-baseman/left-fielder/future first-baseman/future DH/future pie-eating champion Miguel Cabrera, but all of those trade talks seem to have cooled immensely in recent weeks.

With the team still in need of a serious power threat, all eyes may be on free-agent centerfield Andruw Jones this week. Jones is coming off the worst season of his career -- .222 average, 26 homers, 96 RBIs. Even with those numbers, Jones would immediately become the most potent proven bat in the Dodgers lineup. He could command a very large, long-term deal and given the Dodgers desperate need for not only a defensive upgrade in centerfield, but some serious power in the line-up, he may be worth every penny—to the Dodgers that is.

The Dodgers, initially thought to be involved in the Santana talks, are also keeping an eye on the availability of solid pitching options. Randy Wolf—one of the team’s best starters before injury shut him down in July—recently signed with the rival San Diego Padres, Jason Schmidt is a bit of a question mark after going under the knife last season. Clayton Kershaw—one of the team’s top bargaining chips at the trade table—may or may not be ready for the show next season. That leaves a rotation Derrek Lowe, Brad Penny, Chad Billingsley and Esteban Loaiza. Needless to say, adding another starter might not be such a bad idea.

The free agent class of pitcher is at best, uninspiring, but Livan Hernandez or Carlos Silva, slotted in the five-hole in the rotation could be highly-effective. Also available is a glut of pitchers returning from injury such as Freddy Garcia, Matt Clement and 2005 Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon. All come with the high risk, high reward tag attached.

—The New York Mets—

The Mets are in dire need of a front-line starter. A stopper, if you will. They need someone whose name on the lineup means a day off for the bullpen and the end of a losing streak. Right now they don’t have it. In fact, after losing Tom Glavine back to the division-rival Atlanta Braves they now have even less depth. The opening day rotation right now looks like Pedro Martinez, Orlando Hernandez, Oliver Perez, John Maine and either Philip Humber or Mike Pelfrey. Needless to say, that rotation doesn’t exactly intimidate the rest of the NL East…or most city league softball teams.

General Manager Omar Minaya will clearly be on the prowl to add a starter (or two) at the Winter Meetings and given the poor showings of Pelfrey and Humber in their major league debuts last season, may be willing to dangle both of them in trade talks. He may, however, have lost himself a major bargaining chip when he jettisoned mercurial outfielder and long-time “can’t miss” prospect Lastings Milledge to the Nationals for two-second tier complimentary parts in catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.

In essence the Mets have lost out in the Santana race, due to a lack of suitable prospects. Although once Santana has been moved names like Erik Bedard, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and Dontrelle Willis could all become available on the trade market. As well teams such as the Giants, Angels and Dodgers could be willing to move one of their starters for the right price.

Any package the Mets would offer would have to include one of their young outfielder Carlos Gomez or Fernando Martinez and probably one of the top three pitching prospects in either Pelfrey, Humber or Kevin Mulvey. However, one thing the team seems to be overlooking is how badly some of these teams out west are in need of slugger; a need that could be filled by trading Carlos Delgado and a prospect. The Angels could send back Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders. The Giants could be willing to part with Tim Lincecum. The Dodgers, although relatively light on pitching themselves, may be willing to ship out Billingsley and/or Kershaw if given the right return from the Mets.

—The Milwaukee Brewers—

I know, I know…there hasn’t been much talk of movement on the part of the Brew-Crew, but hear me out. The team is in dire need of a makeover for the backend of the bullpen given the exoduses of Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink. The thought of giving Derrick Turnbow the reigns as the full-time closer again, is a little scary. However, so is gambling on someone such as free-agent Eric Gagne to return to form following his implosion in Boston.

In addition, the team may want to start thinking about Ben Sheets’ future with the club. He is a free-agent after the 2008 season and given the ridiculous inflation of prices for free-agent pitchers, he might be more valuable in a trade once the Santana/Haren/Bedard-hoopla has died down. If not for the numerous injuries that have hampered the fireballer’s career thus far, he could be the most attractive option on the market.

If the Brewers ever though about trading Sheets, this off-season is the time to act. He could command a solid return from any of a number of clubs who miss out on Santana and he wouldn’t come at nearly as steep a price to re-sign. At the same time, the rotation behind Sheets looks to be pretty solid, albeit quite young in most respects. The Brewers are a team on the cusp of perennial contention and flipping Sheet this offseason, say to the Mets for Heilman and one or two of their prospects could turn out to be a huge return.

My advice, don’t count the Brewers out as players at the Winter Meetings.


—The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim—


The Angels already fired their first salvo of the off-season when they traded away Gold Glover shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox for start Jon Garland. Then in the wee-hours of the morning on Thanksgiving, the Halos snared Torii Hunter with a 5-year/$90 million deal.

With those moves already done, the Angels next mission is to acquire a slugger to stick behind Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup. The most attractive options to the Angels appear to be a pair of dudes named Miguel; those Miguels being Cabrera and Tejada respectively.

Cabrera—as mentioned in the Dodgers portion—is the slugging third-sacker for the Florida Marlins and will probably require a larger return from whichever club he is moved to than would Tejada, the current shortstop for the Orioles. Reports suggest that the Orioles’ president of baseball operations, Andy McPhail, is so unhappy with the product on the field that he may be willing to ship out his bigger names, such as Tejada, Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts, Ramon Hernandez and even ace Erik Bedard, for a lower cost of big-league talent and more prospects.

If the Angels acquire either Miguel, expect him to be entrenched at the thirdbase and in the four hole, behind Guerrero in the lineup. Rumor currently has the Marlins asking for way too much from the Angels. If that’s the case Tejada becomes the top option and the club can contemplate diving into the market for one of the top pitchers that may be available via trade.

Either way, don’t expect the Angels to sit idly by with the moves they’ve already made. New GM Tony Reagins has proven to be very proactive and is definitely looking to make the Angels a favorite in the 2008…thus far, he’s on the right path.

—The New York Yankees—

After collapsing in the first-round of the playoffs and with the younger Steinbrenners now at the helm, the Yankees appear very, very motivated to improve their club for next season. The team has already been very active bringing back key members of the 2007 squad including: Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte.

On top of that the club has been in hot-pursuit of Twins’ ace Johan Santana and whether they win the Santana Sweepstakes or not, the Yankees still would have to consider the possibility of making a move if Haren or Bedard were to become available.

Depending on the outcome of the Santana-deal, the Yankees may also be in the market to acquire a new centerfielder if Melky Cabrera is traded. Options include free-agents such as Aaron Rowand and Andruw Jones, both of whom would be great additions defensively, but will probably require more money and more of a long-term commitment than the team is willing to give. That makes second-tier free agents such as Mike Cameron and Corey Patterson all the more attractive as short-term solutions. At this point Johnny Damon shouldn’t even be considered as a full-time centerfielder.

Other options on the trade market could include Ken Griffey Jr. from the Reds. He is entering the final season of his contract and has long talked about a desire to win a World Series. The Yankees offer that opportunity year-in-and-year-out and Griffey’s sweet swing would look really nice with that short porch in right field. If the team was merely looking for a short-term replacement, the Red Sox Coco Crisp (again, based on the outcome of the Santana trade) may or may not be available. Although I can’t foresee a trade being worked out between these two clubs.

The Yankees may or may not be ballsy enough to go ahead and inquire about the Braves’ Mark Texeira. Tex is a free agent after the 2008 season and isn’t expected to sign an extension. If the Yankees could pull the right strings, they may be able to trade for and then sign the switch-hitting slugger (who can also play some defense); a move which would substantially bolster the Yanks offense and would set up a pretty solid combo of A-Rod and Tex at the heart of the Yankees lineup.

-----

All-in-all this year’s Winter Meetings appear to be ripe for trades as opposed to teams simply throwing their money at free-agents as has been the case in recent years. Expect a lot of rumors, a lot of big stories and when it’s all said and done…expect a very exciting season in 2008, with lots of big names in new homes.

Play Ball…Well Figuratively Anyway

Here we are--December 3, 2007. Today the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings open up in Nashville, Tennessee. All eyes—at least initially—will be glued on the Twins. The Twins are dangling perennial Cy Young candidate, team ace and the man who is without question, the best pitcher of this generation—Johan Santana.

As is often the case, standing at the front of the line to obtain Santana’s services are the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Thus far, negotiations have played out fairly well for all parties involved. The Twins have requested a Major League-ready pitcher from both sides and both sides have offered up Phil Hughes and Jon Lester, respectively. The Twins have asked for a Major League-ready centerfielder from both sides and both sides have offered up Melky Cabrera and Coco Crisp, respectively.

It’s there that things get murky. The Twins don’t appear to be all that high on Crisp or Cabrera. The Yankees refuse to throw in another high-level prospect such as AA starter Alan Horne or AAA shortstop Alberto Gonzalez. The Red Sox have told the Twins they will trade wunderkind Jacoby Ellsbury, but only if Lester is taken out of the picture. The Red Sox are also offering highly-touted AAA shortstop Jed Lowrie.

The Yankees-- frustrated that the small-market Twins won’t bend-over and take whatever deal is thrown at them—have established a deadline of today. With Andy Pettitte announcing his return to New York in 2008 early this morning, one has to think that perhaps the Yankees aren’t bluffing. However, who in their right mind will honestly pass up the chance to add the ace of all aces to their rotation?

The Red Sox have set no such deadline and, as such, if the Yankees pull out of negotiations they would be the obvious front-runners to land Santana. However, reports out of Boston suggest that Theo and company are growing frustrated with the Twins consistent demands of future ace in the making Clay Buchholz AND Jacoby Ellsbury. Epstein has repeatedly declared Buchholz as untouchable, but with other teams who are perhaps even more loaded with attractive prospects (ie: Angels and Dodgers) set to enter the fray this week at the Winter Meetings, all bets are off.

Santana may have hurt his own trade value when a report was leaked that he would refuse to accept a trade mid-season. If this happened the Twins would be hand-cuffed to a free-agent they couldn’t afford for the entire season. This would essentially mean that they would lose the greatest pitcher in baseball and have nothing more than two high draft picks to show for it. Needless to say Johan will be on the move—probably this week—so keep your eyes peeled.