— Better late than never, the winter’s top story lines have developed as we head into the winter meetings. Let’s take a look at some of the big questions out there:
Where’s CC Sabathia going?: We’re coming up on three weeks since the Yankees offered a reported six years and $140 million. How long should they wait for a response?
Answer: As long as it takes. The Yankees remain confident they will land the big left-hander and they should be, given the absence of serious competition.
Angels general manager Tony Reagins said this week that Mark Teixeira remains their top priority (and rightfully so given their roster makeup), and the Dodgers aren’t in a financial position to make a competitive offer in terms of length.
So Sabathia is running out of west coast options — at least unless Teixeira leaves the Angels. The other possibility: New Giants ownership wanting to make a big splash while still drowning in what’s left of Barry Zito’s contract.
But the economic climate isn’t favorable for that type of expenditure, and GM Brian Sabean’s actions — signing Jeremy Affeldt, Bobby Howry and Edgar Renteria — indicate the club is going in a more cost-efficient direction. (But by the way, two years and $18.5 million for a fading Renteria?)
That leaves the Brewers’ $100-million offer as Sabathia’s only other alternative at this point. But there is nothing coming from the Sabathia camp, not even a counter offer to the Yankees, who in the meantime, should be addressing their other starting pitcher need — either another free agent such as A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe or Jon Garland, or a discounted return of Andy Pettitte.
Are the Braves financial players again? They were on the right track in trying to acquire Padres ace Jake Peavy, but hit a presumably unavoidable dead-end with Peavy’s no-trade demand and their unwillingness to change team policy and grant it.
They might end up regretting that — and so might Padres GM Kevin Towers, who may find himself backed into a corner and having to accept a lesser offer, as the Twins had to do with Johan Santana last winter.
But one day after giving up four prospects and taking on the $23 million left on No. 3-4 starter Javier Vazquez’s contract, the Braves made an offer of reportedly four guaranteed years to Burnett.
It’s one thing to take on the $63 million remaining on Peavy’s deal. He’s 28 and an unquestioned ace in every sense of the word (although it will be interesting to see how much his numbers inflate away from Petco Park).
But it’s another to give about the same amount to Burnett, who is four years older, and has topped the 200-inning mark only three times in eight seasons.
The Red Sox, for one, backed away from interest in him, although they are in a position of relative strength with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and either Clay Buchholz or Justin Masterson.
But the Braves — with Tim Hudson out perhaps all of 2009 after Tommy John surgery, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz at the end of the line and Mike Hampton in Houston — had to do something, right?
There is money to play with for GM Frank Wren, as Smoltz and Glavine are free agents, and even if they do come back, would do so at reduced rates. In fact, Wren could have up to $20 million more to spend after adding Vazquez, and still stay around the $100-million mark.
Pat Burrell makes a lot of sense here, come to think of it, as they need a right-handed power bat, and a left-fielder. But there apparently will be no ‘rebuilding’ word used in the ATL.
When does Peavy follow Khalil Greene out of San Diego? Likely during the winter meetings, and the deal with the Cubs, and possibly a third-team — remains in play, although the Cubs’ muddled ownership situation could delay things a bit.
And if the Angels aren’t really in the Sabathia bidding, do they go this route: Trade young players including pitching for Peavy, and do what it takes to keep Teixeira from taking the Red Sox’s money?
There’s nothing wrong with the Angels’ rotation as-is — especially if Garland accepts their arbitration offer. But at this point, first base and left field are question marks, and currently gone from last year’s lineup are three big bats in Teixeira, Garret Anderson and Juan Rivera.
At least there are plenty of viable possibilities, led by giving Gary Matthews Jr. an opportunity to earn his big salary, signing Adam Dunn (who can play both spots), Burrell, or even re-signing Anderson at a lower cost.
And how about Manny Ramirez? The Dodgers are doing their short-term best to keep him. First, there was the two-year, $45-million offer that has been pulled. Now, they have offered arbitration, which puts them at risk for $25 million or so in 2009.
But everything in Scott Boras’ track record says the arbitration offer will be rejected, and Manny will play the waiting game even into early 2009, or until the Mets, Yankees or another team desperate to make an impact move steps up.
A: From what I’m hearing and reading, a surprising move by the Dodgers would be to spend big money on one of the elite free agents. I just don’t think that will happen, unless it’s to keep Manny Ramirez.
They also want to retain Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake, but they won’t go overboard, especially in terms of contract lengths, to keep any of those three players. Ramirez faces an interesting decision on accepting or rejecting salary arbitration by Sunday. The latter two appear to be heading elsewhere.
The other major issue is the starting rotation, especially in light of Chad Billingsley’s fractured left fibula, which could delay his 2009 season. That comes on top of the expected losses of Derek Lowe and Brad Penny in free agency, and Greg Maddux to retirement.
So as of now, their rotation is Hiroki Kuroda, Clayton Kershaw and question marks. Assuming they won’t meet CC Sabathia’s demands, two likelier options are Andy Pettitte and Randy Johnson on one-year deals.
Knowing Joe Torre’s strong bias to pitching when constructing a roster, you can bet the bullpen will be addressed as well. Takashi Saito’s elbow is a question mark, and Joe Beimel won’t be re-signed, so there are at least a couple of spots to fill. Two solutions from within could be James McDonald and Scott Elbert.
Juan Pierre will be dealt if they can find a taker — possibly for a high-salaried third baseman or shortstop, depending on what happens with Blake and Furcal. But you have to think nobody will take Andruw Jones at $18 million.
A: As a former Rangers beat writer — and this was before the Johnny Oates/playoff years of 1996-99 — I understand your frustration, B.C. There is a long history of mediocrity in Arlington, despite the efforts of a lot of good baseball people.
Part of the problem is the unavoidable combination of weather and ballpark. The summer heat does take its toll; it’s no coincidence that the Rangers’ two worst months throughout their history are July and August.
And Rangers Ballpark, as beautiful as it remains 14 years after its opening, is a very tough place to pitch. It’s pretty fair to left field, but the jet stream blows out to right center, and a sun-baked field plays very, very fast.
Every Rangers fan knows the history of failure when it comes to building quality pitching staffs, so I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. (And trading away Chris Young, Edinson Volquez, Armando Galarraga and Jon Danks in recent years sure didn’t help matters, did it?)
Which leads us to where the Rangers will go from here. And club president Nolan Ryan has made it quite clear that the off-season goal is pitching, pitching and more pitching — primarily a quality young starter such as Zack Greinke, Matt Cain or Clay Buchholz. But the key to whoever is acquired is having a strong mental attitude to pitch in a hitters’ ballpark.
With the payroll expected to remain right about where it is (just under $70 million), don’t expect a major free-agent signing. Free-agent pitchers don’t go to Arlington, anyway. So it will have to come via the trade market, and at least the Rangers have something to offer.
Hank Blalock’s option was picked up, but he could be dealt to one of the teams that doesn’t land elite free agent Mark Teixeira. The glut behind the plate also will be eased, with either Gerald Laird or Jarrod Saltalamacchia being dealt.
Laird has the biggest contract, so he is the likeliest to go (Detroit?, Cincinnati?). But it’s no secret Saltalamacchia’s long name has been mentioned in a possible deal with the Red Sox.
The Rangers also have prospects to deal, but don’t expect them to part with shortstop-of-the-future Elvis Andrus or center fielder Julio Borbon.
But bottom line, they’re not really close to being a playoff team at this point.
A: Just more bad news, Joe. Last week, a Houston charity golf tournament Clemens had been involved with for four years terminated its association with him.
Meanwhile, the FBI’s perjury case against Clemens continues to move along at a snail’s pace. Last week, there were reports that Clemens’ former trainer Brian McNamee gave a DNA sample to the FBI to help the case against Clemens.
Investigators are trying to establish that syringes provided by McNamee contain Clemens’ DNA, and were used by McNamee to inject Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens also is pursuing a defamation of character suit against McNamee.
In one piece of good news last week, disorderly conduct charges were dropped against Clemens’ son Koby, a catcher in the Houston Astros’ chain, who was arrested a few months ago along with two teammates after a restaurant incident in Salem, Va.